PAETE IS FOREVER. The ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus once said that a man can never step into the same river twice. It may be the same river but the water that flows into it is eternally changing. The same goes with the traveler who could have been in the same destination countless of times but will not see the place the same as it was before.

This is the case of Paete in the province Laguna. I’ve been to this lakeshore town several times since 2008. But no matter how many times I’ve been there to either buy woodcarvings and native handicrafts, reconnect with friends who I incidentally met in my trips to this town, or simply finding the nearest escape from city life, Paete forever presents itself with new discoveries. This narrative is a weaving of selected memories about my visits to my favorite town in Laguna.

A SCENIC ROUTE. There are two ways to reach Paete from Metro Manila. One can take a bus bound to Santa Cruz, Laguna in a terminal in Cubao and then take a jeepney going to Siniloan. Pass beneath the stone lions of the Pagsanjan Arch and cross the placid Lumban River. Upon reaching the boundary of the sleepy Kalayaan town, ask the driver to make a stop in Paete poblacion. Another way is through the Manila East Road. I personally prefer this longer drive because it offers a more attractive view than taking SLEX. This scenic route passes through the rustic, laid-back towns and the winding mountain roads of Rizal Province with overlooking vistas of the metropolis and Laguna de Bay. When reaching Tanay at lunch time, we would have bulalo at Rambull’s and make a quick stop along the road to see the Pililia wind turbines.

We knew that we reached the boundary of the provinces of Rizal and Laguna when the repetitive views of the forest and slopping mountainside are broken by makeshift stalls along the roadside filled with merchandise that can furnish an entire house with native baskets, mats, hammocks and all kinds of woven furniture made from pandan, rattan and bamboo.

LAGUNA DE BAY. Back at sea level from the sloping road of Mabitac, the drive passes through the rice fields of Siniloan, Pangil, Pakil and reaches Paete in less than an hour. Paete is one the towns in Laguna that sits along the lakeshore. Looking at Paete from the air, it is a narrow piece of land that is sandwiched between the foothills of the Sierra Madre and the vast Laguna de Bay.

Laguna de Bay is the largest lake in the country. Its age and formation can be traced to an ancient volcano that exploded a million years ago leaving a depression in the middle lobe of the heart-shape body of water called the Laguna Caldera. In the olden days, Yangco Steamships ferried passengers and goods from Manila to Laguna via the Pasig River and Laguna de Bay water highways. Silting in the lake made this means of transportation impossible today. Compared to it’s nearby cousin, Taal Lake in Batangas, Laguna de Bay is very shallow that when bottom sediments are agitated, it turns the water muddy. In Paete, the locals refer the lake as dagat that provides livelihood to fisher folks and as source of inspiration to its homegrown craftsmen and artists.

LAND OF THE BUEN EBANISTAS. The founding of Paete as a pueblo dates back in 1580 when Spanish conquistador Juan de Salcedo explored the communities along the eastern shore of Laguna de Bay. Franciscan friars soon followed Salcedo to establish a Catholic mission. They found the locals to be buen ebanistas or good cabinetmakers and carvers.

Paete Church is the best testimony of the masterful craftsmanship of the ancient buen ebanistas. Founded by Fray Juan de Placencia, the previous stone church was destroyed three times by natural calamities. The present structure was built in 1884.  Sculpted on adobe were flowers, garlands, and curlicues in the church facade. Perched on the church’s topmost triangular pediment is a relief of St. James the Apostle as a warrior mounted on a horse, slaying the enemies. This is familiar image of Saint James as Señor Santiago Matamoros. Old timers claim that this gallant saint was responsible for guarding Paete against the raiders. It is said that he was seen as a Caucasian in a full warrior regalia, striding on a horse while overlooking the town from a hilltop.  During World War II, the saint is said to have driven away the Japanese enemy who attempted to follow the townsfolk who run for safety in the nearby mountains while town was being burned.

HERITAGE TREASURES. Inside the church is a gallery of religious art. These religious artifacts, statues and over-sized paintings were used by the friars as visual aids for teaching catechism to the native converts. Paete’s legendary master carver Bartolome Palatino carved the retablos in 1840. Palatino did not use nails. The main and side altars were held together by wooden dowels.

One of the widely venerated icons in the church is the image of the Santo Entierro. During Holy Week, this ancient image of the dead Christ is bathed. The water used in bathing the image is distributed to the townsfolk who believe in its healing powers. After the bathing the image, it is placed in a tent filled with incense. In the ritual called the Pasuob, the sick and the old take turns entering the tent in the belief that inhaling the fragrant smoke can heal different sorts of illnesses. This Holy Week ritual is one of the traditional activities held before Paete’s Grand Holy Week Procession.

JOSE DANS PAINTINGS. Important heritage treasures are the murals by Jose Dans. This Paete-born artist was known for fashioning his brushes out of cat’s fur and for mixing pulverized volcanic ash with pigments for his paintings. In 1645, he painted two large paintings of scenes that seemingly straight out from Dante’s visions of heaven, hell, and purgatory. Both are displayed in Paete Church.

There are also two murals depicting St. Christopher carrying the Child Jesus on his shoulder while crossing a river. This has an interesting story. The one painted directly on the adobe wall depicts the saint as a native in Moorish clothing. It is said that the friars did not like the painting on the church wall so the artist made another version of St. Christopher as a Caucasian in 16th century European fashion. The newer painting was painted on wood. It was placed directly on top of the older painting. Saint Christopher as a Moro was forgotten for centuries until in the 1980s when the one painted on wood was taken down for cleaning.

BAJO DE LA CAMPANA. Fellow blogger and Paete-raised, Tito Basa of Backpacking Philippines introduced me to the adventure of climbing up the church’s bell tower. When the friars established their mission in the country, they organized villages within the hearing distance of the church bells or bajo de la campana.

