Sunday, May 28, 2006

When was the last time you displayed the Philippine flag?

When was the last time you displayed the Philippine flag outside your home? According to Section 7 of RA 8491 - An Act Prescribing the Code of the National Flag, Anthem, Motto, Coat-of-Arms and other Heraldic Items and Devices of the Philippines:

"SECTION 7. The flag shall also be displayed in private buildings and residences or raised in the open on flag-staffs in front of said buildings every April 9 (Araw ng Kagitingan); May 1 (Labor Day); May 28 (National Flag Day) to June 12 (Independence Day); last Sunday of August (National Heroes Day); November 30 (Bonifacio Day); and December 30 (Rizal Day); and on such other days as may be declared by the President and/or local chief executives."

May 28, 1898 was the day the Philippine flag was first unfurled after the Battle of Alapan, where the Philippine Revolutionary Army lead by Aguinaldo defeated the Spanish Army. This day is recognized today as National Flag Day.

As one Filipino nation, let us display the Philippine flag outside our homes and offices from May 28 (National Flag Day) to June 12 (Independence Day)!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Manila: Save the Avenue Theatre and Hotel

Manila was the second most devastated city after the Second World War. Most of the architectural heritage that earned for us the moniker "Pearl of the Orient" was lost in the hostilities. With so little left, we must thus endeavor to preserve what is left of our heritage. It is thus sad to hear that so many heritage structures are lost at such an alarming rate.

I got this from the Heritage Conservation Society: "For those who would like to save this heritage structure, you can call or fax a complaint to Mayor Lito Atienza at 5276063 or 5274991 or send an e-mail at

"This building was designed by National Artist for Architecture, Juan F. Nakpil in the 1930s with 1950s renovation of the same. It is among those buildings with a hotel, office space, and theatre. For those who are not familiar of it's location, it is along Avenida Rizal corner Soler, beside National Bookstore."

At the right is a photo of Avenue Theatre, a proof that it did surive the Second World War! It had survived this long. What a pity if we allow it to go down just like that.

Visit "Heritage Watch," a forum website, for more information...

Related Article
From architectural landmark to parking lot

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Manila: Poking around the old millionaires' row in San Miguel

It was another adventure with Manila's streetwalker, my tokayo, Ivan ManDy. This time, it was in the most happening place in Manila before the war and the birthplace of our national beer... San Miguel!

Our walking tour actually started in Quiapo, in Asia's first all-steel church, the Basilica of San Sebastian. After looking around, I'm always fascinated by the Gothic architecture and stained-glass windows of this church, we were off to San Miguel. From San Sebastian, it was a short stroll towards Mendiola and its American period schools.

The next stop was a little chapel in San Beda College known as the Abbey of Our Lady of Montserrat. According to the history of the Abbey, "In 1895 a group of Benedictine monks from the Abbey of Montserrat in Spain came to the Philippines and worked as missionaries and pastors in Surigao. Later they moved to Manila and in 1901 founded San Beda College. The community was raised to a priory in 1904 and in 1925 was elevated to the rank of Abbey with the titular of Our Lady of Montserrat."

From there, it was through the Malacañang gates and security checks galore. Since we had a reservation at the La Cocina de Tita Moning (they had a letter with the guards complete with the names of all the guests), they let us in.

But this was a very sad picture of our country... barbed wire along the sidewalks ready for action when needed; a paranoid security detail always on hightened alert (even with the rallies going on in Bangkok, you could easily marvel at the architectural beauty of their government houses); the once see-through walls of the elegant old mansions in San Miguel now covered with metal sheets; I do hope the Malacañang complex becomes an area of the people again where Filipinos could walk around freely and enjoy their history and heritage. In fact, our bike escort (yes, we had a guard on a bike monitoring us while we were inside) did not even allow us to take a peek at Kalayaan Hall from the gates.

From Mendiola, we took a walk down Arlegui where more mansions could be seen. One of the mansions of interest is among the list of palace guesthouses. Known as the Arlegui Guesthouse it served as the official residence of two presidents namely Corazon Aquino and Fidel Ramos.

According to the Malacañang website, the house is "a remodeled and enlarged 1930s mansion owned by the Laperal family. It later housed the Japanese Embassy, the National Library and the Presidential Economic Staff, one of the agencies that was later merged with another to constitute the present National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA). Mrs. Marcos doubled the size of the mansion when it was converted to a guesthouse; it now has two towers where it used to have one."

