Category Archives: Morong Rizal

When Not Traveling on Foot

When our buddy’s not traveling on foot he hangs out with his bright hijo, Joaquin, in their artsy and eclectic home decorated with paintings and wood craft they managed to haul in their years of traveling — on foot.

We first met (all three of us) in an Ambeth Ocampo seminar not too long ago — some 6 years ago. Through the years, his blog has risen from obscurity to fame. And yet the man remains the blogger I met in that chance encounter, an all-around down-to-earth guy who so loves Filipino art and history.

During our chat he revealed that he started to appreciate art only after his countless visits to those grand old Filipino towns and houses. I thought that he was into arts long before he started history blogging.

Bloggers of Filipino culture and history. (L-R) Glen of TOF, Arnaldo and Pepe Alas

TOF’s art collection are beautiful snapshots of the Filipino soul. I would defer from calling (folksy, according to some) it anything but art mirroring our past in contemporary imagination. I’m particularly delighted to see works of Rubio as I’m an admirer of this artist’s work.

While I claim no expertise in arts appreciation and could only comment on its emotional and romantic appeal. I’m of this belief that art need not be complex and outrageously expensive! Beauty can be gleaned upon works that reminds someone of his origin through elements that articulates historical identity — and this is present in TOF’s wonderful collection.

I visited TOF’s first house in the same town (San Mateo) after Ondoy. His new apartment is not far from where he used to reside. His present three tiered apartment has been featured in magazines and websites. Not too long ago, a scene for an independent film was shot in one of its bedroom.

After serving lunch, we proceeded to record some of our conversation which I would make into a podcast these coming days.

We attended mass in the afternoon at the historic church of San Mateo where the Virgin of Aranzazu is housed. We were surprised that it was the Feast day of Nuestra Señora De Aranzazu. I consider it a gift from the Virgin that we came this day of all days! The town was buzzing with activity and noise (and traffic). There was so many people that we could not enter the church. At least the locals still see such events important and this is encouraging.

The church along with its parishioners was in a very celebratory mood that a dance broke out before the mass ended. Staged in the very altar where a few minutes earlier the faithful received the sacrament of communion. While I don’t agree with such liberal interpretations of the modern mass, I could understand that these are actions of a post-Vatican II generation that no longer understands the Mass of the old.

This prompts me to ask my friend Pepe to arrange a meeting with Padre Jojo, a popular and active traditionalist Catholic priest. We’ll do a podcast with him very soon.

But let not any of these observations diminish the beauty and grandeur of this historic church. Listening to TOF’s stories about old San Mateo made me think about how beautiful the town was, and is, as it still have its fiestas, traditional kakanin and colorful religious traditions.


A Morning in Morong Rizal

Morong Moro

Its surprising how provinicial some towns are even if they’re just a few kilometers away from the capital. Morong in Rizal is one such town.

I came to see the town to visit its famed San Geronimo church but ended up wandering around for awhile.

The entire province was once called the province of Morong. They renamed the province after Rizal (as if he needs more publicity).

A green river. Surprisingly, clean. Good job Morong!

It baffles me why they changed the name?

Morong refers to its former inhabitants, the Moros, said to have lived in the peninsula’s mountainous parts.

Could this be the reason why?

Were they (Americans and Filipino leaders in the early 1900’s) uncomfortable with such a name? Or were they just massively promoting Rizal as an idol for the Filipinos so they’ll follow his peaceful ways versus the revolutionaries, whom at that time was still popular in the countryside?

If it had not been changed, there would have been the issue of what to call the people of the province since they’re not Moro.

They refer to themselves today as “Rizalenos”. Out of curiosity, I asked a couple of locals in the area and “Rizaleno” sounded alien to them.

But for me, old names should never be replaced because history is lost. Just as you would not rename a living person not unless you want to hide his past.

