Monday, August 22, 2005

Batangas: Taal, the town not the volcano

When we hear the word Taal, the first thing that comes to mind is the volcano, a classic image of the Philippine Islands, one viewed from the hills of Tagaytay City. What we rarely notice though is Taal, the heritage town, one steeped in history and heritage!

I've been to Taal several times but the town never fails to call me back. Maybe it's because of the quaint feel of centuries-old houses that line-up along the narrow streets of this former capital of Batangas province, the magnificent Taal Basilica or the miraculous image of the Virgin of Caysasay housed in a shrine close to a well with healing waters. Or maybe it is the elaborately embroidered piña cloth which I use for my barongs. And piña cloth did I bring home that day. Aside from the panotcha, bokayo, macapuno and kalamay of course!

I was invited by architecture students from Adamson University to join them on their tour. Jeremy, the president of the UAPSA Adamson Chapter, wanted me to give a word or two on heritage conservation in the hope that his fellow students would be encouraged to start a chapter in their school.

We arrived in Taal at about 10 a.m. just in time for a morning snack served by our host, Dindo Agoncillo, a man at the forefront of the heritage advocacy in Taal. What I have been in San Fernando for the past five years, Dindo had been in Taal for more than a decade. We stayed for a while at the Escuela Pia, one of the seven National Historical Landmarks in Taal! As Dindo mentions, Taal holds the record for having the most number of National Historical Landmarks declared by the NHI.

Anyway, it was empanada again... hehehe! But it was unusual since the filling was sotanghon!

After snacks, we went to the Municipal Hall, another National Historical Landmark, for a brief introduction on Taal and efforts to preserve it. This was followed by a walk around Taal, but I left the group for a while since the market called as always. I wanted to get my piña cloth early since I saw we didn't have time to do it in the afternoon given the jampacked itinerary Dindo had prepared.

I met up with the group again at the Basilica of St. Martin of Tours, another National Historical Landmark, and reputably, the biggest church in Asia. The church was first built by Father Diego Espina in 1575 in San Nicolas. It was destroyed when Taal volcano erupted in 1754. In 1755, it was rebuilt at the present site but was destroyed again by an earthquake in 1849. Construction of the present church begun in 1856 supervised by architect Lucina Oliver.

Lunch was served at one of the Gabaldon school buildings. And a feast it was with the local flavors served buffet!

The afternoon begun with a walk along another of the heritage streets where restoration on several houses was ongoing. Of course, you could see that some were being done right since they had the right consultants. And others... oh brother! The results of the whims and caprices of their owners and their wrong notions of restoration, these abominations were an outright waste of good money. Sad to see houses rotting as well. That's the problem, we still have a few places with high concentrations of built heritage but no funds to restore everything. So they usually end up in antique or junk shops... sigh!

We went down the San Lorenzo staircase that led to the Caysasay Shrine. Lucky for us, the original image was there (the one in the altar is just a replica). Of course, the group of 160 students crowded around it. So I waited for everyone to leave for the well to get the traditional blessing from the image. This entails kneeling down while the image is placed on your head. Then you make your wish!

That accomplished, it was off to the well and its healing waters.

The last two stops for the day were two other National Historical Landmarks, the homes of Marcela Agoncillo, who is most known for sewing the original Philippine flag, and Leon Apacible, one of the delegates to the Malolos Congress.

All that walking got me real tired. So I just had to take a trike back to the bus. Pant! Pant!

Friday, August 19, 2005

Manila: Nibbling our way through Tsinoy town

It's another food trip! But this time the nibbling was closer to home. Yes folks, I joined Ivan ManDy's "The BIG Binondo Food Bowl" alternative Chinatown tour. Here is how my tokayo describes it:

Four hundred years of history and up to four hours of decadence!

The flavors of Old China are now in Manila. Come eat, talk, walk and then lose those calories as we explore the breadth, the width and most intimate alleys of Manila’s Chinese quarter!

We start, quite paradoxically, in a 16th-century Baroque cathedral while making our way down to a miraculous Chinese shrine! Take a peek at a traditional chocolate factory! Go Mama Mia over a mami house! Sing hurrahs to an authentic Hokkien lumpia! Savor the taste of an old panciteria!

We'll horse around the streets talking Filipino history, gorging Chinese treats and even checking out the district's Period architecture! Forget South Beach, it’s Tsinoy chop suey and more as we nibble our way down through Tsinoy town!

We all met up with my tokayo at the Binondo Church where we began the brief trip around Chinatown. Manila's Chinatown actually encompasses three Manila districts namely Binondo, Santa Cruz and San Nicolas. These were pueblos during the Spanish colonial period before they were combined with Intramuros and other towns to form what is now the City of Manila.

The Binondo Church was built in 1596. It had undergone many changes since then, having sustained considerable damage from earthquakes and other natural disasters. Most of the church was destroyed during the Second World War. Today the octagonal bell tower and facade are all that remain of the 16th century construction. The reconstruction of the present church was funded by the Catholic Chinese community, many of whom reside or operate businesses in the area. The church is now a national shrine and a basilica minore for San Lorenzo Ruiz, the first Filipino saint who was born in Binondo.

