The Republic of Biak-na-Bato is now 120 years old.
The story of Biak-na-Bato goes beyond the revolutionary government that was declared in San Miguel, Bulacan, in 1897.
The Sierra Madre is the longest mountain range in the Philippines – running 640 kilometers from Cagayan in the north to Quezon in the south. Within Sierra Madre are hundreds of rivers, waterfalls and caves that remain undiscovered to this day.
One of the earliest caves to be discovered within Sierra Madre was the Biak-na-Bato cave. It was probably discovered by hunters who came to the foot of Sierra Madre to hunt for wild animals. They probably saw a beautiful river in between two giant boulders and gave the place the name “biaknabato” or “split boulders. Upon further inspection of the place, the hunters discovered that it was littered with caves and caverns. But its location was kept secret by the locals.
It was a perfect place to hide a revolutionary leader.
After winning battles against Spanish forces in Imus, Binakayan and Zapote, Emilio Aguinaldo lost the battle in Perez Dasmarinas after the reinforced Spanish troops took advantage of warring factions among the revolutionaries.
As the Spanish forces started reclaiming Cavite, Aguinaldo instructed General Mamerto Natividad to look for a place where the revolutionaries can reinforce secretly. As a native Kapangpangan, Natividad recommended Biak-na-Bat, which was located at the boundary of Pampanga and Bulacan.
On June 24, 1897, Aguinaldo arrived at Biak-na-Bato in San Miguel, Bulacan. He immediately established his headquarters there. In late October 1897, he convened an assembly of generals at Biak-na-Bato, where it was decided to establish a constitutional republic. Finally, on November 1, 1897, the Republic of Biak-na-Bato was established. The Constitution provided for the creation of the Supreme Council. Emilio Aguinaldo was appointed the President of the Republic.
Primo de Rivera, the Spanish governor-general at the time, accepted the impossibility of suppressing the revolution by force of arms, and so he sent a negotiator in the person of lawyer Pedro Paterno. Paterno travelled between Manila and Biak-na-Bato carrying proposals and counter-proposals. His efforts led to the signing of the peace agreement called Pact of Biak-na-Bato. On December 14, 1897, the pact was signed, effectively ending the short-lived Republic of Biak-na-Bato.
On November 16, 1937, the Biak-na-Bato area was declared a national park by Manuel Luis Quezon in honor of the Republic of Biak-na-Bato.
How to get there
The location of Biak-na-Bato is no secret anymore. This National Park is a refreshing escape for city dwellers to go with its extensive cave network, cool river system and challenging historical and ecological trails.
The easiest way to reach Biak-na-Bato National Park is to drive from Manila to the north via the North Luzon Expressway or NLEX. Take Exit 34 toward Balagtas. Continue onto Plaridel Bypass Road, then onto San Rafael Municipal Road and turn right to enter Pan-Philippine Highway.
Upon reaching San Miguel Welcome Arch, turn right to the old Cagayan Valley Road. After about two kilometers, turn right to Magsaysay Road. The park is located about 15 kilometers at the dead end of this junction.
Another alternative is to exit from Santa Rita, and drive via Pan-Philippine Highway passing thru the towns of Plaridel, Baliwag and San Ildelfonso, before finally reaching San Miguel. But many portions of this highway are still under repair, causing heavy traffic especially during daytime.
What to see, what to do
Entrance to the park is P50 per person for adults and P40 for students or senior citizens. A guide is now required to accompany visitors to go around the park. Minimum guide fee is P200 per group.
The National Park at present has an area of 659 hectares and it extends to the municipality of Dona Remedios Trinidad.
Those with limited time can explore the attractions near the park center. Right beside the entrance is a small monument dedicated to the Katipuneros who fought the war against the Spaniards. In front of it is another monument with a bolo on top. Below this is the Historical Commission marker commemorating the founding of the Republic of Biak-na-Bato.
Further down is the famous Aguinaldo Cave. It was here where Emilio Aguinaldo held office for a couple of months in 1897.
To cross the Balaong River, there’s a hanging bridge that connects to the other side. Across the river is the large mural of Emilio Aguinaldo and the Katipuneros. It pays tribute to the signing of the Constitution of Biak-na-Bato.
From here, a concrete trail leads to some of the caves within the park center. Along the trail is an open cave called Pahingahan Cave, where the Katipuneros would come to take some rest. Further down the trail is a path that leads to the Kweba ng Paniki or the Bat Cave. In here are millions of bats that fly out at dusk and return at dawn. Along the way to the Bat Cave are several giant trees that already stood during the time of Aguinaldo.
Further down the park are several trails that lead to Aguinaldo’s secret caves: Hospital Cave, where the wounded Katipuneros were brought for treatment, Imbakan Cave where they hid collected firearms and other supplies, Tangapan Cave, which served as a reception area, and finally, Ambush Cave, which served a trap to trick the Spaniards.
There are several stalls outside the park selling souvenir items made from rocks. On weekends, farmers of Biak-na-Bato sell freshly-harvested fruits and vegetables there.
Where to stay, what do eat
Camping overnight is no longer allowed inside the park, so most visitors come for a day tour. For dining, there’s no restaurant inside the park, but there are carinderias at the parking area selling snacks.
But for those who wish to experience picnicking at the same area where the Katipuneros used to eat, there are now picnic tables that can be rented near the mural of Aguinaldo. Bring rice and adobo and imagine it’s 1897.