Thursday, April 30, 2009

Second Peep: Old Town Look Meets Urbanization

Another short walking trip, and a few more discoveries, this time against the fading light of late afternoon.

Another important political personage used to live in this fenced-off property. The late Vicente de Lara, who used to be both governor and congressman of the province, and his family called this place home, situated at the corner of Del Mar and Carmen streets.

Then a few houses away on the opposite side of Carmen Street is this Spanish-inspired two-storey edifice, with the very distinctive front veranda. Or didn’t we call this by its Spanish name, azotea? Living here was the late Tio Loloy Velez, city councilor, medical doctor, and renowned local historian. It has been preserved quite well, down to the unpainted concrete façade. The good doctor being also our family doctor, we used to visit his office on the ground floor of this building. All of us five brothers I believe went through him for our painful rite of passage to adulthood, circumcision.

Finally, next to the Velez residence was that of the Fernandez family, home to a couple of good-looking young ladies as I recall. They were also related to us somewhat, having roots to the Neri clan. But the passage of time has not been kind and unsparing to this once-impressive timber structure, with the blocks of translucent glass studded on the front façade still visible. This allowed outside light to permeate inside, though preventing onlookers from intruding into its privacy.

Another view of the de la Camara house.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Old Town Look Meets Urbanization

A little tale on the physical metamorphosis of an old town inexorably pushed into congested urbanization. A form of uglified gentrification or maybe urban blight, one might confusedly muse.

Circling around the narrow streets of the old hometown neighborhood where we spent our childhood, these telltale pictures clearly reveal clear insights of the effects, mostly deleterious. Granted in a third-world country setting where necessary financial resources are scarce resulting in haphazard development, or make-do measures to generate some revenue for the real estate owners.

This first one sits one lot from the corner of Victoria and Pabayo Sts. Can’t recall the owners, though the lot next to it at the corner used to be the one-storey residence of the Vuelvans.

One can readily tell that the exterior of the upper floor has been essentially untouched, still revealing the old original design, characterized by a multi-layered roofing, and painted-over traces of window panes studded with capiz shells. The ground floor of course has been extended street-ward, to the legal limits (or maybe even beyond), to accommodate an air-conditioned business establishment. It looks like a beauty salon, and a number are located in this area.

Next house sits at the opposite corner, virtually untouched and unchanged in usage. Owned by the family of the once university dentist of Xavier University, Dr. Ricardo Borja Sr. XU is located on the next block going east. One of the children who is also a dentist hangs his shingles where his father’s used to be. Except that on the ground floor we see traces of an eating place offering barbecue and other foodstuff. Remarkably, even the paint color is how I remember it as a kid, though maybe now a little lighter or faded. Notice how the old tree has been incorporated in the eaves.

At the third corner is the then huge and imposing timber building of the Rodriguezes, now recognizable only by its upper floor with the uniquely styled roofing system. The entire building now punctured with air-conditioning holes and all windows shuttered. During our childhood windows were opened during the daytime and air-conditioning was almost non-existent. One of the current congressmen of the city is a member of the family who owns this and spent part of his youth domiciled in this building.

Further down Victoria St., a few houses away are the unmistakable outer walls of what used to be the residence and office of now Mindanao Senator, Nene Pimentel. The dark walls are the results of years of exposure on surfaces not painted. But the ground floor looks okay, with a lone almost dead palm tree standing sentinel on one side of the gate. A bleak sign of the times?

The next two pictures are those of the old residence of then Gov. A. Dadole, which lot sits at the corner of Victoria and Corrales Avenue. It fronts the 9-ha campus of Xavier University (Ateneo de Cagayan). Again the upper floor is virtually untouched exteriorly, down to the signature paint job giving a faux brick-wall look.

In a catty-corner direction from the Dadole residence is what remains of the residence and clinic of the Montenegro family. This time plastered with several big signs as to be unrecognizable.

But understandably even in this little cozy neighborhood, some houseowners have resisted the onslaught and continue to maintain the old hometown look in their houses. . The first three are of the old dela Camara house and lot, which lot nestles snugly and roundedly at the corner of Del Mar and Carmen Streets. The old house located away a little in the back continues to be shrouded in privacy by the old trees and brushes around the entire property. Bamboo slats fence the entire frontage of the lot. The fourth one, situated next to it, is that of the Pet Hong family, old copra traders of the city, and built sometime in the early 50’s. Nothing much has changed of the original structure, and the children continue the business of copra trading and selling motor and lube oils.

The house above mentioned as that owned by the Pimentels is or was actually owned by the Buals. Recently, the dela Camara house went through a thorough exterior renovation and because of its unique design, it now looks like what one could find in a foreign country.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

COWD: Water, Its Only Service

I am not sure if the local water district is still a fully governmental entity, though it used to be part of a public national monopoly providing the necessary resource to all water-dependent city residents.

That is not my consuming interest this early back to living in the old hometown. Though I have read projected moves to cooperativize the entire system. Which easily tells one that trouble is abrewing some place in the organization.

The main interest at this time is the basic services that it is tasked to render to its multitudes of clients in a city that has expanded exponentially over a short period.

Oh, water does come out of the faucets, most hours of the day, even 24/7. Though pressure may be low during certain hours of the day.

So what essentially is the problem?

Notice the following pictures hurriedly and surreptiously taken during one regular visit – to pay our monthly bills for two locations.

