Category Archives: Batangas

Bedok Reservoir and other Lake Stories

Last month we were invited by some friends to eat “bulalo” in Lucky Plaza, the mecca of Filipino overseas workers here in Singapore. During weekends Filipinos, mostly domestic workers, congregate around the area.

We shared stories about our diversions. I told them I enjoy biking around the 4 kilometer shoreline of the Bedok Reservoir especially before the crack of dawn. During this time of the day the manmade lagoon provides spectacular scenes unlike anywhere else.

One of the older women there cautioned me that “it’s not safe”. She started telling me about the numerous “mysterious” deaths that has occurred in the lake. She used to live near the reservoir and claims to having sensed some “bad spirits” in it. I sat there in torment listening to her other supernatural stories but her story about unknown entities residing in lakes did not surprised me.

* * *

I recall this news of children drowning in Taal lake a few years ago. Curious was how the correspondents seem to link the deaths to the paranormal and not measures the local government failed to enact. Why would they assume that spirits are randomly taking lives in that placid lake?

My mother said Visayan folklore also attributes drowning deaths to mysterious sea vortex that abruptly appears from nowhere. They call it “Lilo” or “Liloan”. Some littoral towns carries this name to this day. I wonder if they were named after the fabled whirlpools.

When I was in Laoag, I read about the myth of its lake’s origin. According to local legend the lake was once a town called San Juan de Sagun; apparently an unforgiving god sunk it to teach the wicked townsfolk a lesson. The legend sounded biblical like Soddom and Gomorrah.

Fresh water lakes are remnants of catalytic natural catastrophes. I could imagine whatever creature had been left to struggle in it would ultimately adapt. It is possible that monsters people claimed to have seen in lakes are literally monstrous prehistoric animals.

Speaking of adaptation, the only known fresh water sardines, the tawilis, are from Taal Lake. These once sea dwelling fish learned how to live in fresh water conditions. Now that’s fascinating. One of my favorite history book about Batangas is “The Mysteries of Taal: A Philippine Volcano and Lake” by Thomas Hargrove. In the book he marveled how the lake, categorized as fresh water, appears to have sustained species intended only for the sea.

* * *

One of my favorite legend around Laguna de Ba’y is the one told by old timers of Pila-Pila in Binagonan.

The story goes that a gorgeous lady who had countless suitors decided to test them. She would make her husband the man who can erect a bridge from Pila-Pila to Los Banos’s main market. Because it was practically impossible all of the men back off except one—a fine-looking man who took on the task.

The following night, the barrio was awaken by loud activities. To their shock they found demons building the foundation of the bridge! Turns out that the man was the devil himself. The maiden then went to the church and took the cross from the altar and brought it to where the demons were busy setting up the foundation for her bridge. They all scampered but left the vestiges of their work there in Pila-Pila.

I’m sure those rock formation, called “Fuente del Diablo,” have some scientific explanation behind it but these stories are amusing. But what’s more fascinating is that some people believe in it.

* * *

While biking along the lake shore of Laguna de Ba’y in Muntinlupa two years ago I came across some local fishermen. They were casting their nets and were catching milkfish. What they catch they prepare for their families, any surplus they sell.

I asked these men if a bigger ship could still ply the lake. “You need to get rid of those private fish pens in the middle of the lake first,” they said with these big smiles on their faces. They told me that there’s potential for using the lake for transportation if our government is willing to invest in it. They should know because not only do they boat around it, they swim on it too.

But the fishermen also said that ships must be modest in size for a larger vessel would run into some shallow waters particularly during summer. They told me that the deepest depth of the lake is around 6 feet “mas o menus”. They got it right, LLDA classified the lake as a “shallow freshwater” with maximum depth of 2.8 meters.

* * *

Now going back to the Bedok Reservoir. It was recently the site of some of the water sports for the SEA games where held. Not far from it is the 30 hectare campus of the Temasek Polytechnic. It has the most idyllic site for a learning institution that I have ever seen.

The tree lined pathway of the Bedok Reservoir

I did check some online articles and found that some believe the reservoir is cursed, some say it’s haunted, others attribute its location as bad fengshui. But I’m of the opinion that these so called mysterious deaths are nothing more but coincidence. The lake’s so peaceful and attractive that troubled souls would naturally gravitate to it—to die? Maybe, we don’t know what really goes on the minds of those people who unexpectedly plunge in its still waters.

Also, the lake have a maximum depth of 18 feet. Extremely dangerous for someone who can’t swim. I could barely swim so I’m not thinking of dipping in its placid water anytime soon. I’m happy biking around it in a sunshiny picture-perfect Sunday.

The Virgin of Caysasay or Casay-casay

The venerated 400 year old image of our Lady of Caysasay

Casay-casay (kasay-kasay) in Tagalog is the word for the kingfisher. It’s a relatively small but eye-catching bird—introverted, territorial but possessing bright colors. My favorite bird (esp. the collared and black capped) because I personally consider them as some kind of a spiritual symbol.

