MIDNIGHT EXPRESS. The evening was serene on a midweek. No long lines at the bus terminal in Cubao. A sleepy cashier by the ticket counter booked me for the next ride to Santiago City in Isabela Province.

Two years ago, I’ve been planning to see the impressive brick church and its wedding cake belfry in Tumauini but kept pushing back due to conflicting schedules and the weather until Attorney Rod Tullao, a school mate from college presented me a five-day itinerary that covers the three provinces in the Cagayan Valley region and some towns in the Cordillera.

ISABELA’S LIFESTYLE CITY. Finally, I arrived in Santiago City after 9 hours on the road. My years spent as a culture blogger taught me the yearning for discovery wherever my feet takes me and introduced me to the difference between being a well-heeled tourist versus a well-seasoned traveler. Santiago is Isabela’s lifestyle city, where Rod arranged my stay to a well-appointed room at Orayza Hotel but what excited me the most was an early walking tour to the city’s public market.

That morning, during my stroll around Santiago City Public Market, I met some local vendors selling a variety native rice cakes called inatata, binalay and moriecos that were packaged in the traditional way using banana or coconut leaves. Exploring the inner sanctum of the already busy palengke were stores selling tabacco.

THE FLOWER OF ISABELA. Tobacco production became a stronghold of the Spanish colonial economy. Towards the end of the 17th century, the Spanish galleon San Clemente brought to the country 200 ounces of Cuban tobacco seeds. Spanish friars led the cultivation of these exquisite seeds in Isabela, a province named after the Queen of Spain.

In 1780, tabacco production became a state monopoly where the Manila-based cigar manufacturers united and established the Compania General de Tabacos de Filipinas. This union gave rise to the cigar known worldwide as La Flor de la Isabela, a name given in honor to the province where the first Cuban seeds were first cultivated and flourished.

ISABELA OF ROD’S CHILDHOOD. By mid-morning, I met my host. Rod is described by our college friends to be generally guapo who still retains his boyish charm even after acquiring his license as a public accountant and passing the bar exam. He worked for SGV in Makati then returned to his hometown to put up a corporate law firm that currently services big and small businesses around the region.

Rod handed over the key card so I could check-in and leave my baggage in the hotel, which was just a knapsack and a bag of rolled-up tabacco from the market. We then drove away from the city proper. He introduced me the barrio where he spent his childhood. Rod narrated with much sentimentality how he would walk for hours along a dirt path from school and how he and his brother would romp and fly their kites on the low hills of Barangay Balintokatok. This hilly area is now known as the Calvary Hills and the Chapel of Transfiguration that has larger-than-life-sized Stations of the Cross from the foot of the hill to its highest point.

El PUEBLO DE SANTIAGO DE CARIG. Exploration of what is now Santiago City started in 1597 when Dominican friars introduced Christianity to the Ybanag and Gaddang villages. It was called El Pueblo de Santiago de Carig in honor of Saint James the Apostle.

One thing about Santiago City is that a portion of it is urban enclave. Outside the metropolis, the terrain rambles far than the eyes can see into farmlands and rice fields. Its rich agricultural lands are seeded with high-value crops like monggo, corn, tobacco, coffee, banana, and mango. In Barangay Batal, northeast of Santiago City there are sugarcane plantations that produce mascovado sugar. Along the roadside are stores selling Patupat Ybanag, a variety of the popular sticky rice delicacy tightly wrapped in a pouch of woven coconut leaves and dipped in a lava-hot sugarcane syrup.

BALAY  SEGUNDO MUSEUM. While on the road, I’ve been occasionally posting on social media my real time whereabouts. Artists friends Riel Hilario and Dansoy Coquilla reminded me to visit Balay Segundo Museum. Dansoy introduced me to its owner via messenger chat. From Santiago City, we went for a side trip to the town of Ramon to see Isabela’s latest attraction. This stunning private museum showcases the extensive contemporary art collection of columnist, Attorney Joel Butuyan.

The museum is housed in a mid-century house where its rooms have been converted into exhibit halls that overwhelms visitors with rare tribal artifacts alongside with the Garibays, Borlongans, Justinianis and important contemporary pieces the resonates the triumph of Philippine art.

