Category Archives: Laguna

Captain Remo of San Pedro Tunasan

My friend, Pepe Alas, handed me a copy of his first book, “Captain Remo,” last Sunday. It’s short but a good read even if you’re not the history buff kind. I finished it on my flight back to Singapore yesterday.

According to the author, that sepia photo is the only extant picture of the hero. Unacceptable in today’s standards of course where everything is captured by our tiny phones for eternity

 

There are interesting historical anecdotes in the book. Like how San Pedro Tunasan, the old name, remained popular for decades even after it was officially shortened to San Pedro in the early 1900’s. I read President Marco’s diary last year and he still referred to it in its old name in the 70’s.

In page 6 Alas writes, “Cuyab was begininning its duck raising industry, San Roque was well known for its healthy farm produce…San Vicente for its numerous rice farms.” The rich barrios of the old days are the poor barangays of today. The traditional livelihoods and industries are all but gone. Even sampaguita, once the biggest in the country, somehow vanished. But according to the author, “although sampaguita shrubs were already aplenty, it was not yet an industry until after the war.” For some reason, the shrub easily grows and blooms in San Pedro. I wonder if this was the reason why the old locals started farming it. I can still remember seeing sampaguitas, from above the bridge (tulay), harvested in the early mornings along the railroad.

I collaborated with Alas on a book project before (remains unpublished). He made several revisions and additions over the years. I’m uncertain what the book would be like when, and if, it finally hits the printing press. Captain Remo’s biography is sponsored once more by San Pedro’s local government. Another project that they could explore is the history of the sampaguita trade. The town used to pride itself as the sampaguita capital.

The autobiography of Abelardo Remoquillo, popularly called Captain Remo, is an attempt to introduce a local hero, a Sanpedrense, who died in the Battle of Ba’y. The author’s observation that all prominent Filipino heroes are almost exclusively from the Spanish epoch is accurate.

It’s true what Alas said that the recognized heroes outside the revolution against Spain are the three faces in the 1000 bill (and Ninoy, if you consider him one). I’m sure not too many knows who the three figures were and what they did or how they died. Ok, if you don’t believe that, try to name them all while reading this, a ver?

If you got it right. Congratulations!

I studied in a school named after Jose Abad Santos and I swear that I have classmates that graduated without knowing who he was and how he died for his country. And the school never really bothered anyway to teach its students the Chief Justice’s story.

Remoquillo was a promising law student before the war started. He died when he was only 21. He figured prominently in the “Raid of Los Baños”.  Considered the most daring and successful rescue mission in modern warfare history. More than 2000 prisoners were freed. The young hero was under the command of Gustavo Inglés. So many books has been written about the rescue, I would leased surprised if one day Hollywood makes a movie out of it, like they did with the Raid of Cabanatuan.

One could only imagine what it takes to have all that courage to make the ultimate sacrifice. My grandfather on my mom’s side joined the resistance at a very young age but he survived the war. Imagine all the young lives, the innocent civilians that perished during those hard years. Capitan Remonquillo never saw his land liberated.

One other thing that this book made me realize is how important the reserve officers training in school was, the ROTC. While it is unlikely, war is a reality that will once more confront us in the future. The ROTC reserves that banded together and fought the Japanese were organized and courageous. We must have the same today.

The first time I saw Capitan Remo’s monument in the old municipio I wondered who he was, how he lived, how he died. I knew that he was a local, a WWII hero but that’s about it. Thanks to Alas’ and Ms. Sietereales’ work, these questions were answered.


Soon to Rise: Alberto House of Biñan?

I saw a link (Facebook) earlier of plans to acquire land in Biñan to reconstruct the historic Alberto mansion.

This most likely would be a total reconstruction since most parts of the house has been transplanted in Bataan. If you haven’t been to Las Casas I suggest you see the Alberto house there. They recreated it in its original dimensions.

But what’s the use of reconstructing the Alberto mansion?

They should have thought of this when the owner was looking for help. Even when he decided to sell the house’s materials, they should have jumped into the chance of acquiring it. There was virtually no interest in this bahay-na-bata not until social media and national TV highlighted what Biñan was about to lose.

According to an Facebook post the city council passed an ordinance to acquire “parcel of land consisting of 1,197 square meters, more or less…located in Plaza Rizal, Brgy. Poblacion, City of Biñan” This would place the reconstruction within the vicinity of its original location. I am not sure if they’re considering the actual area where it once stood. All of these for sure costs more now for sure. Hopefully the city council gets a good deal.

Back in ’08 with me is Pepe Alas. This staircase (or parts of it) is now in Las Casa. A scene from the blockbuster Heneral Luna movie features it. Arnisson Ortega,author of “Neolibiralizing Spaces in the Philippines”, alleges that the site was leased to Starbucks. If only they considered “reusing” the house then, the establishment or any shop would have benefited from having leased a space that’s considered among the most historically important and oldest house in the country!