When I heard that Caysasay came from casay-casay, I was intrigued to find out more.

Kasay in old Tagalog means taking a lengthy bath. The kingfishers are known to inhabit rivers, lakes and wet rice paddies. In Visaya, the bird is generally called tikarol. Interesting is that kasay-kasay also have another meaning in Tagalog—an object or a person that brings bad luck!

Now, old Greek mythology regards the Kingfisher as a symbol of peace and prosperity.

The story goes that the image of Caysasay would repeatedly disappear in Taal church (and a house where it was once kept by a rich family) only to be found near Caysasay guarded by kingfishers. Once it was found near the river with kingfishers and candles encircling it. Certainly an odd apparition because kingfishers are known to be solitary. Locals believe that these birds are the divine custodians of the Virgin. Another time it went missing, a group of young girls saw its image reflected on the well not far from the church. Soon, a baroque styled wall with some oriental details was built to enshrine the wells. The curative reputation of these well’s water has never waned to this day. The narrow creek near the well is now dry but the well still holds plenty of water, even in high summer!

The miraculous of Caysasay

The image of the Virgin was caught in a net by a fisher folk, Juan Maningcad, while fishing in Pansipit.  A wall painting inside the church depicts this incredible incident.

The image is that of the Blessed Virgin of the Immaculate Conception and it is said to had been discovered in early 1600’s.

The Birheng Gala (as old folks would sometime refer to the Virgin) is a 400 year old icon. Its popularity during the Spanish Philippine time was so high that galleon ships passing by would light up their cannons in her honor. It is this passion to care for the image that the townspeople fought over where the Virgin should be placed. The compromise was to have her spend days in the Basilica and the chapel in Labac!

The Chinese Filipinos takes the Virgin of Caysasay as Ma Tzu. It is venerated as a Chinese deity and a Catholic religious symbol.

Miracle stories about the Virgin of Caysasay abounds. I asked this lady to take a photo of us and after taking it she shared her life changing experience. All devotees have their “reasons for their devotion,” this lady said.

Science would always find materialist elucidation to all these—spiritual experiences are mere coincidences and whatever is felt are nothing but chemical reactions inside our brains. But to these Catholics it’s simple, needing no explanation, really. That God’s mercy and blessings are brought down to this earth through the powerful intercession of the most holy Virgin Mother.

Taal Article in Spanish

Taal “Pride in History”


The following day after this trip my car stalled near the church in Bayanan (not far from our subdivision in Muntinlupa). The rain was falling hard that afternoon. Good thing is that it’s near the neighborhood’s friendly battery shop where we’re regulars. I asked the store guy to help me jump start the car because I suspect that I drained the battery after leaving the hazards lights on while I’m in Mercury Drug. The car started after he plugged the spare battery which means that the battery was discharged. The following day, I had trouble again starting the engine. It barely started and so I decided to have it checked. In the shop the battery guy tested the battery and told me that the battery is dead. “Naku, wala na to halos zero na oh,” showing me his tester. He warned me not to travel as I would surely stall. I told him that just the other day I went to Taal. To this he said, “consider yourself lucky, that battery is dead and it needs to be replaced!” After hearing this, I whispered my thanks to the Virgin Mother.

Now, I have my story. My miracle of Our Lady of Caysasay story!


Taal and Friends

What’s with Taal that draws travelers like a moth to a flame?

Well, there’s only a handful of towns like it left. Along with Carcar and Vigan, these townships are the citadels of Filipino heritage conservation. It is not only the number of Antillean houses that had been gratifyingly safeguarded but the attitude of the locals towards their heritage.

I first saw the town 4 years ago. It was an enthralling old town with a splendid basilica but for an advocate of conserving our tangible historic and cultural heritage it meant more than just a tourist attraction.

I took my friends, Señior Gómez and Pepe Alas to the historic town of Taal last Wednesday. For years, I’ve been telling these two that we all should go out of town. So this trip was the fulfilment of that idea and also a treat (although he insisted to pay for gas and food) for ol’ man Gomez. He started visiting the town four decades ago. It was easier to drive around with the him on the passenger seat. He knows Taal like the back of his hand. I thought it a good idea to bring him to the town because he’s currently writing a Spanish novel where a key character is from Taal.

From Manila, I decided to take the lengthier but scenic Tagaytay route. I wanted to see some nature myself to soothe my frazzled mind! But before heading down to Lemery, we ate in one of those low-priced restaurants along the road that has a great view of the Taal Lake, surrounding mountains and the crater. We ordered sinigang na bangus, sisig and pancit bihon, all of which were surprisingly good!

After the brief chow stop, we headed straight to Diokno highway, a well paved but zigzagging road that starts where Nasugbu’s welcome arch stands (near Caleruega). It was a great drive; it’s all downhill until you reach Lemery. There were quite a few dangerous bends but it’s a smooth road so it was a relaxing drive.

