Foundation date of Lucena City: when was it, really?

Although I’ve known about it for sometime, it was only two years ago when I started to seriously explore the Portal de Archivos Españoles (PARES) or the Spanish Archives website, an online project of Spain’s Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sports whose aim is to disseminate the former empire’s historical documentation heritage in which our country is a part of. I randomly searched for digitized archival documents of various towns, especially those that have become a part of my life. And since I was born in Lucena, it is no longer a question for me to explore PARES in search of anything interesting that might come up from my place of birth.

Surprisingly, there was (I used surprisingly here because there are still many towns whose archival history has not yet been uploaded on the website). With the right key words, I stumbled upon a 65-page bundle of documents titled Sobre erección en pueblo civil independiente de su matriz Tayabas en el nombre de “Lucena” which roughly translates to the history of how today’s Lucena City was established as an independent civil town from its mother town Tayabas.

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As a former member of the Quezon Province Heritage Council (QPHC), I thought it best to notify the other members regarding the find. This I did by uploading the digitized documents to my Facebook wall, then tagging the other members whom I personally know so that they would be able to access them. They did acknowledge the find, but it was lukewarm. Back then, it appeared that the digitized documents were of no importance to them. This all happened in late 2016.

But a few months later, or early in 2017, Vladimir Nieto, another member of the QPHC who is also president of the Konseho ng Herencia ng Lucena (KHL) or Lucena Heritage Council, discovered those documents that I uploaded through mutual friends. We started communicating. Little did I know that there was some controversy going on regarding the foundation date of my place of birth.

Lucena City has been celebrating its foundation date every August 20th. The observance is glaringly incorrect because that date serves as Lucena’s cityhood (it became one in 1961). Others contend that the city’s true foundation date is 1 June 1882 without any strong basis. But through some old books, KHL already had an idea that the city’s true foundation date is 3 November 1879. The only problem is that they still had to find the archival documents to prove their claim.

After months of online communication with the KHL, the latter decided to hold a modest program on 3 November 2017, on the exact same date when Lucena was founded as a town. I was invited to deliver a speech at Pacific Mall to explain the importance of these digitized documents that I discovered from PARES. During my speech (attended by students, educators, heritage advocates, local media, and government officials of Lucena), I reminded everyone that, although a modest affair, that day was a historic one because we were commemorating for the first time the city’s true foundation date. And we have the documents to prove it. The only question that still remains is this: when will the city government of Lucena accept and recognize this historical fact?

This is the second time that this serendipity game happened between me and Filipino History. The first time was in 2012 when I was commissioned to research and write on the history of La Laguna Province. The discovery of the date was somehow accidental while I was nonchalantly browsing through my collection of rare Filipiniana, hoping to find early events that might have any mention of the province. I wasn’t even looking for the province’s foundation date. But I stumbled upon it (sadly, the project has since been aborted).

Going back to Lucena’s foundation date. The documents that I have uploaded on Facebook were just 15 pages. But those were incomplete. As mentioned earlier, the digitized bundle comprises 65 pages. I was supposed to translate everything from Spanish to English to present our case to the Provincial Government of Tayabas (renamed Quezon in 1946, a move that I resent) and even promised to blog about it the soonest. Unfortunately, my health was already failing during that time, ultimately leading to tuberculosis and pneumonia a month later. After being released from the hospital, I spent the next couple of months regaining my health back. It’s just now that I’m slowly getting the hang of it, and given a small luxury of time to write about this event. I cannot let it pass right now especially since today is the anniversary of Lucena’s foundation.

Yes, I do confirm that the correct foundation date for Lucena City is 3 November 1879, not 1 June 1882, and certainly not 20 August 1961. It’s high time that the Provincial Government of Tayabas correct this. So without further ado, I present for the first time —and with profuse thanks to PARES’s gracious efforts— the complete digitized documents establishing the facts behind the creation of the town of Lucena as a separate and independent town. Click here to view them.

¡Feliz fiesta a mi ciudad de nacimiento! 😇 ¡A Dios sea toda la gloria y la honra!

