Showing posts with label Tiwi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tiwi. Show all posts

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Albay & Camarines Sur: Exploring Bicol's Pacific coast

I was on my own today since the heritage sites I was going to visit next were in Camarines Sur, particularly those along the Pacific coast in the southeastern part of the province around Lagonoy Gulf. And I was going to take the road less-traveled, a short cut from Tiwi to Sagñay, Camarines Sur which few people use. It was so remote and rarely used in fact that only one jeep plied the route leaving Tiwi only three times a day at 7 a.m., 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.

I set the alarm at 4:30 a.m. but I was just too tired so the next thing I knew, the caretaker of the guesthouse was knocking at my door at 5:15 a.m. Good thing I told him I planned to leave early. I took a jeep to the central terminal from outside the guesthouse, that was PHP7.50.
At the terminal, there were FX taxicabs to various towns around Albay, Tiwi included. But after waiting for thirty minutes, still not much passengers and I was worried I would not make it in time for the 9 a.m. departure from Tiwi. So I heeded the advice of one of the dispatchers that I take a bus to Tabaco City where jeeps to Tiwi left regularly. Good thing I did since when I arrived in Tabaco, I was easily led to a jeep to Tiwi.

I made sure I sat on the left side of the bus as it offered the best views of Mayon Volcano. The mountain was nice to me today since there was not a single cloud in sight and I got to see about 180 degrees of it. The ordinary bus to Tabaco from Legazpi was just PHP20. While the jeep from Tabaco to Tiwi was PHP15.50. I arrived in Tiwi at about 8:30 a.m.

The jeep actually goes as far as Tigaon. The cost of the jeep from Tiwi to Sagñay was PHP45 for the approximately one and a half hour ride that took us along a road in surprisingly good condition that zigzagged high up on cliffs that hugged the Pacific coastline of Bicol, offering breathtaking views of the black sand beaches and outlying emerald colored islands. It was a pity I couldn't tell the jeep to stop so that I could take photos.

In Sagñay (pronounced Sangay), I went straight to the church. I was met by a CAT troop complete with a marching band practicing for a parade of sorts. Nice! The church was a little altered outside but still ok. When I got inside, I saw that an upcoming renovation was in the works as seen from the billboard. They plan to make the interior to look like that of the St. Peter's Basilica. We need to educate our priests and parish pastoral councils that Philippine religious art is unique, its elegance in its folksy simplicity.

Sagñay, I took a quick motorbike ride to the next town Tigaon which was PHP15. Nice facade which I heard was funded by a family in the 1930s from money then won in the Sweepstakes. But again, when I got inside, another billboard announcing the need for P10.8 million! The church was also up for renovation.

From the detailed plans, it showed they were going to replace the original clay tiles with granite. That component alone was a million pesos! I didn't see the need to change the flooring. It was an unnecessary and ostentatious expense that would make happy only the contractors and the priest whose whims and caprices were satisfied. Such money which priests extract from the townsfolk through all this fundraising hullabaloo could be used for the real pastoral mission of the Church which is definitely not construction.

I talked to the parish priest but you could see that his mind was set on wasting all that money for the renovations. And to think Tigaon is just a 4th class municipality. Such hypocrisy from the Church if they spend P10.8 million or even more for the renovations. You can contact the St. Clare of Assisi Parish in Tigaon, Camarines Sur at (054) 4523004. Tell the priests there what you think about their plan to spend millions for construction to emulate some church in First World Europe.

From Tigaon, I took a jeep to Goa which was PHP10. Goa had a large church with its courtyard dissected by a road which passed in front of the structure. The original gates and walls were still standing. But there was a permanent concrete structure in the middle of the patio (the one used for the salubong which had four posts each with balconies for angels and a hole at the top for the main angel to be lowered from) blocking the view from the main gate. I would later learn that this was a staple structure for churches in Camarines Sur. The sad part was that some were right smack in front of the church such as in Lagonoy, when they could have been put on the side.

