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Nature and tourism: think about it (Earth Day 2015)

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Undated aerial view of old Sariaya. © Saint Joseph’s Academy Student Canteen.

Look at all this extensive forest cover behind the town of old Sariaya in Tayabas Province! Do we even still have such scenery in that province, let alone in the rest of the country? The photo’s in sepia, but I could imagine how awed the photographer must have been to see a world blanketed in and endless sea of green at the foot of Monte Banajao.

Sadly, this scene is no more.

I only get to see scenes of towns standing beside huge forests in movies filmed abroad. But in our country, it’s deplorable. I remember scaling one mountain in Batangas years ago and was aghast to find a ramshackle house in the middle of an upland forest there being maintained by a family with kids who still go to school every day. And the house’s surroundings have been cleared off for farming. That was almost a decade ago; I start to wonder if they have neighbors there now. Our country has lost so much forest cover because of capitalist activities. Back then, one could really say that our country was really paradisiacal. But when rapid commercialization crept in at an alarming pace, only a few places, many of which are now privately owned, are left to enjoy.

In my opinion, nature is what attracts tourists the most. All else is secondary. Therefore, aside from tangible heritage, our natural surroundings are what our country should value the most. Our government should learn how to strike a balance between industrialization and environmental protection. A well-conserved forest cover side by side with built heritage will definitely bring our country to places in the tourism scene.

¡Feliz Día de la Tierra!

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La Laguna Lakeshore Tour (dry run)

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FILIPINO eSCRIBBLES & WITH ONE’S PAST present: La Laguna Lakeshore Tour (dry run)! Image design by NCCA’s León.

We prayed for sunny skies. And we got more than what we bargained for. The weather wasn’t just fine during the dry run of our La Laguna Lakeshore Tour venture last November 16 — it was literally dry. So dry it was I thought summer swapped months with the cold season! Nevertheless, we were thankful for the cooperative weather because we were able to enjoy fully our walkathon of our selected lakeshore towns.

As discussed in a podcast two Sundays ago, me and Mr. With One’s Past are planning of making a guided tour of La Laguna Province. To start the ball rolling, we thought of doing a dry run scheduled for November 16, another Sunday. And since the only marketing tool we have at the moment is social media, we thought of publicizing about the dry run in Facebook and Twitter. Arnaldo doesn’t have a personal Facebook account, so I did most of the announcing (with some help from wifey). Those I had in mind were our former colleagues from APAC Customer Services (Los Ángeles Times account). I wrote a post about it on my wall, then tagged people left and right as I was not really expecting a lot to join. Surprisingly, many showed interest, even those outside of our LAT circle of friends. Even some members of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts confirmed their attendance which was a positive sign.

The only problem is that we were unprepared for that overwhelming reception. Logistics became a problem. Arnaldo wasn’t able to find a cheap but comfortable ride. So we had to content ourselves with his car which could only fit a maximum of four to five passengers. Good thing that one of his friends, a former subordinate of his, volunteered to bring his own car which could carry five more. We then had to limit our number of guests, trimming them down to eight (which included a five-year-old girl). Grudgingly, we had to turn down many others who had wanted to join.

On the eve of the tour, Arnaldo dropped by our place to make more plans on how we are going to conduct the tour. It was drizzling the whole day; we were so thankful that, on the next day, we woke up to sunny skies. Our prayers were answered.

Meeting place was at Alabang, Muntinlupà (at the firestation near Festival Supermall). The exciting part is that all of those who were to meet us do not know each other. And me and Arnaldo do not know all of them, either. Three were from the NCCA: Rei, León, and Myra (well, she used to be). The other one is Cuya Joey, a former colleague of mine from APAC’s Unicare account who blogs at Manila Labyrinth. The one who brought a car was Jemuel. Jemuel brought with him two friends of his: former colleague Teng who in turn tagged along her little daughter Amara, and Ruel who is also a history buff.

After some quick introductions and debriefing about the tour, we boarded our rides. Me and Krystal (who served as our photographer) rode in Jemuel’s car with his group while the rest joined Arnaldo’s. We all left at around 8:00 AM and then arrived at the Rizal Shrine in Calambâ in less than an hour. What greeted us there was unexpected from a usually slow Sunday morning at the town proper — hordes of high school students delivered by huge buses! It somehow dampened my momentum because I was already revved up for what I was about to say during the tour of the house. There was a quick change of plan; we proceeded to the town church first to show them where exactly the National Hero was baptized.

Iglesia de San Juan Bautista (Calambâ).

We returned to the shrine a few minutes later, but the hundreds of students who were still lined up towards the entrance were crammed like MRT passengers during rush hour. Since we were not part of the field trip, we gained easy access. But the noise, not to mention the heat because of so many people, made me dizzy and uncomfortable. I’ve never seen so many people at the Rizal Shrine, even during those Rizal Day ceremonies that I have attended in the past. Fortunately, we survived. I was still able to explain to them the parts of a bahay na bató, with Arnaldo pitching in from time to time. Outside the shrine, both of us gave more interesting historical tidbits about the “Hometown of the National Hero“.

José Rizal Shrine (Calambâ). From left to right: Ruel, Jemuel, Teng with her daughter Amara, León, Arnaldo, me, Myra, Rei, and Cuya Joey.

Our next stop was for lunch. Surprisingly, traffic was a breeze at the national highway near the UPLB area. Then we realized that it was a Sunday. We arrived at Victoria and dined at the curiously named Itlog Ni Kuya. The theme of this quaint restaurant by the sleepy highway complements the town’s nickname as the “Duck Raising Center of Filipinas” since they serve Victoria’s delicacies: ducks, duck eggs, quail, and related products. Here one can find the best-tasting salted eggs (itlóg na pulá): not too salty nor greasy, but tasty still.

Itlog Ni Kuya (Victoria).

Hearty lunch stopover at the country’s duck raising center.

