Emilio Aguinaldo had fallen in love with a 15-year old lass.
So many tidbits and this is what lingered in my head. The first president of the Philippine republic loved a girl in his 50s while married to his second wife, Maria Agoncillo. This kind of information doesn’t get written in textbooks or taught in school, but it’s these little glimpses to a personal life that arouses interest toward a person, especially if the person in question is a prominent figure in history. This, among others I wouldn’t have known had I not accepted the invitation of Fundacion Santiago for a heritage tour in the province that gave birth to the Philippine revolution, Kawit, Cavite.
I was among the 7 bloggers who responded to the invitation of JR Lomugdang, Head of Business Planning and Customer Relations of Travelbook.ph when he posted about this trip. On the day itself, we met Karina “Kara” Garilao, program director of Fundación Santiago. Fundación Santiago is a PCNC certified non-profit organization that aims to promote national identity and development through historical awareness and national development. One of their programs is the Community Based Heritage Tourism (CBHT), a comprehensive method that gears toward poverty alleviation while promoting the cultural, historical, and environmental wealth of a specific locality. Presently, they are operating in Ilocos Sur, Metro Manila, Laguna, Quezon, Palawan, and Bohol. This Kawit Cavite heritage tour is one of the projects under CBHT.
Saint Mary Magdalene Church
Our first stop is the church that is said to be the favorite of Aguinaldo, the Saint Mary Magdalene Church. Built in 1624 with light materials, such as wood and nipa palm, it is said to be the second oldest church in Kawit. Its former name is Our Lady of Loreto but was later on changed to Mary Magdalene because back in the day, there was a port in front of this church that is home to some inappropriate establishments. I asked our tour guide, Lehn, what kinds of inappropriate establishments was she referring—though I had some ideas—but she said they were not specified in the history books.
In 1639, the church’s structure was turned to stone, adobe, and lario (sand, shells, and mud). It underwent another renovation in 1990 to make it earthquake-proof. On a personal note, I was mighty impressed with the simplicity and the beauty of this church. I was particularly taken by the wooden ceiling, I’ve never seen anything like it in an old church. I liked that they were able to infuse some modern structure to make the church stronger without going overboard with the design to maintain the old feel.
The father of Emilio Aguinaldo is buried inside this church, a privilege given to people who have greatly contributed to the town.
The feast of Mary Magdalene is celebrated every 22nd of July.
If there is one character I would forever associate with the late actor, Fernando Poe Jr. it’s Flavio or more popularly known as Panday. Flavio’s character is a panday or a blacksmith, a person who forges metal objects from wrought iron or steel. In Kawit, there are real-life blacksmiths and you can find them in the house of Hermiana Santulan, an 84-year old woman who was able to send her 9 kids to school through this business.
There was a live demonstration of blacksmithing care of one of the pandays, Mang Waldy. First, he burned coals to create fire to soften the steel. With the help of another panday, they hammered, bent, and cut the steel to shape it into a tool. It was fascinating to watch though it was a bit uncomfortable because of the heat that was coming from the furnace.
Sadly, the blacksmithing is a dying industry in Kawit. On how long this industry would be sustained in the years to come, I cannot tell for sure. But I am hoping that there is a way to keep it alive for the benefit of the future generation.
Baldomero Aguinaldo Shrine
Some of the residents have opened their old houses to tourists, and of these is the Baldomero Aguinaldo Shrine. Baldomero, a cousin of Emilio Aguinaldo, was one of the prominent figures who joined the revolution. The house reminded me a lot of the old houses that I visited at Las Casas Filipinas. [That Little Vigan Called, Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar]
It houses interesting relics from the past, such as the ancient pressing irons, old school refrigerator called ice box, cooking stove which rings can be detached to lessen or increase the heat, among others. This house was built in 1906 with molave and narra. The ground floor was used as a storage room for farm produce and as chicken pens. Interestingly, we found the graves of Baldomero and his family in their backyard.
It was fascinating to see the things that people used back in the day. The pressing iron, for example, had to be heated not by electricity but by fire. My grandfather used one of those when I was really young and I still remember being greatly fascinated by it. That iron was heavy that I couldn’t lift it myself. Now, you don’t have to burn coal just to press clothes, you just take out a flat iron, which by the way is no longer barbell-heavy, plug it in, then it’s good to go. It’s amazing how times have changed, yes?
