Category Archives: Camarines Norte

Universidad de Sta. Isabel and the Legacy of Padre Gainza

Right across the grand cathedral of Naga lies one of the most historic building in Naga, the Universidad de Sta. Isabel de Nueva Cáceres, the pilot normal school for women in the country.

The founding of the school is the idea of one visionary man, Dominican Francisco Gainza. He saw the potential of women to be educators, this in a time when Filipinas were considered little more than home caregivers and producers of offspring. He envisioned a school where every parish would be required to send one representative to be schooled as teacher. The plan was for these ‘pensionadas’ to return to their communities and teach. He fought long and hard to get funds to erect the foundations of his school.

Universidad de Sta. Isabel today.

After the red brick school was completed Gainza then lobbied for subsidies so women from poor parishes could enter and complete their schooling. He petition the local administrators of the province to help shoulder the costs. From the period of 1877 up to 1898  the school produced 300 graduates.

Padre Gainza came in the country to further his religious studies–here he was ordained priest and rose from the ranks, retiring as bishop of Nueva Cáceres. In his younger years, he was sent to China where death is a constant, looming presence for religious missioners. He was typical of his generation of Spanish missionaries, highly educated, extremely devoted–most of these men died without seeing their families and homeland again. Padre Gainza taught physics in UST, he was a canon lawyer and a member of the Real Sociedad Económica de Amigos de País.  He wrote the novenario for our Lady of Peñafrancia. The good Bishop died in 31 July 1879.

In his latter years as bishop of Nueva Cáceres, he sat on the ecclesiastical tribunal that reviewed the case of the GOMBURZA priests. The religious in Manila had petition the priests implicated in the Motín de Cavite to be divested of their priestly status. Bishop Gainza, not only said ‘no’, he went farther– expressing  his opinion that the three priests be pardoned. If he had his way, those three priests would’ve walked away free but Governor General Rafael Izquierdo had approved for the execution to be carried out.

We’re obviously looking at a visionary priest here that was ahead of his time. His biography, like all those obscured heroic friars that were placed in a bucket called ‘Damaso’, awaits to be written.

The Universidad de Sta. Isabel was where the Spanish signed the instruments of surrender in 18 September 1898. The provincial governor surrendered the entire province to the revolutionary forces to two corporals, Elias Angeles and Felix Plazo.
When Lukban arrived to help the revolutionaries overthrow the local Spanish administration the general was greeted with locals who had already deposed the Spanish. Elias Angeles, who organized the local government in Naga, held office in Sta. Isabel. This man was known for his gentlemanly character. A quaint iron plate marker describes him as, “the perfect gentleman, respected and treated with utmost courtesy and consideration all the Spaniards.”
Majority of the schools founded during the Spanish era have retained the patron saints name but dropped the Spanish ‘Universidad’ and ‘Colegio’. Some schools in Manila that adapted this strange arrangement are: Sta. Isabel, San Beda, Immaculate Conception, San Sebastian to name a few.

The most awkward change was that of Universidad de Sto. Tomas, now University of Sto. Tomas. They must have changed ‘Universidad’ to win regard from the Americans. Universidad de Sto. Tomas predates Harvard by a quarter of a century. The Ateneo schools retained the Spanish “Ateneo de” but like UST had the English ‘University’ attached as part of their official name. Like all Spanish founded schools, they went through a major overhaul when the Spaniards were sent packing–the faculty was Americanized.

Laudable are schools that maintained their original Spanish names like Colegio de San Juan de Letran. The Colegio de la Inmaculada Concepcion de la Concordia has retained the official name but is commonly referred to as Corcordia College these days.

But why is it the original name is even important?

As humans, we keep our name because it’s an integral part of our identity. Those who change their names either wants to forget their past or has decided to embraced a different identity. When we allow our streets, towns and institutions to be casually renamed, we’re permitting the deletion of our forefathers memory. These constant changes are common in this country. Not surprising because most of us are apathetic when it comes to our history.