After a nice meal and some pleasantries, we drove straight to “La Noble Villa de Pila“, the only Lagunense town declared as a National Historical Landmark mainly because of its well-preserved and conserved picturesque ancestral homes and baroque church, all left unscathed —in somewhat miraculous fashion— during the last war which heavily damaged many other towns in the province (thus one reason why Pileños proudly proclaim their town as “Bayang Pinagpalà“).

Both Victoria and Pila have a shared history because the former used to be a part of the latter. In fact, the original town of Pila used to be located in present-day Victoria. The ruins of the original church of Pila can still be seen in Victoria’s Barrio Pagalañgan. All this I explained to them like a boss. Kinda.

Giving a brief background about the beautiful heritage town of Pila.

Iglesia de San Antonio de Padua (Pila).

The NCCA folks and Teng are so amused by Casa Hipólito Rivera’s creative attempt on adaptive reuse. Almost all ancestral homes in Pila are well-preserved, many of which have been turned into business establishments, but without any major alterations done to the houses’ physical features.

After a fun photo-ops around Pila’s picturesque town plaza, we proceeded to nearby Pagsanján, the “Tourist Capital of La Laguna“, so-called mainly because of Bumbuñgan River’s exciting rapids that lead towards the world-famous Pagsanján Falls (which is actually within the territory of Cavinti). But there are more reasons as to why Pagsanján merits this lofty title. One of them is this antique stone arch.

That’s me, Jemuel, and Ruel by the Puerta Real (Royal Gate).

Known as the “Puerta Real” (Royal Gate), this stone arch is made entirely out of adobe with carabao milk and lime used for mortar. It was constructed from 1878 to 1880 and was inaugurated in 1894 by Pedro Paterno, a contemporary of Rizal, who wrote the first Filipino novel entitled “Nínay”. Paterno later became the province’s representative (first district) to the first Philippine Assembly from 1907 to 1909.

The last time I gave this arch a closer look was almost three years ago. It still looked OK back then. But last Sunday, while inspecting the arch with Jemuel and Ruel, I sensed that something was wrong with it. After checking it out closely, I noticed that it was recently coated with cement finish! This unwise move appears to have just happened recently.  This is not good because cement is harmful to adobe. And worse, the historical marker was no longer there!

My golly. Whoever ordered this double desecration of Puerta Real ought to be poured with fresh cement.

Anyway, after that sad discovery, we drove past the arch and slowly passed through “Calle Real” (Royal Road), another one of Pagsanján’s gems. Left and right are handsomely preserved ancestral homes, many of which are older than one’s great grandparents. At the end of that engaging road is the white-painted town church. But before visiting it, Arnaldo thought it best to first visit the semi-abandoned house of the ancestors of our esteemed historian friend, Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera.

At the rooftop of the semi-abandoned Casa Gómez, familiarizing our guests with Pagsanján’s geography. One of the earliest settlers, if not the founder, of this house was Francisco Gómez, a 17th-century “alférez” (sub-lieutenant) of Pagsanján who married an india (native) by the name of María Dimaculañgan. Two of their descendants were Premio Zóbel winners: Guillermo Gómez Windham (the first person to have won the prestigious award) in 1922, and our personal friend Guillermo Gómez Rivera in 1975.

It was Arnaldo’s idea to include this in the itinerary, something which I agreed to. Admittedly, this bahay na bató is not tourist material. While some of its old features are still intact, most are already dilapidated. The stairway’s balustrade was said to have been stolen, which I doubt (I suspect it was sold). The “yacál” flooring is already in bad shape. The window panels were no longer in place. The ceiling was a mess. Several informal settlers already live within the house, having made a home out of each “dormitorio“. The purpose of the visit was to instill awareness or an “awakening” among our guests about how today’s generation treat their ancestral homes. Because this kind of treatment often happens in many ancestral houses, most especially in Metro Manila and in surrounding provinces. Such a house in this condition seems out of place in a beautiful heritage town like Pagsanján whose many ancestral houses remain intact and livable.

Afterwards, we walked towards the town church. It’s just nearby since Casa Gómez is right behind it.

Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Pagsanján).

After exploring the interiors of the church, we walked towards the riverbank which is just a few steps away. The area we went to is where the terminal of the “banqueros” (boatmen of the Pagsanján Rapids) are located. It is the perfect spot to bring tourists in order for them not just to know but to see the origin of the town’s name.

The name Pagsanján originated from the word “pinágsañgahan” which means “branching out” because, coming from Laguna de Bay’s eastern bay to the north, the Lumbán River branches out (“nagsásañga“) into two: Bumbuñgan River to the left which leads straight to the world-famous falls, and Balanac River to the right which goes through the town of Magdalena (see photo below). Before the Spanish advent, Chinese traders often landed in this area where they traded their wares with the natives.

Pagsanján is actually a “bonus” to our lakeshore tour because it is not situated beside Laguna de Bay. It is a landlocked municipality, surrounded by Lumbán to the north, Cavinti to the east, Santa Cruz to the west, and Magdalena to the south.  Its only direct connection to the lake is Lumbán River which it shares with the Municipality of Lumbán. In history, Pagsanján was a mere visita or barrio of Lumbán during Spanish times.

Speaking of Lumbán, “The Embroidery Capital of Filipinas” was next on our itinerary. It was already past three in the afternoon, little Amara was weary, and we were way behind our itinerary. That’s why we decided to stay at Lumbán’s town proper only for a short time. In fact, the impromptu plan was to just drive by the church. But Arnaldo decided to drop off altogether. At the grassy town plaza between the church and the Lumbán River, we gave our guests a brief historical background of the town as well as other interesting tidbits (the lumbán tree, the Laguna Copperplate Inscription, etc.).

Iglesia de San Sebastián el Mártir (Lumbán).

When I shared to them that my kids had an exciting time at the rooftop of the church last January, Cuya Joey wanted to climb as well. Unfortunately, we were running out of time. We really had to leave for the next town. Maybe next time, Cuya Joey. But by then, you will have to pay us and sign that very important waiver so that I can finally push you off from any bell tower we’d climb (insert evil laughter here). 😀

Arnaldo and myself sharing historical tidbits about Lumbán. Although we do not employ theatrics and comedy in our tour, we try our best to make what we share as interesting and as accurate as possible but with occasional wit and laughter.