It was straight down the road on Arlegui and even more mansions. We then made a left on San Rafael where the Legarda House was located. The house had been converted into a fine dining restaurant called La Cocina de Tita Moning, giving their clients a glimpse into the family recipes and lifestyle of the Legarda household. There are set meals available for a minimum of two and a maximum of 50 people. But for us, it was just a sampler. For our welcome drink, we had lemon grass tea. And for our meal, it was pasta with the special chopped tomato sauce, baked chicken with garlic and banana cue for dessert, which was accompanied with vermouth as its "syrup." The houses also had a shop where one could purchase bottled family specialties such as the queso de bola spread, vinigarettes, and sauces.

After second and even third servings and some chatting here and there, we continued our walk. Right beside the Legarda House is another well preserved art deco mansion which today is the Malacanang Clinic. This used to be the home of former chief of staff of the Philippine Army, Dr. Basilio Valdes.

From San Rafael, we took a right back on J. P. Laurel and exited the secured area of the palace complex towards the San Miguel Church. But we made a brief stop in front of an empty part of the palace lawn where the offices and factory of the tenth largest brewery in the world was first built over a century ago. The San Miguel Brewery factory is no longer there. That alone would have been a museum worth visiting if it were still standing today. Sigh!

The San Miguel Church has a lot of history attached to it. It was for several years in our history the seat of the Archdiocese of Manila when the Manila Cathedral lay in ruins after the war. The church was host to celebrity weddings as well including that of President Ferdinand Marcos to then Imelda Romualdez.

We were nearing the end of our tour. Our last stops were two more Malacañang guesthouses. "The Goldenberg Mansion (so called after the previous owners) was informally referred to by Mrs. Marcos as the 'big antique.' A historic structure built by the Eugster family (probably Spaniards long returned to Spain) about a hundred years ago, it was the office of the Marcos Foundation, a cultural heritage structure. It was a combination residence and shampoo factory when bought by the Marcoses and exquisitely restored by Architect Leandro Locsin in 1971.

"It held Mrs. Marcos' collection of excavated porcelain and pottery, Ban Chieng prehistoric pottery from Thailand and Filipiniana book rarities, and treasures such as a statue from Angkor and Chinese jade furniture.

"The Teus house next door was purchased and converted to a guesthouse in 1974, under the supervision of decorator Ronnie Laing. It has a large living-dining area that held a display of antique European silverware (since sold at auction), including some by famous 18th and 19th century silversmiths Paul de Lamerie and Paul Storr. Much of these were apparently given to the Marcoses on their silver wedding anniversary."

Talk about opulence in the Philippines! Despite their many faults, the Marcoses, particularly Imelda and her edifice complex, made Manila the most happening place in all of Asia. The results of these whims and caprices are architectural legacies such as the Cultural Center of the Philippines among many others.

In front of the two mansions was a shop which should be of particular interest to those who would like a piece of Philippine heritage in their homes. The old tiles we see in old houses and churches are made by companies such as the Machuca Tile Company which has made tiles since 1900. Their office is in front of these mansions and if you check the photo, their phone number is in the sign.

That was the end of the tour and it was back to San Sebastian by jeep. That's it for now.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Iloilo: Save Calle Real

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After my visit to Iloilo City, I knew just by looking around at all the architectural heritage, that it could be a showcase city for proper urban renewal. I was delighted to find out that saving Iloilo City's architectural heritage was already in the works and the local community is going on an all out campaign for heritage conservation. As the
Save Calle Real materials mention: "Iloilo City is a virtual time machine that will transport anyone back to its colonial past. While malls have risen in various corners of the city, they could not outshine the splendor of its colonial buildings that adorn its Calle Real, the first commercial center and its adjoining districts. They are not only testimonies of city’s rich cultural heritage but are tourism assets worth promoting."

On 25 May 2006, concerned citizens and stakeholders will convene at the Iloilo Grand Hotel to participate in a forum that will dissect the draft Iloilo City Downtown Central Business District Heritage Conservation Guidelines and help plan for Calle Real’s future. For more information, check out the website of Save Calle Real. Thumbs up to the organizers of this noble endeavor! I hope other cities follow suit.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Quezon & Laguna: Pahiyas, Mayohan sa Tayabas, atbp.

This was my second straight year at the Pahiyas festival. Due to the storm which had just left the country, Lucban was covered by a blanket of fog. In fact, for most of the morning, the climate was like that of Baguio. The air was cool but a little more humid than in the summer capital.

We left the resthouse at 5:45 a.m. by tricycle since we didn't want our van to get stuck in town. For breakfast, it was Lucban longganiza, sinangag and fried egg. Then we joined the procession which left the church at 7:10 a.m. The procession is the best way to view the decorations since it is only the homes and businesses along the procession route which are decorated.