The Alberto house is arguably the most “historically” important extant bahay-na-bato in Laguna before its demolition. The Rizal’s in Calamba is a complete reconstruction publicly funded during Pres. Quirino’s time. According to the US Secretary of Interior Standards is the “process of depicting, by means of new construction, the form, features, and detailing of a non-surviving site, landscape, building, structure, or object for the purpose of replicating its appearance at a specific period of time and in its historic location”.

For sentimental reasons I guess a reconstruction serves a purpose. But the way I see it, a waste of tax payers money. Instead of appropriating money to reconstruct the Alberto house why not spend it in rehabilitating existing bahay-na-bato in old Biñan? If owners don’t want it, then perhaps spending money in education and promoting the importance if these historical houses is just as good.

The Alberto house holds the record of being the most blogged about in this site. I simply fell in love with it the moment I first saw it. Along with fellow blogger Pepe Alas, I met the present owner twice—and the dead owners, once. True story, read it here!

I predict that bahay-na-batos would be extinct in half a century, with the exception of those being cared for and protected by local governments and loving descendants, most would be demolished and the land beneath it sold. An example of this is what’s happening now in Manila, in the old quarter of San Nicolas. Remember many of these houses stands in prime areas now. These are top of the line real estate we’re talking about here.

Filipinos don’t seem to have a sense of obligation to look after heritage. A visit to Bataan’s Las Casas’s resort proves this. I mean, who are these people giving up their ancestral houses? Selling them like scrap metal? There’s an old house there that was almost entirely procured from a junk shop!

A few years ago, I joined a group of Filipino expats in Chicago for a baptismal party. They rented a place just outside Chicago. We drove half an hour, maybe more, we had difficulties locating the house. Turns out that it was a beautifully restored century old log cabin located in a park. It brought to mind books I read about the old America. I can imagine the original owners living off the land.

My point is that they did all that for a humble log cabin house. In Binañ’s case, many didn’t even bat an eye for that poor centuries old house while it rotted and eventually taken down.

Is heritage conservation a priority only to affluent nations because they have money to spare?

I hope not because if this is the case, then ours, what’s left of it, would not be around much longer.


Majayjay’s Tulay Pigue II

I observed that the article I wrote about Majayjay’s “Tulay Pigue” is receiving hits lately. Some years has passed since the last time I saw Majayjay. I managed to obtain some more details about the bridge that has become a symbol of Friar’s abuse of power to many.

I consulted the historian Pio Andrade Jr. about “Puente del Capricho” (the Majayjay bridge’s other name) and he furnished me a copy of his study and article that appeared in his Past/Present column.

It earned its bad name, “Puente del Capricho,” not because it cost an ungodly amount of gold to build (in Tagalog when we say “capricho” we mean lavish or luho) but because the Spanish civil administrators found Fr. Victorino del Moral’s project violating all sound bridge-building principles—the “capricho” meant “unpredictable”. The legend that Fr. Del Moral had it built for his comfort could not be farther from the truth.

Fr. Del Moral approached the government officials to have a bridge constructed to connect the western and the northwest part of Majajay. The bridge would allow transport and pedestrian crossing over the Holla river. The engineers denied the priest’s recommendation. But the Friar decided to do it anyway. This slighted the civil authorities at that time. In response they maligned the priest’s standing in Manila.

This bridge, completed in 1851, endured many floods, typhoons and earthquakes until it was dismantled in the early 1900’s.

It was the chief architect, part of the civil administration, who coined the term “capricho.” For according to this man, “the way it was built is completely capricious.” (This dismisses claims that it was referred to as capricious because it was created out of the priest’s wordly obsession—the “capricho” meant something else, the guy just wanted to build a bridge!) Fr. Felix Huerta opinion was that it was, “a bridge boldly constructed that, although condemned  by science itself, had the impudence to stay firm and strong, capable of resisting the tremors of September 16, 1852 and July 3, 1863, with the slightest damage, neither can the furious torrents from the great mountain of Banahaw open in it a small breach.”

I have heard of stories about how exorbitant the bridge cost was and the used of harsh forced labor. According to one local, legend has it that the slightest mistake a worker makes merits a whipping in the ass, hence the Tagalog name “Tulay sa Pigue.”

It’s incredible that a solitary priest would lash grown men like a mad man in that mountainous town known for bandits. They could have easily push him to his death over the cliff; down to Holla River. We all know that Filipinos are not the kind that takes humiliation lightly. But who knows, I have not seen a photo of Fr. Del Moral, for all we know he could have been a ten foot colored green giant.

Most whimsical was that the bridge did not cost the government nor the people anything. Historian Andrade writes: “the most illogical aspect of the bridge construction was that it was not in the budget and had not cost a single centavo of the people’s taxes.”

Related article:

Majayjay’s Tulay Pigue


Notes on the First La Laguna Tour

A good time was had by all in the first La Laguna Tour last Sunday. We were blessed with good weather and enthusiastic participants.

