Tuesday, May 29, 2007


The sleepy town of Taal is the Philippines’ second heritage town after Vigan (which is now officially known as the Heritage City of Vigan). But aside from its well-preserved and magnificent colonial era houses, Taal also boasts of what can be called as ecclesiastical heritage sites: the Basilica of San Martin de Tours, the Shrine of Our Lady of Caysasay, and the ruins of an earlier church.

In 1572, the Dominicans established the mission of Taal and built the first church from light materials three years later in what is now San Nicolas during the administration of Fr. Diego de Espinar (OSA). This was replaced by a stone church in 1642 that was destroyed during the eruptions of the Taal Volcano in 1749 and 1754. The church was moved to its present site in 1575 where, after a year, a new structure was started to be built that was completed in 1782 under the successive supervisions of Fr. Martin Aguirre (OSA), Fr. Gabriel Rodriguez (OSA), and Fr. Jose Vitoria (OSA). This was probably destroyed and another was again built by the Augustinian Recollects in 1787 that was razed during a raid of moro pirates in 1798. Fr. Valeriano de San Pascual probably had the church rebuilt in 1839 that was probably again destroyed during the 1849 earthquake and the 1852 eruption of the volcano. The present church --- reputed to be the biggest colonial church in Southeast Asia --- was started to be constructed in 1856 under the supervisions of Fr. Marcos Anton and Arch. Luciano Oliver. It was finished in 1878 during the administration of Fr. Agapito Aparicio. Fr. Jose Sancho had the bell tower built from 1884 to 1888 that was destroyed in 1942. The church underwent restoration in 1972 and was declared as a national shrine in 1974.

Not as big and regal but perhaps more popular for pilgrims is the nearby Shrine of Our Lady of Caysasay. In 1603, a fisherman named Juan de Maningkad found what is now known as the image of the Caysasay Virgin while fishing in the river. The image was said to frequently appear in the place where it was found and, in 1611, a church of light materials was built in the area. This was replaced in 1639 by a stone church that was damaged during the 1754 and 1852 eruptions of the Taal Volcano. The church was rebuilt in 1856 only to be damaged again during the 1867 earthquake. It was later repaired and improved under the supervisions of Fr. Marcos Anton, the Italian painter Cesar Alberoni, and Fr. Agapito Aparicio. It has undergone renovations since then. The image of the Caysasay Virgin is enshrined in the church except on Fridays when it is brought to the Basilica of St. Martin de Tours.

A short walk from the shrine is the ruins of an earlier church that was destroyed by the eruptions of Taal Volcano. The waters of a spring emanating from the ruins is said to be miraculous. But to have the miracle, one must ask permission from an image of the Virgin Mary who is said to be guarding the spring. This is what we did as our little boy guide instructed us.

From Taal and after the town of Lemery is Calaca whose centuries old church is mostly intact and unspoiled by “renovations, improvements, and restorations”. And then a national heritage site.

National Heritage Site: A Filipino House of God

A short ride from Calaca is Balayan (yes, of the famous lechon parade) where Fr. Francisco de Santa Maria (OFM) built the first church built of light materials in 1579. The mission was handed over to the Jesuits in 1591 who had a stone church built in 1749. It was again handed to the secular clergy in 1753 who built the present church, to the Augustinian Recollects in 1876, then finally to the Filipino clergy in 1908. The church --- dedicated to the La Imaculada Concepcion --- is one of the few whose construction was supervised by Filipino priests. It was declared as a national heritage site of the National Commission on Culture and Arts.

Nothing is more welcome after a grueling visita iglesia around the Taal Lake than a refreshing bowl of spaghetti from Sonia’s Garden in Alfonso, Cavite. The noodles are firm and served with a selection of panahog: fried salmon, creamy and chunky chicken sauce, sun dried tomatoes, something-that-looked-like-green-peppers and have seen only in Lifestyle Channel, sautéed mushrooms, and a generous supply of grated parmesan cheese. There’s even a bowl of langka fruit which I presume is for refreshing the palate. To date, it’s the best spaghetti I’ve ever had and the most expensive too. A fitting finale to the most expensive and French-sounding lunch I’ve had in my whole life at Antonio’s in Tagaytay City a night earlier.