At the bellfry we met Dan Marion Roque. He explained that the peeling of the five antique church bells with the oldest and largest dating to 1793 and 1849, respectively have become part of the local’s way of life. Generations of sacristans have been trained to know the assigned ringing pattern to announce a nearby fire, a distinctive funeral toll for a male and a female town member, procession of a patron saint, call to mass, call for the Oracion, and the Sanctus during mass.

CHISEL TOWN. Just like the tolling of the church bells, chisel-tapping is a familiar sound in Paete. As a historian once told me, It’s music to the ears. Everything about Paete has to do with the chisel. From the legend about how the town received its name to its church filled with religious statuary and relief panels at every corner, woodcarving is the lifeblood of this town. Inside a busy workshop, we watched the different stages of sculpting. From carving a rough sketch on a block of wood using the v-shaped chisel called the pikos, landay for detailing, hiwas for surfacing and lukob for shaping the eyes. Smooth sanding and applying coats of color and varnish are done in separate spaces.

The flair for the chisel is passed on by mastercarvers to the next generations through osmosis and imitation. The legendary master carver Jose Caancan was a pupil of Jose Rizal who followed him into exile in Dapitan. When he returned to Paete, he put a workshop where he would gather apprentices to demonstrate different methods of sculpting. One of his pupils is Isaac Cagandahan who won the first prize during the first Art Association of the Philippines national competition.

ART PILGRIMAGE. Descendants of Isaac Cagandahan have been making their name in the contemporary art scene. Glenn Cagandahan is known for his folksy sculptures on epoxy. Odette Cagandahan-Monfero wowed audiences of a national talent show for her speed painting performances. Christine Cagandahan makes relief sculptures of tropical flowers using epoxy and mixed media.

Whenever I would spend overnight in Paete, I stay in the Cagandahan residence. In the morning, I would complete my walking tour itinerary around town, including my art pilgrimage to the different artist’s studios and galleries beginning at Dr. Nilo Valdecantos’ Kape Kesada Gallery and then in Hugis at Buhay Paete of production designer Lino Dalay and Mommy Martha. My next stop is in Luis Ac-ac atelier on the same street. In barangay Quinale, I spent long chats with assemblage artist Ben Dailo who used driftwood and wooden beads in his women figurines. A few walks from Ukit Quinale studio is the home of Bayani Acala who at the time of my visits was commissioned to design the trophy for the annual Dutdutan Tattoo Art Competition. On the main highway, I would drop by the home studios of Otep Banez and Casa Rubio of Dominic Rubio and wife Vivian.

TAKA OF PAETE. Of Paete’s folk art, taka making is my next favorite after woodcarving. Those colorful, warm, and whimsical Taka of Paete have become the epitome of Filipino folk art. They are the embodiment of the Filipino fiesta painted on papier-mâché figures of dolls in Filipiniana, roosters, carabaos, and bright-red horses.

Old folks claim that Mexican friars introduced taka-making to the pueblo centuries ago. This perhaps explains why the taka of Paete is linked with the Mexican piñata. While the piñata is decorated with tear up colored paper, the taka of Paete is individually hand-painted with vibrant colors with floral and fancy Baroque embellishments. Takas are sold side-by-side with woodcarvings in shops in Paete. Ang Hugis at Buhay Paete is a store along Calle Quesada that is filled from floor to ceiling with colorful takas. Here, visitors were greeted by Mommy Martha. She would engage her listener in stories about Paete legends and life during the war.

BIBINGKAS OF PAETE. Back to the main tourist street of Paete, Tito Basa introduced me to popular street foods, first to the bibingkang galapong. This rice cake is traditionally associated with Christmas season. In Paete, the bibingkang galapong that is made of  sticky rice batter with slivers of young coconut meat and topped with salted eggs are baked along a roadside stall using the dos fuegos method all year round.

The bibingkang hipon that Dominic and Vivian Rubio served when they had me over for lunch in their home is like chicken pastel only replace the ingredients with shrimps, tomatoes, kamias and young coconut meat that is baked and served in a terracotta dish. This bibingka is as yummy as how the ingredients sound.

MINANI AT PANCIT ULAM. Another popular street food in Paete is the minani, which is diced cassava fried and salted to taste. There is also sinaludsud that made of grated cassava with strips young coconut meat fried and flavored with vanilla and sugar.

An institution in Paete is Benga’s that serves the pancit ulam, which is pancit canton but heavy in chopped vegetables, meat, wood ear mushrooms, and tofu. As the name of the dish suggests, it can be paired with rice as ulam.

ALAMAT NG LANZONES. Paete’s popular edible pasalubong is the lanzones. Like the rambutan and the chico mame, it’s considered as a wild fruit whose tree grew in backyards or along the roadside. The lanzones tree begins blooming in May and its fruits ready for harvest around October. In the olden days,  the mountains round Paete glowed with amber lights at night during the lanzones season. The lights were bon fires lit to keep bats away from the fruit. The oblong fruit has sweet pulp but bitter when the teeth sunk into its seed.

According to a legend, lanzon sounding like lason or poison in Filipino, the lanzones was considered to be poisonous.  Until Saint Agnes in guise as magical woman plucked a lanzones from the tree, pressed it between thumb and finger, and asked a sickly child to eat it without fear. The child instantly became well. Saint Agnes was locally implored as Sta. Ines, hence the name lanson-Ines. On one visit to Paete a brought home two baskets full of sweet lanzones with its alamat for sharing.

EPILOGUE: LONG LIVE PAETE.  In the past 3 to 2 years, we lamented on the loss of Ben Dailo, Lino and Mommy Martha Dalay and Dr. Nilo Valdecantos. My trip to this chisel town will never be the same again without them but the stories they shared remain alive my heart.