We expected to spend less than 1 hour in Calamba but because there was a massive crowd gathered in Rizal shrine we end up surpassing the allotted time I originally planned. Fortunately, the traffic going to our next destination, Pila, wasn’t that bad, so the group made up for lost time. The national road in Calamba and Los Banos was where we experienced traffic during the ocular tour.

The early lunch in Victoria town, where we ate ‘itik’ delicacies, went well—everybody enjoyed the eating. It was also a good time to get to know everyone in the group. We’re all friends now, of course, there’s nothing that bonds people better than good travel and good food.

We then went to Pila, and as I expected, everybody was floored by its magnificent houses. There we showed possibilities for adaptive reuse and benefits of conserving heritage. This town must be promoted to death! Pila is a gift to us all—thanks to its old families, we could see how towns were planned and designed in a time where church was the center of life and living.

However, we were surprised that the Museo Pila was closed. I was later informed that it was empty—what happened?

In Pagsanjan, we started with a visit to the Gomez ancestral house. I thought this part of the tour would show how some of our splendid ancestral houses have been neglected over the years. Participants made an excellent observation that it would be a good addition to the tour if we could take participants inside ancestral houses that are preserved and occupied. We would definitely include this in the future. Pepe then took the group to the church and then to where the river forks to two (Pagsanjan is from the old Tagala word “pinagsangahan”).

We then went to Lumban, this was a brief stopover. But in the future I think we’ll include a sidetrip to one of the traditional weaving shops in the area. We’ll just have to figure out how to compress every single activity in one day. As I remain a believer that in order to appreciate the richness of this province’s culture and history, we have to take participants to as many towns as we can in a day.

I realized that if we’re doing these tours during Sundays, we would have to face the fact that we could not bring the participants inside the churches and do our talk all the time. Like in Paete, where a funeral mass was being held. Since the art inside merits a lecture, Pepe and I did ours outside. Fortunately, Catholic churches are open for all even when there are such services. Participants were still able to roam around the church, some even climbed the church tower with Pepe.

At Cafe Kesada the group had coffee while watching a local woodcarver work his magic. We are in the process of making an arrangement with local art patron, Dr. Nilo Valdecantos, to have local delicacies served with their brand of coffee in the future tours. We also had an open forum where we got interesting observations from all the participants. These feedback would help us improve the structure of the tour in the future.

The final stop was Pakil. I thought it was a great way to end the tour. Afternoon is the best time to see its impressive Franciscan church known for its Turumba festival. The setting sun’s light hitting the surface of the church’s facade creates a reddish yellow glow—I wanted this image burned in the participants memory.

Special thanks to Jemuel Aldave Pilapil for volunteering his driving services. He’s driver and vehicle number two. He had four travelers with him: Pepe Alas, Crystal Alas, Ruel Limbo, Christine (Teng) and her adorable daughter Amaya. I had four too, the guys from the National Commision for the Culture and the Arts : Rei Alba, Myra Brucelo and Leon Pangilinan, the man behind NCCA’s social media accounts. Also with us is Joey Dionisio, a local blogger.

Everything is a work in progress at this point. We have to tie everything together for next year. And I can’t wait to do more tours. Also, we are trying really hard to have a reasonable rate and fit as many activities all in one day. I insist on this because after all this tour is but an extension of our online advocacy—bringing Filipino history closer to Filipinos.

We expect to get better as we continue doing these marathon tours. We hope to see you in the near future with us!

Singapore

Feast Day of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne

(1) At the Gomez ancestral home in Pagsanjan (2) Viewing the rivers that converges  (3) We’re all children at heart (4) Posing behind the area old Tagalogs call “pinagsangahan”

(1) Pepe talking about them Rizals (2) At the Itik specialty food shop called “Itlog ni Kuya” (3) Photo op in front of the stunning church of Paquil (4) Some Rizal chisimis here

(1) Behind casa Rizal with all the participants (2) In Lumban, talking about Franciscan legacies (3) Inside the Rizal shrine (4) We’re still inside the Rizal shrine!

(1) In Casa Gomez dishing out some bahay-na-bato history (2) Pepe Alas talks about Paquil history (3) At Cafe Kesada with the participants (4) In Pila

(1) Paete church and Monte de Pingas wit the group (2) Behind us is Pila’s American colonial presidencia (3) A good laugh under the shades of the Lumban trees (4) Viewing Paete church from a good distance

* All photos from Pepe & Crystal Alas

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Related Posts:

Dreams of a La Laguna Tour

Travel with us to La Laguna Province

The Lake Shore Town Show and my First Kopi Luwak


The Lake Shore Town Show & my First Kopi Luwak

tag: calamba, victoria laguna, paete, lumban, pila, pagsanjan, paquil, laguna

Last Sunday, we did an ocular tour of the lake shore towns of Laguna. We’re planning to do a history tour. My historian cum blogger friend, Pepe Alas, would deliver content and overall direction for the project. A few years ago, he was tasked to write the history of the province. The man behind the venture was Governor ER Ejercito. The book project hit a snag after the governor was sacked. I told Pepe that everything happens for a reason—why not use what he know about Laguna to educate. After all, this is what our respective presence on the blogosphere is all about.