Hurriedly afterwards, we went to Paeté, “The Carving Capital of Filipinas“. Our first stop was the town church. We parked in front of the municipal hall (Teng had to be left behind because Amara was already taking a nap). While walking towards the patio to view the church’s renowned façade, I told the guests to follow me and not to look at the façade just yet. They were wondering why. Several meters away from the façade, I climbed a concrete planter box (a note to environmentalists: no plants or animals were harmed during the dry run of our tour). I told the rest to join me. Upon climbing, I then told them that they can finally turn around to look at the church. They were all astounded with the view…

Iglesia de Santiago Matamoros (Paeté).

I always recommend that very spot whenever viewing the church of Paeté. When I brought Krystal here last November 2, I bid her to do the same. She’s been hearing so much from me about this spectacular view of the churchc. That’s why she was excitedly obedient when I told her not to look at the church until she had climbed the concrete planter box. She couldn’t contain the excitement and glee on her face when she finally saw the splendid vista. Indeed, Paeté Church is best viewed from this distance because it includes Monte Humaráp behind it, thus giving out a picturesquely breathtaking effect.

The centuries-old paintings of José Luciano Dans inside Paeté Church.

At Paeté Church, we had time to climb the bell tower since that town was our penultimate stop, anyway. Jemuel and I accompanied bell-tower freak Cuya Joey up the campanario (it was just my second time up there). From the bell tower, one can have a 360° view of the town. Up there, the vista of the town’s multicolored houses, of Mount Humaráp’s lush greenery, and of Laguna de Bay’s sparkling eastern bay, coupled with a strong, fresh breeze, is simply indescribable. It makes you want to scream and be stoic at the same time.

Photo courtesy of Jemuel.

However, it is not advisable to climb up the tower without proper supervision — my supervision to be exact, haha. But seriously, the wooden ladder inside the bell tower is already ancient and rickety. And outside the dome, the terrace is very low, making it scary to walk or even stand upright. That is why if you want to experience the euphoria that this height offers, you will have to book a tour with us.

Only boring people will get tired of visiting Paeté’s cultural landmark: Kape Kesada Art Gallery. This place also serves coffee, including the expensive Kopi Luwak. With us is Bevs, the friendly owner‘s trusted assistant.

We also passed by the popular Kape Kesada Art Gallery where we had some freshly brewed coffee. Too bad our friend Dr. Nilo Valdecantos, the owner of the place, was away to attend to some urgent matter. I was hoping that he would deliver a Tagalog ode to our group, hehe. But his trusted girl Friday Bevs was there to attend to us. Some of the group also strolled around Calle Quesada to shop for some woodwork. A lady vendor selling quesong putî (a delicacy of Lumbán and Santa Cruz) also dropped by to sell her wares. Two woodcarvers were working on a bulky piece of wood, trying to fashion out of it perhaps a dog. We also saw two caucasians who sat in front of the gallery drinking beer. Culang na lang si Vice President Bínay.

During our coffee break, we had an open forum and asked our guests about their opinion of this La Laguna Lakeshore Tour that we are planning to launch sometime in January 2015. We asked them if they have any complaints, suggestions, etc. It was a lively discussion which helped us see avenues for improvement. For instance, Arnaldo opened up an interesting question to the group: should we still include Casa Gómez in the itinerary? Many in the group honestly find it uninteresting. But Ruel pointed out that if we could only tour future guests in a live ancestral house, i.e., not “artificial” like the Rizal Shrine in Calambâ, prior to entering Pagsanján, then that might add more interest towards our objective (instilling concern towards ancestral homes). Our guests should be able to enter a living ancestral house prior to entering a dying one in order to stir in them the sentiment that we want them to realize. Ruel said that he heard of a house in Pila that is open to tourists, but he couldn’t recall which house. Me and Arnaldo will have to trouble ourselves about that in the coming weeks.

Everybody pitched in their suggestions, possible scenarios, tour rates, etc. Even Bevs gave her thoughts about the tour. We are so grateful to all of you guys!

My daughter Krystal embracing a giant pencil, probably carved out from coco lumber. There are more or less 80 woodcraft factories in Paeté, with the more famous ones found along Calle Quesada at the town proper. The industry provides 70% of the population’s livelihood.

After Paeté, our last stop was Páquil (even at gunpoint I will never spell it as Pakil). Teng had to wake up Amara since it was our last stop. Besides, everybody in our group should see the marvelous façade that was designed by Bartolomé Palatino, the same Paeteño who designed the façade of nearby Paeté Church.

Páquil is known as the “Home of the Turumba Festival“, the longest fiesta in the country and probably in all of Christendom. This festival is held seven times a year, beginning on a Friday before Holy Week up to the seventh Sunday after Easter as well as during the town’s fiesta on May 12 (Fiesta Paquileña) and the feast day of Our Lady of Sorrows on September 15, the same date when the first Turumba was held (15 September 1788).

The church was filled when we got there (at half past five). Before some photo-ops, Arnaldo gathered all of our guests at the plaza fronting the church. There I explained to them that the central figure of the Turumba Festival is a painting of the Virgin Mary locally known as Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de Turumba. This mysterious work of art (9″ x 11″ oil painting on canvas) is now enshrined in its own chapel on the second floor of the convent. I said mysterious because its origin is up to now shrouded in mystery. According to local legend, the framed painting was seen floating in Laguna de Bay by fishermen. They were able to tow it towards the shore but the framed painting was so heavy, the locals could not even lift it. News of this discovery immediately spread throughout town. They called the parish priest who was surprised to recognize that the natives have just discovered a painting of Our Lady of Sorrows. The priest then cited the Litaniae Sanctorum as the people started singing and dancing out of joy and awe around the mysterious painting. Miraculously, after another attempt of lifting it, the people at last were able to do so. And as they triumphantly carried the painting towards the church, they were singing songs of praise while dancing, with the ladies joyfully clacking their “baquiâ” (wooden clogs) along the way. Thenceforth, the image was referred to as “Turumba”.