– Heritage Month 2020

San Agustin Museum

MEMORY THEATER. The San Agustin Church Museum is a memory theater containing a treasure trove of what remains of the vast Philippine artifacts and religious art amassed by generations of Augustinian scientists, botanists, architects, artists, scholars, and teachers in their 400 years of missionary work in the Philippines.

Although the collection has suffered immeasurable lost from British looters in 1762, the American souvenir hunters in 1898, and the Battle for Liberation following the Japanese occupation in 1945, priceless antiques and the best specimens of locally-made hardwood furniture, ivory and wooden sculptures, religious paintings, ecclesiastical silverware and gold embroidered vestments are on permanent display in its ancients chambers. There is a wealth of knowledge locked inside each profane and sacred object in this cloistered monastery museum.

SALA DE RECIBIDOR. As it was in the olden days, enter the San Agustin monastery through the porteria. There use to be a desk here for the porter, who attended to visitors and took note of what goes in and out of the monastery. A chapel was erected in the porteria in honor of Our Lady of Consolation, as the patroness of the Agustinian Order in 1877. The massive door at the end of the porteria opened to the ante-chamber of the Sala de Recibidor. This wide door is only opened when processional carrozas leave the cloister to be led around the streets of Intramuros. A smaller door or postigo is cut within the hardwood framework of the larger door for persons on foot. In the middle of postigo is a flaming heart pierced by two arrows and the letters IHS which stands for the first three letters of Jesus in Greek. Over the heart is a hat with six tassels on the sides, symbolic of the a bishop, alluding to Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo.

The Sala de Recibidor served, in different occasions as an aula or classroom to teach catechism and sacred music, the procurator’s office, and holding room to receive lady guests. the Augustinian authorities restricted women from entering monasteries. It was a rule at that time that a lady could be met at the beginning of the stairway of a monastery but not beyond the middle. A lady attending for a sick call must be accompanied by two elderly gentlemen but not by more women.

AUGUSTINIAN CORRIDORS. A door in the antesala leads to the corridors of the cloister. At each of the four corners of the corridor is a retablo or an elaborately carved backdrop for the altar table. In the olden day, religious processions are held in the cloister and prayers or rituals were performed in each of the corner retablos. Each corner retablo is dedicated to a major saint. One of which is for San Nicholas de Tolentino, shows the Augustinian supersaint framed in solomonica columns and the celestial light as a star on his chest in act of saving the poor souls in purgatory.

Along the corridor are propped up paintings depicting important episodes in the lives of Augustinian saints. The earliest canvas were painted by Rafael Enriquez, Sr. who became the first dean of the University of the Philippines School of Fine Arts in 1909 and Augusto Fuster, who was a Spanish artist and photographer in the 1930s.

FROM COURTYARD TO CONCENTRATION CAMP.  The courtyard resembles certain Augustinian monasteries in Mexico, particularly the one on Yuriria, which dates from the 1550s. Through years of experimentation, the friar-architects from the other side of the Ring of Fire have applied the technology to buildings that can withstand natural calamities. Buttresses, a characteristic of Earthquake Baroque were applied in colonial churches to protect structures against earthquakes. This gives the cloister a fortress feel.

The San Agustin church and monastery was used as concentration camp in 1945. About 700 residents of Intramuros were rounded up and imprisoned within its cloisters. The prisoners drew water from the central fountain in the courtyard until it was contaminated. The slender ornamental palm tress were replacements of the ones cut down by the prisoners as firewood.

ANTIGUA SACRISTIA. The spacious hall called the Antigua Sacristia was once described as the most beautiful in the entire monastery.  It is dominated by a large retablo composed of several tiers of niches. It is said to be the first retablo of the church, carved by local craftman from San Pablo de los Montes in Laguna named Juan de los Santos. This Baroque retablo was installed in 1617, but deemed it too small for the church and relocated it in the old sacristy. The original fine ivory and wood santos did not survive the British looting and World War II. The santos presently displayed in the niches are from the Augustinian monastery in Cebu.

It was in this chamber where participants of religious processions were offered refreshments. Here too were prayed over the shrouded cadavers of members of the friar order before being interred in the church. When the church walls and ceiling were being painted by the Italian painter Albert Albergoni in 1875, the old sacristy served as temporary venue for masses. During the onset of the Liberation of Manila on February 1945, the fiesta of the Our Lady of Lourdes of the Capuchinos was celebrated in this hall.

FURNITURE IN THE OLD SACRISTY. The Antigua Sacristia was the original sacristy of the church. Here the priests prepared for the mass by washing his hands in the lavamanos or the elaborate marble washbasin with three faucets before vesting for the liturgical celebration. Vestments were kept in long chest of drawers called cajonerias. Each drawer was reserved for a different liturgical color; green for ordinary time, purple for Advent and Lent, white for Christmas and Easter, red for important feasts, and black, which was traditionally worn during mass of the dead or feast of the souls. The massive furniture in this room, including the intricately carved mirror frames were commissioned by the Agustinian Prior Fray Dionisio Suarez in years 1653 and 1674.

Flanking the great doorway at the far end of the hall are two huge cabinets which kept vestments and utensils. The doors are embellished with various floral carvings and double-headed eagle keyhole. For fear of being raped by the Japanese empowered two your girls to scale the cabinets and hide there. On the arch above the doorway is a distinct mural in red and black. They are interpretations of local artisan copied from interlacing strap work patterns that decorated prayer books and missals from Mexico and Europe.

ECCLESIASTICAL MUSEUM. The Antigua Sacristia has a display of church vessels, furniture and other mementos connected with San Agustin Church through centuries.

In the collection is a pair of 18th century vinajeras or cruets for holy water and wine in a platillo, a silver portapaz that was ceremoniously kissed during the Peace be with you part of the mass, a 17th century silver cofre or box used to possibly hold a reliquary and a custodia or monstrance, where the Blessed Sacrament is enshrined during high veneration.

