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.