The Aguinaldo Shrine is arguably the most popular tourist destination in Kawit, Cavite. Not only is it the ancestral house of Emilio Aguinaldo, it was also the setting of the declaration of the Philippine Independence from the Spanish colonizers. That famous raising and waving of flag depicted on history books happened in the balcony of this house.
It’s a sprawling 14,000 square feet (1,300 m2) mansion that was designed by Aguinaldo himself. One part of the house was turned into a museum that showcases memorabilia of Aguinaldo including his military medals, uniforms, weapons, gifts from the different foreign dignitaries and heads of states, portraits, and dioramas depicting events from the revolution.
The most interesting thing that I saw in the museum is the bomb shelter. It was originally a short well with an underground tunnel that leads to the church. Later on, it was turned into a shelter by the civilians seeking refuge from the war.
Our tour continued in the main house which has some interesting features, such as secret rooms and doors, and secret compartments where they used to hide weapons. It even has its own hospital where they tended to the wounded.
The bedrooms that the family used are still intact. Each one of the Aguinaldo children has their own bedrooms. Out of the three girls, the biggest one belonged to Emilio’s favorite daughter, Carmen.
Not everyone could check out the nook and cranny of this house so we were the privileged ones, thanks to Fundacion Santiago. We were able to check the rooms even those that are off-limits to the public like Aguinaldo’s library.
Inside Aguinaldo’s room is a furniture that looks like an ordinary closet. The guide explained that it was in fact, a secret place of Aguinaldo. If he didn’t want to be disturbed by anyone, he would just enter this closet. Inside this closet is a peephole where he could check the people who are coming in his room.
The house reaches up to the 7th floor where you can find the attic. The attic offers an outstanding bird-eye view of Kawit. The guide said that this is where the snipers stayed hidden during the war. My curiosity took me as far as climbing up the attic, a decision I almost regretted when I started feeling faint. It was a knee-shaking experience, nevertheless, I’m glad I made the climb lest I wouldn’t have seen the beautiful view from the top.
By touring the house, you will realize just how affluent the Aguinaldos are during that era. They have a pantry where they store their food, the bathrooms have bidets even bathtubs, the bedrooms are big and spacious, their cooking stove and the ice box are bigger than those that we’ve seen at the Baldomero’s, they have a swimming pool, a grand hall, and a big laundry area.
And just like Baldomero, Emilio Aguinaldo is buried in his own backyard.
Indeed, the Aguinaldo Shrine does not only offer a glimpse of a significant chapter in the Philippine history, but also a look into the life of the most influential family in Cavite during that period.
And the most favorite part of everyone, eating time. Our tour guides led us to Hidden Tapsihan, a restaurant that can be found at the end of an alley, hence the name. There, we were served with their specialties such as, basag-ulo (a kind of lumpia that is so hard the say it could break your head), tapsilog, and Aguinaldo’s favorite, sinampalukang manok.
My most favorite part of this tour is our trip to the irasan saltern or salt farm. The view of the sky being reflected on the salt field was mesmerizing. Maybe it is not as grandiose as the famous Salar de Uyuni or the salt flats in Bolivia, but it was still a sight to behold. We had fun taking photos, many of them are what you would call Instagram-worthy. Even my friends who saw my photo taken in the saltern were astonished. Who would have thought that somewhere in Cavite we have our own salt flats?
We met with some of the irasan farmers. They explained that the quality of the salt depends on the wind. If the wind comes from the east, the salt would be white and good but if the wind comes from the west the quality wouldn’t be as pleasing. Unfortunately, just as the pandayan industry, salt farming is slowly fading.
In the recent election, I heard some people saying that past is past and that at some point in time we should all move on. I agree with this statement to some extent, but I would advocate against forgetting. Moving on is not synonymous to forgetting. Forgetting the past is a disrespect to our origins, a betrayal to our national identity, and a sign of ingratitude to those who have fought hard to claim our freedom. Remembering and learning our past do not mean that we cannot move on, it means we are grateful for its lessons and that we are acknowledging our humble beginnings as a nation. It also means that we want to have an in-depth understanding of who we are as the Filipino people.
One of the best ways to do this is through participating in heritage tours. And you too can experience this tour by contacting Fundacion Santiago.