Sunday, July 30, 2006


In 1855, the province of Isabela was carved from Cagayan and Nueva Vizcaya through a decree of the Spanish King. It was named in honor of his majesty’s wife the Queen.

Isabela means many things to our family’s history. Before the war, Lolo Porong moved to Santiago, Isabela upon the invitation of Lola Senang’s relatives. Lolita “Auntie Loleng” Ciencia and later viuda de Salatan, and our father --- Pepito Samortin Ciencia --- were born there in the barrio of Agbannawag. Father will spend part of his youth in Santiago before eventually moving to Sta. Ana in Manila then Davao and finally Bambang. Auntie Loleng married in Agbannawag and stayed there. Before she died, Auntie Angeling told me to look for a missing branch of Lolo Porong’s bloodline in Santiago; he had a mistress and they had a child.

Another branch of the family, Jacinto and Virata Nicolas, eventually migrated to Isabela leaving our Inang Baket in Almaguer. Their daughters Pastora and Tinang settled in Roxas and their only son Ricky in a place called Mabalag. I once had a short vacation in Roxas and the memories I kept of it are the endless rolling cornfields, the big murky river, and a photograph of a relative with a venereal disease, swelling genitals and all. The sons and grandchildren of Pastora will periodically stay in the house in Almaguer. Those that I can remember are Uncle Ikling, Uncle Ermo and his 2 sons, the brothers Rudy and Pero, and cousin Vilma who eventually got married in Bambang.

Our own moments in Isabela will be 2 years of blissful innocence in Naguillan where Mommy was assigned to teach, where I will attend Grade 1, and where our youngest sister Sherrie Ann/Cheche was born. Another chapter will be the tumultuous interlude at the Adventist-run Northeast Luzon Academy or NELA in Alicia, a place cursed so that none of Lakay Burik’s descendants sent their for high school will never finish. With the exception of mommy who would also later work as an attendant at the Cagayan Valley Sanitarium and Hospital in Santiago where, she would later tell us, she saw a manto coming out of the morgue floating on air.

Alicia used to be the old town of Angadanan until the new Angadanan was relocated in 1776 to its current location near the Angaranan Creek. Fr. Tomas Calderon (OP) started building the present church that was inaugurated in 1849 and dedicated to the Nuestra Senora de Atocha. Part of old Angadanan’s history is about two brothers who became the main protagonists during the Angadanan and Camarag rebellion against the Spanish. One brother, Onofre Liban, was the Gobernadorcillo and fiercely loyal to Spain while the other one, Lagutao, was the leader of the rebels and became known as the “terror of Diffun and the mountains”. The old Angadanan was renamed in 1949 in honor of then Pres. Elpidio Quirino’s wife: Dona Alicia Syquia Quirino.

The northern town (now a city) next to Alicia is Cauayan where we spent many Saturday afternoons watching its cinemas’ triple film showings; away from the humdrum of NELA’s whole day of worship that is required for all stay-in students. As the name suggests, Cauayan was founded along a plantation of bamboos and established as a pueblo in 1739. It was relocated to its present site in 1768 to avoid the constant raids of the hostile Gaddangs and Igorots. Fr. Juan Prieto (OP) started building the present church (dedicated to the La Virgen del Pilar) in 1825 that was heavily damaged during World War II. An earthquake later toppled the top level of the bell tower. Cauayan gained prominence as the center of Dominican’s apostolate during the Spanish times.

Farther north near Naguillian is the town of Gamu, established in 1678 as the pueblo of Batavag. Due to its constant inundation by floodwaters and the balmy weather, it was later fused with the village of Itugod in 1741 and relocated to its present site. Its new name Gamu means root in Ibanag. The present church (dedicated to Santa Rosa) was completed at around 1743. Gamu also host a shrine for Our Lady of Guibang along the national highway.

National Heritage: Red Bricks, Cylindrical Tower 

Ilagan is the capital town of Isabela and the gateway to Tumauini from the south. It used to be known as Bolo and was established as a pueblo in 1619. It was again reestablished in 1678 after its own inhabitants burned it down to the ground during a rebellion against the Spanish in 1621. What remained of the Spanish-era church (dedicated to San Fernando) is the bell tower, built by Fr. Pedro de San Pedro (OP) and Fr. Joaquin Sancho (OP) from 1777 until 1783.