 

 

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The origin of the word “undás

Each time All Saints’ Day draws near, we usually hear the word “undás” to pertain to it. Many people are puzzled as to the meaning of the term. Some who are well-versed in etymology say that it was derived from the Spanish word “honrar” meaning “to honor”, and it is associated to All Saints’ Day because we honor our dearly departed dead during this event.

But how did honrar become undás?

All-Saints.jpg

I Precursori Di Cristo Con Tutti I Santi Ed I Martiri Del Paradiso (The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs), tempera on poplar wood by Fra Angelico.

When you conjugate the word honrar to the first person in present tense, it becomes “honras” (you honor). Filipinos back then tend to mispronounce many Spanish words, and through time, such words have evolved: “pared” became “pader“, “jabón” became “sabón“, “cebollas” became “sibuyas“, etc. In linguistics, this phenomenon is called sound change.

In some parts of Southern Luzón such as Batangas, Tayabas (now Quezon), and Mindoro Island, undás is pronounced as “undrás” (with an “r”). As you can now see, honras and undrás sound the same (by the way, the letter “h” has no sound in Spanish).

Now let’s go back to the Spanish word honrar. It is said that the use of the term undrás to pertain to the triduum of All Hallows’ Eve (October 31), All Saints’ Day (November 1), and All Souls Day (November 2) came first before it further got corrupted to undás through time. But we could even go back further and trace its roots to the Spanish term “honras fúnebres” which means “funeral honors”. This should close any doubt that undás or undrás originated from honras.

Filipinization: a process

Whenever I pass by the tianguê-filled streets of Baclaran or Divisoria, I am reminded of similar flea markets that are in South América. Fruit vendors found in almost all parts of the country —even in posh Macati City— are no different at all from their Latino counterparts with regards to the manner of selling, the bodily movements in conducting trade.

The similarities are striking.

Whenever I visit my dad’s hometown of Unisan, I am astounded by the población’s network of roads: they horizontally and vertically crisscross each other. And at the heart of the small town itself is the old church. Indeed, the architecture of Unisan’s town center is a perfect trademark of the Spanish friar-engineer’s ingenuity. In fact, nearly all Spanish-era towns all over the archipelago follow this “square-shape” pattern.

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La población de Unisan, Tayabas.

Fiestas, the wheel, town cemeteries, plowing, spoon and fork, social graces, the guisadorondalla, potato, papaya, camote, La Virgen María and the rosary, paper and book culture, la mesala silla, painting, old street names and our family surnames, Holy Week and Simbang gabí, the bahay na bató, the calendar that we use, the name of our country, our nationality, etc. All these items, techniques, and concepts that were once foreign to us are now considered endemic. Without these, it is unthinkable for the Filipino to even exist. But these things that are crucial for our everyday existence are taken for granted like the clouds in the sky.

There are two simple ways to determine what a Filipino is: by his name and by what he eats. Like most Filipinos, I have a Spanish name (José Mario Alas), but my diet is Asian (I eat rice). These determinants make me a unique product of a Western-Eastern symbiosis. This blending is what makes me Filipino. I recognize both sides, but what surfaces the most is my Hispanic side for it completes my national identity. Fr. José S. Arcilla, S.J., couldn’t have said it any better:

Even if we peel off our Asian traits, we will remain “Filipino”. Remove our Hispanized ways and local idioms and we could no longer be recognized as Filipino.

“España y Filipinas” por el famoso pintor filipino, Juan Luna.

The heritage bequeathed to us by Spain is not only ubiquitous: they are part of our lives. They are, in fact, our very lives. Our Hispanic traits are what make us true Filipinos. This claim does not intend to glorify Spain, neither should it be misunderstood as a “longing to become a Spaniard,” which is very ridiculous to say the least (frankly speaking, I care less about today’s Sánchez-led Spain). This is merely an acknowledgment of facts regarding our true Filipino Identity which is based on our Hispanic heritage. Also, to acknowledge our Hispanic past doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to negate everything that came before it. That can never be undone in the first place. This is just a matter of calling a spade a spade.

