Tag Archives: Cuenca

I used to live under the reins of the church bells


It was the last meeting of my last course for my post-graduate studies. My professor required all students to do an oral presentation of the final research paper. I was done with my report when she proceeded with the inevitable cross examination, “What personal lessons did you learn when you did this research?”

My mind raced for an answer. The day before, I expected the professor would ask questions about the paper and planned templates for my answer.

If the question is, “Why did you choose the topic?” My answer would be something like this: I was born and raised in the town of Cuenca in Batangas. We lived, as Filipino historians put it, bajo la campana (under the church bell). Our home is literally a stone’s throw away from the municipal high school, the municipal hospital and the church. I spent my childhood waking as early as four thirty in the morning since that is the time the church bell ringer plays the bells. Every day for almost ten years, I listen to their sound, wide awake but not rising until 5:00AM. It was during one of these early morning habits that I discovered the difference of the sounds played by the bells. I noticed that on some days, only one bell is played while on certain days, the sound is longer and all of the three bells of the Parish is played. I did not pay attention to all of these until I was choosing the topic for my final research paper.

If the question is, “What specific personal social activity can you associate with the bells of Cuenca?” This will be my answer: Besides of serving as a personal alarm clock, the church bells also reminded me of the Angelus, or as the people of Cuenca call it, ‘Orasyon’. At exactly six o’ clock, a single bass tone will reverberate from the bell tower as a signal for all Catholics to pause and pray. I will be finished when the bass tone is done playing and as the merry sound of the alto and tenor bells begin, I walk to any elders in my presence and kiss their hand. I will say, “Mano po.”  They will place their right hand on my crown, saying, “Kaawaan ka ng Diyos at magbabait.” I also remember that on the day we buried my paternal grandfather, the bells tolled when the hearse entered and exited the church patio. The sound was slow and sorrowful. This is opposite of the sounds the bells played every Sunday. The melody is quick and cheerful as if inviting the faithful to rise very early in the morning to prepare for the mass. I remember hearing the same sound thirty minutes before each mass so I make it a point to go to the church once I hear the call for the second mass. Otherwise, I will end up standing for one hour.

If the question is, “Can you cite the significance of your research in an urban setting?” I will answer this: When we moved to Manila, I found the location of our home similar to the one we had in Cuenca. What was surprising was even if the church had a bell tower and a bell, I never heard the church bells ring very early in the morning. I had to buy an electronic alarm clock so I could wake up early for school. Thinking that I may have been sleeping too soundly, I decided to listen for the church bells at six in the evening. I heard the honking of the jeepneys, the whirr of the tricycles motors and the conversations of passersby. Without a signal for the Angelus, I eventually stopped praying it. Eventually, I also forgot to kiss the hands of my parents. On Sundays, I had to listen to the church amplifier to figure out if the mass is almost finished. Sometimes, the amplifier is overpowered by the sound of the jeepney motors that I had to go to the church myself to figure out if the mass is finished or not. Some days I guessed right, on other days I am so wrong that I end up attending almost two hours of mass.

I was not expecting the question the professor asked that I did not prepare for it. It did not help that when she announced the rubric for presentation, my answer will have the lion’s share of my final grade.

Had she asked what difficulties I encountered in writing the paper, my answer could have been immediate.

I began by scouring for archival sources, most are written in Spanish. Since I only knew basic Spanish and had no time to undergo intermediate Spanish language classes, I had to devise a methodology that will bring out the results of the research without relying too much on the documentary evidence. I decided that the best way to obtain data was to interview the town elders, preferably aged 70 and above to get a grasp on how the bells were played during the mid-20th century to the turn of the 21st century. I thought it would be easy to find respondents, being a former resident of the community. I was wrong.

Ever since we moved to Manila, I only knew two persons aged 70 and above who lived in Cuenca: my paternal grandmother and my maternal grandmother.

I told this problem to my paternal grandma who responded with, “Ay madali la-ang yaan. Ako,” then she started counting with her fingers, “Ang Nita, ang Pansang, ang Pita. Tapos isama mo na ang iyong Nanay Lydia. Ow, ilan ga ang kailangan mo?”

“Lima ho.”

“Ay ‘di ika’y nakakumpleto.”

