Uni Sancti: Unisan Visit

Ricefields and coastal scenes of Unisan

The thing that I remember most about my visit to Unisan, Quezon early this year was seeing how the old town is beginning to look increasingly deprived and lost. I should be writing something nice (the hospitality that Familia Evora-Alas extended has been nothing but a pleasure) for the town still have that old Filipino spirit, the one that you normally see in provincial towns. But its sad state just won’t make me do it.

It’s not new that most of the ancestral houses these days of old Filipino families are gone. We have been very good at tearing them down, anyway. Some still lie in rubbles which are really painful to see for someone like me. The first bahay na bató (Antillean house) in Unisan, the Maxino house (said to be haunted because the family members of the original owner were massacred in the 19th century), was salvaged by the God-sent group of Architect Jerry Acúzar in Bataán. The house was praised for being one of the most elegant casas in the country. Although the house rests outside its home province now, at least it still exists somewhere which is better because not all Antillean houses are as lucky.

There really is nothing new in seeing the old removed as this has been a common experience for me. What bothers me more these days is that, all too often, neglect is becoming an increasing problem in the Filipino society. Our attitude towards these heritage structures mirrors that. In Quezon, there is illegal logging but you don’t hear people crying about getting rid of it. For some reason, all of these are accepted occurrences. Life goes on as usual.

A friend of ours, San Pedro, La Laguna Mayor Calixto Catáquiz, whose great grandfather was once the town chief of Unisan, frequently visits the said town and stays with the Alas clan. Speaking of politicians, the town’s congressman, who made a name for himself after proudly announcing to the world that it was he who paid for Arroyo’s multimillion dinner in New York sometime last year, built a castle-like mansion that sits next to some of the most poorest people in that town. These seashore villagers defecate and clean themselves in the surf where their small fishing bancas are docked close to what appears to be the solon’s yacht. There can be no higher contrast in Filipino social order –the filthy rich living side by side with the poorest of the poor — you’ll see this here in Unisan. And yet, just a couple of days ago, the owner admitted hosting a sumptuous million peso meal to politician friends.

But this is our society today: we complain about our past, how the colonialists corrupted it. But as days and years roll by, we only manage to sink deeper and deeper — and that hated past seems to get brighter and brighter. Our society undeniably is more corrupt than ever. But we don’t seem to mind this as we carry on putting old time crooked politicians from old elitist clans in the helm again and again. I’m quite certain that a few years from now, after electing these crooks, we will still be demanding change. But once we have achieved it (or get fooled into believing that we have finally achieved it), we’ll slide back not to where we once were but in a much worst position. Well, it is fun, isn’t it?

The Alas' coastal rest house.

As Pepe and I were taking pictures of what remains of vintage Unisan, we got apprehended by the provincial police and were detained for about two hours. No violence was committed against us by the police who were just paranoid about the recent communist incursion. They have a reason to be anxious because the communists have just raided a neighboring barrio, murdering some of their colleagues. My friend, sporting his peculiar rocker-slash-pro-wrestling style, probably did appear to be an insurgent to them. I was waiting for the good-cop, bad-cop thing, for them to bring the whoop ass to him but it never did happen. They were surprisingly polite. My friend’s family is well-known in Unisan; the current mayor was actually an uncle of his. Perhaps that was a good deterrent for police cruelty but Pepe have had bad history with the local police. The police station, if I’m not mistaken, was a dispensary during the American years. Unfortunately, the police barred me from taking pictures of it. It had rooms that appeared to have served as bed quarters. I wanted to reach the old bridge, visible near the Alas residence, that was said to be destroyed during the Japanese Occupation, but we ran out of time because of what happened.