LUNCH IN CAUAYAN CITY. Isabela, being the second largest province in the country in terms of land area, touring it we needed a reliable navigator. Heading for lunch in Cauayan City, we met our good friend, CJ. He will be our navigator for most of the long drives. Cauayan began as a town of Cagayan Province. It became a town of Isabela in 1856. A popular heritage structure in the city is the Our Lady of Pillar Church. Most of the colonial churches in Isabela were built at a time when bricks were used to build Baroque structures.

Lunch in Cauayan City was not my first time to taste Ilocano dishes like papaitan and pakbet but the who wants to eat fast food or gourmet fusion when local flavor is just incomparable.

SANSRIVAL OF TUMAUINI. Already fueled up for the next leg of our tour of Isabela, it was CJ’s turn to go behind the wheel. Drove past the provincial capital of Ilagan with its giant butaca, a traditional lounging chair that are still manufactured in the city we zoomed to the town of Tumauini.

The treasure of Tumauini is its church. Constructed by the Dominicans using clay bricks, Kampampangan artisans were employed to carve the wooden molds for the decorative insets found throughout its facade and interior. Looking closely at the clay carvings on its facade were details of cherubs and saints, flowers and foliage. The belltower gets most of the attention because it appears like a tall wedding cake. This structure is without rival anywhere in the country. It is the sansrival of colonial churches.

RUINS OF SAN PABLO. On the flat afternoon plains we saw a storm building up in the horizon. GPS was faulty in the area but CJ was quick to navigate our way to Isabela’s northernmost town to see the ruins of San Pablo. Supposed to be the oldest church in Isabela, the red brick church began its construction in the mid-1600s. Its bell tower rises to 6 levels high, making it the tallest in the Cagayan Valley region.

That afternoon, the rain poured in torrents but that did not stop me from making a leisurely walk around the ruins and the churchyard. There was a time when the church and cemetery aligned in a straight, uninterrupted line to allow funeral processions passed solemnly from the church to the cemetery chapel. Today, structures were built across the churchyard and a super highway cuts across the old procession path.

EPILOGUE: THE AMAZING RACE. On the way back to the lifestyle city, we passed by Cabagan for merienda. Here, we had a hearty serving of pancit that looks like a hybrid of Tuguegarao’s pancit batil patung and Isabela’s pancit Cabagan.

This end-to-end tour of Isabela province was an amazing race from Santiago City to its last northernmost town. This is only day 1 of my 5 days trip.


Published in: on August 13, 2019 at 7:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

Ma Mon Luk

PORTRAIT OF THE MAMI KING. At this old-school food institution along Quezon Avenue, the marble tables and wooden chairs, the framed vintage newspaper clippings, the pungent soupy smell, and the 70 pesos siopao and 120 pesos chicken mami reveal the long history of simple yet tasty meal time experiences.  A larger than life portrait of its famous founder overlooks the diners. Ma Mon Luk received the title as the Mami King for introducing the chicken noodle broth, mami into the Filipino food culture.

The life-size photo of the Ma must have been taken during the height of his food business. It shows Ma dressed in americana that hid his left shoulder, which said to be lower than his right as a result of balancing a pair of food warmers that he carried using a pole called the pingga during his hard beginnings as a young ambulant vendor in the streets of Manila’s Chinatown.

PANCIT CALLED GUPIT. Ma Mon Luk’s life story fits the bill of today’s serial drama. He left his job as a school teacher in Canton, China and came to the Philippines with the determination to make enough wealth so that he could marry his beau, Ng Shih who was from a rich family. Being poor, Ng’s parents refused Ma to marry their daughter.

When he arrived to the country in 1918, he thought of a noodle recipe that can be an alternative to the already established pancit. Pancit was wheat flour noodles sautéed with pork bits and vegetables. Ma’s version of the pancit was made of hand-stretched egg noodles called miki, chicken bits and broth. Ma balancing a pair of food warmers on his shoulders was a familiar sight in the streets of Binondo and Quiapo. The container with the broth has live coals because the soup has to be served hot. This street side noodles has no name then but was called gupit in reference to how Ma would cut the length of the noodles based on his patron’s budget. It is said that mami as we call it today is a contraction of his name Ma and mi for the miki noodles.

