Far enough from Sn Pablo, Sta. Cruz and Nagcarlang to have an identity of its own, Liliw is, surprisingly, one of Laguna’s progressive quite towns. Thanks to its flourishing “tsinelas” industry, it managed to develop its small highland town nestled at the foot of Banahao. Nice roads and good government services (this hushed “Banahao” town even have “chowking” !). What’s remarkable is that the volume of footwear the town generates competes with Marikina, according to a shop owner business has been doing well since tropical storm damaged much of Marikina’s shops and factories.
A block long straight area leading to the town’s Iglesia and municipio is where you’ll find Liliw’s “tsinelas” stores. Aside from being “the attraction” of one of La Laguna’s smallest municipality, it actually sells really (really) cheap sandals and slippers. The best part is that its of superior quality. So not only did I took pictures of these pretty small shops – I actually bought some products to take home. Who doesn’t want to buy three pairs of good leather sandals for under 100 bucks? If that ain’t a bargain, I don’t know what is.
The Franciscan fathers first taught the Liliw natives the art of sandal making, a known Franciscan craft that they also brought in the Americas. From the heavy-duty, all-weather “Franciscan” sandals, which by the way is still one of Birkenstock’s best seller, local sandal makers ventured into producing “tsinelas” (from the Spanish word “chinela” originally made of abaca) and other style of footwear made of “katad” (leather). The pioneering Franciscanos would’ve been proud that centuries after they first taught Liliw (and Gapan) how to make sandals, to this day, the art and trade is still very much alive. Liliw is still providing not only Laguna but the country with some of the most fashionable and durable footwear.
In the early 1900’s, after the revolution gradually pass on, the Yankees came and changed the town’s name to Lilio. The church marker that was installed in 1930’s still have this altered name. Then the residents realized that Lilio is not the same as Liliw. The town officials then reclaimed their town’s old name.
In addition to the many footwear shops, a visit to the church of Liliw, the Iglesia de San Juan Bautista, is a must, whether you’re a Catolico or an Apolo Quiboloy follower. This church and its convent (torched by the revolutionaries in 1896 and has since been restored) is Liliw’s greatest tribute to the pioneers of the old town – the Franciscanos and the original Liliw inhabitants. The latter after being converted into Catholicism and trained in woodwork and masonry, constructed the stone church for their beloved town.
Layug in his book., Philippine Churches, described the church of St. John the Baptist:
The church is a three level baroque facade, divided by super positioned column into seven segments and extending up to the pediment has a semicircular arched main entrance finished with irregularity cut block of stones surmounted by layer brick, a bas relief depicting the baptism of Christ on the second level and the centrally located statues niche on the undulating pediment. On the right is a moss covered, three storey bell tower covered by dome and topped by a tower. The interior have a ceiling of red brick and mahogany finished wood and stained glasses with a dome above the altar.
Heritage conservationist would be dismayed by the absence of the old casa’s that once lined the area surrounding the church and the old cabildo. Some were victims of the wars (1896, Phil-American and Japanese occupation), some were brought down recently by their owners. One of the oldest structure that is in pretty good shape is the municipio. Some good money was spent a few decades ago to restore this old building, some additional quarters has been added to accommodate the expanding services of the local government. It looks good. I’m no expert in how these buildings are restored but the local governments effort to maintain it is commendable. These days constructing new buildings are favored because it means fat commissions and kickbacks for greedy politicos. So, thanks to the Liliw officials, I hope you guys do more for your historical town.