Tag Archives: tanauan

To España (via Philippine National Railroad!)

In Alabang, PNR staffers told passengers that they could only accommodate those who bought tickets from an earlier time. The rest would have to wait  for two hours for the next ride. Yes, not efficient but if you don’t have any options you’d be happy to wait. Well,  air conditioned Metropolis Alabang is nearby so those passengers can go inside and idle their time away.

No not madre españa but that frequently flooded area named after the Iberian motherland.

The journey felt like an attraction ride. It ran steady at 20 kilometers per hour as it wildly swayed from side to side. Not to disparage efforts our government is taking to modernize our train network but like its current speed—it’s too slow.

To this my mother said, “mas mabuti na yan kaysa wala”.

But let me point out that even in its current condition PNR benefits many of our countrymen. The trip from Alabang to España was under an hour. That’s faster than taking any other public transportation today.

During the ride, I stroke up a conversation with a farmer from Tanauan. An OFW from Saudi who decided to come home to farm. He was headed to Pasay to buy pesticides. He dreams that our trains would one day connect his beloved Tanauan, hometown of the hero Mabini, to Manila.

“Pare, maybe not in our lifetime, but who knows?” I told him.

I went to a public elementary school in Makati where many of my classmates lived “home along da riles”. Our school was near the Buendia Station. Our teachers would pause from teaching as trains blasts their thunderous horns.

We played in and around the railroad. I noticed how scant and unkempt my friends houses were. They were illegal settlers along the railroad. Their shanties stood in stilts with the canal below serving as sewage. But what made an impression on me was how happy they were even living in that condition.

Rail work begun in 1887 under British direction. The asset was transferred completely to the Philippine government during the American administration. Since then it went through its phases of development.

Our PNR stations these days are devoid of the former elegance and grace it once had. We never had grand and wide stations like those in old Europe but they were lovely. They look pretty and there are a few of them left, like Paco and San Fernando (Pam.), though slowly crumbling to their deaths, scattered along our old riles.

Our trains had its good days. The line north referred to “Sugar road” while the south transports “Sugar, forest products and petroleum.”

History teachers tells us of Rizal’s letter praising the women of Malolos. Well, he visited the town via our railroad. He then proceeded to see friends as far as San Fernando. This was a century ago. The crumbling stations along the north has been waiting for the trains return.

When? that depends on how determined our government wants to put us right back on track (there’s the pun).

Recent developments under Duterte’s “Build, Build, Build” vision looks promising. It comes as one of the bigger items in the infrastructure build up. The railway sector get a big pie with 1 trillion pesos (this budget includes the MRT).

The north would be extended all the way to Malolos (from Tutuban). Then another 55 kilometer railway reaching Clark in Pampanga. So you can alight from Clark airport and go straight to Manila.

To the South, from Tutuban the railway would run once more and reach Los Banos. I’ve been dreaming of riding an overnighter train to Bicol since I was a little boy. I wonder when would I finally get to ride one—I’m almost 40 now!

While I was on vacation a few years ago when visited Quezon province I saw the old railroad cut through an intensely green rice paddy (if memory serves me right I was in Unisan). Imagine if you were on a comfortable train ride going down south and you wake up seeing something like that?

Aside from moving goods and people, there’s tourism money for the PNR and towns it serves. A reliable and working train network is good for local economies too. One of my favorite travel show is “Japan Hour,” it is basically people riding trains to visit towns in the province.

The plan to establish a train running near the Laguna De Ba’y was drawn during the American occupation. Another plan that would have benefited us if it were carried out (much like the Burnham plan for Manila) to its conclusion. Due to massive population growth in recent years all you see today are houses.

Experts say that trains would contribute in dispersing the population out of Manila. It improves local economies. People would build their homes outside Manila if there’s an efficient public transport. This is something we haven’t realized yet because we have a failed rail system.

How we ended up with a mismanaged railway system? We all know the answer to that. The same answer why we ended up with poor infrastructure all over our islands.