DINING EXPERIENCE. Ma eventually made money to marry Ng. He grew his business to provide the needs for his growing family. He rented a space in Binondo to launch his siopao, or steamed buns that became equally popular as his mami. He continued peddling his mami around Manila’s downtown area to promote his products and restaurant. Ma died in 1961 from throat cancer that he dismissed as regular itching caused by his fondness of eating pineapples. His descendants manage the restaurants in Quiapo and Quezon Avenue using the same recipe that Ma invented in the 1920s.

Like generations of diners before us, the most important move to do when at Ma Mon Luk Restaurant is to order the meal combination of mami and siopao.

HISTORY OF SIOPAO. Saint Agatha, the saint whose breasts were sliced off during the Roman persecution of Christians was link by some old folks to the origins of siopao. In art, she is depicted as a saint holding a pair of breasts on a platter. This was eventually forgotten and were thought to be bread buns. I thought that the reference of siopao to Saint Agatha’ breast and the urban legend that cat meat was allegedly stuffed into the pork buns were gruesome enough, until I learned of a Chinese military strategist named Zhuge Liang would make steamed buns to look like human heads as offerings to gods.

The siopao we know today is the silky white fluffy bread filled with shredded meat. It has two varieties: bola-bola or asado. Both are usually taken with thick sweet brown sauce.

EPILOGUE: MAMI AND IMMORTALITY. Mami and siopao became synonymous to simple yet rich tasting food. An unpretentious combination and a treat after a hard day’s work. A culinary legacy from the Mami King, Ma Mon Luk.

-Heritage Month 2019

Published in: on May 29, 2019 at 2:34 am  Comments (3)  

Tingguian Weaving Traditions

TINGGUIANS OF NAMARABAR. Tourism itineraries to Abra did not include a trip to its tribal community so I requested our freelance tour guide to veer away from the usual route and take us to the Tingguian village of Namarabar in Peñarrubia. The Tingguian culture dates back to pre-Spanish times but despite of strong external forces encroaching their traditions, they continue to practice their ethnic beliefs and handicrafts.

The Tingguians are also called Itneg, a contraction of the Ilocano words iti uneg, which means interior that refers to the location of their settlement at the heartland of Abra. The Tinggians originally settled near the lowlands of Narvacan and Santa in Ilocos Sur and had constant contact with the Ilocanos but because of the clashes between the natives and Spaniards, they moved out from the war-torn valley into the uplands of the Cordillera.

HIGHLAND HERITAGE. The road to the uplands of Abra bends towards the foothills over alternating paved and dirt tracks with a panorama of undulating rice fields and mountain ranges under low overcast sky. Upon ascending on a clearing, we arrived in the village of Namarabar.

The villagers were curious of our presence until tribal elder Norma Mina Agaid came out to see us. Graceful in her sleeves of heirloom beads, a symbol of prestige equivalent to the tattoos worn by their mountain cousins in Kalinga, life in the village and Tingguian weaving traditions echoes in Nana Norma’s lively storytelling.

NORMA MINA AGAID. We were invited to Nana Norma’s home. We were offered some refreshments. Later, the women folk came in a line through the door behind the house. Each carried piles of woven fabric that they showcased on a long table. Proud of their handiwork, they spread out each fabric to reveal the intricate interlacing threads and figures that form in the weaving patterns.

Nana Norma belongs to a generation of weavers. She learned to dye the threads and to weave distinct patterns into the fabric from her mother as early as eleven years old. Her children learned weaving techniques from her. Life of the womenfolk in Namarabar is oriented towards weaving. They start their day weaving and taking short breaks to have coffee, meals and when it’s time to feed the livestock.

TINGGUIAN WEAVING TRADITIONS. Tingguian weavers practice a ritual before weaving. It involves sacrificing a native pig, dancing and praying to Pinaing, the goddess of weaving  who according to Tingguian folklore, introduced to the Tingguian women the weaving patterns for the pinilian and binakol and the embroidery style called kinamay through dreams.

