Long before SM became the center of every Filipino township, there exist houses with exquisite Spanish architectural influence that along with the town’s church compose the center of culture and influence in every community. And these centuries old houses in San Fernando Pampanga( an hour bus ride from Cubao) are some of the best examples of the evolution of the Filipino bahay that most of us no longer recognize and appreciate. Sometimes you try to look for remnants of our past in far-flung towns only to find out that some of the most impressive ones are all under your nose.
A closer look at these historical houses reveals that at its base, the idea and the shape, originated from the humble Bahay-Kubo. I like to call these imposing squarish Bahay-na-Batos as “Kubos in steroids!” From its small origin of temporary materials to its astounding lasting grandeur! But none of these, not its history nor its evolution, are taught to the younger generation. This explains why when kids see these houses, all they could think about are those bromidic, ludicrous Filipino horror movies shot in some of these houses.
The San Fernando church (Metropolitan Cathedral of San Fernando) was built by those zealous Augustinian friars. It’s one the most historic church in the whole of central Luzon. Aguinaldo made it a platform to inspect his troops. While Antonio Luna, that cunning military strategist (arguably the revolution’s smartest general) burned it in 1899. Like all churches, San Fernando went through several rebuilding and restorations. I like the portico and the church’s shiny gibbous dome.
In front of the church is the newly coated presendencia. It appears to have been restored but I could not tell how much of the original was retained. The street that separates the church and this administrative building is the present day Consunji Street (formerly Calle Sto. Niño Viejo). This street is where most of the old houses can be found. Not far is a bridge named after Engineer Baluyot who restored the bridge as part of his thesis (then Puente Colgante).
The movement to save the old houses of San Fernando is said to have started when lahar overflowed to the city’s streets and destroyed the ancestral home of Jose Abad Santos and Perico Abad Santos (socialist movement pioneer). Descendants and avid heritage advocate started working with the local government to make a historic corridor. People today can go around the old town and see the houses marked with metal plates revealing these bahay-na-bato’s past. The entire town reminded me of Silay. Another town that rose to wealth and prominence because of its sugar produce.
While I manage to see most of the houses I wanted to record, I was not successful in getting access inside these houses. Like the house called Bale Matua, visited by past presidents and politicians. I think the Hizon-Singian house (once occupied by a Spanish governor general, now obscured by an ugly SM building) is open for viewing but it was close when I dropped by. Most are still private homes. I’m sure there are tours organized by local heritage advocates. If none, please have one! There’s just so much history around the old town of San Fernando that I’m sure a historical tour of these structures would be a great learning oppurtunity for every Filipino.
Good resource for San Fernando’s rich heritage is the http://kapampangan.ivanhenares.com site (I thought this Henares guy’s Ilongo!). Another good blog is from a friend, read here: http://traveleronfoot.wordpress.com/2009/09/03/san-fernando-heritage-district/