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DMCI’s Torre de Manila and Laudato si’

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Three days before the 154th birth anniversary of Dr. José Rizal which falls today, Filipinos were treated to glad tidings. The construction of the Torre De Manila condominium, rightfully dubbed by concerned Filipinos as “Terror de Manila” for photobombing the scenic background of the Rizal Monument at the Luneta, was issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) by the Supreme Court (SC).

“SC issues TRO against further construction of Torre de Manila; orders oral argument on June 30 at 2 PM” the SC Public Information Office said in its official Twitter account.

While this may just be a temporary victory, it was still welcomed with glee, especially by heritage advocates. It is still a victory nonetheless, considering the fact that this eyesore of a building by DMCI Homes keeps on growing and growing each day, conveniently ignoring the cease and desist order issued by the National Culture for Commission and the Arts (NCCA) last January that was based on existing heritage laws.

Don’t we all miss this scene? © John Tewell

This blogpost will not attempt to discuss the ins and outs of this issue as it has already been exhausted by several media outlets, opinion makers, and blogs since tourist guide and heritage activist Carlos Celdrán revealed this heritage crime to the public three years ago. As an ordinary netizen myself, I’ll just content myself to reading comments online (as usual) about this positive turn of events.

This so-called “Terror de Manila” is as unpopular as the more terrifying Bangsamoro Basic Law. The stream of comments expressing rage against the construction of this condominium as well as the joyful comments when news of the SC’s TRO broke out is overwhelming  so much that to encounter a comment expressing sympathy towards the building is simply too jarring not to ignore. One such comment in the Philippine Daily Inquirer caught my attention:

“The fact remains that the building was approved by the Manila Zoning Board. Now that the construction is stopped and probably not be restarted, I would like to ask those responsible for the demise of this building-1. Who is going to feed the workers and their families whose sole employment is probably this construction? 2. Who is going to reimburse those who already paid for the condominiums, money earned from blood and sweat? 3. Who is going to reimburse the expenses of DMCI ( DMCI is not privately owned. There are a lot of stockholders, myself included.)? I would appreciate very much if the senator, Knight of Columbus, Carlos Cedran, NCCA and so called conservationist answer those questions. Can we feed the hungry with the statue of Rizal or his image. We have more urgent problems than disfiguring the view of a statue.”

The issues raised by the commenter seems representative of everything that is pro-DMCI/Torre de Manila. Although acceptable to some quarters (and there are very few of them), all his points are still invalid. And this is the objective of this blogpost: to answer this comment point by point (let Celdrán and the NCCA tackle DMCI themselves because I’m way out of their league anyway):

1) “The fact remains that the building was approved by the Manila Zoning Board.” — But the fact also remains that the Manila Zoning Board violated Republic Act No. 10066 (National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009) on the grounds that “it mars the sightlines or visual corridors of the Rizal Monument, a declared National Cultural Treasure of the Philippines and a sublime symbol of the Filipino nation.”

2) “Who is going to feed the workers and their families whose sole employment is probably this construction?” — Didn’t the commenter realize that the Torre de Manila project does not offer permanent employment to the masons, carpenters, and other laborers involved in the construction of the said building? In case the construction pushes through and the building gets done, so is the employment of those lowly laborers. After the project, DMCI will have totally forgotten them for sure.

3) “Who is going to reimburse those who already paid for the condominiums, money earned from blood and sweat?” — DMCI of course. It was their fault from the very beginning. They can afford to make several more torres de Manila and make them disappear with a snap of a finger, considering the fact that they are one of the country’s top conglomerates (2014 total revenue in millions: ₱56,561.0 | 2014 gross profit in millions: ₱18,265.7).

4) “Who is going to reimburse the expenses of DMCI” — Same answer: DMCI can pay itself for its misdeeds, and for all we care. Even with the downfall of Torre de Manila, and DMCI eventually declaring a loss because of it in their annual reports, the reality remains that DMCI will still be around for the next couple of decades… that is, if people will only listen to Pope Francisco’s recently released Laudato si’, a powerful encyclical tackling the destruction of the environment caused by senseless consumerism… pretty much what DMCI has been doing for years (re: Isla Semirara), don’t you think?

In closing, the commenter ended his refutable questions with a more valid one: “Can we feed the hungry with the statue of Rizal or his image. We have more urgent problems than disfiguring the view of a statue.”