I now live here in Singapore where the slightest delays in train arrivals makes the evening news—and theirs I feel is one of the best in Asia. They demand the highest standards from the people that runs their train system. I imagine having the same trains going in and out of our cities, taking us to our provinces, north and south, to see relatives and spend fiesta holidays.

Sana lang we get to see it in our lifetime. Sana.


Mabini Letters: Lecturing El Presidente

You’ve got to admire Mabini. This guy got some balls.

In 28 February 1899 he wrote Aguinaldo:

“I heard Luna is going to resign as director and commander-in-chief of Operations in Manila because the company captains who had disobeyed his instructions in the last attack on Manila went unpunished.

We already see the disastrous effects of weakness. Not only the army but also the people notice this. And for the reason that there is the belief that we do no punish the guilty, some soldiers might say that here it is nothing to obey a general, while other places such a thing is punished with death and musketry. If you will punish the companies that will disobey in the future, the people will say that you punish them because the soldiers are not from Kawit. At this rate, our soldiers will never know what discipline is.

Because you did not mete out punishment at the proper time to the soldiers of P– who committed in Polo, and because of this the local president of Polo, is now here accompanied by two persons with mangled bodied, one of whom is the chief of barrio Maisan himself, who was the victim of looting by seventy soldiers of P–. These soldiers arrested all the men of the place, beating them with the butt of their guns.”

What I like most about Mabini is his honesty and sincerity. He’s known to take complaints from the most common of Filipinos and bring it straight to the Presidents desk. This must have caused considerable inconvenience for a war time president but Mabini, understanding the implications of ignoring the peasants and towns people, always insist that their complaints and grievances be placed on the agenda.

Mabini is faulted for being a major part of Aguinaldo’s government that became so morally and politically incoherent that it collapsed under its own weight.

But history has been kind to Mabini. As our generation continue to uncover facts about his role in Aguinaldo’s government, the more we deeply appreciate the position he took up, challenges he had faced, stumbled upon and overcome along the way.

He was an outsider, a “nobody”, until Aguinaldo had him fetched from Ba-y. Aguinaldo must have been aware of his prolific and impressive resume through his masonic ties. Why he picked someone like Mabini when he was al;ready surrounded by able [Kabitenyo] men?

Why Mabini?

Was Aguinaldo trying to bring an outsider with fresh views, who does not exactly share his  philosophy and values but will  give him a different perspective on issues facing his revolutionary government?

Or was Mabini just too brilliant a man to ignore?

There is one thing that the Paralytic hero is not: He was unafraid to call what he saw, even if it meant losing the support of people Aguinaldo relied on.

Warning his president, he ends his letter with the following words of caution:

“God has given you the prestige that you enjoy so that you can use it to give peace and order to your people, and this cannot be accomplished if the abuses are not stopped. Without peace and order, you will lose the prestige you have won, because it will come to be known that we do not know how to govern.

In this calamitous times, we need military dictatorship, not to control the towns people, but, above all, to suppress the abuses of the army, and nobody can do this but you, the Chief.

If we have the people on our side, we can be sure that we shall triumph, if not today, tomorrow, or the day after. If we do not have the people with us, we shall perish. If Americans pose serious dangers for us, our own countrymen would pose for us greater ones as a result of the abuses that are committed against them, abuses that are ofen the cause of revolutions.”

This letter was written more than 100 years ago, but what Mabini said then is still true today.

I wonder if our current leaders who got us into so much trouble read Mabini…

Proud Tanauan

Tanauan’s population is around two hundred thousand. Considering its substantial land, that’s not a lot of people.  Calamba, its next door neighbor to the south, is smaller but have twice the number of people.

What’s fascinating about Tanauan is how it remained agricultural. Tanauan retained its rural outlook and agricultural economy as late as the 1950’s and even in the 1960’s, it must have been completely rural and agricultural during Laurel’s (Pres. Laurel) childhood and juvenile years”, say the President’s biographers, the  del Castillos. Traditionally agricultural it was an influential town that produced great national leaders that played key roles in our history.