Asking the questions was easy. Grasping the Batangeño Tagalog was hard. For almost twelve years, I lived in Manila where Tagalog is a mix of English and Filipino. I barely know some Batangeño words then yet I had to be conversant with it, otherwise, my respondents will sense that I am an outsider and this may limit the data they may reveal in their answers. At the middle of the interviews, there were times I had to let the respondents talk among themselves as I pause and think of the meaning certain words before proceeding with the next question.

“At sa amin naman, sa anim kong anak. Si Raymundo la-ang ang nababali ang tuhod kapag nakapagdasal ng Orasyon.”

“Bakin ho?”

“Walang naluhod kundi iyon, sa ama’t ina.”

“Ay ang luhod niyon ay naka-gay-on.”

“Tungong-tungo iyon.”

“Hanggang hindi nabebenditahan.”

“Ay bakin iyong iba ay hindi na nahili. Ay iyon e sadyang nakaluhod. Ay wala nang nahili duon.”

“Ngay-on ay ginagaling na iyong hahagipin ang kamay at magmamano. Magaling na iyon, maswerte ka pa.”

Not until I was transcribing the interviews did I realize that “nababali ang tuhod” means to kneel. “Bendita” means the child kissed the hand of the elders after praying the Angelus. “Nahili” is to be envied. “Ginagaling” is to be regarded as excellent.

After the interviews came the field research. My research adviser told me that any field researcher knows that there should be an image of the front page of any newspaper whenever a site is photographed for evidence of the ocular inspection. This is proof, he said, that the photo was not digitally altered nor was it downloaded from the Internet. At nine in the morning, I set out for the town market to look for newspapers.

Finding none, I asked a policeman who sat beside what appeared to be the newspaper stand, “Saan ga ho iyung nagtitinda ng diyaryo?”

“Nakow, ih wala na Ineng at ika’y tanghali na.”

Hopeless, I walked to a branded branch of a convenience store and asked the salesperson the same question.

I got the same reply.

As I walked home, I thought of setting the camera with an automatic display of the time and date in every captured photo. Otherwise, the photos will be regarded useless for field research. The bells had to be personally photographed since according to historian Ricardo Trota Jose, there are details inscribed on the bells that tell its history.

My uncle was a lay minister of the Parish. He arranged my trip to see the bells which coincided with the Maintenance Chief’s inspection of the amplifier that is housed in the church bell tower. The Maintenance Chief climbed the steep stairs first while I followed. The staircase’s height was never an issue. What I feared then was that the staircase might break down any time since the wood creaked with my every step. This fear immediately disappeared when I reached the third floor of the bell tower. I was excited to see, hold and photograph the bells, taking note of the inscriptions on their waist and their chipped lips. I discovered that two of the three bells of the Parish were more than a century old. Two were casted from a famed bell foundry in Manila. The only bell I was not able to document was the biggest one, as it hung on a window by the staircase. Its location made it impossible for me to take pictures of its inscriptions that face the roof of the church.

My camera was filled with photographs by the time I descended the bell tower. By then I knew I only had one thing lacking for my research: a recording of the sound of the bells.

Babae bell

Lalaki bell

Babae bell-inscription

main bell

Main bell-inscription

Lalaki bell-inscription

Documenting the sound of the bells was the most difficult part of the field research. I had to record the sounds heard before, during and after the bells are played. Since the bell ringer plays as early as four thirty in the morning, my uncle had to me wake half an hour early. Then we would go to the church bell tower to capture the highest audio quality. We repeated this routine several times when the bell ringer plays different sounds for different purposes.

My classmate gave me a signal that I had only two minutes left to present. I knew I had to speak.

“I’m a history major, Ma’am. I learned that when I wrote the history of the church bells of my hometown, I wrote the history of my people.”

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Cuenca in Filipinas Pequeños Estudios Batangas y su provincia by Manuel Sastron


This e-book is from http://www.openlibrary.org (exact URL is http://archive.org/stream/filipinaspequeo02sastgoog#page/n26/mode/2up). I am reposting it here because I am looking for a decent English translation from the original Spanish text. Here’s hoping to have someone look it over and provide me a correction of the translation I got from Google Translate.