The procession route changes every year. And you have to wait several years before you are given the chance to decorate. For one, decorating is very costly and doing it every year will create big dents in one's budget. So the route changes to give residents a chance to join in the festivities once or twice in a decade and a chance to save up and prepare for their next turn.

I felt that last year was a bigger celebration than this year. For one, the weather was still unpredictable. And it even rained the night before. Second, the Pahiyas fell on a Sunday last year so the crowds were thicker. I was also disappointed that they used a school band in crew neck t-shirts for the procession. I was charmed by last year's band which was elegant in their traditional band costumes. Oh well!

Since I have a previous entry on the Pahiyas and other San Isidro Labrador celebrations, please check it out for detailed information. The photos of the entry are in Friendster so if they blocked Friendster in your school or office, that would explain why the photos don't show up.

Anyway, after going around to check out the decors and do some shopping, we went back to the resthouse before lunch to load all our stuff in the van. Our next stop was the neighboring town of Tayabas, the former provincial capital. Just like many Philippine towns and cities, the elegant town of Tayabas was bombed by American forces. Sigh!

The town lost all of its grand mansions in the poblacion. I was told that the Americans were targeting the church but for some reason, the bombs missed. And thank God they did since it would have been such a tragedy if American bombs destroyed this national cultural treasure!

The Minor Basilica of St. Michael and the nearby Casa Communidad de Tayabas is all that remains of this once grand town. Sigh! I wonder how many grand old towns and cities the American forces carpet bombed during the Second World War.

We were lucky since Dr. Leticia Yap was in town. Dr. Yap is a native of Tayabas but lived most of her life in San Fernando since her husband is from there. She was at one time a provincial board member of Pampanga. Anyway, we joined her for lunch at their home. After the sumptuous lunch, we were off to Sariaya to view the old houses.

For some reason, Sariaya was better the first time I visited last year. The mayor built a big eyesore, a multi-purpose hall, in a very elegant art deco town plaza. They could have at least made sure that the architecture of this new structure matched the flamboyance of its surroundings.

But there was an obvious change with the colors of the municipio. From a plain white facade, the current colors exude the art deco flair. I know it has elicited mixed reactions but if you want to be historically accurate, you will have to follow color schemes of the period, no matter how flashy they are. Again, a detailed account is in last year's entry.

After a short walking tour, it was back to Tayabas to witness the hagisan ng suman. For a Monday, I was shocked to see that there were double or even triple the number of participants in the procession. Was this a sign of trying times? Because last year, I could still stand behind the anda of San Isidro Labrador. But this year it was a mad rush for the suman flying in the air in the thousands. And I didn't want to suffer a Wowowee! simply to take photos in the middle of the rushing crowd. Hehe!

But from the sidelines, this practice was so intriguing and definitely worth watching! I wonder if there have been any studies made on this and similar religious practices such as the Nazareno procession in Quiapo; why people would risk their lives driven by an ounce of faith, and in the case of Tayabas, a possible windfall of suman.

From Tayabas, we motored back to Lucban and then to Majayjay to visit the old church which is also a national cultural treasure. Driving along the mountain roads offered magnificent views of the slopes of Mount Banahaw and the numerous streams which flowed from it. Looking up at the towering fortress-like Church of San Gregorio Magno was just awe-inspiring. I could just imagine how it looked when there were just a few houses and forests all around it.

We then proceeded to the Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery but it was closed when we got there. At the gate was a sign which said that due to the government's energy conservation program, the cemetery was open only from Tuesday to Saturday. Hello? I could understand Monday but to close it on a Sunday, that is ridiculous!

Anyway, after a few photos, it was back to Manila. What a day! More photos in My Heritage Photos. Click on Laguna and Quezon.

Laguna & Quezon: Heritage and culture around Laguna de Bay

What a stroke of luck! My colleagues at the Center for Kapampangan Studies were going on a cultural immersion of sorts to Laguna and Quezon so I joined the trip. I had been to all the places we were visiting but I've always kept a been-there-but-not-done-that attitude believing that there is always something new to discover anywhere you go.

I was up quite early. The group left Pampanga at 5 a.m. and I met up with them in Manila. After breakfast along the SLEX, we were off to our first stop, the town of Pila, Laguna. The historic center of the town, La Noble Villa de Pila, one of the few towns in the country which was elevated to villa during the Spanish colonial period, was declared a national historical landmark by the NHI in 2000.