ANTESACRISTIA IVORY COLLECTION. Beyond the arch doorway of the Antigua Sacristia is the Antesacristia. In much earlier times, it functioned as a trastera or a store room for the various church utensils and paraphernalia. This hall also witnessed the drafting of the terms of surrender of Manila to the Americans by Governor-General Fermin Juadenes. The antesacristia  also has become to be known as the Sala de la Capitulacion. During the Liberation of Manila in February 1945, the Japanese enemy raped and murdered their captives. It was said that the steps of the spiral staircase, caracol leading to the upper floors of the monastery was stained with blood of the victims.

The Antesacristia holds the ivory collection of the museum. The craft of carving of ivory, known as among Tagalogs as garing has been totally banned today because the illegal of ivory trade endangered wildlife. The slight curve posture of ivory statuettes such as in the corpus of the the crucifix on display was due to the natural curve of elephant’s tusks. During the Spanish times, elephant tusks were obtained from Africa and India through trades with China. Native craftsmen honed carving skills by working closely with Chinese artisans.

SALA DE PROFUNDIS. On the west wing of the cloister is the anterefectory called the Sala de Profundis or the Pantheon. Pantion, has become the the Filipino word for graveyard. This room was converted into a crypt for the Augustinians and later for Filipino families where members of the order converged  to says grace before and after meals.

The monument in the center was erected in memory of the victims of atrocities during the Battle of Manila in 1945. On 18 February 1945, 140 Spanish civilian males were marched off from the concentration camp in San Agustin, amidst the pleading and cries of the women and children. Among the 140 were 15 Augustinians, 10 Franciscans, 6 Augustinian Recollects, and 6 Capuchins. They were crowded in the ruins of the Palacio del Gobernador and grenades were thrown into the dens. Only an Augustinian and two Franciscans survived to narrate their horrifying ordeal.

MANILA PANTHEON. Just like the Pantheon in Rome, entombed in the crypt are the remains of the scions of Manila families such as the Ayalas, Paternos, Pardo de Taveras, Zobels, the nationalist historian Teodoro Agoncillo and his wife and the Luna Brothers.

Before interred in niche number 73, Juna Luna’s remains underwent an extraordinary odyssey. Following his death in HongKong in 1899, his cremated ashes were brought to Manila from a pail on which his son, the famous architect, Andres Luna de San Pedro kept under his bed. Luna’s ashes were later transferred to its final resting place in the Sala de Profundis.

REFECTORIO. After prayers in the Sala de Profundis, members of the community proceeded for meals at the Refectorio. By the entrance to left are the remains of the a stone washbasin and across it are the stone steps called the castigo de la piedra, where errant friar knelt, facing the wall while they their meal.

Similar to the murals in the Antigua Sacristia were the painted design in red and black on the barrel vaulted ceiling that form monograms of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Dating to the 17th century, the murals were copied by a local artisan from the swags, festoons, ribbons, and cartouches which framed early maps and cover of books. At the very back of the room is a massive retablo that form an assemblage of 18th century wood carvings and church antique wood from the collection of Don Luis Ma. Araneta.

LUIS MA. ARANETA CABINET OF CURIOSITIES. The old refectory houses the Don Luis Ma. Araneta collection of Philippine religious artifacts. The architect and Filipinologist started collecting in earnest after the war and some of his earliest finds were finely-carved santos and old paintings. In many instances, the town parishioners would offer their church and heirloom santos to Don Luis in exchange for roofing for their church or cement for their walls. The collection includes intricately carved wood relleves from Pakil, Mabitac and Morong, carved santos in wood and in ivory and paintings signed by Liberto Gatchalian in 1850 and Pampangan master craftsman Simon Flores.

Also an amazing part of the Don Luis cabinet of curiosities is the Calvary scene painstakingly formed in glass bottles. Tradition has it that this folk art began in 20th century by Bilibid prisoners as part of their rehabilitation while serving jail sentence.

GRAN ESCALERA. The cinematic grand staircase brought to mind the Three Musketeers and Hogwarts School of Wizardry. The gran escalera has forty-four pieces of piedra china cut stones leads up to the second floor of the monastery. Contrary to popular belief that the piedra china were used as counterweight on Chinese trade boats, these slabs were imported from Canton. In the years 1786 to 178, 2000 slabs were ordered. 44 were laid in the grand staircase, others were used to pave the sacristy and rest were brought to the different churches in the country.

Upon ascending the stairs, one is welcomed by a mellow atmosphere brought by the natural lighting filtered by the stained glass and capiz windows that open to the inner patio. In these second story corridors have walked the earliest religious orders of the Walled City.

LIFE IN THE MONASTERY. The rooms in the second floor functioned as classrooms and dormitories as early as 1590. It underwent massive reconstruction since it was severely damaged during the Liberation in 1945. When the monastery was opened as a museum, they were made into galleries to illustrate life in the monastery and exhibition spaces for more artifacts.

The hall to the right upon reaching the topmost floor from the gran escalera is a reconstruction of the Sala de San Pablo. This was the chapter hall where important meeting were held. The window in one corner of this hall opened to a pasadizo, a covered, overhead bridge with large windows that connects the monastery to the Casa Procuracion across the street. Next room is the Sala de San Agustin. This lengthy hall was divided into smaller spaces to serve as dormitories. In one corner is the celda prioral or the office of the Provincial Prior. The Prior was the head of the Augustinian community. A massive chest, engraved with the words Caxa de Obras Pias y Convento contained precious silver coins used for funding charitable projects.

BIBLIOTECA. In another corner of the second floor gallery is a reconstruction of the Biblioteca. The original library contained rare manuscripts and books brought to the country by the early Augustinians. Old photos show the books were kept in narra bookcases that are crowned by carvings that framed the names of Augustinian scholars. The gallery is enclosed in glass and has a display of representative title pages of works by Augustinians, including the classic Flora de Filipinas by the botanist Fray Manuel Blanco.