(Lo estoy publicando aquí porque estoy buscando una traducción decente Inglés a partir del texto original en español. Espero que alguien lo revise y me proporciona una corrección de la traducción que recibí de Google Translate.)


p. 205
Pueblo novisimo, constituido como tal por Superior Decreto de 11 de Agosto de 1875, hallase situado en la misma falda del monte Macolot, lindando al Norte con la Laguna de Bombon, al Este con la Villa de Lipa y pueblo de San Jose, al Sur con este ultimo, al Oeste con el pueblo de Bauan y la Laguna de Bombon.

Dista de la Capital de la provincia 20 kilometros.

Su poblacion 6.624 almas.

Forman este precioso pueblo 8 barrios puestos el mayor de 2.425 almas, el mas pequeno de 378; diseminados estos barrios por terreno llano y accidentado, de tupida y explendida vegetacion a trechos, y seco como las llanuras de la Mancha o los grandiosos campos de Castilla la vieja: denonminanse esos barrios Macolot, San Felipe, Dalipit, Bungahan, Emanuel, Labac, Iababao y Dita, este ultimo el el mas distante del casco de la poclacion (2 kilometros-300 metros).

Ofrece esta jurisdiccion hermosas perspectivas y muy variadas, segun puede deducirse de las diferentes condiciones que acabamos de decir tiene este terreno.

Los rios que por entre el corren, son el Culit, el Salindaya y el Subuquin que nacen por el aplayaje de la Laguna de Bombon; y en la falda misma del Macolot, a poca distancia del pueblo, se ve el nacimiento del arroyo Catangan en sitio de los ameno que apreciarse puede.

Todas las tierras de esta jurisdiccion so de secano: producen palay, mais canadulce, mongo, cafe, cacao abaca, tabago, toda suerte de tuberculos y plantas leguminosas. Los rendiminetos por unidad de sembradura son menores que en la mayor parte de los pueblos de la provincia, pero los jornales son tambien mucho mas baratos


p. 205-206


Newest town, constituted as such by Superior Decree of August 11, 1875, should find located on the same side of the mount Macolot, bordering the North with the Laguna Bombon, east of the town of Lipa and town of San Jose, the South with the latter, the west by the village Bauan and the Lagoon Bombon.

Distance to the capital of the province 20 kilometers.

Its population 6,624 souls.

Beautiful people [of] 8 neighborhoods posts the largest of 2,425 souls, the smallest of 378; scattered these neighborhoods by flat terrain and rocky, bushy and luxuriant vegetation to tracts, and dry as the plains of La Mancha or the great fields of old Castile: denonminanse Macolot those neighborhoods, San Felipe, Dalipit, Bungahan, Emanuel, Labac, Iababao and Dita, the latter the the more distant from the quarter of the population (2 km-300 m).

Give this jurisdiction beautiful and varied perspectives, as may be inferred from the different conditions just say this area.

The rivers that run between are the Culit, the Salindaya and Subuquin aplayaje born by the Laguna de Bombon, and at the foot of the same Macolot, near the village, who is the source of the stream Catangan in site of the fun that can be seen.
All land in this jurisdiction so rainfed: producing rice, sugar cane mais, mongo, coffee, cacao, abaca, tobago, all sorts of tubers and legumes. The yields per unit of planting are lower than in most of the people of the province, but wages are also much cheaper.

p. 207

La agricultura se halla en estado bastante regular; pero despues de la desparicion del cafe solo se obtiene de ella lo insdispensable para la subsistencia de los vecinos de este pueblo, que cosechan lo que precisa para su consumo, no pudiendo contar para sus gastos extraordinarios sino con el azucar, para cuya elaboracion no existe aqui mas que un molino.

Es este un pueblo del escaso vecindario que ya se ha senalado, pero que sus condiciones especiales esta llamado indudablemente a ser lugar predilecto, sitio higienico de solaz y veraneo para aquellas familias pudientes de la Capital del Archipielago, de Manila mismo, apesar de la distancia de 106 kilometros que a esta separa del pueblo de que nos ocupamos. Las favorables condiciones de Cuenca constituyen un gran recurso de defensa contra los rigores del clima que en la Capital del Archipielago singularmente determinan alteraciones importantes de la publica salud.

Es Cuenca una localidad en la cual se pueden disfrutar, durante dos o tres meses de fuertes calores, los beneficios de una temperatura tan suave, que es raro ver la columna termometrica rebasando el grado 30 centigrado y eso durante dos, tres o cuatro horas en el dia, y nada mas: sucede durante la noche y los


P. 207
Agriculture is in fairly regular state; but after the disappearance of the coffee is only obtained from it what insdispensable for the livelihood of the residents of this town, who harvest what you need for your consumption, may not count for their extraordinary expenses but with the sugar, for which there is no here more than a windmill.

