I spent Independence Day in Taal, Laguna. And I left with many hopes, too many unanswered questions and one lasting image.
For a town with a pedigree like Taal, it isn’t hard for a stranger to see what its residents know. That Taal is a town with a glorious, historical past.
Taal is an Old Rich aristocrat who has suddenly realized that its past, no matter how illustrious and colorful it was, has been all but completely forgotten now and there is no other way but to live in the present no matter how strange the present might be. Genteel Taal couldn’t hide behind iron gates and capiz windows and shun the world for long. With dignified, careful steps, she walked the same old familiar streets and realized the brisk, competitive pace of modern life has fully taken over.
The words may seem a rash and sweeping statement and yet, like many other towns in the country, Taal is now described in whispered, sympathetic tones as a dying town.
Taal’s rich past dates back to early history. Internationally celebrated archaeological finds once put the town in the display cases of the world’s museums.
During the fight for Philippine freedom, Taal was the stage where great men and women plotted and played out their various roles in pursuit of independence and national identity.
Last Independence Day, the Philippine Flag was raised simultaneously in various symbolic locations in the country like Cavite and Rizal Park in Manila. In Taal, the Philippine Flag was also raised right in front of the monument of the woman who rendered the very first one. Though Marcela Agoncillo sewed the first flag with daughter Lorenza and Josefina Herbosa y Natividad (a niece of Jose Rizal) in exile in Hong Kong and though Emilio Aguinaldo would unfurl it in Kawit, Cavite, the Philippine Flag seemed to have been led home to its mother Lola Marcela, now cast in bronze standing tall and gracious at the very heart of the town she loved. And on that rainy Day of Independence, her townspeople gathered around her and relived the great stories of love and heroism that happened on the same streets where everyone gathered, lined by the very houses that stood there over a century ago.
Old glories are hard to let go, much like love stories wherein we never want the lovers to part or the fairy tale to end. Yet even the fiercest lovers have to let go of each other in mortality. And so no great town is ever truly immortal. That’s why on this day I have heard the question asked, is Taal a dying town?
This sad sentiment is reflected by its slowly disappearing crafts and trades. A long time ago Taal was a site of a bustling port where commodities and cultures were channeled through, an ideal place for artists and artisans, merchants and scholars. In recent time, the place was known for its piña cloth and balisong. Now it is sadly like any other town whose main industry is exporting professional and skilled workers overseas.
What every epic hero knows is that the story can make him immortal. And so our great Filipino heroes’ stories have been told to one generation after another keeping every name Rizal, Bonifacio Aguinaldo… all immortal. As what is true of a story’s protagonist, it may also be with a story’s setting.
Since that one day of restored glory on that Independence Day, Taal now wishes to be given a chance to tell its story to those who would come to visit. Taal yearns to showcase that by opening the heavy old wooden doors of its century-old houses. Yes, this is a town that wants to bring its old, illustrious image back. But it, too, is a town that humbly wishes to remember its identity and unique place in our nation’s fight for freedom.
I hope Taal would be able to hold on long enough to its historical treasures. I hope the Taalenos would remember the stories of heroism and love long enough. I hope the visitors would come to Taal just in time before all those are completely lost and forgotten. I have many questions as to how that will all become reality. Yet Taal today is slowly living, growing into the answer. Characteristic of its Hispanic past, a revolution is brewing right along its quiet, laidback streets.
A group of Taalenos has already formed the Taal Active Alliance League which aims to showcase Taal’s historical and architectural treasures. The league is comprised of committees on tourism, cultural mapping, a citizen watchdog, a technical working group, legal, finance and special projects and secretariat and media relations. With Vigan for an inspiration, the project to restore Taal to its rightful place in Philippine history is underway and the people behind it are aware that the first step must be for Taalenos to know their complete history and identity as a people.
Currently, volunteer teachers are taking a second look at each barangay to identify historical houses and other structures, and conduct research and interviews with the residents. Once notable landmarks and anecdotes have been identified, a group of photographers and writers will contribute their expertise to document the town’s heritage.
The project’s aim is to once again transform Taal into a quaint, interesting town with many touching sites and historical insights to offer to students and local tourists, ultimately giving the Filipinos a glimpse of their own proud history.
On the local government’s side, ordinances have already been implemented to control air and noise pollution caused by tricycles, the town’s main mode of transportation.
Like a few other towns in Batangas, Taal is a phoenix that has risen from volcanic ash. When Taal Volcano erupted in 1754, it wiped out Taal and surrounding towns Lipa and Tanauan. Through fires and floods, revolutions and legacies, Taal never ceased to be the graceful old dame of the South.
I have an image in my mind described to me one breezy afternoon on a balkonahe in one of Taal’s old houses. It’s a crowded street bustling with merchants, artists and artisans trading goods and stories while in the horizon the galleon ships’ sails flutter wildly under a blue sky and a hot sun.
* * *
Taal Active Alliance League (T.A.A.L.) is represented by Ernesto F. Villavicencio. For more information, call 02-9135548, 02-9135791 or 09209318308.