Tag Archive: Philippines

Love it. Got it! Rogers (yes, with an S) is such an adorable tour guide. We had him for 4 days and there was simply no chance of any mind-numbing boredom with this Ivatan. Before this trip, I only have 2 personal friends who are Ivatans. Rogers makes 3. Dan, his assistant, makes 4.


Rogers With An “S”. That’s what he’s called!



Rogers loves punctuating his statements with “Got it?” that we all too soon adopted it as the group’s tag line. When anyone asks anything even vaguely hinting of a complaint (like why can’t we buy coconut crabs to take home?), Rogers is quick to plead to spare him of any misdirected protest (“Please don’t get mad at me…..”) and accordingly ends his statement with “I love you”. Once, there was this Caucasian who approached him and I overheard Rogers bidding him farewell and the perfunctory “I love you, Sir”. I waited for the man’s reaction, but he must have gotten used to Rogers (as we were, after only 24 hours) that the mechanical endearment was accepted without much fanfare.




And that’s Rogers’ able assistant……..DAN. No “S”



His assistant, Dan — that’s Dan in green shirt atop the jeepney! — is just as gracious but not given to the same endearments. I’d give him a few years before saying “I love you’s” without blushing. 😉 Much like Rogers, Dan is quite adept with cameras too. SLRs, P&S, iPhone or iPad cams. I learned they also serve as guides in many Photo Safaris and Photography Workshops conducted in Batanes. Rogers said they learned by listening to the lectures and simply watching the pros. No wonder they know the best angles and photo spots.




Welcome to Batanes….. sung by these friendly Ivatan students.


Choir of the San Carlos Borromeo Church in Mahatao singing ” We Welcome You to Batanes”. So heartwarming!






When we visited the San Carlos Borromeo Church in Mahatao, we spotted the Parish Priest standing by the 2nd floor window. He came down to welcome us just as the church choir sang a Welcome to Batanes song for us. Just as beautiful was the song number by Ivatan students who sang for us after our dinner at the Lighthouse overlooking Basco Bay. So heartwarming!




The hardworking Ivatans in action. Sabtang Port.


The Old Man and His Carabao. Sabtang Island, Batanes, Philippines.



Being in Batanes and with these hospitable Ivatans is a refreshing experience. From the hardworking men at the Sabtang Port to the old man with his carabao to the old lady by the road. Some of us even borrowed bicycles from smiling children who took our hands to touch their foreheads as a show of respect. It’s nice to be OLD here in Batanes where respect for elders is still fashionable!




Buko or Young Coconuts For Sale.


The Old Ivatan lady by the road. Sabtang Island, Batanes. Philippines.



Some skeptics think Honesty Cafe is really just all-hype. This untended store allows you to take whatever you like and simply deposit your payment in a box. Nothing can be simpler than that. I would love to retell this story to such skeptics about how one of us lost his room key, cell phone and eyeglasses in Rakuh a Payaman a.k.a. Marlboro Country. We already boarded our jeepney, well on our way to another destination, when my friend missed his stuff. Our Tour Guide Rogers directed his assistant Dan to take over while he mounted a bike to motor back to Marlboro Country. No luck. After all it was near sunset by then, so Rogers summoned some of his friends to continue the search as we were leaving early the next morning. No high hopes they’d be found.




You make the Ivatans proud. And so with the rest of the Filipinos. Batanes. Philippines.



Hey, skeptics. See that photo above? Between Rogers and my friend Tony is this fine young Ivatan lad who found Tony’s cellphone, eyeglasses and room key. He motored all the way from Rakuh a Payaman to the airport where we were getting ready to board for our homeward flight. He was in a hurry to leave after returning Tony’s stuff that Rogers had to hold him for this posterity shot. Makes us all admire this young Ivatan, but truly, we weren’t surprised at all about Ivatan honesty and admirable character. How about you? Were you surprised? Love it? Got it?

Call it Batanes Fever. Or Ivatan Addiction. Whatever. But I’ve been home for 2 days now and all I’ve done is review and upload our photos from the smallest, northernmost island province of the Philippines. Wrote the first of my Batanes blog series yesterday but was stumped when I kept “losing” my draft midway through the blog. I’m not one to do a “prelim” — I simply write away and click that tab which says “Publish”. So I gave up after repeating myself 3 times — the temper got in the way, and I knew I just lost the motivation to write.