The first edition of this classic appeared in 1835 but was criticized for lack of illustrations. On a later editions, artists and illustrators were commissioned. Two versions of Flora de Filipinas were published at the same time, a colored set was printed in Barcelona while a black and white version was printed in Manila. This six huge volumes of text that came with lithographs detailed the plant life of the entire archipelago.

MURDER OF FRAY SEPULVEDA. This chamber is a passage to the choirloft and sits directly under the bell tower. It served as a private chapel for the community. The grand Baroque retablo contained a stoup for holy water. The retablo was originally from the old side chapel in the main church. It was removed when the latter was dedicated to Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. In the central niche of the retablo is a crucifix which was brought by Fray Alonso de Mentrida in 1602. This crucifix was originally placed over the railings of the adjoining choirloft. It is said that the image on the cross extended its hand in absolution to a friar who, in the throes of death who did not receive the last rites.

August 1, 1617. Rector Provincial Fray Vicente Sepulveda was found murdered in the celda prioral. In an effort to catch the culprits who were suspected to be a member of the community, the corpse of the murdered Augustinian leader was laid out with its index finger pointed at whoever entered the antecoro from the corridor. The dead body was arranged in such manner to identify the perpetrator by feeling the heart of each friar who came in to kiss the dead provincial’s hand.  The guilty were identified, one escaped. Those captured were sentenced to death by hanging and were buried within the walls of the monastery.

CORO Y SILLERIA. Pass the gloomy antecoro into the dramatic splendor of the choirloft with its 68 ornately carved molave thrones or silleria and the magnificent lectern that supports cantorals. The seat in each individual silleria can be raised so that the occupant can stand without moving away when it is upturn. The Prior’s throne in the center is covered with a wooden canopy.

At the center of the floor is the facistol, an opulent lectern that holds the cantorals. It was commissioned by Fray Felix Trillo in 1734. It must have been carved by the Chinese artisans from the old Parian. The lower part of the facistol has carvings of Classical and Oriental allegorical figures. The shaft is borne by cherubs posing as caryatids. The pyramidal upper part of the facistol can be rotated to facilitate the changing chant books that were made of durable cowhide. The facistol is capped by a niche which used to have an image of the Immaculate Conception in ivory.

SAN AGUSTIN PIPE ORGAN. The first church pipe organ were made of wood and deteriorated in time. According to historic documents, wood used in the San Agustin organ were molave, narra, baticuling and tindalo. Tuba or coconut wine was used as glue.  Ivory was laid on the keyboard. The master builder of the pipe organ is unknown but is attributed to the Fray Diego Cera of the famous Las Piñas Bamboo Organ.

In the monastery have lived composers of church music. Most renowned Filipino composer was Marcelo Adonay from Pakil who spent his younger years in the San Agustin. He founded an orchestra that was to be the finest of its time.

EPILOGUE:  SAN AGUSTIN CHURCH. The choirloft is central to the monastic life and received the best view in the entire church and monastery. From here, the richly Baroque interior of San Agustin Church and the splendid trompe l’oeil painted on the massive barrel vault ceiling glows forever in this theater of memory.

Published in: on March 2, 2020 at 7:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

San Mateo Artists Guild

ART TOWN IN THE VALLEY. The town of San Mateo, Rizal was established by Spanish missionaries in 1850 in the northern section of the Marikina Valley. Bordered by the foothills of the Sierra Madre in the east and gifted with a rich Hispanic traditions that honors its titular patroness the Nuestra Señora de Aranzazu, it is in this countryside setting that its homegrown artists found inspiration to create art.

Established artists that hailed from this farming town like the late Gene de Loyola and Ben-hur Villanueva have made a mark in our nation’s art history. The tradition continues with new generation of artists who are making their way into the contemporary art scene through the San Mateo Artists Guild. But before the artists guild was formed in 2018, there was already an active art community in San Mateo, Rizal through individual artistic pursuits.

ELLA HIPOLITO. Ella Hipolito who took fine arts in the College of the Holy Spirit have established herself as the ‘coffee artist’ who uses coffee as pigment in her paintings.

Her versatile style and mastery on different media earned her recent nominations as finalist to the Philippine Art Awards and Don Papa Rum Art Competition.

NOEL CATACUTAN. The modernist master Noel Catacutan is a well respected officer of national art organizations that provided support and recognition to students and community-based artists.

His paintings is a playful storytelling of Philippine folk life through pyramids, cones and cubes.

ELIEZAR DIMACULANGAN. Dabs of vivid colors on canvas by Eli Dimaculangan never runs out of fashion.

His romance with colors are reflected in his aquascapes and dancing schools of fish.

JUN MENDIOLA. Before Jun Mendiola painted idyllic and pastoral landscapes, he worked as resident artist for a popular gift store.

Today, his choice of subjects are simple but painted in crisp and incredible detail.

RALPH VILLALUZ. Ralph Villaluz is a tattoo artist whose body of works on canvas is a stark contrast to his skin art.

This artist is known for his simplified and delicate, overlapping plant forms and his use of tropical colors inspired by ornamental plants from his backyard garden. He experiments on morphing human forms with organicscapes that resulted to ethereal, surreal and magical images.

BADZ PALACIO. Badz Palacio is a sculptor who works on various figures using synthetic molds and resin.

The result of his experimentation is a cult of figurative forms that is brave and challenging traditional sculptural medium.

EPILOGUE: HIRAYA EXHIBIT. As part of nurturing the creative emergence of its member artists and their followers, the art guild in its second year stages Hiraya, a grand exhibit from February 24 to 29, 2020 on the 3rd level activity area of SM City San Mateo.