May 2013


Kamagsa Vines, Dirigkalin, and the Church of Paracale

Whenever we hear the words ‘materiales fuertes’ we know what it exactly means. High grade, durable and resistant. The ecclesiastical structures and those baronial ‘bahay na bato’, reinforced the usage of the Spanish ‘materiales fuertes’ in all Filipino languages. After all, they’re the only structures that has survived the test of time. In fact, most of them would still be standing today if it were not for the avariciousness of those who inherited the legal right to own them.

The facade of the Church of Paracale.

One of these structures made of ‘materiales fuertes’ is the church that houses the miraculous Nuestra Señora dela Candelaria de Paracale. I recently visited the church and the first question that came to mind was how did this structure survived all those giant typhoons that ravaged Bicolandia for hundreds of years? What kind of cement was used here? Remember, like all the coastal towns of Bicol, they get blasted by the strongest gusts of the year round typhoons before it goes to up to us in Manila!

The ideal resource person here of course is Pio Andrade Jr., the recognized history scholar of Paracale. ” I once asked my father what was the cement used in building the stone church of Paracale, and he said that according to old folks it was a mixture of lime and molasses. I didn’t believe it but I found out later as a student of the University of Florida that lime-molasses was the universal cement for stone houses before the invention of Portland cement in 1832.”

You look up lime and molasses today on the internet and you’ll come up with kitchen recipes. However, this ‘lime and molasses’ technique has been used by the Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and English in their colonies. The Spanish perfected the method in their roads and buildings, evident are all the Spanish era structures that constitutes most of our heritage buildings. Somehow their builders figured out that thick molasses mixed with lime mortar slowly solidifies the mix, not only preventing cracks from developing but the gradual healing process makes it stronger. Eggs were also used because it had a similar effect like the molasses–it stabilizes air in the mix and reduce water, preventing bleeding , increasing malleability and strength. The egg shells are not thrown away–they’re crushed into calcium paste and gets thrown into the mix.

What about the indigenous woods used?

“The ceiling of all old Camarines Norte churches were made of marang planks–not the wood of the marang fruit–because it is light and water resistant. Batikuling is the wood most used in sculpting religious statues because it is easily carved and light. One of the parts of the Paracale Church that disappeared was the choir loft which was at the same height as the wooden floor leading to the belfry. This loft is supported by two post of dirigkalin. This wood which is now extinct in Paracale is water and anay-resistant and it is so hard the nail bounces on it. Holes are drilled with running water in this wood to attach metal attachments. Old dirigkalin posts from old houses are recycled to build new houses. Molave, Apitong, Lauan, Palosapis, Dungon, Yacal… are other hardwoods used in construction of other load bearing structures of Churches. For Church pews and other furniture, narra and kamagong are used.”

The triangular interior of the church. There’s ‘brownout’ which I was told is common these days in town.

The most interesting wood in this list is Dirigkalin. I’ve seen posts made of this hardwood and I could attest that there’s possibly no tougher woof out there that could match it. So solid that when I first  encountered it I thought that it was painted cement formed to look like a tree trunk. This is the adamantine of all Philippine hardwood. I’ve never seen a living Dirigkalin tree which are relegated to be foundations and posts because its hardness and weight removes it from any other effective usage. Even internet provides sparse resources on this particular specie. I wonder if there’s still a healthy number of these trees around or if they had been extinct for sometime.

The thick walls of this church has provided sanctuary for hundreds of years to native Paracalenos. Those who lives near the coast still runs to the church to seek shelter to this day.

The Kamagsa vines which to this day holds in place the massive bells of the church according to Andrade  also bind the beams in the church’s ceiling until a super typhoon blew off the roof. Instead of repairing the damage, the parish priest at that time decided not to. Forever removing an integral building element that secured the roofs on top of the faithfuls heads for hundreds of years. The historian adds, ” One thing about kamagsa: when fresh it’s so supple you could twist it easily as a rope, but as it ages, it becomes as hard as nails. Also it is mold- and anay-resistant.”

Where did the builders of these ecclesiastical buildings and houses acquired these incredible knowledge of the natural building materials around them? Obviously, this know-how came from a culture that had experienced using these materials before. Now, with the arrival of the Spanish came the systematic methodology of combining masonry and crafting wood to form functional and artful religious buildings. Whenever I see a church like this one in Paracale, all I could think of is that wonderful combination of Spanish and native elements that make up what I understand to be the truest of Filipino forms.