Waiting for Sunset On a Typical Day in Batanes



This very moment, I’m blogging using my iPhone. And using the stored photos taken by this phone which saved my day when my Canon G12 died in Batanes. Between these and those snapshots from my iPad Mini, I’m fine. Sad, but not exactly bothered by my malfunctioning G12. Funny how the Ivatan simplicity, warmth and hospitality along with the natural and rugged beauty of the island can weave magic into our lives. I started writing this to capture how I feel at the moment. If you’re looking for travel tips, directions and suggested itineraries, skip this post and read my other blogs. This one’s written by me. For me.




The Mahatao Lighthouse. Surely, a Batanes icon.



I used to dream my family has a truffle farm in Périgord. That stopped on my first night in Batanes. The music from the waves rushing to shore lulled me to sleep. I could have written down my sentiments then, but I needed to prep myself for next morning’s falowa boat ride to Sabtang. Pacific Ocean meeting the South China Sea (or should I say West Philippine Sea) sounds threatening but the guide assured us of the Ivatan boating skills. I believed that lock, stock and barrel. There’s something about the Ivatan culture that renders these friendly, hospitable people quite a smart “breed” of Filipinos. I suspect the isolation made them so self-sufficient, self-reliant, respectful of nature, and smart.




The Falowa boat ride from Ivana Port in Batan Island to Sabtang Island took 45 minutes. Not a bad ride. But the return trip was something else.



I miss the sunsets — which I viewed daily — the ocean views, the verdant rolling hills, the lobsters, the coconut crabs, the Ivatan culture. Many times, some youngster grabbed my hand to touch his forehead. A very Filipino tradition to show respect for elders, now seemingly lost in the chaos of the metropolis. I am touched that an 86 year old Ivatan lady from the oldest stone house called House of Dakay survives on alms and help from neighbors and visitors like us. I am very impressed that an Honesty Cafe exists in Batanes and that many homes remain unlocked throughout the day and night. The Ivatans make us fellow Filipinos proud of this old tradition and culture of honesty, self-reliance, simplicity, industry, dignity as a people.




Nakabuang Beach is truly nakaka-buang sa ganda. The rock formations and the monastic rhythm of the rushing waves encourage peeps to take a dip, even if they are NOT dressed (or undressed?) for it.



Many planned visits to Batanes would focus on God’s magnificent creations. Van Gogh-wannabes and photography enthusiasts would delight in Nature’s painting on the sky, find melody in the howling winds and feel enthralled in the rhythmic slapping of the waves against the rocks. In my book, the must-experience lies in the genuine hospitality and dignity of the hardworking Ivatans and their respect for Nature. Their isolation taught them self-reliance and their faith in God made them respect Nature and seek God’s mercy. Everyone with a drop of Filipino blood can learn well from that.




This sunset shot using my iPhone could have been better. But it’s a good memory catcher. Waiting by the shore for the sun to set is ma’velous! Esp if there’s a good dinner waiting across the street 😉



Truly, Paradise does not rest on panoramic vistas alone. It lives in the hearts of the people. Nurtured through the centuries. DIOS MAMAJES! Colloquially, it means “Thank you”. Literally? It means GOD GIVES BACK.



Didn’t I say it’s the northernmost tip of the Philippines? Nearer to Taiwan (less than 200 kms) than Mainland Philippines.



We had near-perfect weather when we visited recently, yet we still rocked and rolled on that falowa boat ride to Sabtang. We were up at 2:30am to be at the Domestic Airport by 3:30am for our SkyJet flight at 5:30am. We were a group of 35 chatty, giggling peeps on board 2 long jeepneys driving around Batan Island, one of 3 inhabited islands of the 10 in this smallest and northernmost island province of the Philippines. We were tired, sleep-deprived, and my CANON G12 camera went bust here after being my loyal companion for many past trips. Some of us lost a scarf, missed a cellphone, dropped a hat. YET we have not had a nega-moment during this wonderful trip.




