Sunday, June 3, 2012

Santa Rosa: From the enchanted kingdom to the enriching past

There is definitely more to Santa Rosa, Laguna than just being the much touted gateway to Calabarzon, that burgeoning industrial zone and magnet for investors that straddles the provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon. Younger folk too can find much more to this town than just the giant ferris wheel of the Enchanted Kingdom.

Waiting to be explored is the old historic Santa Rosa that has been preserved through the years. It is guarded and celebrated by Rosenios whose lives have been touched by history and in whose veins run the blood of the freedom fighters of yesteryears. This once bucolic town in Laguna, now a chartered city (since 2004), is the place of their affections.

To experience and see Santa Rosa through their eyes one has to go past giant shopping malls and the gleaming techno-hubs that now occupy what might have been rice fields just a decade ago. One must look beyond new residential enclaves with storybook houses in ice cream colors, and take the old, narrow roads leading to the old market place, so to speak.

Built in 1877 and declared a historical marker in 2005, Cuartel de Santo Domingo could easily be a history buff’s delight. A written account in “Tristes Recuerdos” describes the Spanish-era adobe structure as an advance post of the Guardia Civiles meant to deter brigands from Cavite from entering Laguna, particularly the Dominican haciendas in Santa Rosa and BiƱan. But it served other purposes, among them being a source of the Spanish offensive against Filipino forces under Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo.
Notes Nonia D. Tiongco, a Santa Rosa City historian and resident: “This mute sentinel challenges us to peer into the past, (for it) to be appreciated in the present and safeguarded as a legacy for all time. Cuartel de Santo Domingo evokes a quiet strength and historicity yet to be fully told, the steadfastness of whoever held the ground there.”
It does not take long for one to find the ruins and the “mute sentinels.” Have interest, will discover. Soon one walks on ancient ground littered with history and partakes of tales of battles, family secrets and even romance in the time of revolution. Then there are the turn-of-the century homes with scrumptious art noveau interiors, rare artifacts and photographs of scenes past.

The cuartel may not qualify as a monument to freedom but it stood as a challenge to the Philippine revolutionaries. And so the cuartel is now also proudly called-in poetic Tagalog—“Moog ng Katatagan, Yamang Mana ng Lahi na di Matatalikuran” (fortress of strength, the race’s rich heritage that cannot be forsaken). As in, it is now ours for all time.

The cuartel area covers more than eight hectares and is now used by the Philippine National Police for training. Convicted former president Joseph Estrada was briefly detained in a facility there.

If the Department of Tourism’s campaign come-on “There’s more fun in the Philippines” is to be seriously pursued, there should be fun, too, not just in the sights, sounds and the highly spirited people that this country is rightly proud of, but also in discovering something in the remains of the past. Santa Rosa, about two hours’ ride from Manila, is a good place to start.

Another prominent Santa Rosa landmark is the arco or bantayang bato (1931) said to be patterned by sculptor David Dia after Paris’ Arc de Triomphe.

Those interested in domestic elegance and how families of means lived in the days of yore could visit preserved and restored homes and marvel at the exquisite art noveau designs on walls and ceilings, the hard wood floorings, furniture and other collections on display.

One such house is the Almeda-Zaballa house of historian Tiongco’s ancestors. Its interiors could easily rival the antique homes in the heritage towns of Taal, Batangas and Vigan, Ilocos Sur. Old photographs hint at its occupants’ lifestyle and predilections in the 1800s and at the turn of the century. Examine the faces, Tiongco suggests, and proof of the Rizal lineage becomes readily apparent. “Lahat, tikwas ang labi (All have upturned lips),” the historian notes.

Don’t miss the Basilio Barroma Gonzales ancestral house. Or head for the Arambulo house to check out a facsimile of the “Acta de la Proclamacion de Independencia del Pueblo Filipino, Junio 12, 1898” (Act of Proclamation of Independence of the Filipino People), all of 19 pages. Gasp at the elegant script in which it was written and the discombobulating kilometric first sentence pledging allegiance to “el Egregio Dictador de ellas Don Emilio Aguinaldo Fami” (the Egregious Dictator Don Emilio Aguinaldo y Famy). Affixed are more than 70 signatures, among them, Francisco Arambulo’s and seven others’ from Santa Rosa. (The Acta’s first page would make for a great T-shirt design.)

Not to be forgotten are the religious sites, among them, the parish church whose patroness, the Peruvian Santa Rosa de Lima is very much part of the lives of the Catholic populace. Here the Holy Week observance drips with color and drama. Just across the church is Santa Rosa Heritage Museum for more historical finds.

After all that heady historical stuff, be pedestrian enough and head for Bok Home-Made Ice Cream. Do a taste test and take home several half-gallons. Bok’s to-die-for concoctions have sent customers from far and near coming back again and again over the years. Only in Santa Rosa, they’d tell you.

Cool history buffs interested in the meeting of the old and the new would have fun in this town whose mayor, Arlene B. Arcillas, a relatively young executive, is making sure that this new city never forgets its glorious past.#