ONLY a few people know the town Magdalena in Laguna. But its church, municipal hall, sprawling plaza, old houses and river and fields somehow look familiar. We have actually seen Magdalena countless of times in movies, TV shows, commercials, magazines and print ads, because it is a favorite location for projects requiring Philippine rural scenes.
The late action king Fernando Poe Jr. was also a regular visitor to Magdalena because he shot several of his films there. That emotional scene in the 1971 Celso Ad Castillo movie “Asedillo” was said to be shot in the town of Magdalena. In the film, FPJ played an idealistic teacher-turned-rebel against the American colonial government and said this memorable line: Hindi ako maaari magtaksil sa inyo. Kayong mga tao ang batis, ang ilog at ang dagat. Ako ay isda! Paano ako mabubuhay kung wala kayo [I could not betray all of you. You are the stream, the river and the sea, and I am the fish. How can I live if all of you were gone]?” FPJ’s character was killed on the final scene and the fans didn’t like it causing uproars in several theaters, particularly in Mindanao. From there on, no character of FPJ died in the next movies.
Just like in the movies, the town of Magdalena was the site of many bloody battles in the past. It originated as a barrio of Majayjay, Laguna. In 1819, the local residents petitioned for the creation of a new town and January 18, 1820, Governor General Don Mariano Fernadez de Folgueras proclaimed that the town be called “Magdalena de Ambling.” The name was derived from its patron saint Maria Magdalena and the barrio of Ambling where it was originally established.
The construction of the church started in 1829. Local residents donated stones and bricks to help build the church and it was finally completed in 1861. It was on this same church in 1898 where Emilio Jacinto sought refuge after he was wounded during one of the encounters at the height of the revolution against Spain.
The arrival of the Americans at the turn of the 20th century brought fear to local residents and many of them fled to the mountains. Just like FPJ’s character in Asedillo, they became tulisans or rebels. This made the Americans very strict on the conduct of social life by the people, even prohibiting them from leaving the poblacion and talking to each other publicly. Life continued under the American regime and the American way of life and culture was introduced to those who were left behind the town.
Soon World War II started and the tulisans became guerrillas and fought side-by-side with the American and Filipino soldiers. After the town was liberated in 1945, everyone went back to the poblacion to rebuild their churches, municipal hall, plaza, schools and homes.
Today’s Magdalena still looks like the town local residents help rebuild in the 1950s. Nothing much has changed. The church and municipal hall still stand proud amid the many battles they endured. The school building and the adjacent plaza continue to develop the minds and bodies of the town’s youth. Also, the people who fought long and hard against the colonizers have embraced peace.
How to Get There
It is very easy to reach Magdalena. Those with private vehicles can drive south via South Luzon Expressway, exit Calamba, then turn left to Calamba, then turn right to the old highway and continue to Los Banos, Victoria and Santa Cruz, then enter Pagsanjan. At the junction where the Jollibee store is located, turn right and drive four kilometres to reach the Magdalena poblacion.
Those travelling by public transport can either take a bus going to Santa Cruz (alight at Santa Cruz and take a jeepney to Magdalena) or to Pagsanjan (alight at Jollibee Pagsanjan and take a tricycle to Magdalena).
A visit to Magdalena can be combined with visit to the neighboring towns of Pagsanjan, Majayjay, Cavinti, Lake Caliraya and Liliw.
What to see, what to do
Magdalena is now considered as the newest adventure destination, particularly for those who wish to experience the thrills of white-water rafting in the Philippines without flying all the way to Cagayan de Oro. Raphael Bueno or Tito Raf (09282585554 or 09165769012) of Mhollywood Adventure Tours organizes river rafting tours in the Balanac River. The tour costs P750 per person for a minimum group of six, and starts with a briefing at Tito Raf’s office at the poblacion, followed by a drive to upper Balanac river, then rafting for two hours until the group reaches the irrigation dam. Lunch is served there and visitors can also try rubber tubing and swimming at the lower Balanac river.
Raf is a former town official of Magdalena and his fascination with the late action king paved the way for the construction of mini-Hollywood Walk of Fame Park in front of the municipal hall. His office in the poblacion is an attraction in itself as its walls are decorated with movie posters of FPJ.
The whole poblacion is also worth a visit. The church of Maria Magdalena, which started construction in 1829, remains one of the most beautiful Baroque churches in Laguna. There is an Emilio Jacinto marker inside the church where one can also find his blood stains (now dry and covered by glass), bolo and hat.
One can also check out the old buildings built around the plaza from the old convent, the municipal hall built during the Spanish time, the original school houses including that of the Banahaw Institute, and the many old bahay-na-bato [stone houses]that were mostly built after World War II.
The American envisioned the sprawling plaza as a field where the locals can play baseball and American football. It now a regular venue to soccer, tennis and basketball games the locals enjoy playing. At the back of the church is a unique playground where the over a dozen life-sized figures of Superheroes and Avengers stand guard.
Where to stay, what to eat
The town has no hotels or guesthouses. So those joining the adventure tours and wish to stay overnight can camp out near the Balanac river. Guests can also go to the nearby town of Pagsanjan or Lake Caliraya for overnight accommodations.
For eating, the choices are very limited in Magdalena. The public market is a small building that sells mostly limited stuff as most residents get their supplies from nearby Santa Cruz. There are a few local carinderias selling mostly merienda food and no full meals. Visitors can get their fill from the nearby Jollibee store or head to the many restaurants in Pagsanjan or Santa Cruz.
But Magdalena’s attraction is not about food – it is all about going back to a place where even FPJ loved to stay.