True, heritage conservation cannot put food on the table for the hungry poor. It cannot directly solve economic problems. But do we always have to forego heritage for profit? Is it always money above heritage, money over culture? And whose benefit would all this profit be for, anyway? Progress for whom? For the stockholders of DMCI, of course. It is obvious to the discerning reader that the commenter is concerned more about his stocks and was simply mentioning the plight of the Torre de Manila laborers to gain sympathy. And mind you, heritage has been in dire straits for the past few years. Left and right, tangible heritage buildings are fast disappearing (remember last year’s “September Massacre“?), all in the name of profit. In spite of that, did it even alleviate the sorry conditions of our less fortunate fellow Filipinos? No, it did not.

Speaking of economy, the Aquino Government has been harping this 7% growth in GDP for the longest time now, but it has not even trickled down to the most downtrodden in society (the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program should not even count because it is an outright bribe for future votes for the Liberal Party). In the same vein, will Torre de Manila’s completion benefit its construction workers for the long term? The answer is a confident no.

And since I mentioned Laudato si’, this encyclical of Pope Francisco could have never been so timely because DMCI perfectly fits in its scathing statements against consumerism, about the “relentless exploitation and destruction of the environment” (its Semirara Island project), “apathy” (its arrogant insistence of continuing Torre de Manila), “the reckless pursuit of profits” (violating existing heritage laws in exchange for big moolah), “excessive faith in technology” (fast-tracking the completion of the building inspite of NCCA’s cease and desist order), and “political shortsightedness” (former Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim and/or current Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada allowing its construction in the first place).

What will this nation become of one day? A nation of malls and condominiums?

As aptly stated by Senator Pía Cayetano: “It is high time that we, as a people, take the protection of our history, culture and heritage more seriously as these make up the intangible ideals that bind us as Filipinos and define our national identity.”

It should be remembered that the Turkish government was able to demolish the multi-million Onalti Dokuz buildings because they were rising right behind the minarets of picturesque Süleymaniye Mosque, a major tourist attraction. So what is stopping us from doing the same: apathy, greed, or both? Just tear down Terror de Manila already. It will be the perfect birthday gift for the National Hero.

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Walk Back in History: The San Nicolás-Binondo Heritage Tour

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Walk Back in History: The San Nicolás-Binondo Heritage Tour is a historical and architectural walk on the world’ s oldest chinatown. Walk the streets of historical San Nicolás and cosmopolitan Binondo. Explore their history and the evolution of their architecture. Learn the historical, social, political, and economic factors that gave rise to the unique architecture of the area. Apart from learning history and architecture, learn also another Philippine devotion to the black Christ, the Santo Cristo de Loñgos
—Mª Cecilia Sunico—

This unique tour, probably a first of its kind to be conducted in the ancient arrabales of Binondo and San Nicolás, will be launched on May 3rd, a Sunday. The tour begins at exactly 8:00 AM in front of Binondo Church. Make sure to wear casual summer attire and sandals or sneakers as this tour will require plenty of walking. The tour will be facilitated by my friend Cecille Sunico, a well-known heritage activist in Manila who is also a descendant of the famous Hilario Sunico; chances are, the bells ringing from your población‘s old church belltower were cast from Sunico’s San Nicolás foundry (see photo above)

The fee is only ₱500 per person (exclusive of meals). Click here to join!

San Nicolás de Tolentino Church in Ilocos Norte needs our help

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I just learned from Arnaldo that Henry Sy’s money-making monster, the SM Group of Companies, is set to build a mall right beside (‘gasp!’) a heritage site. And that heritage site is no ordinary site, dear readers — I am referring to the 310-year-old San Nicolás de Tolentino Church in San Nicolás, Ilocos Norte!

MANIFESTO

We, the undersigned Catholics of the Parish of San Nicolás de Tolentino and other concerned Catholics respectfully bring to Your Excellency our serious concern about the seemingly imminent lease or probably sale of a southern portion of the lot on which the Catholic Church stands. We only came to know this from some concerned Catholics of the town. Although we do not have a direct knowledge about this rumor, we are convinced it is true.