A local passes by one of the few remaining old houses near the town square

Some refute that the name came from “Moro”. But I believe there’s historical basis that it did. The Moro, historically the adversary of Catholic Spain, were dispersed when the two met in Manila.

The Moros must’ve fled to the mountains after Manila was placed under Spanish rule. Even the Moro rebels of our modern times seeks refuge in the mountains. But how they seem to have vanished is a mystery.

A silent witness to the towns history

The Moro we see today in Manila trace their roots back to the South. They were not the Mohammedan that Legazpi drove out of Manila.

Thankfully, a town, Morong, can still remind us of this history. Not unless our bright politicians rename the quaint municipality.

There are very few extant old houses now in Morong. The plaza is where you can find some of them.

The town is unique because unlike the usual pueblo where you’ll find all  historically significant buildings in the vicinity of the church. The church is perched on a hill while the plaza and the municipio can be found right across the river if you’re coming from San Geronimo.

A town almost as old as the capital city

America in Moro

Morong is one of the first towns (together with Antipolo) to be taken from the Filipinos in this parts during the Filipino American war.

More than one hundred years ago Elihu Root describes Morong’s industry: “A mountanous country, abounding in stone quarries, banks of jasperated marbles and gold beds. Much rice and sugar cane are raised.”

Usually, American observations are scouting reports of the industries present in each town.

July 4 reported Philadelpia Times: “Americans swept the Morong peninsula, wins two battle and takes the the town of Morong and Antipolo”. This begun the pacification and eventual control of the Yanqui in that beautiful peninsula.

A wall build to last

The Hero of Morong

The town produced the first Filipino casualty in WWI. A native of Morong, Tomas Mateo Claudio, studying in America he  joined the US Marines to fight in Europe. He died in France and to this day is celebrated as Morong’s greatest hero.  A monument of Claudio can be found in the plaza. A main street and a school is also named after him.

Old Traditions

Cultural celebrations in Morong are among the liveliest in the entire country. During Lent they parade “Santos” on their streets. It is considered having the most number of processionals icons in the province. Christmas is celebrated based on traditions that has come down through generations.

Pistang Morong. I found jeeps with this sticker of the iconic Morong church.

Morong’s old traditions persist even in this modern complicated times.

They speak with an Tagalog accent exceedingly rare. Possibly an accent that is still present in other parts of Provincia de Morong.  How different is it with the other Tagalog provinces?

I’ve encountered many Tagalog accents and it looks like Morong’s is a bit milder, more laid back.

Yglesia de San Geronimo

The main reason for my visit is to see what many consider as the most fascinating and significant church facade in the province. A look reveals much of its history and origin.

Church and convent of San Geronimo. The flame trees were beautifully blossoming around the church yard.

On top is a dedication to its Franciscan builder. “Esta portada se construido ano 1851 y 52 siendo cura parroco el R.E.F Maximo Rico”. Local historians suspect that Chinese converts were the ones commisioned to finish the facade and the tower. This could be accurate as they have had a history of doing such works for the Church.

One of the gate lions, whom many consider proof that the bell tower was built by Chinese artisans (but usually these gate lion guards comes as gifts from Chinese converts like the ones in Sn. Agustin) had been stolen. Only the male version is now left.

Only goes to show just how cruel some of our kababayan are.

The church (and according to old people much of the town) was damaged during WWII. Much of the facade had been restored. How it was restored and by who – is not clear.

Inside the church there are still wonderful relics that has been part of the church from the beginning. Like the ukit of the Baptism of Jesus. The choir loft appears to be still the original construction.

The bell tower and facade is full of symbolism, and some say, hidden meaning. The Franciscan coat of arms, the four angels and what appears to be Mexican art can be found on it.

Recently, they’ve been gifted with relics of their patron St. Jerome. The Vatican, recognizing their devotion to the scholar saint gave them with two first class relics.

I’m sure that Morong locals are conscious of their heritage, both natural and historical, I hope they preserve what’s left for their children.