One house here was said to have been fitted with materials that came all the way from Europe. Now, you start to wonder how rich Unisan was and how its residents lived. And the case is the same with most towns all over the country during the Spanish era: affluent and sophisticated families were products of what were then prosperous provincial societies. They once dominated everything there is about the community. These families, whose ancestors will be immortalized by the lapidas you now see inside old yglesias, are testaments of what Filipino life was once like. It is sad that we often hear people talk down on how this period in Philippine history is nothing more but Spanish history in the Philippines…

Unisan's church marker near the peeing area of the sports complex

Another interesting edifice in town was the church that looks more like a contemporary chapel in a new housing development. Aside from the stone marker, placed near an obnoxious corner, reminding people of its founding, it has no trace of history and tradition. The church, a Franciscan mission, was completely renovated losing its historic charm that makes our churches unique. We went up to the campanaria and saw a magnificent vista of the coastal town.

After going around town taking photos of its ancestral houses, we later decided to visit one of Unisan’s caves called Bonifacio Cave. It is located about two to three kilometers from the town proper. We were waiting for one of Pepe’s cousins to take us there. We decided to buy some refreshments when we spoke to the old tindero who knew Pepe’s grandfather. He later offered his tricycle to bring us to the Bonifacio cave when my friend’s cousin failed to arrive on the designated time. It is true what they say about our old barrios: everyone knows everybody. Unisan was once a tightly knit society, I was told, and I believe to a certain extent it still is (just like in other provincial towns in the Philippines).

We never really went deep inside the cave as we were ill-equipped to do so. We’re not really spelunkers, but the experience was fun. Sadly, there were some signs of vandalism and garbage. If only the local government could conserve this precious cave, it will definitely be an exciting attraction for Unisan’s tourists. I’m not sure if the local government is interested in tourism. Never really felt they were. But it is never too late to start. Those picturesque stone houses, the warmth of the people, cultural heritage, and the natural attractions –- these are all ingredients of a Filipino tourist spot. But it takes vision and constructive creativity to achieve that, something that is lacking these days among our leaders.

Unisan, its history and natural beauty, made the trip worth it (I think 5 hours) — even if many of the things I saw did not appeal to me much, the dirty seashore, poverty and sorry state of some of the old houses, I have to admit that I felt relaxed and inspired by Unisan’s bucolic and serene life.

more photos of this trip here


43 responses to “Uni Sancti: Unisan Visit

  • Jack

    Interesting. Thank you. I saw an antique dealer display an unearthed relics from a cave in Unisan: drinking cup made of copper and a couple of carved stone bracelets with animal figures. in This promted me to read a bit about the place. I think it is one of the earliest established towns that pre-dates hispanic Philippines (middle ages, as mentioned in this Wikipedia source below). I hope to visit this town someday! ” Unisan, originally called Kalilayan, could be considered the oldest town in the Philippines. As early as 1521, the town of Kalilayan was founded by Malayan settlers. All other towns in the country were established not earlier than 1565, when Spain formally occupied the Philippines as a colony. During the latter part of the 19th century, traditions said that the real founder of the town was a Malayan queen called of Ladya. Hence her title was “Queen of Kalilayan”.
    It is believed that the founding occurred in the Middle Ages when immigration of the Malayans to this country was still predominant. That was before the advent of Islam in the East Indies. This proven by the fact that no traces of Mohamed’s Creed were found in that part of the Philippines when the Europeans arrived.
    The name Kalilayan derived from the Tagalog root word lilay, referring to a kind of palm similar to buri with the smaller leaves in the size of anahaw leaves that grew once in abundance.
    In February 1876, Kalilayan was separated from Pitogo and became an independent municipality. At the same time, it was renamed to Unisan which was derived from the Latin word uni-sancti, meaning “holy saint”.[1][4]”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unisan,_Quezon

  • dou dou tutu

    Interesting town. Quezon is a huge province! Lived in Candelaria for all my life, never even saw Unisan and all the other lesser known towns 😦

  • Tía Isabel’s response to a hispanophobic “Asian” « FILIPINO eSCRIBBLES

    […] Arnaldo’s blogpost about my dad’s hometown received all sorts of commentaries. There was one comment that I just could not ignore: one coming from someone with a Japanese-sounding name. Actually, it’s not really his anti-Filipino/hispanophobic comment that made me stop and read: it’s the response that he got from Chile-based Filipina scholar, Elizabeth “Tía Isabel de Ilocos” Medina (also a distant relative of Arnaldo and a very good friend of another scholar-friend, Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera). […]

  • Elizabeth Medina

    Dear Tet,

    I don’t think the objective here is to prove any country is better than any other. It’s smart to protect the architectural heritage because 1) the people have a better quality of life if they live in a place with beautiful houses, a city environment that shows people care about it, both on the personal and civic level; 2) it attracts tourism, which is good for the local economy; 3) it honors the soul of the place, which spiritually uplifts and attracts the energy of love…and all the other good things that come with this energy.