Indeed, if we strip away everything Asian from our identity, the Hispanic attributes will still remain. And these attributes are the same ones that the whole world can see in each and every Hispanic country scattered around the globe. But if we take away everything Hispanic in us to give way to purist nationalist dictates, then we will cease to become Filipino. We will disintegrate back to what we were before the conquistadores came: disunited; separated into a myriad of tribal kingdoms; perpetually aggressive towards one another.

In other words, if we remove our Hispanic traits, it will not harm the Hispanic world one bit. What will remain is the “Malay” or “Austronesian” in us that never made us Filipinos in the first place. The pre-Filipino Malay/Austronesian is composed of many tribes (Tagalog, Ilocano, Tausug, Ilongo, Pampangueño, etc.) that were never one, never united as a compact nation. The scattered Malay/Austronesian tribes in this archipelago which we now call our own before the Spaniards came never aspired into uniting with one another to become a much bigger nation because each tribe already thought of itself as a nation. To a pre-Filipino Bicolano’s mind, why should they unite with the pre-Filipino Cebuanos just to become another nation?

This they never thought of. And it took a foreign power for us to realize this Filipinization that we treasure to this very day.

This is the importance of reassessing our nation’s history. I always claim that ours is perhaps the most unique in the world because it is so mangled, so distorted. We continuously badmouth the nation (Spain) that virtually created us, complaining all the time that they “raped and destroyed our culture” even though we use cuchara and tenedor during meals while eating adobo or any guisado-based dishes, look at the calendario everyday, check out the time with our relój, say para to the jeepney driver, celebrate the Holiday Seasons with our loved ones, plan to visit Spanish Vigan to see the fantastic houses there, etc. But why continue this baseless, foolish, and counterproductive hatred? The Spaniards are no longer here. And we continuously deny the strong fact that without Spain, the concept of what a Filipino truly is as we know it today would have never existed. And by attacking our Spanish past, we are only harming ourselves, not Spain.

Rather than focus on personages, dates, and places, Filipino History teachers should focus more on the process of Filipinization. The word “history” comes from the greek verb historeo which means to “learn by inquiry”. So that is what teachers of Filipino History should do: inculcate into the minds of their students to inquire about the past, their past. History should not be about memorization of dates, places, events, names, etc. History is not a memorization contest. History is not about hero worship. Although it is understandable that, as much as possible, we should just leave historical facts to speak for themselves, it could not be feasible if our educators themselves continue to condition the minds of our young students into hating a past that should not be hated at all. In our particular situation, we all must learn how to reassess and inquire about the process of Filipinization. Why? Because of this so-called crisis of national identity which many scholars today erroneously claim we have.

As I have argued before, our national identity never left us. It has been with us all this time. A systematic false teaching of Filipino History just made us think that we do not have one.

“Ang hindí marunong lumiñgón sa pinangaliñgan ay hindí macacaratíng sa paróroonan”, says an old Tagálog proverb. But how can we move forward, how will we be able to determine where we are going if we do not know where we have come from? We always look into a mythical pre-Hispanic past, yearn for it, but that era of our lives was never us. It was only the catalyst to Hispanization which was really Filipinization. And this process gave birth to who and what we are today. The “pre-Hispanic Filipino” was never us. We have to calmly accept that fact, the way we have to accept natural disasters like typhoons as part of our lives.

Más mabuti siguro tayo ñgayón cung hindí tayo sinacop ng mğa Castilà. This is a very defeatist observation that has been prevailing for about a century already, for it has no basis most especially if we are to review our country’s economic history. Why aspire of “reverting” to a pre-Filipino past that never was?

Filipinas is such an ungrateful nation. We deserve to be poor. Thus, for all the unfounded badmouthing that we have thrown against her, we owe mother Spain an apology, and not the other way around.

It is time that we Filipinos should go back to our roots. Our real roots. That way, we will be able to steer the course of our national destiny to a much better future.

A new reason for me to love Lucena City

My parents have always known that I have become a self-taught historian over the past few years. But I haven’t heard any comment from them about it. To them, it was nothing short of remarkable. Or so I thought.

