Saturday, August 05, 2006

Basilan: Off the beaten track in Basilan

Today, I visited Basilan. Just the mere mention of the name evokes fear among those unfamiliar with the place. Every time I told someone that I was on my way to Basilan, I received a shocked response. Who would want to visit Basilan anyway? But if not for the bad publicity brought by the Abu Sayaff many years back, Basilan would be a perfect ecotourism destination if developed properly.

I was planning to get up early today but that didn't work. I was still unusually tired. Anyway, instead of the early morning fast craft to Isabela City in Basilan, I was able to catch the 9:30 a.m. The fare for a first class ticket was PHP130. The ordinary seats at PHP100, although also air-conditioned, are usually jampacked. So the extra PHP30 was worth it. I arrived in Basilan about an hour later.

Greeting you as you entered the port were villages on stilts and the minarets of mosques at the center of these communities. From the port, I took a short walk up to the provincial capitol where I decided to take a tricycle to the passenger terminal to Lamitan. My first stop for the day was a waterfalls in the heart of a town made infamous by the sensational clashes between the military and the Abu Sayaff a while back. And here I was on my way there for a visit!

I took a commuter van to Lamitan which was about 27 kilometers away from Isabela. The trip costed PHP40. I was expecting to see bad roads after all that fighting years back but I was impressed since the roads to Lamitan were very well-paved, not a sign of the hostilities that ensued in the past.

As soon as I arrived in Lamitan, I asked around on how to could get to Bulingan Falls. I was pointed to a motorcycle-for-hire who agreed to take me there for PHP100. It was fair enough since the falls were quite far. I would figure it was a 10-kilometer trip from the town proper to the falls, which was bumpy most of the way and quite muddy at times. The trip took me deeper into Lamitan town which I'm sure used to be evacuated often before when hostilities between the Abu Sayaff and the military were ongoing.

You could still feel the turbulent past of the area since we passed by several military check points and camps along the way. One thing which surprised me was that the barangays going to the falls were predominantly Catholic since each had a little chapel. I didn't see a mosque either. It seems most of them could be found in the coastal areas.

Bulingan Falls was not tall at all. But what made it nice were the square shaped rocks from which the water cascaded down to the pool below. You could see that the falls was frequented by tourists since the mayor had the banks cemented and built several picnic huts on the side. They could have done a better job though.

It was then back down that dirt road to the town proper. Lamitan town has been turned into another of those nondescript Philippine communities. And the only distinguishing landmark in the center of town is the statue of its founder Datu Kalun.

From Lamitan, I took a commuter van back to Isabela City. It was about 1 p.m. and after lunch, I decided to take a walk back to the pier. My plan was to take the last ferry back at 5:30 p.m. but since the weather was unpredictable, it would drizzle then the sun would come out, I decided to take the 3:30 p.m. trip back to Zamboanga.

Since I had time to spare, I asked about Malamawi Beach. It turns out, Malamawi is the island just across the port. And the beach on one side of the island was known to locals as White Beach obviously because of the white sand. There are frequent commuter pump boats which take passengers across the strait for PHP5. So since I had a lot of time, I decided to check it out.

The trip across was just about 5 minutes. At the opposite end, motorcycles-for-hire were waiting to take you to any point on the island. I was charged PHP20 one-way which was not bad. Again, it was off the beaten track since once you left Barangay Carbon proper, there were no roads, just motorcycle trails.

It was quite a distance and the trip took you to the other side of the island, passing by small communities living in vast mangrove forests. Among the obstacles we had to avoid were the occasional cows grazing amongst the thick vegetation along the path.

We finally arrived at the beach. And I wished I had brought my swimming gear! When visiting Malamawi White Beach, it's best that you go with a group and take a pump boat straight to the place. If you're alone, you'll have to make arrangements with the motorcycle to come back for you at a later time.

There were a lot of run down beach huts and picnic tables all over the place; but just a small group of tourists enjoying the white sand. Sometimes you'd realize there are so many underrated beaches all over the country worth visiting, little pieces of paradise secretly tucked away for those diligent enough to search for them and enjoy the serenity they offer.

After a few photos, it was back to Barangay Carbon, and then back to the port of Isabela just across. Again, I purchased a first class ticket which was a passport to comfort since I did not have to join the rat race into the fast craft since only a few people buy the said tickets.