This is only my second time in town, but my first visit to the miraculous wells of Santa Lucia. Located not far from the posterior of Caysasay church. Señior Gómez told me that it was the affluent Chinese Catholics who funded and erected the baroque fortification that houses the wells. There are two watering holes that never dries out up even during the warmest days of summer. The faithfuls, both local and tourist, would gather water from it and wash with it in a makeshift bath room nearby. Some takes home water from the well using containers and bottles. This has been a practice for over a hundred years now.

Inside the church of Caysasay, a lady devotee (who took our photos) recounts the reason for her devotion. She said that not too long ago, someone told her to go to the church and pray to the Virgin. Believing that there’s nothing wrong with it since she’s a Catholic, she did so some months later. A few days later after her visit, she and her family got involved in a terrible accident. Their driver lost control of the vehicle with her daughter and her inside it, and smashed straight into an electric poll. They hit it so hard that the transformer installed on it fell not far from where their vehicle rested. Miraculously, aside from a few bruises and wounds, no one was seriously injured. Ever since this incident, she saw to it to visit the church weekly to pray to the Virgin of Caysasay.

We then went to the Basilica and explored the old houses of the town. The one thing I like about the town, like Vigan, is that the locals are not only proud but protective of their heritage. There are incessant threats to bahay-na-batos that had stood for more than 100 years, but at least here, the people are partners in conservation, not destruction.

There was a recent controversy over a parish priest’s planned construction of a performance venue right beside the Basilica. He thought it to be a good racket, and assumed he could get away with it. But then the people rallied behind a well-known local artist to stop the construction. This zealous passion to preserve our heritage is an outstanding example for the rest of the country. It is the locals that must get their hands dirty to contest these bogus land developments.

By taking the Tagaytay route earlier, then Lipa on our way back (exiting Star toll) we inadvertently traveled around the lake of Taal and its lake towns. You know you’ve traveled a protracted distance when you see weather change right in front of you. We experience heavy rains in Alitagtag but sunshiny conditions in Lipa. While there was no rain when we reached Makati, we were all surprise to find out that some of the streets (de la Rosa and parts of Pasong Tamo) were underwater.

Well, traveling, like life, is full of surprises they say.

400 Year Old Balayan Church Complex Spared!

I got this from my inbox awhile ago:

A few weeks ago, you signed the petition asking the Archdiocese of Lipa to spare the centuries old Balayan Church school and convent from being leased to a national grocery chain. The Lopez of Balayan Batangas Foundation would like to share some great news:

Victory! National historical treasure in Balayan, Batangas saved!

Today we declare victory in our campaign to save our cultural and historical treasures from commercial exploitation. If not for the 6,110 signers of our petition on urging the Archdiocese of Lipa to stop the lease of a centuries-old convent that forms part of the 400-year-old Balayan Church complex, our beloved town would have lost a priceless treasure.

Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles has finally admitted that the Archdiocese’s financial administrator did consider a plan to lease the land on which the convent stands on to a commercial establishment. He acknowledges that the plan was scrapped after it “triggered a barrage of angry responses.” This obviously refers to the petition started by concerned Balayan residents.

As we celebrate our victory, we would like to thank thousands of other Filipinos who joined our cause and signed our petition even if they were not directly affected by the archdiocese’s plan. They believed in our cause and believed that together, we could achieve change. They, too, share in this victory.

We hope that the victory in Balayan will boost the confidence of all other Filipinos fighting to preserve our cultural and historical and ecological treasures. Once more, we have shown that unity brings forth victory for change.

Thank you,

The Lopez of Balayan, Batangas Foundation

Thank Heavens the entire heritage complex of Balayan church is safe. For now.

Now, these idiots that sits on the committees that approves commercialization of religious heritage must be held accountable.

We need better people. Reasonable people. Whoever this person in Balayan Church that made that call to lease the property must be sent packing.

Save Balayan Batangas’ School and Convent!

Apparently the plan is to establish a SaveMore grocery where the old convent and school stands. Yes folks, another SM building thrashing Filipino heritage.

What I can’t get my head around is why our dearly loved Church officials, guardians of our religious historical treasures, would allow something like this to happen.

Everything is for sale for the right price? Ganyan na ba talaga tayo?

What a shame that we have leaders like these. People that would permit the destruction of heritage–a convent, which stood for 400 years!

Sign the petition.

I’ve visited Balayan a couple of years ago. There were some commendable developments made inside the church complex but this ‘Save More’ would be a huge drawback. It could be legal, no doubt, but who benefits here?

Do we really want a commercial establishment this close to the historic Balayan church? A commercial estabslihment to replace a convent that has stood for hundreds of years?

Are we this desperate for monetary resource here that we’re going to sell parts and portions of our religious pamana?

For our lost Church leaders of Batangas and all over the country, here’s what OUR present Pope has to say about convents:

“Empty convents and monasteries should not be turned into hotels by the Church to earn money … (the buildings) are not ours, they are for the flesh of Christ, which is what the refugees are.”

Yeah, I think the Pope has been witnessing these dealings of local parishes around the world. His message is clear. STOP.