He told me that Calamba, Pila, Pagsanjan, Lumban, Paete and Paquil are the best route to showcase the history of the lake towns. This could be the first organized out of town tour that would have stopovers in several towns–if we could put it together. The challenge is logistics and keeping the tour fee low. I’m confident about the content and presentation because of Pepe’s yearlong work and research in Laguna. The bigger challenge is keeping the tour reasonably priced so we could interest students.

Nothings final yet—but I’m hoping we could do this because it would compliment our online advocacy—spreading interest in Philippine history.

The first stop was Calamba. We went around and discussed areas of interest in town. Of course, you have the Rizal shrine and the church. But if we are to make this a historically enlightening trip, we have to make certain that we offer more relevant historical facts. I mentioned this to Pepe and he understands what I meant.

Not surprising is that the Rizal shrine is receiving more visitors these days. I heard that they serialized the life of Rizal on TV and it’s getting good viewership which should explain the increase in foot traffic.

Next stop was Victoria. We decided to take an early lunch. I asked Pepe where to go for a fine serving of fried itik and he referred me to this inexpensive eatery with a curious name, “itlog ni kuya,” not the most likable of names but it’s popular in Laguna. They sell superb, not too salty and without coloring, itlog na maalat—I say the best I’ve ever tasted. The branch we visited was just along the highway in Victoria. I heard that they’re franchising fast, so I would not be surprised if I see one in my neighborhood one of these days.

After the gut busting lunch, instead of being wound up, I felt lethargic. An indicator that you ate too much—and I did.

We drove straight to Pila. Known for its immaculate red brick church and charming ancestral houses. Most of our towns weren’t as fortunate as this town. According to Pepe, chunky clouds spared Pila from heavy aerial bombardment. The town illustrates how towns were designed under the Spanish. Most of the houses were early 1900’s reconstructions (Pila was set ablaze during the Phil-American war) but only the exterior details were altered, the overall style and construction remained loyal to the original. Noticeable is the absence of capiz windows among the houses, replaced by sliding windows with colorful semi-transparent panels.

Then we went to Pagsanjan. An interesting house we visited in town was the ancestral house of a friend. It’s in disrepair and would make a good example of how these houses  has been left out to decay by those who inherited them. The house caretaker revealed to us that there were buyers that went back and told her the reason why they end up deciding against buying the house was because they saw forbidding ghosts. I guess they’re the original owners who wished-for the house to be kept as a family heirloom and not to be sold to the highest bidder!

After Pagsanjan, we passed by the historic church of Lumban. We then headed straight to Paete for coffee and merienda. Then a shortstop in Paquil where we took pictures of its incredible church—I must say, one of the best looking church I have seen in the country.

Friends and family know that I don’t fancy coffee shops. I find it haughty and pretentious. The prices are ridiculous —the amount you spend in any of these coffee shops is a day’s toil for some of our countrymen. I know I’m not saving the world by avoiding these over priced cups of coffee but I’m saving my hard earned money. But I do appreciate coffee—although lately I’m buying the 3-in-1’s because not only are they convenient, they’re dirt cheap too. We do have a coffee machine and every once in a while I brew but as much as I can I try to save them for visitors.

Pepe told me that his extensive travels around the province and meeting locals was a great experience that makes up for the measly fee he was paid by his agent. It is in one of these meetings that he became friends with Dr. Nilo Valdecantos, owner of the popular Kape Kesada, in Paete. This guy’s an interesting cat—charitable, ebullient, friendly and a genuine patron of local art. In fact, his coffee shop was built to promote local artists. “He does not earn a lot here, he’s just having fun,” said Pepe of his friend. Even artist from out of town would drop by to see the small eclectic coffee shop and art gallery. While we were talking, Lanelle Abueva Fernando, well known ceramic artist from Antipolo and niece of National artist Napoleon Abueva, dropped by. A few months ago he had Jim Paredes as his guest.

Doc Nilo invited both of us to sit down and have a cup of coffee with him. “This is not the usual coffee,” he said. When I saw than grin in his face I knew what it was, Kopi Luwak. The odor was a bit musky and the taste, lingered like a fine wine—I enjoyed it—my first cup of civet, or musang, coffee. I first saw a package of this coffee sold in Malaysia a few years ago but the price prevented me from taking it home. Thanks to Doc Nilo, I tasted the exotic coffee at no cost!

How in the world did people discovered that un-digested coffee beans from a civets crap would taste good?

Some people like to talk shit, some eat shit. The latter discovered kopi luwak for humanity.

I asked Pepe if we could strike off Calamba, thinking that people know everything there’s is to know about Rizal anyway. He said we can’t speak of Laguna’s history without the Rizal. And I had to agree. Calamba according to him is the only town in the province that is triangular in shape. Which raise questions and speculations. Masonic? Maybe.

