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The Future “Shrine City” of Southern Tagalog (San Pedro Tunasán, La Laguna)

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Welcome to San Pedro, the gateway to La Laguna province!

I’ve been a San Pedrense for close to six years already.

We moved to San Pedro, La Laguna last 2004 at the height of the infamous 2004 Philippine General Elections (where FPJ won in the voting but lost in the counting). My wife was then pregnant with our second child (Momay). I was then working in SPI Technologies in my hometown, Parañaque City. Thus, I had to travel for almost two hours from San Pedro to Parañaque’s Barrio Santo Niño where SPI was located. A female cousin of mine, who is married to a native San Pedrense (from the Igonia clan), helped us find a place to stay. I chose San Pedro because the apartment units there were considerably cheap. Although it’s just beside Metro Manila (via Muntinlupà City), the rates of apartment units there are provincially cheap.

As a history buff, I was very excited to see San Pedro town for the very first time. I was expecting something rural, like that of my dad’s hometown of Unisan, Quezon. I was disappointed to see a rather urbanized place fuming with smoke from countless tricycles, roads teeming with junk food wrappers and assorted litter, and a huge Sogo Hotel at the entrance to the town from Metro Manila. Back then, I haven’t been traveling much. So my expectations were doused cold. Also, I noticed a scarcity of classic Filipino houses which we call bahay castilà or bahay na bató. Only a few remain. I even doubt if those surviving houses date back to the Spanish times. But there are still a couple of postwar houses which somehow resemble the bahay na bató which I adore so much.

We first lived in a small, one-room apartment unit in Sitio Pitóng Gatang in Barrio San Vicente. In late 2007 (I was already working for APAC Customer Services for three years), we moved to a larger apartment building in the same barrio (now called a barangáy).

We’ve befriended a lot of San Pedrense folk. Especially my very amiable wife who knows almost everybody in our barrio: tricycle drivers, various street and market vendors, canto boys and street toughies, elderly folk, etc. She really has that masa attitude in her which I’m so proud at.

Me, I befriended the upper echelon of San Pedro, hehe! I had the privilege of cowriting (with Arnaldo Arnáiz) current Mayor Calixto Catáquiz’s biography (still unpublished, though). I also befriended San Pedro’s official historian, Sonny Ordoña. He cowrote the history of the town with Amalia Cullarín Rosales entitled San Pedro, Laguna: Noón at Ngayón.

This year or next year, we’ll soon be leaving San Pedro. We’ll soon be moving to Calambâ, La Laguna, where we have purchased our own home. But six years is six years. So many things have happened to us here in San Pedro. This is the place where we have totally become independent and slowly built our “little empire”, i.e., our family; before, we had to seek financial support from immediate family members. All my children began their childhood here. My daughter Krystal is a pioneer student of nearby Santa Hideliza Montessori (formerly known as Asturias Angel Montessori School) where she is a consistent first honor student (it’s all in the blood, hehe!). Momay has just started his schooling in the same school. We’ve built friendships. It is here where I discovered and became a devotee of the miraculous Santo Sepulcro. One midnight, as I was headed for work, I even got to beat up a huge street toughie who tried to harass me (seriously)!

For better or for worse, San Pedro Tunasán, La Laguna has become part of us.

Enjoy the pictures which I took of the town (my daughter Krystal and I had an afternoon stroll last 29 December 2009)… =)

St. Peter The Apostle

Banál na Cruz ng San Pedro Tunasán

A view of the urbanized población from the church tower.

The only municipal hall that I know where the mayor's office is located right above a multi-purpose town plaza stage. Unique.

Messy wires mar this view of the town's enormous church.

The road going up to San Pedro Bridge (my daughter Krystal's at the onset).

Naty's Tourist Lodge / Restaurant. However, what is interesting for tourists to see in San Pedro? This is what the next administration should work on. Tourism is also important economically.

Tanghalang F.A. Vierneza, a waste of public funds if you ask my opinion.

Going up the bridge, further south of San Pedro.

San Pedro Bridge

The semi-polluted river of San Pedro. The river still teems of fish and other river creatures. There is still hope to save this body of water. A sincere environmental effort from the local government is direly needed.

