WE'VE  ONLY  JUST  'VIGAN'

MANILA, MARCH 3, 2009
(STAR) RENDEZVOUS By Christine S. Dayrit - Kamistizoan district of the Vigan Heritage Village, Vigan City Once in a while, we are blessed with stories where the power of love reigns over the love for power. Here is one that unfolded right in our own country — up north.

In the beautiful City of Vigan in the province of Ilocos Sur, the famed Crisologo Street is where ancestral structures and historical landmarks preserved for posterity abound. Personally, it is here that I feel as though I’ve stepped onto a film set, transported somewhere back in time to a place that I have always wanted to be.

Not known to many, the beauty and grace of Vigan could have been completely devastated if not for the love of Takahashi and Adela. It was a miracle that saved the town of Vigan during the last days of the Japanese occupation. As part of their military strategy at the end of the war, the Japanese were ordered to burn and completely destroy occupied zones before withdrawal. On the eve of their departure from Vigan, the Japanese Military Commander, Captain Fujiro Takahashi, pleaded with the SVD procurator of the Vigan seminary, Fr. Joseph Kleikamp, to take custody of the Japanese officer’s Filipino wife and their love child. The priest agreed on the condition that Takahashi and his men leave Vigan without burning the town to prevent the townspeople from seeking revenge on his family. The next morning, the people of Vigan were overjoyed to know that the Japanese had left peacefully and Vigan was miraculously spared total destruction.

Vigan was once an island, which was detached from the mainland by three rivers — the great Abra River, the Mestiza River and the Govantes River. It is unique among Philippine towns because it is the country’s most extensive and only surviving historic city that dates back to the 15th-century Spanish colonial period. The name Vigan actually comes from the word kabiga-an or kabigbigaan, which means a place abounding with tuberous bigaa plants (a coarse, erect plant with ornate leaves that grows along the river banks). Legend also states that the name Vigan came from two Chinese words — “bi” meaning beautiful and “gan” meaning embankment. For centuries, gold dust from the Cordillera was carried by the river; thus the sight of sparkling gold along the shoreline caused many to exclaim “Bi-gan, beautfiul shore.”

What does Vigan have in common with the Taj Mahal in India, the Great Wall of China, the Vatican, Paris and the Kremlin? They are all World Heritage Sites. Vigan was inscribed on Dec. 2, 1999 for its 630 cultural and natural properties of exceptional value in the entire world; it is one of only five heritage sites found in the Philippines. It is now a source of pride and a national symbol for us.

There is a magical connection made when traveling to an era both familiar and unknown. As a child, I often daydreamed of being transported to a nostalgic setting like Vigan where vintage houses, horse-drawn carriages, men serenading women garbed in traditional wear from old-fashioned capiz windows while romantic kundimans fill the air. Perhaps my parents influenced such sentiments as Mom would play the piano and they would sing songs of endless, timeless love to each other in our home.

You can just imagine how surreal it feels each time I am in Vigan. The universe seemed to conspire with my experience as my dear friend Ilocos Sur Gov. DV Savellano enthusiastically shared that they were indeed in the process of completing a film about how the town of Vigan was saved by love.

The great director Francis Ford Coppola once stated, “Time is the lens through which dreams are captured.” He couldn’t have been more precise. Being in the middle of this glorious sanctuary where the past is brought to life and the present is appreciated for all that has transpired and all that will unfold, I felt truly blessed.

Over a hearty lunch of Vigan longganisa and bagnet, garlic fried rice, poki-poki (eggplant with egg), deep fried okoy, papaitan and dinengdeng at Gov. Savellano’s beach resort in Pugos, we went back in time as we learned how this true-to-life story ensured peace and the preservation of our historic culture. In retrospect, it was way back in 1998, when my best friend, CMMA awardee Bum Tenorio and I first encountered the story of how Vigan was saved by love. Gov. DV, then Vice Governor, shared his dream of having a book written on this beautiful tale of love. We accompanied him to interview Damaso King, the town historian who kept in his vault tons of information, facts, evidence about this Japanese hero and barrio lass from Vigan whose love for each other was unconditional. Gov. DV fulfilled his search for truth when he embarked on this film, which will be shown very soon.

Iliw, which means nostalgia, is a full-length narrative feature inspired by true stories of Japanese-Filipino-American War in Vigan, Ilocos Sur, Philippines from 1941-1945. Since World War II, Japanese people have been misunderstood. They have always been pictured, described, defined and judged as the ultimate enemy in the horrors of war. For Takahashi, a high-ranking official in the Japanese army, his true love was Adela with whom he sired two beautiful children. Their love was forbidden by society, thus they met clandestinely on moonless nights in the bell tower behind the historic structures and churches.

As cinema is a very powerful medium for transformation, the film is written in such a way that it will be a very potent tool for education and reorientation for all Filipinos — in the Philippines and all over the world. In this case, the film redefines the social connection of Japan and the Philippines and manifests the social, spiritual and cultural intricacies and diversities that have helped shape the Japanese war period in the Philippines, specifically in Ilocos Sur.

Iliw takes advantage of modern technology, using High Definition video cameras with a PS Teknik adapter, allowing the use of varied film lenses to achieve the 35mm film look, thus making Iliw a 35mm digital HD movie — a filmless film, indeed.

Film tourism is successfully achieved here since Iliw was shot entirely in Vigan and in other parts of the province of Ilocos Sur, Northern Philippines. The production design, including costume and makeup, gives a 1940s look and ambience to the film. The production design’s objective is to make the picturesque scenery of Ilocos Sur a living backdrop in every scene of the film, highlighting the two UNESCO World Heritage Sites of the province — the Hispanic town of Vigan and the baroque church of Sta. Maria.

In Vigan, locals and tourists alike become creatures of habit as they converge at Plaza Burgos at 3 p.m. daily to partake of the sumptuous empanada filled with the popular Vigan longganisa dipped in sukang Iloko with garlic and siling labuyo. Just around the corner of the plaza, you must try the tastiest mini bibingka. If it’s a laid-back casual dining experience you want, try Café Leona with its variety of local and international fare. Look for Thai chef Jimmy, who hails from Shangri-La Hotel in Bangkok. He is a charming character who so fell in love with Vigan, he decided to live there decades ago. Other must-visit places are the Padre Jose Burgos Museum, the Burnayan where exotic pottery is made, the market where Abel Iloko cloth and garments abound, and the Vigan branch of the National Museum that houses the 14 panels of the Basi Revolt paintings magnificently done by Vigan-born painter Esteban Pichay Villanueva (1797-1878). This opus is important, not only because it chronicles, albeit rather prejudicially, a milestone in the Filipino struggle for freedom.

Iliw, an Ilocano word for “nostalgia,” will definitely make an impact on local and international perceptions of Filipino-Japanese relations.

It is true that while fleeting moments can be captured by the lens, the beautiful places themselves, where life and substance are born in its various characters, are equally powerful and significant. In this timeless place, where the power of love reigns supreme over the love of power, one will experience peace and tranquility. Here, there is no end to beauty and grace; the story simply flourishes in perpetual synchronicity.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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