The most picturesque town in Laguna! Pila has retained much of its old charm. I’m always excited to see the tow–it never gets old—well, it is old, but you get what I mean. That food is from Victoria, once part of Pila, fried itik, which I just learned to eat recently, was great and so is the itlog na maalat.

Natives of Pila claims that they’re the “Bayang Pinagpala,” And they are blessed. WWII has spared this local town from destruction. There’s an unfounded rumor that the town collaborated with the Japanese, reason why the town was left alone. This is of course, a rumor. The destruction of our old towns, most of it, was from American bombardments. In their eagerness to flush out the Japs they destroyed so many of our old towns.

I would commend ER Ejercito for restoring the Maura monument to its former glory. It now stands in the plaza, where it should be in the first place. I’m allergic to politicians but Pepe told me that the ex-governor is a nerd when it comes to Philippine history—his stocks just gained points on my board. Monuments erected during the Spanish era are neglected because they’re unpopular. Try to displace Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s monuments and you’ll get in prison fast. Also, in this photo is the ancestral house of our friend which sadly is in disrepair. It could be a good place to see so that people would be reminded of what has happened to some of our heritage houses. This house have a veranda that opens up to the great river!

Paete’s church, with the lush forest and mountain as backdrop awes me to no end. When I’m in town, the first thing I do is look at the church from a distance. The church for some reason reminds me of Paoay. Also in the photo are the paintings of a Paete native, Jose Luciano Dans. Completed in the mid 1800’s. I hope that they get restored the soonest. I was told by Pepe that the recent typhoon brought floods that reached the interior of the church. The painting are remarkable example of how ecclesiastical art works were used to teach Catholicism to natives.

Lumban is  where music was first taught. It became the springboard for Franciscan missions. The indefatigable, Fray Juan de Plasencia, was among its first administrator. Lumban is also known for its weaving traditions and as of late, its drug problems. The second photo is the church of Paquil reputed for having the most beautiful facade in all of south Tagalog. Paquil, or Pakil, would be the last stop of the tour.


Another Rizal Monument, This Time in Calamba…

I visited the new monument dedicated to José Rizal located just in front of Calamba’s city hall yesterday and was surprised to find a monument made with great reverence, historical enthusiasm and respect!

Another Rizal monument. This one’s no too bad. I like it.

I’ve seen my share of Rizal monuments around the country. This one was obviously well planned unlike the other ones.  In the  past all municipalities were encouraged to put up Rizal monuments in front of their administrative buildings. The goal was to heighten nationalist awareness but this ended up producing some of the most utterly ridiculous Rizal monuments. A lot of doesn’t even resemble the hero! But they sure are interesting to look at.

This over emphasis on Rizal as the prime hero has obscured local heroes. People that locals could connect with easier because they share the same hometown are glossed over in exchange for more popular heroes like Rizal. Like the case of Antonino Guevara, a Muntinlupa resident considered as one of the “initiators of the revolution”. No one in Muntinlupa has ever heard of him. But go to our city hall and you’ll see a small bronze statue of Rizal.

I was talking with the Spanish scholar Señor Gomez last night and he made an interesting point when he said, “we’re all told to imitate Rizal’s example from grade school. Everything but his language and his ‘spanishness’ —he was, from all indications, a poor Tagalog speaker. No one even bothers to read him in his original writing.” We forget that he intended to be studied and to be read in Spanish, otherwise he would have never used it.

All my life I struggled to understand Rizal’s work. It was only later in life that I realized that if I was to  get anycloser to understanding his writings I would need to learn how to read Spanish. And so I did and was amazed how different the story reads. Reading Rizal’s work and letters made me understand that Spanish is a Filipino language that he intended for it to flourish, not brought down. So it was a tragedy that his very image would later be used to abolish Spanish.

This new Rizal park south of Manila is accessible and has a great view of Mount Makiling.  The monument’s facing Mount Makiling is a great detail. I feel that the right people were consulted during the planning stage of the project. There’s no doubt that Mt. Makiling, for RIzal, symbolizes his hometown of Calamba. Interesting is that Calamba’s claim to fame for having the tallest Rizal monument didn’t last that long. A 26th foot goldish monument where Rizal is portrayed as an escrimador was built somewhere in Sta.Cruz, Laguna.

I have not posted anything for the month of May. This was the result of office work and my return to training in jiu jitsu. Day off’s was spared for training but of course, I have to find time to travel and write here. There’s no excuse for not doing this.

 

 

 

 

 


puto biñan and an alberto house-less biñan

A few weeks ago a colleague shared with me his baon.  Now, usually I’d politely decline such offers but when I found out that it’s puto biñan I just dug in. The last time I had one was two years ago.

What’s up puto!

puto biñan is the most delectable of all puto. And I could say this with certainty. I’ve traveled the country and puto is a standard eat. This delicacy from this Lagunense town has become my puto yardstick!

Since I have some time to spare today I decided to dropped by Biñan. I tried to look for real backyard bakers of puto biñan. I found none. So I had to settle for the rice cake’s most popular maker — Nila’s (Nilas).

