Kiangan, Ifugao

MOUNTAIN TOWNS. For most travelers, a trip to Ifugao starts and ends in Banaue Rice Terraces. View decks that offer a panoramic vista of the ancient staircased rice paddies are heavy with tourists all year round. Like most travelers, I’ve been to most of tourist spots in Ifugao during my first time in the Cordilleras.

For this trip with freinds Rod and CJ, we veered away from the crowded sites and drove to the mountain towns of Lagawe and Kiangan.

MAGAT DAM. Temperature dips as we traveled out from the lowlands of Isabela into the grand mountain chain of the Cordillera. On the way, we made a quick side trip to Magat Dam. This high-rise dam holds back the force of the mighty Magat River on the Isabela-Ifugao border. Built in the 1970s, Magat Dam was an incredible engineering feat, designed for generating electricity, irrigation, and flood control.

We walked the length of the driveway for a closer look of the spillway and the reservoir. The water level in the reservoir was lower than the normal mark where floating solar panels were being installed to contribute to the electricity generated by the hydroelectric power plant.

G’ADDANGS OF ALFONSO LISTA. By mid-morning, we reached the town of Alfonso Lista. Village life in this mountain town are huddled close in the población where we met Veronica De Guzman, a weaver of G’addang tribal garments. She responded to our questions and acceded to our request to demonstrate weaving using a box-type loom.

Among the tribes in the Cordillera, the G’addangs are the most fashionable. Womenfolk dressed in woven blouse called buruwasi and skirt that are extravagantly decorated with colorful beads, shells, coins, buttons, and bone while the menfolk wear an indigo cape called tapit on top of a beaded jacket or koton and g-string or baag. Traditionally, G’addang garments are in bright red and woven with symbolic and geometric patterns in white, black, and yellow to distinguished them from the other warring tribes.

G’ADDANG BEADWORKS. Veronica brought out an ensemble of G’addang accessories. To complete the buruwasi are the cloth tiara, belt, necklace and earrings – all beaded and decorated in horror vacui fashion with pieces of carabao horns, pig fangs, bird feathers, and sundry objects. Prized are those accessories adorned with pre-war coins and heirlooms glass beads.

Before leaving Veronica, she gave us a couple of bead and shell necklace and a buruwasi that will go to the Balay na Santiago Museum in Isabela.

ROADSIDE TO LAGAWE. By noon time we had crossed Lower Magat Dam in Nueva Vizcaya and finally revved up again around the rugged mountainside in Ifugao. We made several stops by the roadside to eat and shop. For lunch, we dined at a roadside eatery that served local favorites papaitan, dinakdakan, calderetang kambing, and sinigang sa misu.

Under thatch roofs of sawali huts are fruit stands and basket weavers. A fruit stand sold clumps of lituko. This fruit of the rattan palm have overlapping layers that look like snake skin. Press the brittle skin to break open the fruit. The fruit has the same level of sourness as the kamias and tamarind. Next to bamboo, rattan has been traditionally a popular raw material for making furniture and weaving baskets.

HU-OP BASKET. We arrived in Lagawe in the afternoon. Touristically, the capital town of Ifugao has nothing much to offer but a genuine immersion to mountain life that is simple, rural, and pleasantly away from commercial trappings. Its public market displays Ifugao’s primary products, highland crops  and brown rice from the terraced paddies, the native rice wine that is drank during recreation and rituals called baya and key ingredients to the customary betel nut chewing: dried tabacco leaves, lime or apog, betel nuts and leaves.

I was particularly drawn to the hu-op, a box-like basket traditionally used for holding cooked rice. It is made of tightly woven bamboo strips and has a tight-fitting lid. Baskets from the Cordilleras are the best travel souvenirs. They have practical use and are light to carry around.

NO GOLD IN YAMASHITA MUSEUM. We drove further deep into the mountains. By mid-afternoon, we reached Kiangan. This historic town is home to a couple of heritage museums and World War II memorials. Driving towards the town center, we were immediately drawn into the 1920s American architecture of the United Church of Christ and nearby Ifugao Academy.