Pinilian refers to a grid style weaving pattern with motif that form the shape of a deer, an eagle, a lizard, a flower, an eight pointed star, sinang-kabayo (horse), sinan-tao (human figure) and other complex Pinilian motif. These symbols have meanings that were exclusive to the Tingguians. These motifs are believed to provide protection from evil spirits and are symbols of prestige among the tribe. Pinilian fabric is used as a wrap-around skirt, loincloth for men, and headband and belt. Pinilian blankets are also used in important rituals. The Ilocanos learned the pinilian technique from the Tingguians. The weaving patterns used for Abra abel and the psychedelic optical art weave of the binakol today for instance are based from the traditional pinilian patterns.

AM-AMMA. In 1959, Norma wanted to paint but she can’t so she embroidered on abel fabric using the kinamay embroidery the Am-Amma that visualizes the story of their ancestor gods and folk myths. On a spread shows the all-weather Tingguian warriors guarding the Tangadan Tunnel against the invading Ilocanos while the Abrense heroine, Gabriela Silang ride the horse.

The center row illustrates the the ancient method of dyeing cloth using barks and plants and the goddess weaver, Pinaing who introduced through dreams the weaving patterns to the Tingguian women.

EPILOGUE: MANLILIKA NG BAYAN. Abra had its first Manilikha ng Bayan in Apo Teofilo Garcia, the tabungaw hat maker from San Quintin. Maybe this valley of folk artists can have another one. This time a weaver and storyteller from Namarabar.

– Women’s Month 2019

Published in: on March 31, 2019 at 6:49 pm  Comments (1)  

Fire Fighting Museum

MEMENTO TO FIRE FIGHTING. The Philippines has two alternating seasons, wet and dry. The stormy and wet season begins in June and last until October. Dry season starts in November and ends in May. The months of March and April are the hottest. These months are ruled by the fire element, Aries. It is believed that accidents involving fire are most tragic in this time of the year such as the Ozone Disco fire that claimed 162 lives in March of 1996.

Ironically, fire prevention awareness is observed nationwide in March because, based on statistical data this month is when most fire incidents occur. With wailing sirens, firetrucks from different fire stations around the city parade the streets to announce the Fire Prevention Month. At the San Lazaro fire station, an antiquated steam powered fire truck is displayed as a memento to the beginnings of fire fighting in the country.

18th CENTURY FIRE CHASERS. During the Spanish times, a fire that broke out anywhere in Manila was announced throughout the city through a special tolling of the church bells. For example, a fire in Quiapo is announced through seven strokes, ten when fire was in Tondo, five strokes in Binondo and so forth. There were no regular firemen then. Fire-fighting was done through volunteerism or bayanihan where the men folk were expected to rush to the scene and help put out the fire.

A strange tradition then was the required presence of the Spanish Governor-General or the Archbishop of Manila at fire events. The first fire chasers in those days followed were not from screaming firetrucks, but the fast carruajes of the señor governador-general and the señor arzobispo who were racing each other to the blaze. With all those present, big fires in the olden days must have been colorful and even festive for the side walk audience.

YANGCO FIREFIGHTERS. In the 1890’s, Captain Luis Yangco of the famous shipping company introduced the first motorized fire engine that outdated the only fire wagon in Manila. Yangco’s firefighters were composed of dock laborers that raced through the streets whenever a fire broke out in the city. The modern fire engine was equipped with a large hose that draw water from the nearest river or canal.

At about the same time, British merchants in Manila, organized themselves into a fire brigade with headquarter on Calle Anloague (the same street mentioned in Rizal’s Noli me Tangere). The brigade has a steam engine of its own and responded to fire events in the business areas of Sta. Cruz and Binondo. This fire brigade was the first to donned white helmets and bright red coats as fire-fighting uniform.

FIRST FIRE CHIEF. The Americans established a professional fire-fighting force with Hugh Bonner, the former Chief of New York City Fire Department as its first fire chief. During the American Era, the Manila Fire Department (MFD)started with 80 men and four fire stations in Tanduay, Sta. Cruz, Paco and Intramuros. It introduced a modern fire-fighting system in the country that included the sliding pole and the raincoat uniform. It had a hook-and-ladder company and four engine companies who were professionally trained at pumping water and rescuing those who were trapped in the blazing structure.

During this time, church bells no longer served as fire alarms. In July 1902, the 80 Gamewell Fire Alarm System boxes were installed around the city and fire alarms were received by firemen through the telephone system.

