Sunday, December 31, 2006


Good health and prosperity to my family (and to you also).

A Flickr account where I can share my Philippine colonial church (and other places of worship) photo collection.

Visit the following national heritage colonial church sites: Mahatao, Batanes; Romblon, Romblon; Guiuan, Eastern Samar; Bacong, Negros Oriental; Lazi, Siquijor; Bohol; Boljoon, Cebu; Pan-ay, Capiz; Jimenez, Misamis Occidental; and Jasaan, Misamis Oriental.

Have a copy of Fr. Rene Javellana’s “Great Churches of the Philippines”.

Start writing a book about my visita iglesia.

Win the lotto jackpot.

Get to visit another country (preferably Europe but any will do).

For everybody in PRRM to get back in the groove.

Meet Renee Zellweger in person.

Mike Defensor to lose heavily in the election and GMA finally stepping down.


Photos below taken during the joint Christmas party of PRRM's Nueva Ecija family:

1-2) Gourmet's delight: fried daga (field rat), and kapalmuks (deep fried pig head) and charcoal grilled tilapia.

3-4) Guest beauty queens: San Jose City's Star Struck finalist and Miss Aritao.

Friday, December 29, 2006


During my last visit to Bicol, we (from left, that’s Pare Dante, Pare Amor, me and Joey) dropped by the Cagsaua church ruins where I bought a night photo of Mayon Volcano in action. The photo is selling not because of the spectacular eruption view but the image created by the lava flow of the Virgin Mary which, the vendor told me, always shows up to warn of impending volcano-related disasters. Perhaps she did this year because Mayon has been active lately triggering a massive evacuation of villages within its danger zone and generating a chain reaction from Mt. Bulusan and Mt. Irosin in the Bicol volcano belt. Two super typhoons also wreaked havoc in the area the most devastating of which is “Reming” during the last days of November 2006. It dumped rain that triggered an avalanche of volcanic debris from the slopes of Mayon burying entire villages and killing hundreds of people.

The interpretation of the image in the photo and the reason for it being there illustrates the continuing strong belief of Filipinos in the babaylan and its power as reincarnated in the Virgin Mary who might actually be Daragang Magayon coming out to exact revenge and protect her jewels from Paratuga.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

PILGRIMCHURCH OF SAN JUAN, SAN JUAN. What is now San Juan was accepted in 1590 by the Augustinians as the mission of Barato that was later renamed as San Juan Bautista. The first recorded church was severely damaged by an earthquake in 1707, has been rebuilt, and is now the present church. Fr. Cipriano Marcilla (OSA) initiated building the convent in 1871 while Fr. Manuel Arguelles (OSA) had the church restored in 1895.AGE IN NAGREBCAN

It was sunrise in Nagrebcan.

The fine bluish mist, low over the tobacco fields, was lifting and thinning moment by moment. a ragged strip of it, pulled away by the morning breeze, had caught on the clamps of bamboo along the banks of the stream that flowed to one side of the barrio.

Before long the sun would top the Katayaghan hills, but as yet no people were around. In the gray shadow of the hills the barrio was gradually awaking. Roosters crowed and strutted on the ground while hens hesitated in their perches among the branches of the camachile trees. Stray goats nibbled the seeds on the sides of the road, and the bull carabaos tugged restively against their stakes.

--- Excerpts from Manuel Arguilla’s “Morning in Nagrebcan”

“Its far from here,” said Manuel.

The house shook and groaned again. Lyd waited for what her husband would do.

“If it’s a direct hit, it’s a direct hit,” said Manuel. “We might as well be comfortable.”

After a long while the immense silence rolled back.

“There, its over,” said Manuel. “Let’s go back to sleep. We’ll have a lot to do tomorrow.”

--- Excerpts from Chapter 10 (Zero Hour Monday) in Nick Joaquin’s “Manila, My Manila” describing the Arguilla’s reaction to the first Japanese air raid over Manila

Manuel E. Arguilla wrote about 150 short stories, a number of which was printed in well-known American publications such as “Prairie Schooner”, and editor Edward O’Brien’s “Yearbook of the American Short Story”. The distinct quality of Arguilla is that he was able to capture the typical Filipino landscape --- mornings, the sunsets, evenings, the simple, rugged qualities of the farm folk. Also notable was his ability to project atmosphere, the quite, the restrained tenor of country life, the shinning poetic sentiments of young love, parental understanding, and love and respect for one’s parents.

--- Introduction in Josephine B. Serrano and Trinidad M. Ames’ “A Survey of Filipino Literature in English”

I was introduced to Manuel Arguilla through his short story “Footnote to Youth” --- the required reading for senior high school students during that time. In college, I will meet him again through his “How My Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife” which is also a must read in our English 115 (Introduction to Literature) class, then later through his “Morning in Nagrebcan” in the English 125 (Introduction to Filipino Literature in English) class of batch 1993’s Bachelor in Secondary Education English majors. Somebody once said that I wrote like Manuel Arguilla. That’s the ultimate compliment I had on what I write so far but I think I am way down his league. He is a master and I’m just an agbibisin nga antutugit. Perhaps, our similarity is on the affinity to our places of birth --- his Nagrebcan and my Almaguer. But that’s just it.