Across the Protestant Church is Kiangan Central School where its Home Economics building was made into a museum to commemorate the surrender of Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita to the Ifugao and American forces on September 2, 1945. Artifacts in the museum put a human face into the war. A photograph shows the defeated Tiger of Malaya facing an American military tribunal that sentenced him to death for war crimes. Upon his death, treasure hunting became prevalent in Kiangan because it was believed that the Japanese General hid an enormous amount of gold in the area. No one knows if the fabled Yamashita treasure was ever found.

IKAT AND DEATH BLANKET. But the real treasures of Kiangan is housed in the building next door. The Indigenous Peoples Education Center contains tribal artifacts that preserve and showcase the ancient crafts and culture of the Ifugao. Kiangan is the oldest town in the Ifugao. It is home to the tribe’s mythical ancestors Wigan and Bugan. Wigan was the sculptor of the first bul-ol, a wooden image of the rice god while Bugan weaved the first fabric using the backstrap loom called the ablan. The couple learned these crafts from Ifugao gods and passed the skill to the next generation of sculptors and weavers.

With today’s fusion of modern and traditional, in art and in fashion Ifugao woven fabrics are sought after by designers and decorators for their texture, color, and primitive symbols like the lizard or baniya that represents the god that showed the tribe how to source water and the snake or tinukud that represents the god that guards the mystical boundary between life and death. Some city folks fail to research that these stylized animal patterns are elements found in a traditional death blanket used to wrap corpses. Recently, the Ifugao fabric made it into the news when Vice President Leni Lobredo was accused of wearing a death blanket for a skirt in a state event. Ifugao weavers were quick to correct critics that the VP’s dress was fashioned from the tie-dyed binobodan or ikat fabric. The ikat is a classy gift to fashion-conscious friends that can be purchased directly from the Ifugao weavers in the heritage center.

KIANGAN WAR MONUMENT. Passed the Protestant church and school, we drove the sloping road following the street sign that led us to the Kiangan World War II Memorial. Similar with the war memorials in Corregidor and Mount Samat, the Kiangan War Memorial was erected to commemorate the end of the Japanese occupation and to honor the brave Ifugao and Americans veterans of war. Historically, tribes in the mountain provinces we’re relatively untouched by the Spanish colonial rule because they fiercely fought for their territory. Their heritage and way of life remained intact and unconquered until the coming of the Americans who introduced public school education and Protestantism.

Ifugao warriors fought the Japanese side by side with the Americans until General Yamashita surrendered. The Kiangan War Monument drew inspiration from the native Ifugao house that is raised from the ground and sits on stills.

ALL THINGS BROWN AND SOOT-COVERED. The weather has changed while we were in the War Memorial. The clouds were low and grey. We raced across the sprawling lawn to reach the Ifugao Museum on the other side of the compound due to the impending rain.

The anthropological museum is a branch of the National Museum. The two-level building showcase priceless artifacts from around Ifugao. The collection includes all things that are brown, soot-covered and beautiful: wooden idols in all conceivable positions and animal protectors, woven baskets in different shapes, sizes and purpose, carved wood that form house parts and household implements, musical instruments of wood and brass, accessories and clothing. A status symbol among the Ifugao is the hagabi, a large wooden bench carved from a single tree trunk. A hagabi in the front the house means that its resident have acquired good fortune. Two ends of the hagabi bench have stylized carvings of pig or carabao heads. The entire village participates in the finding for the right tree and in the making of the hagabi. It’s a village festival that lasts for several days.

EPILOGUE: CAÑAO RITUAL. The centerpiece of the Ifugao Museum is a tableau that illustrates the staging of the cañao. This ancient ritual is performed to pray for a bountiful harvest and before and after tribal war or the headhunting season.

The ceremony is led by a mumbaki, an ordained native priest who chants long and memorized prayers while sipping rice wine. Around the altar are ritual wooden container or panumahan, betel-nut offerings, jugs of rice wine, ritual bowls, bul-ol idols and bundles of rice grains. The ritual is performed in stages with dancing, chanting, and beating of flat gongs called the gangsa. It ends with a sacrifice of a native pig.


Published in: on November 2, 2019 at 1:44 pm  Comments (1)  

Paco Cemetery

UNMARKED GRAVE OF GOMBURZA. Shortly after the execution of the priests Mariano Gomez, Jose Burgos, and Jacinto Zamora in the scaffolds of Bagumbayan, they’re remains were buried in an unmarked grave in Paco Cemetery. Their death in February 17, 1872 has inspired a national revolution against colonial Spain. A stone cross was erected in the outer wall of the cemetery to commemorate the martyrdom of the priest collectively known as GOMBURZA.