Mabuhay ang bayan ng Morong!

Last Sunday in Angono

Stone Art but No Petroglyphs

I don’t even know why I’m writing an entry for this one because I never found what I was looking for but I was glad in a way that I didn’t.


Because the Angono Petroglyph, being inaccessible means that its protected from our fickle and playful friends. I know somethings wrong if you believe that in order for a place like this to be conserved that it must be kept away from the public but you know there has been reports of vandalism even after it was placed under the National Museum.

We’re talking about art that had been made at around 3000 BC here.

I’m not saying that most of us are irresponsible but there’s just some of us who doesn’t seem to care about heritage. Given this foolishness, our local and national authorities inability to look after the site would be catastrophic for the petroglyph. Left out exposed to such elements it would just be a matter of time before that ancient stone art is lost forever.

So its better, at least for now, that it can’t be easily reached.

But this lack of knowledge, of course, comes with a price. Out of around 10 people I asked about the Angono petroglyph (they refer to it as “Kuweba”) only 2 were aware of its existence. And these two were volunteers for the municipal government.

The late Carlos “Botong” Francisco, who discovered the petroglyphs, will certainly be unhappy with this.

Not the petroglyps but stone art just the same. One of Botong's greatest masterpiece made into a mural in the street (located in Poblacion Itaas) where he grew up. The same street produced Lucio San Pedro (Sa Ugoy ng Duyan) another national artist!

A stone marker dedicated to Botong and Francisco Al

Angono Ang Bayang Malikhain

The reputation of the town being the center of Philippine art is deserved. Two National artist and clusters of clans engaged in painting and wood craft is proof.

Add to this “Angono art” is the ancient stone art that I never saw! either I bring a car or rent one – tricycles refused to go there because the road is steep.

Other Interesting places to visit is the Nemiranda Art House in Dona Justa Village and the Blanco Museum in Calle Ibanez.

La Iglesia de San Clemente de Angono

Since I wasn’t able to go to where I was supposed to go – I decided to walk around town and see some sights. I started with their church which was surprisingly modern, I’m not sure what happened to it.

There were also no extant old houses. At least none that I’ve seen.

Art is is everywhere in Angono. From the house galleries of its Family of painters to the municipio’s entrance gate of an ancient Tagalog legend, you get the feel that they know their artful history very well. They’ve devoted an entire street for their greatest son, Botong Francisco, and had its walls made into a mural of his unforgettable works. Most of it we have already seen.

Art is everywhere here. Even in street signs.

The Higantes of Angono

A popular fiesta dedicated to the saint is the Higante Festival. This fiesta is held every November 22 and 23 in honor of the pope Saint.

Higantes on parade. The municipio of Angono was playing host to one of those degrading shows called "Face to Face". Well, on the bright side, if it were not for that show I wouldn't see these.

One interesting story that’s has been perpetuated by many is the story of how the Angono people made used of the Higantes to slight their landowners. This is unfounded but such legends persist today.

Can’t we just enjoy and appreciate something without getting into these things?

The history of using paper mache (papel pegado) for festivals has been a long tradition in Mexico. The Spaniards taught the locals to create them because they’re made of cheap materials. The artistic towns (i.e., Paete) in the country still continue this wonderful art.

The Angono Symphonic Band enjoying the TV 5 special

At the end of the day, and this some will find offensive – Fiesta represents our communities “greatest expression” (borrowing from Don Anding) – so powerful that it unites a town, a province, a nation. This socio-religious activity provides an identity so unique that those who leaves it could not wait to get back to their towns to once again be part of it. Memories of it sticks to those who grew up seeing it. We’ll never see the end of Filipinos saving up to go back to their old towns to join the fiesta.