PHOTOS EXPLAINED (top to bottom): (1) Taal municipal hall, (2) Tall Basilica, (3) Shrine of Our Lady of Caysasay, (4) Caysasay church ruins, (5) Calaca church, (6-8) Balayan church, (9) a spaghetti dinner at Sonia’s Garden, and (10) my Frenchy 2k+ dinner at Antonio’s.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


We are a pancit loving and eating family.

For us, pancit is not just a birthday thing. It’s an everyday fare.

Every breakfast is a bowl of instant mami or a plate of instant canton until Bulan got hospitalized for urinary tract infection. From there on, its pancit prepared the hard way for us.

Misua with ground pork or meat balls and garnished with thinly sliced patola is a regular breakfast fare (and sometimes dinner too).

Bihon and canton or a combination of both are weekend staples when we have time to cook. We like ours kumpletos recados with shelled shrimp, boiled and sliced pork liempo, boiled chicken pitso strips, and a rainbow mixture of vegetables (i.e. thin strips of red bell pepper and orange carrots, chopped dark green kinchay, diagonally sliced dark green Baguio beans, middle green strips of sayote, and shredded light green cabbage). And this should have a thick sauce left after the cooking because we prefer eating it with rice ala pancit kanin. Of course, a head of calamansi should spike each plateful.

And nobody cooks it better than my Bostsip. She has a simple but mean recipe for spaghetti too: aldente pasta and a thick sauce of ground beef or pork sautéed in Italian-style tomato sauce. Not too sweet for us and a generous topping of shredded cheese.

We also cook mami for merienda or when the kids are sick. And we have 2 different version of the batchoy: Bostsip’s recipe of almost dinuguan except for the soup, misua, dahon ng sili and ginger; and mine as passed to me by best man Toto of OPI (i.e. beef atay, pork and/or chicken strips, shredded cabbage, and ground crunchy chicharon).

Eating out, we go to Thelma’s Pancit Malabon and Pepita’s (i.e. spaghetti, sotanghon, bihon, palabok) at the Science City of Munoz, and Dacoco’s in San Jose City. Personally, I prefer the freshly cooked guisadong bihon in Guimba’s public market. But I never got to find that carinderia again.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Camarines Sur to me is the sleepy town of Baao --- home to Sen. Joker Arroyo, Fr. Joaquin Bernas, and the first Filipino bishop of the Roman Catholic church --- and the quaint ancestral house of the Bismontes where we always stayed. Ever our gacious hosts are Pare Dante and his kumander who pampered us with sumptuous Bicolano fare: laing, pinangat, home prepared pili nuts, and various interpretations of the gata (i.e. santol, gulay, isda, etc.). He is of course a third of the Packard Boys triumvirate with me and Pare Eboy.

PHOTO EXPLAINED: That’s me (left) and Pare Dante in Jakarta with Pare Eboy taking the picture. We walked the streets of Bangkok a few months earlier.

On my last visit, Pare Dante obliged my pancit fetish by preparing the Rinconada District’s famed Pancit Bato. We bought the noodles and rekado (i.e. soy sauce, Knorr flavors, oil, onion and garlic) at a nearby store then went to a fish farm to catch a couple of bibes. Pare Dante said that Pancit Bato is perfect with dinuguan that the bibe will be done with. Ka Awi prepared the pancit and Elias the dinguan (from the innards, some of the pitso, and of course the blood). We had a feast and it was indeed a perfect combination.

Baao is an old town having been established when the first church was built in 1684 at the junction of Langoay and Bahay rivers. The church was later destroyed by a typhoon in 1706 and replaced by a second one in 1720. Another church was built when the town was transferred to its present site probably in 1731. This was damaged by the 1811 earthquake and has undergone repairs in 1848 and 1870. Several more renovations were done since then making the church is almost new. Erected in front of the church is a monument to Bishop Jorge Barlin, the first Filipino bishop, who was born in Baao in 23 April 1850. He was consecrated as a bishop in 29 June 1906 and gave the invocation during the opening of the first Philippine Assembly in Manila on 16 October 1907. He died in Rome in 4 September 1909.

Profiles: The Churches of Nabua and Buhi

CHURCH OF THE HOLY CROSS (NABUA, CAMARINES SUR). Nabua was established by the Franciscans in 1578 when the first church was also built. This was razed by fire in 1610 and replaced by another structure that was destroyed by a typhoon in 1611. A stronger church was built from 1630 until 1656. This was probably destroyed and another church --- the present one --- was built and completed in 1700. Repairs were made on the roof in 1878 and in the earthquake-damaged bell tower between 1890 and 1894.