There were changes of course, but Tanauan has largely remained agricultural even today. Or at least it felt that way.

When we hear provincial, what comes to mind are backward communities. If we look back at our provinces in the 18th century, most of them were  progressive agro towns where hunger was never much a problem. The Spaniards introduction of crops and simple technologies had long solve the threats of famine. In Cebu, for example, the maize had been grown abundantly that in some areas it had challenged rice as staple. The 20th century saw the decrease in the produce that led us to import rice and other crops that we use to export to distant lands.

Tanaueño’s would send their children to Manila and abroad to study. A common practice among top families during the 18th century. Prominent families are known to commit their children to higher education. These children would then comeback take over the family business 0r make their mark in local politics. These educated Filipinos would later constitute the leadership of the revolution of  ’96.

These families, with their political influence, businesses and landholdings, represents the continuation of traditional prefilipino royalties [datus & local chiefs were assigned as cabeza de balangay by the Spaniards] that adapted itself into the times. Philippine society was stratified then on the basis of education and property. These divide between the rich and poor are magnified today because productivity in the fields has gone down. Unlike before when farming has been stable source of employment and food, these days the dwindling agricultural industry and continued oppression of the farmers and the poor by their corrupt government and landowners has increased the gap. Our farmers are subjected to conditions which makes it impossible for them to succeed. Today, the only farms that profits are those that are run by big corporations.

However, there’s a difference between the relation between the aristocratic Filipino families that employed the rural town farmers then and now. Their experience with the Spanish and then the Americans had bonded them closer. When the propertied class revolted against the colonial government it was their farmers and obreros that served as their soldiers. This relationship is no longer present in our agricultural towns. Prominent families had long abandoned their traditional lands [sold or left to be administered by corporations] and farmers has been preoccupied in their struggle to own part of the farms their ancestors tilled and providing the most basic of needs for their often over sized family. Farmers children has been sent to the cities to work for lowly jobs. However, This urban employment haven’t alleviated the flight of their families as they remain poor and exploited due to lack of education and discipline.

At the gate. an engraved metal plate reads "Jose P. Laurel, Abogado"

I visited the ancestral house of the Laurel’s not far from where I alighted. When I got there it was close. I kept knocking. The security guard won’t even talk [the house is about 300 meters away from the gate]. I have a feeling that I wasn’t the first curious observer that got snubbed there.

It was a great looking house none the less.

I’ve always been interested in the Laurel’s because an Ilonga aunt married one. I long since wondered what makes them successful. A historian, elegantly wrote “they breathed and drunk the idyllic atmosphere of the countryside at Tanauan and inherited the headstrong temperament attributed to those in propinquity with Taal volcano”.

Well, a more realistic explanation is that the Laurel men were expected to lead. They came from a long line of educated and successful fore bears.They had to exceed their parents expectations – anything less would have been unacceptable. Such were the demands of the tradition we once had.

The Tanauan’s first family were the ruling elite. From their line came the most fervent of Filipino nationalists who distinguished themselves as public servants. Sotero was representative in the first Republic who died of dysentery in an American concentration camp, then there was the son Jose who became president and later his sons; Teroy the senator, Jose Jr a former house speaker and Doy vice president during Cory’s presidency.

Tanauan's elegant looking church. Like all old churches, this figured prominently in their culture and history.

Of all the presidencies  of the country, Laurel’s is probably the most controversial because to many the second republic of which he was the chief executive had been reduced to in some to a puppet government that did nothing but the bidding for the Japanese.

Recto would later suffer the same fate. Tagged as a “collaborator”. They were accused of traitorous acts against their people. President Laurel would be pardoned but Recto (one of the glories of Philippine Spanish letters) would refuse the pardon, electing to fight for his freedom in the courts – and he won.

These patriots, upon their release would be the main opponent of the absurd American parity rights. Their actions during the war and after it showed their true patriotism. The Laurel’s for their part had been one of the staunchest nationalist of southern Tagalog. Many of those accused of “collaboration” were merely acting on behalf of the people. What an unfortunate task these men had but someone had to accept the responsibilities of representing the peopl otherwise there would have been more blood shed.