Relic of St. John Baptist de la Salle

This saint is often depicted with “stretched right arm with finger pointing up, instructing two children standing near him”. He died in 1719 and was made a saint by Leo XIII on the 24th of May 1900.

My recent blog reminded me of another interesting relic I saw last year. Around June when I went to see it in Lipa. The relic belongs to San Juan Bautista de La Salle. It’s the saint’s arm bone, sealed in a reliquary adorned with images of bronze angels on each corner.

The French known as the patron saint of all teachers established the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. Its arrival in the country was accorded with military honors which was interesting as there are not that many country that welcomes relics this way.

The teaching congregation St. John started has grown like no other in the world. A good example is the St. Josephs Institute, founded in 1852, one of the oldest educational institution in Singapore (it predates our La Salle University, which was established in 1905). Singapore’s Art Museum has taken over the old baroque chapel and school of the La Sallian brothers. The institution has since moved but has remains as one of the best schools in the country.The La Sallian school in Kuala Lumpur, which I was fortunate to see back in 2010, was established in the early 1900’s. All of these educational institutions are testament to the La Sallian brothers missionary work for education around Asia.

If you’re not Catholic the subject of relics wouldn’t really interest you. You might even find it strange. It really is a Ripley’s Believe it or not encounter for most the people I know. But Catholics always had this tradition. Relics provides that spiritual connection for most of us. The word “relic” came from the Latin reliquiae, literally means, “remains”. In the case for Catholics – that’s bones, flesh and body parts! we really took it to a whole new level!

Relics unfortunately are also being traded over the internet. I checked ebay a few days ago and was shocked to see what Catholics would refer to as first class relics on sale.

Speaking of education, I could only imagine what we would have today if it were not for the religious orders. History for many means great heroes and battles. Religious history, especially its contributions, is often gloss over. In Philippine history, the only mention of the religious and missionaries in standard history text are the stereotypical abusive friars. Which of course, does not do justice, to either their cultural contribution or the religion they bequeathed the nation. Their track record in developing agriculture is among the greatest event in our modern history, and yet it is hardly ever mentioned. Add to this is their contribution in the arts and in education. It was the historian Pio Andrade that advised me “to be cautious in assessing friar history… you might uncover them to be heroes”. I say, that these men deserves a second look – especially for us Catholics – much of what we celebrate and consider Filipino culture was formed and influenced by what they brought to our shores.

The Balay in Balayan

Balayan Church

The church with its red brick bell tower is an impressive baroque. The interior is worth a look because it has structurally remained intact (although the modern paintings & murals are a bit out of place). Declared a National Cultural Treasure because its construction was supervised by Filipinos. A rare achievement in the 18th century.

Mr. Alix, a local in his 60’s recounts their elders telling them about “countless church legends” and how it was built “piece by piece” making it virtually earthquake proof. I saw small repairs around the church that were not properly done (some portions of the bell tower for example were patched with common cement). It is ideal that all repairs and restoration work are coordinated with authorities for technical direction. Until now, some of our parish priest fails to understand the benefits of this coordination.

The locals appears to be conscious of heritage conservation. There was controversy some years ago when the church allowed the building of McDonalds in its compound. I’m not sure about the details but I heard that the locals opposed to it. My personal opinion is that the parish should have never allowed it.

Bahay na Bato – Balayan Style

Near the church are clusters of bahay na bato nestled between modern houses and shops. Some of the old houses that are  rented out to businesses maintained its period exterior. Despite being converted into shops they retained many of the antique structure and design from its earlier incarnation.

Just like in many old towns, there are casualties. Old houses that were quietly removed. However, there are still a lot of great looking houses left. Descendants (like the Martinezes and Lopezes) are proud of their ancestral houses that even when most of them no longer resides in Balayan they hire people to look after them.

Balayan must retain its most important period houses. Their history can be seen today in these wonderful relics. For them to preserve these vintage treasures is to honor their past, their heritage and the name of their town – Balayan. I’m glad that the awareness for conserving what’s left of the old town is high among the locals.

I visited two of the Martinez’s ancestral houses. Both are in good condition. The biggest and the most elegant of all ancestral house belongs to this Family. The Martinez mansion across the gas station have a stone arch which is a rarity even among the rich homeowners in Manila. The first floor is rented out to a carinderia. The house is maintained by caretakers from Iloilo. They have strict orders not to allow anyone in. The house is one of the biggest I’ve seen in the province. It has a wide yard and some fruit bearing tree.

Another house that had been preserved for visitors to see is the simple yet elegant Ermita house. One of the parents of Eduardo Ermita is from a family of means in Balayan. A personal favorite is the Santos house (located not far from the Lopezes mansion) because of elements that reminded me of the ancient stilt wooden houses of the coastal islands. I was told by a local that if all the houses of old Balayan was preserved the town could rival their neighbor Taal not only in number but grandeur and splendor. What’s noticeable is that houses in Balayan are spacious compared to Taal.

The most popular Balayan house is the casa grande of the Lopezes (honored with an iron marker by historical commision). The house house was endowed with expensive furniture, grandiose interiors and profuse ornamentation throughout. This should be easy to explain as the owners were among the richest family in the province.