Paco Cemetery was built by the Dominican order in 1807 in the suburb of San Fernando de Dilao. Designed by Nicolas Ruiz, the maestra de obras of the Manila, it was named Cementerio General de Dilao. It was intended as an exclusive cemetery for the Spanish residents of old Manila’s. Later in the century, Governor General Fernando Norzagaray ordered the construction of an outer wall to intern victims of the cholera epidemic that swept Manila like the angel of death during that period.

CIRCULAR CEMETERY. The cemetery has a circular plan like the one in Nagcarlan, with an inner concentric wall which was the original cemetery. The cemetery gates bears a Neoclassical architecture in adobe that recall the same details found in the gates of Intramuros.

At the end of the cemetery’s main avenue is the circular chapel of Saint Pancratius. The chapel was also done in the same Neoclassical style and has a cement dome. It houses the remains of Governor General Ramon Maria Solano y Llanderal. The chapel is currently under the care of the Vicentian fathers in San Marcelino. On the sides of the chapel are wide stairs leading to an open terrace lined with stone balustrades.

A DEAD CEMETERY. No burial have taken place in Paco Cemetery since 1912. During the Liberation of Manila, the Japanese turned the cemetery in the ammunition depot. They dug trenches and installed bombshells around the thick walls. After the war, much like most structures of Manila, the cemetery was in ruins and became infamous for it was known to be inhabited by large pythons. It’s a dead cemetery.

In 1966, the cemetery was renovated and turned into a public park by landscape architect National Artist Ildefonso Santos.  In the 1980s, it was known for an open air orchestra concerts and a preferred venue for stylish-theme wedding.

RPJ IN REVERSE. Also located at the outer circle is a landmark cross that indicates the burial place of  Dr. Jose Rizal after his execution in Bagumbayan on December 30, 1896. Unusual is how the initials of Jose P. Rizal are inscribed in reverse as RPJ at the base of the cross. According to the story, the day before Rizal was put to death by firing squad, his family negotiated with Spanish authorities to turn over his corpse to them later the next day. They were met with refusal because the Colonial government feared the burial site would be used a symbol of martyrdom and can trigger a revolution. Toward the evening, the civil governor of Manila, Manuel Luego, took pity on Doña Teodora, Rizal’s mother and gave her permission to take the body after the execution. Rizal’s sister Narcisa, made arrangements for a coffin and transportation.

However, when Rizal’s family went to the execution site, the remains of Jose had already been removed. Narcisa, searched in vain for the body of his brother in all the cemeteries in Manila. Passing through Paco Cemetery in the afternoon, she came upon some civil guards and out of gut feeling surmised that their presence indicated that her brother had been buried there. She searched all over Paco Cemetery until she found a grave with freshly turned earth. She bribed the sepulturero to place a marker with Rizal initials in reverse to mark the burial site. In August 17, 1898, Rizal’s remains were exhumed and transferred to her mother’s house in Tondo until it was properly buried under his monument in Luneta.

Published in: on October 26, 2019 at 12:00 am  Comments (1)  

Ghost Stories by TOF

HALLOWEEN BLOG. Days before November 1st, we so love to scare ourselves with ghost stories. A potent setting to retell these supernatural encounters are places that are reputedly haunted. I had a few personal encounters with the paranormal while going places. I compiled them in this series.

In the same league as MGB and KMJS Halloween specials, here are my stories:

ALIS! ALIS! I arrived at the ancient underground cemetery minutes to closing time. With the last visitors heading out, I was left alone in the crypt. While I position camera into the far end of the hall, I heard vague whispers as if saying, alis! alis! I dismissed my fear because I have a deadline to meet with the magazine editor.

Whispers continued as I posed by the stone altar and went back and again to set the camera timer for a couple more shots. I did not check the photos until I was out of the underground cemetery.

PHANTOM BOYS OF TAAL LAKE. There were seven of us who set camp by the lake shore. Behind us was the shadow of Taal Volcano. This active volcano claimed many lives during its historic eruptions, particularly in the town of Talisay where we pitched tents before trekking volcano island the next day.