Nagrebcan is a barangay of Bauang, La Union situated along the Jose Aspiras National Highway (i.e. the former Marcos Highway). This familiar place for many high school and college students is where Manuel Arguilla was born in 17 June 1911. This is where he grew up and the inspiration for the stories that he would later write. His course BSE which I presume to mean Bachelor in Secondary Education might be another similarity. I completed mine in CLSU and his at the University of the Philippines. He joined the guerillas during the Japanese occupation and was captured and executed in 25 August 1944. His wife, Lydia, also joined Marking’s Guerillas.

I decided to stop by Nagrebcan on my way home during one of my North Luzon sorties. It’s a short distance from San Fernando City and is announced by a bridge and a huge NAGREBCAN 2000 painted in the spur dike across the river. Almost like the entrance to southern Almaguer. I stayed briefly but the experience of finally seeing what I only previously read is electrifying. Over there are the Katayaghan Hills, and somewhere are the Baldo’s and Blas’s of his stories.

My pilgrimage will not be complete without the usual visita iglesia so I went back towards the church. At times called as Baltao, Balatao and Barato, what is now Bauang was established as a mission of the Augustinians in 1586. There are no records about its early churches although some documents cited parochial buildings already being erected early in its foundation. The present church of San Pablo was probably built before 1873 when the convent was being constructed. Fr. Leonardo Collado (OSA) had it restored in 1892 after it was damaged by an earthquake. The church was again damaged in 1944 and the convent destroyed in 1945 during World War II. Both were later rebuilt and in 1973, the bell tower was restored. The façade was repaired after sustaining damage during the 1989 earthquake.

There are magnificent Augustinian churches in the La Union strip that are also worth of a visita iglesia, most notably the church of Santa Catalina in Luna (formerly Namacpacan) that has been declared as a national heritage by the National Commission on Culture and Arts. I suggest the following 1-day route from via Ilocos Sur, or vice versa via Pangasinan:

CHURCH OF SAN CRISTOBAL, BANGAR. The missionary Fr. Francisco Albear (OSA) had a church built in what is now the town of Bangar at around 1669. The mission was later accepted as an Augustinian visita of Tagudin in 1700. There are no records about the succeeding parochial buildings until 1855 when the church was reported to have been damaged by an earthquake. The convent, and probably the church, was rebuilt from 1866 until 1873 under the supervision of Fr. Evaristo Guadalupe (OSA). Its roof was replaced by galvanized iron sheets in 1880. Bangar was named after a tree that produces red ink and intoxicating fruits.

CHURCH OF SAN NICOLAS DE TOLENTINO, BALAOAN. The Augustinians accepted the mission of Purao in 1586 that was later renamed as Balaoan in 1739. There are no records about the early parochial buildings. Fr. Juan Antonio Fernandez (OSA) probably initiated building the present church before 1821 that was continued and finished during the term of Fr. Valentin Noval (OSA) in 1864. Fr. Casimiro Melgoso (OSA) had the convent built in 1877. The structures were damaged during the 1880 earthquake and repaired under the supervision of Fr. Isidro Saez (OSA) in 1891.

CHURCH OF SAN MIGUEL ARKANGHEL, BACNOTAN. San Miguel then later Vagnotan was established as an Augustinian mission in 1583. The first church was probably built in 1598 when it was recognized as a visita. What might be the second church was built from 1817 to 1819 under the supervision of Fr. Juan Zugasti (OSA). This was damaged during the 1860 earthquake and Fr. Saturnino Pinto (OSA) initiated its restoration in 1870 that was completed during the administration of Fr. Bernardo Gonzales (OSA) in 1887.

CHURCH OF SAN JUAN, SAN JUAN. What is now San Juan was accepted in 1590 by the Augustinians as the mission of Barato that was later renamed as San Juan Bautista. The first recorded church was severely damaged by an earthquake in 1707, has been rebuilt, and is now the present church. Fr. Cipriano Marcilla (OSA) initiated building the convent in 1871 while Fr. Manuel Arguelles (OSA) had the church restored in 1895.