Visualizing what may happen next, this is the scenario we believe will transpire: that the southeastern portion of the Catholic lot immediately adjacent to the Catholic Church will be leased or maybe sold to SM, a giant commercial corporation that operates malls in different parts of the Philippines. How big the land to be leased is only a matter of our imagination but it could be the site of the convent and probably to include the eastern side of the original building of Santa Rosa Academy.

The size of the land rented or leased whether small or big is not important to us. What concerns us is the desecration of a sacred ground and the invasion of the privacy of our Catholic Church and Santa Rosa Academy considering the fact that the commercial building will be built just beside the Catholic Church on its southern side and adjacent to the old building of Santa Rosa Academy on its eastern side.

Please click here (Ms. Guía Imperial’s blog) to read the manifesto in full.

Iglesia de San Nicolás de Tolentino, San Nicolás, Ilocos Norte.

And whether you are a Christian/Catholic or not, you may want to show your support if you are a heritage advocate. This is all about respecting history and preserving our national treasures. Our heritage structures help us define our national identity. We must not allow these to be defaced nor defamed in the name of profit. So please add your name in the said manifesto by leaving it as a comment in Ms. Imperial’s site. Thank you. Dios ti agngina ken sapay koma ta denggen ti Apo daytoy a dawat tayo. (God bless, and may He hear our prayer.)

Jerry Acuzar and heritage conservation

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For the heritage conservationist, San Nicolás in Manila is a well of opportunities to tap into one’s worth as a cultural worker. It is because this fabled district is filled with decaying centuries-old Filipino houses that are yet to be saved by the government and other concerned sectors. It is but unfortunate that there has been no move yet to salvage these historical treasures from the deathly claws of urbanization and civil apathy. Around three years ago, me and my friends Arnaldo Arnáiz and Will Tolosa visited the place and took pictures of almost all the antique houses. One that stood out from among the rest was the so-called Casa Vizantina.

BEFORE: A picture that I took of a decrepit-looking Casa Vizantina when it was still in the corner of Calles Madrid and Peñarubia, San Nicolás, Manila in 2008.

AFTER: Casa Vizantina restored to its former glory by Jerry Acuzar when we visited it last year in its new home in Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in Bagac, Bataán.

I am very familiar with Casa Vizantina’s façade. Whenever we go to my mom’s home in Tondo, we often pass by San Nicolás, right in front of this house. Throughout my growing-up years of traveling to and from Tondo, I do notice this house’s gradual deterioration. Year after year, the house turns more uninhabitable although several squatter families still live inside it.

It is interesting to note that the popular Casa Manila in nearby Intramuros was modeled after Casa Vizantina. This San Nicolás gem was built in the late 1800s by a certain Don Lorenzo del Rosario. During the First World War, the house was leased out to the Instituto de Manila (former president Manuel Roxas once studied there! today, the school proper is in Sampáloc district and is now known as the University of Manila). When all of Manila was being burned and bombed by the Japanese Imperial Army and the US WASPs, almost all of San Nicolás was miraculously spared. But what the war did not do to this once majestic arrabal the neo-poor did. Casa Vizantina, for instance, was leased out to “various tenants”. Little by little, the house was apparently abandoned by its original owners. Sadly, this once-upon-a-time palace became a castle of various squatter families —a “legacy” of US WASP governance— from the Visayas and elsewhere. Many other old houses in San Nicolás were being toppled down almost every year. And this alarming travesty continues to this day. It is very disheartening to hear that in every regime change, promises of a booming economy are continuously thrown at our faces. But we never hear anything from them about conserving our past treasures such as these San Nicolás houses that could even rival those in Taal, Batangas. The San Nicolás houses have a very big potential to attract tourists especially our Spanish, Latin American, and even Southeast Asian friends (remember that the bahay na bató is a perfect blend of Oriental and Occidental). Since the dawn of the internet, blogging, and Facebook, we have been seeing so many self-appointed heritage advocates clamoring for the conservation of various heritage sites throughout the country. But the government paid attention to other duties. And hardly do we find any philanthropical action dedicated towards the conservation of our past architectural masterpieces.

Enter Jerry Acuzar in the picture.

