Sunday, November 30, 2008

Side Trip: Nagcarlan and the Underground

Last November 24,2008 was my first taste of driving out of town. Thanks to the kids who participated in a project on citizenship, it gives me the opportunity to experience a lot of firsts. I was with the country director of the organization to visit two public schools who enthusiastically participated the pilot testing of the project. Our travel began from Paranaque at 7 am, bound to Nagcarlan, Laguna.

Nagcarlan is a 3rd Class Municipality in the Province of Laguna, Philippines. It is 103 Kilometers south of Manila via San Pablo, although, it can also be reached via Sta. Cruz, the capital town of Laguna. It is bounded on the North by municipalities of Victoria, Pila and Liliw, on the east by municipality of Liliw (Tsinelas Capital of the Philippines), on the south by the municipalities of Rizal, Calauan and San Pablo city (Home to 7 Lakes).

The town is considered the food basket of Laguna, basic crops include coconut, rice, lanzones, coffee, bananas, root crops and vegetables. No doubt that the food served during our lunch was really good. I really enjoyed the sweet and sour tilapia and the langka (green jackfruit), cooked in gata (coconut milk). “Hmmm, ang sarap!”

Nagcarlan has a very interesting history. It was headed by Datu Gat Lakilaw before its Christianization and was one of the two baranggays in present-day Laguna, the other being the present town of Majayjay to resist Spanish rule, while the others surrendered to the Spanish forces.

Nagcarlan was converted to Christianity under the Franciscan order. Fr. Juan de Placencia, a Franciscan missionary who wrote the first Diccionario Hispanico-Tagalog in 1579. Ten years later, he wrote the manuscript, Costumbres de los Tagalog. The manuscript was used by Alcalde Mayores for effective and righteous local governance. Perhaps, the manuscript is an off-shoot to the galing pook awards for local governance that we have now.

If you happen to be in Laguna do not forget to visit the Underground Cemetery of Nagcarlan. In 1851, the Franciscan Missionaries built the famous Underground Cemetery of Nagcarlan. The Katipuneros during the Spanish Colonial period used Underground Cemetery as a meeting place by the Katipuneros.

The famous burial ground has marked its significance not only in the history of Nagcarlan local people, but as well as the rich history of this nation. In 1982, the National Historical Institute inscribed the underground cemetery as a National Historical Landmark. The oldest niche in the cemetery has the date, 1886. The last internment was in 1982, before it was declared a national historical landmark.

The historical landmark is really eye catching, with the scenic structured wall depicting the old times. Fr. Vicente Velloc, who was parish priest in the 1800s, designed the 18-foot fa├žade of the chapel for funeral mass and the 1-hectare sloping terrain to build an underground graveyard.

Inside the walls is a beautifully manicured lawn that welcomes visitors. Along the pathway are red santan flowers that lead to the chapel.

The restored underground crypt has the same size as the chapel. It looks so old, that when we were already there, I was imagining how the high-spirited katipuneros were secretly and quietly discussing the revolution. There are two flight stairs from the chapel to the crypt. The first nine steps lead to a Spanish inscription worn away by time. The inscription was translated by the Nagcarlan Historical Committee, which say:

“Go forth, Mortal man, full of life
Today, you visit happily this shelter,
But after you have gone out,
Remember, you have a resting place here,
Prepared for you.”

The last six steps lead to the portion of the actual underground crypt, lit by a small iron-grilled window that opens to the ground level. There are four walls with 36 niches arranged into rows. This is where the privileged families of Nagcarlan, Laguna are buried.

We took several photos of the underground crypt. It’s a very, very interesting place with tiles and stones, resembling the old-Spanish times. As I found myself 15 feet under the ground, I can’t help but notice how the site was incredibly designed with the minutest details of art that carefully presents the status of people rested in this place.

The place did not look as creepy as I thought it would be, well, perhaps, it goes to the fact that it's a national historical site, and that it has to be maintained. I noticed, though that it was cold there.

How to get to the Underground Cemetery:

Take South Luzon Expressway and exit Calamba. As you drive to Nagcarlan you will pass by the towns of Los Banos, the resort capital of the Philippines, Rizal Town, Calauan Town and the home to the 7 lakes, San Pablo City.

Things to know when visiting the Underground Cemetery.
The underground cemetery is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm.
The historical landmark is situated, a few meters from the Town Hall, across it is a Shell Gasoline Station where you could park your car.
Before entering the site, find the office and look for a shrine guide. The shrine guide welcomes the guests and provides a brief lecture on Nagcarlan’s history before giving a tour of the crypt.

No fees are collected from visitors. The National Historical Institute maintains the Underground Cemetery but the Catholic Church remains its ownership.
There is no national hero buried in the historical site, and the primary purpose of keeping the underground cemetery is to preserve the past.