Last Friday, November 3, was something special. It was when I was invited by Mr. Vladimir Nieto’s Konseho ng Herencia ng Lucena (Heritage Council of Lucena) to speak in front of a live audience at Pacific Mall regarding some old Spanish documents that I have discovered (from the Portal de Archivos Españoles, a website that will never be utilized nor enjoyed by my contemporary Filipino historians for obvious reasons) proving that the date of establishment of Lucena, Tayabas Province —my place of birth— was neither on 1 June 1882 nor on 20 August 1961 but on that very date of the event itself: November 3. Those documents prove once and for all that Lucena has just turned 138 years old last Friday.

But all that was secondary, at least from a personal perspective. I had one other important thing in mind: to make my parents proud of me, something that, I believe, I have never done to them before. I confess to all of you that I have never been a good son to them, the kind of son that many parents can be proud of. My mom was just thrilled to be there. And I was surprised that my dad appeared at the event. I invited him weeks before, but he did not give a clear confirmation if he would attend. That is why I honestly didn’t expect him to arrive. But he did.

I may not be able to reconcile my parents anymore. But at the very least, both of them were there to support me. They saw for the first time how I function as a historian. And the most amazing part of this was that it all happened in the city where I first breathed, where I had my first taste of sunshine, and where I first cried. And to the best of my memory, it was the first time that they were with me, in the city of my birth. We and all the others who were gathered last Friday at Pacific Mall Lucena celebrated for the first time in history the foundation date of Lucena. It was both a public and personal triumph for me. I couldn’t have asked God for any other “pacific” reunion.

I keep on telling everyone that, while I was born in Lucena City, the place is still a “stranger” to me because I didn’t grow up there. But not anymore. November 3 was a gift from God that I didn’t even ask from Him. He truly works in mysterious ways. 😇

Anyway, I’ll be blogging more about the details behind this event soon. ¡Hasta la vista!

Was Unisan really founded in 1521?

Resulta ng larawan para sa unisan quezon

Welcome arch leading to the población or town proper (photo: Zamboanga.com).

Unisan, Quezon Province, formerly known as Calilayan, Tayabas Province, is the seaside hometown of my dad and my maternal grandmother. I didn’t grow up there, but I got to enjoy the place during summer vacations as a kid.

Unisan prides itself as the oldest town in Filipinas, having been founded in 1521! Searching for it in the Internet, one will always encounter the information below:

Unisan, originally called Kalilayan, is perhaps one of the oldest towns in the Philippines. As early as 1521, the town of Kalilayan was founded by Malayan settlers. All other towns in the country were established not earlier than 1565, when Spain formally occupied the Philippines as a colony.

But was Unisan really founded on that year?

First of all, the real name was Calilaya (or Calilayan in some accounts), not Kalilayan. Secondly, the creation of townships commenced only after the arrival of the Spaniards. Record keeping before that, particularly with the use of specific years or dates, was not yet in use for the simple reason that it was the Spaniards who introduced the Gregorian calendar. How then could have those “Malayan settlers” known that they established a town on that particular year? Lastly, the first settlers of Unisan were not Malayans but Malayo-Polynesian peoples.

What is on record is that Calilaya (now known as Unisan) was founded in 1578 by two Franciscan friars: Fr. Juan de Plasencia and Fr. Diego de Oropesa. But due, perhaps, to economic reasons, it subsequently became a barrio of Pitogo. In 1874, it became a town once again, but with a different name: San Pedro Calilaya, or simply San Pedro (that is why the parish there is dedicated to Saint Peter the Apostle). What I have not yet discovered is how San Pedro Calilaya became known as Unisan (even the uni sancti story one finds in Wikipedia is the stuff of a very creative imagination).

Sometimes, I am tempted to think if there is any strange link to the fact that my roots are from San Pedro Calilaya, Tayabas and here I am living with my family in faraway San Pedro Tunasán, La Laguna for the past 13 years. Wonder no more if my family has chosen Saint Peter the Apostle to be our patron saint.