That evening, we gathered around the camp fire exchanging stories. In middle of the story telling and laughter, two us who sat next to each with our backs against the lake felt running footsteps and water splatters directly behind us. We both turn our heads towards the lake and saw three boys running on the water that gradually faded out in thin air. My friend and I looked at each other. I asked: Nakita mo yun? He confirmed with a nod. Friends who where directly facing the lake were puzzled with our sudden shock and had the spine-tingling chills when we told them what saw because none of them saw the phantom boys of Taal Lake.

ALONE IN A HOTEL ROOM. In one of my trips, I stayed in a hotel. The moment I entered the spacious room, I already felt uneasy but no biggie because I will spend most of the day outdoors. On my first night, I woke up from sleep with all the lights turned on. I remember putting on just the night lamp before I went to bed that evening.

In my last night in the hotel, I let the cord of my cellphone charger to fall from the side table because I was too tired to unplug it. That morning, I woke up with both the charger and cord neatly laid on the side table.

THIRD EYE TEDDY. There are 3 reasons I avoid staying right next to a person with an active third eye. First, they serve as beacon to restless spirit. Second, they have the ability to heightened the sensitivity to ghost of those near them. Third, since paranormal sightings are normal to them, they give unsolicited FYI of what they see. There were four of us left at home after a drinking sesh, including Teddy. Past midnight, Teddy has been acting paranoid. He said that our house is haunted. My parents built the house in the 70s. It had dark varnished walls, dramatic lighting, and wall to wall curtains but growing up there, I never felt any presence until that night with Teddy.

It was nearing 1 AM, when Teddy called everyone’s attention to look towards the main door. He said there’s someone standing against the screen. All four of us quietly starring for close to a minute when a floating shadow appeared from nowhere. That made us all jump out our seat. Teddy said that it left. Then Teddy pointed to the door in the dining room that led to the service kitchen. Teddy described what he is seeing: Lalaki, about same age as ours, duguan but he can’t cross beyond the kitchen door. He’s just staring at us. That morning, I woke up to a commotion. House helpers were grieving because an errand boy was stabbed to death early past midnight.

MY FIRST APARTMENT. Immediately after graduating from college, I moved out from my parents’ house to live on my own. I rented a flat in a mid-rise building located in a forested subdivision in Quezon City. I stayed at the topmost floor. There were only two tenants in the building, me and a snobbish French expat who occupied the room next door. One weekend, I was very tired from the work week. I was in graveyard shift I normally sleep in day so I don’t put on a night lamp but I switch a CD player for some Parisian jazz to help me doze off. I usually wake up late in the afternoon, when there’s still sunlight. That weekend I woke up in dark room. I heard Latin chants but it was not coming from the CD player. From my bed I saw a shadow looks like a figure of a woman by the door. I screamed, terrified I threw whatever object I was able to grab from the bedside table. It was an oil burner made of terracotta. It created bang on the metal door. The shadow vanished.

A few minutes later someone was knocking on my door. I urgently stood up, looked into peephole, it was French neighbor. I told him what happened and he revealed to me that before I occupied my unit a lady was murdered there. Goosebumps. I went to the mall, called up some friends for drinking sesh in Timog got drunk, umaga na ulit so forgot about the ghost. Since that day no more apparition until I had a girlfriend come over. She was taking a shower while door half open. I heard her scream. Terrified she told me that there was a lady with a pale face poking its head from the door. I month later my contract expired and moved to a peaceful apartment.

BPO GHOST STORY. There are several ghost stories set in a BPO office. Mine took place in a training room. There have been rumors among housekeeping staff and trainees who have an active third eye that the building has a resident ghost. He was sighted floating, almost a transparent figure of an old man along corridor leading to the training rooms. One day, one of my trainees revealed to me he has been seeing an old man standing in a far corner of the training room while we’re having class.