    Places do have soul, everything is alive. In the U.S. everything now looks the same, cities are made for cars not for people, and this hasn’t been good because it makes the cities anonymous, impersonal…and dangerous.

    To preserve the grand old homes goes hand in hand too with helping people with little means to improve their living standard. It creates jobs for carpenters, painters, gardeners, architects, suppliers of the needed materials and inputs, and so on and so forth.

    In 2002 while I was walking in an area of the Oakland hills that is full of now decrepit, once gorgeous Victorian homes that are still beautiful, I suddenly began to feel something…I always feel things when I am in century-old neighborhoods with these old houses of wood, BTW. And suddenly the thought came into my mind— those Victorians were built in the late 19th century, first years of the 20th century in the Bay Area…would they not have been made of Philippine woods? The U.S. immediately began to exploit the wealth of the virgin forests of Philippine hardwoods, and San Francisco was the most important port for troop ships that carried soldiers to the Philippines in 1898, and logically, for the ships that would have begun to bring our natural resources back to the States.

    So I thought—I am feeling the call of those ancient trees from my beloved country, who built these Victorians.

    I can’t tell you how special it was. I understood then the melancholy that I was feeling, and somehow I felt glad to be there, no longer somewhat malungkot and not knowing what to do with myself (I was at a party where not much was going on in the way of communication).

    Tia Isabel

  • arnelc1

    I think it is just a bad timing and i am sorry for what happened to your group. The way i look at it, you are very talented people and trying to help and write history about Unisan. The Alas family is well known in Unisan and I hope Pepe will encouraged you to come back again and visit the town the second time around.

    I admire your blog, your very smart, you could even write books. Keep it up….

    • De AnDA

      @ arnel – Unisan is a great place, it still is, the people makes it great. I hope leaders can put up a program to save the old houses. The nature places (i.e., the bay area) are also in a pretty bad shape.

      • tet

        why would your leaders need to save the old houses.they are privately owned. it’s the owners duty to save them. yours is a poor country. they should instead create a program to feed the children and help the sick. you! what did you contribute to your neighbors and family.charity begins at home.if you or your groups think that you could hurt America by spreading your twisted history you are mistaken. GOD knows who is the most generous country. speaking of history, where did those families of long time ago got their money to build those big houses? please educate me.

          • Elizabeth Medina

            Tet, this is a cultural site. You’re confusing us with the government who does not represent (how obvious can this be, I am sorry to insult your intelligence) the true aspirations of the nation.

            Hijo, huwag ka nang magreklamo sa pintong hindi tumpak. Nagpapalaganap ka lang ng masamang dugo.


  • tet

    Asians,Orientals,Islanders, doesn’t mean anything. Life goes on. Somehow Filipinos love history that at this point in time they could not get ahead economically. Chinese were massacred; Japanese were bomb, but they did not sulked like Filipinos.Master your MATH. In America Filipinos are known to be just nurses, nurse aide, housekeepers, store clerk. Japanese and Chinese, the moment they set foot in America they see only opportunities, business, higher education. While Filipinos speak English well. Thanks to America and the MEAN Americans .”He “said the Filipinos are…….”half devil, half child”…….

  • De AnDA

    @ Tia Isabel – thank you for sharing your thoughts. I hope that someday Filipinos in general will begin to appreciate the culture they were taught to be alien, evil. Life is about the celebration of beautiful memories and experiences. Never about distortion and destruction.

