Lingayen: Heart Of Urduja country

Published July 1, 2021, 3:17 PM

by Nick J. Lizaso

DESTINATION: ART — Enjoy the land of beaches and bagoong

Nick Lizaso Column Box
Arsenio “Nick” Lizaso, NCCA chairman and CCP president

I was in Lingayen just a year ago to finalize details for a free public concert featuring the world-renowned Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO) as part of the initiative program of the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ (CCP) Office of the President. I found it to be a very lively and progressive municipality, and considering that Lingayen is the capital of Pangasinan, I am surprised it is not yet a city.

Located along the Lingayen Gulf, the Agno River, and the Limahong Channel, Lingayen has two B’s that make it appealing. One is the beach, which looks clean and pristine. It’s ideal for beach walking in the morning and enjoying the cool breeze coming from the Lingayen Gulf. It’s very inducing for meditating, doing physical exercises or to get you swimming all day long to your heart’s delight. An added attraction for families: There are rows of picnic huts free of charge.

Got bagoong?

The other B is bagoong. In English it’s translated as either “salted fish paste” or “anchovies.” Bagoong is Lingayen’s flagship product and residents are proud to call their town the “Bagoong Capital” of the country. Follow your nose and it will lead you to streets lined with bagoong factories that brew their respective signature blends using production techniques that range from modern to traditional ways. Most started out as backyard brews of different families, and recipes are often passed down from generation to generation., bagoong has become a central part of Lingayen culture, so much so that it devotes an entire week every year for its “Bagoong Festival.”

They say that the name “Lingayen” is from the Pangasinan word “lingawen” meaning “to look back.” The story is that travelers passing through the town used to “look back” from time to time at the tall and big tamarind tree in the center of the plaza to calculate the distance they’ve traveled from it. The farther they were, the smaller the tree.

So in keeping with its name, let’s look back at its beginnings.

Founded in 1614 by Augustinian missionaries together with Spanish conquistadores, Lingayen became the capital of Pangasinan when the province became an encomienda. It has since then been the seat of government of the said province.

One of the sights to see is the official residence of the provincial governor is located here. It has the elegance of a royal palace. It is here where various meetings of the governor take place and important personalities are received. In early 1953, the building was officially named Princess Urduja House in honor of the legendary Pangasinan warrior princess who was recorded in the accounts of a Muslim traveler from Morocco named Ibn Battuta sometime in the 1300s. Ibn Battuta was on his way to China when he passed by the kingdom of Talawisi. That’s where he met Princess Urduja. Described as a tall and beautiful lady having golden bronze skin, straight shiny luscious dark hair, and deep, dark-colored eyes and clad in gold and adept in sword fighting and horseback riding, Princess Urduja must have been a sight to behold, a commanding and beguiling presence indeed!

Lingayen’s provincial capitol

In 1916, Austin Craig, an American historian of the University of the Philippines, in “The Particulars of the Philippines Pre-Spanish Past,” traced the land of Tawalisi and Princess Urduja to Pangasinan. Princess Urduja is included in the list of great Filipinos.

Looking back once more, we learn that during World War II, Lingayen was used as the entry point by both the invading Japanese forces under General Homma and the liberating American forces under Gen. Douglas MacArthur. These historic events are commemorated at the Veterans Memorial Park just a few steps from the beach. It is an open-air museum that shelters World War II relics and memorabilia including the MacArthur landing marker. On display are real aircraft, tankers, and armaments used during the war. This gives visitors a glimpse of the Allied sacrifices and heroism of the allied forces during World War II.

Aside from the Urduja Palace, and the Veterans’ Memorial, other attractions of note in Lingayen are its impressive heritage structures.

Visitors will be awed by the magnificence of the Capitol building, which stands majestically in front of the Lingayen Gulf. A neoclassical building designed by someone named Ralph Harrington Doane, it was built in 1918 during the American colonial period. It was damaged during World War II and was reconstructed in 1946. Newly rehabilitated in 2008, the building earned the title “Best Provincial Capitol in the Philippines.”