Casa grande’s renowned resident, Sixto Lopez, is one of the most brilliant minds of his time. I saw a correspondence of his in English (addressed to a US senator) which shows how adaptive and flexible his generation was when it comes to language and learning. He learned English as he was appointed to seek US recognition of the Philippine independence. The Batangas revolutionist (Galicano Apacible is also a native of Balayan) were giants in thoughts and intellect. We have to take inspiration from their achievements and how they lived their lives.

Sixto Lopez’s had the idea of briging Aguinaldo and Mabini (a province mate) to the US as there were people there that he believe could help them in their fight for independence. Even when Aguinaldo was captured he petitioned for him to go stateside (same with Mabini). Unfortunately, his plans never materialized. Lopez’s hope for American recognition is a clear sign that the American public were concerned about the military expansionism and there are Americans that were willing to listen. Some of these men (like the popular author Mark Twain) vehemently opposed the idea of an American empire. There are moderate and liberty loving Americans that even then were against occupying other states. Today, we see these liberty loving American’s getting more vocal – I pray that they succeed in taking back their country.

I wonder if there are existing tourism programs in Balayan. With creativity and planning the local government could get people to visit the town. The idea can be attractive. The town is abundant in historical and cultural resources. There are field trips (for students) that goes to where the famed Bagoong Balayan are made. It won’t be such a bad idea to include a walking tour of the old houses of Balayan. It being a coastal town, a stroll near the bay (if they can develop it) after a walking tour of its historic center is a perfect ending for a day’s visit.

Leo Martinez's ancestral house

Casa Grande - the Lopezes home in Balayan

An elegant white painted office for once rich Balayan cacao business

An example of architectural "reuse". This is one of the biggest stone house in town and its looking great!

Another house owned by the Martinez clan of Balayan. A personal favorite!

Renovated through the years but still showing the original design of a classic Filipino home

The Bahay na Bato just like the Bahay Kubo are square in design

I was told that the lower floor serves as a mortuary. The upper floor, a study hall (?) That's a strange combo

A House in Balayan Batangas

Although it may appear that there;s not much likeness between the two, the concept and architecture of the bahay na bato are largely based on the precolonial house. My visit to the Ramos house (not sure if they call it that) helped me understand how the kubo (literally “cube”) evolved into something permanent.

I’m thankful that the Ramoses (esp. the unico hijo) allowed me to see the inside of their house. There’s not a lot of these houses around so you welcome these opportunities. My imagination just takes off picturing what it must have been like to spend one’s life in these mansions. I had a great time inside. I picked the house because it exemplifies classic Filipino Hispano house design (some of the crooked stilts are exposed making the house appear like a precolonial coastal dwelling if you are to look at it from the rear). There are grander houses around Balayan but this house for me was just an outstanding example of that wonderful mix that highlights the union between hispanic and oriental.

The entresuelo is now occupied by a tenant (traditionally reserved for safekeeping but is also used for guest lodging). Thee are three cuartos in the house (approx with 10 square feet area).The patio of the house is adjacent to the comedor (usually adjacent to the zaguan or stable). The caida (the area after the grand stairs) is still used to entertain guest and has been largely kept as it was (complete with all the furniture). The sala has been incorporated to the caida. Usually, for big houses sala’s are reserved for dancing and parties. In modest homes, the caida and sala appears to be just one space. The comedor (dining room) is separate from the cocina (kitchen). We don’t see this arrangement anymore as most kitchen and dining area today are confined in one space. Another interesting feature of the house are the wooden strips (separated by inch gaps) flooring in the comedor and cocina. Clearly, a design inspired by the ancient bahay kubo. Beneath this area is the silong (no longer used) another tradition that was kept by the Filipinos. The latrina (toilet) can be found a near the cocina. Its a structure that is separate from the main house. Another interesting feature of the house are the timber posts (possibly yakal) that supports the house. These posts are exposed and can be seen at the rear portion. It reminds me of the precolonial coastal houses.

There’s pride in the houses of Balayan. You get that feeling. To them, an old Balayan bahay na bato is as Filipino as it gets.

The house and the tambay children wondering why in the world am I taking photos of an old house

The stairs leading the caida

The sala with all the furniture of the "Lola" and her altar

The house and her owner, Dona Consuelo

A wooden piano covered by an knitted clothe

The batalan

The kusina (notice the old iron stove serving now as stand for the modern gas stove)

The comedor overlooking a swamp teeming with kang kong

The patio. An open space for some relaxing

The view of the living area from the comedor (kainan)

The Lola's room with a picture of her hanging on the post. The whole house was made a shrine in her memory

There were many changes made in the house but they somehow retained much of the old. For that, "Bravo"!

Balayan Bagoong

I was looking forward to attending the feast of San Juan Bautista this year but missed it. I could just imagine the lechon being paraded and devoured after in the streets of Balayan. Since I failed to attend the roasted pig parade and it is only now that I finally got to visit this beautiful town – I have to settle for the bagoong.