  • Elizabeth Medina

    Dear Rijuku,

    “Asian” is a misnomer, first of all. It’s a label invented by the West, based on geographical location and racial groupings. But the Japanese don’t consider themselves Asian. They are Japanese, period. And they consider themselves superior to the rest of the “Asians”. They consider that only the Germans follow them in superiority.

    Human beings are social and historical beings. We are not racial beings. Race is just color of skin. It says nothing about the spirit and worldview. You see lots of Eastern Europeans with slanted eyes but they don’t consider themselves Chinese, Korean, Japanese or Eskimos or Mongols or Tibetans. The Indians of India are Aryans by race but they don’t consider themselves Germans or Europeans.

    Filipinos are not the same as Indonesians, Koreans, Thais, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Indians, Malayans, Japanese, Singaporeans, even if we are all classified as “Asians”. We are all very different. Now, in terms of religion, a lot of these so-called Asians share religious practices like Buddhism and varieties of ancestor worship like Shintoism and others practice Islam which arrived in the “Asian” countries through the Arabian Peninsula and so forth.

    The archipielago of St. Lazarus, as Magellan called our archipielago, was slowly being converted to Islam but the Spanish defeated the Muslim rulers of Maynilad and spread Catholicism to the Visayans and Luzonianos from the 16th to the 19th centuries, as well as in Mindanao in the cities where they established colonial rule or in the outposts where they maintained forts.

    Because of our Christianization, which was much more widespread than in China or Japan or in the neighboring countries colonized by the Dutch and the British, we developed a culture that was a mix of indigenous monotheism/ancestor worship/animism and Christianity — much like the mix that developed in all of the Spanish colonies of Mexico, Central and South America. So because of this, we Filipinos are much more similar en culture and belief system to the Hispanic American nations, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, than to our “Asian” neighbors. But even the Thais are very different from the Malayans and the Indonesians and the Vietnamese and the Cambodians and the Indians. You can’t put them in the same bag and just call them Asians.

    It’s the Filipinos who have accepted this label because we became a North American colony and our Hispanic Filipino culture and memory were destroyed — yes, destroyed, just as in the 16th century the Spanish destroyed our pre-Magellanic indigenous culture.

    We accepted that label “Southeast Asian” because we became totally subjugated by the U.S. Turned into psychological vassals. And we accepted the new self-image the U.S. imposed on us as The Little Brown Brother.

    Are the Indonesians, the Indians, the Thais, the Malaysians the “Little Brown Brothers” of the U.S.? If as you say there is no difference between us “Asians” — realize how racist you are being, how dismissive of our uniqueness — then they should also consider themselves as such. But they don’t. They don’t consider themselves copies of each other. And they don’t read their history books in English like we do.

    I won’t convince you of anything, but consider this: 100 years ago, your great-grandparents hated the idea of the Americans making the Philippines their colony. They did not want to stop reading, speaking and studying or teaching Spanish, to study, read, speak and write in ONLY in English.

    But since you were born when — in the 1980s? — and there are no writings in your family of the rejection that your forefathers felt for all things American, and you were born in a Philippines that was already TOTALLY re-engineered to be a bad copy of the U.S., then you believe that you are merely “Asian”. That Filipinos are “Asians”. It means, basically, that Filipinos are nothing. Because what is “Asian”? It’s just a sociological term coined in U.S. universities, probably after 1900.

    Tia Isabel

    P.S. A quote from my unpublished ms., Thru the Lens of Latin America: A Wide-Angle View of Philippine Colonial History:

    Once implanted, a first colonizer culture, already fused or syncretized with the original local one (i.e., Spanish culture), will resist the advent of a subsequent colonizer culture (U.S. culture). However, with the passage of time, the new generations — who did not experience the moment of cultural transition and its accompanying resistance to a new transculturation (in other words, the [Hispanic Filipino] people’s resistance to adopting a new transplanted dominant [U.S.] culture, due to the inertia of the preceding cultural process) — will have no awareness that such a phenomenon ever occurred. They’ll simply assume that what is now there has always been there (North Americanized Filipino culture), and has always been universally embraced. The younger generations will accept the (North Americanized Filipino) culture they were born into, notwithstanding their parents’ or grandparents’ having once perceived it as invasive and alien, and perhaps even having sworn to resist assimilating it at all costs.

