Saturday, September 23, 2006


Amang Lakay is a legend for his hard work and industriousness. He has the cleanest tambak and most planted bangkag in Almaguer where Inang Baket harvested vegetable crops that were sold to the neighbors and in the ili every market day. She is a most anticipated suki and her vegetables are gone just as soon as the sack where she displays these touches the ground. Afterwards, she would walk home bringing salt, sugar, and other things that they can’t produce in their bangcag. As legendary as Amang Lakay’s industriousness is her cooking skills and her delicious dinengdengs, inabraws, pinakbets, and freshly caught bunog cooked in fresh ripe tomatoes with alukon leaves and flowers are dishes to die for.

Amang Lakay’s post-war house is the typical bahay kubo that is elevated from the ground with pieces of sturdy crooked narra posts joined together by wooden pegs. The roof is made of pan-aw and the floor of slated bamboo. Below is an abulog where coconuts are stored. The house is walled with finely splinted bamboos. It has no rooms. The kitchen is downstairs at the rear of the house where Inang Baket’s famous dishes are cooked in bangas with narrow necks that the silong will hold when lifted from the fire. Cold fresh water from the spring is ladled from a big burnay and poured into bowls of shinny coconut shells, black with use, where it will be drank. At the far end is a bangsal with a hole in the middle that serves as the kasilyas.

Two ancient acacia trees guard the entrance to the house, so huge that it will take three men to embrace each of the trunks. A santol tree stands not far from the acacias. Its fruit are small but its sweetness is known throughout Almaguer. The santol will survive a cannon shell during the war, dozens of children who played in its branches, a swarm of bees that built its nest in the hole made by the cannon shell, only to be cut down when electricity finally came to Almaguer because its proud branches stood in the way of the high tension wires. Just after the kitchen is a trellis of patani, a climbing vegetable that adds aroma to Inang’s pinakbet. Further back are guava and bignay trees with their contrasting colors of green, yellow, red, and black fruits.
This is where Auntie Ibang, my mother, Uncle Rogel, and Uncle Kidlat grew up.

The Nueva Ecija Connection

Amang Lakay’s children would eventually leave Almaguer, just as Lakay Burik left Dingras years ago. Two of them --- Auntie Ibang and Uncle Rogel --- would settle in the nearby province of Nueva Ecija where I also moved to many years later. But unlike their ancestors, Amang Lakay’s children will come back to pay homage to the once new land, to relive the memories of the departed, and to heal the wounds that made them leave and forget the place of their and their father’s birth.

As the eldest, Auntie Ibang acted as the surrogate parent to her siblings when Amang Lakay and Inang Baket are not around. On her third year of high school in NELA in Alicia, she eloped with Uncle Nonong, a Korean War veteran from Camiling, Tarlac assigned at the nearby 10th Battalion Combat Team in Cauayan, Isabela. They have 4 children: Kuyang Ato, Kuyang Mayong, and Kuyang Uben who also went into soldiering; and Ate Madie who is a dentist. Uncle Nonong later built a wooden house in Almaguer connected to that of Amang Lakay’s with a bamboo bridge. Lolo Porong would wall the lower portion of Uncle Nonong’s house with hollow blocks and this is where we periodically stayed during our itinerant childhood. Auntie Ibang eventually moved to Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija but came back to their house in Almaguer after Uncle Nonong retired and migrated to Hawaii.

Uncle Rogel was born during the war. He worked his way to college as a farmer student of the Central Luzon State University (CLSU) where he tended his own farm. In return, he was given a free cottage to share with other farmer students, and free food and a meager allowance from the sale of their crops. Before graduating with a degree in agriculture, he married Auntie Auring from nearby San Jose City. They have four children: Insan Paner, Insan Alma, Insan Bugan, and Insan JR who all attended CLSU. Uncle Rogel worked at the National Irrigation Administration until he retired. His bitter memories of their lost lands --- and finally marriage --- made him decide to reside in San Jose City but will periodically visit Amang Lakay and Inang Baket in Almaguer.