The old core is an elegant collection of colorful colonial mansions located around a spacious plaza. The layout out of the town is very typical of our colonial communities. On one side of the plaza, you have the parish church. On the opposite end stands Pila's charming town hall painted in brick red. And on the other two sides, you have the homes of the town's principalia. What I like about Pila are the colors. This was how houses were painted during the Spanish and American colonial periods, bright and lively colors, with a palette somewhat similar to Mexican pastel.

The town has a very active heritage conservation group, the Pila Historical Society Foundation, Inc. which has continuously led efforts to preserve the heritage of this genteel town. They even protect the plaza from billboards and tarpaulin streamers. Check out Pila, Laguna: Keeping a heritage town beautiful.

After Pila, we proceeded further down the highway, past the town of Pagsanjan, to Lumban, a town known for its great embroidery. Just like in Taal, I bought piña cloth. I make it a point everytime I visit these embroidery towns to buy barong cloth.

From there, we were off to Paete and Pakil. But since it was lunch, we stopped over at Exotik Restaurant in Longos, Kalayaan. The concept of this garden restaurant is quite nice and it is thus a good lunch stopover point for those doing the Laguna loop. Although most of the menu is Filipino food, the restaurant got its name from the exotic food they also serve such as snakes, frogs, manta rays, etc.

Paete was just 2 kilometers from the restaurant. This town has a well-preserved church with several centuries-old murals inside. And being a wood carving town, the retablo was nicely done. Don't miss the souvenir shops since the town is known for its wood carving and paper mache.

I was quite delighted looking at the folksy paper mache figures of people in Filipino costumes which was a common theme in public parks during the American colonial period. They reminded me so much of the statues in the rotunda in Carcar. There were also paper mache fruits which looked quite real. Looking closely at each fruit, one would appreciate the effort put into each one.

From Paete, we moved to the next town, Pakil. This town has an equally impressive church which houses the Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de Turumba. We felt bad that just two hours before we arrived, there was a pistang lupi which are festivities of the Turumba festival, which is done seven times from March to May. Sigh! That would have made our visit perfect! The image is brought around on an anda, accompanied by street dancing by devotees from all over.

The interior of the church was just marvelous! It's one of my favorites in the Southern Tagalog if you ask me. And the interior looked as if it were recently restored. We found out that efforts to restore it was a local initiative. I hope other towns around the country follow suit. When priests stop renovating heritage churches according to their whims and caprices, that would be the day! The CBCP should give its Commission on Church Heritage more teeth to control the tasteless damage done by many priests. And no church more than 50 years old should be touched without the go signal of the commission.

On the way back, we passed by the old church of Kalayaan in Longos. The old name of the town was actually Longos but this was changed to Kalayaan when they moved the seat of government to a different barangay. The church was right along the shores of Laguna de Bay and was well-preserved.

Since it was getting late, we decided to go straight to Lucban where we were to spend the night. Accomodations were graciously taken care of by the parish. The choir of Holy Angel University was doing a concert that night so they were staying at the old convent. Our group was housed in a charming resthouse owned by a friend of the parish. For dinner, we had traditional Lucban food which included pancit habhab, tamales, Lucban tikoy and espasol.

After watching the concert and going around the stalls set-up for the Pahiyas festival, we went back to the resthouse since we had to wake up early. The procession of San Isisdro Labrador was at 7 a.m.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Blog-O-Rama: Ivan on backpacking & heritage conservation
by Annalyn S. Jusay
Manila Bulletin (15 May 2006)

Ivan is a young man who is well on his way to exploring the country's 7,107 islands and more. His candid and well-written travel journals also give his readers a glimpse of other exotic places in Asia such as Luang Prabang in Laos, Ayutthaya in Thailand and Siem Reap in Cambodia. Far from exemplifying the jetsetting lifestyle of the rich and famous, Ivan is a passionate advocate of backpacking as a cheap and reasonable way to travel. He says travelling need not be expensive. By observing traditions and policies in other countries, the Philippines can preserve its cultural heritage and offer what is best to all kinds of tourists. More in the following interview:

Q. Please tell us something about yourself.

A. I'm a member of the Board of Trustees of the Heritage Conservation Society and a feisty advocate for the preservation of Philippine architectural heritage. I just finished my MBA in UP and am currently working on various projects in Pampanga including heritage and culinary tours.

Q. When did you start to blog? What was your main purpose in blogging? Did anyone convince you?

A. I started blogging during my trip to Kota Kinabalu and Brunei in April 2005. It was my first backpack trip. I guess since so many people would be asking me when I got back home where I went, what I did, etc., I might as well update everyone through a blog. At that time, I wasn't really serious and simply updated the blog when I went around. And I had my MBA studies to take care of so it was really dependent on available time. But my heritage advocacy was very evident even in those early posts.

