Bulacan’s many faces–from the grandiose to the spooky to the bloody

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Where the historical brothers Basilio and Crispin of José Rizal’s novel are believed to have been tortured; note Rizal’s statue and the painting of the scene

Last of two parts

As a showcase of history and culture, San Miguel town is an exemplar not only in Bulacan but also for the country to emulate.

Renowned for so-called Bulacan sweets (pastillas de leche, bottled santol), it is also home to artists (kundiman composer Nicanor Abelardo, musician Francisco Buencamino, baritone José Mossesgeld Santiago, writer Virgilio Almario) and revolutionary figures (Simon Tecson, Trinidad Tecson, Felipe Buencamino, Dr. Maximo Viola), and summer capital for presidents (Manuel Quezon, Manuel Roxas and Sergio Osmeña).

Millennials have become aware of their rich heritage, and some like Enzo Buencamino have joined a local government unit monitoring and doing an inventory of every other piece of built heritage in their town. They want to preserve and protect anything old, antique or ancient—from the Baroque-style Church of San Miguel Arcangel (circa 1860s) to the few extant colonial-era kamalig or granaries.

Enzo Buencamino pointing to the largest colonial-era granary in San Miguel town

Buencamino has even turned his ancestral house into a mini museum. In the sala presided over by the century-old icon of Maria Salome are antique household tools, farm implements and artifacts. He has neatly filed on a table a fragile collection of old photographs, scraps of paper, record books, for visitors to scrutinize.

Unlike some other places where the extravagance of the culture is reflective of the loudness of the people’s character traits, Bulacan has a very rich but relatively quiet culture. So we tend to forget that some of the country’s most grandiose structures are in this province.

Think of the Philippine Arena. With a seating capacity of about 52,000, in a 140-hectare zone in Bocaue and Sta. Maria towns, it is considered the world’s biggest indoor arena.

Bed used by Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo when he headquartered at the Simon Tecson House —PHOTOS BY LEO M. SABANGAN II

The inkwell used in the signing of the Pact of Biak-na-Bato

Massive complex

Think of the Shrine of St. Andrew Kim, also in Bocaue—a complex of massive structures with Korean architectural motifs, footpaths with bowers, well-manicured grounds, herb gardens and a river view. The place is managed by Korean nuns.

A loquacious guide for a tour of the complex is Fr. Vicente Robles, under whose parish the shrine is. He shows statuary and murals depicting the saint, locally known as San Andres Kim Tae-Gon.

Fleeing religious persecution in Korea during the Joseon Dynasty, Kim Tae-Gon sailed to Macau to study, then to the Philippines, where he lived as a seminarian at Hacienda de Lolomboy in the late 1830s. Upon returning to his homeland as a priest with a group of French missionaries in 1845, he was arrested and executed with the missionaries and over 100 converts. He was canonized in 1984.

In a patch of undergrowth can still be found the stump of an ancient tree under which the future saint used to study. Its trunk and branches Father Robles had fashioned into a stylized altar table as a relic.

In nearby Sto. Cristo Church, the seat of Father Robles’ parish, most design elements have been Filipinized, from the door to the altar. The priest has built a capacious structure that looks highly personalized.

Overwhelming sight

A more massive structure with a more dizzying landscape architecture is the Grand Basilica of Our Lady of Lourdes in San José del Monte City. It has a Stations of the Cross route traversing a hill and an exact replica of the grotto of Lourdes in France.

But unquestionably the most overwhelming of Bulacan’s grandiose structures is the statue of Christ at the National Shrine of Divine Mercy in Marilao town. At 100 feet high, it is reportedly the tallest such image in the world.

The Divine Mercy in Marilao town, the biggest such icon in the world

There, too, are religious structures in the area that are much smaller but no less
significant.

The Church of Sta. Monica in Angat town, built in 1758, is remarkable for its Rococo-Baroque architecture. Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescos have been painstakingly replicated here by folk artists, though modified and indiginized.

In 1805, Fr. Manuel Blanco was assigned as its parish priest. It was here where the young Augustinian friar, while going around town collecting and studying native plants, conceived the monumental book “Flora de Filipinas.”

Bloodier history

The Church of San Juan de Dios in San Rafael town, built in the 1860s in Partido Baroque style, has a richer, bloodier history.

RJ Ligamzon, president of the Parish Commission on Youth, tours visitors around with a running commentary that raises one’s hair.

It was inside this church, in the morning of Nov. 30, 1896, where Gen. Anacleto Enriquez, Trinidad Tecson and nearly 100 other katipuneros and many locals were trapped by the Guardia Civil. About 800 perished, mostly women and children. The blood spilled on the church floor reportedly reached ankle-deep.

That five-hour battle was what inspired Gregorio del Pilar to join the revolution against Spain.

San Rafael is said to be the model for the town of San Diego in José Rizal’s novel “Noli Me Tángere.” Between the church and the rectory is a cramped space where, it is believed, the real-life brothers Basilio and Crispin were maltreated by the sacristan mayor.

On one wall is a painting depicting the cruel scene. Some years ago, on the opposite wall, it is said bloodstains could still be seen.

On one end of the small room is a life-size statue of a seated Rizal, poised in writing. Farther, on the other end, is a crevice between the stone walls, said to be an ancient well. It was believed to be the pit where the sacristan mayor threw the corpse of 7-year-old bell-ringer Crispin.

Three halls of the rectory have been turned into a parochial museum, small but quite comprehensive.
The ghost of a woman is said to be haunting the place. (Could it be Sisa looking for her boys?)

Rich display

How historical this province is was underscored by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines’ (NHCP) decision to transfer the Museum of Political History from the NHCP Building in Manila to the Casa Real of Malolos City.

Built during the Spanish era, demolished in 1964 and reconstructed in 1980, Casa Real opened late last year as the NHCP’s 18th museum to be modernized.

It has state-of-the-art facilities and a rich display of life-size dioramas, murals, graphs and interactive video tracing our political history from precolonial times to the present, though one wishes there were more authentic artifacts. As it is, most of the documents and vintage photographs here are photocopies, and many of the cultural bric-a-brac are replicas.

Couldn’t curators perhaps borrow from current owners some authentic items such as the scoop of sand from the ground where Rizal fell in Bagumbayan; the original inkwell used in the signing of the Pact of Biak-na-Bato, or even the ornate bed used by Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo when he headquartered in San Miguel de Mayumo?

Stuff like those need to be exhibited in a proper museum so they could be seen by as many Filipinos as possible, to keep the patriotic heart forever burning.

SM City Marilao is the first SM Supermall in Bulacan. Its façade features geometric diamond shapes in warm tones of yellow and orange.

SM City San Jose DelMonte in Bulacan is more than just a shopping destination. It’s a place to revel in the beauty of nature and to hang out and connect with friends.

Errata

In Part 1 of this article (Lifestyle, 7/23), the Miguel Siojo House was inadvertently identified in the caption as the Simon Tecson House.
The article also misidentified Simon Tecson’s three sons as officers of the revolutionary army. In fact, it was Simon Ocampo Tecson himself (colonel) and his brothers Pablo (colonel) and Mariano (captain), who were in Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo’s army. Simon, the eldest, led the Siege of Baler.
We apologize for the errors.

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