EPILOGUE: FIRE FIGHTING MUSEUM. The fire station in San Nicolas became famous in the olden days because it had one of the finest gymnasiums in town. According to Nick Joaquin, sportsmen  labeled it as the Cradle of Boxing in Manila where ‘American firemen would gather the neighboring kids in their makeshift boxing ring, provide them with boxing gloves, and make them slug it out for a purse collected from all the station’s firemen.’ These prizefights developed a local taste for boxing among Filipinos, which marked the glory days of the pre-war 1920s. Stories about the beginnings of fire fighting in the country and how fire station became part of local communities are part of our heritage that must we retold in museums along with the first fire fighting equipment.

From the time Prometheus lit a torch from the sun and brought fire down on earth as his gift to humankind, men had also learned how to control its dangerous flames.  Courageous fire fighters through centuries had a heroic role in keeping our towns and cities safe. We hope local governments put up museums dedicated to fire fighting history.

– Fire Prevention Month 2019

Published in: on March 10, 2019 at 1:20 pm  Comments (1)  

San Nicolas District

STEPHEN’S SAN NICOLAS. There is a surge of nostalgia among the millennial generation to an Old Manila that we only see in books and in digital media. Museum guides, aptly called docents and heritage preservation groups are now being championed by energetic, civic-minded individuals from this internet generation.

Stephen John Pamorada grew up in the historic San Nicolas District. In this bustling residential area, located at one of the world’s oldest Chinatowns near the piers and people’s markets of Divisoria are some of the remaining ancestral houses in Manila dating to the Spanish period. These houses, still standing with their original hardwood frames, wrought iron grillworks and roof tiles like the Bahay na Tisa in a corner lot along Elcano and Lavazares streets, are just a few years away from being demolished or moved piece-by-piece to an antique auction or that heritage resort unless solid efforts are made to prevent it from happening.

BINONDO. One afternoon, Stephen showed us around San Nicolas District where a turn at every street corner was like turning a page of a mystery game book to reveal either a historical marker to an erstwhile structure or a decrepit ancestral house that is best described in the past tense.

Binondo was founded on Minondoc, an island across the Pasig River from Intramuros. It was a land-grant given by the Spanish Governor General Luis Perez Dasmariñas to the Chinese migrants who converted to Christianity and intermarried with the locals. Through most of the 19th century, Binondo became the commercial capital of the country. It boasted of a stone church that overlooks Plaza Calderon de la Barca, made charming by its twin fountains. Around this impressive plaza stood landmark buildings, the Hotel de Oriente and La Insular cigar factory. Both were architectural masterpieces in neo-Mudejar style by Spanish architect Juan Jose Huervas y Arizmendi.

LEGEND OF BUAYANG BATO. By the 16th century, Binondo’s population began to swell and it became necessary to expand the settlement in Minondoc to the adjoining village of Baybay. The union of the two villages on March 28, 1594 became the foundation day of the Arrabal de Binondo. Just like in Intramuros, streets in this suburb were arranged in gridlocks and were marked by street signs made of glazed tiles embedded on corner houses. As its residents grew its wealth through trading and retail business, they were able to build fashionable houses as high as three-floors. An excellent specimen would have been Casa Vyzantina at the corner of Madrid and Peñarubia streets but this opulent three story house, also designed by Arizmendi was transferred to a resort in Bataan.

The village of Baybay was later renamed after the Augustinian saint, San Nicolas de Tolentino who was famous for the miraculous appearance of migratory birds locally known as the tarat during his feast day, the curative sacramental bread called the Panacillo de San Nicolas, and the legend of the Buayang Bato. In Jose Rizal’s novel, El Filibusterismo the character Padre Salvi narrated the story of the Chinese fisherman who was attacked by a crocodile that once plagued the Pasig River. He cried out in an identifiable accent San Nicolasi that instantly turned the the voracious reptile into stone.