Then I got to attend a workshop last March on blogging and podcasting as political communication tools sponsored by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. That is when I got serious. By that time, I had already completed my academic requirements and had several trips lined up. So that's how it took off.

Q. Can you tell us more about your advocacy for backpacking and heritage conservation in the country? What do you think is needed to promote this among the general population?

A. People often think that to travel, you need a lot of money. Yes, you need funds to go places but it need not be a hefty amount. And backpacking is one way for you to see the sights without creating a big hole in your pockets. Once people know how cheap travelling can be, backpacking will definitely take off.

On heritage, we have to fight to preserve our heritage primarily for future generations of Filipinos. We must preserve our national identity for our children and their children. Second, for crying out loud, cultural and natural heritage is what foreign tourists come here to see! And when we destroy our heritage, we are bringing down our market value in the multi-billion dollar tourism industry.

Many of our local officials and priests destroy heritage in the name of modernization and progress. Heritage creates local identity. Local identity is a very strong rallying point towards progress. Little do our local officials know that they are actually lowering the standard of living in their area by converting it into an ordinary, nondescript place. As the Filipino proverb goes, "Ang hindi lumingon sa pinaggalingan ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan." You actually think that salawikain would survive this long if it weren't true?

Q. In essence, what do you think is wrong with Philippine tourism? What is good about it?

A. First, we don't know the market. As I mentioned earlier, foreigners travel to visit the cultural and natural heritage of other countries. Would you go to China to visit an SM mall for example? I'd go there to visit the Forbidden City or the Great Wall of China! When we go to Europe, we visit old cities like Paris, Rome, Venice, Madrid, London, etc. and they are all magnificent because of their architectural heritage.

I think policy makers should read this article entitled Finding Heritage Value in The Wall Street Journal about how China is starting to realize that preserving archaeological sites may be a better idea than building shopping malls.

Second is the cost of travelling to the Philippines. Would you believe that the Philippines is relatively expensive to the traveler compared to the rest of Southeast Asia? According to Lonely Planet, you need an average daily budget of US$25 in the Philippines, the second highest in the ASEAN. Compare this to Thailand's US$11 to 15 or US$12 in Malaysia. So we have to bring down the costs of lodging, food and transportation among others.

Since we target mainstream tourism too much, we fail to realize that the bigger market is the budget traveler, the backpacker. You would be surprised with the ratio of foreigners to locals in major tourist cities in our Southeast Asian neighbors such as Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand. The reason they are attracting millions of tourists is because they are backpacker friendly.

One surprise was Luang Prabang in Laos which was so remote, I think Sagada is many times more accessible. But lo and behold, it was teeming with tourists! There was a nearby waterfalls and there were more than a thousand foreigners who paid US$1.50 just to enter. And to think we have more majestic waterfalls in the country. But I have yet to see one that could attract that much foreigners.

The DOT will have to realize that the backpacker is a powerful market. You would be surprised that Americans, Canadians, French or Australians go for the US$5 a night accomodations with just the basic bed and electric fan, and a common shower. Others would even opt for dormitory rooms. For meals, its street food served by hawkers. That's why we have to strive to keep street food clean. The DOT will have to endeavor to create established backpack trails if it wants to attract the tourists which visit our neighbors in the droves. I'm willing to help them if they need it. I have more to say about our need to catch up but I suggest you visit my blog instead and click on the international destinations in the blog index.

Q.What is the best thing that blogging has brought you since you started? Have you received any memorable feedbacks from your readers?

A. Blogging made me more observant of the places I visit. That is why I learn more lessons when I go around. It's fun and encouraging when you find out people read what you have to say. Many comments let you know that you are not alone in your beliefs and advocacies.

Q. What are your observations of the Philippine blogosphere?

A. It is booming! Although there are those who simply blog about their daily routines, there are many who have a lot to say. I hope that more Filipinos read local blogs or better yet, start their own blogs.

Q. Do you think travelling and blogging go together? Do you think blogging will help your travelling, and vice versa?

A. Definitely! I'm happy that I blogged about my trips since I could go back and visit those old entries to remind me about what I did, where I went, etc. It also reminds me of the lessons learned which I hope to apply locally in the future. As I said, blogging made me more aware, observant and appreciative of the things I see, do and experience. And travelling helps me blog since if I don't travel, I have nothing to write about.

Q. What do you think are the qualities of a good blogger?

A. A good blogger should be consistent with regard to topic and content, and frequency of updates. Second, he or she should be opinionated. If what you write about is just your daily routine, you'll bore people to death.