Mount Maquíling from afar.

Suki Wet & Dry Market

Iglesia de San Pedro Apóstol

The altarpiece.

The Nativity scene (all these photos, by the way, were taken last 12/29/2009).

Liceo de San Pedro (San Pedro High School)

Very few Antilean (bahay na bató) houses remain in San Pedro, which is quite sad. The one in this photo has been converted into a commercial establishment.

Many streets in the oldest parts of San Pedro look like this. Good thing these pink bougainvilla flowers beautify the place a bit.

One of my favorite flowering plants: the eye-catching bougainvilla!

Typhoon Ondoy floods were already subsiding when this photo was taken. But this dirt road leading to the lakeshore was still soft and very muddy. Thus, Krystal and I didn't push through with our lakeshore trek.

A fishpond a few meters away from the lake. It was also damaged by Typhoon Ondoy.

San Roque Elementary School in Barrio San Roque.

Ducks raised near the lake. San Pedro used to have huge balót and iticán industry which rivaled that of Pateros.

Water lilies fill the banks of Laguna de Bay in this part of Barrio Landayan.

Flowering water lilies!

Black birds flying excitedly over the lake! Are they crows?

Seashells embedded inland, meters away from the lake.

The modern church tower of the mysterious Santo Sepulcro Church in Barrio Landayan.

Iglesia de Santo Sepulcro

An ancient acacia tree in front of the Santo Sepulcro Church.

My daughter, Jewel Krystal Rose, when she was four years old (on my 25th birthday). I didn't allow her to be baptized at a much earlier date because I was an atheist before. This miraculous church further reaffirmed and strengthened my belief in God. =)

Light.

Dark.

The Holy Sepulchre which houses the iconic icon of Jesus Christ, known all over San Pedro Tunasán as the miraculous Lolo Uweng.

A busy part of the town.

Vegetables, fruits, and spices being sold out on the streets, a usual Latin-American activity.

¡Caramba! He's everywhere!

Bibingca and puto bumbóng vendors; all pictures were taken during the 2009 Christmas Season.

Puto bumbóng

Bibingca

Sampaguita buds in the town plaza. San Pedro Tunasán is also known as the country's Sampaguita capital.

Missed the whole name, haha! The bus was moving fast... and I was moving slow!

Krystal buying a Sampaguita collar.

La flor de la sampaguita, una flor filipina.

The massive façade of the San Pedro Apóstol Parish Church.

The statue of the Virgin Mary on top of the church which can be seen from miles around.

Not sure if this house is prewar or postwar. But it's definitely vintage.

Calle San Vicente goes through a tunnel beneath the San Pedro Bridge.

Another Filipino-style house.

This one's a charm!

This railroad goes all the way to Ciudad de Legazpi, Albay in Bícol province.

Coconuts!

Santa Hideliza Montessori School, where Krystal and Momay study.

Capilla de San Vicente de Ferrer

A neighbor leading us to one of San Pedro's last few remaining Sampaguita plantations. The town used to have huge plantations everywhere. Many of the townsfolk relied on the sampaguita trade for a living. But that was long ago.

¡Ang manóc ni San Pedro!

Today, the once flourishing sampaguita farms have been relegated to a mere backyard industry.

Bamboo (not the band).

Our San Pedro Tunasán walk ended at dusk.

A FEW THINGS YOU MAY WANT TO KNOW ABOUT SAN PEDRO TUNASÁN, LA LAGUNA’S PAST AND FUTURE

The former name of San Pedro was San Pedro Tunasán. San Pedro is from one of Jesus Christ’s apostles. Tunasán comes from the word tunás which is a medicinal herb that used to grow along the western banks of Laguna de Bay where the said town is now situated. Significantly, this herb was actually brought here by the friars from México.

San Pedro was inhabited by Tagalog tribesmen before the Spanish arrival. Spanish friars (Franciscans) assembled many Tagalog tribes in what is now known as La Laguna province through a process called reducción a pueblo, creating what we now know as a town or pueblo/municipio. San Pedro Tunasán is a product of this complex process.