145_4522Our next stop was one of the few remaining chocolate factories in Chinatown along the main street of the district, Ongpin Street. We got to take a peek inside but didn't see much since they were taking a siesta. The only activity going on inside was the crushing of cocoa beans in preparation for processing them into the traditional chocolate tablets used for hot chocolate.

145_4528Mezzanine Cafe was our first food stop where we had the rice dish kiampong and fish ball soup, both from southern China where most migrants to the Philippines come from. The cafe is actually the only themed cafe if Chinatown, showcasing the volunteer firefighter tradition of Chinese Filipinos.

After the war, Chinatown was victim to devastating fires. The government was slow to respond to these fires forcing the Chinese Filipinos to form groups of volunteer fire brigades. Today, these brigades are not only located in Chinatown but also in other parts of Metro Manila. Patronizing Mezzanine Cafe means donating to these volunteer fire brigades.

145_4533145_4529145_4534After that tasty snack, we went for a brief stop in a Chinese drug store before moving on to our next food stop along Nueva Street, a dumpling and pancake shop, with recipes originating from northern China. The taste of the dumplings and pancakes actually reminded me of the Japanese gyoza.

From Ongpin Street, we took made a brief detour to Salazar Street to savor some tea eggs - eggs boiled in tea, and cold pancit from Taiwan. The pancit was great! Egg noodles with veggies and ham if I'm not mistaken.

145_4536It was back to Ongpin Street and off to our next food stop, a fried siopao shop. Nope, these sumptuous dumplings are not deep-fried. They are steamed and cooked on a flat metal pan, rather than the one with holes. It's called fried since the bottoms of the siopao are browned to a slight crisp.

We made a brief visit to the Philippine-Chinese Buddhist Temple along Kipuja Street, which Ivan M. explains is actually a Taoist temple. There he gave us a background on Chinese religious practices.

According to a write-up of the temple, "with interiors ornately outlined in red and gold, the temple is one of the most frequented in the community. A shrine to Kuan Yin, goddess of mercy ans Kuan Te Ya, god of businessmen, it is visited daily by countless worshippers to light joss sticks, offer food, or simply to seek for guidance from these deities."

From there, we walked to the next pueblo, Santa Cruz. As mentioned earlier, Manila during the Spanish colonial period was just Intramuros. Around it were several other towns, Binondo and Santa Cruz included.

Welcoming us at the end of Ongpin Street was Plaza Santa Cruz, with the grand Carriedo Fountain, built to honor the donor of Manila's first water system, Francisco Carriedo. At the other end of the plaza is the Santa Cruz Church.

On the right side of the church was Escolta Street, which at one time was the plush shopping area of Manila. Its art deco and beaux-arts buildings are a sight for sore eyes. The Heritage Conservation Society used to do an architectural walking tour of Escolta before called BEAUX PEEP!

145_4546145_4548145_4552The old ad went as follows: "The Heritage Conservation Society will be holding a tour of Manila's American-period financial district, the ESCOLTA. Relive the days of 1930's peace-time Manila with us as we guide you through some of Asia's oldest examples of Art Deco and Beaux-Arts Architecture. Some of the places we will visit are the First United Building, Burke Building, Regina Building, the Escolta Museum and the stunning beaux arts El Hogar Filipino by the Pasig River among others." The said buildings are indeed stunning.

Near the end of Escolta, and a short walk to the banks of the Pasig River are one of the best views of the Post Office Building. From there, it was back to Binondo and our last food stop, a hidden lumpia joint in the art deco Uy Su Bin Building where our tour ended.

That's it for now. Darn that controllership final exam on Monday. I'm going to miss this month's tour of the Chinese cemetery which Ivan M. aptly calls Mounds, Magnates and Mausoleums. More of my Chinatown photos here.

Old Manila Walks:
Related articles:
Pound the Binondo pavement with the Chinatown kid
Business in Binondo

Monday, August 15, 2005

Manila: Inside the walls of Malacañang Palace

I was at Malacañang Palace last Friday to attend the 6th International Youth Day celebrations and my awarding ceremonies as one of the UNAP Outstanding Youth Leaders for 2005. UNAP, which stands for United Nations Association of the Philippines, gives this award annually every August as part of the International Youth Day festivities. In the photo on the left is myself receiving the award from Presidential Daughter Luli Arroyo and Dr. Zahidul A. Huque, UNFPA Representative to the Philippines.

There were seven of us chosen to receive the award this year representing various fields of endeavor. I was recognized for advocacy in heritage conservation. At least that puts heritage conservation in the consciousness of young people one way or another... hehehe! I hope more young people join our cause.

Visitors are usually not allowed to bring cameras inside the palace grounds so I had to make do with the official photos of the event. For more on the colorful history and rich heritage of Malacañang, read Paolo Alcazaren's Philippine Star column State of the Palace.