  • Rikuju

    Pinoy culture is Asian.

  • Rikuju

    You don’t think Pinoys are Asian don’t tell me you consider yourself a pacific islander? cause if you do, you must blind.

  • Rikuju

    Ah are you serious? Pinoys are Asian how hard is it to understand what Asian is?.

    • De AnDA

      Just help me define Asian or oriental and try to connect it to the culture that is closest to the Filipino we know today. I guess it won’t be hard to explain it, seriously, ah?

  • De AnDA

    @ Rikuju – Who ever said that we’re spanish? by Asian you mean what exactly?

  • Rikuju

    We should keep the tradition of Bahay Na Bato, like Jose Rizals Bahay Na Bato without that spanish garbage and be more like our neighbors in Asia, we’re not spanish we’re Asian!.

  • Tia Isabel

    This is a P.S.

    To all those interested, I ENCOURAGE YOU to watch this series of videos about the clash between the native and Spanish civilizations that was the Conquest of the New World, and that our Philippine Archipelago was part and parcel of.


    These things we were never taught by our educational system and we NEED to catch up with our cousins who have been studying their past for two hundred years already.

  • tet

    $2.8B for the Philippines. From Americans pockets (taxes) for the ungrateful bunch. LORD help me, I kept working to support the whole world that hate this generous country.

    • Tia Isabel

      Dear Tet,

      I know you work yourselves to death. Why don’t you just stop and be happy, enjoy life? Admit it why you do what you do. In your heart of hearts, you do it because you love.

      That’s the only thing that matters, right?

      I love America too. I live in Chile and the govt here sucks up to the United States GOVERNMENT. The U.S. Govt is not the America that I love. I love the America and the Americans that is people like Steven Greer of The Disclosure Project. I love the America of Noam Chomsky, the America built by immigrants who got hanged for struggling for better pay and an 8 hour day. Why couldn’t the U.S. Govt export that America? Because they are NOT that America. They are usurpers, soulless, inglorious basterds.

      And their expertise is to make well-intentioned hardworking people like you grab the throats of your own brothers and sisters to defend THEM and THEIR INTERESTS.

      God Bless Us All, this is coming to a head now, thank God.

      They are so prideful they are trying to militarize Space, and now the Other Races who have been vetting them all this time, are putting a stop to their ridiculous and planetocidal antics.

      Cariños a ti hermano(a),
      Tia Isabel

      • Tet

        Today, 10-22-2010 U.S. Marine are loading tons of relief goods for the people of Isabela province that ravaged by typhoon last Monday. Where are the Spanish speaking army of the world?

    • maia

      Holy mother! You’re not one of those ppl who call themselves “good ol’ republican ora very conservative republican”, are you? Sorry it’s off topic but I hear this stuff so much from someone whom I know is one. Peace!

      • maia

        P.S. for my comment: My previous comment was supposed to be posted as a comment for Tet’s comment dated September 28, 2010 @ 1:51 AM.

        • tet

          maia, My Sept. 28th note is only a reply for people that hate America. Please read the whole page.NO! I don’t get involved in any political party. I’m a Christian. My charity begins at home e.g. family, neighbors, co-workers, friends, town, and I love my country AMERICA.

          • Pepe

            We do not hate nor prejudge you for loving your motherland, Tet. It is natural. In fact, it is a God-given duty. Your country is not that evil. Not all Americans have horns and forked tails. We are only against the sectarian WASPs controlling your country’s government and meddling with world affairs to forward their imperialist agenda.

  • pranz

    mga pulis doon sa unisan nkikipglaro pa yan ng basketball, hehehe…ilang beses na akpo nakapunta dun and so far i find the place a peacefull and quiet place.