CATHEDRAL OF SAN FERNANDO, SAN FERNANDO CITY. San Fernando was established as a pueblo probably in 1587 and as the mission of San Guillermo de Duladulang in 1590. It used to be the sitio of Pindangan and later as the barrio of San Vicente where Fr. Francisco Romero (OSA) and Fr. Santiago Olarte (OSA) had a chapel built in 1764. This was later moved to Tanque then Kabaroan as a precaution against the raids of Mindanao’s moros and the Visayan pintados. After being relocated to its present site, a church was built until 1768 under the supervision of Fr. Juan Sorolla (OSA), Fr. Simon Guillermo (OSA), and Fr. Pedro Fernando (OSA). This was probably damaged and Fr. Simon Torrado (OSA) had another church and a convent built in 1817. This was again damaged in an 1860 earthquake and rebuilt in 1873 under the supervision of Fr. Luis Perez (OSA) who had the walls demolished. This is the present church. Fr. Jose Rodriguez Cabezas (OSA) had the convent and the church renovated after being damaged in an 1892 earthquake, and also added the bell tower. Katipuneros under Col. Blas Villamor occupied the church in 1898. It was again damaged in 1945 during World War II and rebuilt from 1947 to 1949.

CHURCH OF OUR LADY OF CHARITY, AGOO. The Franciscan priests Fr. Juan Baptista Lucarrelli and Fr. Sebastian Baeza established Agoo in 1578 when it was still a part of Pangasinan. The Augustinians later took over the mission in 1598. Agoo was named after a river whose banks were lush with pine-like trees called agoo. The churches and convents of Agoo had the misfortune of always being razed by fire and one of these was said to be the best in the whole of Ilocos. Fr. Saturnino Franco (OSA) later restored one burned down church --- probably the one built at a place called Nagrugcan --- and also had a new convent built. In 1887, Fr. Casimiro Melgosa (OSA) had a bell tower built. These structures were heavily damaged in the earthquake of 1892 and were repaired under the supervision of Fr. Aquilino Garcia (OSA) in 1893. The image of Our Lady of Charity was crowned in this church in 1971. The church was later demolished in 1975 to give way for the construction of the present bigger church. The bell tower, the only remaining original structure, crashed during the earthquake of 1989. The church was elevated as a basilica minor in 1982 by Pope John Paul II.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


Bagis Mike was, in his own right, a legend of the United Ilocandia Fraternity and Sorority or UI. Abet will meet him at the Central Luzon State University (CLSU) when he joined UI as a freshman. His batch is officially called 89-B (that was Abet of Almaguer, Glenn and Joven of Aurora, and Joey of Isabela) and they were initiated in San Jose City’s Campo Cuatro (now known as Diamond Park) which Bagis Mike presided over as the Master Initiator or MI. It was pure hell for 89-B that day having to endure a “warm” welcome reception, a paddle session, palming and belting, a 30-second free-for-all frenzy, a dizzying round of mental torture, and the Indian Run finale. The initiation culminated in the UI tradition of “Sunugin ang Samar” as a symbol of the neophytes’ new life (i.e. baro nga patubo).

Initiation rites are the MI’s domain and he/she should make sure that protocols are observed. Violations are punished by a paddle hit, the number depending on the gravity of the offense. But maintaining order among sigas pumped up with adrenalin in a primordial satisfaction of dominance is a big challenge that require really tough people. And Bagis Mike is a really tough guy. He is UI’s official enforcer: he led the “dukots” and maintained the frontline during “troubles”. When there are none of those missions, he created them. Meeting a drunk Bagis Mike is like meeting the devil himself. It must be avoided as much as possible because Bagis Mike is at war with the world.

Abet never got to find the reasons for Bagis Mike’s rage but he tried to look beyond it and saw gentleness, and fear. Maybe, Bagis Mike is just trying to survive the harshness of Samtoy. And perhaps, Bagis Mike also realized this understanding from Abet because it was only him who seem to be able to come near Bagis Mike and calm down his rage. When Abet was selected as the overall supremo of the NCI (i.e. the triumvirate of UI, and the confraternities of the Samahang Ilocano or SI and the Genuine Ilocano or GI), Bagis Mike made it clear that he stands squarely behind him. It was this loyalty and support that helped Abet survive a full blown war with another fraternity, ended a long-running feud with another one, and instilled discipline among the kabagises.

One night, Bagis Mike met the enforcer of a rival fraternity and shot him. He survived but Bagis Mike was caught and jailed at the Munoz police station. When he was bailed out, Abet brought him to Oyet’s house in San Jose City to for the meantime to hide him from the “resbak”. At nights, they would climb up the roof and drink Red Horse. Mike enjoyed these moments and spent many hours gazing silently at the night sky, perhaps counting and reading his stars. He eventually jumped bail but before he left, he paid the “would-like-to-be-Mike” kabagises a visit. The message is clear: “Natayen ni Mike, madi yu tultuladen isuna. Agsingsingpet kayo.”