NCCA’s Rei asked a good question: what in the world does “Turumba” mean? I told him that according to the late National Artist Alejandro Roces, it could have been derived from two words: “turò” which means “to point”, and “umbáy” which is a dirge sung by sick people. I added, though, that this may all be just an etymological speculation on the part of Roces. In short, nobody really knows what Turumba means.

Iglesia de San Pedro de Alcántara (Páquil).

The façade turns into reddish-gold as the rays of the setting sun envelops it.

Before leaving Páquil, Arnaldo and I directed their attention towards the façade of the church not just to marvel at its intricate designs of Renaissance and Egyptian influences but also to see the splendid reddish-gold glow caused by the setting sun. Probably no amount of photography would be able to capture this effect. But we’re willing to bring you here just to experience it!

We left a few minutes before six in the evening, weary but satisfied. It was a fulfilling experience, at least for my part, to share knowledge about the province I love, and to tour them around it. I’ve been to these beautiful towns many times in the past. But to revisit these places this time with many people who have never been there is something else. I never dreamed of speaking in front of a group, most of all tagging along many people to a place unfamiliar to them. Actually, I can do some public speaking so long as I have a prepared speech, or maybe if I were tipsy (as I always say, I’m a writer, not a talker). So what happened last Sunday was a revelation. Many thanks to Arnaldo’s insistence and encouragement.

One more thing: all of us made new friends. At the start of the tour, not everyone in the group knew each other. A little later, we were all laughing at León’s nostalgic “Labs Ko Si Babe” story about Pila! So this is another bonus when you join our tour — you will gain new friends!

Click here to view all the photos of our educational/familiarization tour of my beloved adoptive province!

Even this church’s side entrance is not spared from artistry! It could even rival the façade of other churches!

Arnaldo and I will be announcing more updates about our “La Laguna Lakeshore Tour” in the coming days to those who are interested to explore our beautiful province by the lake. Also, a “La Laguna Mountain Tour” is in the works. We also have in mind a food tour of the province as well as a heritage tour in other provinces. Therefore, and whether we like it or not, we will be needing a new blog for this venture. And if this project works out and becomes profitable, we will be setting up a Filhispanic foundation catering to Filipino studies and even flamenco dances (as envisioned by Señor Gómez). Later on, we’ll conceptualize a Filipino-themed restaurant. Then we’ll buy more land and property and build Filipino-style condominiums and villas, setup beach resorts, buy more land and property, and eventually, establish a huge mall. We’ll probably call it La Solidaridad Mall or something to that effect.

But first thing’s first. This La Laguna Lakeshore Tour should work out fine. Qué Dios nos bendiga.

Stay tuned for further announcements. You may follow me and/or Arnaldo on Twitter as we discuss the progress of this tourism project. You can even join us in the discussion and provide us some inputs that might be of valuable help to us. ¡Hasta entonces!

Travel with us to La Laguna Province!

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In early in 2012, I was invited to write a coffee table book for La Laguna Province. It was one of former Governor E.R. Ejército’s priority projects for the province’s culture and tourism sector. It took me more than a year to finish it, having had many sleepless moments (taking forty winks usually inside a provincial bus) because I had to juggle wage slavery, household responsibilities, and painstaking research and travel in between. I even developed varicose veins on both of my hands and forearms due to overtyping (and it pains me every single day up to this very moment). Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control, the book project did not come into fruition. I am not even informed of its status anymore.

On the bright side, I was able to tour the whole province and got to meet many important people there and even got to befriend some of them. Probably the best part of that experience was that I was able to discover the province’s long-lost foundation date without even trying (and without being given proper recognition, haha). But still, my dream of becoming a published writer remains unfulfilled. And worse, all that hardwork I poured for what could have been my very first book was all for naught.

Or so I thought.

At the Rizal Shrine in Calambâ.

Several days ago, my good ol’ buddy Arnaldo broached to me this idea of his about us becoming tour guides. Actually, he already suggested the idea to me months ago. I flatly declined, telling him that I’m just a blogger, that the only people I can tour without my knees shaking out of nervousness are my family. But Arnaldo’s the resilient type of guy. He was finally able to convince me by saying that I’m no different from him, that he’s just a blogger too. And he added that the edge that we have over other tourist guides is our background in Filipino History. We’re not just history buffs but citizen historians (gracias por introducirme a esta terminología, Señor José Perdigón). While some tourist guides are doing what they’re doing for the sake of, perhaps, fame or money (or both), we intend this venture to be an extension of our respective blogs’ advocacy: to raise awareness on the true being of our national identity by providing a correct interpretation of our country’s history.

A scenic farm in Victoria.

We had “quinulób na itic“, salted eggs, and rice during a lunch stopover at “Itlog Ni Kuya” in Victoria. This town (once a part of Pila) is known as the “Duck Raising Center of Filipinas”.

Of course we have to admit the fact that earning millions of bucks from this tourism venture every month is enticing. And because of the exposure we’d be getting, Arnaldo and I will certainly receive lucrative offers from Star Cinema, Viva Films, ABS-CBN, GMA, and all those media giants to become their contract stars. But that’s beside our true objective and is only secondary. Believe it or not. Anyway, you will fully believe this more once you learn how much we will be charging our guests (it’s guaranteed to be a bargain)!

Ang Bayang Pinagpalà.

At first, the idea was to provide a tour within the Metro Manila area. But I cautioned Arnaldo that Metro Manila has been toured to death and is somewhat crowded with tour guides already (Carlos Celdrán, Ivan Man Dy, and Bryan Ocampo to name a few). They may not be as good-looking as the two of us, but still, the metropolis playground’s already filled. So why not do it somewhere near the National Capital Region? And then it hit me: why not La Laguna, a place which I am very familiar with? Arnaldo himself, being a resident of nearby Muntinlupa City, has also traveled extensively in La Laguna and has blogged many of its towns and cities numerous times. Besides, we are not aware of any regular tour guides covering the province. And more importantly, so many Filipinos have yet to know and experience the charming beauty of La Laguna’s rustic scenery, history, culture, and heritage. Many people know the province usually because of its hot springs (“¡Tara ná sa Pansol!“), Enchanted Kingdom, and being the birthplace of José Rizal, a reality which I find unfair and a bit demeaning because La Laguna has a lot more to offer other than hot spring resorts, national shrines, or carnivals.

