I’ve been dreaming of circling Laguna de Bai for some time. Approaching it from the south then on to Morong, then back home (Muntinglupa). I’ve been trying but to no avail. The farthest, in one of these numerous attempts, is Pakil. Feels like I’m sort of doing this travel project in installments.
Pakil’s church seem to jump out of a national bookstore postcard. This elegant looking, well preserved architectural baroque is the pride of the town! The church is said to be one of the most beautiful in existence, not only in Laguna but in the whole country. It seem to glow like a desirable reddish jewel at certain times of the day. A visit would explain why – its one of those structure that reveals itself thoroughly when visited.
Locals tell of legends how the church had escaped relentless bombing (by both the Americans and the Japs) during the pacific wars. Like when it was supposed to be destroyed by Yankee war planes. Locals claim that because of their passionate prayers to the Virgin Mother, the heavens interceded and shrouded the entire sky with fat bulky clouds, hiding the church from the heavy bombers.
The church of San Pedro de Alcatara, first came into existence in 1676, had been reconstructed several times following successive destruction brought by nature. The town is popular for its Turumba Festival, held seven times for two months, it observes the seven sorrows of the Virgin Mary (Nstra. Sra de los Dolores).
The milagrosang imahen ng Birheng Dolorosa of Pakil has an interesting origin. Legend has it that a missionary crossing the lake lost it when strong winds had suddenly rocked his casco. Lost in the vast lake, the man gave up finding his beloved santo, but the image was miraculously recovered, in all places, a fisherman’s net! And so goes the story of how this imahe came to the shores of this wonderful town. The Turumba, they say, came from the way the missionary priest described the local people’s wild chanting and dancing. The fisherman left the image on top of a stone but when the people decided to transfer it inside the church it all of a sudden became so heavy that it was impossible to move. When they finally succeeded in transferring the image the people broke out in ecstatic praise and celebration. This is said to be the origin of what many of us know today as Turumba.
The tradition of singing and dancing, on this occasion brings out the religious nature of the locals. Historical description of how this “strange spectactle” drove its devotees to “throw themselves to the ground grasping for air and rest motionless for hours”, is well recorded. Up to this day Turumba continue to fascinate and mystify – It still attracts believers and on lookers (and crowds of wannabe photographers), which continue to swell in abundance according to locals, from far away places.
Old Paquil, the name and the settlement, is attributed to its last Yndio chief’s name. The previous Tagalo leaders, Gat Salyan (Gatchalian) and Gat Maitan (Gatmaitan) brought their clan to the present day Pakil to flee from the regular banditry which has cost them much adversity.
Pakil have great traditions inspired by the wonderful combination of native’s old beliefs and the Spanish missionaries’ “new religion”. Though its notable celebration speaks of its strong Catholic religious values, buried behind the frenzied dance of Turumba is the indigenous nature.
The town also has a strange geography. Its land is split into two. Separated by the mighty Laguna de Ba’i. During the Spanish times the town was known to “possessed of a crystal spring pool”. I wonder where it is now. Such stories are lost without the recovery of the artifact.
The Spanish founders of the town, who devoted their church to a Saint from their homeland, San Pedro de Alcala, were Franciscans. One of its early planners was San Pedro Bautista, another Spaniard, who had established several strategic communities in Laguna along with the headquarters of the Franciscan mission north of Manila (now in San Francisco del Monte, Quezon City). Bautista is one of our forgotten cultural hero whose contributions lie buried in the annals of Philippine historiography.
Another interesting story I read about the town is that there was once an “arnis” like art that flourished in its communities. If true, this native self defense technique must have been lost in the 1900’s or even earlier. The only reference to this martial art that I found was written by a Presbyterian missionary in 1940.
Jean Mallat, a French roaming the countryside, noted that this part of Laguna once had “prettiest native women…they rival those of Pampanga”. The Frenchman quite had keen eyes for the ladies. Was he prospecting for business or shopping for a wife? I love reading accounts from foreigners who had lived in the country in the past. They present a more direct depiction of the old country’s scene and character.
Its interesting to note that there were several Europeans [my favorite is Jala-Jala’s Paul dela Geroniere] who toured the countryside and wrote about their life here. If it were not for there written accounts, we would have fewer reference today. Reading them is like observing history from their perspective, they tend to be more candid about their views and feelings. Their works are still some of the finest reference about our old ways and landscape accessible to us today.