Wednesday, July 2, 2014

'Wet & Wild' Parada ng mga Lechon in Balayan, Batangas

Note:  This photo-essay appeared in slightly different version in the 27June-03July 2014 issue of the weekly FilAm Star, "the newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America," published in San Francisco. This blogger/author is the special photo/news correspondent of the paper in the Philippines.

Getting ready for the parade? or the feast tables?

I had to wake up very early on 24 June for the two-hour trip to Balayan.  A very Pinoy breakfast of suman sa latik, bibingka and tamales with a choice of Batangas barako coffee or thick tsokolate was waiting for us—a busload of Pinoy and a couple of FilAm tourists--at Casa del Rey, a social venue constructed along the architectural lines of vintage houses of the affluent families of the Spanish colonial times.  Balayan still has several heritage houses, preserved or reconstructed, to show off.

We were joining the Parada ng mga Lechon at 9 o’clock, and we were prepared to get wet so we brought extra clothes to wear after the revelry around the plaza and the Kanluran side of town.  Our tour organizer provided us plastic raincoats but I decided to use it for shielding my camera instead.  Our companions were receiving loud jests from folks armed with water pistols, water hoses, and pails of water because of their covers.  In many instances, I had to ask a water warrior to target some parade participants for a photo-op.  I was not spared though of this ‘baptism by water’ but they had the gracious courtesy of giving me the splash at the back for the sake of my camera.

This wetting day is supposed to echo the baptism of Christ by his cousin San Juan in the river Jordan, but the celebration in modern times no longer carries that religious connotation.  It’s simply a wet holiday in Manila, and towns and cities named after the saint where no one is spared the dousing; walang pikunan, eh, the Batangueno would say.

How the wet revelry of June 24 and the parade of roasted pigs came together is a unique story with strong socio-economic colors.

From the folklore that our Balayan host Ms Annette Martinez-Mejia told us, a social divide between the Kanluran (western poblacion) and Silangan (eastern) areas of the town existed in the olden times.  The working class resided in Kanluran and the affluent families in Silangan.  Hence, the heritage houses that still stand today are in the eastern side.

She said that Balayan has always been celebrating thanksgiving on June 24. Only the rich could afford a lechon, well, until one day when one working class family had a child coming home with a college degree, and the father had a lechon carried around Kanluran as a show of pride and thanksgiving.  That’s how the working class started joining the thanksgiving ritual of a lechon parade, our host narrated.

A Balayan citizen told me that Kanluran is actually the center of the celebration; hence, the parade goes mainly around this part of town.  The official version actually confirms this Kanluran thanksgiving tradition.  “To the poor people of Balayan, the parading of lechon in the plaza ... is the best show of thanksgiving and veneration to their patron saint. ...  As the years passed, as more and more people from the Kanluran district received blessings or became successful, more and more lechons were paraded every June 24. ... Starting in 1959, the the elders of the Kanluran district organized the Hermandad San Juan Bautista (Brotherhood of St. John the Baptist) to oversee the celebration of what has come to be known as the Parada ng Lechon  ...”

We expected to see almost a hundred lechons on parade. We counted less but we saw more still being roasted or being consumed at eating booths of families, neighborhood clubs and barkada groups along the way.  It seemed that beer and lechon were consume-mates everywhere.   There were make-shift stage platforms along the parade route where local live bands displayed their musical prowess to revellers. 

Our lunch was again very Pinoy:  crispy lechon, of course, dipped in the chef’s own sarsa mix, kare-kare, and the unique Batangas culinary fare of sinaing na tulingan.

A revisit of the town’s historical past came after lunch.

 On my own, I took time after the parade to photograph the antique church and the old bells in the convent yard. The convent itself was built along the lines of an affluent house during the Spanish era.

The official story on Balayan church says that the Augustinians put up a chapel in 1572, and the Franciscans constructed a new one 1575. The Jesuits headed by the famous chronicler Fr. Pedro Chirino also rebuilt the church in 1591. The stone church that we see today dates back to 1748. It was blessed and dedicated to the Immaculate Conception in 1795.  A bell at the courtyard with the inscription ‘San Nicolas de Tolentino’ shows that the parish belonged to the province of the Recollect Order for some time.

Costumed lechons!

The centerpiece of our historical heritage tour was the Lopez ancestral house, now a museum.  This was preceded by a historical presentation by a Balayan fellow, Emmanuel Martinez. We could have visited the heritage house of the Martinez family but there were still water warriors everywhere and we did not dare getting doused again.  We visited a reconstructed heritage house owned by Ross Sison, a relative of our host, to show a typical arrangement of a Balayan affluent household of the old times, and here the ladies were given opportunity to try the baro at saya of yore.

The Lopez of Balayan, Batangas Foundation calls the family house Casa Grande that includes the gardens, stables and granary.  Their family derived their wealth from rice, sugar and shipping. They were involved in the Philippine Revolution, and “[took] part in the events of 1901-1902, important years of Philippine-American solidarity when American anti-imperialists joined forces with Filipinos working for independence.”  The book ‘The Story of the Lopez Family’]Boston, 1901, republished in 2002], “contains translated letters by Clemencia, Sixto, Mariano, and other [Lopez] siblings that remain some of the most enduring documents of the arguments for and against American colonization.” 

The house was owned by Don Sixto Lopez, a contemporary and close friend of Dr. Jose Rizal. It's said that he secretly distributed Rizal's El Filibusterismo. According to historical accounts, he was the secretary of the Philippine Mission to the United States in 1898 to ask for American recognition of Philippine independence. Although he surrendered to Gen. Arthur McArthur, Sr. during the Philippine-American War, he was deported to the US where he remained in exile for many years because he refused to pledge allegiance.

His sister Clemencia, on the other hand, is said to be the first Filipina to visit the White House where she pleaded with President Theodore Roosevelt for him to end her brother's exile and to send him back to the Philippines.

Still on display at the Casa Grande are historical panels from "War & Dissent: The U.S. in the Philippines, 1898-1915" exhibition that was presented by the foundation at the National Museum four years ago. The exhibition was produced by the Presidio Trust of San Francisco. The texts and accompanying illustrations and pictures provide visitors esp. teachers and students an "eloquent testimony to the dissenting and assenting voices that ushered the Philippines and the United States into the twentieth century."

Before going back to Manila, we were set to go to the aplaya (beach) for a feel of the fresh air from Balayan Bay. Again, the dread of water warriors veered us to the modern mini-park by the bay, the Boardwalk, where we had a view of the emission towers of the Calaca coal-fired power plants in the neighboring town. 

This bay provided the impetus for the development of what became the Batangas province. Balayan was a shipping port, and many families like the Lopezes drew their wealth from shipping and marine trade.  According to history, Balayan was originally designated a town by a royal decree in 1578, and became a province for 151 years until 1732 covering the area that would become the provinces of Batangas, Marinduque, Mindoro, southern parts of Laguna, Quezon and Camarines.

This bay sustains the production of the town’s iconic product that can be found in Pinoy kitchens all over the world: Balayan bagoong (salted fish).  The bagoong makers are said to have a secret ingredient that they mix with the salted dilis that makes their product distinct from those made in other provinces like Pangasinan.

Historical glimpses plus our complementary gifts from our host family—Balayan bagoong, panocha and tsokolate balls—made our fun-filled wetting at the Parada ng mga Lechon very unforgettable.

Balayan's Basaan Na! Pistol Warriors.

No comments:

Post a Comment