Aerial View of Batan Island Before SkyJet Landing




I may have felt like a zombie the morning we arrived in the lovely airport terminal of Basco, Batanes, but I wasn’t so zonked out to remember this is Batanes and NOT Capetown nor the rolling hills in Yorkshire. Certainly looks like Bronte country that I instantly remembered that most compelling character Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights fame. But I digress.



BATANES IS BEAUTIFUL. Rustic, serene, utterly divine. A typhoon may spoil a holiday and a ride over the choppy waters where Pacific Ocean meets the West Philippine Sea may give you nightmares —- but in my book, this place has no equal within the country. I want to kick myself why I waited this long. I could have made better jump shots on that hill, stood dangerously by the cliff edge and perhaps even tested the cold ocean waters even if I didn’t know how to swim. The passion is still there, but the energy mimics the state of my G12 cam. 😦




Rolling Hills


Mother and Child. Or Mama Cow and Calf? Near Fundacion Pacita in Batan Island, Batanes.



Many photo safaris have been conducted here. I can understand why. It’s a chore NOT to take good photographs here in Batanes. Our group included professional photographers and photography enthusiasts. When my Canon G12 conked out, I made do with my iPad mini and iPhone. Saved the day for me. And while my photos pale in comparison with Mon’s (yes, you Mon!), I am happy. After all, Mon (yes, it’s you again) and Chikie (yes, you dear) made sure I have my jump shots souvenirs! Ahem. Ahem. 😉



Poles Lining the Rolling Hills


Ivana Port.



(There’s more to write about. But I’m on my 3rd attempt writing this post. For some reason, I lose the draft midway through the blog. Don’t ask me why. It took 3 attempts before I gave up. It’s hard to write in all candor, only to “repeat” the same narrative with fading emotions battling with impatience. My apologies. I need a break. Watch this page. Sequels out soon. )


April 9, 1942. Every Filipino veteran remembers the date. It was the day Filipino and American soldiers surrendered in Bataan to the Japanese. The Fall of Bataan. The Surrender. I remember the line “Sumuko na ang mga Amerikano sa Bataan” (The Americans already surrendered in Bataan) in that unforgettable movie “Oro, Plata, Mata” by the cinema genius of a director, Peque Gallaga. So poignant in its truth, so piercing in its pain and hopelessness.







More than 45,692 Filipinos and 9,300 American soldiers who dragged their feet during the Death March from Bataan to this final destination suffered more indignities here. Camp O’Donnell it was then called, then Capas Concentration Camp where 30,000 POWs died from April through June 1942 while under detention.






We honor our fallen heroes here. There is a central walk leading to the peace monument — the Obelisk, the focal center of the shrine. Around it, marble walls bear the names of the fallen, many forgotten over time.






Looking up at the Obelisk, we are reminded how much blood was shed in defense of our independence. At the very least, we owe it to them to preserve the peace and to live in harmony and unity as Filipinos regardless of creed and religious convictions.






A visit to the Capas National Shrine after a trekking adventure in Mt. Pinatubo is recommended. No detours. The Shrine is just a few minutes away and right along the same rad exiting from the Capas meeting point where you board the 4×4 jeeps.

You may also wish to check out my blog on Mount Pinatubo. Just click on this Pinatubo.

Turumba or Tarumba? When you get to Pakil, Laguna either in search of Lanzones or woodcraft or Jose Luciano Dans’ century-old paintings, you can’t miss Pakil Church — official residence of the Virgen de Turumba. But what is Turumba? That was the first question we asked Brother Erning, the Church Marshall.




Nuestra Senora de los Dolores or Virgen de Turumba


Interior Shot. Altar with 14 icons behind in separate niches, veiled in purple satin this Lenten Season.



It was Lent that Friday we visited. All 14 icons in separate intricately carved niches behind the main altar, veiled in purple satin. Brother Erning drilled us on the Turumba or Tarumba Legend and toured us around the majestic San Pedro de Alcantara Church, sometimes referred to as the Church of the Nuestra Señora de Los Dolores or Virgen de Turumba. Built in 1767, the Virgen has been enshrined here since 1788 when it was fished out of Laguna de Bay. The legend goes that no one could lift the image till the parish priest came to bring it to this Church followed by locals singing and dancing in glee. The trance-like dance was called Turumba. Or Tarumba — literally meaning “natumba sa laki ng tuwa” or “tremble in great joy”. It is also the sound of drumbeats during the processions marking the feast of Turumba culminating sometime in September of each year.