The Kamagsa vines tied to the Yakal beams. This hasbeen in place for 150 years now. Photo courtesy of Pio Andrade Jr.


Romancing the Gold… Pio Andrade’s History of Paracale

“Paracale played a no insignificant part in Philippine history… Paracale gold helped Padre Moraga convince King Philip III in 1613 not to abandon the Philippines.”

Earlier this week, Pio Andrade Jr. sent me the cover design of his upcoming book about the history of his native town, Paracale. I recently visited this iconic gold town and I’m eager to get my hands on the physical book but I would have to wait until September. That is if I’ll get a copy.

Along with the cover, Andrade sent me the prologue of the book. He was candid and unpretentious in his introduction which I thought suggest what can be expected from the rest of the book. Here, he openly wrote about the struggle of being a writer and writing:

Freelance writing in a non-reading nation like the Philippines is not a remunerative occupation. Thus, I had to work at other writing jobs which prevented me from working on the Paracale history book. A near fatal stroke hospitalized me in 2004, draining my meager personal savings, and shelving the Paracale history book project indefinitely. Providentially fortunately, if unexpectedly, my classmates and friends of Paracale High Scholl (PHS) Class 1958 stepped in so that the dream of a Paracale history book would turn real.

And these people, these Paracaleño high school buddies of his would be instrumental in kick starting the history book project:

Arturo (Art) Villanueva, my friend and high school classmate, now an American citizen, retired and living in Cerritos, California, found out through the Internet that I had become a journalist, an historian, and a published author. He called me long distance in September 2008 in Batch ’58 monthly reunion in the Astillero farm in Paracale. The long distance call was hooked up to another classmate Pepito de la Riva in Ontario, Canada. What a joyful, “jokeful” long distance conversation between three friends who have not seen each other for 50 years.
At the middle of our conversation, Art turned serious. Without my asking nor the least hint, Art offered me $300 to buy myself a notebook so that I could write the history of Paracale. I told Art that a PC notebook would give us a manuscript but not a book. To publish a book, there should be money not just for typing the manuscript but also for research, artwork, photography, editing, promotion and printing. I estimated the Paracale book would run to 300 plus pages and this would cost us about P125,000.00, but I added that we could secure such amount easily by soliciting $100 and $50 contributions from Paracaleños in the United States and Canada and from Paracaleño balikbayans. I thought of tapping the pursue purse of Paracaleños abroad not just because they can afford but also to promote closer bonding between Paracale expatriates and their town mates who remained in Paracale. Moreover, I consider this book as a joint project of the author and the Paracaleños in diaspora.

The idea of a history book for Paracale had been prophesied by foreigners who lived and experienced the gold mine life in that far off Bicolano town, Andrade writes:

A future Paracale history book had been hinted before, William Freer, American Superintendent of Schools for Ambos Camarines in 1903-1905 wrote:  “The history and romance of these mines would make a theme worthy of a Rider Haggard,” then a popular British writer of novels about mysterious Africa. Wenceslao Vinzons, Camarines Norte’s popular World War II hero, wrote in 1932 that Mrs. Harriet Reed, an American Lady who lived in Paraale since 1909. “may yet write her beautiful stories of Paracale and publish them in book form.” Alas Mrs. Reed died in 1951 without writing Paracale’s history.  Sadly, Paracale’s five accomplished writers and journalists: Nicolas Velas, Congressman Pedro Venida, TV broadcaster Rey Vidal, Benjamin Condino, and Vicente Elnar never bothered to write Paracale’s history.

And I’m certain that Andrade would leave no stone unturned in this book project. He reminds his future readers:

My research for this book yielded a rich trove of data for writing down Paracale’s past and its historical importance. At the same time, however, I realized more deeply what I have been noting in my history readings and writings that the Philippine history, which is taught in Philippine schools and retold in popular publications, is heavily distorted. These distortions are in the forms of omissions, incomplete information, wrong interpretations, and outright lies. They are meant to demonize the Catholic Church, Spain, and lately America, cover-up Japan’s wartime destruction of the Philippine economy and corruption of Philippine politics before, during, and after World War II, beatify so-called nationalists heroes as saints and angels, and cover-up the virtues and outstanding accomplishments of real heroes not to the liking of the leftist nationalists. And these distortions have been committed in the name of nationalism. How much history distortions have been committed in the name of nationalism by nationalists who are dishonest and unpatriotic.