A Day in Wawa

When I visited a friend blogger in San Mateo after the Ondoy floods I was told that Montalban is just two rides away. I thought it would be great idea to go there then, if ever I wander around the area. Coming from South Metro, the trip to Montalban is a long one. I’m not too fond of trips to EDSA. The other route, through Laguna, is longer so that option is out. It took me more or less an hour just to Gotesco where I can ride a jeep headed to Mely, then San Rafael, then ride a jeep to Wawa – where the road ends.

Along the way I saw flattened hills courtesy of the busy quarrying around the area. There were enormous dump trucks loaded with excavated stones. At the rate of how they’re operating I wonder if there would be anything left in the next 100 years. The mud that filled the houses and swept people during the great flood was said to have come from these vast quarry fields.

The popular legend of Bernardo Carpio came from Montalban. It tells a story of a colossal man chained in the in Sierra Madre. It is said that whenever he attempts to free himself earth trembles. This folk belief which is one of the Tagalogs enduring legends actually came from a Spanish lore.

The Pamintan cave was said to have been Bonifacio’s hide out for sometime. Whether Bonifacio believes the legend of Bernardo Carpio is another question. I read from somewhere  that he went to Wawa looking for Bernardo Carpio which is kind of ridiculous – but we have to understand that some of our heroes are supernatural believers, so the story no matter how crazy it sounds could also be true. But written accounts points to the reason that he went there to seek refuge and survive. If he had stayed in Morong and declined the invitation from the Cavitenos to meddle in their politics he would have not been caught in the political mess that was the Magdiwang and Magdalo relations. Most of the larger caves in the area were occupied by the Japanese during the war. There is a Japanese iron plate commemorating their service for their country. I’m no fan of caves – they scare me like hell. Though I visited some in the past, I never got caught up with the spelunking hype. I’m sure its beautiful but it’s not just my idea of fun. And I call myself nature lover.

Large limestones weathered by the steady flow of water provides a perfect backdrop for some nature observation. I can easily spend a day in Wawa  and time flew fast — the whole place was such a treat to see. Since I’m into cataloging local wildlife, I really had a great time and I’m already planning a trip back.

Wawa Dam is situated at the foothill of the Sierra Madre Mountains. Despite the shanties and the backyard industries on the river bank, it is still a fascinating place to explore.The American created the dam in the early 1900’s and has long fallen victim to vandals. If only the government would have the imagination to create opportunities for tourism in the area it would definitely attract both local and foreign tourists. Wawa is inhabited by small communities, not indigenous but low landers. Some of them has been living along the shores of the reserve for decades. These people make their living from selling uling and whatever they could get in the area to sell. I was amazed to find a sari sari store right beside the old structure that was built before to monitor the dam.

These are really poor families. It’s easy for us to look at the option of getting rid of them as a solution. There must be programs in place to aid them and ensure continuity of all the basic social-welfare benefits until they recover in their new homes – that is if there are indeed plans to move them. One of the reasons why relocation has been a problem is that there is no programs that would allow the poor people to support their families. We can get  them out but they would just come back because the underlying problem is not treated. Same thing with this reproductive bill issue – the reason why our poor kababayans are poor is not because they have big families but because they don’t have work and if they do, it does not pay well. This is a question of economic development not of the poor people’s ignorance. Its like the old excuse that the government doesn’t have the money but we hear staggering figures being pocketed by the corrupt politicians.

Another issue that has been around for years is why the dam is has not been used. Wawa is still a viable source which could provide 50 million liters of water. The structure is still in place and the only reason why its ignored is, well,  politics. Calls to develop it has fallen in deaf ears because of conflicting interest. In fairness to the group that owns the right, they’re willing to compromise, invest on improving and making the dam work again, but the government ignores them.

Bird trapping is also a livelihood around the nature reserve. I met a man who trap birds for a living – he has this clever contraption that has a Bato-Bato inside. This bird, a specie of the Mourning Dove, has a distinctive plaintive sound that attracts  others to the trap – of course, the poor dove is not aware that its leading his friends to trouble. Believe it or not, very little is known of the breeding and nesting behavior of these birds. Its sad to see that we have countrymen who do this for a livelihood.