The Isinays, Abacaes, and Balugas of Nueva Ecija were subdued by the army of Juan de Salcedo (the sword) and a host of Augustinian missionaries (the cross). In 1702, Fr. Antolin Alzaga (OSA) led the Christianization of the following rancherias: Pantabangan, San Juan, Sto. Cristo de Burgos, Dipaculao, Lavan, Tambangan, Danay, San Jose, Lupa, Santiago, Sta. Monica, Malatava, San Sebastian, San Agustin, San Miguel, San Pablo, Pungcan, Carranglan, Santor, Gapan, and San Nicolas. The result of his missionary work paved the way for the establishment of Nueva Ecija as a province in 1735 by Governor-General Fausto de Cruzat who named it after his hometown of Ecija in Sevilla, Spain. Later, Fr. Alejandro Cacho (OSA) would build missions and organize towns from these rancherias from his base in the Carranglan and Pantabangan missions. One of these is Puncan that was first established by Fr. Baltazar de Lasinaga (OSA) in 1706 as a settlement of Isinays fleeing the rebellion in Burubur (today’s barangay of Sta. Clara in Aritao, Nueva Vizcaya). These settlers might have become remontados because 11 years later on 7 February 1717, the first recorded Christian baptism of 31 Isinays was conducted by Father Cacho who also built what is probably the first stone church. Puncan then became an important mission outpost for the Christianization of the Caraballo mountain range area that made possible the building of a road linking the Northern Luzon provinces to Manila. Puncan’s colonial era church was severely damaged during the 1990 earthquake. It later collapsed to the ground due to unabated treasure hunting around its walls and a new church has been built over the foundations of the old one. Today, a nearby Spanish-built bridge is the only reminder of Puncan’s better days.

Both Puncanand Carranglan started as visitas of the missionof Pantabangan. The latter was ecclasiastically established by the Augustinians in 1701 when the first church of light materials was built. Fr. Miguel Soriano (OSA) initiated building in 1765 a stone church dedicated to San Nicolas de Tolentino. This was destroyed during the 1990 earthquake and rebuilt under the supervision of Fr. Cesar Vergara of the secular clergy. The church of Pantabangan is also gone --- submerged in the Pantabangan Dam Reservoir. There was a time when the ruins can be seen during summer times. Now, there is nothing.

Oyet once told me that the colonial churches of Puncan, Carranglan, Pantabangan, and Penaranda shared a common design. Based on an old photo of the Puncan church and the current fa├žade designs of the Carranglan and Penaranda churches, I can deduce that the commonality might be in the espadana --- a “facade belfry” where openings are made for bells in the upper front wall that is common among Spanish colonies in the Americas. This feature is still visible in the renovated facade of Penaranda’s church of San Francisco de Assisi. The church was constructed on the site where Fr. Alvaro Calleja (OSA) had the first church of stone and with thatch roofing built. Fr. Florentino Samonte (SA) initiated building the present church in 1869 that was completed in 1889 under the successive supervisions of Fr. Isidro Prada (OSA), Fr. Candido San Miguel (OSA), and Fr. Santos Vega (OSA). Penaranda is formerly Gapan’s Barrio Mapisong that was named in honor of Engr. Jose Ma. Penaranda in 1851 and established as a town in 1853.

Gapan --- Penaranda’s former matrix --- was accepted by the Augustinians as the ecclesiastical mission of Dantiago (Santiago) de Ayombon in 1595. It was renamed as Convento delos Reyes de Gapan in 1614. There are no records on who built the first structures but the Augustinian priests are very much in the town’s history books. In 1646, Fr. Juan de Albarran (OSA) and Fr. Diego Tamayo (OSA) were instrumental in pacifying a rebellion led by Captain “El Padre Eterno” Cavada. Some of the Chinese ordered exiled in 1704 by Governor-General Domingo de Zabalburu were also concentrated in Gapan. Fr. Francisco Laredo (OSA) started building the present church of Los Tres Reyes in 1856, probably on the ruins of the previous buildings, that was completed under the successive supervisions of Fr. Antonio Cornejo (OSA) and Fr. Leonardo Laneza (OSA) in 1869. Fr. Francisco Arriola had the convent built in 1879. The church is the considered the most beautiful ever built in Nueva Ecija.

Another Augustinian-built church was that of San Antonio Abad (in San Antonio, Nueva Ecija), first established as a visita of Gapan in 1841. Fr. Juan Tombo (OSA) had the first church built in 1848 that was destroyed during the 1880 earthquake. The infamous Fr. Mariano Gil (OSA) --- who discovered the existence of the Katipunan through the confession of a parishioner in Tondo --- had the church rebuilt in 1882. This is the present structure. Fr. Paulino Escalada (OSA) supervised the construction of the convent in 1855. Katipuneros seriously damaged the structures during the 1898 Philippine Revolution. These have since been repaired and in 1954, Fr. Florentino Guiao had the bell tower restored.

Except for Gapan, San Isidro, Cabiao, San Antonio, Cabanatuan, Penaranda and Santor, the Augustinians later handed all their missions in Nueva ecija to the Dominicans and Franciscans. Today, only the Augustinian-built churches in Penaranda, Gapan and San Antonio are extant of the province's colonial churches after the ravages of war, earthquake, typhoons and floods, and "church improvements".

CREDITS: Tolits Circa for the photo of the Pantabangan church ruins and Regalado Trota Jose’s “Simbahan: Church Art in Colonial Philippines (1565-1898)” for the photo of the old Puncan church.

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