By the time we neared Zamboanga, I was already very dizzy. It was an ordeal walking back to the pension house. But I decided to take a quick snack at Tini's where I bought my favorite roti telor and roti kosong (flour pancakes accompanied with curry dip). When I got back to the pension house, the next thing I knew was I was asleep again. I made sure I got enough rest since I had to be up early to catch the boat to Santa Cruz Island the next day.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Zamboanga: Hola Zamboanga!

Those are the words which greet passengers as they arrive at the Zamboanga International Airport. A visit to Zamboanga City is like visiting our nation's past where our Spanish colonizers seem to have left the strongest imprint of their 300-year rule. Chabacano, the creole language spoken in the area, is said to contain 60 percent Spanish and 40 percent nativo words.

Anyway, I hardly remembered the flight I took from Manila at 4:55 a.m. since I was fast asleep, tired from the work this week. I was so sleepy in fact that I wanted to go straight to bed. But I decided to take photos first of the City Hall of Zamboanga for the 2007 HCS calendar while there were no vehicles parked in front.

So from the airport, I took a jeep to Canellar Street which was a few meters away from city hall. Most of the old historic core of Zamboanga City was relatively intact. It's one of the few cities I've visited which had maintained its character. Beside the city hall were several colonial structures and newer structures which followed the colonial theme. Yes, the Jolibee store in front of Rizal Park was a new building which chose to adapt its facade to the buildings beside it. I would have been all praises for it if not for the exageration of tarpaulin streamers on its windows and facade.

A few meters away was another open space called Plaza Pershing (that's what Metro cities lack, green open spaces). I was surprised to see the original lamposts intact but in a bad state of deterioration. Sad to say the buildings around it do not complement such a charming plaza.

From city hall, I took a walk towards Fort Pilar, a national cultural treasure. Along the way were more old structures along a royal palm tree-lined street. And you could see the great adaptive re-use such as the Bank of the Philippine Islands branch office in a restored old house. I commend BPI because even the signage is subtle and does not distract the viewer from the intricate woodwork of the house's facade. If only the city government pushes this a little further.

After some photos at the fort, I decided to walk back and try to look for a place to stay. I was quite tired and sleepy so I did my usual backpackers routine which was walk until I find an affordable place to stay in. I found a pension house very close to Plaza Pershing and got an air-conditioned room for PHP440 a night.

It was quite unlike me but I didn't do much today, went to bed for the most part. In the afternoon, I went back to Fort Pilar since it was still closed earlier. I also dropped by the DOT regional office beside Lantaka Hotel to ask some questions and book myself a trip to Santa Cruz Island which I will describe in detail in the next entries.

Then is was time for a snack. Lo and behold, my favorite Indian food was sold in Zamboanga in a restaurant called Tini's Malaysian-Bruneian Restaurant just a few meters from city hall. So I ordered a murtabak ayam (chicken murtabak) and iced Milo.

After another nap, it was time for dinner and to sample a Zamboanga dish called satti which is sold along Pilar Street. I was surprised though when I woke up that it was raining really hard. So it was flooded when I got to Pilar Street. None of the satti outlets were open but I found a canteen which served it but it wasn't as good as the freshly grilled ones. Satti may have gotten its name from a similar Malay dish called satay. But satti is smaller is serving size, three tiny pieces of roasted beef on a barbeque stick. It is served to you in a bowl of sweet and spicy sauce with rice chunks also swimming in a pool of the same sauce. Anyway, I'll show you photos of it in a later entry.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Manila: The walled city of Intramuros before the war

We have been trying influence many of the local government leaders and the clergy to adopt heritage conservation practices to preserve the character of our own cities and towns. But add to the fact that so much was already lost during the Second World War which is why we have to be more aggressive in protecting what's left.

To illustrate my point, I will hark back at the good old pistaym days when Manila was in its heyday. In Intramuros today, there are only two churches left, namely the Manila Cathedral and San Agustin Church. In fact, the Manila Cathedral that is standing today is a reconstruction of the original one and only San Agustin was unscathed during the war.

Before the war, there were at least nine of these grandiose and gargantuan churches within meters away from each other. These included the Manila Cathedral, Santo Domingo Church with the original main building of the University of Santo Tomas beside it, the Jesuit Church of San Ignacio beside the Ateneo de Manila (it was said that "there was so much wood in the church that it took all of four days for the conflagration to consume the buffet of tropical hardwoods – narra, tindalo, magcono, molave – cut from the mountain fastness of Surigao and transported to Manila seven decades previous), San Agustin Church, the Franciscan Churches of San Francisco and the Venerable Orden Tercera which were right beside each other sharing the same plaza, the Capuchin Church of Lourdes, the Augustinian Recollect Church of San Nicolas de Tolentino and the San Jose Church.

