SOMETIMES, you just have to look around your neighborhood to find a place that you never expected to be filled with interesting attractions.
This happened to me last February 5. I suddenly had a full day for free because the place where I work, which is the city of Binan, received a last-minute non-working holiday declaration from Malacanang. I didn’t know what to do with my free day, so I decided – why not explore Biñan.
Biñan was liberated from the Japanese Imperial Forces in February 5, 1944 by the 47th Division, 48th Regiment of the Hunters ROTC Guerillas under the command of Colonel Emmanuel de Ocampo. In commemoration of this event, every February 5 of the year is known as “Biñan Liberation Day.”
But Biñan has long history of occupations. It was discovered and established by the Spaniards in June 1571, one month after Miguel Lopez de Legaspi founded Manila. Two Spanish missionaries planted a huge wooden cross on the spot where the present day San Isidro parish stands and celebrated a Thanksgiving Mass. Curious natives gathered and the two missionaries invited the natives to be baptized. The place where the baptism was held was called “Binyagan.” This was later shortened to “Biñan”.
Biñan was also significant in the growing up years of our National Hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. In 1869, when Rizal was only eight years old, he and his brother Paciano left Calamba and settled in Biñan to continue his education. They stayed in his mother’s ancestral home, owned by the family of Jose Alberto Alonzo, the father of Rizal’s mother, Teodora Alonzo.
The town of Biñan has long been known as the major trading center in the province of Laguna. This is the reason why many mestizos built their fortunes there as traders. Nowadays, many of the ancestral homes of these traders still stand along the streets surrounding the main plaza of Biñan.
The public market of Biñan is considered the biggest in the province of Laguna. Every day, trucks full of vegetables, fruits, rice and grains, fish and poultry come almost every hour to unload their goods at the Biñan market.
During the 1990s, the large chunk of land used to be planted with sugar cane was converted into an industrial park. This transformed the once agricultural town into one of the country’s most progressive and most competitive cities in the Philippines. Prior to its cityhood in 2010, Biñan was the richest municipality in the Philippines.
How to get there
The city center is only 34 kilometers south of Manila. It is accessible via South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) and the National High.
Those with private vehicles can drive south via SLEX and exit at either Southwoods, Carmona or Mamplasan. The best exit for those heading straight to the city center is Carmona. From the exit, turn left at Carmona-Binan road, cross the National Highway, then enter the road to Poblacion.
Those taking the public transport can take any bus going to Alabang, and from there, take a public Jeepney to Binan. Biñan is the second town after San Pedro from the Metro Manila boundary.
What to see, what to do
Those looking for a day of fun of music and dancing should mark February 5 on their calendars as this is Biñan Liberation Day. The day starts with a parade participated in by civic groups, schools and local government groups. The highlight of the celebration is the Puto-Latik Festival where dancers pay homage to the city’s most popular product, the native rice cake called Puto Biñan. This year, various local schools competed in dance presentations honoring this local delicacy.
On ordinary days, the city’s rows of old houses are worth exploring. At the center of these old houses is the house where Rizal spent his elementary school days, the house now called Alberto Mansion. This 200-year old house now lay in ruins after it collapsed a few years before.
Biñan is also one of the first towns to erect a monument for Dr. Jose Rizal. The Rizal monument is the centerpiece of the town’s plaza. However, in September 2015, the monument was decapitated by lightning. The local government did not waste time to have it fully restored for the 2016 Biñan Day celebration.
Also worth visiting is the San Isidro Labrador Parish Church, which is said to be the site where the first baptism of the natives was held. Right next to the church is the old Municipal Hall, an attractive American era building with the statue of Rogelio Lim-aco, the town mayor during the Japanese occupation who offered his life in lieu of the hundreds of men about to be executed at the town plaza.
Visitors can also see two of the city’s booming livelihood industries: the shoe and slipper factories in Barangay Malaban, and the hat factories in Barangay Platero. In Barangay Malaban, almost all the houses are engaged in making shoes and slippers, which are all distributed to Metro Manila and the nearby provinces, and even in Marikina.
Where to stay, what to eat
As the city is very close to Metro Manila, most visitors tend to go there on a day trip.
Those looking for a place to eat will find many places to select from. The Pavilion Mall has several dozen restaurants that cater to suit different budgets and taste.
Frequent visitors to Biñan go to one place for their gastronomical need – the public market – where there are establishments dating back from the 1960s. Aling Nelia’s Arrozcaldo continues to serve the hungry crowd. At P30 per big bowl, one can choose goto tarapilla, chicken or atay. Add P20 and one can get their famous tokwa’t baboy.
In front of the church is a local favorite – Alvarez Bake Shop – that serves breads with unusual names like Sputnik, Pan de Atis and Gatas Cookies. Every summer, people line up to get a glass of their famous halo-halo.
But there is one food that the city is best known for: the Puto Biñan. This spongy rice cake with cheese and egg toppings is best eaten with native Kapeng Barako or even Starbucks Frappuuccino, from small towns to big cities.