I had lunch in Goa and good thing there was an air-conditioned fastfood joint there. From Goa, I took a bus to Lagonoy. That was PHP8. Along the way, I saw the church in San Jose and decided I would stopover on the way back. As I mentioned, Lagonoy had a very charming church which was constructed amid a backdrop of mountains. The old gates and walls were still standing and it would have been a classic example of the lay-out of colonial churches had it not been for that concrete canopy they constructed right at the gates, in front of the church itself. Again, the inside was renovated! So it was off to San Jose.

Although it was not among the churches suggested to Gemma, I decided to stopover, attracted by the facade. Thus I was so surprised when I entered since it turned out to be the best-preserved of all the churches I visited in the past two days. Inside, I could easily distinguish the smell of age as I marveled at the well-preserved wall and ceiling murals (see photo below) the colors of which reminded so much of Tayabas. The San Jose Church definitely deserves to be declared a national historical landmark at the very least! What a shame if I decided to skip this church entirely!

As I left, a funeral procession was about to enter the church and you could hear the play of the church bells. I remember that the tune played by the bells announced to the public a message, that someone was getting married, that it was fiesta time, that a male or female died and there was a requiem Mass, etc. and each had a particular tune.

From San Jose, I took a bus straight Naga City. It wasn't difficult to board one since they left Lagonoy quite regularly. It costed PHP40. The view along the way was also great since you had Mount Isarog on your right and Mount Iriga (below) on your left. While on the bus, it started to rain which was good since it brought down the temperature.

I arrived in Naga at about 3:30 p.m. and the first thing I did was to purchase a ticket back to Manila. This time I made sure to purchase the Philtranco Gold Service ticket since their executive buses had airline seats and were more spacious. It costs PHP200 more than the regular aircon bus at PHP800 plus PHP6 for insurance. The bus was going to leave at 9 p.m. so just enough time to explore Naga.

When that was done, I took a tricycle from the terminal to the Naga Cathedral which had a large centuries old seminary building right beside it, the Holy Rosary Seminary. The Naga Cathedral was itself monumental. But inside, you could see that the interior had already been renovated, seemingly by the same group which is planning to make St. Peter's Basilicas out of the other Camarines churches. Indeed, St. Peter's is a work of art but we have our own Filipino church art which we must endeavor to preserve. Let's not try to erase what makes us uniquely Filipino.

From the Naga Cathedral, I took another tricycle to the Peñafrancia Shrine. But along the way, I chanced upon the Camarines Sur National High School's Gabaldon building and told the driver to drop me off there instead. I had known from old photos that the old Pampanga High School building had a twin in Naga and finally, I found it! It was quite well-preserved so I immediately texted our friends in Pampanga that we now have a basis for the interior of the old PHS when we restore it since the buildings are close to 100% identical.

From there, I walked to the shrine. A wedding has just finished and the floor was full of rose petals. The original image of Our Lady of Penafrancia was no longer there and had been transferred to a bigger church, the Peñafrancia Basilica Minore a few meters away. Except for the finish of the facade, the church and its convent remained mostly untouched. I noticed the gravestones on the floor had been smoothened out, obviously by the large number of devotees visiting the shrine and there was no longer a trace that a name used to be carved on them. Sad!

From there, it was off to the Peñafrancia Basilica Minore which was another tricycle ride away. This was the second time I visited the church. There was a restaurant in the compound so I decided to have dinner there.

I realized that I had forgotten to visit another site, the monument in downtown Naga dedicated to the Fifteen Martyrs of Bicol. So by the time I got there, it was dark. Nevertheless, I was able to take photos of this elegant monument. They don't make monuments like these nowadays.

