Sta. Cruz, Laguna, Nov. 5, 2000 - It was a cloudy Friday morning when we reached the quaint town of Pila, Laguna. For city dwellers waiting for a chance to forget about deadlines and all, this trip may be a welcome breather.
Together with Tourism Director Louella Jurilla of Region IV, Pila Mayor Apollo del Rio, and Camille Cua, head of Tourism Promotion Region IV, the municipal hall’s second floor became an instant banquet hall for our big-eater’s meal of freshly-made Biñan rice cakes, pandesal with quesong puti from Los Baños, guinataang bilo-bilo, suman sa ibos from Sta. Cruz, hot tsokolate and rambutan from Paete for dessert.
The mega-calorific load gave us extra energy as we went up and about the rustic town dotted with charming ancestral houses in American-Victorian fashion. For example, the Rivera clan owns three antique-laden old houses with elaborate ceiling, interior and roof edge design.
Cora M. Relova, president of the Pila (Laguna) Historical Society Foundation, Inc., and a sixth generation Rivera descendant, took us around Brgy. Sta. Clara, the present site of the municipal hall and plaza. She related some historical tidbits of the place that used to be part of the hacienda owned by her ancestors Don Felizardo, Don Miguel, and Don Rafael de Rivera.
“We’re all relatives here,” she said, citing the huge families of Rivera, Relova, Dimaculangan, Agra, and Alava. That made it quite easy for them to get together to preserve and spruce up the place that was later tagged as a national historical landmark.
Most of the old houses were made of sturdy wood such as narra, batikuling, and molave. That, plus extra care and maintenance by the old families of Pila, made the houses stand the test of time.
Relova explained that the houses architecture was patterned after the American-Victorian design as the Americans came much earlier than the Spaniards. Later, when the Spaniards took their turn settling in the town, they made the gridlock planning and established the layout of the place.
To make Pila’s historical background known to everybody, Relova is trying to pull all resources together so that her family can publish a coffee table book with the help of the National Commission on Culture and Arts (NCCA).
Our last stop was the Pila museum. Various jars unearthed within the town’s various sites made up the few but precious ancient artifact collections in the museum.
Ming Dynasty pottery and other antique earthenware are housed in the five-year-old museum. We learned that the museum building, located on San Antonio corner Burzagom streets, is now 100 years old. Soon, they will construct a beefed-up, bigger museum.
In Sta. Cruz, the capital of Laguna, Lorie Lina, wife of Governor Jose D. Lina, Jr., met us. The couple are also active in making Laguna as one of the country’s trade and tourism hubs in Southern Luzon.
Mrs. Lina extensively presented how the couple’s FAITH (Food Always In The Home) Program has helped the province’s constituents to deal with daily economies of life.
The program, when faithfully implemented after a free three-day training course, teaches the over-all benefits of organic vegetable home gardening sans pesticides and other artificial means. This would mean for each FAITH-practicing family a daily adequate food supply, learning the aesthetics of a well-maintained garden and possibly putting up a home-based business.
Finally, Gov. and Mrs. Lina will soon launch an offshoot beautification program to make Sta. Cruz, and eventually all towns in Laguna, trade and tourism-friendly by advocating FAITH gardening.
Next, the couple showed us the very affordable housing project for government employes, specifically policemen and teachers. Then, Mrs. Lina led us on a garden tour, taught us how to pair plants and which herb goes with what ornamental plant. We also learned in such a short time how to raise fowls, fishes without using harmful chemicals.
We moved on to the sprawling International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) complex in Los Baños, the hot springs town. After a brief video presentation, we toured the IRRI museum. The ground floor of the building is cheerfully decked with colorful chandeliers made of rice wafers or the leaf-shaped kiping as it is known in Quezon. Part of the hallway has an enclosed tableau of the ricefield, a bahay kubo (nipa hut), and some native-clad dancing mannequins.
Having one of the world’s most comprehensive rice gene data banks, the 40-year-old IRRI was established with the assistance of the Ford-Rockefeller Foundation. Scientists and other professionals here conduct extensive research on how to keep up with the world’s demand for rice supply. They also try to discover more and more season-friendly varieties to ensure regular global rice supply.
What does IRRI have to do with tourism, then?
Since it’s a home-based multinational organization, it draws visitors from all over for conferences, research, and study grants. They come in batches of usually hundreds to thousands per group about once or twice a month. And there are all paying guests since IRRI has no fund to subsidize their trips.
Before heading back to Manila, we had a hearty dinner at ANEST, a three-star property of former Los Baños Mayor Andrew Nocon (1980-86), on 10411 Grove College, Laguna.
Of the hotel’s 21 rooms, three are executive suites and the rest are deluxe rooms. Rates start form R1,265-R1,725 net for single, double, triple occupancy. ANEST has a captive market of IRRI consultants and guests, both local and foreign, as well as students and other professionals from the nearby UPLB.
The six-year-old ANEST was named after Andrew's parents (Andrew and Esther), and also means “a nest” or home for guests away from home.
The five-floor property gets fully booked most of the time, as it’s the only hotel in the area.
It has two outlets, the 80-seater Café Maquiling and the 50-seater 10411 Piano Bar. Aside from two function rooms that can accommodate from 100-250 persons, it also has a rooftop conference facility for 300 persons theater-style and 200 persons for cocktails.
By November, a four-room Karaoke lounge will be added to the outlets. (By ARLENE DABU FOZ, Bulletin)
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