One morning, at around past midnight, I was left alone in the training room. I was completing my weekly report when all of a sudden I heard typing from the computer keyboard. It was from the workstation at the far corner of the training room. Out of desperation to finish my reports, I uttered, Tama na yan. May tinatapos pa ako. It stopped but the typing resumed a few minutes later. This time I was already creeping out, I yelled to the direction of the typing ‘P*tang ina! Itigil mo yan sabi!‘ it immediately stopped. I continued working on my report but was already aware of the presence. Suddenly I heard heavy breathing coming from the right side of my table. It became more audible as if a person was breathing directly to my ear. I jumped up from my desk and, ran fast to the corridor. A security personel showed up at the end of the corridor because he heard me scrambling. Told him about my experience. The guard confirmed: Ay, Sir. Meron po talaga dyan sa training room nyo… I requested the security guard to keep me company while I complete my report.

Note: Names of persons and establishments have been replaced to protect their privacy.

Published in: on October 18, 2019 at 10:16 pm  Comments (2)  

Cagayan Valley

ANCIENT CAGAYAN VALLEY. Since I’ve been occasionally posting my real time whereabouts while going places around Isabela Province and Ifugao, a classmate from grade school who I haven’t seen in years reached out to me through social media messaging.

I immediately grabbed his invitation to take me on a day tour around the attractions in Cagayan Valley, an equally interesting destination in the upper valley of this region that is known for the traditional pancit batil patung, heritage churches that dot the riverside of the Rio Grande de Cagayan, ancient art of pottery, oldest church bells in the country, and cave systems where the remains of the earliest humans were discovered.

TUGUEGARAO. Woken at 3:30 in the morning, I left my hotel room in Santiago City and then walked down to the bus station to join the queue of early riders to Tuguegarao City.

Sunlight over Tuguegarao is merciless during the summer months but the light is soft and gentle and the air is dry and warm when I arrived in Cagayan’s provincial capital on Father’s Day morning. It was Sunday. I went to hear mass at St. Peter Metropolitan Cathedral. This Baroque church was filled with churchgoers. Built by the Dominican friars in 1758, this is the seat of Roman Catholic Archdiocese in Cagayan Valley.

NUEVA SEGOVIA. The dominance of the Roman Catholic Church in Northern Luzon began with the establishment of a Spanish fort and the Diocese of Nueva Segovia in the 17th century mission town of Lal-lo. This center for missionary zeal is one of the first three to be established by the Vatican in country along with Cebu and Nueva Caceres in Bicol during the early years of the Spanish Colonial rule. The diocese was later moved to Vigan in 1758.

The Dominicans were the friar order assigned to evangelized the Ybanag and Itawes tribes of Cagayan. They built a commanding fortress-slash-church dedicated to the founder of the Order of Preachers. The red-brick Santo Domingo Church faces the largest and longest river in the country. It has cathedral-like proportions. It has a belltower with its original bells. In front of the church is a 300-year old wooden cross believed to be the original one erected by the first missionaries.

BELLS OF CALAMANIUGAN. It took three hours to reach the riverside town of Calamaniugan from Tuguegarrao. From the main highway, I walked the side streets to locate the church of San Jacinto de Polonia. The church that was built in the 18th century was renovated into a modern structure but preserved in place as vestiges of the colonial times were the freestanding red brick bell tower and Sancta Maria bells. Oldest bell was forged in 1595 by an unnamed bell caster.

In the highest chamber of the ancient bell tower I met my classmate from grade school, Amador Byron Dulig Jr. After spending years as a medical representative in Manila, Byron put up a project firm that builds irrigation dams for agricultural infrastructures and farmlands. His grandfather also his namesake was the chief project engineer that built the mighty Magat Dam.

HISTORIC STA. FILOMENA CHURCH. From Calamanuigan, we began a return trip to Tuguegarrao. An imposing structure along the highway in the town of Alcala is Sta. Filomena Church.  Establish in 1843, the parish church has a wide but has heavily renovated interior. Its facade still retains that old world red brick facade, Corinthian classical embellishments and decorative details of grapes, corn and anchor. The anchor is a symbol of Saint Philomena’s martyrdom.

As a historic site, the church served as base for the revolutionaries of Cagayan during the Philippine Revolution against Spain.  Bishop Gregorio Aglipay served in this church before he was excommunicated for leading the Iglesia Filipina Independiente as the Obispo Maximo, an equivalent of the Pope. The Aglipay Church is a nationalist church that is separate from the Vatican and was then a part of the people’s movement against American colonization in the 1900s. Its liturgical life retained the Catholic sacraments, ritual vestments and prayers with the exception of the Philippine flag displayed in the altar along with the religious statues. The Virgen de Balintawak, an equivalent of the Catholic’s venerated images of the Blessed Mother was its famous religious icon.

