New Year, new destinations. Not me. I still prefer to explore old destinations. Places that remain timeless. Places that millennials would probably discard as boring because they are hardly Instagram-worthy.
Agno is one of those places. It’s a typical Philippine town where the church, the municipal hall and the plaza are located right next to each other. For the young people, there’s hardly anything to do except hang out at the plaza, watch people pass by, and when you get hungry, order a hundred-peso pizza at a local stall called Yellow Hub. Like what Belle from The Beauty and the Beast says, “There must be more from this provincial life.”
Agno originated as a Sambal settlement. It was founded in 1610 after the Spanish missionaries arrived and colonized the area. The name of the place came from agnocasto, a plant that grew abundantly on the banks of Balingcaging River.
The Sambals were replaced by Ilocano migrants in 1700s. It is said that when the people of Barrio San Juan de Sagahun lost their lands that sank into the Paoay Lake because of an earthquake, the residents came to Agno and settled there. Agno became a municipality in 1791 under the province of Zambales.
On November 30, 1903, Agno, together with the towns of Alaminos, Anda, Bani, Bolinao, Burgos, Dasol, Infanta and Mabini, was transferred from Zambales to Pangasinan.
Today, this rustic town of 30,000 people is a destination for the unhurried. Agno is for travellers who wouldn’t mind spending hours looking for hidden paths leading to its hidden beaches. It is for the heritage watchers who can spare a day or two inspecting details of it centuries-old churches and houses. And for the former residents who wish to go back to the old plaza and reminisce the summer afternoons long time ago of playing tumbang preso and eating dirty ice cream.
How to get there
There are several ways to reach Agno. The quickest way is to use the tollways. From Manila, drive north using the North Expressway. Continue driving thru SCTEX and TPLEX. Exit from Binalonan. From Binalonan exit, turn left to Manaoag, then continue the drive to Dagupan. From there, drive straight to Lingayen, then take the bypass road to Labrador, and continue driving to Sual, then Alaminos. From Alaminos, take the road to Zambales. At the Burgos junction, turn right to Agno, about 8 kilometers away.
Another alternative is to take Highway 55 or commonly called Camiling road. From SCTEX, exit from Tarlac, and then turn left to Tarlac City. Upon reaching Manila North Road, continue driving to J. Luna Street, turn left before Tarlac River, cross the bridge and then continue the drive to Camiling. In Camiling, take the Mangatarem road going to Lingayen. From there, take the road to Alaminos, then turn left to Burgos, and then turn right to Agno.
The third is the more scenic drive via the western coast. From NLEX, take the SCTEX going to Subic. From Subic, take a leisure drive through the coastal towns of Zambales. Continue driving to San Narciso, San Felipe, Botolan, Iba, Palauig, Masinloc and, finally, Santa Cruz. Enter Pangasinan via Infanta, continue the drive to Burgos and then turn left to Agno.
What to see, what to do
Start in Poblacion where the town plaza is located. The original church was built right next to Balincaguing River in 1610. The Ilocano migrants for fear of another flooding must have insisted on the transfer of the town center to its location at present.
The existing church in honor of Saint Catherine de Alexandria was built in 1834. Construction of the adjoining convento started in 1845. The church has a simple façade with a single bell located on top. The old convento still retained the old structure. It has an airy receiving area with a giant Sacred Heart mural.
On the left side of Saint Catherine church is another one, belonging to the Philippine Independent Church or Aglipayan. Agno has a large Aglipayan population, as it was one of the first towns to support Gregorio Aglipay, also an Ilocano, to form the Philippine Independent Church in 1902. The Aglipayan church in Agno is considered among the firsts to be constructed in the country.
At the other side of the plaza is the new presidencia or the municipal hall that replaced the old one. Surrounding the plaza are many old houses and commercial buildings that were built during the American era when the residents of Agno made their fortunes from rice farming and fishing.
Other hidden attractions of Agno are its beaches, plenty of them. The most famous is Sabangan, commonly known as Umbrella Rocks because of several big rock formations shaped like umbrellas scattered on the beach. Another secret beach is Abagatanen, which is located on the north side of Sabangan. To get there, one has to walk the narrow trail or take the boat to reach this white sand beach.
But for those who wish to be seeing a majestic but completely deserted beach, take the off-the-beaten path to Barangay Tupa and Baruan, where its fine white sand awaits the intrepid traveler.
Where to stay, what to eat
There are several family cottages for rent at Umbrella Rocks. The local government also operates a Tourist Hall right before the entrance to Umbrella Rocks where visitors can stay overnight. It is also possible to camp overnight at the beach.
But for the best camping experience minus the crowd, try Abagatanen, Tupa or Baruan. Just inform the barangay (village) officials that you are camping overnight so that you will be treated as a guest instead of a stranger.
For dining, the best way is to try the fresh seafood bought directly from the fishermen when they return from the sea early in the morning. All one has to bring is fresh calamansi, siling labuyo and soy sauce to get to taste the best of Agno.