The “Puerta Real” (or “Arco Real”) in Pagsanján has been standing on this road since 1878.

My interest with this tourism project grew each time Arnaldo drops by at our place to discuss about it. Even my wife Yeyette has high hopes for it. The two of them are damn sure that this will work out. But I really don’t know. Not that I’m a pessimist (actually, I am), but whenever I remember my failures as a writer, I feel so frustrated. Good thing that their positive attitude is contagious.

That’s why I’m now blogging about it. 🙂 Really, I think it is worth a try!

Completed in 1600, the church of Saint Sebastian the Martyr in Lumbán town proper is the first stone church in the whole province. Lumbán was also the “matriz de todos pueblos” or the mother town of all Franciscan-founded communities in the area.

So, when I was fully convinced to accept this project, Arnaldo trusted me with the liberty to choose which towns we should tour since I was more familiar with the place. It wasn’t that easy — I guarantee you that each and every town in La Laguna has something interesting to explore (yes, there are also noteworthy sights to see even in urban San Pedro Tunasán or in obscure Rizal!). But we had to face the fact that it is not possible to tour the whole province within a day or two. And we needed to tour guests for only a day. So after much thought and deliberation, I told him that we should do “two packages”. Package A would be a lakeshore tour, or those towns located right beside Laguna de Bay. Package B would be a mountain tour, or those towns located upwards Monte Banajao. In order for the tour to push through, we should have a minimum of 15 guests. Arnaldo said that he will take care of the logistics (particularly the vehicle) and much of the talking, hehe! Because I’m more of a listener than a speaker. However, in the event that we will have Spanish-speaking guests, then I will have to take over.

For now, our focus is on Package A. And the tentative itinerary for it is:

Calambâ —> Pila —> Pagsanján —> Lumbán —> Paeté —> Páquil.

As can be seen from the photos on this blogpost, me, my daughter Krystal, and Arnaldo already made an ocular  inspection of these places last November 2.

Paeté’s “Living Legend” Dr. Nilo Valdecantos of Kape Kesada teaches my daughter how to grind expensive Kopi Luwak beans into fine powder. Yes, we had the rare chance of savoring the most expensive coffee in the world for free! Thanks for this, Doc Nilo! You’re the best!

The Church of Saint Peter of Alcántara in Páquil. Both Arnaldo and I concur that this is the most handsome church in the whole province of La Laguna. And I bet many will agree with us! Probably even that dog behind me! This will be our tour’s final stop.

“Everything happens for a reason”, Arnaldo reassured me, saying that all the sacrifice that I did for that shelved La Laguna book project really had to happen. Because it was bound to open a new door for us, after all.

I hope he’s right. Hágase la voluntad de Dios. 🙂

Click here to view all photos of our La Laguna road trip last November 2! And for more details of our tour, you may contact us here for the meantime!

¡Viajemos a La Laguna!

Mindoro’s nature-filled Port of the Galleys (Puerto Galera, Mindoro Oriental)

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Stormy days such as what we’re having right now (due to tropical storm Pedring) sometimes make me want to reminisce a couple of memorable sunny days of my life. Puerto Galera immediately comes to mind.

I’ve been to Puerto Galera many times that I already lost count (it’s just beside my wife’s hometown of Abra de Ilog in Mindoro Oriental). But each time I visit the place I never fail to find new things to discover, explore, and enjoy. People go there mostly for the whitish sands and crystal clear waters. My family visits the place for the beach and more. Suffice it to say that there can never be a dull moment when one is in Puerto Galera, the poster town for environmental sustainability aside from simply being a tourist haven.

While the more internationally renowned island of Boracay boasts of three beaches —in reality, only one of its beaches, White Beach, is famous— Puerto Galera is host to not just one but several coastlines, pocket beaches, and romantic coves (some tinged with fresh mangroves) that can be enjoyed by all types of nature lovers, not just beach goers. Due to the municipality’s perpetually curving coastlines, particularly the lovely cove-filled bay nestled between the green terrains of Isla de Boquete, Isla de San Antonio, Muelle (at the town proper), Palañgan, and the small peninsula of Sabang, Puerto Galera landed a spot in the list of the world’s most beautiful bays.

Puerto Galera’s beaches may not be at par with Boracay‘s powdery white sands and almost-invisible waters. But still, no one can ever deny Puerto Galera’s pristine beauty especially when we consider its proximity to polluted Metro Manila (the island is a mere four- to five-hour commute from the capital!). Like Ciudad de Tagaytay in Cavite, Puerto Galera relies heavily on tourism all year round. Thus, sustainable development is an imperative in this nature-filled municipality. I learned from the people there, particularly from talks with entrepreneur and Puerto Galera native Captain Peter Manalo of White Beach’s famous Peter’s Inn, Bar, & Restaurant, that the local government works doubly hard with resort owners on how to conserve the beauty of Puerto Galera.

During the early 80s, said Captain Manalo, the scenery at White Beach (Puerto Galera’s most popular beach front) was postcard-perfect, a true island paradise. Back then, there were no resorts to be found. One had to live there like Robinson Crusoe. But the beach was already a turf of regular white visitors aka foreigners (mostly rich Europeans). Ironically, it was they who first saw the potential of Puerto Galera to become the next international summer sensation in the Philippines. Captain Manalo even told me that these white beach goers served as the first guides to Filipinos vacationing from Metro Manila. Laughable but true. I think it was the same case with Boracay.