PANCETERIA MACANISTA DE BUEN GUSTO. Also mentioned in El Filibusterismo was Panceteria Macanista de Buen Gusto. A crumbling structure that once housed this famous restaurant is sandwiched between modern concrete buildings along Blanco Bridge that connects Binondo to San Nicolas District. The food served in the panceteria that were described in Chapter 23 of Rizal’s second novel were the lumpia (spring rolls), torta (crab omelet), pancit guisado (sauteed noodles), and the pancit lang-lang, which was a mix of mushrooms, lobster meat or shrimps, egg noodles and chicken bits in a broth.  Dining furniture was made up of round tables with equally round little wooden stool that served as seats. At the center of each table were four small colored plates with four pastries on each one and four tea cups in red porcelain with corresponding lids. Also on the table were a bottle of wine and two wineglasses of gleaming crystals. On the wall was a signage that read: De esta fonda el cabecilla al publico advierte. Que nada dejen absolutamente sobre algune mesa or silla.

We stared for a moment at the abandoned wooden structure and thought that nothing much has changed since Rizal wrote the novel since to this day we see an equivalent of that reminder posted in fast foods and public places as Management will not accept responsibility for the loss of  personal belongings left unattended (on tables or chairs). Thieves still thrive in these modern times.

SANTO CRISTO DE LONGOS. Another popular legend in Binondo relates to the finding of the image of Santo Cristo de Longos. The story goes that some time in the 16th century, an inarticulate Chinese laborer was drawing water from a well in the barrios of Longos. When he pulled out the pail, he found a blackened corpus of the crucified Christ without a Cross. He began shouting to announce about his discovery. The news about a deaf-mute who miraculously gained speech spread and the image became a popular object of devotion among residents of the settlement.

The image was immediately fitted with a cross and was enshrined in the Capilla de San Gabriel while a street side shrine on the sight of the well was built with a replica of the Santo Cristo de Longos. When an earthquake destroyed the chapel,  the original image was transferred to Binondo Church. In 1704, The Venerable Hermandad del Santo Cristo de Longos was founded to propagate the devotion to the miraculous image.

CASA TRIBUNAL DE NATURALES. For the next three hours, our walking tour with Stephen covered streets in San Nicolas where most of the remaining ancestral houses were clustered in the area. These ancestral structures, though neglected for years and deteriorating give us clues on their function and how the community developed around them.

A lonely structure from two centuries ago, in a street of high-rise buildings along Calle Asuncion was the Casa Tribunal de Naturales. This used to be the courthouse that caters to the Chinese and meztisaje residents of old Binondo and San Nicolas. Officials presided over cases that was led by a Chinese gobernadorcillo, equivalent of today’s town mayor. A well-known gobernadorcillo of San Nicolas was the 19th century metal smith and bell caster, Hilario Sunico.

ESTILO SUNICO. I immediately recognized the ancestral house at the corner of Madrid and Lara streets that I first saw from the pages of the iconic Philippine Ancestral Houses by GCF Books. I learned from Stephen that it once belonged to the sought after metal smith and bell maker, Hilario Chanuangco Sunico y Santos. The house was built 1890. It was home to his wife Sergia Litonjua y Pablo, and their four children Dionisia, Tomas, Sebastian and Rosalia. 

The house was relatively in a sound condition. Intact were the ornate grillwork on the windows and ventanillas that Hilario must have also applied his style in crafting the metal works for Puente de Colgante in Quiapo, Tutuban Train Station in Tundo, the wrought iron fence of the Jesuit Church in Intramuros and the electric chandeliers designed by Isabelo Tampingco for San Sebastian Church in Plaza del Carmen.

FUNDICION DE HILARIO SUNICO. A block from the Sunico residence was the historic metal foundry where Hilario Sunico cast some 176 brass bells for the different churches around the country. Hilario sharpened his skills in metal crafting at an early age at his father’s foundry. He started making small bells and metal fittings for calesas as source of income to support his family. Later, he put up his own foundry and made brass bells that bear the name Fundicion de Hilario Sunico. His earliest works was dated 1872. He crafted the bells of Binondo Church in 1878. From 1872 to 1937, the Sunico trademark were inscribed in most church bells around the country.

Church bells from the Sunico foundry gained a good reputation for their rich tenor. The secret was in the right mixing of metal alloys like bronze, copper and stannite. Upon Hilario’s death, the secret formula and bell casting business was passed on to his only son, Tomas as Herederos de Hilario Sunico. The demand for church bells diminished during the American period. The foundry eventually closed down leaving behind a heritage structure that still bears the ornate Estilo Sunico in its doors and windows. The Sunico residence and the foundry deserve a historical marker. But what can a piece commemorative plaque do to prevent heritage structures from vanishing?