If it were not for President Laurel, “an up and coming jurist, a native of Tanauan, Batangas… long time resident of the district of Paco in Manila, member of the Supreme court”, Marcos would’ve rotted in jail. He was almost in a similar situation as Marcos was in his youth. He felt it would be a terrible waste to let the young Marcos rot in prison. If he never did pardon the man, just imagine how different our history would have been.

Of course, discussion’s about Tanauan’s past would not be complete without mentioning Apolinario Mabini. I met some of his relatives in the town during my first visit. Like Mabini, they are common folks, not into politics nor do they seek it. The highest post ever held by a Mabini in Tanauan is that of a Barrio Captain.

Mabini is the ideal man to lead the government during the revolution and he was practically running the country as Aguinaldo’s chief adviser. But being honest and upfront, he quickly alienated himself against his own government. He made enemies who were constantly intriguing against him. He later resigned his post and went underground. He became a fierce critic of the excesses of Aguinaldo’s deposed government.

Mabini’s letters [originally compiled by Teodoro Kalaw] are among the most revealing documents in Filipino historiography. Hopefully one day, we could dedicate a course in our schools that would study these correspondence. Its a pity that such documents, although available for the public, are hardly ever studied.

According to the Mabini’s of Tanauan, all of his siblings struggled in life even after his death. He left no properties, no bank accounts. Unlike his contemporaries, he never used his position for his material advantage. He lived frugally all his life. The only well off Mabini’s of today are the descendants of Agapito, who married into a prominent Manileno family.

Another Tanaueño worthy of  mention is Hen.  Nicolas Gonzales, the last of Aguinaldo’s general to surrender to the Americans. Along with Malvar, he fought relentless against the invasion until his surrender. Its unfortunate that very few knew of his admirable dedication towards the revolution. Tanaueños of old looked up to him. The Americans, saw him a worthy opponent and named the peak of Tagaytay ridge [formerly Monte de Sungay] after him. Hen. Gonzales married a Laurel’s and stayed in Tanauan almost all his life. He would later serve as governor of the province.

There are a handful of Antillean houses left around here. This one looks great.

The origina site of Tanauan's "escuela pia" where young men like Mabini learned the rudements of education from Friar educators.

This visit coincided with the initial work on the recreation of Mabini's house in the shrine dedicated to him. Laborer's strictly follow the exact measurements of the Hero's Nagtahan home.

Reference/Further readings:

The saga of José P. Laurel (his brother’s keeper) by T del Castillo and J del Castillo

So help us God: the presidents of the Philippines and their inaugural addresses by Jonathan E. Malaya

The Mysteries of Taal by Thomas Hargrove

Apolinario Mabini: A Lesson in Honesty


With Mabini’s great grandaughter in the Talaga Shrine


I was reading  news about Noynoy Aquino’s on going US visit and was looking at the list of the business delegation and saw familiar last names: Cojuanco, Lopez, Montinola, Zobel de Ayala, Villanueva,Aboitiz etc. One thing that is common among these men is their families unbelievable wealth and influence.

Most of our leaders, in politics and business has been in power for the vast majority of the time. These elites represent the infinitesimal percentage of the population that controls the wealth of nation. Aquino belong to this group by the way. But not all descendants of heroes enjoys the perks of inheriting vast sums of money or benefit from political dynasty.

There are those that didn’t quite make the “rich and famous” mark – descendants of known heroes that inherited nothing but good names.

Like the Mabini’s of Tanauan.

I remember a trip I made sometime last year to Tanauan. I came to look for Mabini’s relatives. I’m deeply fascinated by Mabini and thought that it a great idea to find out more about the Man through family tales and recollections.

After reading a couple of his biography I felt more distant to the hero. The nationalist theme is so strong in these books that their authors forgot Mabini’s human side.

But is there a human side to Mabini?

I happened to read his correspondence and oddly I find them almost emotionless – even when confronted with the prospect of death in exile, his reminders to his brothers were very formal and plain.