And its not that bad really.

Having Visayan parents that savor these delicacies (Bisayan’s probably have a hundred ways of making bagoong!) I grew up with these dark fermented seafood around. Its an important cooking ingredient and of course, the all around sawsawan. For us, it’s also a form of viand (like guinamos) when there’s nothing left to cook in the fridge. I’m used to the smell and the unappetizing color like most Filipino do (Filipinos going abroad are notorious for trying to smuggle bagoong in their airport baggage’s!) – we just can’t live without them!

In Luzon, there are three provinces that have a popular variety: Ilocos, Pangasinan and Batangas. In Batangas province, Balayan is synonymous to superior bagoong. The time they start working on their bagoong is during the  few first months of the year when anchovies and galunggong are abundant. According to the vendors, the fishes are caught locally but there are times that the catch could come from as far as Tayabas (Quezon Province).

The vendor told me that the bagoong goes well with another popular Batangueño delicacy, ihaw na maliputo (heard it for years but I’ve yet to taste it). The Balayan bagoong is a remnant of their precolonial tradition. It is said that the original Balayanos (the word “balay” is Visayan word for house) were settlers that came from the southern islands.

Could the tradition in bagoong came from the Visayans that settled and established their “balay” in precolonial Balayan? Were the first Balayanos, Visayans (pintados)?

Sometimes the names of our towns and its food tradition gives us some bits and pieces to think about.

The bagoong Balayan have a distinct taste from the Visayan variety. The final product is smooth (no bones and pieces of the fermented fish). It’s like patis (fish oil), only thicker. The smell is stronger but the taste is milder compared to the Ilocanos version. The difference between Balayan’s and another Luzon variety, Bagoong Pangasinan, is that Bagoong Balayan does not have pieces (bones, flesh, head) of the fish they used. It is as if the fish melted during the fermentation process.

What set the Balayan variety is the quality of which it is made. They take pride in making and selling them – well, it carries their towns name so they should be proud.

Visiting Casa de Segunda in Lipa

Why was it called Casa de Segunda?

Ma’am. Lilet, the designated family tour guide said, “well, it is the house she built with her husband (Manuel)”.

Why not Casa de Manuel  or Casa de Luz or Katigbak y Luz?

Probably thinking I was nuts to be asking such things, she ignored my last question. She proceeded to the kusina and told me, “I bet you could not lift that dining table!”. I told her I’ll give it a try. I’m almost 6 foot and I feel strong at my 200 lbs wrestling frame!

But I couldn’t even push the table! I’ll probably break my back trying. Ma’am Lilet was laughing the whole time!

Mrs. Lilet Malabanan Katigbak is a most excellent host. She’s got a great sense of history and humor. What started out as a tour ended up in an interview. She was very candid, answering even the more controversial questions I had.

Casa de Segunda

NHI marker

This side was not the original entrance. The opposite road was what the previous residents used.

Ma'am Lilet showing her grandma's bed. Notice the arinola .

Usually they charge for groups but she probably took pity on me. At the time, there were no other visitors. I told them as long as they’ll allow me to go around the house and take pictures, I’m a happy man, but Mrs. Malabanan insisted that she show me around. She did the tour for free! She strikes me as a very caring and intelligent lady. Her looking after the house  is a great labor of love for her Lola Segunda. We have to thank their families. In a time when descendants sell their ancestral houses because of soaring property prices — the Katigbak’s are a rarity. Not all are like them.

Dona Segunda, Lola Unday to them, suffered a stroke and died in 1943. Their Lolo Uwel died a year earlier. But before these wonderful couple left this world, they had 9 equally talented and successful children. Since they were from the era of cultured Filipinos of the old cerrado catolico kind – they propagated like they were in the time of the Old Testament! The old Lipa family has got to be one if not the biggest.  Mortality rate of women who die from pregnancy was quite high then. Many men married several times during their lifetime because of this.

The view here must have been awesome then.

Well maintained lower floor of the house with many ready reading materials for visitors.

"Those trees are over a hundred years old... Lola planted that one" - Mrs. Lilet Katigbak Malabanan

Where Manuel and Pepe played chess

The question I had earlier about why the house was christened “Casa de Segunda” was because I was curious to know if it had something to do with Segunda’s youthful romance with Rizal. Since historians (including some families and politicians) venerate anyone, everything and anything related with Rizal they often over-attribute.

But it appears that it was not the case for Casa de Segunda. I was wrong about my presumption. “She raised all her children here, even her grandchildren; she was here all her life”, Ma’am Lilet said. “That’s why its only fitting that it bear her name, she died here also”. There were new houses built around the vicinity of the Casa but they were constructed respecting the space of the old house.

Lipa, the city government, must now do its job. Give financial assistance to the house museum and stop taxing them for crying out loud!

They’re doing you a great favor here.

The local government keeps on promoting the house as a tourist site, sending busloads of public school students without paying for any fees and yet they could not even give the house owners a tax break.