X MARKS THE SPOT. Like a treasure hunter, it excites me to locate historical markers because it means that there must be something or someone, an important event that made a space historically sacred worth a pilgrimage. Along Estraude Street was the house which the Rizal family rented where the bone remains of Jose Rizal was placed in a wooden urn after it was exhumed from Paco Cemetery. The house was razed by fire. A modern building stands on the site. Two historical markers attached to a skyscraper in Calle San Fernando marks the site of a house where Doña Teodora Alonzo, the mother of Rizal spent her last days. A historical marker along Calle Lavezares marks the site of the house of Dr. Pio Valenzuela, a member of the Supreme Council of the Katipunan where he once offered free medical services for the poor and housed the secret printing office of the revolutionary paper Ang Kalayaan. Still standing along Calle Urbiztondo was the bahay-na-bato where General Antonio Luna was born in 1866. It is currently used as a warehouse.

The grounds of Perdo Guevarra Elementary School was the site of the 18th century silk market. The Alcaicería de San Fernando, which literally means the King’s market was an octagonal structure for trading goods. A stone marker was unearthed from this site. It is safely kept in the National Museum. A cast of the marker’s replica is displayed in the campus. Locating these historical markers in San Nicolas District was like discovering the X that marks the spot to that sacred ground only to realize that they have been desecrated and looted of their heritage treasures.

SAN NICOLAS FIRESTATION. Next to Perdo Guevarra Elementary School was the San Nicolas Fire Station. It was among the oldest in the Manila dating back to the time of the first American fire chief Hugh Bonner. The Americans replaced the fire wagons with steam-powered water trucks and introduced a modern fire fighting system in Manila that included the sliding pole and the raincoat uniform.

The fire station in San Nicolas became famous in the olden days because it had one of the finest gymnasiums in town. According to Nick Joaquin, sportsmen  labeled it as the Cradle of Boxing in Manila where ‘American firemen would gather the neighboring kids in their makeshift boxing ring, provide them with boxing gloves, and make them slug it out for a purse collected from all the station’s firemen.’ These prizefights developed a local taste for boxing among Filipinos, which marked the glory days of the pre-war 1920s.

FOUNDING OF THE KATIPUNAN. We walked towards Divisoria to locate No.72 Azcarraga corner of El Cano. Azcarraga was renamed Claro M. Recto Avenue. In a corner lot was the site of the house of Deodato Arellano. On July 7, 1892, a secret council convened at this house following the arrest of Rizal to create a new organization, the Kataastaasang, Kagalang-galang na Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan. Popularly known as the Katipunan, it was a secret society that promoted armed struggle, revolution, and separation from the Spanish Empire.

A busy people’s market replaced the historic house. A monument composed of figurative sculptures of the Katipunan founders Deodato Arellano, Valentin Diaz, Andres Bonifacio, Teodoro Plata, and Ladislao Diwa surrounded by low reliefs depicting symbols, emblems and activities of the revolutionary society was installed by artist Ros Arcilla.

EPILOGUE: HERITAGE CHAMPIONS. Looming like a crown to a forgotten carnival queen in the busyness of the fruit market in Divisoria was the Ides O’Racca Building. Built in 1935, was owned by the prominent physician of the Revolution, Dr. Isidoro de Santos. One of his patients was Apolinario Mabini. During the Japanese Occupation, the building became O’Racca Candy Factory. The government took over the property after the war. Got burned and abandoned since then. It was declared a cultural property by the National Museum in 2014 but no solid plans on what to do with this Art Deco jewel.

In the wake of the old San Nicolas that we only read in books and digital media, Stephen’s enthusiasm for heritage structures remains infectious. For his college thesis, he documented the remaining ancestral structures around his childhood neighborhood with plans to use it as a resource for heritage advocacy efforts. We need more champions, that like Stephen who takes ownership to campaign the preservation our ancestral heritage.

– 5 February 2019 | Chinese New Year

Published in: on February 5, 2019 at 9:00 pm  Comments (3)