The rice cake’s box says that they started in 1925 but according to this blog, whose author claims to be a relative of Aling Nila Samaniego, the business started in the 1940’s.

According to delicaciesinbinan  puto biñan  “is compose of grinded rice, lots of eggs, mixed with water and after that it is pampered with cheese, smolted with butter and top it with grinded egg.”

Aling Nila also started making new variation of putos like puto polo and  puto popo.

The Biñense lady must have been some kinda baking genius.

There’s another Biñense food I’m curious to experience–pancit biñan.

I have  not been lucky in my search for this brand of pancit so far. I now doubt if there’s ever such a pancit rooted in Biñense tradition.

I few year ago I had this amusing experience. I went to one of those small stalls serving merienda near the market. “Is this pancit biñan,” I asked. “Yes,” one of the helpers said.

After finishing my plate, I asked the lady who appears to be the owner what makes pancit biñan special.

” pancit biñan? pancit bihon yan!”

And so, the search for the authentic pancit biñan continues…

The old building where the hacienda was run. They build a new municipio and the word is that this old building would become the city’s museum

Of course, I wouldn’t leave Biñan without seeing its great antillean houses. There are still a few extant bahay-na-bato in the old town. I’m dumbfounded how one of the most prosperous Laguna city continue to ignore them.

Why not help promote these houses like San Fernando in Pampanga?

The city recently lost one of the most important historical houses in the entire province–the Alberto house. First time I saw a government so helpless in the face of losing a historical and cultural heritage building.

Now that it’s gone, there’s this gaping hole in old town’s delta. I can’t wait for it to be fully torn down. It just pains me to see it in its present state.

The Alberto house has been transferred to Bataan. I’m not sure if it’s already standing. The present owner (whom I interviewed a few years ago) is thrilled moving the house. He claims to no longer have the money to keep it and expresses satisfaction that “that at least Filipinos could still see” his family’s house — not in Biñan though — in Bataan.

Old houses, camarines, bodegas and an old cinema now being demolished.

I would write more on the history of Biñan’s antillean houses in the coming months. The old town has been a Filipino Chinese enclave for the longest time. Families that pioneered businesses in nearby towns like Sta. Rosa and Calamba are somehow related to the rich town of Biñan.

If only its present leaders could get their act together in promoting and protecting their heritage, not only will they draw more visitors, such projects would also instill a unique historical identity amongst the towns folk.


Magdalena de La Laguna – historical small town, FPJ country

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?

With Ate Boots of Magdalena and her music pupil. Behind us, the humble wooden retablo dedicated to Santa Maria Magdalena.

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.”

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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”.

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The church of Magdalena La Laguna. Last two photos, the Presidencia with its graceful staircase and intricately carved arch main door.

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.

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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!


A Traditional Catholic Wedding in Tunasan San Pedro

The church of San Pedro Apostol in San Pedro houses the miraculous cross (Krus ng Tunasan San Pedro) Rizal mentioned in his Noli. I’m not sure how many traditional wedding was held here since the 50’s (the decade where we adapted the commercialist wedding we copied from the Americans). Yesterday was the first time I’ve ever attended a traditional Catholic wedding. It was symbolic and highly ritualistic. The rite they followed was that of Toledo. This is historically accurate because we never had the Roman wedding rite.

It was a personally gratifying moment, not only because both the groom and the bride are close friends but because I advocate bringing such traditions back. I’ve always believe that reintroducing Filipinos to old religious customs and practices would only strengthened their historical awareness. True enough, right after the wedding, while I was chatting with the priest near the church’s central door, a lady approached him inquiring about what she just witnessed.
Remember that the Church was central in old Filipino everyday life up until mid 1900’s. Life then was supernatural, spirituality precedes everything. Materialist attitudes would come much later, when everything started to have commercial value. Much was lost in the last one hundred years. And I believe part of our soul, the meaning and being of our identity, was lost too.

The ritualistic wedding confused many of the couples guests. This is understandable as most were accustomed to the more casual and modern Catholic weddings. Traditional weddings are full with symbolism, songs, prayers and rites. There’s no you-may-kiss-the-bride (which confused the guests more!). Tradition dictates that the altar is the gate to the Heavens. Actions and gestures made in front of it must be respectful of the early Father’s practices. The changes made after the Vatican II has been abused by many. There has been an abundance of interpretations and creativity when it comes to rites like the wedding.

I remember my Father’s stories about the Tridentine Mass, how he found it strange and boring. As a impressionable boy, I imagined it to be. In college, I started researching about the old Mass. There, I uncovered the truths that was so alien to me. During the modest gathering that took place right after the wedding, I delivered a speech dedicated to the couple and to the traditions of the old Filipino Church.
Viva La Santa Iglesia Catolica y Apostilica Romana!! Mabuhay ang bagong kasal!


They were there, watching…

Still on the Alberto mansion…

The last time I saw casa alberto was with my friend a few days after the super typhoon ondoy. We heard that it was in pretty bad shape so we decided to pay a visit. When we got there the house was still soaking wet. The whole house smelled like old laundry. In one room, films of fungus started to grow from a pile of documents and furniture.