– In celebration of the National Arts Month 2020

Published in: on February 26, 2020 at 11:02 am  Leave a Comment  


PANDACAN GIANTS. The problem with setting a place apart as an important heritage zone is when commercial structures tower above monuments and ancestral houses making us forget their cultural value, and their legends isolated from the world. The Pandacan I knew was its view from the Nagtahan flyover as the petroleum city by the Pasig River.

A recent walking tour into this old Manila neighborhood revealed that beyond those huge oil storage tanks is a heritage district that was home to historical and cultural giants, Ladislao Bonus, Francisco Balagtas, Jacinto Zamora, pre-War ancestral houses, and the twin statues of the infant Jesus that are venerated in separate churches, both claiming the title as the Sto. Niño de Pandacan.

THE LITTLE VENICE OF MANILA. The barrio of Pandacan was named after the pandan plantation that thrived near the riverbank. Just like the scenes in the canals of Venice, residents of this farming village used slender wooden bancas as their means of transportation to get around town through the meandering esteros leading to the Pasig River. This earned Pandacan the sobriquet as the little Venice of Manila.

Originally a part of the Sampaloc District, Pandacan didn’t become an independent parish until 1712 when the bucolic village began building a permanent shrine for its Sto. Nino.

STO. NIÑO DE PANDACAN. Legend is told that when the wooden image of the Infant Jesus was recovered from a muddy pool where carabaos wallowed, the village elders brought it to its parish in Sampaloc. The strange thing was, it kept reappearing to the site where is was discovered. The Franciscan friar Francisco del Rosario built the first parish church in 1732 with the Sto. Nino enshrined in its main altar.

Generations of village folks attributed numerous miracles to their beloved icon. In the turbulent year of 1896, the Spanish authorities decreed Pandacan under the Juez de Cuchillo upon learning to be a hotbed of the revolution. On the day when the cannons were aimed to bomb the village, a child appeared floating above the artillery positioned in Nagtahan. The commanding officer pushed back the attack. Similar miracles took place in 1911 and 1941, when the village was spared from massive fires and World War II bombings. Another popular legend tells about a boy with curly hair and smeared with dirt on his face would be seen walking around the streets and the church patio. The people would offer him food because they believed that the boy was a manifestation of the Holy Child.

BULING-BULING FIESTA. January is the month the Sto. Niño throughout the country. In Pandacan, the third Sunday of January is a celebration of thanksgiving for the miracles of the Sto. Niño through a dance procession called the Buling-buling. During the fiesta, the villagers donned in their Sunday best to join the procession and families would set out their household image of the Sto. Niño in a makeshift altar right in front of their house. The first Buling-buling dance procession was held in the 1800 and lasted until World War II. It was revived in the 1970s and practiced until to this today.

The star of the Buling-Biling is the centuries-old image of the Holy Child carried on a silver carroza. Carved in dark wood similar to the Black Nazarene of Quiapo and the Black Madonna of Antipolo, it suggests that the statue must have also came from Mexico through the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade.

EBONY AND IVORY STO. NIÑO. Not too many people know that there is another image of the Sto. Niño in Pandacan. This image of the Holy Child was carved in ivory and was brought by the Franciscans to Pandacan in 1760. When the Iglesia Filipina Independiente or Aglipayan Church broke away from Vatican in 1902, revolutionary priests sequestered the parish church of Pandacan from the Franciscans until in 1906 when the Supreme Court ruled that all properties of the Catholic Church that were occupied by the Aglipayans had to be returned to their respective Archdiocese and friar orders.

The Aglipayan took with them the ivory image of the Sto. Niño and brought it into their church as an object of veneration. During the yearly Buling-Buling fiesta, the ivory Sto. Niño would join its ebony twin in the dance procession.

ROMUALDEZ HOUSE. Right across Pandacan Church is the Romualdez House. This well-preserve bahay-na-bato was built around the 1920s. It was home to Pandacan’s illustrious resident and Cabeza de Barangay, Daniel Romualdez. On the street level are the grilled windows and double doors guarded by lion statues, each holding a monogram. The family crest is etched on a plaque next to the main door.

The second floor has wide voladas or the cantilevered walkway that runs along the window side around the house. In the olden days, servants used the galeria volada to go from room to room while the main floor is exclusive for the masters of the house. Floral patterns punctured the eaves to serve as vents are also repeated in the volada. The second floor windows have metal canopies called media aguas that provide protective shade from sun and rain. The transoms above the windows have traceries that are traditionally called espejong calado.

PANDACAN ANCESTRAL HOUSES. Right next to the Romualdez House, is a charming post-war townhouse. The ground floor has a couple of stores and second floor can be accessed through stone stairs on the right. The capiz windows on the second floor is protected from the elements by metal awnings or media aguas that are decorated by tin cutouts on its edge. Its roof is topped by a spire. I wonder if that served as a lightning rod or for decorative purposes only. Compared to its next door neighbor, this house is rotting away.

Also along the same street is the Musser/Thelmo House. Also built around the 1920s, it is dominated by red fence from the street. Beyond the arched gate is the view of the balcony, supported by concrete Solomonica columns. In its hey day, it housed the sound studio and laboratory of the Manila Talkatone Studios that introduced the first talking pictures to the country. The house is familiar for it became in different occasions a movie set for local films and television series.

LADISLAO BONUS. Next to the Musser/Thelmo House is a historical marker to Ladislao Bonus. Born in Pandacan in June 27, 1854. Bonus was referred to as the Father of Philippine Opera for organizing an opera company compose entirely of Tagalog performers. He also organized the Marikina Orchestra, the Pasig Band, and the Arevalo Band that became the official band of the Revolutionary Government in Malolos. His famous musical scores were for the zarzuela, Sandugong Panaginip, Recuerdos a la Patria with lyrics by Jose Rizal, and the Triumphal March for the First Philippine Assemble.