Q. Your online/blogging habits.

A. I'm online for as long as there is a computer and an internet connection.

Q. Plans for your blog.

A. Maybe a new layout, but I'm happy the way the current one is going. You could visit other heritage blogs I manage for the Heritage Conservation Society like "ICOMOS Philippines" ( and "The Gabaldon Legacy" (

For comments and inquiries, write to

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Manila: Mounds, magnates and mausoleums! A Manila Chinese Cemetery walk

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Check out Ivan ManDy's walking tour of the Chinese Cemetery at
Old Manila Walks. There is one on Sunday, May 14, 2006 at 2 p.m.

I visited the Chinese Cemetery together with the Manila North and La Loma Cemeteries way back in February. Check out Tomb raider adventures in Manila's necropolis.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Mountain Province: Close to nature in Sagada

Since we're on the topic of the Cordilleras, I might as well write about my trip to Sagada in the Mountain Province. It was New Year's Day of 2004, I drove straight to Baguio City after a family reunion in Tarlac. There I met up with my SSEAYP batchmate Jonathan Tambol who would accompany to Sagada the next day. So I stayed at their place for the night.

The next morning, we took a mini-bus to Sagada from the bus station near the market. Driving was out of the question given the distance as well as the condition of the roads to Sagada. Buses leave only in the morning since it's dangerous driving to Sagada when it gets dark. The trip took about six hours along a zigzag road which offered great views of vegetable terraces. Along the road is the highest point along the Philippine Highway System. But just like most of our attractions, the sign was neglected. Sigh! I remember visiting the highest point of the Taiwan Highway System in 2003 and the marker was an attraction in itself with a viewing deck where one could marvel at Taiwan's snow-capped mountains. I guess the photo shows how neglected our own marker is.

Since mini-buses leave Sagada in the morning as well, you will have to stay in Sagada for at least two nights if you plan to take public transportation from Baguio City. When we arrived in Sagada, first thing we did was look around for cheap lodging. We found one easily for PHP100 a night per person. After resting a bit, the cold mountain air was so conducive for an afternon nap, we went for a hike to the hanging coffins. Perched on beautiful limestone cliffs dotted with occasional pine trees, these coffins are treasures of Sagada. We went to bed early that night to rest for our visit to nearby Sumaging Cave the next morning.

To enter the cave, you had to get a guide from the Municipal Hall of Sagada. Although we could have gotten a guide just for the both of us, it was going to be quite expensive. So we opted to wait for another group who would be willing to share in the expenses. I think we waited about 30 minutes or so for a group to arrive and good thing they had a pick-up truck so we didn't need to walk to the entrance of the cave. Hehe! The fee for the guide includes the lights for the cave.

Things to remember when you visit Sumaging Cave: (1) you will definitely get wet so wear light shorts and a crew neck t-shirt; (2) no jackets since that would be a hassle when wet; (3) it is best to wear slippers or sandals since at some point in the cave you will take them off and walk barefoot for better grip; (4) make sure you have a waterproof bag for your camera; and (5) celphones and other unnecessary items are best left in the vehicle. The formations inside are awesome. But remember to keep your focus since one mistake and you could fall deep down.

There is also a pool inside where you could swim in but it was January 3 so imagine how cold the water was. Brrrrrrrr! There were times we had to slide down the limestone formations. And at times, the openings were so small, our guide had to teach us how to maneuver into them properly. But the trip was definitely most worth it.

We were back in town just in time for lunch. During the afternoon, we went back to bed again. Hey! The very reason I went to Sagada was to relax and enjoy the mountain air since I was quite stressed after a very hectic December due to the Giant Lantern Festival among others. Hehe! In fact, I had a fever before driving up to Baguio. And for some reason, it was gone as soon as I got to Sagada. During the visit to the cave, I actually saw Daks Quinones, a brod of mine, who was with his friends. They invited us to join their group after dinner for a drink or two and we did. But we didn't stay up too late.

We were up early the next morning at 5 a.m. since there was a limited number of mini-buses and seats were scarce. If we got left behind, we would have to stay another night. We weren't the only ones waiting for a bus. But after much waiting, we finally got seats and were off to Baguio again arriving shortly after lunch.

In the evening, we met up with another SSEAYP batchmate Edwin Antonio who was taking around Rose, another SSEAYP batchmate who was visiting from Indonesia. We had dinner. Then it was off to the Mansion House. After going around, I was off to Pampanga. Now that it's so hot in Manila, maybe I could consider visiting Sagada again.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Baguio: Saving Baguio before it's too late

It was two straight days of road trips for me. I just got back from Baguio City last night where members of the Heritage Conservation Society met with the management of Teachers' Camp and DepEd to discuss the restoration of Roxas Hall, the first in a large complex of heritage educational structures in Teachers' Camp that we all hope to restore by the centennial of the camp in 2008.