San Pedro Tunasán during the Spanish period produced considerable quantities of rice, mangoes, coconuts, native oranges, lemons, buyô (betel leaves), and even sugar cane. And according to the Diccionario Geográfico-Estadístico-Histórico de las Islas Filipinas (Fr. Manuel Buzeta, O.S.A., and Fr. Felipe Bravo, O.S.A), there used to be a big house made of brick and tiled-roof which was a silk factory. Unfortunately, it’s not stated in the book where this old bahay na bató was situated, thus I have no idea if it still stands.

San Pedro was also owned by the Jesuits and was used as an estate (or hacienda) to fund their projects and other activities, particularly the Colegio de San José in Intramuros (where José Rizal’s father, Francisco Mercado, studied). It was the Jesuits who built a chapel (ermita) dedicated to St. Peter the Apostle (now known as the Parish of San Pedro Apóstol).

San Pedro Tunasán used to be a part of Tabuco (an old Tagalog term which means “the end part of a river”), a large town which was also then comprised of what are now the towns of Bíñán, Santa Rosa, Cabuyao. It officially became a town when it was detached from Tabuco on 18 January 1725 upon the request of San Pedrense principalía led by Alonzo Magtibay, Francisco Santiago, and Ignacio de Guevarra. Their request was granted by the last Spanish Habsburg king himself, King Charles II. Santiago subsequently became the first town mayor. Therefore, the real foundation day of San Pedro Tunasán should be celebrated every 18th of January and not on any other dates.

Many years later, a large northern chunk of the town was sold to Muntinlupà. That chunk of land is now Muntinlupà City’s Barrio Tunasán (where many lechón stalls abound). That is why the town today is simply called San Pedro. But I refuse to call it as such. I always prefer the original, giving due respect to history: ¡San Pedro Tunasán, La Laguna!

The city’s incumbent mayor, Calixto Catáquiz, who’s running for reelection this May, plans to make San Pedro a “Shrine City”, as written in his still unpublished biography, A Date With Destiny (One More Challenge!) The Life Story of San Pedro:

“Mayor Catáquiz is a visionary,” says Sonny Ordoña, the town’s resident historian and the municipal hall’s consultant for cultural affairs. “Once he asked me for a unique nickname for the town. Since we have a couple of shrines here, particularly the miraculous Santo Sepulcro Shrine in Landayan, I suggested to him, ‘well, why not dub it as a Shrine City?’ His eyes beamed with the idea. The next thing you know, he’s telling everyone that he’s planning to create a 30-storey high bronze statue of Jesus Christ! He wants it installed up in the mountains of San Pedro!”

The feet of this gigantic statue ala Cristo Redentor of Rio de Janeiro would stand on four chapels. These chapels will serve as monumental pedestals. An incredible concept that is already being planned!

“This chapel would be in full view from Alabang and possibly from Parañaque,” says the mayor. “Aircraft will easily discern it from atop.” Certainly, this future landmark will place San Pedro on a national scale!

Shrine city or not, San Pedro Tunasán is all worth it. All it needs is full and sincere cooperation between the local government and its inhabitants.

Reunion with three friends.

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“The best things in life come in threes, like friends, dreams, and memories.”

The workload in my current company makes me want to disappear from this world with just a snap of a finger. Last night’s shift was hell. Too many issues, slow internet, bad vibes, and documents drowning my thoughts. All of us weren’t able to finish the job. And it has been weeks like that. Some of us feel that we lack manpower. Some feel that there were bad project decisions from the higher ups. Some felt sick (literally). Me, I just feel like I want to fly away from it all.

I was supposed to continue all unfinished tasks at home. But…

It was a reprieve when my wife fetched me and broached the idea of visiting a childhood friend of mine, Christian Caballero, who works in the building next to ours. I already know that Tanò has been working in the other building for a long time (thanks to our office concierge, Oliver). But we haven’t had the chance to see each other due to our busy schedules.

Our bunch was the baaaadest and nastiest in our own turf in some posh yet decrepit village in Parañaque City, my “dirty south, baby!” hometown. We’ve known each other since kids. I was estranged from my childhood pals when I was kicked out of our home because I chose to stay with my pregnant girlfriend (who’s now my wife) instead of being with my family and continue schooling. Since then, I began seeing my Parañaque homies sporadically. And the last time I saw Christian and the rest of the gang was back in 2006, but only for a short drunken while. We weren’t even complete that night. We’ll, now there’s Facebook; many of my childhood pals are already in my list: Jerome, John Michael, Dennis, Angerico, etc. But of course it’s a different feeling when you get to see your long lost friends eye-to-eye and in the flesh.

