Visiting Apo Baket
As early as the 90’s, I’ve been planning a trip to Manaoag. Its a pilgrimage that I’ve always wanted to do. In 2006, I almost made it when an Aunt (a long time devotee) hired a van and went straight to Pangasinan but work got in the way.
But this time, I made it!
I was thinking why it took me this long — I mean, Manaoag is just a bus ride away! Why I procrastinated this trip for so long is something that I find very hard to explain. Sometimes our laziness holds us back from the journeys we know we should be doing.
It would be hard to imagine what the town was like before Our Lady of the Holy Rosary was enshrined there. The popularity of the devotion to the Virgin of Manaoag has defined not only the towns culture but also its economy. Locals see the church as a monument, a symbol, that exemplifies their history.
Unknown to many was that the first to establish the church hill of Manaoag were the Augustinians (1600) who later handed the administration to the Dominicans (given the task of “perpetual spiritual charge” ) after five years of religious work.
The Dominican built the towns cemetery, roads and bridges using the locals as laborers. Work around the church made artist and masons out of the natives – the advancement in this town was very much a native accomplishment.
Legend has it that the Virgin Mother appeared to a farmer (the story is strikingly similar to that of Guadalupe) asking that a church be built on the hill. The image was made in Mexico and was brought here to advance Marian devotion. The name “manaoag” is said to have been derived from “mataoag”, which means “to call” — this should explain why (and I don’t know who makes these decisions) the Lady of Manaoag was elected to be the patron saint of call center agents.
Manaoag suffered from terrible bandit raids in the 17th and 18th century. The responsibility of defending and protecting the Christian converts fell naturally to the Friars who had little to expect from the Manila government. So they had to organize their people which was an experience that brought them closer to their parishioners. The church had already lost its old world charm but the buttresses and some of the original structure that the local help built can still be seen around the church. How they kept their towns whole and intact reflects the perseverance of their missions.
The only time in Manaoag’s history that the church failed to serve mass was when the revolutionaries (which were not locals) burned down the church (1898). During this period, the people of Manaoag hid the image in Dagupan. The church was rebuilt in 1901. History has witnessed such churches destroyed only to be rebuilt again, stronger to withstand more than they could before (According to Dominican historians, the interior was made in 1772 and destroyed by the fire during of 1898. From 1901, they made the transept and the dome, works were completed only in 1932).
The Town Today
The town today remains quaint and peaceful (although a few days ago, somewhere in Tarlac, not far from here, the reds had burned buses because of the owners failure to pay their so called revolutionary tax). The town of Manaoag hardly experience any trouble with crime.
I was told that there was some sugar farming in Manaoag but based on what I read it was small in scale and had limited profitability. Landlocked, fishing is confined only to several rivers and tributaries that drains to Lingayen Gulf.
The concentration of commercial establishment can be found around the church of Manaoag. Security prohibits vendors from entering the church compound. Not far from the church is the town hall which appears to had been built in the mid 1900’s (buses going back to Cubao and Manila can be found here). Near the entrance of Manaoag are some good eating places that serves ihaw (grilled) chicken, pork and isaw. They’re cheap and not bad, so if you’re on a budget they’re worth a look.
A popular kakanin, Tupig, is sold anywhere (the provinces that claims to have the best tupig are Ilocos, Pangasinan and Tarlac). This favorite kakanin is made of coconut gratins, grounded rice and sugar. It’s cooked on top of metal sheets with burning coal beneath. The process of making tupig appears to be simple but it takes skill and experience to make a good one. Picking the ingredients they say is the key to making the perfect tupig’s.
It takes around 6 hours to reach Manaoag (depending on traffic and bus stop overs). Since there was some road repairs along Tarlac and Pangasinan, it took me 7 plus hours to get there (honestly, I lost count). The bus first made a stop over in Dau. It exited to Tarlac (there’s another quick bus stop somewhere Tarlac), then straight to Pangasinan. The trip was not that bad, long but its OK. I remind myself that there are devotees of the Virgin that walks barefoot for kilometers – sitting for hours inside an aircon bus while watching Jackie Chan movies is not something one could complain about.
The best thing about traveling using public transport is that you get to see the sights and talk to people. I’ve always felt that this is a lot better than a private car (I use to have one but sold it because I could no longer afford it). Speaking of private cars, I was laughing non stop reading a popular blog (he was traveling around Pangasinan & Tarlac) because the popular blogger confessed hating tricycles as it slows down his driving. He dislikes the fact that he must go around these poor trikes – he’s probably used to cruising in stateside highways. What an elitist poser this guys is. I feel that this guy blogs so he can show pictures of himself and boast about the places he had visited. That’s not an advocacy stance, that’s more of a pretentious way of saying you have an advocacy.
OK, this has gone longer than it needed to be.
Viva Nuestra Sra. de Manaoag!