Another suggestion to Lipa’s local government is for them to help maintain the other four  old houses that survived WWII (one of which is the Luz ancestral house). Lipa during the war took some of the heaviest bombing from the American forces because the Japs headquartered themselves in the palatial homes of the Lipeños. It is said that fumes coming from Lipa can be seen from hundreds of kilometers. Organizing a historic trail complete with markers and information pamphlets is a nice way to promote the history of Lipa. It can even generate jobs.

Plus Plus Families

I’ll probably write a separate article about the families of Lipa. I acquired information about the family trees of some of the old families and its really fascinating. It appears that having a huge family was not only common but expected in old Lipa. There were several well known men that married more than once (after their spouses had died). It could be attributed to the fact that they’re rich farmers but as records show the richest period in Lipa (the coffee boom) didn’t even last a decade.

Having a big family before was common because children are good indicator of wealth and well being. The families in the old times became so big that first cousin marriages were common and accepted. The Filipino world has changed. Life’s getting tough and there seem to be no end in sight for our economic woes. This is why history is fascinating – you could make comparison and see where we made mistakes.

Rizal in Lipa

An interesting discovery was a school called Instituto Rizal. This institute where Claro M. Recto and many renowned Lipeños learned the rudiments of school was founded in 1896! The dates don’t add up.

Rizal died December that same year. This simply means that it was named after him even while he was still alive! It’s like naming the old Manila airport after Ninoy while he was still giving interviews in Boston. Don Gregorio Katigbak (whose mother is related to Recto’s mother) founded the institute. Claro Mayo Recto studied there from 1900-01.

Rizal of course was known among the prominent Lipeños during his time. A popular story about him in Lipa was when he visited it in 1890’s. He met Manuel Luz, the husband of Segunda, his first love. He was consolidating support and was said to have been soliciting funds from the Lipeños. Manuel and Rizal played chess on what is now Casa de Segunda (the chess table is still there). Rizal lost and rumor has it that he did so intentionally. But I don’t think that’s the case because the Luz’s are known to be geniuses. The history of this family is as fascinating as the town itself. Hopefully one day a local could come up with a history book about the great Lipeño families.

Now, back to Casa de Segunda.

A beautiful article sums up my thoughts about this wonderful bahay na bato:

Built in the 1880’s…a typical “bahay na bato”, is Spanish in architecture, yet essentially a tropical house. The dramatic arrangements of space, use of masonry and sense of grandeur and solidity are practical response to environment and charming record of history.

The family intended to make it a vacation house for the Luz-Katigbak families but after it was restored people started coming. Then NHI made it a heritage house complete with a marker. They opened it to the public believing that Filipinos could something not only about their families but the history of Lipa.

The largest house in Lipa was that of Dona Catalina Solis. It was said to had been donated to the Catholic church after her death.

After the war there were only five houses that survived in Lipa. The Japanese took a liking to the Antillean houses of Lipa that they occupied them all. The owners had to leave their beautiful houses. When the Americans bombed Lipa to flush out the Japanese, the Philippine Spanish villa burned for days.

Pictures of existing old houses (filhispanic and American era) in Lipa:

A Square House

Post war

For sale!

A former stable before

Fading glory

Tinted in colors

Still looking elegant

One of the originals that survived the war

Fallen into tough times

Wonderfully restored

For school tours of Casa de Segunda please contact Ma’am Lilet Katigbak Malabanan @ 043 784 1952 or at her mobile 0918 941 5410.

Disclaimer: The opinion expressed here are mine and does not reflect that of the owners.

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

Taal “Pride in History”

Not far from Manila, Taal is a rarity of a town. It ranks among the most preserved historical towns in the country. A distinction it shares with Vigan, Pila and Silay. Some argue that the preservation is far from satisfactory but I happen to believe otherwise. The manner of which the Taaleños had “reuse” their old ancestral house is one of the most adaptive cultural phenomena in our time.

Many Filipinos confuse Taal the town with the Volcano and its lake (Places that got its name from the once prestigious capital of the whole province). The same case for the town of Ba-y where the lake (Laguna de Ba-y) was named after – these details are lost in the minds of today’s generation. We have to rediscover these long forgotten towns as they’re integral in our cultural and historical journey. These  old town’s contributed significantly to the development of our identity.

But this could be easier said than done, with our fast-phased life, its easy not to find the time.

Taaleños had put great effort and care in making their old town appear as it was during its heyday. And they’re not doing it for sentimental reasons but rather for the pride it brings home. The spirit of their great houses continues to guide them, they draw inspiration from its meaning and significance. These tangible links reminds visitors that the old traditions are alive in all things here and in all Taaleño.

Examples of these undying traditions  are the presence of handcrafted balisongs and barong tagalog – Taal has long been considered to be one of the best source of this regional dress. Food stalls that sell what could probably be the best (and thickest broth!) “lomi” in the country can be found in the towns public market. The Taal’s coffee industry (peaked in the 1800’s) was once a giant industry – sadly, it suffered from “peste” and never recovered. And not to be forgotten are the religious festivals. The one in Caysasay (known for its fluvial parade) is the biggest and grandest in town.