Chapel of the Virgen de Turumba



I’ve done my research before coming here. But Brother Erning’s version is soooo much better. He regaled us with stories about the Virgin and brought us to this tiny, lovely Chapel where the image is enshrined. He reminded us to ask permission from the Virgin before taking any photos. Then he proceeded to tell us how a magical cloud floated over the 18th century church as US bombing squads hovered above during the Second World War. How many believed the Virgin saved the town with this miracle which inspired many to dress the Virgin’s image in intricately beaded gowns. The count to date per Brother Erning is 50,000 gowns donated by the faithful! (My earlier research pegged it at only 700) The Virgin changes gowns every 2 weeks, and each worn gown is cut up in small patches and distributed to the faithful. We were fortunate to go home with patches of these embroidered and beaded gowns.




The Corridor Leading to the Collection of Gowns Donated By the Faithful


50,000 Gowns! Only to be cut up in small patches after they’re worn.



Brother Erning is a legend himself. His love for the Virgin, this Church and his hometown is legendary. But he’s got a couple of stories which floored me. The first was how Pakil was spared from Japanese invaders who occupied neighboring towns. His story goes that the Japanese Army was not drawn to this town because of fear of being attacked by ants. Say that again? A.N.T.S. as in Lanzones ants! The other story has to do with Jose Luciano Dans’ 200 year-old painting of “Langit, Purgatoryo (or Lupa?) at Impyerno“. Heaven, Purgatory and Hell. When I asked Brother Erning why the painting depicted ONLY WOMEN in hell, his candid answer was to point out that the figures included both men and women except ……. that Dans didn’t want to be irreverent by painting men with their “hanging ornaments”. How’s that? Plausible, yes, but nevertheless a rib tickler. 🙂




Inspired by Dante’s Inferno? This is Luciano Dans’ Langit, Lupa (or Purgatoryo) at Impyerno. Read below for a most interesting story. 🙂


Brother Erning, the Church Marshall.



Before we left, Brother Erning brought us up the choir loft and bell tower. This time, he got us listening to some recent happenings in this church. The hit and ongoing TV series or teleserye “Juan Dela Cruz” shoots all its church and plaza scenes here. In fact, Brother Erning stars in some episodes! He reminded us to watch the next few episodes where he’s featured before we climbed down and marched out of the Church. In particular, he mentioned the scene where Juan dela Cruz battles the vampires! Really, we just love these stories and we love Brother Erning even more!




Check out that Pieta painting. Looks so much like the famous and treasured Michelangelo’s sculpture, right?


One last look at Pakil Church. Location shoot for the hit teleserye “Juan de la Cruz”.


The rural town of Pakil, Laguna. 4th stop after Calamba, Pila and Paete in a roadtrip around Laguna de Bay. Try it! Very doable for a day trip south of Manila.

It’s another heritage town just a couple of hour’s drive south from Manila. Easily, a day trip that’s easily combined with neighboring towns in Laguna just as equally rich in art, culture and history. Many pre-Hispanic treasures enshrined in the Pila Museum attest to Pila being one of the earlier settlements in the country.




17th century Pila Church



We were surprised to find this little-known Plaza Mayor in this old town. The colonial influence is evident here where a 200 year-old church, a Municipio (Town Hall), and several ancestral, heirloom houses and old trees line the Plaza. The National Historical Commission has declared Pila as a historical landmark in the league of Vigan (Ilocos Sur), Silay (Negros Occidental) and Taal (Batangas). It’s a wonder very little is known of the place and that this historic town is not top of mind among local tourists.





Mercifully, Pila was spared from the bombing raids run by US troops back in 1945 to flush out the Japanese Army. The Church, the Convent, and many of the old buildings and houses of illustrados and prominent families clustered around the Plaza remain standing to this day.







Who Knows Tomas Pinpin?


If you ask me, I only know it as a street in Binondo where a favorite and oldest restaurant is located. Yes, I’m talking of Toho Antigua Panciteria. (Another restaurant, Ambos Mundos, claims to be the oldest restaurant, but this is another story) I bet I’m not the only one in this sorry predicament.


