Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Charming Pila

When she returned to Pila, Laguna, after
fourteen years of living in New York
and San Francisco,the redoubtable
Corazon Relova was horrified that the
once charming plaza of her childhood was
smothered by a decrepit museum building,
broken plants boxes, a grubby basketball
court, an unfinished water reservoir turned
garbage dump, food stalls cum informal
dwellings with TV antennas and adding to
the sordid mess were uncollected remains
of ferias and peryantes.

Cora Relova knew that she had to knock some
heritage sense into the mayor’s head; happily,
he was Querubin Relova, a second cousin.
With contagious enthusiasm she recruited
Monina Rivera,another cousin, and historian
Luciano Santiago (his history of Pila later
helped make it a landmark). The owners of
ancestral homes around the plaza are all
relatives so when a house goes up for sale,
another relative buys it.

Cora herself was born in a charming chalet
at a corner of the plaza, with a spectacular
macopa tree that literally turns pink in the
summer. The main staircase is outside,
in front of the house, gracefully curved,
ornamented with flowers and leading up to a
cool veranda. Like other houses of that period,
it is almost transparent and a perpetual
breeze flows through windows with no grills,
spreading the fragrance of a tropical garden
through discreet ventanillas and finely carved
rafters of dividing walls.

The ancestral homes of Pila, Laguna, are
expressions of Filipino identity, culture
and beliefs;their architectural style blends
with the environment and has evolved over
a period of time to address the community’s
changing needs. Most of the ancestral homes
are inhabited by families of their original
owners who graciously welcome visitors but
are hesitant to enroll in the
“bed and breakfast”program of the Department
of Tourism,for fear of losing their privacy.

Pila will be four hundred thirty-three years
old this year but it is really much older,
originating from a seaside settlement,
Pinagbayanan, even before Ferdinand Magellan
found his way to Mactan; perennial floods
drove it to Pagalangan and in the 17th
century, perhaps for purposes of
Christianization,the natives were grouped
into a “reduccion” (hamlet) by the early
Spanish missionaries.In 1613, it became
La Noble Villa de Pila;in our colonial history,
only eight towns were given that supreme accolade.
Amazingly, Pila’s “cuadricula” ( town-planning
according to the 16th century“Leyes de las
Indias" remains intact to this day.

Before Cora’s cousin, Mayor Querubin Relova,
finished his term as mayor, the Pila Historical
Society Foundation, Inc. was founded, duly
registered and appointed official caretaker of
the plaza.That made possible the demolition of
historically irrelevant and illegal structures
that had mushroomed on the site. As heritage
conservation took root, Pila began to attract
more advocates. Senator Rodolfo Biazon paid for
a pathway along the perimeter of the town plaza
and funded the restoration of a water fountain
built by American engineers in 1911. Almost a
hundred years old, this is fed by a “bukal” or
subterranean stream. Not to be outdone,then Governor
Jose Lina donated a welcome arch, street lights
and park benches.

Pila attained national celebrity on 17 May
2000, when this fourth class municipality was
declared a National Historical Landmark by the
National Historical Institute.


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