Along the banks I also found a man using electricity to catch fish. I’ve seen it on tv but this was the first time I ever saw someone catch fish using electric rods. Inside his net bag is a dalag, hito and bulig. There were also groups (they said they were from Marikina) that uses airguns. They were very skillful. I’m not sure if a government agency is watching over these communities. All these human activities must be controlled to lessen its effect on the environment.

19 September 2010

The Basque’s Presence and Nuestra Señora de Aránzazu de San Mateo

The red brick facade of San Mateo Church. Home of our Lady of Aranzazu.

The image of the Virgen de Aránzazu of San Mateo is one enduring remnant of Basque influence in the country. The Agustinos who was with the Legazpi expedition, a predominantly Basque contingent, created the first church in San Mateo but it was the Jesuits who brought the image of our Lady of Aranzazu in the town.

A blogger pal and a local of San Mateo, Traveler on Foot, had written great articles about the town’s fiesta, legends, kakanin, wars  and its devotion to Nuestra Señora de Aránzazu de San Mateo.

The present day Church of San Mateo, which can be found in the crossroads of the town center, is a result of quite a few works of restorations and reconstructions. Although set with modern day facilities, it has retained its old charm. This in way can be attributed to a sense of history that the town can call its own. Architectural design should never ignore historical background and references. Unfortunately, we see far too many churches reconstructed without considering the history of their devotion and church.

The red brick finish gives the impression of an old, weathered look – an effect that is both appealing and inspiring. I got a glimpsed of the Lady of Aranzazu but since there was an on going mass, I took no pictures inside. It was a pleasure seeing a church community that honors its past and celebrates the traditions that may have been foreign at  the beginning but quickly became local and is now a tangible symbol of a culture that is closest to us.

Basque Legacy in the Homeland

There are countless contributions that came from the Basque people here in our land. Vascos like Miguel Lopez de Legazpi to the hero Senator Ozamiz, Olympian Caloy Loyzaga to the rich Aboitiz clan – the Vascos had been conquistadores, friars, merchants and soldiers  from the region in Spain west of the Pirinioak mountain range. They came here and most of these adventurers never left the land. They were fearless and was said to had always volunteered for the so called “missions of no return”.

The Euskaldunas, which means speaker of Euskara, were great ship builders and seamen. The Basque country had supplied Spain with fighters and missionaries. Without the Basque’s, the expansion of Spanish kingdom in the islands would have been impossible. The successful Spanish expedition Legazpi was a Basque contingent. Some familiar Spanish figures that are now part of our history were Basque’s: Elcano, Andres Urdaneta, Juan Salcedo, de Goiti, Lavazares, Antonio Morga, Bishop Salazar (first Catholic bishop), Simeon de Anda and the list goes on. Even Rizal’s hero in his novel, Ibarra, is Basque.

Basco families whose descendants are still prominent citizens of the country: Aboitiz, Araneta, Arrespacochaga, Ayala, Bilbao, Eizmendi, Elizalde, Garchitorena, Isasi, Loyzaga, Luzuriaga, Moraza, Uriarte, Ynchausti, Yulo, Zubiri and Zuluaga among others. An old joke that came from the prominence of the descendant of the Basque migration is that most Basque “have an uncle” in the Philippines and Latin America.

Wherever the Basque go they take their national sport of  “pelota vasca” or Basque Pelota. Popularly known as Jai Alai (in Euskara meaning “Merry Fiesta”) it reached its height of popularity in Manila and Cebu in the mid 1950’s. It was brought down decades ago by the government due to “morality” issues that I find strange because there are other legal gambling that exist in the land – I guess they’re moral compared to the betting that goes on whenever Jai Alai is played.