Bagis Mike hails from Narvacan, Ilocos Sur that was first established as the Augustinians mission of Nalbacan/Nalvacan in 1587. The town is part of the Ilocos Sur church belt and a 5-minute drive from neighboring Sta. Maria and its world heritage church. Narvacan’s first church and convent were built upon the mission’s establishment but these were destroyed by fire in 1611. Another church was presumably built that was probably where Bishop Rodrigo Cardenas and his priests were imprisoned during Malong’s Revolt of 1661. Fr. Cristobal Montero (OSA) initiated building what might be the third church in 1701. The church, made of lajo stones, was damaged by an earthquake in 1707, was rebuilt, razed with the convent by fire in 1722, probably rebuilt again, and the convent burning down again in 1829. Fr. Benito Rosendo (OSA) initiated building the bell tower in 1864. What is now the present church of Santa Lucia, Virgen y Martir, was probably the one that Fr. Jose Corugedo (OSA) had initiated to be rebuilt and enlarged in 1883. The church was damaged by American bombs during World War II and was reconstructed with assistance from the United State War Damage Commission.

Narvacan is the gateway to the province of Abra. In fact, it was Fr. Corugedo who built the road to the province that enabled the Augustinians to established the mission of Bangued in 1617, then build its first church from 1722 until 1807. In 1861, Bangued was proclaimed as the provincial capital of Abra and, in 1920, the mission was handed to the secular clergy. The church was destroyed with only the walls and the bell tower standing after American planes bombed it and the adjoining buildings that were being used as a Japanese field hospital in 1945. It was reconstructed in 1947 and proclaimed as the Cathedral of Santiago Senor in 1955.

According to Abet’s Uncle Andreng, Lolo Porong brought 3 skilled Tingguian carpenters from Abra with him when he moved to Davao. This information plus the fact that I’ve never been there put Abra in the list of places that I should be visiting someday. I finally did on 18 June 2005 just after a series of assassinations that placed the province under Task Force Abra. There were checkpoints and police in full combat gear are everywhere, supposedly to neutralize the warring political rivals and bring stability to the province. But on 16 December 2006, Abra’s Rep. Luis Bersamin, Jr. was gunned in front of the Mt. Carmel Church in Quezon City and police point to Gov. Vicente Valera as the suspected mastermind. The war in Abra has escalated.

National Heritage: Tayum’s Church of Santa Catalina de Alejandria

Ten minutes from Bangued is the town of Tayum where the secular clergy built a church in the 19th century that features palayok art motifs. The church is fairly intact, dramatically rising in the middle of a open field. It has been declared by the National Commission on Culture and Arts as a national heritage site. Some 15 minute farther into the interior is the town of Lagangilang, the hometown of INAFI’s Manang Ching. Its Spanish era Church of Holy Cross is still being used although the interior has been redesigned with the altar being moved in the center of the building and the main entrance in one of the nave walls.

PHOTOS (top to bottom):
1) The UI seal at its CLSU park.
2) Bagis Mike and Abet with UI kabagises during the Open House of Ladies’ Dorm No. 2.
3) Narvacan church.
4) Bangued cathedral.
5-6) Tayum church.
7) Lagangilang church.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Militant youth leader shot dead in Cagayan!

This story was at the front page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s 18 December 2006 issue. Nelson Asocena, a Sangguniang Kabataan chairperson and a member of the Anakbayan youth group and the Kagimungan peasant group, was only 19 years old and the latest to fall in a spate of brazen killings that has gripped the province of Cagayan. Nelson is officially the 262nd militant to be killed in the country since 2001 as per the Inquirer count. I don’t know him personally but I sympathize with those who grieve his untimely death. Like many Filipinos, I am horrified with the rising number of extra-judicial executions in the country and condemn the nameless and shameless perpetrators of this most heinous crime to humanity.

Nelson is from Malaueg which is now known as Rizal. We --- that’s me and Elias --- visited the sleepy and rustic town on 16 June last year for its church which has been declared as a national heritage site by the National Commission on Culture and Arts. It is nestled at the foothills of the mighty Cordilleras, sandwiched along the boundaries of Apayao and Cagayan, majestic in its ruggedness, elegant in its simplicity. Our route there is via Cabagan towards the towns of Sta. Maria, Isabela and Enrile Cagayan. We passed through corn country in unforgiving roads, traversing the Cagayan River through spillways that serve as bridges during the dry months. Along the way, I dropped by the small town of Enrile to visit its Spanish-era church.

Enrile’s history was conceived by divine intervention. It 1724, a miracle happened in Cabug that was attributed to the Nuestra Senora delas Caldas during a raffle for the distribution of patron saints for the various ecclesiastical missions of Tuguegarao. Since then, it has been the patron saint of Cabug --- a village of Tuguegarao that was later established as the pueblo of Enrile in 1849. Fr. Pedro Alcantara (OP) initiated building the present church that was already in use by 1877. This was razed by a fire at the end of Spanish rule and was rebuilt by Fr. Francisco Bueno (OP). Don Vicente de Guzman, the first lawyer of Cagayan and its representative to the Malolos Congress, helped him. Don Vicente’s son would later become the second provincial governor of Cagayan and its first representative to the Philippine National Assembly.