This self-made millionaire from Quiapò, Manila has been collecting heritage houses (bahay na bató) from all over the Philippines for several years already. As a young boy, he used to pass by Calle Hidalgo on his way to school. In his growing-up years, he witnessed how the beautiful Filipino ancestral homes found in the said street deteriorated. He then wondered why these houses were not being taken cared of by both the owners and the local government. Years later, he took it upon himself to save prominent but abandoned/semi-abandoned antique houses found all over the country. After buying them from their respective owners, Acuzar had these houses dismantled (his critics use the word “demolition”), had them transported to his seaside hacienda in Bagac, Bataán, and from there resurrected to how they originally looked like. Originally, Acuzar planned to make his Bataán property his own private getaway, but changed his mind. He then opened his 400-hectare seaside resort to the general public. The once private hacienda became known as Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar.

Casa Vizantina is one of the houses he was able to save from further humiliation, neglect, and possible destruction. It is now back to its former glory, albeit in a different site.

This herculean effort of Acuzar, however, received both praise and negative criticism from various sectors. Indignation against him reached its crescendo last year when the nation learned that he already bought and started dismantling the ancestral home of the national hero’s mother in Biñán, La Laguna. The dismantling was put to a halt when heritage conservation groups led by Dr. Rosauro “Bimbo” Sta. María of the United Artists for Cultural Conservation and Development, Inc. (UACCD) pressured the local government. As of this writing, the impasse between the City of Biñán and the UACCD vs Jerry Acuzar and Gerry Alberto has yet to be resolved. Over the past few months, my ambivalent stance towards the actions of Mr. Acuzar remains to be unresolved as well. Me and my wife had the opportunity to visit his estate late last year. Right after that visit, it dawned upon me that if it is possible to dismantle houses from their original locations, is it not possible to return them there as well? Shouldn’t we just consider Acuzar’s estate as a temporary haven for these houses, as a “safe-keeping” enclave where they will be maintained everyday until their local governments and/or original owners will be able to afford to take them back?

Various hispanistas and conservation heritage advocates such as popular travel blogger Ivan Henares and my Círculo Hispano-Filipino contertulios Gemma Cruz de Araneta and Dr. Fernando N. Ziálcita maintained that heritage structures should remain in situ. As Henares put it, “structures should remain where they are, preserved together with the environment they were built in”. But should these houses continue to remain where they are even if their very own environment starts neglecting them? That will no longer be heritage conservation.

Based on my observation (and experience), perhaps 99% of local governments all over our country do not have heritage conservation on the top of their to-do list. About a decade ago, I was working part-time for the now defunct Nueva Era newspaper which Señor Guillermo Gómez edited. It was the last Spanish-language newspaper in the Philippines. Me and Señor Gómez usually went around Metro Manila taking photos of all ancestral houses that our eyes could catch, for we feared that they will not remain standing in the next few years (before I joined the old man, he was already traveling around the country taking photos of various bahay na bató). We would then publish the photos in the said newspaper (those were the days before blogging, Facebook and Twitter ruled the universe). To our quixotic minds, since we are powerless to physically save those houses from being torn down, we were at least able to record historical memories for posterity’s sake. And browsing through past issues of Nueva Era, our fears proved to be true after all. We noticed that year after year, these Filipino houses continue to be demolished to give way to modernity. No worth at all is given for their historical value. Our patrimony was placed further into the darkest background. A bahay na bató was turned into nothing more but a mere bahay na bató that has no more place in modern times. It seemed as if nobody even cared to save these houses anymore.

But Acuzar is doing exactly that — saving Filipino structures from years and decades of neglect by having them transferred to his estate where they will remain taken cared of for good. Of course, the thought that he will earn money from it should be taken out of the question in the meantime. The fact remains that Acuzar will shell out money regularly to have these ancestral houses he had “snatched away” from neglect and ruin to be well-maintained and preserved for ages. Henares will definitely counter this. He wrote in his blog that the best solution is to educate the masses about the importance and worth of heritage structures found within their locality. I agree, or should agree. But is anybody doing this? With all due respect to Mr. Henares, has he or anybody else offered any concrete steps on how to do this? Who exactly should be responsible to educate the masses? And more importantly, who and how will this project be funded? And will this “education” immediately save the Alberto Mansion? Remember: around 20% of that structure was already dismantled last year. Only an official verdict is keeping it from being totally transported from Biñán to Bagac. Also, the owner, Gerry Alberto, needs no education on heritage; he is a highly educated man, and a distant relative of Rizal himself.