Its not surprising if we had indeed inherited some Basco traits as they had successfully integrated into our lives. One grandparent kidded me that Filipinos have the “temper’ of a Basque – I think I know what she meant by that. The Basco diaspora has gone largely unnoticed because we all know them as Kastila – which is politically and geographically incorrect.

19 September 2010

A Visit to San Mateo with TOF

Travelers entire collection.

Traveler's entire collection.

Yesterday, I went to Morong (Rizal) to visit a friend, popular blogger Traveler on foot. Though we were also victims of the recent floods, theirs was something else. I lived in Manila all my life but I’ve never seen floods reach rooftops, scenes that you expect to see in the province not in a modern day metropolitan.

Bod Dylan’s right, Times a-changin’.

My friend showed me his house, which had been totally submerged in the floods. It was the first time they experienced flooding in the area. San Mateo being close to the river was one of the badly affected area. According to TOF, in just an hour the whole town “was underwater”, neighbors with second floors offered their houses to other residents whose place were already submerged in  the overflow, these neighbors homes was their “Noah’s ark” he said.

Every bibliophile’s nightmare is losing his collection, for every book not only cost money but time to uncover. Most of traveler’s Filipiniana are out of print, its sad that all were swamped and is now in his garaje, some still covered in mud. There are some that can still be salvaged but majority are hopeless, particularly the Ambeth Ocampo books (which are all in cheap paperback), we had the author signed those books when we were all together with Pepe in one of Ambeth’s seminar.

I remember the Keyser-Casado library which was lost sometime in the 90’s. The family that owned the library is one of Macati’s oldest family (they once owned almost halft of Cartimar in Pasay). When the descendants sold the house in Bagtican, the personal library of the family, where I first learned to read history, was disposed and sent to junk. I shed tears after finding out what just happened – we were no longer living in the area, and it was too late for me to do anything. I spent a lot of time there but even when I was coming to that place, the books were already neglected. According to Dona Amparo her father (an American military officer who later held top positions in the country’s prison management), traveled and collected those book. Now its all gone.

Nakakapanghinayang naman  ang mga  nasirang libro.

Hasta luego!

Pearl of the Curacy

Nuestra Señora de la Paz y Buenviaje, originally uploaded by Arnaldos’ shutter.

My recent visit to the Antipolo church has brought back one of my fondness memory of mahal na araw rituals – the lenghty hike from our residence in Makati to its hilly footway. A spiritual cleansing through physical distress. I’ve only done it once but who could’ve forget such an exhausting tread at very a young age.

Its one of the most critical iglesia’s during the Spanish era, friars and secular’s contested to secure its ground. Nick Joaquin cited on one of his book how it was bitterly fought for, the Recollects protesting the appointment of a creole clergy in the 1860’s, this only goes to show how strategic and rich the church was then.

During the WWII it was heavily bombed by the Americans forces. It was levelled to the ground, the resilient Antipoleños and the committed friars would have to raise it from the ground on the following years.

The church now have a hall at the back of the altar that acts as a semi museum. In display are colognes, dresses, crowns and other memorabilia’s in its collection. It also have a fascinating life-size panoramic pictures and informative information that labels it.

Rizal was taught by his mother to patronize the Lady. He has written beautiful works dedicated to the patron of peace and good voyage. A known devotee in his early years and through out his adult life, he is known to call upon our Lady for unharmed and sound tours. He has even etched the image in one of his leather cases.

Anitpolo now has become an overly urbanized province, it has been city for years but I still consider it a countryside. It has been trying to cope with the rapid urbanization — commerce, vehicles and beggars abound but one just need to go around and observe to notice the town’s history.

Though the M commercial logo tower of Mcdonalds tries to compete with the M symbol of the church’s tower (A Marian emblem) Anitpoleños lives has still cycled around the famed iglesia of Marian devotion – from commerce to devotion. All leads to the prominent symbol of the faith’s ‘pearl curate’.

Tayo na sa Antipolo!

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