  • De AnDA

    Tet – I don’t see any merit to your argument. But that’s so typical of an Americanize way of thinking, that the world needs to be fixed and that they (that includes you since you have that mind set) have the sole authority to lead. The US government has been terrorizing helpless countries who haven’t done nothing wrong against them, well of course, there could still be WMD somewhere in Iraq right? and everything is for the all so beautiful democracy, right? and these are done with no strings attached, “liberate and leave”– yeah right, only fools like you believe all these garbage as factual.

    By the way, some of these hungry Iraqis are going to America, hundreds for medical treatment I heard, maybe you can also advise them to go back to their “precious hungry country”.

    • tet

      I advise you to read all the Philippines’ newspapers everyday. Bombing, gang rape is rampant, robbery, one cannot argue with somebody or his or her family would be massacred within 24 hours. Very poor women have several kids they could not afford to feed. Thousands of Filipino women and girls are being enslave in some parts of Asia and the Middle East? and you hate America? Do you know how many million dollars are send to the Philippines by the U.S. government every year as an Aid, no string attach? GO HOME FILIPINOS AND CHANGE YOUR COUNTRY FOR THE BETTER.Teach your countrymen to be a good Christian.

  • tet

    Isabel – you’ve said “ever since the Americans invaded” Do you have family members and friends in AMERICA? ask them to go home to your precious hungry country.

    • Isabel

      Hi Tet,

      Everybody knows that Dewey arrived in Manila Bay in May 1898 and started to bombard it. That was an invasion. I have two brothers in the U.S. I had my oldest brother living in Chicago but he died of liver cancer in October 2008 after just 3 months. He served in Vietnam towards the end of the war and I heard he was exposed to Agent Orange and that may have caused his cancer. I lived in the US for almost 10 years and didn’t want to move back to the Third World, but I fell in love with a chileno. It was very hard to slough off my veneer of Americanization, but you know what, living in Chile for 25 years already (I lived 19 yrs in the Phil.) has humanized me and made me feel like a real Filipino and understand my country and myself as I never could when I lived in the US. And I am thankful for this.

      All the best to you

  • Isabel Medina

    Yes, it’s the Philippines is under martial law once you are in NPA country.

    I have been of the opinion that our country is under a state of de facto civil war, and this has been going on forever, ever since the Americans invaded. It’s like the central government has always been just on paper, even during the Spanish era. There have always been “remontados” — rebels hiding in the mountains.

    But the rebels have the same problem as everybody else — they are unable to unite.

    So until that happens, the trapo governments will continue to govern in paper only, and the people will continue to pay the price. We are still a land of datus, brigands, pirates.

    Plus que ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.

    Anyway, UNI SANCTI is a beautiful name. I was in Catanauan years ago with college classmates and it was such a beautiful place, like being in a time warp, straight out of Spanish times.

    Big Hug

  • De AnDA

    @ Sra. Medina – What is even more crazier is for tourist like us getting detained because we were taking pictures! Hehehe…

  • Isabel Medina

    Hola Arnaldo,

    “Antillean houses” — first time I hear that the bahay na bato is called this. It means “Cuban” doesn’t it?

    Wonderful post, thank you as always!

    I checked out the link to Jerry Acuzar and have asked if there is a website where I can see photos of those restored houses. What a fantastic and crazy thing to do. But then, the Philippines is full of such things.

    Big Hug

  • Pepe Alas

    The policemen of Unisan are only protecting THEMSELVES, not the people.

  • De AnDA

    @ Levi – Yes we got detained for 2 hours but it was not bad, I guess their animosity against Pepe is still raging, but they were nice 🙂 the only thing that I did not like about it is that it took some of our time

    @Pransis – I think around 5 or less. Private transport would be a lot faster. If ever you decide to visit, go to the police headquarters first and tell them you’re a tourist to avoid any problems.

  • pransisem

    Kuya! Nabasa ko nga ung post na un ni Sir Pepe about Unisan. Grabe.
    As with the travel, un po bang approximate na five hours ay using a private vehicle? I remember seeing vans bound for Unisan in SM Lucena but did not really ask about it.

  • Levi

    You guys got detained?!

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