Casa Real under restoration

The grandiose Casa Real, or “The Royal House,” is a national historical landmark. It is one of the oldest public buildings and now houses the Provincial Museum. A remnant of Spanish colonial times, it served as the provincial seat of government in Pangasinan during the Spanish occupation of the Philippines.

One may also want to take a look at the ruins of Colegio del Santissimo Rosario. Constructed in 1890, it used to be an exclusive school for girls run by the Dominican sisters. Its lumber, windows, tin roofs, and beams were used to build another school in San Manuel town, leaving just the structural frame. At present, it is within the compound of a private property.

For heritage seekers, a must visit is the Epiphany of Our Lord Church, formerly called the Three Kings parish church. Built by the Augustinian friars, it is one of the oldest Roman Catholic churches in the country.

Pangasinan National High School, which used to be the Pangasinan Academic High School, was the first public secondary school in the province. It is considered as the mother school in the entire province, where many of the Pangasinan’s famous native sons probably received their formative schooling.

Malong Building is named after a Pangasinense hero, Andres Malong, who led a revolt against the Spaniards from 1660 to 1661. Construction of the building started in 1956 and was completed in 1958. It got a major renovation in 2008.

The Palaris Building is named in honor of the heroic acts of Pantaleon Perez, also known as “Palaris,” in leading the Pangasinense rebels from 1762 to 1764 against the Spaniards.

The cultural center of the province is the Sison Auditorium, where the PPO was scheduled to give a free concert before the pandemic disrupted the plans. Located within the capitol complex, the Sison Auditorium is another building in neoclassical style and was constructed in 1927. In the 1930s, it was a popular venue for zarzuelas and other cultural performances in the pre-war and early post-war period. It was named after former Gov. Teofilo Sison, the first Pangasinense to become secretary of National Defense. In 2010, it underwent a major renovation. Its grand structure accommodates both social and cultural events.

More than a kilometer away from the Capitol area, right on Primicias street at the corner of a tree-lined stretch along Maramba Blvd., is the ancestral home of Pangasinan’s favorite son, Fidel Valdez-Ramos, 12th president of the Philippines. In front of the house is a marker that reads: “For many years on this site was located the rented family house of Narciso Ramos (lawyer, journalist, statesman and diplomat) and Angela Valdez (former English supervisor of Pangasinan Vocational High School).” It also states that their eldest child Fidel and his sister Leticia, former senator, spent their formative years here.

Limahong Channel

More adventurous visitors can go on a river cruise along the Limahong Channel, which is part of the Agno River. Perfect for people who love to watch the sunset, the Limahong Channel was named after a notorious Chinese pirate and warlord who invaded the northern Philippine islands in 1574. For Pangasinenses, a tour along the Limahong Channel is an annual treat for river and sea lovers who join the fluvial parade as part of the summertime Pista’y Dayat (Beach Festival) every May 1. The celebration began in the 1960s as the local fishing community’s simple thanksgiving for the bounty of Lingayen Gulf.

Pista’y Dayat has grown into Pangasinan’s grandest festivity, the province’s version of the Mardigras, Ati-Atihan, and Sinulog. It lasts for two weeks and is held at the Lingayen Beach. It features different crowd-drawing activities including Banca Parada, Sand Sculpture Competitions, Beach Volleyball, Palarong Pinoy, trade and food fairs, singing and dancing, beauty queen contest, among others. One of the highlights is a great boodle fight where villagers from all over Pangasinan dig into an array of seafood served on two rows of one-kilometer long tables.

Fiesta lovers, take note of Lingayen’s other popular festivities.

The Lingayen Town Fiesta is held every 1st Sunday of January in honor of The Three Kings, the town’s patron saints.

Don’t forget the Bagoong Festival, which I mentioned earlier. Held in January, this an event designed to assault and delight the olfactory and gustatory senses.

After my first brief visit, I look back at the town with fond memories, yet eager to go back to enjoy once more the bounties and beauty of Lingayen, beguiling like the legendary beautiful warrior Princess named Urduja.