This is a people of the little neighborhood that has already been pointed out, but that its special conditions is called undoubtedly to be favorite haunt, sanitary place of solace and summer retreat for those wealthy families of the Capital of the Archipelago, of Manila, in spite of the distance of 106 kilometers that is separated from the people that we are addressing. The favorable conditions of Basin are a great resource of defense against the rigors of the climate in the capital of the Archipelago uniquely determine major alterations to the public health.

Cuenca is a town which can be enjoyed for two or three months of intense heat, the benefits of a temperature so soft, it is rare to see the column thermometer exceeding 30 degree Celsius and that for two, three or four hours day, and nothing else: it happens at night and

p. 208

crepusculos en esos mismos dias de la temperatura maxima senalada, depresion tan manifiesta y tan agradable como insolita en este clima, que es raro el dia en estacion de los calores fuertes, no haya aqui que usar telas de abrigo hasta 9 o las 10 de la manana.

La fuerza dela aire en este pueblo, la falta aglomeracion, la tranquilidad de espiritu que en el es disfruta ejerce tan provechosa influencia en favor de la poblacion, que el estado demografico sanitario de la provincia, adjunta a estas paginas, los demuestra elocuentemente: 283 nacimientos (123 varones 161 hombras), son los que ha habido en Cuenca durante el ano proximo pasado 1893; las defunciones 145 )79 varones, 75 hembras). lo cual da la enorme cifra, relativament a vecindario tan escaso, de 138 individuos para de poblacion

La posicion que ocupa Cuenca no puede menos de otorgarle el beneficio de salubridad, tan extensamente como lo alcanza este pequeno, pistoresco pueblo; emplazado en suelo algo elevado sobre el nivel del mar, en terreno medianamente seco com hechos dicho, sin que las vertientes el Macolot determinen remanso alguno

p. 208

twilights in those days the temperature limit indicated, depression and so manifest as nice as insolita in this climate, it is rare day in the hot season strong, not here to wear warm cloths until 9 or 10 in the morning.

The power of the air in this town, lack agglomeration, the tranquility of spirit which is in him enjoy exercises so beneficial influence in favor of the population, which the state demographic health of the province, attached to these pages, the eloquently demonstrates: 283 births (123 men 161 hombras), are the ones that has been in Cuenca during the previous calendar year 1893; the deaths 145 )79 males, 75 females), which gives the huge figure, relatively to neighborhood so low, 138 individuals for population.

Cuenca occupies the position can not but give him the benefit of health, as widely as it reaches this small, picturesque town, situated on ground somewhat elevated above the sea on dry ground as facts fairly stated, but the slopes Macolot haven determine any

p. 209

encharcadas, cuya perniciosa influencia tanto se deja sentir en otras localidades, muy principalmente, cuando, segun aqui acontece, no se vive en condiciones de poder vestir y alimentarse en forma apropiada para resistir y contrarrestar la accion del miasma paludico: con dos calles (que son las que tiene el pueblo) las dos de gran longitud, de una anchura no menor de 10 o 12 metros y su suelo no esta ciertamente empedrado, ni asfaltado, ni enlosado, ni cementado, pero si esta revestido convenientemente y siempre util para la circulacion urbana; porque este suelo de suyo es poco permeable.

Todas las condiciones apropiadas para la vida apacible y sana ofrece este pueblo de Cuenca. Esta llamado indudablemente, tan pronto se construya, segun en breve debe lograrse, el Ferro-Carril desde Manila a Taal por Batangas, a ser un lugar de recreo como hemos dicho y de reparacion para las fuerzas radicales organicas, de quienes en las grandes poblaciones como Manila las merman, sea cualquiera el genero de vida que adopten.

La facilidad con que en este pueblo se puedon construir casas de buenas maderas, pues aun cuando estas pueblen grandes altitudes, es muy corta la distancia que hay que salvar para el arrastre; la abundancia de piedra gra-

p. 209

flooded, whose pernicious influence is felt both in other locations, most notably when, according happening here, do not live in a position to dress and eat properly to resist and counteract the action of the malarial miasma: two streets (which is that the people have) two very long, of a width not less than 10 or 12 meters and its floor is certainly not paved or asphalted, or paved or cemented, but if properly covered and always useful for urban circulation, because this land of yours is very permeable.