National Heritage: An Outpost in the Cordilleras

From Enrile, we sidestepped Tuguegarao via Solsona towards the town of Tuao which is the gateway to Malaueg. After another 15 kilometers of dirt road and several Bailey bridges, we arrived at the town by 11 am. Malaueg --- now known as Rizal --- is geographically a part of the Cordillera but politically a part of Cagayan. Its name was derived from the Ibanag words ma and ueg meaning creeks or rivers. In 1607, a church dedicated to San Raymundo de Penaforte was built in Malaueg through the efforts of a local chieftain named Luis Pagulayan. Malaueg was accepted as an ecclesiastical mission of the Dominicans in 1608 and was used as an outpost for the conquest of the Cordillera and in bringing down remontados. During a rebellion led by Caguenga and Furuganan from 1608 to 1610, the convent of the church was razed by fire. Fr. Francisco Mola (OP) built another church in 1617 that was destroyed by fire in 1641. The present church that, in a time, was the biggest built in Cagayan Valley was blessed on 1651. Famous Dominicans served in the mission of Malaueg namely Fr. Jose Bugarin (OP) who was the principal author of the first Ibanag dictionary, Fr. Luis Flores (OP) who became a martyr in Japan, and Fr. Francisco Capillas who became a pro-martyr in China. The church represents an early effort at stone church building.

There seemed to be no market and therefore no eatery in Malaueg so I decided to take lunch on our way to Claveria where I planned to stay for the night. I told Elias to take a short cut to the national highway via Sto. Nino through a secondary road indicated in the EZ map before reaching the town of Tuao. But we were told that the only road leading to Sto. Nino was by foot so we proceeded to Piat where we asked our way around. We drove along a feeder road in what seemed to be pastureland, relieved to finally reach a campus of the Cagayan State University in the middle of nowhere, then drove to Sto. Nino in another 10 kilometers of dirt road where we were told that we need to cross the Cagayan River by ferry boat to reach the national highway on the other side. And there were no ferry boats that day so we drove back to Piat and finally reached Tuguegarao by 2 pm. Tired and hungry, I decided to make the best of a bad chance and asked Elias to look for the Triangle Panciteria which is said to offer the best Batil Patong in Cagayan. It took as the best part of an hour doing that because the panciteria is inconspicuously hidden by giant acacia trees near the Buntun Bridge which is said to be the longest freshwater bridge in the country. It was worth it --- the Batil Patong is a sumptuous meal of Cabagan noodles; sautéed in onion, garlic and light soy sauce; garnished with thin slivers of pork meat and liver and what seemed to be meat balls; topped by a well-fried sunny side up egg (I assume this as the origin of the name --- batil meaning egg in Ibanag and patong meaning “placing it on top”); and served with a condiment of chopped onions and soy sauce. It was actually my second time to have the dish, the first a few years ago during my first trip to north Luzon when Pare Dojoe (with Pare Amor and Pare Olan) took us to Gretchen’s.

The next 2 hours is a rush to Claveria so I can take pictures of the colonial churches along the Cagayan River with the remaining daylight. The first stop is Iguig whose first church --- dedicated to Santiago Apostol --- was built in 1607. After it was accepted in 1608 as an ecclesiastical mission of the Dominicans, another church was built in Nabunangan that was inundated four times by the rampaging waters of the Cagayan River. Fr. Pedro San Pedro (OP) initiated building the present church on top of a hill between 1765 and 1787. The patio to the river still exists but is today 50 meters farther from the riverbank. The church hosts the Cavalry Hills, the Jubilee Cross and a 3-centuries old well.

Next stop is Fulay --- Alcala’s old name --- that was established as a town in 1787 as a resting place for travelers and boat rowers. In 1843, it was renamed in honor of Governor General Don Francisco de Paula Alcala and accepted an ecclesiastical mission of the Dominicans in 1845. In 1881, Fr. Casimiro Gonzales (OP) initiated building the convent then the church that was dedicated to Santa Filomena. Fr. Pedro Perez (OP) continued the construction until the church was almost finished. The church is the widest, the best shaped and most beautiful in the province of Cagayan.

We arrived in the next town of Gattaran --- derived from the Ibanag word gattad meaning “side of the mountain” --- in a late afternoon drizzle. The Dominicans accepted it as an ecclesiastical mission in 1623 with Fr. Jeronimo Moner (OP), the beloved missionary of the Babuyanes, as the first vicar. The church of Santa Catalina de Alejandria was probably built before 1739. From there until 1898, improvements were made by Fr. Nolasco de Medio (OP), Fr. Domingo Campo (OP) and Fr. Santiago Capdevila (OP). One of the priests who served in the church is Fr. Claro Arroyo --- the only Domincan in Cagayan on record to be accused of immorality by keeping a Balvina Cabal of Lal-lo as a mistress and by lusting after a married local woman named Toribia Rodriguez.