And those were just churches. I did not even touch on smaller chapels, colleges and universities, religious institutions and government buildings. Oh yes! We had ostentatious and elegant palace-like government buildings in Manila! And that was just Intramuros. The districts outside the walls such as Binondo, Santa Cruz, Ermita, Malate and San Miguel where equally charming as well.

Indeed, Manila was as beautiful as any European city. But we lost everything, centuries of work, in just a matter of days during the liberation of Manila. Sadly, unlike Europe which was also devastated mind you, we did not rebuild many of these monuments to Filipino craftsmanship and excellence. And all we could do now is sigh and say "Sayang!"

Manila: Metro Manila and its old churches

Below is a "Directory of Cultural Heritage Churches" in Metro Manila which used to be found in but is no longer online. I was still able to salvage it from the Google cache. I'm sure there are more since Paranaque has several others such as the Redemptorist Church in Baclaran and the San Dionisio Church for example; and schools have charming churches and chapels as well such as the Abbey of Our Lady of Montserrat in San Beda College and the Chapel of the Holy Sacrifice in UP Diliman which is both a National Historical Landmark and an Important Cultural Property. Visiting all the churches below is one adventure worth doing in the near future.

Archdiocese of Manila
1. Minor Basilica of Immaculate Conception (Manila Metropolitan Cathedral), Intramuros, Manila
2. Minor Basilica of San Lorenzo Ruiz (Binondo Church), Binondo, Manila
3. Minor Basilica of San Sebastian, Plaza Carmen, Quiapo, Manila
4. Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene (Quiapo Church), Plaza Miranda, Quiapo, Manila
5. Monasterio de Santa Clara (demolished recently to build Katipunan flyover)
6. National Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, Kanlaon cor. Retiro Sts., Santa Mesa Heights, Q.C.
7. National Shrine of Saint Michael and the Archangels (San Miguel Church), J.P. Laurel St., San Miguel, Manila
8. Nuestra Senora de Gracia Parish, Bernardino St., Guadalupe Viejo, Makati City
9. Nuestra Senora de Guia Parish, M.H. Del Pilar St., cor A. Flores St., Ermita, Manila
10. Our Lady of Loreto Parish, Bustillo St., Sampaloc, Manila
11. Our Lady of Remedios Parish (Malate Church), M.H. Del Pilar St., Malate, Manila
12. Our Lady of the Abandoned Parish (Sta. Ana Church), Pedro Gil St., Sta. Ana, Manila
13. Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, Old Santa Mesa, Sampaloc, Manila
14. Saint Anthony of Padua Parish, Singalong cor. San Andres Sts., Malate, Manila
15. Saint Anthony of Padua Shrine, Manrique St., Sampaloc, Manila
16. Saint John the Baptist Parish, Pinaglabanan St., San Juan, M.M.
17. Saint Joseph Parish, Juan Luna St., Gagalangin, Tondo, Manila
18. Saints Peter and Paul Parish, D.M. Rivera St., Poblacion, Makati City
19. San Felipe Neri Parish, Boni Ave. cor Aglipay, Mandaluyong City
20. San Fernando de Dilao Parish, Paz St., Paco, Manila
21. San Vicente de Paul Parish, San Marcelino St., Ermita, Manila
22. Santa Clara de Montefalco Parish, P. Burgos St., Pasay City
23. Santa Cruz Parish, Santa Cruz, Manila
24. Santo Nino Parish, Jesus St., Pandacan, Manila
25. Santo Nino Parish (Santo Nino de Tondo) I. Chacon, Tondo, Manila
26. Santuario de San Antonio, McKinley Rd., Forbes Park, 3117 Makati City
27. Santuario de Santo Cristo, F. Blumentritt St., San Juan, M.M.
28. Shrine of Our Lady of Correa (San Agustin Church), Real St., Intramuros, Manila
29. Archdiocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, 1923 Orense St., Guadalupe Nuevo, Makati City

Diocese of Cubao
30. National Shrine of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary (Santo Domingo Church), Quezon Ave., Q.C.
31. Santuario de San Pedro Bautista Archdiocesan Shrine, San Pedro Bautista St., SFDM, 1104 Q.C.