To commemorate Pandacan’s homegrown musical genius, a historical marker was installed along the street, on the site of Bonus’ ancestral house. Above the bronze plaque is a low relief by classical sculptor Anastacio T. Caedo. Professor Caedo assisted National Artist Guillermo Tolentino in creating his iconic works such as the Monumento and the U.P. Oblation.

PLAZA JACINTO ZAMORA. Another historical giant from Pandacan was Padre Jacinto Zamora who was born on August 14, 1853 in a house along San Luis Street. Zamora was part of the Gomburza triumvirate, priests who were implicated in the Cavite Mutiny of 1872.

As a student in San Juan de Letran, Zamora led a student protest in 1860 that resulted to being locked up in his quarters for two months but that did not affect his way into priesthood. He served the parishes of Marikina, Pasig and Lipa later became an examiner of new priest at the Manila Cathedral. He was finishing his doctorate in canon law at the University of Sto. Tomas when he was arrested and executed in Bagumbayan. The site of Zamora’s ancestral house was made into a plaza dedicated to the martyred priest.

FRANCISCO BALAGTAS. The poet Francisco Balagtas was born in Bigaa, Bulacan on August 2, 1788. He later change his name to Baltazar after the decree of Governor-General Narciso Claveria that all indios must use Spanish surnames. He worked as an errand boy to the Trinidad family in Tundo when he was 11. He finished his studies at the Colgeio de San Jose, a Jesuit school at age 24. He earned a living as a lyricist.

Balagtas migrated to Pandacan in 1835 where he fell in love with a local lass named Maria Asuncion Rivera. A rival have him imprisoned. In jail, he wrote his iconic Florante at Laura, which he dedicated to Celia using the initials M.A.R. The metrical romance, which had a full title as Pinagdaanang Buhay ni Florante at Laura sa Cahariang Albania – Quinuha sa Madlang Cuadro Historico or Pinturang Nagsasabing nang manga Nagyari nang Unang Panahon sa Imperyo ng Grecia – at Tinula ng Isang Matouain sa Versong Tagalog became a favorite of Jose Rizal who brought a copy with him while sailed away from Manila and Apolinario Mabini who transcribed the entire piece from memory years later to ensure its perpetuation as written literature. A plaza dedicated to the literary genius, Balagtas was built to honor the adopted son of Pandacan.

EPILOGUE: PANDACAN WALKING TOUR. Pandacan today is far from being Manila’s little Venice or how Balagtas has romanticized this riverine barrio in his poem.

A self-paced walking tour around Pandacan is not sightseeing but all about feeling, learning and remembering our cultural heritage and sharing them to the rest of the world.

– Feast of the Candelaria

Casa San Pablo

LAW OF ATTRACTION. It was one of those long and grueling hours that at the start of my shift in the middle of the week I was already wishful for it to abruptly end. There’s pressure in all angles and that unfulfilled creative aspirations every day made me restless and depressed. I was experiencing an occupational burnout. In my workstation, I daydreamed for a rustic escape where I sit in a corner of a countryside inn overlooking a farm to write or do some art, indulge in sightseeing and dining while exchanging random stories about life with friends or just simply taking things at an unhurried pace and enjoying a valuable me time to keep my mental health intact.

By the end of the workweek, I don’t know where to go. I was so preoccupied in juggling my tasks that I missed planning for the weekend. While having lunch on a Saturday, I got a call from Boots Alcantara reminding me of a weekend stay in Casa San Pablo to meet the artists-in-residence from the Tuklas Program of Eskinita Gallery. Shamefully, I forgot about this invitation. That afternoon, I immediately boarded the provincial bus to my favorite provincia, Laguna.

SAN PABLO CITY. I arrived in San Pablo City a few minutes before midnight. In the darkness of the sprawling grounds of Casa San Pablo, I followed the footpath leading to the bed and breakfast inn. It was strange for someone like me who has gotten used to the noise of the city a few hours ago that suddenly all was serene and only the mesmerizing chirping of the crickets can be heard. A night staff led me to my cabin.

The next day, I walked to the cathedral at the plaza to hear Sunday mass. It was still dark and the weather balmy at 6 in the morning. While standing at the base of the American era Rizal Monument, the sunrise gently revealed San Pablo’s famous landmarks like a visual historical timeline of the city. Located at the foot of the primordial Mount Banahaw, the Franciscan friars organized the four villages of Sampaloc under the church bells of San Pablo de los Montes in 1556. In 1940, the Commonwealth government made San Pablo as Laguna’s first chartered city and appointed Dr. Potenciano Malvar as its first mayor. On my walk back to Casa San Pablo, the city began to stir with activities. I paused right in front of the stately Fule-Malvar Mansion already basking in the morning sun. Built in 1915, this Neoclassical structure was home to the first appointed mayor of San Pablo City and wife Eusebia Fule.

CASA SAN PABLO HISTORY. The history of Casa San Pablo dates back when the family matriarch Sinforosa Azores Gomez inherited the vast coconut plantation from her father. Sinforosa and her husband built a vacation house within the plantation. The Gomez couple later opened the vacation house to accommodate guests from out of town. It became a popular place in San Pablo City as Kay Inay Resort. In 1997, The eldest grandson of Sinforosa and Pepe, Jose Cayetano ‘Boots’ Alcantara continued the family’s inn-keeping business. He and his wife An Mercado renamed the bed and breakfast inn as Casa San Pablo.

The celebrated potter from Quezon, Ugu Bigyan designed a delightful assemblage of cottage inns where he put together a strange mesh of dissimilar but interesting vintage items like salvaged pre-war house parts, capiz window panels, turn-of-the century railroad tracks called traviesa made into footpaths, prensang de uling turned into stairway handles and more storied objects reused as decorations or functional fixtures. Each of the rooms has a character that brings the nostalgia of youth and simpler times. One room has a collection of rare die-cast toy cars and another with a display of sketches and paintings. My cabin had a barber chair.