It was dark when we crossed the Magapit Bridge, Asia’s first suspension bridge, on my way to Claveria along Cagayan’s panhandle. The raging rainstorm reduced visibility to 5 feet at most so we have to drive slow. We passed by the town of Pamplona at around 8 pm. I wanted to visit the town’s colonial church but the rain and darkness forced me to proceed to Claveria where we spent the night. But I won’t miss the chance so the next day, we drove back to Pamplona. Fr. Miguel Martin de San Jacinto (OP) initiated the building of the present church from 1614 to 1617 in the old pueblo of Massi. It was damaged by an earthquake in 1721 and later restored by Fr. Jose Cano (OP). In 1842, the pueblo of Pamplona was established with the fusion of the former pueblos of San Juan de Nepumoceno and Massi. The church --- dedicated to San Pedro el Martyr --- is one of the oldest intact in Cagayan Valley. This was because it was supposed to be earthquake-proof having been built on top of a solid rock with a diameter of 1 to 2 kilometers below the ground.

I dedicate this piece to Nelson. We may be total strangers to each other and might have other ways of looking at things but we were bounded together by an old town once called as Malaueg. I promised myself to come back to Rizal sometime and when I do, I will look for his tomb and pay my respects for a fallen hero.

MEA CULPA: I was not able to take a photo of Tuguegarao’s Batil Patong because we left the camera in Nueva Ecija during my first foray with Dojoe, Amor, and Olan; and was too hungry to take one during my Malueg trip. I can’t find one in the web and I will highly appreciate if somebody can send me one.
PHOTOS (top to bottom):
1) Enrile, Cagayan.
2) The stone church of Rizal/Malueg has been declared as a national heritage site.
3) Tuguegarao’s Buntun Bridge is the longest freshwater bridge in the Philippines. A kilometer away towards the city proper on the left side of the road is the Triangle Panciteria.
4) Iguig, Cagayan.
5) Alcala, Cagayan.
6) Gattaran, Cagayan.
7) The Magapit Bridge at dusk during a lull in the rainstorm. It is Asia’s first suspension bridge.
8) Pampalona, Cagayan.

Thursday, November 30, 2006


Japan is paradise for noodle guzzlers like me where noodles are as popular as the Filipino’s everyday kanin. There are 3 types of Japanese noodles: (1) udon which is made from wheat flour, light in color and thicker than soba; (2) soba which is thin, long, brownish and made from buckwheat flour; and (3) ramen which is actually Nipponized Chinese noodle. The first 2 are usually served in hot soup or dipped in cold shoyu soup, always garnished with minced onion, and spiced with preferred condiments (i.e. spices, pepper). I was introduced to them at JICA’s Osaka International Center where I stayed for 2 nights after arriving in Japan. My encounter with ramen came at the later part of my stay in Japan during my last visit to Nagoya’s Osu Kannon Temple. It is a close relative of the Filipino mami (the Chinese connection) with miso broth. The garnish is very diverse: bamboo shoots (read: labong), bean sprouts (read: toge), thin roasted pork (or beef and chicken) slices, etcetera. What I had at Osu Kannon Temple is actually hybrid ramen: yellow thin Chinese egg noodles in hot soup garnished with thin pork slices, fermented (read: buro) bamboo shoots, chopped onions, and raw egg. Whatever, Japanese noodles are really oishii.

In Nagoya, I was determined to hunt down its 2 most popular noodle dishes. I had the Miso Udon Stew in Osu Kannon Temple’s shopping arcade during one of its famous flea market days. The noodle was served piping hot in a large bowl that I thought was good for 3 persons. It was 2 o’clock in the afternoon and I was really very hungry so I wolfed it down to the last drop of soup and washed it with a cold bottle of Asahi dry beer. The fresh unsalted noodles blended well with the tanginess of the chopped spring onions, the earthy flavor of the chopped chicken, and the musky dark miso-based sauce. A week later, I had Kishimen where it is traditionally served at the Atsuta Shrine. The noodles are flat and smooth in texture, excellently complimented by abura-age (deep fried tofu), assorted green vegetables, dried bonito shavings, and seasoned with tsuyu (light soy sauce).

The local favorite in Japan’s southern tip at Oita is Dango-jiru. On our first day there, UNCRD’s Toga-san and Takai-san, and Ogino-san took me to a small but popular restaurant along the historic Renga Building when they heard of my noodle fetish. The main ingredient is dumpling noodles made by mixing flour with water and salt then cooked in a soup of miso, carrots, onions, and burdock. I really regretted having missed the equally popular Yaseuma snack which is wheat noodles sprinkled with sugar and dipped in soy flour and, 1 week back, Ise’s thicker-than-usual udon in a thicker-than-usual sauce. But as the saying goes, you can’t have it all.

My noodle dinner in Kyoto will be the Tsukimi-soba (soba with raw egg) perfectly served with a hot cup of Japanese green tea and a bottle of cold sake. It was actually a combination of a late lunch and an early dinner because I was too busy enjoying Kyoto that I forgot to eat. I have been to the old city’s world heritage sites, I had touched the happy stone, and my stomach is full of soba fermenting in sake and green tea. It is indeed a beautiful life.