Henares also added that Acuzar should just build replicas in his hacienda instead. Still, building a replica of, say, the Alberto Mansion will not exactly save the Alberto House in Biñán. Gerry Alberto gave up on it already due to financial problems of maintaining it. If he hadn’t sold it to Acuzar, then he would have sold it to other people. And if that ever happened, perhaps a more terrible scenario could have occurred to the house itself. But in Acuzar’s hands, at least future generations will still be able to see it. And, as I have mentioned earlier, there is always the possibility of bringing the whole house back to Biñán once the Biñenses are truly ready to take care of it.

Going back to the Alberto House, what matters here now is how it should be conserved. And Acuzar was able to find a more viable solution. Before the Acuzar purchase, almost nobody ever gave a damn as to what this house is all about. But when the purchase and dismantling commenced, out came the “concerned” activists. Out came the “angry voices”. Out came Facebook pages trying to save the Alberto House. I guess what I hate about this hullaballoo is why do we have to wait for an Acuzar to enter the picture before we TRULY act? Now, it’s almost too late.

I would like to stress out that I am not against movements such as the UACCD. It’s just that their protestations came out a little too late. And although I am saddened by the thought that the spot where the Alberto house still stands might become vacant soon, I admit that I have now become somewhat soft against Acuzar’s ancestral-house purchases because to date only he has provided the most viable solution against the destruction of Filipino ancestral homes. Sometimes, unwanted methods had to be used for the sake of heritage conservation. Such are the methods of Acuzar. So let me make this clear once more: what I dislike about this heritage controversy is the apparent tardiness of Filipinos. They usually make noise only when the trouble has started to make serious damages.

I received some flak against members of the UACCD for my rather unfriendly remarks against their protest rally last year. One member even dared me on my sentiment about not writing anything about Biñán anymore. But let bygones be bygones. Right now, what is important is for all people concerned to save Doña Teodora Alonso’s ancestral house in situ. Besides, Dr. Sta. María himself revealed to me that he and his group has finally made some “strategic plan” to save the Alberto ancestral house. I have yet to interview him to know more about this. It is still worth a try. It might save not only the Alberto Mansion but also all ancestral homes in San Nicolás as well as those found all over the country.

But if this proves to be another failure, then let us all leave Jerry Acuzar alone.

Lastly, if P-Noy is really sincere in attaining everything good for our country’s sake, then may he be able to transfer the still existing military slush funds into saving the Alberto Mansión. With political will, he can do that in just a snap of a finger. Turn bad money into good.

Heritage conservation should not rest solely on non-governmental institutions such as the UACCD. It should be one of our government’s top priorities. Conserving our patrimony will help us map out our future because through it, we will be able to catch a glimpse of our future by reflecting on images of our beautiful past. And glimpses of our beautiful past are still within our midst.

Not everything is lost yet. Just look around; you might be able to see a bahay na bató “shimmering” alone on a street corner…

A blast from the past! (Taal, Batangas)

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Aside from the old town of Vigan in Ilocos Sur (and perhaps Intramuros de Manila), the municipality of Taal has the highest concentration of well-preserved Antillean houses locally known as the bahay na bató, a mixture of pre-Filipino (or before the foundation of our country), Spanish, and Chinese architectural influences. The town is very fortunate for not being razed to the ground by both Japanese and American forces during the last world war. And this is perhaps due to the intervention of the town’s patron saint, Martín de Tours (whose image is housed inside the mighty interiors of the Basílica de San Martín de Tours), and also of Our Lady of Caysasay.

Last October 5 (Monday morning), Arnaldo and I went to Taal. Despite a looming low blood pressure, I just have to take that trip. Haven’t done much traveling and “field work” for a long, long time. We were unfortunate, though, to find out that most famous houses there which are now museums are closed on Mondays. That’s why we don’t have photos of some of the houses’ interiors. Drats.

It was my second time in Taal. The first time I was there was when I was still a college brat. Me and my Parañaque homies were just passing by on our way to Lemery to party and swim and get drunk. I didn’t care much about local history back then. And so this time around, I was prepared for one of the grandest moments of my life — a walk through time, a blast from the past!

Walking along the old streets of Taal reminded me of other centuries-old Filipino homes across the country. Many of them are already neglected. And every year, many of them are nonchalantly brought down to the ground to give way to the new (what price modernization!).