But he was very human with understandable flaws but his immense contribution in fighting for a independent state overshadows everything.

His granddaughter even suggest that he fell in love with a local girl but never found the courage to confess his love. The “panyolito” Mabini gifted the lady is now a permanent display in the shrine. It was donated by the lady’s family. Why it was kept for so long could only mean that the woman cherished the gift. Too bad, Mabini was too much of a torpe.

Pelagia Mabini, a great granddaughter and NHI employee in the Mabini shrine said, “Mahiyain daw iyan, panay lamang ang aral”. I was moved by how proud the lady was with her grandfather. “Talagang tapat siya, ultimo ang terno na suot niya noong siya ay namatay ay bigay lamang ng mga kaibigan niya”. While I was taking notes she told me that most Mabini’s today, except one branch of the family (Agapito’s), are poor – she even said that most of them can’t even afford hospitalization.


Even his Manila home was a simple one – his Nipa home in Nagtahan is stripped of all the grandeur of a rich Manileno house. He took pride in his provincial up bringing – a replica was being built in Tanauan during my visit last July


I wonder if he would’ve changed his mind had he thought his family would undergo a great deal of economic suffering. But I don’t think he would ever  – he’s too much of an idealist and believes so deeply in the ideals of a free and honest society. While he was in power he was on top, presided on many governmental functions, come to think of it he could have registered lands under his name but because he was honest, he never did.

He could have even opted to pledge his allegiance with the Americans, with this awaits  powerful position that would have made him rich man. But Mabini was way too principled to ever allow himself to accept American rule and favors. So he suffered and died poor while most of his contemporaries started to dream the American dream.

From the Tanauan church, Barrio Talaga is some three kilometers away. The young Mabini, the brightest among the brood walks before the sun rises to attend the class headed by a friar. The mother was hoping  that the quite son would also soon become a Priest. Something that most mom wants their boys to be during those times. I’m sure she never imagined that one day her son would become Mabini the revolutionist.

Was there anyone in the Mabini’s of Tanauan that attempted to enter the realm of Philippine politics? Ma’am Pelagia said, “Yes, a cousin, elected as a councilor pero wala na, ayaw na yata?”. Their attitude reflects that of their grandfather. “Only he is truly a patriot who, whatever his post, high or low, tries to do the greatest possible good to his countrymen. A little good done in a humble position is a title to honor and glory, while it is a sign of negligence or incompetence when done in high office.”

The Rizal centric hero education we have has robbed all the other heroes of attention. Believe it or not there are no official holiday attributed to Mabini – Filipinos and our leader haven’t realize how great this man truly is. Well, Aguinaldo doesn’t have one either but for me Mabini is a bigger figure. This patriot deserves more attention. There’s so much we can discover from the man. Our politicians would be ashamed of themselves if they find lessons Mabini’s life had to teach them.

I’m a conspiracy theorist in a way and I believe that Mabini’s fate of being relegated to a minor role has a lot to do with his actions during the period leading to the Malolos republic. He had repeatedly  criticized  the Government and the rich men behind it, even citing a lending provision in the constitution between the Government and the rich Filipino lenders disadvantageous for the people.


Hair taken from Mabini. Which means he can be resurrected some time in the future 🙂



Actual article in the New York Times about Mabini’s passing in 1903.


He detested the nepotism that existed in Aguinaldo’s government – which as you can imagine did not made him a popular associate in the cabinet lined by Cavite men. The only reason he survived that long was because of his brilliance. He made himself indispensable but not for long – no one really is immune to the nepotistic biases of a self-destructing leadership. In time the pressure made Aguinaldo drop Mabini.

Mabini was a rarity in politics during his time. Eventually he fell out of Aguinaldo’s graces which was not surprising as he became critical of how things were being run. The elitist and the interest groups he went up against made sure he gets isolated and off in a corner. These men even spread rumors that he died of syphilis which past and present writers would help spread. All of these makes me wonder if there’ll ever come a time when honest Filipinos can succeed in politics.

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