I started my day in Japan with an initiation to its noodle cuisine (my first dish in Osaka is Udon to be exact). It is but fitting to end it with a nice noodle meal. And JICA and UNCRD which I have heckled throughout the training course for not serving Japanese food in JICA Chubu obliged me (and my co-trainees) during our testimonial lunch with an array of sushi (both the restaurant and homemade varieties), tempura, and a tray of wonderful soba noodles with cold shoyu soup served in small cute Japanese bowls. “You have to eat all of that,” Baku-san told me with a grin, pointing at the noodle tray. God knows how I did tried.

PHOTOS (top to bottom):
1) A noodle restaurant at an Osaka mall.
2-3) JICA Osaka Center’s version of the Udon and Soba.
4-5) Osu Kannon’s Ramen and Miso Edon.
6) Atsuta Shrine’s Kishimen.
7) My Dango-jiru in Oita.
8) My Tsukimi-soba lunch-dinner with green tea and sake at Kyoto’s Kiyomazudera Temple.
9) Soba in cold shoyu soup served during our testimonial lunch at the JICA Chubu Center.


It’s been said that if you have been to Japan but have not been to Kyoto, then you have not seen Japan. I would agree with this. Kyoto is an old city rich with history and cultural treasures having been Japan’s capital and the emperor’s residence from 794 until 1868. Its value and importance is illustrated in its having been spared by the Americans from their air raids and fire bombing during the war. For me therefore, its Kyoto or nothing.

After some days of hesitation, I finally traveled to Kyoto one weekend with a Lao friend, Posy-san, who was on his way to visit Kobe. Ogino-san advised me to take the shinkansen with a travel time of only 45 minutes but I decided that it’s too expensive for me. We instead took the Limited Express train (i.e. ordinary train with limited stops) for a 2-hour trip with a changing of train midway at Maibara Station. Ogino-san recommended that I visit the Kinkakuji and Kiyomizudera Temples, and the Nijo Castle. I said I will and also included Ryoanji Temple because it’s is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site like the first three. This is my recommended Kyoto Protocol for 1 day tourists like me.

In Kyoto, I bought a 1-day bus pass for Y500 that will take me to any point within the city limits which is a bargain because the minimum 1-way fare is Y200. First stop is the Kinkakuji Temple/Rokuon-ji Temple or the Golden Pavilion that has existed since 1220 as the home of Kintsune Saionji. In 1397, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu started rebuilding the place as his residence 3 years after abdicating as the 3rd Shogun of Ashikaga. He was a Zen Buddhist --- the most popular sect among the samurai class during that time --- and seek enlightenment through meditation and discipline. Thus, he tried to make his compound as sedatingly serene as possible. When he died in 1408, Kinkakuji/Rokuon-ji was converted into a Zen temple as he willed. The pavilion was covered with gold leafs and houses sacred Buddha relics. It was burned down by a fanatic monk in 1950 and rebuilt five years later.

A 15-minute walk from the Golden Pavilion is another Zen shrine --- the Ryoanji Temple. It is famous for its rock garden, said to have been made by Soami at around 1500. Rock gardens are meditation mediums for Zen Buddhism. That of Ryoanji is made up of 15 rocks, white gravel, and enclosed in a wall made of clay that was boiled in oil. It belongs to the Karensansui Garden category of Japanese gardens that features a reproduction of natural landscapes in an abstract way. The other Japanese garden categories are the Tsukiyama Garden category which is basically the creation of artificial hills, and the Chaniwa Garden category that is specially laid-out for tea ceremonies. Outside the Kuri or main temple building is the aesthetically stunning Kyoyochi Pond that was built in the 12th century.

Next stop will be the Nijo Castle that was erected in 1603 by this blog’s most famous Japanese --- Tokugawa Ieyasu --- as his and his successors’ official residence. The castle actually has 2 palaces with Ninomaru Palace, declared as a Japanese National Treasure, as the most important. It was built of Hinoki or Japanese cypress wood and is renowned for its Momoyama architecture, sliding doors, and squeaking Uguisu-Bari or nightingale floors that warned of intruders. Within the inner moat and enclosed by the breathtaking Ninomaru and Seiryu-en Gardens is the Honmaru Palace that was built in 1626 from structures taken from the Fushimi Castle. It burned down in 1750 and was rebuilt in 1893 from components taken from the Kyoto Imperial Palace.

The highlight of the Kyoto Protocol is a late afternoon pilgrimage at the Kiyomazudera or Pure Water Temple. It was founded in 780 and is said to be one of Japan’s most celebrated temple. Aside from its huge wooden main hall, the temple also features the Sishu Shrine that is dedicated to the god of love, a spring below the main hall’s terrace that is said to have healing powers, and a very dark chamber where I groped my towards a stone relic that is said to make those who touched it very happy. I was tired and hungry after a long day walking but indeed a very happy person who slept my way back to Nagoya afterwards.