This marked the end of one of the most historic house in the country. Gerry, the owner, laments that “there’s no money to fix it”. He sold the house to Acuzar of Bataan later on, convinced that the millionaire’s resort project would give the house a new lease in life – in Bagac.

The mad antiquarian in us made us scavenge around the house. Looking for old documents, books and photos we could salvage. We found some interesting ones but decided not to take any.

I felt that someone was there with us, a presence. I don’t know if my friend had the same feeling.

When we were about to leave the room, my friend saw two old passports. The passport of the current owners father, Zoilo and aunt, Pilar. I told him to put those back in the box but before he did, I took a quick look.

We took a photo together with the owner and after a brief conversation about the house we left.

What a strange feeling it was to leave a house knowing you’ll never see again. Only callous people with no love for history allows such transgression against our national heritage without any remorse.

Somethings very, very wrong with us Filipinos.

As we walked away from the house, Pepe and I hardly spoke. He was on a hurry to go back to his family and I was dog tired. So we both walked in a hurried phase towards the national highway which was less than a kilometer away.

I don’t know what happened but I just suddenly stopped walking and started to look at a crowded narrow street on my left. I heard no voice but it felt like I was being led. My mind was telling me to cross – so I did. Pepe followed. I continued walking straight not knowing where I was headed. I was following something I can’t explain (which by the way, is so me).

After walking for about 2-3 minutes we then saw the old Catholic cemetery of Biñan. We both did not know that it was there. At this point I thought to myself why I was led here but there must be something there to see.

Curious, we decided to enter. At this time, sunlight was no longer visible – so, it was not the most comfortable situation. Cemeteries are not among my favorite places to be in especially during night time!

I told Pepe that I’ll check on the old camposanto which appears to date back from the Spanish era. It’s just a few yards away from that small iron gate we entered. My friend then started walking around reading inscriptions on some of the lapidas.

After I was done taking pictures (which were all bad because it’s almost night) Pepe frantically called me to join him.

Turns out that he just found the final resting place of those two people that once traveled with those passports we found inside Casa Alberto.

I couldn’t believe what we just found – was I led by these two people’s spirit to their graves?

One thing I’m sure is that along with the shivers that ran up to my spine, I felt their love for their home that very moment. It was like they wanted us to be there so they could thank us–personally.


The Alberto of Biñan and the Vigan Wife

The collapsing centuries old bahay na bato in Biñan reminded me of the curious case of Lorenzo Alberto of Biñan who married into a prominent family up north but settled back in his home province – with another woman.

Lorenzo was an educated mestizo that reached the pinnacle of political power of his time – representing his country in the Spanish cortes. Along with Ambrosio Rianzares Bautista, easily, the greatest and most important Biñenses that ever lived.

(After Lorenzo’s group, there will be no other Filipino that will follow. Even after vigorous calls for reforms and native representation. The Cadiz constitution that allowed colonies to be represented in the Spanish cortes was short lived.)

It is said that Lorenzo Alberto of Biñan married a Vigueña, Paula Florentino, who was then12 years his junior. The controversy has nothing to do with the girl’s age (this was quite common back in the day) but with how related these people are with each other.

The Florentino ancestral house in Vigan. It houses the Vigan tourism center and a restaurant. Right in front is the Spanish Iloco poetess Leona Florentino monument. She’s the mother of Isabelo de los Reyes and relative of Paula.

According to Rizal, his mom, along with Jose Alberto came from the marriage of Joaquinina Brigida de Quinto and Lorenzo Alberto. The siblings, according to local historians, later claimed legitimacy by stating that the Vigueña, the legal wife, Paula Florentina, was their lawful mother.

Question is that if they all came from the Alberto-Quinto marriage, whatever happened to this Florentino girl? are there any Alberto’s in Vigan?

Some more strange family tales…

The former personal secretary of Gerardo Alberto, an Ilocana told me that the version told to her was that all sibling were from the same mother except Teodora. She adds that this is the reason why Teodora had always been treated like an outsider. Of all the Alberto siblings she was the only one that was born and baptized in Manila.

Another interesting account comes from the Philippine Star columnist Barbara Gonzalez, herself a Rizal descendant. According to her, Jose (Teodora’s brother) had fathered a child with his niece, Saturnina Rizal and that Soledad Rizal was the fruit of this incestuous affair. This was the reason why Jose’s wife, Teodora Formoso, developed animosity towards Teodora — and also the reason why Saturnina was known to be the prettiest of all Rizal sisters.

Talk about a story that TV dramas would run all night!

Biñan is where Rizal’s roots are – both parents are Biñense. And Biñan having quite a big group of rich chino cristiano families that married into each others families gave the national hero probably more relatives here than any historian could imagine.

The relocation to Calamba was spearheaded by Lorenzo Alberto. Who according to historians peacefully retired in his farm with Brijida.

