The church with its red brick bell tower is an impressive baroque. The interior is worth a look because it has structurally remained intact (although the modern paintings & murals are a bit out of place). Declared a National Cultural Treasure because its construction was supervised by Filipinos. A rare achievement in the 18th century.
Mr. Alix, a local in his 60’s recounts their elders telling them about “countless church legends” and how it was built “piece by piece” making it virtually earthquake proof. I saw small repairs around the church that were not properly done (some portions of the bell tower for example were patched with common cement). It is ideal that all repairs and restoration work are coordinated with authorities for technical direction. Until now, some of our parish priest fails to understand the benefits of this coordination.
The locals appears to be conscious of heritage conservation. There was controversy some years ago when the church allowed the building of McDonalds in its compound. I’m not sure about the details but I heard that the locals opposed to it. My personal opinion is that the parish should have never allowed it.
Bahay na Bato – Balayan Style
Near the church are clusters of bahay na bato nestled between modern houses and shops. Some of the old houses that are rented out to businesses maintained its period exterior. Despite being converted into shops they retained many of the antique structure and design from its earlier incarnation.
Just like in many old towns, there are casualties. Old houses that were quietly removed. However, there are still a lot of great looking houses left. Descendants (like the Martinezes and Lopezes) are proud of their ancestral houses that even when most of them no longer resides in Balayan they hire people to look after them.
Balayan must retain its most important period houses. Their history can be seen today in these wonderful relics. For them to preserve these vintage treasures is to honor their past, their heritage and the name of their town – Balayan. I’m glad that the awareness for conserving what’s left of the old town is high among the locals.
I visited two of the Martinez’s ancestral houses. Both are in good condition. The biggest and the most elegant of all ancestral house belongs to this Family. The Martinez mansion across the gas station have a stone arch which is a rarity even among the rich homeowners in Manila. The first floor is rented out to a carinderia. The house is maintained by caretakers from Iloilo. They have strict orders not to allow anyone in. The house is one of the biggest I’ve seen in the province. It has a wide yard and some fruit bearing tree.
Another house that had been preserved for visitors to see is the simple yet elegant Ermita house. One of the parents of Eduardo Ermita is from a family of means in Balayan. A personal favorite is the Santos house (located not far from the Lopezes mansion) because of elements that reminded me of the ancient stilt wooden houses of the coastal islands. I was told by a local that if all the houses of old Balayan was preserved the town could rival their neighbor Taal not only in number but grandeur and splendor. What’s noticeable is that houses in Balayan are spacious compared to Taal.
The most popular Balayan house is the casa grande of the Lopezes (honored with an iron marker by historical commision). The house house was endowed with expensive furniture, grandiose interiors and profuse ornamentation throughout. This should be easy to explain as the owners were among the richest family in the province.
Casa grande’s renowned resident, Sixto Lopez, is one of the most brilliant minds of his time. I saw a correspondence of his in English (addressed to a US senator) which shows how adaptive and flexible his generation was when it comes to language and learning. He learned English as he was appointed to seek US recognition of the Philippine independence. The Batangas revolutionist (Galicano Apacible is also a native of Balayan) were giants in thoughts and intellect. We have to take inspiration from their achievements and how they lived their lives.
Sixto Lopez’s had the idea of briging Aguinaldo and Mabini (a province mate) to the US as there were people there that he believe could help them in their fight for independence. Even when Aguinaldo was captured he petitioned for him to go stateside (same with Mabini). Unfortunately, his plans never materialized. Lopez’s hope for American recognition is a clear sign that the American public were concerned about the military expansionism and there are Americans that were willing to listen. Some of these men (like the popular author Mark Twain) vehemently opposed the idea of an American empire. There are moderate and liberty loving Americans that even then were against occupying other states. Today, we see these liberty loving American’s getting more vocal – I pray that they succeed in taking back their country.
I wonder if there are existing tourism programs in Balayan. With creativity and planning the local government could get people to visit the town. The idea can be attractive. The town is abundant in historical and cultural resources. There are field trips (for students) that goes to where the famed Bagoong Balayan are made. It won’t be such a bad idea to include a walking tour of the old houses of Balayan. It being a coastal town, a stroll near the bay (if they can develop it) after a walking tour of its historic center is a perfect ending for a day’s visit.