KUWENTONG BARBERO. Back to my room, I had my first coffee for the day while seated in a barber chair. This ergonomic chair was invented at the turn-of-the-century so that the menfolk can sit comfortably while a trusted barber serviced them with haircuts, beard trims or warm shaves.

While it is an unusual artifact among the grouping of mixed vintage furniture in the screened balcony since a barber chair has been a staple fixture in barbershops but not for the bedroom, it recalls those visits to the good old barbershops for the pampering, relaxation, and most anticipated storytelling or kwentong barbero where the barber instantly becomes an all in one town historian, showbiz reporter, sports and political analyst.

REMEMBERING VIAJE DE SOL. I immediately felt nostalgic of my early days as a blogger upon entering the main dining pavilion of Casa San Pablo. A hearty breakfast was served with freshly brewed coffee to match the special bibingkas. Popular during the Christmas season, bibingka is batter made of rice flour and baked along roadside stalls using the dos fuegos method.

I was in my mid twenties when I started blogging about trips to historical landmarks in Manila then later about sojourns to the countryside. Travel blogging was a new thing then and so as Viaje de Sol, a no fuss, unpretentious arts and culture tour of Laguna and Quezon organized by a group of local store owners and inn keepers in the region. The Viaje del Sol itinerary and activities included cruising Sampaloc and Pandin lakes, having brunch at Kusina Salud or Kinabuhayan Cafe, participating in arts and crafts making at Ugu Bigyan‘s pottery studio or Carlito Ortega brass sculpting workshop, watching cultural shows at Villa Escudero and staying for the weekend in Casa San Pablo.

THE ART BARN. A new structure in the Casa San Pablo is the Art Barn. This multi-purpose hall looks like a farmhouse that blends well with the pine trees and other eclectic structures in the compound. It houses exhibition spaces for contemporary and folk arts, a conference hall and a spacious art-making studio. Activities in the Art Barn draws not just artists and visitors from out of town but also local residents, cultural workers, teachers, students, and artists who come to interact with the different expressions of art.

In random corners of the Art Barn are modernist drawings and contemporary paintings from the art collection of Boots Alcantara. Curated art pieces were purposely showcased in the Art Barn so that fine arts, from its most sophisticated plane is brought back to its primary roots, the common folks. When onsite, Boots holds personal tours to guests where he talks about his relationship as an art collector with the artworks and the artists.

TUKLAS ART RESIDENCY PROGRAM. As a way of giving art back to its primary roots, Casa San Pablo partnered with Eskinita Gallery in implementing the Tuklas Program. A brain child of social realist Alfredo Esquillo, Tuklas Program reflects the artist’s personal experiences as a student of Renato Hubulan. The program aims to discover talents from different parts of the country through its art residency programs. Through the Tuklas Program, artists in residence get encouragement and learn the best creative practices from visiting artists.

In the Tuklas studio of Casa San Pablo, I met the artists in residence, Billy Bagtas and Genavee Lazaro.

APOCALYPTIC CREATURE. Highly expressive, creative, and the dense drawings of apocalyptic creatures with razor sharp fangs and pointy fingers that painfully clutches into the soul is a shocking retelling of Billy Bagtas’ spiritual battle and how he gained victory through mustering his faith.

Before his evocative paintings, Billy narrated his dark lucid dreams, the repeated trips to a neighborhood witch doctor, his grim encounter with kulam and an exorcist priest from Quiapo.

MGA CACTUS LANG YAN. If Billy’s stories fit the bill for a horror Netflix series, Genavee Lazaro has an equally spine-tingling story on how she developed her whimsical terracotta figures. Whenever Genavee comes home to her apartment in Quezon City, she would hear knocks and banging coming from the kitchen.

To cope with the pestering poltergeist, she made terracotta figures modeled from her cactus collection and placed them in the kitchen. Since then every time Genavee would hear the strange noise, she dismisses her fear as mga cactus lang yan.

TERRACOTTA STORYTELLERS. My take away from the stories of Billy and Genavee is that art is about storytelling. Just like the little terracotta communities in bright and folksy colors that potter An Mercado Alcantara shaped by hand and baked in her studio at Casa San Pablo. She learned pottery from experience and getting lessons from celebrated potters Jon and Tessa Pettyjon, Ugu Bigyan, Lanelle Abueva-Fernando, and Joey De Castro.

Retiring from her corporate career as publishing executive, An became a full time potter-artist and inn-keeper. At Casa San Pablo, she retells the simple life of the town folks through her colorful clay figures and shares her passion in storytelling and creating terracotta dolls through creative writing and pottery-making workshops.

ROAD TREAT AROUND UPLB. The rest of the afternoon, Billy and Genavee drove me around Los Baños. The most famous landmark in town is Mount Makiling, a dormant volcano from which all the hot springs and local legends emanate. The lake shore town of Los Baños was locally called Mainit, referring to the numerous hot springs in the area. According to local legend, the mountain is home to the beautiful fairy, Mariang Makiling. She was a nature goddess protecting the mountain. Stories about her generosity and wrath is so implanted in the folk consciousness that locals claim to have seen her bathing in Dampalit Falls.

We drove further into the woods on our way to the University of the Philippines (UPLB) Campus. It was early in the evening. A full moon rising. We were right in front of Baker Hall.  A potent setting for more fun and spooky ghost stories from Billy and Genavee.

EPILOGUE: A CHARMING INTERLUDE. Back in Casa San Pablo, our group had dinner. After dessert, we had bottles of beer while in hammocks swinging set under stars. I’m grateful to Boots, An, Billy and Genavee for being part of this charming interlude from my daily life.

– 12th year anniversary of the Traveler on Foot

Published in: on January 14, 2020 at 6:23 pm  Comments (1)