It was then back to the station where I decided to wait it out at the airconditioned office of Philtranco. At least I was able to rest.
I got on the bus expecting to get a good night's sleep. But I was rudely awakened somewhere in Tagkawayan, Quezon since we were driving along the worst roads I've ever seen with more potholes than craters on the moon. The rough roads and the zigzagging kept me awake for most of the southern Quezon leg. But I was able to sleep better as we neared Manila since the next thing I knew, the driver was waking me up since we were already in Pasay, and I was the only one left on the bus. It reminded me so much of my trip from Vientiane to Bangkok on executive class as well since I was in still in lalaland when we arrived in Bangkok.

Anyway, until the next trip. Do visit my travel photos at and my heritage photos at since there are more photos of the sites I described in this entry as well as previous ones.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Albay: Bicol Express in Albay

It was another heritage hunting expedition for me, this time in Bicol. Since we wanted to include reresentative municipios from Bicol in the 2007 HCS calendar, I went there to check out the Tabaco City Hall among others. Anyway, I took the Philtranco bus that left Pasay at 8 p.m. The usual ride to Bicol would take 10 hours. But the roads in southern Quezon were just horrible so that delayed us by close to two hours (yes, the roads were that bad). And I arrived in Legazpi City close to 8 a.m.

I was met at the Legazpi Central Terminal by the staff of the provincial tourism office. Gemma had made arrangements with the governor for them to take me around Albay to search for heritage structures. After a brief stop at the office to meet with the provincial tourism officer, and at the Government Guesthouse to freshen up and drop off my stuff, we were off.

The first stop on the itinerary was the town of Sto. Domingo, the hometown of Sarung Banggi composer Potenciano V. Gregorio. They have a nice church, the Sto. Domingo de Guzman Church, with two symmetrical bell towers on both sides of the facade. This was compeleted sometime in 1832. Sad to say, entering the church was a disappointment, since it was renovated as always. Oh those priests! They like leaving their mark no matter how ugly! It was a pity since the facade was quite charming.

In the small plaza in front of the church is a monument to Andres Bonifacio (they say Bonifacio had a girlfriend from the town which is why they built a monument there) and the mausoleum of Potenciano V. Gregorio.

From Sto. Domingo, we moved to the next town Bacacay and the Sta. Rosa de Lima Church. Again, this nice church was renovated inside. Sigh! Right beside it were ruins of an older church and one could still recognize some of its features.

The next town was Malilipot and its church under the patronage of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Nice facade but again renovated inside.

We were then off to Tabaco City which is home to the only national cultural treasure in Bicol, the San Juan Bautista Church. I wonder why the National Museum even considered this church a national cultural treasure. Except for its massive belfry which I must admit is quite an impressive work of art and engineering, the rest of it has been altered just like every other church I've been to in Albay. I wonder how this trend started. But it was sad entering every church seeing the interiors altered.

The facade of the Tabaco Church itself has new oversized stained glass windows. While the old santos in the retablos have been replaced by new ones. If you were to ask me, the candidates for national cultural treasure in Albay should have been the churches in Daraga or Camalig. Oh well!

We then checked out the city hall which I had travelled so far to see. I wasn't quite pleased with what I saw. Indeed, it is the most well-preserved municipio in Albay, but there was so much clutter because of ongoing basketball competitions, the entire perimeter fence was covered with galvanized iron sheets maybe because they charged entrance to the games and with the cover, bystanders could not watch. We were also told it was Spanish colonial. But it turns out, the city hall was built during the American colonial period, very typical of town buildings during that time. Oh well, so much for that calendar photo.

The group had lunch in Tabaco and naturally, I had Bicol express among others. What a shame if I did not eat any Bicol express while in Bicol. But the one I had for lunch wasn't that spicy. After lunch, we drove to Malinao but since it was scorching hot and the church wasn't that appealing, I decided not to go down anymore.

From there it was off to Tiwi. Looking at the pictures, I was expecting a very quaint church. But we got the shock of our lives when we arrived there since it was currently undergoing uglification! They were plastering the adobe with a layer of cement and were beginning to contruct an oversized portico in front of the church which would completely ruin the facade!

