Saturday, September 5, 2009

Northern Philippines: A Spanish Heritage

from the blogs of OMP supporter Lili Ramirez, grabbed from

An hour or so away by plane from NAIA, all of 8 to 9 hours travel by road. Take your pick.

We chose to fly, then rent a car from our base which is Fort Ilocandia Hotel and Resort. The hotel is a good base for many day trips to various parts of the Ilocos Region. Top of the list is a visit to Vigan, the only surviving colonial town in the country. Declared a UNESCO Heritage Site, it is a must see for all visitors who want to catch a glimpse of how it was in the 18th and early 19th century. Time stood still in this part of Northern Philippines. It helped too that Vigan , unlike Cebu and Manila, was spared of the bombing last World War II. Do not forget that Manila is the second most bombed city during that war. By God's mercy, Vigan survived and preserved its antiquated houses, cobbled pathways, even the calesas or horse-drawn carts. The township with all its narrow streets speak of an architecture which blends Spanish, Asian and Mexican influences. At the time, it was called Ciudad Fernandina before it became Vigan which comes from the word "kabiga-an" where a tuberous plant called "biga" abounds. Then famous as a commercial and trading post, it attracted Chinese junks sailing from the South China Sea. Some of these Chinese seafarers married natives and settled in Vigan. This was long before King Philip II of Spain sent Captain Juan de Salcedo who then "founded" the town in 1572 and called it Ciudad Fernandina in honor of the King's son Ferdinand who died at an early age. Since then, Augustinian missionaries visited Vigan and the rest of Ilocos Region and initiated the evangelization of the area. Many churches and monuments still stand today, spared from the bombings of World War II.

Back in Laoag, Ilocos Norte, we spent the next day visiting Paoay Church, another UNESCO Heritage Site. I have not seen a church compound anywhere in the Philippines as grand as this one. Paoay Church stands proud. It is by no means as grand as the churches you'd find in Europe, but the colonial heritage and the Spanish legacy give it its well-deserved grandeur. Built of bricks and coral blocks, the architecture combines Gothic, Baroque and Oriental. Built over a period of nearly 200 years, the church belltower is a fitting reminder of the Christianization of the Philippines as ell as its role in the Philippine Revolution when it was used as an observation post by the local rebels called Katipuneros. Another church , the St. William's Church, was built by the Augustinian frailes or priests in 1612 in the Italian Renaissance design. Right next to it is a sunken belltower leaning slightly to the North. This is our local though much scaled-down version of the Pisa tower. A 3rd church we visited was Sta. Monica Church , a century old church of neo-classical and baroque architecture.

Of more recent history is the fact that ex-President and strongman Ferdinand Marcos hails from Batac, not too far from Laoag. The ancestral house of the Marcoses is now the Marcos Museum and Mausoleoum where the late President's body lies like a wax statue. During his 20 year reign, Marcos built a Malacanang of the North (Malacanang in Manila is the official residence of the President, much like the White House in Washington DC). The mansion is an expression of opulence and overlooks the lovely Paoay Lake. Now a museum, visitors can tour the mansion for a minimal fee.

These days, the Ilocos Region is still considered Marcos land despite the fact that the dictator has passed on many years ago. His only son, Ferdinand Junior, Bongbong to most, is the current congressman representing the Ilocos Region. Bongbong earlier served as governor of the province, during which time the Bangui Windmills were established. This wind farm lies nearly next to Pagudpud and now has 15 wind turbines. It has since attracted many visitors to the area just to view the 70 meters tall wind turbines. And not too far from here is the Cape Bojeador , a lighthouse built in 1892 north of Laoag City. It is the highest, and I think the oldest, lighthouse in the country.

Many Ilocanos to this day idolize the late President Marcos. Without dwelling on politics, I will venture to suggest that the more prominent and admirable Ilocanos should be Juan Luna , Diego Silang and his equally brave widow, Gabriela. All three are martyrs and heroes of the land. They have done far more for our country than any other Ilocano. That said, let me invite everyone to visit our land!


  1. Oh, Vigan is one of the places that mesmerized me, too.

    To see the pictures and to have been there is altogether a different experience. When you walk thru the cobbled pathways, gaze at the houses, be on the calesa, it seems that you are travelling back in time. There is a great sense of tranquility..

    One of the best spots to be in the Philippines.

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