From the outside, the offices look like any other. But once inside, one is rudely accosted with the enormity of the gathered crowd just anxiously sitting around waiting for their numbers to be called out. For each round, numbers go up to 1,000. Then back to 1, for how many times daily I can only surmise.

To do what? Mostly to pay their monthly bills. I am told this undesirable scene is a daily occurrence.

The interior pictures are hazy because I had no intention to be noticed snapping pictures by a growingly irritated mass of sweaty people.

Imagine if you will an entire city of maybe close to a million residents translating to at least a hundred thousand connected households, having to grudgingly trek to this one office on a regular monthly basis. Factor in the countless man-hours and allied costs like transportation and one can easily imagine the staggering losses involved – in the all too simple task of paying for one’s water consumption, which carries a minimum charge of 300+ pesos for a residential household and/or commercial establishment.

Is this punishment inflicted on the residents justified?

I am told further that the district used to have a system in place whereby clients could go to listed banks to pay their bills. Which is what other companies with a big and diverse clientele have been doing for ages.

But a pending case of corruption against the district has now made it mandatory, (or is it the only legal way?) to make payments at its offices.

At the surface, this clearly is grossly wrong and unjustified.

Please remember that for public utilities, customer service is paramount.

Or so we thought.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

No Sticker No Entry

When I first arrived back in the old hometown, our private subdivision undertook some sprucing up, a bit of image building to some service areas which had gone to pasture in quiet disrepair. Like the guardhouses and the gates for entry and egress. Some minor construction work and a liberal use of paint and the overall result was one of considerable pride knowing that the subdivision looks presentably decent, at least looking from the gates and entrances. But more importantly, implemented were stricter compliance of certain basic subdivision rules historically known more for their being overlooked or flouted by both residents and visitors.

(The association should however do something about that Agoho Drive access road. Be reminded that since the start of the subdivision way back in the 70’s, only half of the road has been concreted. To this day, while the concreted portion continues to slide to non-maintenance hell, the other half has been quietly claimed by weeds, and close to the highway, by garbage throwers.)

One such basic rule was the need for all vehicles of residents to carry the subdivision’s sticker on the front windshield of four-wheeled vehicles and in convenient places for two-wheeled vehicles. Obviously, for easy and quick identification at the guardhouse, all in the name of basic security. During these times, one cannot afford to overlook such elemental security measures. That’s one of the primary reason guards are hired.

Thus, standing as quiet and mindful sentinel at the entrances is this strictly business painted sign;

No sticker, no entry.

Such easy simplicity, one would think.

But, no. As I pass through the gates I continue to see vehicles without the required sticker. When asked, guards can only squirm and declare that indeed a good number of residents are adamant and hard put to follow such an easy requirement.

It does involve some cost, but very nominal at best. 150 pesos for one sticker and I believe a little lower for your other vehicles.

This afternoon, a quick drive through some subdivision streets revealed a good number of vehicles sans stickers outside some residences. Of course, a number of them could have been those of visitors. Was tempted to take pictures, but held back for very obvious reasons.

Hoping this little heads-up makes non-compliers realize that some residents are watchful.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

On the Street Where We Used To Live

Growing up in a sleepy town of 50,000 inhabitants (though it was already a chartered city even then), we resided on an A-frame timber building nestled flushed to the corner of two main streets aptly named then, Del Mar and Victoria. The former leading straight to the pier area some three kilometers due north, and the latter purportedly because it originated from City Hall, two blocks to the west.

Decades later, the immediate neighborhood has more than undergone changes to the street names. Del Mar is now known as A. Velez St, while Victoria is now Arch. J. Hayes, both named after prominent residents of a celebrated bygone area.

The more visible and drastic metamorphosis has been in its usage, from decidedly residential to a mish-mash of commercial establishments ranging from eating places of various orientation, to laundry places, to noisy disco places, and include there, to itinerant hawkers populating some sidewalks.

And Hayes St. has now also become a busy jeepney route, for destinations bound to the western part of the now thickly-populated city of maybe a million inhabitants.

Needless to say, the streets are abuzz daily with people and vehicles assaulting one’s senses to at times uneasy frustration and disquiet.

From the quiet familiarity and comfort one then felt as a child gravitating around the welcoming nooks and crannies of our little haven, we are now daily contending with the messy hustle and bustle of an unfamiliar and isolating environment. At times feeling like one is sleepwalking through a place now only vaguely familiar. Reminded by its past and floods of old memories upon sight of recognizable old structures engulfed and overwhelmed by ugly cosmetic face-lifting undertaken to accommodate their new more profitable uses.

Thus at regular intervals as some form of cathartic exercise, I prod tired feet to climb challenging and punishing stairs spiraling through five levels of a commercial building. And in the solitude and breezy comfort of my “observation deck”, I survey a city that I used to know and hold dear, and pretend to be transported back to the idyllic times of youth. And there are still enough familiar structures and roads to facilitate the pained recollection.

Time marches on I know. But old remembered memories are hard to simply drop by the wayside. Besides, old memories are so safe, uncomplicated, and uncluttered. With no dangers of going wrong and thus, resulting in accountabilities to be shouldered and suffered through. Again.

So easy and effortless to dismiss or set aside, as climbing down the stairs when one is done “observing”.


This is the old house that sat at the corner of Del Mar and Victoria Sts. It was demolished in 1989, but the house next to it along Victoria St. still stands to this day. Both were built in the late 1940's. Notice that in the first picture the lot across the street is still vacant. This is the site of Pet Hong Trading.