Captain Manalo was actually one of the pioneers of setting up a commercial establishment in White Beach. But in the following years, especially during the 90s, Puerto Galera became so popular to local and foreign tourists that several capitalists who are not even from town took advantage of the situation. They setup several bars and hotels. The imminent danger of congestion soon followed, and so Captain Manalo, together with other concerned locals and resort owners, took up the cudgels of doing environmental activism, perpetually disturbing the Municipal Hall to come up with environmental projects and viable solutions to curb the ballooning number of resorts. So the last time I heard, the municipal government of Puerto Galera now prohibits the establishment of additional resorts. That is why the eastern part of White Beach remains vacant to this day. Also, the municipal government has written various ordinances protecting the beach, the mangrove forests, etc. One instance: it has ordered resort owners to maintain their establishments from a certain distance from the coastline.

Now that’s sustainable development at work. Kudos!

*******

In case the people of Puerto Galera do not know yet, their lovely municipality will turn 200 years old two years from now. Although the place was first explored by Martín de Goiti and Juan de Salcedo in 1570, the town of Puerto Galera was created through a superior decree only on 23 August 1813. I try to imagine how the Spanish friars who built the población felt when they saw the site for the first time. Having lived in cold Europe, their adventurous hearts must have surely been energized by a surge of excitement, joy, and awe while planning to build a parish there. If Puerto Galera’s beauty continues to mesmerize people today, what more when it was first visited by the indigenous and the Europeans hundreds of years ago? Certainly, in the minds of those friars, building a parish there was tantamount to building a paradise on Earth. There was nothing like it in Europe or perhaps even in the Americas.

When Puerto Galera was founded on that date as a religious mission (all original Philippine towns were), Isla de Mindoro was not yet divided into east (Oriental) and west (Occidental). During those days, the jurisdiction of Puerto Galera was very large: it used to encompass much of the island, stretching as far as the towns of Sablayan and the old parish of Mangarin (now San José), both of which are now in Mindoro Occidental; Puerto Galera itself remained oriental since 1950.

Port of Galleons?

Puerto Galera’s name also deserves attention because it has been said many times in numerous websites and printed articles that the town’s Spanish name was derived from its English equivalent, the “Port of Galleons”. It implies the notion that Puerto Galera’s safely tucked bays and coves provided safe anchorage for the historic Manila-Acapulco galleon ships in times of typhoons. Indeed, de Goiti and Salcedo first explored the place aboard a galleon ship called San Miguel, and that there is a record of another galleon ship that took anchor there during the early 1600s (the Almiranta 2). But those two were not the reasons why Puerto Galera was named as such. It is because Spaniards visited the place, as well as other smaller islands throughout our archipelago, via smaller galleys. Docking bigger galleons in shallow waters were usually cumbersome, time-consuming, and even perilous. Logically, smaller ships are needed. One usually sees this in today’s movies depicting the days of European conquests like in Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Tarzan (1999) and the arrival of the Spaniards in Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto (2006).

Let us also study the meanings of the words galeón and galera as well as differentiate them from one another. As can be gleaned from the preceding paragraph, a galleon and a galley are not the same. In Spanish, a galleon is translated as galeón, not galera. A galleon was a large 15th- to 17th-century sailing vessel which was used as a merchant ship for trade and, occasionally, as a warship in times of threat from the Dutch, Chinese, and Muslim pirates. A galleon was square-rigged on the foremast and mainmast and generally lateen-rigged on one or two after masts. On the other hand, a galley is much smaller compared to a galleon; it is a seagoing vessel propelled mainly by oars (sometimes with the aid of sails).

Galeones were used to cross large oceans. They were transpacific as well as transatlantic. These were what the Spaniards used to travel to faraway lands and transport huge and multiple cargoes as well as passengers. But galeras were inter-island vessels, meant only for short voyages (thus the usage of oars).

That being said, let us then move to an 1871 map of Puerto Galera that was published years ago in Spain. That map’s title? Plano [inédito] del Puerto de Galera y Ensenada del Varadero en la Isla de Mindoro. In English, it means “Map (unpublished) of the Port of the Galley and the cove of the drydock in the Island of Mindoro”.

Go figure why the Spanish language is very important to us Filipinos of today. 🙂

More than just a beach

Puerto Galera is more than just a beach destination. Aside from beaches and water sports such as diving, snorkeling, and parasailing (I tried that one! it was an exhilirating experience!), Puerto Galera offers several activities for various types of adventurous people: one can go mountain climbing at Monte Malasimbo; there’s high-altitude golfing at the Ponderosa Golf Club situated about 2,000 feet above sea level (also at Monte Malasimbo); in nearby Barrio Baclayan, one can visit a Mañguián (or Mangyán) village and observe how life would have been today in the Philippines had not the Spaniards arrived — static, indigenous; for spelunkers, they can visit Cueva de Pitón (Python Cave) near Barrio Tabinay (I’m just not sure if there are pythons there for I haven’t been to the cave yet); one can go explore the lush forests around the town and near the beaches, or go off-road biking there; have saltless-water fun at Cáscada de Tamaráo (Tamaraw Waterfalls) and Cáscada de Talipanan (Talipanan Waterfalls); and so much more!

The Excavation Museum

Even culture lovers won’t be left out. At the town proper, within the vicinity of scenic Iglesia de la Concepción Inmaculada (because it’s on top of a hill overlooking the small cove of Muelle), there’s the Excavation Museum dedicated to the memory of Fr. Erwin Thiel, S.V.D. (1902-1982), a German friar much loved by the parishioners.

The small museum (which we learned from then curator Merly Javier) said that The Excavation Museum was under the auspices of the National Museum in Manila. It is sad to note that this small museum was in poor condition, considering the fact that it contains a vast array of artifacts dating to the time before the arrival of the Spaniards. Clay jars, burial jars, plates, cups, soup bowls, and other fragile objects made of porcelain were on display. All these treasures were recovered by archaeologists through the efforts and sponsorship of the late German priest (thus the dedication to him).

But instead of focusing on the artifacts, I couldn’t help but notice the myriad of eyesores in the small, rather cramped up one-storey structure: the museum was not in a good condition; the walls were stained with dirt; there were holes in the roof where rain drops fall (I saw an old map already damaged because of this); there were many red ants taking ​​refuge within the walls of the museum; worse of all, it was very hot inside. And smoke fumes from vehicles plying a nearby road could easily enter the museum All those ancient artifacts, I believe, have to be air conditioned.