CHURCH OF SAN FRANCISCO DE ASSIS (BUHI, CAMARINES SUR). The Franciscans established the mission of Buhi in 1605. What was probably the first church was built near the town’s lake and destroyed by a fire in 1730. A new church was built in 1735 and destroyed again after sustaining damages from various earthquakes. The present church was built under the supervision of Fr. Angel Malumbre (OFM) between 1870 and 1884. Repairs were made to the roof between 1889 and 1890. The church has been extensively renovated since then.

Thursday, May 10, 2007


Naga City is one of the oldest cities in the Philippines in the same league as Cebu, Manila and Vigan. Several fine churches dot its landscape, the most famous of which is of course the Shrine of the Nuestra Senora de Pena de Francia. A walk away is the ruins of the San Francisco Church which is acknowledged to be the oldest church in the Bicol region. It once served as a quarter for Franciscan priests and was the surrender site of the last Spanish governor to serve the province of Ambos Camarines. The church was completely destroyed in 1915 and was not rebuilt until 1957. It has just undergone a major restoration work and only the base of the bell tower remained of the old structure.

Also within walking distance is the Cathedral of San Juan Evangelista whose first structure was built when the Diocese of Nueva Caceres was established in 1595. This was razed by fire in 1768 and probably replaced by a makeshift church. A bigger and stronger structure was built until 1843 under the supervisions of Bishop Bernardo de la Concepcion and Msgr. Tomas Ladron de Guevara. It was repaired from 1862 until 1879 during the term of Fr. Francisco Gainza after it was damaged by a typhoon, and again in 1890 under the supervisions of Bishop Arsenio Campo and an Engineer Ricardo after it was damaged by an earthquake. The cathedral has just undergone a general restoration work. Beside it is the imposing Seminary of Nueva Caceres that was founded in 1797 by Bishop Domingo Collantes. It is the only remaining Spanish era seminary building in the Philippines. Across the street is the Colegio de Santa Isabel that was established by Bishop Francisco Gainza in 1870 as the first normal school for girls in the Philippines.

After this visita iglesia, a refreshing serving of kinalas is a most welcome refreshment. This noodle dish is similar with the everyday mami except for a topping of what looked like a Pansit Palabok sauce, and the meaty dark soup made from boiling a cow or a pig’s head until the flesh fell off. Hence, the name kinalas. Then off to another visita iglesia of quaint small towns along the Metro Naga loop starting with Milaor.

CHURCH OF NUESTRA SENORA DELA ASUNCION (CANAMAN, CAMARINES SUR). The Franciscans established the mission of Canaman in 1599. The church is probably the last of a series of churches built in the town during the Spanish era.

CHURCH OF SANTA ANA (MAGARAO, CAMARINES SUR). Magarao was a visita of Canaman until 1750. The first parish church was destroyed during the earthquake of 1811. A makeshift church was built that lasted until 1826 when the present church was started to be constructed. This was finished in 1849. Repairs were initiated by Fr. Vicente Rojo (OFM) and Fr. Higinio del Alamo (OFM) after the church was damaged during the 1877 earthquake.

CHURCH OF SAN ANTONIO DE PADUA (CAMALIGAN, CAMARINES SUR). The Franciscans established the mission of Camaligan in 1795. The church was probably built in the 19th century.

CHURCH OF NUESTRA SENORA DEL ROSARIO (BOMBON, CAMARINES SUR). The Franciscans established the mission of Bombon in 1804. The church which features a bell tower leaning to one side was probably built afterwards.

CHURCH OF THE LA IMACULADA CONCEPTION (CALABANGA, CAMARINES SUR). The Franciscans established Calabanga in 1578 as a visita of Quipayo until 1749. When it was established as an independent parish, the first church was built and was damaged during the 1811 earthquake. Another church was built in 1849 and was also probably destroyed. The present church was built from 1874 until 1897.

Saturday, May 05, 2007


I always take the Luisiana-Cavinti-Lucban way whenever I travel south because the travel time is shorter although the route is longer because of the minimal traffic volume. The refreshing scenery of rolling hills bordering the Laguna Lake and the cool mountain air also makes the travel stress-free and enjoyable. On top of that is a filling snack of Pancit Lucban from a panciteria just beside Lucban’s grand colonial church --- its freshly cooked saucy noodles brimming with an assortment of vegetables and sahog, and spiked with a large head of calamansi.