Here in Taal, the people take pride of their town’s rich cultural past. The people are wise enough to preserve their homes not just for posterity but for the sake of income-generating tourism. If only other towns follow Taal’s initiative, not only will they give their own people rewarding jobs, they would also help conserve remnants of our Filipino Identity.

I once tried to do the same for Unisan, Quezon, my father’s hometown. Some houses there could rival the beauty and architecture of those in Taal. But I failed, no thanks to hooligans in uniform.

I hope that the national government will do something to spread the conservationist stance of Taal. After all, to borrow from renowned conservationist Augusto Villalón, heritage conservation is everyone’s business.

Without further kalamazoo, here are the photos we took of that wonderful Hispanic town in Batangas — Taal!!!

A neighborhood of history and charm...

A neighborhood of history and charm…

HISTORICAL MARKER OF TAAL, BATANGAS AT THE MUNICIPAL HALL

Taal, Batangas

NATIONAL HISTORICAL COMMISSION, 1972

ANG BAYAN NG TAAL (1572)

UNANG ITINATAG SA POOK NG BALANGON NOONG 1572. DAHIL SA MADALAS NA PAGPUTOK NG BULKAN AY INILIPAT ANG BAYAN SA KASALUKUYANG POOK. NAGING KABISERA NOONG 1732 KAYA’T TAAL ANG IPINANGALAN SA BUONG LALAWIGAN. NANG MULING MASIRA ANG BAYAN DAHIL SA PAGPUTOK NG BULKAN NOONG 1754, ANG KABISERA AY INILIPAT SA BATANGAN AT ISINUNOD DITO ANG PANGALAN NG LALAWIGAN. ANG BULKAN NG TAAL, NA PINAKAMALIIT SA BUONG DAIGDIG, AY NSA GITNA NG LAWA NG BONBON AT SA BUNGANGA NG BULKAN AY MAY ISANG PULONG NASA ISA PANG MALIIT NA LAWA. PUMUTOK ANG BULKAN NOONG 1634, 1635, 1641, 1709, 1718, 1729, 1731, 1749, 1754, 1867, 1874, 1880, 1911 AT 1965. ANG NGAYO’Y MGA BAYAN NG LEMERY, SAN LUIS, AGONCILLO, SAN NICOLAS, AT STA. TERESITA AY DATING SAKOP NG TAAL.

Ventanas cerradas: the curse of modernization seems not to be welcome among these houses.

Ventanas cerradas: the curse of modernization seems not to be welcome among these houses.

To the local government of Taal: please save this Filipino house!

To the local government of Taal: please save this Filipino house!

This one didn't get lucky...

This one didn\’t get lucky…

One part of this house (near the municipal hall) is converted into a small school.

One part of this house (near the municipal hall) is converted into a small school.

Philippine baroque: adobe ground floor; wooden second floor projecting over the sidewalk -- classic bahay-na-bató design!

Philippine baroque: adobe ground floor; wooden second floor projecting over the sidewalk — classic bahay-na-bató design!

An 18th-century house converted into a small hotel under the auspices of the Taal Heritage Foundation.

An 18th-century house converted into a small hotel under the auspices of the Taal Heritage Foundation.

Cute cubed casita.

Cute cubed casita.

Many Taal houses have opened shops on their stone-built ground floors such as this one.

Many Taal houses have opened shops on their stone-built ground floors such as this one.

Arnold said it's a house. I think it's a bodega. But we're not really sure. Whatever it is, it's still exquisite to our eyes, a historic Taal edifice.

Arnold said it\’s a house. I think it\’s a bodega. But we\’re not really sure. Whatever it is, it\’s still exquisite to our eyes, a historic Taal edifice.

An amalgam of old and new.

An amalgam of old and new.

There is no street in Taal where there are no classic Filipino houses.

There is no street in Taal where there are no classic Filipino houses.

A well-maintained bahay-na-bató.

A well-maintained bahay-na-bató.

Taal town still uses CALLE instead of STREET! Awesome! A job well done for preserving something that is very Filipino!

Taal town still uses CALLE instead of STREET! Awesome! A job well done for preserving something that is very Filipino!

Historical marker at the ancestral home of Doña Marcela Mariño de Agoncillo, the principal seamstress of the first and official Philippine flag.