The Dominicans accepted the old Tumauini as an ecclesiastical mission in 1704. Its first church of nipa was built and blessed in 1707. The mission was later established as a pueblo in 1751 after it was relocated to its present site. The first church to be built in the new site was made of wood. Fr. Domingo Forto (OP) started building the present church of San Matias in 1783 with assistance from a master carpenter named Castillejos. The church was seriously damaged during World War II. Except for the convent, it has been faithfully restored and today is considered as the best and most artistic brick structure in the Philippines. Its unique cylindrical bell tower is the only one of its kind in the country. The church has been declared by the National Commission on Culture and Arts as a national heritage.

The farthest northern town of Isabela is San Pablo, once the site of the old Cabagan before it was divided into two pueblos in 1647 --- Cabagan Viejo and Cabagan Nuevo. Fr. Diego dela Torre (OP) started building the present church in 1709 with the assistance of two local craftsmen: Salvador dela Cruz and Ambrosio Calingayan. In 1888, Cabagan Viejo was renamed as San Pablo. It was the only church in Cagayan Valley to be built with soft stones that has hastened its deterioration. It has been in ruins since it was damaged during World War II and is currently being restored.

Crunchy and Soupy Pansit Cabagan

Cabagan is, of course, home of the popular Pancit Cabagan: a medley of stir fried freshly made noodles mixed with chicharo, Baguio beans, repolyo and topped with boiled quail’s egg and crispy lechong kawali or bagnet. It comes with a thick soy sauce-based soup which makes it different from other pansit versions. In the Philippines, noodles with soup are usually called mami. This is how the Aling Kikay’s Restaurant --- my favorite panciteria in Cabagan --- prepares it. I usually buy kilos of its famous noodles whenever I pass by Cabagan. They are great with any combination. I like mine sautéed with sardines (in tomato sauce), sprinkled with a slice of calamansi, and eaten with hot freshly cooked rice. That, I think, is how the pansit kanin came to be.


joi... said...

i'm not so religious (nor this blogger,hehe) yet when i go to churches or passed by old churches it never missed to tickle my brain with curiosity and admiration, seeing the enormous architecture inside and outside the structure, it makes me wonder what was the story behind it, how it was built and how our forefathers (and foremothers) view this religious 'powerhouse.' (well so much for history 100....hehehe)

Ehem, about this blogger: 'so kelan to magiging book?' i often ask shubert as he show us his latest shots in his camera. these shots, however, did not remain in his camera. first, it became his favorite commercial (flashed in the lcd projector for participants to enjoy) during breaks on seminars or conventions we organise nationwide. then, it became the favorite screen saver. and now - - a BLOG... wow! this blog (and the evolution of this hobby of his) is indeed a reflection of the person behind it - - one that never gets enough, he takes it to higher (or even to the highest) possible level one can achieve - - and (take note) it even comes with a pancit story.... (",)--- joy

Estan said...

Sarap nyan. Had the same dish when I was in Cabagan. Unfortunately, the old church was no more except for the front cross structure.

Estan said...

Fr. Galende of the San Agustin Museum has an ongoing book project on Philippine churches. It will cover over 160 edifices across the country from Batanes to Mindanao. Hopefully, it will be published March next year. I should know as I'm one of the photographers taking the photos.

Healing said...


I'm actually doing a research in tracing my family tree. As far back as I can remember, my grandfather used to tell us about the Church of San Mattias, Tumauini (Isabela). He also told us that Father Domingo Forto is his great grandfather. My grandparents are from Tumauini, Isabela and I think we also have relatives in Cagayan Valley. My grandfather's name is Francisco Forto who is married to Soledad Baquiran Forto.

Anyway, if you happen to know these people, I would really love to connect with you. You can email me directly at

God bless! :)

Heherson Forto

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bohol said...

great blog; a good service in the appreciation of our culture and church archtitecture

you can see our own series of bohol churches below

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I just want to ask, where did you get your materials for the history of Gamu, Isabela? I tried to look for a more believable story of the origin of Gamu and so far your account is the most realistic of them. By the way, I really enjoyed reading your blog.