Walking Down the Streets of Balayan Batangas

One must remember his past to move forward with deep reason and purpose. One must not forget the walls of history that would remind us of our great life lived by our ancestors. He must know who he is and where he came from. History is not only found in books and pass-on stories of our grandmothers. Our past is lived by square parks in front of big colonial churches, cobbled street with an antique lamp post, line of ancestral houses occupied by descendants or at least preserved by a present entity who appreciate not only the aesthetics of old colonial houses but also has respect to its soul and contribution to our glorious history. 

My love for old houses began when we visited some relatives in Mindanao who has a house that is made of a big plank of Narra wood. Then on I began embracing everything that is old and that will remind me of the great history of our beloved country. It does not only reminds me of history, it tells me that our civilization is artistic and ingenues when it comes to creating and adopting what is available to the present circumstances.  

Thus my advocacy to promote visiting these marvelous treasures of ours - my feet have always brought me to the place where row of old houses is erected by our ancestors. We visited Balayan, Batangas the once seat of power of the historic Batangas province.   

Balayan, Batangas was once the most prominent town in Bonbon which now comprises what is now, Laguna, Camarines, Marinduque, Mindoro, and Batangas provinces and some say other parts of southern Metro Manila. Before the Spaniards came, the Balayan already has rich commerce because of its strategic location fronting the bay. No wonder the Spaniards made this town their settlement south of Metro Manila.

Municipal Hall

Old House adjacent to the Municipal Hall

It recommended that whenever you do a walking tour in a colonial town like Balayan, you do start in the Church because it is the center of the town. From there you would see many interesting places that would definitely capture you. However, we did not start on in the church because from where we came from, where we had our lunch, rows of old houses already captured my lens. 

Balayan Church - There must be a law prohibiting vehicles from parking in front of the church and historical landmarks. 

Balayan Church or Simbahan ng Balayan is National Historic Landmark and National Cultural Treasure. The law states that the government should protect it from possible damage or prevent any physical changes that could destroy its authenticity.

The church is beautiful especially the bell tower. It has twigs and vines on it that give it a cinematic effect. Whenever I see structures like this I feel like I'm back in times where our ancestors had fought for freedom against the Spaniards - that aside from Fernando Poe Jr.'s movie shoot in a setting like this. However, we didn't go inside further the church because there was a mass for the dead. I don't believe in a bad omen, but it feels awkward to take pictures or even to walk around while seeing a white casket on the altar. 

Beside the church is the 18th-century convent that houses the nuns and an elementary school. The convent was recently the subject of a big issue for the advocates of heritage conservation as against the clergy specifically the archdioceses of Lipa whom the Balayan belongs. A grocery chain wanted to lease the ground floor of the convent to do their business there. It created a wave of opposition on the internet. Just last year the church drops its plan to lease the ground floor of the convent. If not for the opposition in change.org we see now a Savemore Store beside the historic Balayan church.  

The old house beside the church

It feels like it is a betrayal of the law and history whenever you put an establishment that could gravely cause damage to the view of a National Cultural Treasure. Take for example this Mcdonald's within the vicinity of the church. Actually, it is right beside the church. Imagine you are appreciating the church and then woh oh there's a McDonald there! It could have been better if they place it opposite the church. That's the price you pay when you seem to always have a budget deficit on your public coffin. Or they really don't appreciate the heritage.

Like my visit to other heritage areas, I didn't have any specific house to visit in Balayan. Leo Martinez's ancestral house and Calixto Lopez House might be an exemption, but I just wanted to stroll around and point my lenses to the beautifully and artistically build houses of the 18th century.

Villa San Juan Bautista

Along Union street is this house which has a rich design on its exterior. I am not an architect, not an interior designer but I do understand that having this kind of design then was considered lavish or the family has an affluent life. But the richness simulated by the design faded as the century turns into modernity. It is in a sad state. Overpowered by the cable wires in front of it, the future of the house is dim by the amnesiac mind of the authorities.  

Along Antorcha street is where the row of old houses can be seen. Most of them are converted into commercial establishments. Thank God these houses are being utilized thus making efforts to keep them. Not all old houses are used and kept along Antorcha street but at least some did it already and others might as well follow it.

I would love my hair to be cut here ;)

If only the local government realize the potential of these row of houses as a possible cultural destination, more opportunities will come to the citizen of Balayan. Along with Taal, Batangas which is not far away from Balayan - these two town could be Batangas Heritage Belt that will remind people of its past and appreciate how they lived then. Taal has done it and I guess they are reaping from it already (although there are still old houses in a bad state) and I guess Balayan could do it too.  

One of the prominent figures in Balayan, Batangas is Don Sixto Lopez. His family is well known in Balayan that owns a vast sugar cane plantation. Don Sixto Lopez held active participation for Philippine independence from the Spanish and the Americans. He was exiled in the United States under the directives of Gen. Arthur McArthur. He was exiled for so many years because he refused to take the pledge of allegiance to the United States that was required for entrance into the Philippines. Click here for more

Lopez House

The house is marveled by caps in big windows, extensive steelwork design, and detailed outer ceiling. The brown-gold then, maybe, helped the illustrious family to build their beautiful house. Sadly I wasn't able to enter the house because there was no one who accompanied us. 

Leo Martinez Ancestral House

Not far from the Lopez House is the ancestral house of the actor/comedian Leo Martinez. I remember Don Robert belittling the family of Lucing (Malou de Guzman) in the sitcom "Ober da Bakod" with Janno Gibbs, Donita Rose, and many more. I vividly remember his Batangeno accent while doing his comedy on the said TV show. I wanted to enter but nobody entertained us even though we were buzzing the gate. 

Ortega-Martinez House (In front of Leo Martinez' Ancestral House)

In front of Leo Martinez's Ancestral House was this villa-like old house. I was awed when I saw this. I immediately imagined myself walking in this street with this house on its glory days. Would not it be a beautiful experience? I approached it and to my dismay, I saw a junk shop on a supposed to be the back garage of the house. I smiled at the people inside and asked some curious questions about the house.   

1942 (?) house is owned by a certain Solis-Martinez clan. The family migrated to Manila just like most families in the province to find a better life. According to the caretaker, the descendants are selling the house for Php10M. Not sure if he's telling the truth because I think that's too much for this house. If I am not mistaken this house should be declared a heritage site as per the heritage law is concerned. Any structures built 50 years and up should be protected by the government. 

The owners have their prerogative if they want to sell the house. But would not it be nice if we see this house in its glory state functioning as a cafe or hotel or museum? I call on to the right institution to make the necessary move in order for us to preserve this house. This is not only for the Solis-Martinez house but to all the old houses not just in Balayan but all over the country. The government (LGU and the National Government) can use the PPP scheme to preserve these treasures. 

We owe this to the next generation. I want my sons, grandsons to see in their eyes how glorious and creative the life of the Filipinos. It is not just the aesthetics that I am talking about - it's the history and the culture of the Filipino people.       

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