So, who is Tomas Pinpin? This eminent Filipino is responsible for the country’s very first Tagalog dictionary. He ran a printing press in Pila, Laguna which printed the first local dictionary as early as 1613. Of interest is the fact that this printed material pre-dates the very first printed book in America. Truly, Pila has so much to be proud of!







From History Lessons To Amazing Race To Teleserye



Several scenes from the Amazing Race were shot here. Of late, the teleserye “Be Careful With My Heart” likewise shoots scenes here for this big TV series hit. In particular, the “San Nicolas” hometown of the leading character “Maya” is actually this quaint town of Pila, Laguna. Just off a corner from the Plaza is “Pards Chibugan” — the local eatery business ran by Maya’s family. For sure, these put Pila back on the map as many locals visit the place for its TV or teleserye value. 



Quite a sudden takeoff from all that history bit. 😉




CPR. Naaah, not the medical/first-aid procedure. Long before initials became the norm in addressing bosses, the entire Philippine nation had CPR. CARLOS Peña ROMULO. My generation still remember those history quizzes back in Grade School where United Nations, Gen. MacArthur’s landing at Leyte and liberation were associated with CPR. As when I remember my father’s generation refer to him as Mr. United Nations. Always, with Filipino pride.




Sourced from the Net. This photo inspired the bronze statues representing the Leyte Landing of General Douglas MacArthur, then President Sergio Osmena, then Brig. Gen. Carlos P. Romulo , etc.


From the staircase to the private function room (good for 80 pax) on the second floor, this portrait of CPR would greet the visitor.



Mr. United Nations, impressive orator, diplomat, soldier, Filipino patriot, journalist and author. An achiever at a very young age, he was no ordinary teenager. Wet behind the ears, he was already a reporter at age 16, a newspaper editor by age 20, and a publisher by age 32. He is also the co-founder of the Boy Scouts of the Philippines. During the Japanese Occupation, he made sure the Philippines was not forgotten, chronicling the plight of Filipino fighters, his voice heard by as many Americans while he agonized just thinking of his family back in the Philippines. But more than all these, his legacy extends to this Filipino restaurant — Romulo’s Cafe.




Bangus Pate. Bangus is milkfish, flaked and made into a pate that are served as appetizers with Crostinis.


This Tuna Sisig is ideal for vegetarians and vegans.



You can start and end with the appetizers and NOT feel cheated. The Bangus Paté and Tuna Sisig are must-try appetizers. No pork in your Sisig? No liver pâté? I’m telling you. You won’t miss your pork and duck liver. Filipino ingenuity at work here.




Crispy Squid. Oh this is a favorite!


Fish Rolls



And there’s the crunchy squid and fish rolls. I can down these appetizers with a cup of steamed rice and wear a smile all night. All 4 appetizers so savory, and healthy. No guilt pangs. YET. 😉




Fried Tilapia


Pinakbet with Bagnet. A Northern Philippines (Ilocano) dish.



We TRIED staying healthy, but not for long. The deep-fried, splayed Tilapia served with 3 sauce dips is both a gustatory and aesthetic delight. The BAGNET in the Pinakbet stole the scene from the shrimps adorning the veggie dish. Too tempting. It broke all resolve to have a Meatless Friday — of course, others were dead set early on to break the rule 😉 — and so came the Crispy Pata and the Lengua .




Can’t stay away from meat? Try the Crispy Pata.


Lengua. (Ox Tongue)



Good company, good food, good service and a place so charming. The high ceiling, black-and-white motif, and tastefully-designed interiors all combine perfectly to highlight the framed photos hanging on the walls. Each one a lesson in history. CPR giving a speech — this little man standing tall amidst prominent Americans and other foreigners in the audience. CPR in a family photo, in earlier times and late in his years. CPR doting on his grandchildren. What a legacy!




Suman Con Latik. A very Filipino snack food with a twist!


Framed photos such as these are each a lesson in history. CPR is very much a part of the Philippines’ wartime and post war history.


A doting grandpa, more than anything else.

Back at the National Museum to attend the Museum Foundation’s Lecture Series on Batanes. No less than Architect Toti Villalon gave the lecture with a few prominent residents of Batanes in the audience. But we were more than an hour early for the lecture. So we found ourselves meandering from hall to hall, trying to avoid the student crowds who filled the Hall of the Masters.




