A night in the heritage town of Jimenez, Misamis Occidental

Published December 9, 2022, 12:05 AM

by Joseph Bautista


I was looking intensely at the old marble holy water stoup or “pila de agua bendita” at the entrance of the church. It has marking that says “Pueblo de Jimenez 1878. Dona d Ygnacio Tamarong.” I ran my fingers along its basin which has already darkened with age. Who is Ygnacio Tamarong and what has he done to have his name immortalized on the church’s marble stoup?

I was in Jimenez town in Misamis Occidental, a place which I have been dreaming to visit for so long. As a heritage enthusiast, I wanted to see Jimenez’s pride, their well-preserved Spanish era church and over a hundred ancestral houses. I wanted to walk in their acacia-lined plaza and see the old municipio, the old school and the old market which for centuries has become the trading center between the native Subanons, the Spanish mestizos, the enterprising Moros and the Chinese traders. It was once the commercial capital of the old Misamis province, and I wanted to explore its streets and meet its people and hear their stories about Jimenez’ s rich past.
But things didn’t happen as I expected.

San Juan Bautista Church

It was already dark when we arrived in Jimenez town. We were supposed to arrive mid-afternoon but the activities prepared by the Province of Misamis Occidental and the Tourism Promotions Board who arranged for our tour around the province made us lose track of time. I was actually excited about finally seeing Jimenez (it’s not everyday that you can visit a Spanish town in Mindanao aside from Zamboanga) but it was already late when we arrived, and I was getting worried if we will still get a chance to go around Jimenez. It is not Vigan where the streets are lighted at night so that tourists can see the old houses. Jimenez hardly gets any tourists and I wasn’t sure if it was ready to receive visitors at night.

When we arrived at their Tourist Center, we saw the town officials eagerly waiting for arrival. We saw how excited they were to meet us. We were welcomed by the enthusiastic mayor, Joselito Chiong, who immediately gave us some background information about Jimenez. As soon as we were settled in, the town’s tourism officer, Bong Abelidas, gave us the town history and list of attractions.

We had a quick snack of local pansit and kakanin, served with delicious hot choco, before we were taken to the town’s main attraction, the San Juan Bautista Parish Church, which has been declared as National Cultural Treasure of the Philippines.

I walked with Bong Abelidas going to the church, and I saw how beautifully lit the façade of the church was. “Is it always lighted?” I asked Bong. “We only lighted it for your group’s arrival” he replied. Wow, they did really prepare for this occasion.

Bacarro Printing Press where WW2 money was printed

The church was made in Baroque architectural style. The parish was founded in 1829, but the present church was completed in 1862. The lighted façade features a portico with three semi-circular arched entrances. Behind the middle entrance is a massive wooden door adorned with curtains and flowers.

The church’s interior shows how well-preserved the church is. We saw the original massive wooden pillars that have weathered earthquakes and other calamities for centuries. We saw the paintings on the ceiling untouched from the day it was made in 1898. We listened to its steel pipe organ which was installed around 1891 as it played Mendelssohn’s Wedding March as we continued appreciating the details of this most intact Spanish church in the Philippines.

House of Senator Jose Ozamiz

I finally asked Bong who Ygnacio Tamarong was. “Ygnacio Tamarong was the person mentioned in our national history. He gave Dr. Jose Rizal ₱3,000, big money at that time, in exchange for an eye operation,” replied Bong.

“So, Rizal came to Jimenez at that time to operate on Tamarong?” I asked again. “He came to Jimenez,” Bong proudly replied.

This bit of information entirely changed my perspective on Rizal’s life in exile in Dapitan from 1892 to 1896. He was allowed to travel during exile to cure patients in Mindanao. This I learned on that night in the heritage town of Jimenez!

We enjoyed our visit to Jimenez church so much that we were given another chance to see more of Jimenez the next day. Bong showed us some of the ancestral houses including the three-storey Bacarro Printing Press where the so-called emergency money was printed during Second World War. We also saw the house of Jose Ozamiz y Fortich, the first senator from Mindanao, and whose surname became the name of the commercial capital of Misamis Occidental, Ozamiz City. Bong pointed out the Ozamiz family coat of arms, hanging on top of the house entrance. This was a rarity in the Philippines, but common to old families originally from Spain.

Being in Jimenez is like walking inside a history book. Each house probably has a story to tell. This is what travel is all about. It makes us thirst for knowledge as we explore. Travel is still the most intense mode of learning.

(The author is a senior who recently retired. His taste for adventure has not kept him from travelling, usually via not-so-usual routes.)