I immediately texted Archt. Rino Fernandez who heads the Bicol Heritage Program at Aquinas University. He told me that they had already talked to the bishop who agreed that no more old churches would be defaced. They had already stopped construction a month ago but the parish priest is just so hard headed! So they are at it again!

The parish priest is Fr. Jun Barquez and their phone number is (052) 4885187. For crying out loud father, stop wasting church money. You keep on asking donations from the townsfolk for these renovations which are not even needed, for what? So that you could say you left a mark on the church no matter how ugly? I noticed he had a donation box for evangelization, so why not use the money there instead? Sometimes you can't understand the logic of these priests. It's a waste of church money! They seem to like making the contractors happy.

Anyway, Tiwi is known for its halo-halo so we stopped over to have some at a place called DJC Halo-halo a few meters from the church. Not bad at all. But the ones we have in Pampanga have richer flavors. I guess I'm just used to those.

From Tiwi, it was a long drive to Libon which was on the other side of Albay. Nothing much left there, not even an old church, which is a pity because this used to be Villa Santiago de Libon, the fourth villa established by the Spaniards in the archipelago. We then drove to Polangui, Oas and Ligao City. The next stop was Guinobatan. And on the way, we stopped along the road to buy a snack, a very popular delicacy known as macapuno rice puto which was two layers of puto, one purple and one white with a rich macapuno filling in the center. Yummy!

Anyway, Guinobatan struck me because of the colorfully painted municipio, church and monuments, very typical of structures at that time. We just don't realize it because photos are in black and white but facades of buildings during the Spanish and American colonial periods used to be colored quite lively.

In Camalig was the San Juan Bautista Church which I consider the best-preserved church in Albay. Even the convento is intact. Completed in 1848, the church has Mount Mayon for a backdrop.

Inside, the ceiling still has its original murals but sad to say the floor had been raised by over a meter covering the original clay tile floor. The altar also has modern santos. I wonder which house in Forbes Park has most of the centuries-old Albay santos. Hehe!

Our next stop was the Cagsawa Ruins, the most photographed man-made site in the Bicol Region. The place offered you one of the best views of Mount Mayon.

Seeing majestic Mayon even for the second time was most worth the long hours on the road. Its nearly perfect cone towers over the landscape in Albay and is a part of life there. I hope the Bicolanos are able to maintain the beauty of their natural heritage, especially Mayon, because indeed, these are treasures.

From Cagsawa, it was off to the second most photographed man-made site in Bicol, the Our Lady of the Gate Church in Daraga which is perched on top of a hill overlooking Mayon Volcano and the plains below.

Daraga Church is indeed a sight to behold with its very elaborate facade. As I mentioned earlier, if there should have been a national cultural treasure, it should be this church with its elaborately-decorated facade. But the interior is as modern as it can get an this may explain why the National Museum no longer considered the church. Only the baptistry (below) has remnants of the previous interior and you can see from the carvings on the wall, the remaining patches of paint, and the blue ceramic tiles on the floor that the inside was equally elaborate as well.

We were told that a former parish priest had the interior renovated and even sold many of the priceless antiques to fund the said uglification. Horrible this priests who leave a mark by wasting church money, selling off priceless works of art which end up in private homes most of the time to pay for useless and ugly renovations so that they will be remembered.

From Daraga, it was back to Legazpi City where I took photos of the Cathedral and the Bicol University elemetary and high school Gabaldon buildings (below) which were almost identical to each other. Gemma had asked me to survey it since the high school principal had visited her in Manila that morning (what a coincidence) hoping to ask help in restoring the building since it was quite dilapidated.

It was 5 p.m. and I realized I had visited almost every town in Albay in a span of nine hours! I had enough for the day and it was back to the guesthouse. After a brief nap, I took a jeep to the center of the Old Albay District (downtown Legazpi is called the Port District) to have some dinner. I could not resist the isaw which was sold all over the place. Again, I had Bicol express. But this time, it was spicy! After checking mail, it was off to bed since I was tired and I had a long day ahead of me tomorrow.
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