Contrary to historical accounts, Rizal never stayed in the Alberto house. The Rizal’s had nothing but bitter memory of it. Teodora was convicted for attempted murder and was sent to prison because of an incident that happened in this house (Spain doesn’t have anything to do with her conviction as is often claimed in popular history text).

The plaintiff was no less than her sister-in-law.

The story is that Jose Alberto found out that Teodora Formoso (his wife) was having an affair. Back from a trip, he had her immediately locked in one of the rooms. Jose then requested Teodora (the sister) to feed her while on locked down.

Jose and Teodora was later punished by civil authority. The latter was charged with attempting to poison the wife wife. Not clear is how long Jose was imprisoned and what was the case against him.

If only that collapsing house could squeal the secrets it witnessed before it falls down on its own.


Calls to Save Casa Alberto of Biñan…Too Late the Hero

It’s a little too late. Casa Alberto has already been gutted from the inside. I’m not surprised that it collapsed. The house that caved in was just the exterior shell. The owner who sold the house, piece by piece, must be welcoming this development.

The heir of the house has expressed willingness to have the house rented out to government in the past. The guy claims that he also sought the assistance of the local government before he entertained the idea of selling it. He got none — of course. He must’ve grown tired waiting for help and just went ahead with his other option.

Inside Casa Alberto. Contemplating its future. Observing the people going about their business in the local mercado and the old municipio. Are they even aware of this house’s role in building this town?

Casa Alberto’s foundations has been uprooted, along with its floors, beams and other structural components. These were moved to a Bataan resort. It’s strange to think that there’s actually two Casa Alberto today, one in Biñan, the other in Bataan — are we even trying to save the real house here?

I feel it’s meaningless to save it now that it lies in shambles. Even if by some miraculous hand an order to save it comes – how in the world are we going to restore it back to its original? Buy back the pieces that was sold to Acuzar in Bataan?

If money was issue then, just imagine how much we’ll have to raise today to bring the house back.

Biñan’s local government failed to realize the potential of conserving this house. They have decades to figure it out and make their proposals. There’s the question of monetary compensation that was never reached or even substantially discussed between the private owner and the LGU.

Heritage conservation can be very expensive for local governments. Again, not all descendants would be willing to just give their ancestral houses for conservation and educational use, the question is how much are we willing to pay?

There’s also the lack of heritage management planning and promotion. With all the Antillean houses in Biñan and its history, how come no one ever came up with an effective program to promote this historic town’s heritage?

If Biñense’s are aware of Casa Alberto’s historical value, they would all rise and disallow plans to have it taken down. They’ll definitely hold someone accountable. And there’s nothing more frightening to politicians than losing elections – but with the exception of some local heritage groups, clamor to save this house has been relatively quiet.

One thing I know, and this needs no promoting: Biñan’s notoriety for being a political hotspot during local elections.

And, of course, Puto Viñang – baka naman pati ‘eto mawala na din d’yan? ‘wag naman.

Casa Alberto holds the record of having the most artictle in this site. I wrote about it here, here, here and here. How I wish that its still there but that’s not going to happen. In a  way it’s there but it’s not. That’s just the skin, the body has long been taken away. It’s just a matter of time before it completely collapse. Nothing makes me sadder than seeing these beautiful houses go.


What Remains of San Pedro’s Sampaguita

Buyers of Sampaguitas

The fiber used to string the tender flowers

Not part of a sampaguita plant but these fragrant petals are used in the garland

A lady with her bagful of sampaguitas and materials for making garlands

Just when I thought that the sampaguita tradition of San Pedro Laguna is gone, well, it appears that it’s not entirely gone. The town can still claim to be the Sampaguita capital of the country, minus the plantations that is.

I attended my first year in high school in San Pedro and I could still recall seeing the plantation below the bridge. This was just in the early 90’s. Now, all of that is gone, including the plantations in the upper barrios. Thanks to housing development and illegal squatting.

What’s left of that industry is the Sampaguita trade. Curiously, people would still assemble here to procure and vend everything related to the national flower. With almost no sampaguita to distribute, the flower and the materials sold in town would come as far as Pampanga. The fresh supply of flowers are brought in daily from other provinces like Quezon, Batangas and Cavite to be sold to its buyers.

Because of the town’s history as the heart of the sampaguita trade, the merchants and suppliers transactions in San Pedro appears almost symbolic, as if done only to show respect to tradition.

How long would this vanishing tradition carry on? I hope it last forever, like the icon of the flower the town shares its history with. It would be unimaginable to be the Sampaguita capital without the sampaguita.

Except for a few small patches of sampaguita plantations here and there, the tradition of growing sampaguita in San Pedro is nearly gone. It’s inevitable, as San Pedro’s proximity to Manila has made it the ideal choice of those people who sought to break away from the excessively crammed cities of the metro. If it’s any consolation, at least, people still come to San Pedro in the early morning to bid, sometimes rowdily like what I witnessed today, for the sweet fragrant sampaguita.

Just like the old times.


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