I’m excited about the ‘Appendix’ that promises to be a goldmine of reference material. Because of Andrade’s scientific methodology in researching his subjects, this is to be expected:

An outstanding feature of this book is a 20-article, 100-page plus Appendix of outstanding published and unpublished writings about Paracale which amplify and provide contemporaneous perspective to the facts mentioned in the text. The appendices also preserve for posterity these precious and hard-to-access articles about Paracale and make them available to readers who would like to dig further on gold mining and Paracale’s exciting saga. Finally, the Appendix is a well of heart throbs–interesting incidents showing human nature which make reading exciting and enjoyable.

Not too long ago, with my friend Alas (who’s now writing the history of La Laguna), tried to convince a municipal mayor to fund us in writing the history of the town where my friend resides and where I own a small house. While that request was turned down, I remain a believer in the importance of ‘localized’ history books. The text books we have in schools neglects the celebration of local history. The study of history, traditions and customs of our hometowns should be made as introduction to national history–this ensures that we are rooted strongly in the land of our forebears. And when we are aware of the  local culture and history closes to us, we tend to nourish and cherish the homeland.

“I find his [Andrade’s] work, formidable” I told F. Sionil Jose a few weeks ago, and I have no doubt that this soon to be publish book has the making of a ‘formidable’ book that would be the yardstick of future works on the history of Filipino towns.

And when I get that call to write my hometown’s history, if ever that comes, I’m sure I’ll pull out a copy of Andrade’s book right from the shelf to be guided.


Golden Paracale

Built by the Franciscans in 1611. But the Spanish missionaries had used the settlement as a station before erecting a town when the settlement has grown in number. To this day, just like in the ancient times, people still seeks cover from storms inside the church.

The first time I heard about Paracale was in grade school. My father told us his boys that the town was rich in gold, that people would dig holes in their backyards and extract gold from it. The idea of seeing Paracale has simmered at the back of my mind since then. A week ago, I decided to go. I told my father this and he disapproved of my plan. Citing that the town is not safe. Even mentioning that the father of Robin Padilla, Roy Padilla Sr., was killed in Paracale. That’s old news I said. People that die these days in Paracale are miners diving in those narrow mud holes.

I took an ordinary bus from Daet to Paracale. Passing the agrarian towns of Talisay and Labo. I saw farmers selling pint size pineapples, watermelons and other produce along the road. There were a couple of men that took the bus with their digging tools. I could just imagine the routine of hundreds of miners that used to get up every day to take this same route to mine Paracale during its heyday. By the time the bus reached the junction called Talobatib, the bus seats were all taken. Somewhere in Labo, asphalt was being laid on the road. Vehicles had to stop but the delay was not that long.

Not everybody here pans gold for a living but small mining operation still persist to this day. Efforts to stop it by the local gov’t has failed. The name of the town was said to had been derived from the old practice of digging out earth to extract gold.  You go the local hardware and see the best selling items are mining paraphernalias.

Paracale has attracted prospectors, miners and settlers ever since gold was discovered beneath it. From the Spaniards to foreign investors that today has established big private mines that pollutes the river and the bay. There’s not a lot town in this country endowed with such an abundance of natural resources like Paracale.

But even with all the mining, Paracale still exudes remarkable, scenic natural beauty. Before you reach the center of the town, you’ll pass by its wide flowing rivers that gracefully drains to the bay. I’m no geologist but I suspect that the mineral buildup must have been deposited here by the natural process of alluviation. The rivers where panned out in the past because gold had settled beneath it.

Continuing the ‘gold’ theme. Even the letters in this tric is in gold. The fiesta here is dubbed ‘pabirik’, the term for the pan used in mining

The brilliant Filipino Chemist, Pio Andrade, who’s now writing the history of his native Paracale, told me that “the Paracale and Malaguit rivers are the sites of gold dredging operation from 1908 to 1920. During the the 30’s gold boom, Paracale was a major tourist attraction with the third best airport and the Philippines best country club. Pulandaga beach boasts of its clean sandy beach, azure waters and beautiful coral reefs.”

