“This mute sentinel challenges us to peer into the past, (for it) to be appreciated in the present and safeguarded as a legacy for all time. Cuartel de Santo Domingo evokes a quiet strength and historicity yet to be fully told, the steadfastness of whoever held the ground there.” Words from Nonia D. Tiongco, a Santa Rosa City historian and resident.
Not a few were curious as to how I got to photograph that now hidden structure, at different times the detention house of big-time detainees with big-time cases—former President Joseph Estrada (for plunder), Moro National Liberation Front chair Nur Misuari, and coup plotter Sen. Gregorio Honasan. And since a few days ago, of Janet Lim-Napoles, one of the alleged brains behind the blockbuster P10-billion pork barrel scam. It was the Inquirer’s banner photo last Saturday, Aug. 31, before Malacañang released inside photos of the bungalow.
I didn’t climb over barbed wires to get inside the Philippine National Police’s Special Action Force training camp. I was there two years ago as a tourist. You see, Fort Sto. Domingo is a historic site, with Spanish-era ruins inside it.
My college classmates and I make lakwatsa and visit historic sites every now and then, so one day, we decided to explore the old Sta. Rosa. I tracked down our classmate Nonia Tiongco, a history major who has done extensive research on Cuartel de Santo Domingo which is in Sta. Rosa, her hometown. A volunteer cultural worker, Nonia was able to get the permits so that we could go inside the fort. She served as our guide not only in Cuartel but for other sites.
For the curious, here are some excerpts from my Sunday Inquirer Magazine story. I will again post some photos in my blogsite.
There is more to Sta. Rosa than just being the much-touted gateway to Calabarzon, that burgeoning industrial zone that straddles five provinces, a magnet for investors with its share of capitalist and labor ups and downs, twists and turns. Sta. Rosa is a young city with a historic past.
Waiting to be explored is the “old” Sta. Rosa. It is celebrated by Rosenios whose lives have been touched by history, in whose veins runs the blood of the freedom fighters of yesteryears. This once bucolic town in Laguna, now a chartered city (since 2004), is the place of their affections.
To see Sta. Rosa through their eyes, one has to go past giant malls and gleaming techno-hubs that now occupy what might have been rice fields just a decade ago, one has to look beyond the new enclaves with homes in ice-cream-and-cake colors. One must take the old, narrow roads and head for the old marketplace, so to speak.
With some help, one finds the ruins and the “mute sentinels.” Soon one walks on ancient ground littered with history and one partakes of tales of battles, family secrets and even romance in the time of revolution. Then there are the turn-of-the-century homes with scrumptious art noveau interiors, rare artifacts and photographs of scenes past.
Built in 1877 and declared a historical site in 2005, Cuartel de Santo Domingo, which covers more than eight hectares, could be a history buff’s delight. A written account in “Tristes Recuerdos” describes the Spanish-era adobe structure there as an advance post of the Guardia Civiles meant to deter brigands from Cavite from entering Laguna, particularly the Dominican haciendas in Sta. Rosa and Biñan. But it served many other purposes, among them, as the hub of the Spanish offensive against the Filipino forces under Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo.
Cuartel may not qualify as a monument to freedom, but it stood as a challenge to the Philippine revolutionaries. Cuartel is now also proudly called-in rich Tagalog—“Moog ng Katatagan, Yamang Mana ng Lahi na di Matatalikuran” (fortress of strength, the race’s rich heritage that cannot be forsaken). As in, it is now ours for all time.
The adobe remains of Cuartel still stand. The watchtower is now covered with creepers and embraced by roots of trees while what looks like a main entrance leads to an area that must have been the quarters of important officers. I took a photo of an old photo in someone’s collection of Cuartel as it looked then.
The herd of grazing black and brown sheep that we saw in Cuartel was supposed to be “sacrificial lambs” meant to ward off evil and mishaps. I snapped a photo of them heading toward the “kulungan ni Erap” and of the kulungan itself. Nothing in the photo (that I inspected later) showed that the place was spooked, as stories suggested. “Ask Erap or Gringo,” someone in the know had whispered to me.
A major issue for Rosenios is the ownership of the 8.2 hectares. Kilusan Cuartel de Santo Domingo has been clamoring, since 2000, for the return of the vast property to the local government because it is not supposed to be on the list of military/police properties.
Outside Cuartel, one could visit preserved homes and marvel at the exquisite art noveau designs on walls and ceilings, the hardwood flooring, furniture and collections on display.
I got a photocopy of the “Acta de la Proclamacion de Independencia del Pueblo Filipino, Junio 12, 1898”, all of 19 pages. I gasped at the elegant script in which it was written and the discombobulating kilometric first sentence pledging allegiance to “el Egregio Dictador de ellas Don Emilio Aguinaldo Famy.” Among the signatories were Rosenios.
The tourism campaign come-on “It’s more fun in the Philippines” should suggest fun, too, in discovering the remains of the past. Sta. Rosa, about a two-hour ride from Manila, is a good place to start. But sorry, Cuartel is off-limits now because of a lone high-security detainee. May the ghosts of history jerk the secrets out of her.
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