From Alabang, I took a bus going to Sta. Cruz, alighted near Pagsanjan and boarded a jeep straight to Magdalena. These once distant historic towns are now so accessible there’s no excuse not to see them.
Back in the day when FPJ would bring his crew to shoot in town, Magdalena was still a fallow township. The town must have had some personal importance to the king of Philippine movies because the location presented logistical difficulties. FPJ’s preference to shoot in Magdalena has inspired countless actors and producers to come to the sleepy town.
Why Fernando Poe Jr., would pick a Lagunense town in the middle of nowhere?
Ate Boots, descendant of Capitan Bernardo, the pioneer leader of the township during the Spanish era, suggests that FPJ became fond of the townsfolk. “People here goes about their business, they don’t touch the actors, they see them and carry on with their daily tasks, unlike in other places where actors get pinched (kurot), hounded, these makes them uncomfortable I think” she said. Ate Boots, who now teach piano and vocal lessons for the church choir adds, “He (FPJ) was treated like a local, he likes children very much, I would come to him and we would play, he’ll even carry me, place me on his lap, I miss him, I think we all do.”
There’s this FPJ movie called “Sanctuario” that was shot almost entirely in Magdalena in 1974. Aside from the roof and ceiling that was replaced, and the annex built to expand the rectory, the church hardly changed its appearance.
Today, if you’re going to walk around the church you’d still recognize scenes from the film.
Even the old presidencia (municipio) with its wonderful staircase remains intact not far, just across the plaza.
As the title suggest, “sanctuario” was given to the lead actor after his oppressors started chasing him. A just and wise Franciscan protected the “vida” in his church without care for his own safety. Reminding FPJ’s enemies and the mob behind them of the “sanctuario” principle. Now, that’s a rarity in Filipino cinema — a friar doing good.
This “sanctuario” was also extended to revolutionary Emilio Jacinto, who lay with his wounds beneath the rectory after a skirmish with the Spanish led forces in Maimpis. The exact spot where he eventually bled to death has a commemorative marker dedicated by the Veteranos de la Revolución in the early 1900’s.
This historical event must have inspired the film producers and FPJ to pick Magdalena for “sanctuario”.
In 1820, Magdalena church as “visita” of Majayjay started to take shape. Painted white, it had a corro, a pulpito, a sagrario, ceiling and wooden benches with nipa roofing. It had a convent complete with two dormitorio, a rectory with a sizable kitchen (complete with batalan), a mess hall, a thick wooden staircase that leads to the dorms of the elevated residence. A year later, 1821, the town had its first resident priest, technically marking its partitioning from Majayjay. After 8 years since their first church was built the townsfolk decided they needed a bigger stone church. They accomplished its construction by donations, taxation and contributing labor. The stones were quarried from a nearby river. The walls and much of the church that was built in the late 1820’s and 1830’s still stands to this day.
There must have been several changes made during the 1900’s. Evident of this are the holes in the wall near the staircase of the rectory. This particular change must have been accomplished during the American era. The holes are slots where beams are inserted to support the floor. My guess is that this area was open up to highlight the Emilio Jacinto commemorative marker (where the hero lay dying was the rectory’s “silong”). The materials that was used to make the 1900’s staircase are now partially damaged by termites. Unlike the materials used during the Spanish era (like the posts made of dirigkalin) that are weather and termite resistant.
Like Majayjay and most of the churches in the region, the Franciscans were tasked to look after Magdalena.
Magdalena is the only town in the country that carries the name of the woman saint.
On a personal note:
I’m such a FPJ fan that I stopped reading Conrado de Quiros when he started attacking the man in his columns. This journalist would later express remorse for what he did after learning about FPJ’s warehouse where goods are stacked ready to be shipped to whoever needs them. What got his admiration is that the boxes are all unmarked — the actor forbids his workers to place any indications where the donations are from.
I already know about this man’s kindness because a father’s friend would treat my older siblings with a visit to FPJ’s home in the 80’s. The iconic actor would not only meet and greet these young visitors of his, he would spend time and play with them children.
Favorite FPJ movie is “Asedillo”. Although the setting is in Longos, I was told that some of the scenes where shot in Magdalena. My favorite FPJ moment also happens to be in this film. The scene where he went back to San Antonio, then delivered his speech on top of his horset .
One of the greatest moments in Filipino film!
Shame that he was awarded with the “national artist” plum posthumously. No actor deserves it more than the Da King!