I then asked him why the town, with all its gold, appears ‘backward’ today?

“Mining is a boom and bust business–answers your view why Paracale today is not progressive. During the 30’s gold boom, Paracale was the richest in the Philippines!…second largest hardware and cold storage in the country. The war which nationalist historians do not write about was a big factor for Paracales decline.”

This compleat historian then advised me to go to the church’s  bell tower where “kamagsa vines holds the heavy bells and two yakal crossbeams for over 150 years now!” I did and was fascinated how the vines managed to hold all that weight for more than a hundred years! He then added to go and see for myself the Lady of Candelaria in her golden raiments. The decorative embellishments on the Virgin’s dress is much more detailed and extravagant during important religious occasions. At the back of the altar, there’s a hole where the faithful could put their hands and touch the dress of this revered icon.

The miraculous image of Our Lady of the Candles. “Inay Candi” to locals.

Unfortunately, all other important 19th century historical structures of Paracale had been demolished according to Pio Andrade. The historian is set to launch his book, “Romancing the Gold: The History of Paracale,” in the coming months. Such works are important contributions for it brings people closer to the historical identity of their town. In a world where globalization and standardization is fast becoming a trend, these local history books are reminders of our unique human qualities and identities.

I spoke with some old folks around  and they were delighted to share their stories about the town. Most of these tales revolved around their beloved Inay Kandi. The most memorable is the story of how the Virgin defended the town in 1809:

It was in the morning of this day when 37 fully loaded moro vintas attempted invasion of the otherwise peaceful community. From her nicheon the altar, the Lady was suddenly disturbed by the frantic scampering out of the worshipers in the church. It turned out later that the church goers had been frightened by the outcries of men, women and children scurrying in different directions after having caught sight of the approaching vintas.

The lady descended from her tabernacle, and in no time was waving and brandishing her sword to warn the intruders to flee. Amused by the sight of the little woman on the beach, the pirates came nearer and nearer only to find that the woman really meant business. Wading through the foamy waters, she struck here and thrust with such lightning speed and wonderful accuracy that her foes found no time to defend themselves from what, at first had seemed a joke. When the fray calmed down, the water around was crimson with blood and, except for a handful enemies were swallowed in one huge gulp by the waters of the sea.

The virgin lost a finger, in the thick of that several attempts were later made by devotees of the patron saint to have her hand grafted with a new finger, but each attempt proved a failure. On each occasion the new finger fell off as easily as it had been grafted. This miracle is interpreted as the sigh of the virgin’s desire to forever remind the natives of that memorable event on august 29, 1809.

The blogger with the massive bell held by vines for more than a hundred years. The window of the belfry use to be wide open but cement was added up to about a yard to prevent people from falling off. Someone did, I was told,  broke their head and died not too long ago.

Before I left I sat down inside the church with the altar boys that helped me scale the church’s belfry. Three boys whose age range fro 8 to 15, there’s this dark chubby boy, Mark, who promised to study to become a priest one day. Another Mark, older but timid and wore no slippers. Then Angel, who plans to study in Manila to become a ‘seaman’. I asked them if they enjoy living in this arcadian town and they all said yes. Even if that means that they have to travel all the way to Daet to buy stuff sometimes. Angel then reminded me that they’re not far from Calaguas, an island many compares to Boracay, he continues, “Eh Sir, kayo sa Manila magta-travel pa kayo kung gusto n’yo mag-swimming at mag-beach.”

The kind of scenery your mind needs after a long difficult day in the office.

The kid’s got a point. I was expecting them to bemoan the town’s lack of progress but got an answer that reminded me that life in the province has its perks, like, living close to traditions, existing close to nature…things a chesty city dweller like me perhaps would  never understand.