But all this was in 2008. I fervently hope that things have already changed there for the better. Fr. Thiel worked very hard to collect these artifacts for posterity. So if the people of Puerto Galera want to honor Fr. Thiel, they should do more than just attaching his name to that of the Excavation Museum.

*******

Personally, I prefer Puerto Galera over Boracay. Budget wise, Puerto Galera is the more viable alternative. As enumerated above, more activities can be done here, not just swimming. And with the recently opened (and very scenic!) Star Tollway, this island resort has become very near Metro Manila. Puerto Galera is simply put, la perla de la Isla de Mindoro.

Below are some photos of our unforgettable Puerto Galera sojourn (21 to 23 May 2008):

On top of White Beach Hotel!

Enjoying the sea together!

Visiting the población.

Hundura Cove.

Iglesia de la Concepción Inmaculada.

Inside the Excavation Museum.

At the municipal hall.

Snorkeling at the crystal-clear waters of the Coral Garden.

With Captain Peter Manalo, owner of Peter's Inn Bar & Restaurant.

This time with the whole family (24 May 2010).

Click here for more photos and text of our 2008 visit (but in Spanish).

Last Monday’s Manila Hostage Crisis was a possible act/effect of injustice

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Anger may be foolish and absurd, and one may be irritated when in the wrong; but a man never feels outraged unless in some respect he is at bottom right. –Victor Hugo–

In 1872, a secular priest who was about to be executed in the killing fields called Bagumbayan was literally crying out for justice against a mutiny which he did not instigate. One hundred thirty-eight years later, last Monday to be precise, in the very same place which we now call Rizal Park, another man, apparently another victim of injustice, was provoked to do the unthinkable, the inhumane, the insane. Unlike the secular priest, who took no lives with him and peacefully accepted his fate during the final minutes of his life, this man we speak of disrespected the lives of others out of sheer desperation. And in the aftermath, several Hong Kong nationals who visited our country for a vacation met a tragic end…

Mendoza (man on the steps of the bus) speaking to a negotiator. Many times he was seen at the entrance of the bus, in the line of fire, an easy target. But why, why, why wasn't he shot?

Yesterday, President Noynoy Aquino issued Proclamation No. 23 as a consequence of last Monday’s hostage-taking incident in the Quirino Grandstand in Rizal Park, Manila. Eight Chinese tourists from Hong Kong were mercilessly executed while others were injured. The hostage taker himself, a deranged cop who lost his job, was killed rather belatedly.

Now that the smoke has been cleared, reports over what had transpired are also getting much clearer, as well as its damning effects: once more, public perception and trust over our police force worsened; our tourism industry is now in jeopardy, and; our country has garnered international embarassment.

The principal cause

The criminal who instigated all this polemic bloodbath was, ironically, a former high-ranking, highly decorated commissioned cop from Náic, Cavite whose name will forever be damned in the history of Philippine international relations.

Former Senior Inspector Rolando Mendoza’s resumé is indeed a handsome one. With a degree in BS Criminology from the Philippine College of Criminology, he entered the police force through the defunct Integrated National Police in 1981 as a patrolman. When he was a 31-year-old officer in 1986, during the height of the EDSA Revolution, he and his men caught a van which was carrying 13 crates of filthy lucre which an exiting Ferdinand Marcos was purportedly trying to stash out of the country. This merited Mendoza a Ten Outstanding Policemen of the Philippines award from the Jaycees International later that year.

Aside from the TOPP prize, Mendoza received more than 10 other awards and commendations from the Philippine National Police (PNP) throughout his outstanding career, including multiple citations of the Medalya ng Papuri (PNP Medal of Commendation), the PNP Badge of Honor, the Medalya ng Kasanayan (PNP Efficiency Medal), Medalya ng Kagalingan (PNP Merit Medal), and the Medalya ng Paglilingkod (PNP Service Medal), as well as a Letter of Commendation.

A decade after entering the police force, he was absorbed into the PNP with the rank of Senior Police Officer 3 with “Manila’s finest”, the Western Police District (WPD, now known as the Manila Police District). In 2002, he was promoted to Inspector. And after only three years, he was made Senior Inspector as well as chief of the Mobile Patrol Unit.

But all these admirable accomplishments –very rare nowadays among policemen– vanished into thin air when, early this year, the Office of the Ombudsman expelled him and four of his colleagues from the police force. Worse, they were stripped of their retirement benefits (Mendoza was supposed to retire next year) and were barred from holding any position in government service.

This punishment stemmed from a case filed against him by a certain Christian Kálaw (interestingly, Kálaw is also the name of the street where the Manila Police District is based), a chef of the Mandarin Hotel. According to police records, Mendoza and the other policemen who were dismissed along with him accosted the chef for illegal parking, driving without license, and use of illegal drugs two summers ago in Malate, Manila. They accused Kálaw of being a drug user and tried to extort P3,000 from him. The records also showed that, at the headquarters of the Mobile Patrol Unit of the Manila Police District where the police brought Kálaw, the former manhandled the latter by forcing him to swallow a sachet full of crystal meth (commonly known as shabú in the Philippines). Furthermore, they tried to extort an additional P20,000 from the poor chef.

Several days later, administrative charges were filed against Mendoza and his men. Two months after the incident, there were plans of assigning Mendoza to faraway Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanáo but it never happened because he served a 90-day suspension instead. In August of that year, the Manila Prosecutors Office Eighth Division also dismissed the case after Kálaw failed to appear during the preliminary proceedings of the case. Two months after that, the PNP Internal Affairs Service recommended the dismissal of the case after Kálaw again failed to attend the dismissal proceedings. Regardless of the case’s dismissal and the 90-day suspension, Mendoza and his cohorts were all terminated from the police force.

Up to his very last breath two days ago, Mendoza denied the crime he reportedly committed against the Mandarin chef.