IGUIG POTTERY TOWN. We knew we entered the town of Iguig when both sides of the road were lined by potter’s sheds. In this makeshift stalls are flower pots of different sizes and shapes, decorative and cooking pots with matching kalan or cooking stove, all handmade from red clay. The Itawes tribe of Iguig are known for their craft of pottery. The tribe’s name was derived from local dialect meaning across the river where they settled and sourced the red clay they used for pottery.

Locating for the community of potters in Barangay Atulu, we took the inner roads, skirting the riverbank. Here, a potter demonstrated kneading and shaping a mound of clay on a flat potter’s wheel by hand to make a pot. From the potter’s wheel, the earthen pots are dried under the sun for days before they are baked using the traditional open firing method. But unlike the dark and heavy burnay jars of Vigan, Iguig pottery is reddish and more delicate.

FLYING BUTTRESSES OF IGUIG. The jewel of Iguig is the parish church of Santiago de Galicia that dominates the life-size tableau of Stations of the Cross on the vast churchyard. The church was built around 1765 and had gone through major renovations but its remarkable flying buttresses were preserved.

Minute compared to the flying buttress of the Notre Dame of Paris, the arches provide support to the rear wall of the church. Dating the same period as the church were the ruins of the Spanish stairway leading down to the river.

PANCIT BATIL PATONG. From Iguig, we continued our drive. The roadside buzzes with life on this stretch of rice fields and valleys, besides vendors of the the usual pasalubong, are dealers selling sacks of black sand. Black sand is being extracted from the river and is widely used for the manufacturing of steel, prefab concrete, and even jewelry. But the relentless dredging of black sand according to environmentalists poses a threat to the fishing industry and can lead to land erosion.

Past lunch time, we were back in Tuguegarao. That afternoon, the warm temperature I felt early in the morning turned mercilessly hotter but Byron assured me that what I’m experiencing was milder compared to the record-high 40 degrees during summer. In an unassuming open air restaurant we had lunch that served Tuguegarao’s signature stir-fried noodles loaded with flavors from the beef stock and shredded carabao meat, called pancit batil patung. This dish is made up of two parts: the miki noodles with toppings of carabeef called batil and vegetables and sauce of simmering beef stock where a piece of egg is cracked and stirred in.

FILIPINO ADAM. After having lunch we drove away from the city to the eastern mountains into a dusty road which slopes up the valley to Peñablanca. This remote town is home to the touristy Callao Caves. Named after the endangered kalaw or Philippine hornbill, it is said that the birds once made the cave chambers their home. Since it became a tourist attraction, the cave lost its subterranean luster. The hanging stalactites stopped growing and glowing. The kalaws are gone and only occasional shrikes fly by disturbing the slumbering bats in the cave ceiling. There is a huge round hole in the roof through which sunlight streams the damp ground where a man made altar and church pews were installed.

Aside from kalaws, early humans once dwelled in the caves. The Callao Man whose fossilized remains was discovered in 2007 was dated to 67,000 years old, antedating the Tabon Man several thousand year. Archaeologists discovered more bones from early human in 2010 and 2015. In 2019, the scientific community officially named the Filipino Adam of Cagayan as Homo luzonensis.

EPILOGUE: PARTING SHOTS. Sun was setting and it began to rain when we passed through the iron-braced Buntun Bridge on our way to Piat. A famous pilgrimage icon in Cagayan Valley is the Nuestra Señora de Piat. The 16th century image of the Blessed Mother was brought by the early Augustinians from Macau to Intramuros. It was then transported to Nueva Segovia before it was enshrined in the Basilica in Piat.

In this trip to Cagayan Valley on Father’s Day, I was able to trace my father’s footsteps. Amador Ligot Martinez was born in the town of Buguey to Don Francisco Martinez and Doña Fe Ligot. He spent his childhood in the town of Sta. Teresita near Aparri. His productive years as a public officer was when he was assigned in Ilocos, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino Province. My late father would go to Piat when he was in pain and facing tough times. My father’s legacy in me is to live a prayerful life.



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