The van passed by for me in San Fernando at about 6 a.m. and we were off to Baguio. Along the way, we saw sad sights. Two of the best preserved examples of municipios along MacArthur Highway, in fact I feel they were the ones with character, were renovated beyond recognition. Shame on the municipal governments of Moncada, Tarlac and Villasis, Pangasinan for destroying the unique character of their municipal halls and thus, the identity of their communities. Elections are fast approaching and we all know that LGUs are rushing to complete as many projects as they can, no matter how useless, to beat the election ban on projects. I wonder why? Hehe! I had seen the same structures the previous day when Ryan Tan and myself drove to Villasis, Pangasinan. From Rosales, we went to Cabanatuan City and along the way, I saw another sad sight. Let me add to the shame list Guimba, Nueva Ecija which replaced a charming early-American period wooden presidencia with a concrete structure! These ignorant local officials don't realize the damage they are creating.

Anyway, we arrived in Baguio at about 11 a.m. and went straight to Teachers' Camp which was in full bloom. It was such a charming place except for the area which was lent to the Philippine Sports Commission (I heard they renovated a heritage structure without the permission of the Teachers' Camp mangement), and that ugly new building beside Roxas Hall which I heard GMA just inaugurated this Holy Week. For crying out loud, let's keep the character of Baguio City's green and white architecture alive, especially in well-preserved areas like Teachers' Camp!

Our architects have for months been making an assessment of the state of Roxas Hall (right) and we made a brief tour of the structure to inspect all the deterioration they found and the work which needed to be done.

After the tour, we proceeded to Cafe by the Ruins where Councilor Galo Weygan was going to meet us for lunch to discuss the proposed restoration of the Dominican Hill. The ruins here refer to what's left of the home of the owner of the cafe which was bombed during the Second World War. The cafe is a perfect mix of art and pocket gardens that you woudn't even notice that the busy street is just outside. For lunch, I had camote soup and chicken with coconut milk and basil, accompanied with lassi, a yogurt drink which is mixed with fruits, strawberries in my case.

Councilor Weygan asked us what could be done to the structure on Dominican Hill. Gemma stressed that unless they have the extra funds to spend, they have to make heritage commercially viable and self-sustaining. Which is why, instead of the museum the City Government of Baguio was thinking of, we proposed that it be used again as a hotel (it was a hotel before) with a lot of outdoor cafes which non-guests could also visit and enjoy given the magnificent views of Baguio from the hill. We were going to visit the site later in the afternoon after we finished our meeting at Teachers' Camp.

One of the things discussed as well was the pending Baguio Heritage Ordinance which I heard was already passed on second reading. It aims to preserve what is left of the unique fabric of Baguio City and its character architecture (green roofs and white or brown walls) by convincing existing homeowners whose homes can be seen in heritage view areas such as Kennon Road, Teachers' Camp, Camp John Hay among others, to paint their houses green and white. We must remember that each place on earth has a unique character (towns in the Philippines are losing theirs thanks to the ignorance of local officials and priests). When you see white houses on cliffs beside blue water, you know you are in the Mediterranean. It should have been that when one saw green and white houses and buildings harmoniously mixed with lush pine trees, he knew that he was in Baguio City. But that is not the case today since the city's most imposing landmark is no longer the Baguio Cathedral or Burnham Park; it is now SM City Baguio! Sigh!

I think Henry Sy should read this article in The Wall Street Journal about how China is starting to realize that preserving archaeological sites may be a better idea than building shopping malls. I remember this article well since I got to read it during my first few weeks in UP MBA thanks to the free issues of The Asian Wall Street Journal.

Anyway, on the way out of the cafe, we bought some bread to take back home to Manila. I got some blueberry muffins, basil bread, camote bread and carrot cake. We were then off to our meeting back in Teachers' Camp.

After the meeting, we met up with Councilor Weygan at Baguio City Hall which is another heritage landmark of the city. At the base of the building was the signature pink Baguio stone which once became a fad in Manila. We then proceeded to Dominican Hill from there.

The hill was very near the Lourdes Grotto. The setting was just excellent! From the gate, we could see that the old structure on the hill used to be very stately and elegant. Indeed, the Dominicans selected the best sites for their buildings. But after continuous looting, we all knew that the site needed massive restoration work.

We could all imagine however what it would look like when completed... a charming lobby with a fireplace, outdoor cafes at the roof deck and the sides of the building serving local food and coffee, three floors of comfortable rooms and a magnificent view of the surrounding areas. The photo below was taken from the spacious roof deck of the building. Check out Melvin Pawataran's photos of Dominican Hill.

