Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Saving the towns of Laguna

This was my column on the date indicated above.This post is antedated.

I have been shuttling to San Pablo City and nearby towns in Laguna in the last month and while I continue to be captivated by the many charms of Nagcarlan, Liliw, Majayjay, Cavinti, Luisiana, Los Banos, Bai and Calamba, there is very little doubt that development has arrived in these once rustic towns.

There was a time when traveling to, say, Pagsanjan was a relaxing drive across rolling plains of green, or when the ricefields were ripe for harvesting, swathes of orange and gold. I remember having gone with friends to the town of Liliw some ten years ago to frolic in the cold waters of a river that, we were told, was then still safe to drink. Back then, people dipped right into the river, not in some man-made pool where water from the river had been diverted into by some enterprising person.

The changes brought about by development are becoming more and more evident each day, in a pace that has become faster and faster.

I am afraid that at the rate “progress” is happening in this historic home province of the national hero, large parts of glorious Mount Makiling would soon be covered entirely by houses and the breathtaking view of mystic Mount Banahaw will also be obscured soon by trappings of modern-day conveniences.

The sad thing is that most people I got to talk to were quite happy with the modern-day “improvements.” I don’t hear of activists screaming about cultural heritage preservation. As it is, many, most particularly the younger generation, were actually quite impatient with the pace of development. They bewailed the fact that Chowking halo-halo, for example, can already be had at Liliw and not in their own towns. Of course they’ve always had their own halo-halo stalls in their own public markets, but, well, it’s not served with a flourish, Chowking style, even if the ingredients are the same or perhaps even better because they are organic, or fresher.

In Nagcarlan and Luisiana for example, many couldn’t wait for Jollibee and Goldilocks to set up shop. I like eating Jollibee chickenjoy every once in a while and the cakes at Goldilocks are not bad either, but surely there are local equivalents that are just as tasty, perhaps even more nutritious. Fried itik (duck) at Cavinti is tasty, although in my opinion not quite as delectable as the ones in Angono, Rizal. But as if to make up for the lack of official Jollibee chickenjoy, a number of makeshift stalls have sprouted selling fried chicken, supposedly done with ingredients exactly the same as those of the national foodchain. I don’t vouch for the reliability of the information, in fact I really doubt if it is true , but someone whispered to me that the chicken pieces supposedly came straight from some Jollibee commissary.

Of course many think that having their own SM Department Store would be the ultimate measure of finally having arrived. It would be difficult to begrudge folks of modern-day conveniences. There is value to having Internet facilities even if one is relaxing in the pristine waters of one of the waterfalls in Majayjay or if one is simply contemplating the placid waters of the lake named after the town of Bai. And surely, a few other conveniences such as reliable cellphone signals, 24-hour drugstores and others would not be such a bad idea either.

But still, it would be tragic if, for example, the many stores selling shoes and slippers in Liliw were to disappear just because SM has opened a mall nearby.

Think how sad it would be if the makeshift stalls that sell local fruits in season and native delicacies such as special varieties of rice cakes and various food stuff were to disappear from the streets of Nagcarlan and Luisiana because bigger pasalubong centers have sprouted up, gobbling the little businesses in the area the way 7/11 has killed sari-sari stores in many areas of Metro Manila.

And just what would our lives be like if the rambutan and lanzones trees of Nagcarlan and Rizal were all felled to make way for the building of more subdivisions?

We have got to learn how to balance development with the protection of culture and the environment.

As it is, Calamba, Biñan and Los Baños are hardly worth visiting anymore because, quite frankly, they are now indistinguishable or difficult to tell apart from say, San Pedro, which is quite nearer to Metro Manila and therefore involve less travel aggravation.

If it is any consolation, there are efforts to try to save the environment. In San Pablo, for example, the use of plastic bags has been prohibited. In case you haven’t heard, plastic bags are the number one cause of waterways clogging. Those darn things pollute the environment for many scores.

We shopped at SM San Pablo Supermarket the other weekend and were pleasantly surprised to find that they use biodegradable paper bags instead of those ubiquitous plastic bags. The paper bags were more cumbersome and prone to easy tearing, but customers were allowed the use of shopping carts while inside the mall anyway, so one didn’t have to hug those paper bags the whole time. The lesson is that there is always a creative alternative to every wrinkle.

Unfortunately, our very short visit to SM San Pablo coincided with a major activity of the San Pablo Central School. They dubbed it their annual “playground demonstration.” I remember having gone through the same annual ritual as an elementary pupil when all of us would be required to wear a silly costume and made to gyrate to some improvised dance number or rhythmic activities (my parents referred to the annual embarrassment as character building). The difference was that we did ours in the Town Plaza or the school quadrangle, not inside some air-conditioned mall. We spent a few minutes watching little toddlers go through the motions of dancing an improvised “folk dance” that was as Filipino as a dish of pink salmon heads sinigang. The whole mall was teeming with kids in various stages of hyperactivity and their kith and kin. This is how we make our kids victims of consumerism.

At any rate, it would really be great if the leaders of Laguna would make a conscious and deliberate effort to preserve the various facets that make the province a natural heritage site. They can begin by saving old houses and structures. It’s probably too late to do that in Biñan where many of the old structures have already been torn down, but perhaps not too late for Pagsanjan, Nagcarlan and Liliw where a number of old houses remain. Efforts should be made to preserve old Municipal buildings as well as other historic sites such as underground cemeteries, etc.

I fervently pray that the churches in the towns of Nagcarlan, Majayjay and Liliw are left as they are and conserved properly because they are truly wondrous beyond words. In case you haven’t marveled the centuries-old heritage sites, Nagcarlan Church was the setting of the ABS-CBN soap Kampanerang Kuba (Hunchback Bell Ringer) while Majajay Church was the setting of the Filipino film classic Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos (Three Godless Years).

Otherwise, I would encourage everyone to visit the towns of Laguna while there’s still some facets and artifacts of our culture remaining. These would probably be gone in a few years if nothing is done in the area of cultural preservation.

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