We were all delighted to see each other of course. He’s also engaged to his college sweetheart Lesleyann Tugnáo of Majayjay, La Laguna. Their wedding will be this coming December in Sanctuario de San Antonio, Forbes Park, Ciudad de Macati. And I’m expecting to see the rest of the gang on his wedding day. =)

Congratulations and best wishes, Christian and Lesleyann! May the good Lord bless you always!

*******

Next stop was our current town, San Pedro, La Laguna.

After visiting Krystal and Momay at school, we went to Tita Deming, the manager of our apartment, to pay for the monthly rent. She works in the Municipal Hall. And since we were there already, I thought of introducing Wifey to our town mayor, Calixto R. Catáquiz, whom I haven’t seen since the death of his father. I just wanted to introduce my wife to him, and perhaps setup a date with him to talk about whether he’s still interested in publishing the biography Arnold and I wrote for him last year (it was even reviewed by our country’s first beauty queen, Gemma Cruz de Araneta, in her Manila Bulletin column “Landscape”).

Well, it turned out that he is still very interested in it. But the problem is proper timing. Aside from his father’s untimely death, Typhoon Ondoy ruined all of San Pedro’s lakeshore villages. Now he has the task of taking care of thousands of San Pedrense families who have lost their homes and who are now sheltered in various evacuation centers scattered around San Pedro. He invited us to join him for lunch. I wasn’t able to say no. And my wife, who was star struck (hehehe), urged me to come along.

We ate at Max’s Restaurant in –coincidentally– Parañaque City, my hometown! There we discussed lots of things about town politics, national politics, the 2010 Philippine National Elections, and of course, his biography.

He also mentioned to me interesting facts that Arnold and I haven’t included yet in his unpublished biography, A DATE WITH DESTINY: One More Challenge! (The Life Story of San Pedro, Laguna Mayor Calixto R. Cataquiz). When he was still the chairman of the Laguna Lake Development Authority, he made several project recommendations to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and even Malacañang Palace to help safeguard and uplift the status quo of Laguna de Bay. For one, he recommended that LLDA should adopt a system for Laguna de Bay which is very similar to the Dutch Flood Barrier System. Mayor Calex also once tackled environmental and developmental issues of the lake with renowned architect Felino Palafox, Jr., who last month declared that the the national government already foresaw the massive floods of September 26.

The mayor also cited sewage, water treatment, and other waterworks projects that he had envisioned for Laguna de Bay. He also forwarded the idea of taking care of not just the lake but its tributaries as well. He also complained LLDA’s lack of policepower which should have enforced environmental rules. And he also lamented the fact that the LLDA was not under the direct supervision of the Office of the President (this would have ensured the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s commitment to a “green” Philippines). But all of these were ignored. If they weren’t ignored, the horrible displacement of thousands of lakeshore families –not to mention the death toll which the flood had left– wouldn’t have happened.

We also discussed his San Pedro 2020 Vision.

My wife had a grand time listening to the Mayor’s candid stories. Afterwards, we spent a relaxing afternoon at the Manila Southwoods Golf and Country Club.

*******

The next reunion was, well, via SMS only. =(

Mayor Calex and his convoy drove us home. On our way home, I remembered having kept the cellphone number of someone else from my past: Ka Danilo Balao.

I never thought that I’d be able to communicate with a dear comrade in Ka Dan. He is from the Ybanag tribe of the northern lands. We were both socialist activists during our college days, members of the militant Liga ng Sosyalistang Kabataan (in political solidarity with the Sosyalistang Partido ng Paggawa). Me, Danilo, and a host of other socialist youth shared each other’s tribulations, joys, hunger, and sufferings. Like my Parañaque boys, we at LSK were also a bad bunch (giving the League of Filipino Students some headache which they deserved). Aaaahhh, the days of yore! I really stopped growing when I reached 30 years of age!