Historical marker at the ancestral home of Doña Marcela Mariño de Agoncillo, the principal seamstress of the first and official Philippine flag.

 

PHILIPPINE HISTORICAL COMMITTEE 1955

MARCELA MARIÑO DE AGONCILLO 1859-1946

IPINANGANAK SA TAAL 24 HUNYO 1859; NAG-ARAL SA KOLEHIYO NG SANTA CATALINA; ASAWA NI FELIPE AGONCILLO AT SIYA NIYANG MATAPAT NA KATULONG SA KANYANG MGA GAWAING MAKABAYAN; IPINAGBILI ANG KANYANG MGA HIYAS UPANG MAGUGOL NG ASAWA SA MISYON NITO SA IBANG BANSA SA KAPAKANAN NG PAGSASARILI NG PILIPINAS. SA PANAHON NG KANILANG PAGKAPATAPON SA HONG KONG, AY TINAHI NIYA ANG UNANG BANDILANG PILIPINO NA BUONG PAGMAMALAKING IWINAGAYWAY NI HENERAL AGUINALDO SA KAWIT NOONG 12 HUNYO 1898 SA PAGPAPAHAYAG NG PAGSASARILI NG PILIPINAS. NAMATAY SA TAAL 30 MAYO 1946.

 

A row of Barong Tagalog stalls at the public market.

A row of Barong Tagalog stalls at the public market.

We had Lomi for lunch at the mercado público!

We had Lomi for lunch at the mercado público!

This arch is a disappointment. The carved text should've been written either in Spanish or Tagalog to preserve the town's historicity.

This arch is a disappointment. The carved text should\’ve been written either in Spanish or Tagalog to preserve the town\’s historicity.

 

THE ANCESTRAL HOME OF ANANIAS DIOKNO

 

The home of one of Taal’s local heroes, Ananias Diokno, is a sad story. The place is already decrepit, and the second floor can even be destroyed by ten men’s bare hands within minutes. What’s ironic is that there is a historical marker placed on the house’s first floor exterior wall, implying that the place is taken care of by local authorities. Hopefully, this house will still be preserved for posterity.

The ancestral home of Ananias Diokno (un taaleño revolucionario).

The ancestral home of Ananias Diokno (un taaleño revolucionario).

Ananias Diokno historical marker.

Ananias Diokno historical marker.

NATIONAL HISTORICAL INSTITUTE, 1991

ANANIAS DIOKNO

KILALA SA TAGURING HENERAL NG KARAGATAN. IPINANGANAK SA TAAL, BATANGAS, ENERO 22, 1860. NAGING KALIHIM NG DIGMA SA PAMAHALAANG PANGKAGAWARAN NG BATANGAS, 1898; NAMUMUNONG HENERAL NG HUKBONG EKSPEDISYUNARYO NG PANAY; MATAGUMPAY NA NAKIPAGLABAN SA BALWARTE NG MGA KASTILA SA AKLAN, ANTIQUE, CAPIZ AT LUNGSOD NG ILOILO; GOBERNADOR PAMPULITIKO-MILITAR NG CAPIZ. LUMAHOK SA PAKIKIPAGLABAN NG MGA GERILYA NOONG DIGMAANG PILIPINO AT AMERIKANO SA CAPIZ, 1898. NAKIPAGLABAN AT NADAKIP NG MGA AMERIKANO SA MAY BUNDOK MAKAWIWILI, AKLAN, 1901. NAMATAY SA ARAYAT, PAMPANGA, NOBYEMBRE 2, 1922.

THE ANCESTRAL HOME OF LEÓN APACIBLE

LEÓN APACIBLE ANCESTRAL HOME

The ancestral home of León Apacible. Rizal and other propagandists have been to this house.

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MARÍA YLAGAN OROSA – FABIÁN DE LA ROSA ANCESTRAL HOUSE

YLAGAN - DE LA ROSA

Historical marker of the Ylagan – de la Rosa ancestral house

YLAGAN - DE LA ROSA 2

YLAGAN - DE LA ROSA

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BASÍLICA DE SAN MARTÍN DE TOURS

Basílica de Saint Martín de Tours

Basílica de Saint Martín de Tours

For years, I’ve been hearing a lot about the old church in Taal which is situated on a high hill, and about the Virgin of Caysasay. I’ve always thought that this miraculous image is housed in that same old church on top of the hill. So when Arnaldo and I arrived in Taal and saw the massive structure of the church, I thought that it was the Church of Caysasay. But the natives told me otherwise.

