Proud Tanauan

Tanauan’s population is around two hundred thousand. Considering its substantial land, that’s not a lot of people.  Calamba, its next door neighbor to the south, is smaller but have twice the number of people.

What’s fascinating about Tanauan is how it remained agricultural. Tanauan retained its rural outlook and agricultural economy as late as the 1950’s and even in the 1960’s, it must have been completely rural and agricultural during Laurel’s (Pres. Laurel) childhood and juvenile years”, say the President’s biographers, the  del Castillos. Traditionally agricultural it was an influential town that produced great national leaders that played key roles in our history.

There were changes of course, but Tanauan has largely remained agricultural even today. Or at least it felt that way.

When we hear provincial, what comes to mind are backward communities. If we look back at our provinces in the 18th century, most of them were  progressive agro towns where hunger was never much a problem. The Spaniards introduction of crops and simple technologies had long solve the threats of famine. In Cebu, for example, the maize had been grown abundantly that in some areas it had challenged rice as staple. The 20th century saw the decrease in the produce that led us to import rice and other crops that we use to export to distant lands.

Tanaueño’s would send their children to Manila and abroad to study. A common practice among top families during the 18th century. Prominent families are known to commit their children to higher education. These children would then comeback take over the family business 0r make their mark in local politics. These educated Filipinos would later constitute the leadership of the revolution of  ’96.

These families, with their political influence, businesses and landholdings, represents the continuation of traditional prefilipino royalties [datus & local chiefs were assigned as cabeza de balangay by the Spaniards] that adapted itself into the times. Philippine society was stratified then on the basis of education and property. These divide between the rich and poor are magnified today because productivity in the fields has gone down. Unlike before when farming has been stable source of employment and food, these days the dwindling agricultural industry and continued oppression of the farmers and the poor by their corrupt government and landowners has increased the gap. Our farmers are subjected to conditions which makes it impossible for them to succeed. Today, the only farms that profits are those that are run by big corporations.

However, there’s a difference between the relation between the aristocratic Filipino families that employed the rural town farmers then and now. Their experience with the Spanish and then the Americans had bonded them closer. When the propertied class revolted against the colonial government it was their farmers and obreros that served as their soldiers. This relationship is no longer present in our agricultural towns. Prominent families had long abandoned their traditional lands [sold or left to be administered by corporations] and farmers has been preoccupied in their struggle to own part of the farms their ancestors tilled and providing the most basic of needs for their often over sized family. Farmers children has been sent to the cities to work for lowly jobs. However, This urban employment haven’t alleviated the flight of their families as they remain poor and exploited due to lack of education and discipline.

At the gate. an engraved metal plate reads "Jose P. Laurel, Abogado"

I visited the ancestral house of the Laurel’s not far from where I alighted. When I got there it was close. I kept knocking. The security guard won’t even talk [the house is about 300 meters away from the gate]. I have a feeling that I wasn’t the first curious observer that got snubbed there.

It was a great looking house none the less.

I’ve always been interested in the Laurel’s because an Ilonga aunt married one. I long since wondered what makes them successful. A historian, elegantly wrote “they breathed and drunk the idyllic atmosphere of the countryside at Tanauan and inherited the headstrong temperament attributed to those in propinquity with Taal volcano”.

Well, a more realistic explanation is that the Laurel men were expected to lead. They came from a long line of educated and successful fore bears.They had to exceed their parents expectations – anything less would have been unacceptable. Such were the demands of the tradition we once had.

The Tanauan’s first family were the ruling elite. From their line came the most fervent of Filipino nationalists who distinguished themselves as public servants. Sotero was representative in the first Republic who died of dysentery in an American concentration camp, then there was the son Jose who became president and later his sons; Teroy the senator, Jose Jr a former house speaker and Doy vice president during Cory’s presidency.

Tanauan's elegant looking church. Like all old churches, this figured prominently in their culture and history.

Of all the presidencies  of the country, Laurel’s is probably the most controversial because to many the second republic of which he was the chief executive had been reduced to in some to a puppet government that did nothing but the bidding for the Japanese.

Recto would later suffer the same fate. Tagged as a “collaborator”. They were accused of traitorous acts against their people. President Laurel would be pardoned but Recto (one of the glories of Philippine Spanish letters) would refuse the pardon, electing to fight for his freedom in the courts – and he won.

These patriots, upon their release would be the main opponent of the absurd American parity rights. Their actions during the war and after it showed their true patriotism. The Laurel’s for their part had been one of the staunchest nationalist of southern Tagalog. Many of those accused of “collaboration” were merely acting on behalf of the people. What an unfortunate task these men had but someone had to accept the responsibilities of representing the peopl otherwise there would have been more blood shed.

If it were not for President Laurel, “an up and coming jurist, a native of Tanauan, Batangas… long time resident of the district of Paco in Manila, member of the Supreme court”, Marcos would’ve rotted in jail. He was almost in a similar situation as Marcos was in his youth. He felt it would be a terrible waste to let the young Marcos rot in prison. If he never did pardon the man, just imagine how different our history would have been.

Of course, discussion’s about Tanauan’s past would not be complete without mentioning Apolinario Mabini. I met some of his relatives in the town during my first visit. Like Mabini, they are common folks, not into politics nor do they seek it. The highest post ever held by a Mabini in Tanauan is that of a Barrio Captain.

Mabini is the ideal man to lead the government during the revolution and he was practically running the country as Aguinaldo’s chief adviser. But being honest and upfront, he quickly alienated himself against his own government. He made enemies who were constantly intriguing against him. He later resigned his post and went underground. He became a fierce critic of the excesses of Aguinaldo’s deposed government.

Mabini’s letters [originally compiled by Teodoro Kalaw] are among the most revealing documents in Filipino historiography. Hopefully one day, we could dedicate a course in our schools that would study these correspondence. Its a pity that such documents, although available for the public, are hardly ever studied.

According to the Mabini’s of Tanauan, all of his siblings struggled in life even after his death. He left no properties, no bank accounts. Unlike his contemporaries, he never used his position for his material advantage. He lived frugally all his life. The only well off Mabini’s of today are the descendants of Agapito, who married into a prominent Manileno family.

Another Tanaueño worthy of  mention is Hen.  Nicolas Gonzales, the last of Aguinaldo’s general to surrender to the Americans. Along with Malvar, he fought relentless against the invasion until his surrender. Its unfortunate that very few knew of his admirable dedication towards the revolution. Tanaueños of old looked up to him. The Americans, saw him a worthy opponent and named the peak of Tagaytay ridge [formerly Monte de Sungay] after him. Hen. Gonzales married a Laurel’s and stayed in Tanauan almost all his life. He would later serve as governor of the province.

There are a handful of Antillean houses left around here. This one looks great.

The origina site of Tanauan's "escuela pia" where young men like Mabini learned the rudements of education from Friar educators.

This visit coincided with the initial work on the recreation of Mabini's house in the shrine dedicated to him. Laborer's strictly follow the exact measurements of the Hero's Nagtahan home.

Reference/Further readings:

The saga of José P. Laurel (his brother’s keeper) by T del Castillo and J del Castillo

So help us God: the presidents of the Philippines and their inaugural addresses by Jonathan E. Malaya

The Mysteries of Taal by Thomas Hargrove

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