Diocese of Kalookan
32. Immaculate Conception, Gen. Luna St., Concepcion, Malabon, M.M.
33. San Bartolome Parish, Rizal Ave., Malabon, M.M.
34. San Jose de Navotas Parish, M. Naval St., San Jose, Navotas, M.M.
35. San Pancracio Parish, La Loma Cemetery Compound, Grace Park, Caloocan City

Diocese of Pasig
36. Immaculate Conception Parish, Plaza Rizal, Malinao, Pasig City
37. San Roque Parish, B. Morcilla St., Pateros, M.M.
38. Archdiocesan Shrine of Saint Anne, Santa Ana, Taguig City

Diocese of Paranaque
39. Our Lady of the Abandoned Archdiocesan Shrine, National Rd., Poblacion, Muntinlupa City
40. Saint Andrew Parish, Quirino Ave., La Huerta, Paranaque City
41. Saint Joseph Parish (Bamboo Organ Church), Diego Cera Ave., Las Pinas City
42. Santa Rita de Cascia Parish, Quirino Ave., Baclaran, Paranaque City

Diocese of Novaliches
43. Our Lady of Mercy Parish, Dumalay St., Quirino Highway, Novaliches, Q.C.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Cagayan & Isabela: Church heritage in Cagayan and Isabela

We were up quite early yesterday. Although our itinerary started with breakfast at 7 a.m., Karlo and I got up at 5 a.m. to check out the provincial capitol of Cagayan and take photos for possible inclusion in the 2007 HCS calendar.

One thing which surprised me was its distance from the town center since the tricycle ride took about ten minutes. It was actually at the border of Tuguegarao and Peñablanca and in the middle of nowhere. In fact, you first had to cross the welcome arch of Peñablanca to get to it. From the gates, we could already see that we were not going to be disappointed.

The capitol building may be the last untouched piece of heritage in Tuguegarao. It is in the center of a gated compound that is very well-maintained. In front of it is a large landscaped lawn which contains a relief map of Cagayan and an old fountain among others.

After taking photos, we went back to the hotel for breakfast. The group left the hotel at 8 p.m. for visits to the Cagayan towns further up north. First on the list was the town of Iguig which was famous for its Calvary Hills, a collection of life-sized tableaus of the Stations of the Cross scattered across the sprawling grounds of the church.

Sad to say, the façade of this old church was badly-altered. But the sides remained relatively intact. What is unique about this church are the “flying buttresses” found at the back of the church which are the only one of its kind in the country. I hope the priests realize that and do not touch it.

From Iguig, we proceeded to Alcala where an unpleasant surprise greeted us. In front of the red brick church was a billboard showing a modern interior in the works. Damage had already been done to the interior. The original wooden ceiling had already been replaced by galvanized iron sheets. You could also see that there were elements such as a choirloft which had already been demolished.

I immediately looked for the parish priest to talk to him before more damage was done. In fairness, the priest was quite receptive. He said they had been trying to contact the National Commission for Culture and the Arts for help but to no avail.

Now we see an oversight on the part of the government. The stakeholders do not have a direct line to the technical support that they need. I think it’s about time that the NCCA reaches out to these stakeholders by simply writing all custodians of heritage churches all over the country to let them know that technical assistance is available if you contact the NCCA, National Museum or National Historical Institute; and that they could get advice from the experts before they make any plans to renovate or restore a church. Writing letters to everyone to let them know that they're there to help is the least they could do.

You could also see that the priests lacked basic knowledge of what restoration was. The parish priest mentioned to us that the proposed altar design was done by another priest who was also into restoration. But obviously, the altar was not restoration. It was a modern replacement that did not match the age of the church. Priests really have to be educated, especially those who make these designs and claim that they are restorations.

Our next stop was the town of Gattaran. But we weren’t going to the town church which was equally quaint. If only we weren’t pressed for time, I would have wanted to stop at the town church as well. Instead, we visited the Nassiping Church ruins which was the church of Nassiping town before it was merged with Gattaran.

The stone side altars were quite intact. But a sad note was one of its bells was stolen last year, most probably by an antique dealer. I wish stealing these relics could be considered a heinous crime! These unscrupulous antique dealers should be shot by the towsfolk if they are caught carting away priceless pieces of heritage, to teach them a lesson. Check out the article in the PDI.

Our next stop was the town of Lal-lo which was also known as Nueva Segovia. It was the former seat of the Diocese of Nueva Segovia before it was transferred to Vigan in 1758. The story of the transfer is in the Vigan website.

But before visiting the old church, we passed by the Magapit Suspension Bridge which spans the Cagayan River. It was one of the most modern in Asia during its time. Another monumental Marcos project which lessened the travel time between Cagayan and Ilocos, it shows us how much Philippine infrastructure has deteriorated today. The DPWH should let architects and not engineers design bridges. That's if they want to rid themselves of the reputation of churning out the ugliest infrastructure in the world! The only recently constructed bridge worth praising is the Bamban Bridge linking Mabalacat and Bamban. But then again, that was a Japanese financed project. Hehe!

