Saturday, March 30


my brother had asked me if i wanted to join him on a drive to bacolor, pampanga to visit the church of san guillermo for visita iglesia on holy thursday. this was my father's hometown, and i had very blurry memories of it, since my grandparents had passed away when i was young and since there was nothing to go home to anymore, as mt. pinatubo had all but wiped away the old town, now buried under lahar.

the last time i was in baculud was in 1992, a year after the explosion of mt. pinatubo.  lahar had already changed the landscape dramatically, and i remember walking on the apartment type tombs which lined the campu santu with my dad, trying to locate the general location of my grandparents' graves. 

in 1995 a river of lahar flowed from the mountains during the rainy season and the town was buried even deeper.  i remember thinking that all my father had now of his hometown were memories and photographs, and how nature could wipe out everything in a blink of an eye.

as we drove up unfamiliar streets, it was not hard to find the church, we still could be clearly seen from the main highway.  there was no longer a huge plaza in front of it, none of the old houses i remembered, no trace of the store with a wooden coin box from vague memories of my childhood.

the once huge church was much smaller now. not in the way that everything was larger when one was younger, but literally smaller.  the lahar buried more half the church which was built in 1576 and stood witness to much of history, even when bacolor became the capital of the philippines during a brief british occupation. 

the middle nave was the width of the church now, as all the side aisles which had a lower ceilings, as well as half the bell tower, were under the hard earth. the window of the choir loft was now the main entrance, under an image of Christ which looked out a circular window once overlooking the town plaza.

the retablo, which was dug up after the first rivers of lahar which flowed immediately after the eruption, was placed under the main dome of the church, and half submerged side windows now serve to let sunlight in from the lower parts of the walls.

in the almost noon-time heat, my brother called my niece and myself to the back of the church, where the cemetery was.  what was once a maze of tombs from my childhood,  deftly navigated during all saints days of old to build balls of candle wax, was now an almost flat landscape.  some of the larger family crypts still had their roofs visible, strange triangles on top of the ground.  the tower where they blessed the dead before they were buried, very distinct in my memories, was now a small dome amid white crosses to commemorate the now nameless dead.

but they were not completely nameless.  on the new walls of the campu santu, were a list of those buried under the lahar, filed by year of death, on carved marble tablets. their graves were now lost, but not forgotten. to respect those who have been laid to rest here, the cemetery is no longer used, and no new graves are placed over those nature has buried even deeper.

after reading through the names (neither my brother or myself remember when my grandparents died), we finally found them. i did not even remember that they had died merely a year apart.

there is no real house to remember them by or go home to, only a cloudy memory of a house with a stairs and a trap door, with a small drying hut and a small pond where water collected and a rice store on stilts. of watching the street from second floor windows and walking on narrow roads lined with shallow canals. memories of relatives' houses with vinegar stored in red earthen pots beneath the floors and of watching a long procession of images on good friday. and two names, among many, on marble tablets.

we passed the back of the church on our way back and many thoughts went through my mind.

as my brother and niece walked in front of me i took one look back at the buried cemetery, not knowing how long it would be before, if ever, i would be back.  a bougainvillea was in full bloom, an explosion of color in the summer heat. 

memories fade, buildings fall, but people move forward and life goes on.



  1. I loved reading this... some feelings I share when I go home to Tarlac and see how the landscape has changed so much.

  2. thanks maia! it's sad and wonderful, terrifying and comforting all at once. very strange.