After the brief visit, it was back to the lowlands for us. I had wanted to stay in Baguio since I had forgotten it was still summer thanks to the cool temperature. It would have been such a charming city had previous local officials protected the unique cultural fabric and character of the city. Today, we no longer smell pine trees but exhaust from jeeps and other vehicles. But it is never too late since there is still a lot than can be preserved. Baguio City should prevent another SM disaster from happening again by controlling the achitecture, height and colors of new buildings, ensuring that they are in harmony with exisitng buildings, by making sure that no more pine trees are chopped down (SM City Baguio had to chop down hundreds of pine trees FYI) and by convincing existing homeowners to repaint their houses greena and white or use local stones on the walls such as Baguio pink, Kennon gray and Irisan white.

Related to the upland heritage, the Rice Terraces of the Cordilleras may be removed from the UNESCO World Heritage list. The article came out recently in SunStar Baguio. Take note of what the municipal engineer of Banaue said under the subtitle Emergency meetings. It is that type of ignorance in the guise of practicality which continuously destroys the heritage of the Philippines.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Pampanga: El Circulo Fernandino, keeping up with social tradition

The City of San Fernando, Pampanga is host to many festivals, events and traditions. Every Good Friday, people flock to San Pedro Cutud to witness the reenactment of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ by several penitents. Along the route are hundreds of flagellants. In the afternoon, elegant heirloom carrozas and santos are taken out for the largest Good Friday procession in Pampanga which goes around old San Fernando (check out some photos here). In October, there is the Piestang Tugak (Frog Festival) which was first held in 2003 when I was still City Tourism Officer of San Fernando. Throughout the years, it has attracted the crowds and the media with its padwasan (frog-fishing), frog cooking contests and other unique activities. It is now a much-awaited event of San Fernando.

In December, there are the Sinukwan Festival and Pampanga's week-long celebration of Aldo ning Kapampangan (Pampanga Day) commemorating the birth of the country's oldest province, and the Giant Lantern Festival, which I have already discussed in another entry. And then there is May 30 and the San Fernando fiesta. And to start off the celebrations is the El Circulo Fernandino annual reception and ball which was held yesterday night.

It is indeed the most prestigious social event in Pampanga where, as in the olden days, women would flaunt their best jewelry, gowns and ternos, and men would elegantly dress in their best piña barongs, and dance the night away. El Circulo Fernandino is the oldest surviving social club in Pampanga. Formed sometime in 1920, it was an organization for the social elite of San Fernando. Its precursor was the La Gente Alegre de San Fernando (The Merry Folks).

According to John Larkin in his book The Pampangans, “a new phenomenon, town and provincial social clubs, which sprang up in the early American years, demonstrated how the native upper class flourished under the new regime. These organizations, exclusively for the elite, provided among other things an opportunity for young single adults to socialize with and meet others of the same age and class.”

Larkin later mentions, “the Pampangan elite, a greater number of them emulating late nineteenth century patterns of behavior, turned their attention to peer group organizations, politics, and extra provincial activities. They resolved many if their economic and political problems by banding together into various agricultural organizations and political parties. The trend toward forming upper-class social clubs for amusement also continued. Such groups as the Young Generation in Macabebe, the Kundiman in Angeles, and the Circulo Fernandino in San Fernando were all patterned after organizations formed in the early American years.” Also worth mentioning is the fact that when the town of Santo Tomas was still part of San Fernando, the Thomasian, an organization which organized the annual Sabado de Gloria Ball, was formed. The ball is the oldest uninterrupted social event in Pampanga.

El Circulo Fernandino organized annuals balls and receptions to achieve this end. All of it however stopped as a result of the hostilities during the Second World War. After the war, the organization again resumed its social activities. But the annual receptions were halted again in 1987.

It was only in 1997 that the organization decided to revive its annual receptions under the presidency of Engr. Angelo David and Dr. Leticia Cordero-Yap. The El Circulo Fernandino Foundation, Inc. was born as a result of this revival, transforming the organization from a strictly social-status club to a socially-involved organization.

On its 86th year, El Circulo Fernandino is the most-awaited annual social event in the province of Pampanga, where the crème de la crème meet. As part of keeping up with Filipino traditions, the immortal dance classic, the rigodon de honor, is performed by the prominent citizens of the City, men in their best piña barongs and women in dazzling and colorful ternos.

I've been part of this tradition for the past four years now and it is a really fulfilling experience knowing that you are continuing an old tradition initiated scores ago by your own forefathers.
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