Anyway, the facade of the Lal-lo Church was similar to that of Alcala. In front of the church was an wooden cross encased in glass. According to the marker, it was planted there over 300 years ago by the Dominican missionaries who evangelized Cagayan.

From Lal-lo, we moved on to the next town Camalaniugan which housed the oldest Catholic bell in the Far East. Before visiting the church, we passed by another horno. Unlike the one in Tuguegarao which was obviously neglected, this horno was well-cared for by the local community. In fact, there were even signages pointing to the place.

When we got there, we were greeted by an horno which was close to 100 percent intact. Makeshift fences around plants in the area showed that this piece of heritage was very important to the local government and the townsfolk. Two thumbs up to them!

Next stop was the church. But we received a shock since there was a totally new church being constructed right beside the old belfry. I learned from Jojo that the one it replaced wasn't old either and the original church was lost maybe in the 1970s.

Anyway, we were disappointed when we saw the belfry since there was a big tarpaulin streamer covering the structure just like in Alcala. We were saying that the priest should have placed the streamer in front of the construction rather than on the belfry. I hope Fr. Camilo Castillejo removes his billboard from the belfry which is on the side of the oldest bell which dates back to 1595.

That was the end of our morning itinerary and it was time to move back to Tuguegarao. Again, if we weren't pressed for time, I would have wanted to visit the next town which was Aparri and find out for myself what this town, made famous by the Eat Bulaga jingle, is all about. Hehe!

We stopped by Alcala again to buy some milk candies made from carabao's milk. These flat candies are Alcala's version of the pastillas. Along the way, I think it was in Iguig, we also bought corn from vendors along the highway.

Back at the hotel, we packed our stuff and went down for a quick lunch before checking out. From there, it was a long drive to Isabela along the old highway to the town of San Pablo where ruins of an old church could be found. What is peculiar about this church is its size since it is unusually large for the community it currently serves.

According to accounts, San Pablo was a very prosperous town before which explains the large church. But as the years passed, people left and fortunes changed. And the church as well as other structures were left to decay. Today, only half the church is in use, having been covered by a makeshift roof and walls. It would just be too costly to restore the church entirely. But from the intricate brick designs, one could imagine its past grandeur as a center of life in Isabela.

From there, we went further south to Tumauini to visit the Church of San Matias, a national cultural treasure. Just like the Callao Caves, this was another famous image in books. And finally, I got to see it for myself. I was not disappointed.

The facade is said to be Pampanga's greatest contribution to Cagayan Valley heritage since it is said that Kapampangan woodcarvers were imported to create the moulds for the intricate and ornate brick tiles that adorned Tumauini and many other churches in the Cagayan Valley.

It's a pity Pampanga did not have an abundance of bricks because Tumauini was just breathtaking, each brick carefully planned and numbered to create this mosaic of ornate clay tiles.

Even the walls that surrounded the church plaza was generously decorated with designed brick tiles! Indeed, Tumauini deserves its declaration as a national cultural treasure.

Another unique feature is the cylindrical belfry which is designed like a wedding cake. It's the only cylindrical belfry left in the country today, the other one in Leyte having been demolished by you know who. Sigh! I wonder why Tumauini, and many other deserving churches, weren't included in the original UNESCO declaration which sadly only includes Augustinian churches. Hope they make it to the expansion.

Anyway, from there, it was off to Cauayan again for dinner at the Jambalaya Grill. But we stopped over in the provincial capital Ilagan to check out the biggest butaca or armchair which is on display along the national highway. After some fun shots on the giant wooden chair, we left for Cauayan.

We were there at about 5:30 p.m. just in time for early dinner. After dinner, Jojo made a synthesis lecture of the learnings from the past two days. Then it was off to Manila at about 7:30 p.m. We made a number of stopovers to make sure the drivers were awake. And one of them was near Balete Pass where I bought some perantes, the citrus fruit of Nueva Vizcaya. Although the best place to buy them is along the highway somewhere near Bambang if I'm not mistaken. We arrived in U.P. at about 5 a.m. Lucky for the students, classes were suspended in anticipation of the heavy traffic due to today's SONA. So I'm sure everyone went straight to bed. Hehe!

The rest of the photos are at and as well as in Karlo de Leon's blog.
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