The town of Lucban after which this great pancit was named was established as a Franciscan mission in 1578. The first church was built in 1595 after it became an independent parish. The town was moved to its present site in 1629 where another church was built from 1630 until 1640 and was damaged by fire in 1733. The construction of the present church dedicated to San Luis Obispo was finished in 1738. Lucban is the hometown of Apolinario dela Cruz --- more popularly known as Hermano Pule --- who is acknowledged to be the first hero of Tayabas and the first King of the Tagalogs.

National Heritage Site: A Basilica with Neo-classical Altars

The Franciscans established Tayabas in 1578 and built the first church of light materials in 1585. It served as the capital town of Tayabas province from 1605 until 1901. The church was probably destroyed and was again rebuilt in 1590. The first stone church was built in 1600 and destroyed during the 1743 earthquake. A bigger church --- the present Basilica of San Miguel Arkanghel --- was immediately constructed in 1744. It was further enlarged in 1856. Improvements to the roof were made in 1894. During World War II, the adjacent convent that was being used as a Japanese garrison was damaged by American bombs. Despite the damages, the church remained largely intact. The church is said to be one of the most beautiful in the Philippines and features seven neo-classical altars. Tayabas also hosts the Bridge of Malagonlong --- one of the few remaining colonial stone bridges that was built from 1840 to 1850 under the supervision of Fr. Antonio Mateos (OFM). The National Commission on Culture and Arts had declared the church as a national heritage site.

Right after Tayabas is Lucena City where Pancit Lucban is transformed into Pancit Habhab, wrapped in banana leaves, sprinkled with vinegar, and eaten minus spoon and fork. Lucena was established as an independent parish in 1881. Its church of San Fernando was built from 1882 until 1884. It was razed by fire in 1887 and was immediately rebuilt. Sometime ago, Uncle Manoling was walking one of Lucena’s busy streets when he was attacked and stabbed many times. Until today, the motive behind his murder is still unknown. Before that incident, Uncle Manoling lived in Sta. Ana where Abet met him.

Eight kilometers from Lucena City is the sleepy town of Pagbilao. Its ecclesiastical history started with a church of light materials that was probably built during the term of Fr. Cristobal Mortanchez (OFM) in 1688. The church, dedicated to Santa Catalina de Alejandria, was relocated to its present site in 1730 where another structure was probably built under the supervision of Fr. Francisco Xavier de Toledo (OFM). Fr. Victorino Peralija (OFM) initiated building a stone church in 1845 that was finished in 1877 under the supervision of Fr. Eugenio Gomez (OFM). This was destroyed during the war for the liberation of the Philippines in 1945 and was reconstructed under the supervision of Fr. Vicente Urlanda in 1954. Only the bell tower remained of the original structure.

Gumaca is the last town in Quezon before the Bicol Region with an intact colonial church that is acknowledged as the biggest and oldest church in the province. Its story started with the first church that was built in 1582, and its relocation to the island of Alabat in 1638 then to its present site after being razed by Dutch invaders in 1665. The construction of the present church of San Diego de Alcala was started in 1690 and completed in 1747 under the supervisions of Fr. Francisco de las Llagas (OFM) and Gobernadorcillo Diego Martinez Polintan. Fr. Francisco Corto (OFM) had it renovated and improved in 1866. Gumaca is the hometown of my boss, former Sen. Wigberto “Ka Bobby” Tanada, who’s definition of a great snack is a delicious plate of Pancit Canton.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Meet Balong --- 4 years old and 28 kilos last April 28. He’s got 2 names. The first one means “fight for right” and the second one in honor of my favorite poet. He like riding in Tatay’s motorbike. One day, he will be like his Tatay (and his favorite ninong).

PHOTOS: Juan Pablo L. Ciencia in his father’s shoes (top) and preparing to gobble Nanay’s classic spaghetti (bottom).

Profile: Church of Milaor, Camarines Sur

The Franciscans started building the first church, dedicated to San Jose, in 1725 that was finished in 1735. It was destroyed by fire in 1740 and replaced by the present church. The bell tower was added in 1840.