It was an old photo of a beautiful church with a convent that got me all curious. The caption of the photo was “San Juan Bautista church, Longos town, Laguna.” There is no Longos town in Laguna. Not anymore I presumed.
Doing an initial research, I found a lakeside barangay (village) called Longos, and on it stands a church called Saint John the Baptist. Could this be the lost town of Longos?
Still curious, I decided to search for it one weekend. I programmed “Saint John the Baptist church Laguna” on my Navi and its location appeared in the town of Kalayaan. It read “100 kilometers to reach destination.” I was sweating with excitement.
After driving for two hours, I finally saw the church. Gone was the beautiful convent. As I walked around, I saw an old Rizal monument with the inscription “El Pueblo de Longos 1917.” So this must be the old town of Longos, I told myself.
There’s a Barangay Hall in front of the Rizal monument. “Whatever happened to the old Longos Municipal Hall?” I asked a man standing there. “When the towns of Longos, San Juan and San Antonio were combined to become the town of Kalayaan, the people saw no need for it when the town center moved to San Juan. But the three old towns retained their own churches and their own cemeteries,” he said. “This Barangay Hall is where the old Municipal Hall once stood,” the man added while pointing at a new green building.
Further reading when I returned home showed that when the Spaniards arrived there in 1577, they found a thriving community of natives. The first settlement was called Babaye (later changed to Longos) because they found women washing by the lake, and the other one was called Abacao (later changed to San Juan) because they saw people drying abaca there. Later, the Spaniards claimed the mountains west of Babaye and named the village in honor of San Pablo. The village was later renamed San Antonio.
The three settlements eventually became three individual towns during Spanish time. Each one has its own parish church, plaza, municipal hall, schools and even cemetery.
When the Americans came, the military government found that there were too many towns in Laguna and recommended that the number be narrowed down. Longos, San Juan and San Antonio were combined to form the town of Longos. In 1946, the town center was moved to San Juan. And on May 17, 1956 by virtue of House Bill 1477 authored by congressman Wenceslao Lagumbay, a native of San Juan, changed the name of the municipality to “Kalayaan.”
How to get there
Kalayaan is located 102 kilometers from Manila. To get there, drive south via SLEX and exit from Calamba. From Calamba, take the provincial road and drive through Los Banos, Bay, Victoria, Pila, Santa Cruz and Pagsanjan. At Pagsanjan junction, turn left, cross the bridge to Lumban. After Lumban, the road climbs to Kalayaan. The town’s entrance is on the right of the Caliraya Hydroelectric Power Plant.
What to see, what to do
The first mega-structure that one sees after the Welcome to Kalayaan marker is the huge Caliraya Hydroelectric Power Plant. It pumps water from the lower reservoir of Laguna de Bay to the higher reservoir of Caliraya Lake and can produce a maximum guaranteed capacity of 684 MW.
A few meters from the power plant is the entrance to San Juan. Drive past the old San Juan Elementary School and then turn right. The new Kalayaan Municipal Hall is located on an elevated slope at the right side of the provincial road. In front of this is the plaza where the Freedom monument stands.
But the main attraction of San Juan is the Twin Falls. It is located on the opposite side of San Juan and can be reached by driving up from the United of Church of Christ junction. A resort was built around the waterfalls with swimming pools and cottages. But the main attraction of the Twin Falls is climbing up to the series of waterfalls that run parallel to Caliraya.
The next detour from the main road is the former town of Longos. Here, the old church of San Juan Bautista, which was built by the Franciscans in 1669, still stands but is just a memory of its glorious past. What was left of its attractive convent were remnants of its old stone walls now covered with moss. Even the old church was not spared by nature’s fury. In 2006, Typhoon Milenyo destroyed its original roof, and now the church has to make do with what it could afford: a galvanized roofing.
On the left side of the church is an open space with a giant acacia tree that has probably played witness to the sad story of Longos. In front is the old Rizal monument, erected in 1917, that was once the centerpiece of the old municipal hall.
From Longos, there’s the road from the junction of Petron that climbs 7 kilometers to an elevation of 300 meters above sea level the town of San Antonio. It is probably one of the most scenic winding roads in the Philippines, with both sides of the road planted to giant bamboo trees. There’s a view deck right before the entrance of San Antonio that affords a breathtaking view of Kalayaan and the whole Laguna de Bay.
In San Antonio, there’s a beautiful church and a convent on a hill. This must be where the old church of San Antonio was located. The only evidence that it existed is an old bell in front of the church with the marking “San Pablo Ano 1847.”
Where to stay, what to eat
Kalayaan is best explored on a day trip, so there is no need to stay there overnight. For eating, the town used to be famous for the restaurant called Exotik. But it is now closed, and has also become witness to the town’s glorious past.