PHOTOS (top to bottom):
1) The Golden Pavilion’s elegance radiate from the still waters of the Kyoko-chi or Mirror Pond.
2-3) Dreams and wishes were asked from heaven in writing and through candles (my 2 candles for my family’s good health, long life, and prosperity) at the Golden Pavilion’s fudo-do or hall for the Fire God Fudo-do.
4) Ryoanji Temple’s famous rock garden.
5) The 900-year old Kyoyochi Pond outside Ryoanji Temple’s Kuri or main building.
6) The inscription on the Tsukubai or the tearoom’s stone washbasin read “I learn only to be contented”. It was said to be a gift to the Ryoanji Temple from Mitsukuni Tokugawa (1628-1700) who compiled the Dai Nippon-shi or “The Great History of Japan”.
7) Japanese tourists in their traditional Kimono dress take pictures outside Nijo Castle’s Ninomaru Palace.
8) A panoramic view of the Honmaru Castle.
9) Nijo Castle’s traditional teahouse.
10) The pagoda of the Kiyomazudera Temple.
11) Kiyomazudera Temple’s main hall. The healing spring is under the terrace while the “dark chamber” is under one of the temple’s minor halls.
12) Buddha stone images outside Kiyomazudera Temple’s main hall.


Somehow, I knew that I would someday visit Japan. I told this many years ago to a Japanese war veteran who used to make annual pilgrimages to Almaguer. He came every year, bringing with him different groups who have lost a family somewhere in Almaguer during the war. They would usually burn incense, spread offerings of sake and rice, and pray at the bridge that now divides Almaguer into North and South. Perhaps it was a battle site, like Lakay Sammy’s bangcag near the dacquel nga carayan where the Samahang Dilim was always hired to dig for remains of Japanese soldiers buried there. Lakay Sammy is father to Roy who --- with Abet, Junie, Ninoy, Tok, Piso, and Ukong --- ruled the dark nights of Almaguer. They were paid P150 per day that was big money at that time, and more so if they find gold teeth fillings and caps. The recovered remains were then cremated in a big bonfire and the ashes brought back to Japan for proper interment.

The Samahang Dilim dug even without the annual Japanese visitors --- for the gold teeth fillings and caps. On one such day, Abet tunneled a santol tree and found a fairly intact skeletal remain. But there was no gold. Instead, they found some rusty Japanese coins (Abet though they were uniform buttons), a fork, and what could have been film negatives. This and the others that they recovered were eventually turned over to the annual visitors. There was also that unexploded bomb near the latrine of Amang Lakay that Kuyang Uben finally disposed (before his soldiering days) by throwing it at the fish pond of Lakay Amplaying.

Part of our training course was a visit to nearby Asuke in Toyota City an hour from Nagoya. The place is famous for its Korankei Gorge that is said to be the second best place in Japan for the autumn maple leaves viewing. In 1634, the Buddhist priest Sanei from the Kojakuji Temple planted the first maple trees that have made Asuke famous centuries later. The maple leaves should have been bright red when we came but we were told that because of global warming, this had been delayed by 2 weeks since 2 years ago. Nestled on the Korankei Gorge is the Sanshu Asuke Yashiki museum where we were shown a traditional Japanese home and the production of local handicrafts.

A day later, we were on our way to the southern resort city of Oita. We covered the 700 kilometer distance from Nagoya in 3 hours through an exhilarating ride in Japan’s fabled shinkansen or bullet train. Oita has been the prefecture capital for 1,300 years since the era of the Bungo Kokufu. It is famous for its nearby hot spring spas and home to the Motomachi Stone Buddhas of the Heian Period (794-1192) that were carved on the side of the Uenogaoka Hill. I tried going there by bus but it’s quite complicated for a non-Japanese like me so I walked and got lost. A taxi finally took me to the shrine that had been declared as a national historic monument. Some 200 meters away is the prefectural historic monument of the Iwayaji Stone Buddhas. I touched those ancient holy stones and said my prayers. It was a strange ghostly feeling.

We stayed in Oita for 4 days and from there made guerilla visits to the famous Yufuin area and in Oyama where I had my best Japanese lunch ever, then Fukuoka where we took the plane back to Nagoya.

PHOTOS (top to bottom)
1) Asuke’s Korankei Gorge.
2) The famous momiji or maple leaves.
3) A Buddhist altar inside a traditional Japanese home at the Sanshu Asuke Yashiki Museum.
4) The main image of the Motomachi Stone Buddhas and 5) an image eroded by time.
6-7) The Iwayaji Stone Budhhas.
8) Yufuin’s Mt. Fukuman.
9) The Tenso Shrine is marked by a torii at Yufuin’s Lake Kinrinko.
10) An ancient plum tree in Oyama.