Pardon my ignorance, dear readers. So the Church of Taal and the Church of Caysasay are two different churches after all.

The Church of Taal is officially known as the Basílica de San Martín de Tours, the largest church in all of Asia! It stands 96 meters long and 45 meters wide. It was the Augustinian Missionaries who initiated the construction of this “magnificent monstrosity” way back in 1856. Even today, modern architecture might still find it difficult to build such a structure. So you could just imagine the kind of architectural and masonic genius our forefathers (and Spanish architect Luciano Oliver) had —not to mention the dedication and faith— in creating such a stylish and grand structure for God and Christianity and its people in this quaint and bucolic town of Taal.

As stated in the town’s historical marker, Taal used to be in a different site. The Taal basilica was first built in present day San Nicolás, Batangas under the care of Fray Diego Espina, O.S.A. in 1575. But in 1754, nearby Volcán de Bonbón (the onomatopoeical ancient name of Taal Volcano) erupted so violently it destroyed not only the original church but the whole town of Taal itself. The church was then transferred to its present site, the Taal that we know today.

A new land was prepared for the new church in 1755, but in 1849 it was destroyed again, this time by an earthquake. Construction of the new church began in 1856 and lasted up to 1878. A small tower was made on the church’s left side but it was destroyed during the Japanese Occupation. It was reconstructed later on, much taller than the original.

It was only during the previous generation when this historic church was made into a basilica: 8 December 1954, feast day of the Immaculate Conception; it was later declared as a national shrine on 16 January 1974.

When Arnaldo and I went there last October 5, it was a windy Monday afternoon (my favorite weather!). My shirt was flapping onto my thin frame, and the winds were bouncing heavily on the weather-beaten façade as it howled into my ears. I stood right in front of the massive structure, looking straight up. The sentiment of that moment was something indescribable. Something which curdles the blood nostalgic.

It was something else — something that is purely and spiritually FILIPINO…

We then entered the church, eyes gaping at the imposing ceilings of this granddaddy of all Batangas churches.

I would have embraced the whole structure if I were Galactus of Marvel Comics.

So far, this is the most beautiful and awe-inspiring church these pretty eyes have laid on!

The massive façade of the largest church in Asia.

The massive façade of the largest church in Asia.

Guardian.

Guardian.

The church's imposing interiors.

The church\’s imposing interiors.

SAINT MARTÍN DE TOURS

ESCUELA PÍA

Founded by Augustinians, this small edifice is one of the oldest educational institutions in the country: Escuela Pía (since 1839).

PEPE ALAS EN LA BASÍLICA DE SAN MARTÍN DE TOURS

Nope. Not Europe — Batangas!

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NUESTRA SEÑORA DE CAYSASAY

The church which houses the 17th-century gem -- Nuestra Señora de Caysasay.

The church which houses the 17th-century gem — Nuestra Señora de Caysasay.

The chapel-like Church of Caysasay is a stark contrast to the giant that is the Basílica de San Martín de Tours. Caysasay Church is located in the outskirts of the town, standing beside Río de Pansipit. The famous icon of Nuestra Señora de Caysasay, a 17th-century image of the Immaculate Conception, is housed there. The image was discovered by a Taaleño fisherman named Juan Maningcad in 1603. Up to now, nobody knows the origins of the miraculous image. There have been even reports of apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the hill of Barrio Caysasay. The Blessed Mother of Christ appeared on the same spot where the Church of Caysasay now stands.

The historic and miraculous image of Our Lady of Caysasay.

The historic and miraculous image of Our Lady of Caysasay.

The simply-designed retablo of the centuries-old Church of Caysasay.

The simply-designed retablo of the centuries-old Church of Caysasay.

Nuestra Señora de Caysasay

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The ancestral home of Don Gregorio R. Agoncillo.

The ancestral home of Don Gregorio R. Agoncillo.

OUR HERITAGE SPEAKS SO MUCH OF OUR IDENTITY. CONSERVATION SPEAKS SO MUCH OF OUR LOVE AND RESPECT FOR OUR OWN IDENTITY.

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