“Must see” houses in Taal begins with the Felipe Agoncillo’s white washed house. The descendants of the first foreign secretary had magnificently restored the two storey house and is open for the public. A bronze monument (dressed as a European styled lanky gentleman) for its illustrious owner stands in its front garden.

A stone throw away from Felipe Agoncillo’s house is the ancestor house of the Ylagan-de la Rosa. This was the house of a popular lawyer and educator in the late 19th century.  The Ylagan’s were prominent member of Taal’s rich society during the early 19th century. Maria Ylagan Orosa, the eminent scientist and war hero who invented banana ketchup (my favorite ketchup!), soyamilk, palayok oven and pineapple vinegar among other things came from this illustrious family. The renaissance woman died during the war.

Agoncillo’s beautiful wife’s ancestral house is now under NHI custody  and has been a museum for some time. Her role in our history – simple yet iconic – she helped sew the flag (in Hong Kong) that was raised in Cauit . Her house (built by her parents and could probably be the oldest in town) also had a small bust bronze monument in her honor.

In the house of the Doña Gliceria Marella de Villavicencio, a brightly painted casa reminiscent of Mexican homes, one can find a simple monument of a lady that donated her family’s wealth to the revolution. A trading ship of her family  is considered to be the first ship in our navy. An excellent illustration of the old Taaleños’ unselfish commitment for  their country.

Another house, now also a museum (also administered by the NHI), is Casa Apacible. Another Rizal kin and a delegate in the Malolos convention. A ranking mason who opened his house for masonic and revolutionary meetings during the critical years of the revolution – one could just imagine what important decisions were made inside his house (or is it possible that the hombres were just hanging around drinking cerveza negra!).

Taal is a symbol of survival and determination. The original location of the town was said to be closer to the volcano. A major eruption changed all that. The missionaries took their town and church a little further downstream. This was when communities were attached to the religion that united them. A strong earthquake leveled the town but was again it was rebuilt by its resilient missionaries and people.

Their Basilica, San Martin de Pours, the biggest in the country and is considered to be the largest in Asia is an awe-inspiring sight. Not to many people know that it took a century to finish, after the original was destroyed by the volcano eruption of 1754. The massive basilica built on the hill must be seen to be appreciated – I could not put in words the effect seeing it had on me. The whole place looks like it was built by giants!

This is the Taal of the old, everything was possible!

Near this massive church is the original escuela pia of Taal that was administered by the missionaries. I was delighted to see it restored (though it appears to be a reconstruction) These schools are historic monuments of the forgotten Spanish educational system that precedes the American public schools in the Philippines.

One of the students of Taal’s escuela pia is Ananias Diokno, whose house can be found a little further down  the main road. The house is now a gym and and could very well be “in danger” as it appears to be  not properly maintained.

Sadly, there are casualties along the way and they are growing in number. Some houses had fallen in disuse and are no longer habitable. There was even one that is for sale (how can we put a price tag on a century old house?). A camarin had been left to rot and there were quite a few houses that had been taken down. These are realities that are happening in almost all old towns, that is why we have to be thankful to those remaining families that took the initiative to preserve their ancestral houses. Without them, Taal would have been another soulless town.

This ones for sale!

A stable or a camarin?

Taal's Escuela Pia

There is no perfect approach in heritage preservation, in most cases there must be creativity, but the most effective option is to continue utilizing them with respect and pride. If the houses continue to be relevant and useful, the more likely it would be spared from destruction and new construction. Many owners would say it is far more economical disposing these houses than maintaining them. An attitude that presents a great threat to existing heritage structures. The key here is that we promote architectural reuse in order to avoid situations like the one that happened to Binan’s oldest house.

But like what Batman said to Robin, “greed is an overpowering emotion”. It dems all the senses – most especially the “historical sense”, if there ever is such a sense for those who destroy their ancestral houses for profit.

Friends blog’s about the town: TOF, Filipinoscribbles

Matabungkay Bay

A lovely couple staring at the picturesque Matabungkay Bay.

I’m not a big fan of beach resorts, especially crowded ones but we were lucky that the place was almost deserted when we visited. The accommodation was great but the beach was rock-strewn and was swarming with sealife: starfish, eels, urchins and sea moss. So I never got the urge to swim around (as if I can) the surf. But it was a great experience seeing all of that. When the tides are low, you can walk far and we did, together with some locals gathering sea snails for cooking.

The tide was extremely low exposing the bottom for about a kilometer. The Fortune Island can be seen at a distance. When MV Dona Paz sunk in ’87 it was said that some of the bodies of those who died reached teh bay.

The nature around the Matabungkay bay is perfectly suitable for scuba diving and photography, which at the time I was still very much into. Mornings were chilly but it was the best time to see the bay and its environs. It was a lengthy journey to Lian; we were battered with a long downpour somewhere in Nasugbu and had to slow down. But the exhausting driving was rewarded by bucolic scenes: hills, rural houses, coconut forests and an awesome zigzag road.

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