Story of the Virgin taken from http://www.paracaletourism.com/


History Briefs about Daet

I don’t want to add this article to the growing number of blogs about the Daet’s Jose Rizal monument but after seeing what this far off Bicolano town (some 300 kms from Manila) could offer in terms of tangible heritage, I figured there’s not much to write about. A local confirms that the oldest house is in Avenida Vinzons, built sometime in the early 1900’s. This explains why the monument is getting an abundance of attention from tourers. It’s the most visible and perhaps the only structure in Daet that dates back to the 19th century.

Another Rizal monument. But this one is believed to be the first. Obviously local masons designed and erected this one! I took this photo around 6 in the morning. The entire plaza is well lit even during at night. Across the bridge, pass the intersection is Daet’s public market where I got to sample some Bicolano delicacies for breakfast.

This monument is dedicated to the hero, his two novels, and the book he annotated. So the “Morga” in the monument was for the book “Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas” annotated and republished in 1890 by Rizal and not for Governor Antonio Morga, although ironically, that is his name. After its re-publication by Rizal it was simply called “Morga”. As if the original name was not long enough, the republished work carried a longer name, “Sucesos de las islas Filipinas por el doctor Antonio de Morga, obra publicada en Méjico el año de 1609. nuevamente sacada à luz y anotada por José Rizal y precedida de un prólogo del prof. Fernando Blumentritt.”

I guess Filipinos got tired saying the name in full so everybody unanimously agreed to just call it “Morga”.

It was here in Daet that this phenomena of putting up Rizal monuments in every town hall and plaza started. Daeteños did this only after some two years after Rizal’s death. But Daet has more to offer when it comes to history. The Lucbán’s of Daet for one were integral players during the infancy of the nation. It was unfortunate however, that I ran out of time trying to locate the family’s ancestral house, which I was told still stands to this day.

Aguinaldo sent the mustached commander Vicente Lucbán, on the merchant ship Taal (donated by the Villavicencios of Taal, Filipinos first navy war ship) where he employed another Bicolano by the name of Alfonso Moreno to recruit locals to join the revolution.  Moreno worked as a ship crew on the Manila-Bicol merchant ships. He enlisted in the Katipunan in Manila. Moreno’s a pioneer of the revolution in these parts but his name is hardly ever heard even by Bicolanos.

Vicente Lucbán, was born in the town of Labo, a short jeep ride from Daet. His father a Bicolano, his mother a Tayabeña from the town of Lucbán. The patriarch Don Agustin decided to take Lucbán, in honor of the town where he had roots, after the decree that instructed Filipinos to adopt hispanic last names was implemented. They formally carried the last name San Miguel. Lukban is the Tagalized version of Lucbán. The latter being the original in official records. Vicente Lucbán became the governor of Tayabas until his death. He was also the first to introduce mason lodges in Camarines. One of the first governor of Camarines Norte, Miguel Lukban, was Vicente’s half-brother. Miguel was born in Daet, from the second marriage of Don Agustin. Another Lukban, Justo, along with Leon Ma. Guerrero, established the political party that eventually became the Nacionalista. The Lukban brood were overachievers. Another brother, Cayetano, was part of the Aguinaldo Hong Kong junta, later a judge in the American government. Two sisters are Oxford graduates, the first Asians to do so. The current generation of Lukban’s has shied away from public posts and lives (with the exception of the actress Pops Fernandez, whose mother is a Lukban).

Camarines Norte was formed in the early 1800’s. It kept the towns of Daet, Labo, Paracale, Talisay, Indan, Mambulao, Capalonga, Ragay, Lupi, and Sipocot. The towns of Indan and Mambulao were renamed, Vinzons and Panganiban–the works of nonsensical, if not totally imbecilic politicians who has nothing better to do but change the names of our historic towns. Sipocot later became part of Camarine Sur. During the American occupation, the province’s town composition was reorganized, Daet was kept as provincial capitol.

During the revolution, there were a total of 124 parishes in Bicol, around 60 was under the care of Franciscans, the rest under Filipino priests. Even after the brutal skirmishes, the Spanish Franciscans stayed behind (in other places, like Masbate, Spaniards fled to Iloilo). These priests had been treated well, even protected by locals from revolutionaries. They left Bicol after they were ordered by their superiors to do so. A historian notes that Nueva Caceres, unlike other provinces during the end of the 19th century, never had an antagonistic atmosphere against the Spanish friars.

May 2013


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