All conditions for peaceful and healthy life offers this town of Cuenca. This undoubtedly called as soon be built, according to soon be achieved, the railway from Manila to Taal in Batangas, to be a place of recreation as we have said and repair for organic radical forces, of whom in large populations Manila as the merman [?], whatever the kind of life they take.

The ease with which these people can build houses of good wood, for even when they populate high altitude, the distance is too short to be saved for hauling, the abundance of stone gra-

p. 210

nitica, dural la baratura la los jornales, el poco precio de los articulos de primera necesidad en el pais; el caracter sumamente docil de estos vecinos, que han dado muestras efectivas de ser valerosos cuando algun peligro corren, de lo cual es testimonio indudable el hecho heroico de haber defendido su pueblo contra brutal agresion de una gran partida de hombres perfectamente armados, que intentaron asaltarlo en proximos pasados anos; todo determina in conjunto, que ofrece grandes atractivos, para que las familias bien acomodadas de la Capital se procuren una residencia de dos o tres meses en cada ano en tan agradable localidad como lo es esta, en fines convenientes y obligados a la vida higienica de tanta importancia para el individuo y para la especie.

La Administracion parroquial de este pueblo hallase a cargo tambien de la Orden de San Agustin, siendo du actual Cura Parroco el R. Padre Fr. Mariano Calleja, joven Religioso, lleno de celo y actividad; administracion que ha de resultar seguramente provechosa a los intereses morales de estos sencillos vecinos.

La Iglesia de este pueblo y la Casa Parroquial a la misma adjunta, han sido construidas de materiales solidos, gradualmente, por lo cual han intervenido en esas casi todos

p. 210

granitic, dural cheapness of wages, low price of staple items in the country, the most docile character of these neighbors, they have shown to be effective brave any danger when they run, which is testimony to the undoubted heroic act of defending his people against brutal aggression of a large party of men well armed, who tried to rob him in coming years past, all determined in whole, it offers great attractions for families well accommodated in the Capital from gaining a residence two or three months each year in such a pleasant place such as this, in the end forced to convenient and hygienic life is so important to the individual and the species.

The Administration of the parish of this people to charge also of the Order of Saint Augustine, still its current Parish priest Father R. Br. Mariano Calleja, young religious, full of zeal and activity; administration that has to be surely beneficial to the moral interests of these simple neighbors.

The Church of this village and the Parish House attached to it have been built of solid materials, gradually, which have intervened in these almost all

p. 211

los Curas Parrocos: sin embargo, quien con mas extension ha tomado parte en ellas, ha sido el R. P. Fr. Dionisio Ibanez, que ademas de construir un nuevo cuerpo de la casa Parroquial, construyo las correspondientes galerias: a este R. Padre se debe asi mismo la construccion del Cementerio, bien emplazado, aun cuando no a la distancia imperiosamente exigida por la higiene publica: bueno sin embargo es hacer constar, que la altura en que esta, la calidad del suelo y subsuelo en que se ha construido, y la del declive, no determinan en lo mas minimo como peligrosa la eleccion de aquel lugar.

Celebra este pueblo una fiesta solomne religiosa dedicada a su Santo Patrono San Isidro Labrador.

No hay edificios para escuelas publicas: estan estas en malisimas casas de materiales ligeros. Tampoco existe casa Tribunal.

La flora de este pueblo ofrece muy buenos ejemplares y la fauna no presenta mas son los de algunas aces de caza y rapina.

p. 211

parish priests: however, with more extension who has taken part in them, has been the R. P. Friar Dionisio Ibanez, who also built a new body of the house Parish built the relevant galleries: this R. Father must likewise the construction of the cemetery, well placed, even if not imperatively demanded by the distance public hygiene: good however is to reveal that the height at which this, the quality of soil and subsoil has been built, and the slope, determined not in the least as dangerous the choice of the place.

Celebrate this people a religious feast dedicated to its patron saint San Isidro Labrador.

No public school buildings: these are in very bad houses of light materials. Nor is there home court.

The flora of this town offers very good specimens and animals are no more than a few aces of hunting and prey.

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