I got his number several days ago from another long lost activist friend, mad chemist Allan Jay Q. Martírez (my “discoverer”!) whom I rediscovered in Mike Chanco’s / JB Lazarte’s (my other “discoverer”!) controversial website Flesh Asia Daily 3.0.

So here I print our text conversation:

PEPE: Danilo Balao
DANILO: Hu r u?
PEPE: Visit https://filipinoscribbles.wordpress.com and you will know, my old friend…
DANILO: Hav n0 tym searchin.. Y cant u say it n0w?
PEPE: Because I do not want the military to trace me. You know the drill, Ka Dan.
DANILO: Hahaha.. U.G.? Ur kidding me.. H0w can it pocbly be? Wat org?
PEPE: Mabuhay ang LIGA NG KOMUNISTANG KABATAAN!
DANILO: Damn! Is this true? Wer did u get my numbr?
PEPE: José Mario Alas Fans Club
DANILO: Hahaha! Yeah..! Wats crakin man? Wat happen 2 u? I’ve been searching u 4 d last 3 years. H0w did u realy get my numbr?
PEPE: I have been monitoring you for the last five years. I was sent to kill you, Gerry, Page, and Allan Jay. But I couldn’t because you’re my friends.

I got no more reply from good ol’ Dan. I must’ve totally freaked him out with my last text, so…

PEPE: Just kidding, dude.

*******

I miss my other friends. I miss the past. I miss the Spanish past although I’ve never lived in that era. I grew up listening to We Built This City On Rock N’ Roll, Footloose, and Rico Mambo. I cried when Atreyu’s horse Atrax was taken by the Swamps. Garfield still had farm friends (beats Facebook’s FarmVille), and the Christmas Belén in C.O.D. (Cubáo, Quezon City), and so much more.

I’m getting old, and dying.

Shucks. Nostalgia fever setting in again.

The only bad thing that happened this afternoon? My wife’s almost-a-decade-old cellphone camera was out of battery. =(

Rodolfo C. Catáquiz (1917-2009)

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FILIPINO SCRIBBLES (and on behalf of ALAS FILIPINAS and WITH ONE’S PAST) would like to extend its deep condolences to the family and relatives of the late entrepreneur Rodolfo Catáquiz y Carmona who died last Saturday.

Rodolfo C. Catáquiz: a rags-to-riches story.

Rodolfo C. Catáquiz: a rags-to-riches story.

He is the father of my friend San Pedro, La Laguna Mayor Calixto R. Catáquiz who is himself a business tycoon in the said town.

The elder Catáquiz hails from Unisan, Quezon which is incidentally my dad’s hometown (it was actually through my uncle, Ramoncito “Monching” Alas, that I got to know his Mayor son). Up to now, the Mayor’s father never fails to amaze me. In the still unpublished biography A DATE WITH DESTINY (One More Challenge!) The Life Story of San Pedro, Laguna Mayor Calixto R. Catáquiz, Arnold Arnáiz and I wrote:

Rodolfo’s rags-to-riches life is indeed a rarity (reminiscent of Henry Sy of SM fame). He was a self-made man who built his empire with sheer hardwork and thriftiness. In due time, Rodolfo was able to acquire his own plantations, a rice mill, and other businesses. Ultimately, through thriftiness and dedication, he was able to found a rural bank: Entrepreneur Rural Bank, Inc. (Rural Bank of Unisan), located in the población of his hometown. The bank did contribute a lot to Unisan’s economic turnaround, paving the way once more for the town’s reentry as a potential economic heavyweight in the region.

Rodolfo Catáquiz once worked for José Yulo as one of his Canlubang yeomen. Everything that needed to be done around the enormous estate he added great value as a hard-working man. Rodolfo was a great addition to that Canlubang estate which Old Man Yulo created for his family (perhaps Yulo was still dreaming of his far away rustic land, the Negros Occidental of his childhood.

His Entrepreneur Rural Bank now has a branch here in San Pedro.

Entrepreneur Bank: a Catáquiz legacy.

Entrepreneur Bank: a Catáquiz legacy.

May his life and career serve as an example to many impoverished Filipinos. With determination and faith in God, NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE.

Requiescat In Pace, Tiyong Rodolfo…

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