The National Art Gallery/ National Museum with the Clock Tower of the Manila City Hall in the background.



We were drawn to the Amorsolo portraits — thinking how lucky those high society people were to pose for this National Artist. But one particular portrait got our full attention. Having just visited the newly-restored Old Senate Hall within the National Art Gallery (the same building used to house the Legislature), we were pleasantly surprised to find a hunk of a statesman in the twice-elected Speaker of the House.




Guess who? No less than the Speaker of the House (twice elected) Jose B. Laurel Jr.



With those looks, it’s tempting to think the Legislature consisted mainly of women. But this Presidential son (he is the eldest of 9 children of ex-President Jose P. Laurel) and Vice-Presidential brother (Doy Laurel, the man who withdrew his presidential ambitions in favor of Cory Aquino to run and win as Vice President) earned every laurel (pun intended) on his head. He made a bid for the Vice Presidency himself, but lost to Diosdado Macapagal, who went on to become President and whose daughter likewise became President. These days, they call it political dynasty. But the Laurels have all proven their worth, and for a “political clan”, remains low-profile and unassuming. Surely, their patriarch, President Jose P. Laurel, knew how to raise a BIG family.




Died not too long ago. Lived a quiet life though his family remained in the political limelight.

Originally intended as a public library but subsequently built to house the Legislature, this magnificent building designed by Juan Arellano was a casualty during the Battle of Manila in 1945. It was reconstructed in 1946 based on the original plans and remained the august halls of the Senate of the Philippines until it moved out in 1996. It took nearly a decade to transform this architectural treasure into what it is now: the official repository of national arts, treasures, archaeological finds and historical relics. The National Art Gallery of our very own National Museum.





The Old Senate of the Philippines. Fully restored!


Check out this hall where many statesmen of old (a rarity now) used to walk!



Whenever I visit the Museum, I always start with the Hall of Masters. It’s like paying your respects to geniuses the likes of Juan Luna and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo. If that P150 (US$4) admission fee entitles one to a viewing of Luna’s Spoliarium and Hidalgo’s Assassination of Governor Bustamante ALONE, it would have been worth it. But there’s more. LOTS MORE. One visit won’t be enough.




The ornate ceiling in the Old Senate Hall within the National Art Gallery.


The Marker of the Old Senate Hall of the Philippines.



The Old Senate Hall has been completely restored. Here, where many revered statesmen walked the very floors and whose walls echoed many speeches from statesmen whose names now grace many street signs, shrines and monuments. Thank you, National Museum for allowing us to reconnect with our past. Thank you, Jeremy Barns, Museum Director, and everyone else who made this possible.




How many National Anthems were played in this Hall?


The Entrance to the National Art Gallery.


Lovely Building. Next up: Museum of Natural History. In the same area!

WHO IS JONES? Why was this oldest bridge in the Philippines named Jones Bridge?




Puente de Espana, then Jones Bridge, to honor the man behind the Jones Act granting independence to the Philippine Islands.



WILLIAM ATKINSON JONES. Member of US House of Representatives from 1891 to 1918. Right about the same period when the US bought the Philippines from Spain for $20 million. Imagine that. US$20Million for 7,107 islands.




The Post Office Building and the Jones Bridge. Two landmarks rich in history.



Back to the question — why was the bridge named after Rep. William Atkinson Jones? Used to be called Puente de España since it was built in 1701 spanning over Pasig River and connecting Binondo to the core of the capital city of Manila. Originally done by Juan Arellano in the Neo-Classical design but destroyed and renamed Jones Bridge by the US Colonial Government in 1916 to honor the man who sponsored the bill, later enacted into law, granting independence to the Philippines. Bombed out in World War II, this formerly ornate arch bridge was yet again rebuilt but in simpler design after 1945. The oldest bridge in the country.




Not my copy. Credits to Old Manila Nostalgia.



When Jones died in 1918, the Philippines paid for the marker on his grave in gratitude for the Jones Act which granted Philippine Independence. So much history behind this bridge across Pasig River with a bonus grand view of yet another landmark, the Postal Office of Manila. Next time you head for Binondo or Chinatown and cross this bridge from Plaza Lawton, think Philippine Independence. 😉