Youth leaders awarded
Manila Bulletin 8/20/2005

With the theme, "Bagong Kabataan… BILIB Ako!," the United Nations Association of the Philippines (UNAP) 6TH International Youth Day Celebration was celebrated with Presidential Daughter Luli Macapagal Arroyo as guest speaker. Three hundred youth leaders attended the opening ceremony which highlighted young people’s initiatives in responding to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

One of the highlights of the celebration is the awarding of plaque of recognition to seven outstanding youth leaders, namely Ivan Anthony Henares of Pampanga for heritage preservation and cultural revival; John Rex Jardinero of Palawan for environmental education and advocacy; Juan Carlos Delos Reyes of Naga City for international understanding and volunteerism in Habitat for Humanities; Ramil Jaictin of Butuan City for youth empowerment through the mass media; St. Anthony Tiu of Manila for science and technology promotion and pro-poor community development initiatives; and Mario Marababol of Cebu for environmental conservation of marine resources and volunteerism for working youth program of DOLE. Thirty-seven youth leaders were nominated in the national search conducted in the last two months.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Manila: Our teachers teach us to cut trees

This could well be the phrase students in the City of Manila are uttering with the example being set by their teachers at the Manila Division of City Schools, a willing accessory to Mayor Lito Atienza’s cutting of centuries-old trees in the Arroceros Forest Park. “Old Manila’s last lung,” as Sylvia L. Mayuga puts it in her Philippine Daily Inquirer article dated April 17, 2005, Arroceros is the one of the last patches of green in a city made filthy both environmentally and politically.

And Mayuga could not have put it any better, “Where the reign of corruption is perfectly matched by traffic and pollution in all forms, sheep-like malling and commercial hype everywhere one turns, there's rare pleasure to be had among old trees that have somehow survived successive building booms burying nature under more steel and cement everyday.”

News last Friday of Manila City Hall’s rampage thus dealt a painful blow to efforts for sustainable urban development in a city which received the lowest ratings for quality of life among twelve metro cities nationwide in the most recent AIM Philippine Cities Competitiveness Ranking Project in 2003.

A stone’s throw away from SM City Manila, another of Atienza’s urban disasters, Arroceros is located at the foot of MacArthur Bridge. Untouched for many years and “discovered” by then Mayor Alfredo Lim and environmental advocates from the Winner Foundation in the early 1990s, the park was a 2.1 hectare inner-city oasis filled with century-old narra, molave, balete, rubber and acacia trees. By 1994, the foundation was able to plant an additional 3,500 saplings from 55 different species. To make the long story short, the area became a self-sustaining forest ecosystem, giving high hopes "that the area can regenerate itself into a mature forest ecosystem," according to a 2003 survey of the park.

Then comes Atienza and his so-called Buhayin ang MayniLA program. For several years, Atienza had been successful in desecrating and eradicating important cultural landmarks in Manila such as the Sky Room – the four-story art deco Jai Alai building designed by noted architect Welton Becket, Mehan Gardens, the YMCA where SM City Manila now stands, and the San Lazaro Hippodrome, which gave way to another of Henry Sy’s prefab monstrosities.

If not for heritage advocates, even the stately Army and Navy Club could already be another shopping mall. John Silva recalls that in year 2000, “[Atienza] tried to destroy the Army Navy building, now the Museo ng Maynila, and to gobble up the adjoining Museong Pambata by attempting to put up a boutique and shopping mall.”

The Arroceros Forest Park was next on his list.

“Don't tell me about the ecosystem; Manila has enough parks,” Atienza was reported to have said. “Why, I even ordered discounts on Manila Zoo entrance fees for Manila residents!” After effectively building a Park and Ride facility on Mehan Gardens, the lord mayor of MayniLA now wanted to construct a teachers’ dormitory in Arroceros. For any rational mind, it is difficult to fathom the explanation that the Arroceros Forest Park is the lone available site for teachers' quarters in Manila.

What disappoints reason is the fact that it was the Manila Division of City Schools which applied for a DENR permit to cut trees in the park. Can these public school teachers continue to face their students and teach them time-honored values such as caring for the environment?

Workers from Manila City Hall started balling and cutting trees last Thursday following orders from “higher ups.” By the time the Winner Foundation and the media had arrived, two trees had already been felled. They were however able to save a century-old narra tree which was next in line.

With this blatant disregard for the quality of life of his constituents, Lito Atienza should rename his program “Patayin ang MayniLA.”

Imagine that things like these are allegedly happening as well in the UP system. The Office of the Environment Ombudsman recommended last month the filing of criminal and administrative charges against UPLB Chancellor Dr. Wilfredo David for the alleged illegal cutting of two hardwood trees inside the LB campus last year, said to be worth P210,000. But that is another story. [Philippine Collegian, Vol. 83, No.6, 11 August 2005]

Related Articles
Conservationists battle to save Manila's forest park
Winner spirit blazes on for forest park
City Hall begins cutting trees at Arroceros Park
Old Manila's 'last lung'
Illegal logging case vs UPLB head endorsed

Write the DepEd Superintendent
Division of City Schools
City Hall, Manila
527-5218 / 302-6736 / 527-5184 / 527-9910 / 302-6735

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