Metaphysics of the crime

This blogpost is not intended to defend Mendoza’s vile actions. It only seeks to understand why this shameful massacre occurred, and how it can be avoided in the future.

As we have observed by perusing Mendoza’s background as a police officer, it is safe to assume that he was a good cop, a clean one. That by turning over the stash of cash which he and his men confiscated from a Marcos van two decades ago, as well as his steady climb to his industry’s higher echelon, speaks of his dedication to his job. Notwithstanding all the accomplishments he garnered during his career, the probability of getting those awards through “police politics” is now immaterial, almost improbable even. The message here is clear: he got those awards because he was a straight cop. But the fruits (i.e., his retirement benefits) of his labors were all taken away from him by this one single incident over illegal parking, manhandling, and extortion. Was he even proven guilty? He cried foul, pointing at the unjust way he was expelled from service. He claimed that there was no due process over his expulsion. He even attempted to appeal his case, but nothing was heard about it.

Could it be true?

Let us examine further: Mendoza was the principal efficient cause of last Monday’s bus carnage in Rizal Park. But what was the final cause (or motivation) behind his seemingly “senseless” act? Speaking through the mass media (which also grossly erred in this hostage drama), he said that all he wanted was to get his job back, as well as his retirement benefits.

Mendoza was an angry old man. But looking through this anger and disorder, one can sense a bit of “logic” cloaked behind it. For if he was indeed guilty of this crime committed against Kálaw, he would not have held hostage innocent tourists enjoying the candy-wrapper-and-cigarrette-butt-strewn streets of Manila the way his co-accused remained silent (besides, Mendoza claimed that it was them who did it, not him — could that be a reason why they “did not lose their senses”?). The usual impulse for those whose arms are caught inside the cookie jar is to wallow in shame and guilt and silence. Mendoza didn’t. Out of desperation, he used “collateral damage” in crying out for justice in a country which seemed to have lack of it. Ask P-Noy himself.

It is easy to blame Mendoza for what had happened, for the happy lives he took, for the international shame he brought to P-Noy’s infant presidency. But what good will it do us? Besides, he’s about to join the earthworms. What should be reviewed now is if his claim of lack of due process on his case was true? Somehow, FILIPINO eSCRIBBLES is inclined to believe that he was a victim of injustice. And in a country lacking the caressing arms of Lady Justice, what would an embattled policeman do? Or more appropriately, what did it do to his sanity?

On national TV, he shamelessly asked for his job back. Looking through Mendoza’s nearly-insane behavior, what did his desperate demand tell us? This is beyond “cacapalán ng muqhâ“. Something is amiss.

He was a victim of injustice.

Although he used twisted means, what he desired was good (getting his old job back). In philosophy, only the good can motivate an agent. Only the good can act as a final cause. But in this bloody hostage-taking, the agent (Mendoza) thought something to be good (taking hostage of the ill-fated Hong Kong nationals) which was really evil. In this case, Mendoza was the efficient cause of the evil indirectly.

Injustice for all

What then should be considered as the per accidens of Mendoza’s murdering of the tourists?

Some people blame the mass media for its lack of sensitivity. It was known that the hostage taker had access to radio and that the tourist bus also had a TV monitor. He was thus able to see and hear what was happening around him. And when he learned that his brother was apprehended by the police for earlier entering the bus without coordinating with them, Mendoza lost what little was left of his sanity. So he started firing at his frightened and defenseless victims. But blaming the media won’t do any good. It will never budge. Ever. For mass media practitioners, bad news is good news. And good news reaps good ratings and more commercial success.

The police? Partly. Besides, it is ancient news among astute observers that our police force is generally a bunch of inutile and useless eaters, sworn to protect primarily (aside from themselves) the rich and their bank accounts. Twelve hours? C’mon.

Arnaldo shared to me of a similar incident which happened in Singapore. A hostage taker was shot point blank by a police officer posing as a negotiator. Clever move. No hostage was killed. Other than that, there was a news blackout. Thus, Singapore did not face international embarassment.

Lessons to be learned: never negotiate fairly with a hostage taker; it is not necessarily a bad idea to block media coverage, especially when lives are at stake; it is high time to strenuously train the police force over hostage-taking situations…

I am going off on a tangent here. So let us go back to the main question: what is the per accidens of all this madness?

Injustice. Injustice is what instigated Mendoza’s criminal act. Indirectly, injustice is what is causing P-Noy too much headache now. Indirectly, injustice is what angered the international community towards the police force’s failure to save the hostages (perhaps not even Venus Raj’s admirable “major, major mistake” could help ease the heat that we are receiving from foreign nations, particularly Hong Kong). Injustice is the last cause of all this because its very opposite was what the efficient cause (Mendoza) tried to accomplish, therefore producing its bloody effect.

Injustice drives weak men, the helpless, the voiceless, to do the the unthinkable, the inhumane, the insane. Injustice is what drove those militant farmers to Mendiola in 1987, only to meet a tragic fate. How much more casualties, indignation, and insanity can we take due to the absence of injustice?

President P-Noy should be exhorted to combat not just corruption, but injustice.

The Philippines is named as one of the 25 Best New Travel Destinations in the World!

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And now for the as-rare-as-Imelda-Marcos good news…

National Geographic names RP one of best new travel destinations in the world

The National Geographic Magazine had named the Philippines as “One of 25 Best New Travel Destinations in the World in 2010” and the country’s ancient cultures, structures and biodiversity were cited as key reasons to visit the archipelago.

The magazine said in its November 2009 Adventure issue that the Philippines has “as many islands as the Caribbean and some of the most spectacular reefs on the planet,” adding that travel organizations have “finally gotten wise.”

National Geographic presented the “25 brand new adventures, all of them just right for right now.” The list is directed at “travelers who want their dollars to do more – for others, for the planet and for themselves.”

Philippine Ambassador to the United States Willy Gaa said the inclusion of the Philippines in the list shows the global community is “taking note of the natural and cultural wonders in the country as well as the efforts to protect and preserve them.” philstar.com

This is so true!!!

FILIPINAS

I will certainly not exchange this for any place else, come hell or high water!

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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