Looking back. Lingayen was an old Pangasinense word lingawen, which sounds almost like Tagalog lingunin. Lingon is the root word, and it’s like when you turn your head to see again what you are leaving or left behind – either the place you have been to or the memories you want to remember. Lingawen was what people did back in the early times, when, as they leave Lingayen, they looked back to see once more the huge tree that was once rooted in the town plaza. As I write this, I am trying to do just that: to look back at Lingayen more than just an interesting town.
In my first summer morning in Lingayen, the sun was hypnotic. I found myself, almost unmindful, walking along Maramba boulevard, which ended in front of a huge public park. Here I had a chance to breathe in lukewarm but fresh breeze of the countryside. Walking here lit up special thoughts, being grateful of seeing such a quaint and beautiful place. I was almost tempted to compare the place with the ones I saw in American movies but that was plainly an injustice to what was really here. I felt more grateful, for as simple as this park is not somewhere else offshore, but here within the country, within my reach, only after a 6-hour smooth bus ride from Manila.
Trees in this park were more joyous compared to the cities. Lured by them, I continued walking and saw from afar a tall sculpture. He looked like Manuel Quezon to me, but that was a naïve thought. His name is Aguedo F. Agbayani. The park was named after him, and looking at his sculpture hinted me his greatness. That’s one nice way to look back: people have a place to remember the legacy of a leader and to enjoy a cool late afternoon. The next day we went back to the park, it was livelier with people taking pictures, a family strolling with kids, a pair of lovers sitting on one of the benches lined along the brick path.
These days, cities have more malls to stroll in, billboards and ads to distract our senses. This area of Lingayen has a beauty that many of us in the city miss out. No ads, no shops around. (The busy area was in the downtown where the church is) Only trees, branches and leaves; only quiet benches and huge grassy patch of earth. At the park’s center was the only huge structure, the old capitol building. It’s a living history, an architecture that dates back to 1918. Still stands after the war, its façade was painted white and creamy yellow.
While Claire was taking some pictures of the capitol building, some of our friends went ahead inside. The building was still open to public. We later saw them on the building’s roof deck, waving their hands at us. It’s because that night was part of a month-long Pistay Dayat, a festival that celebrates the blessings of Pangasinan. Dayat means “sea”. The sea is the Lingayen Gulf, just at the northernmost part of the capitol grounds. We walked on its grayish dense beach sand lit up with a strong halogen lamp. I was surprised to see a clean, uncommercialized beach in Pangasinan’s capital. Mica, a travel friend and a Pangasinan native, told me that the beach was once crowded, but their current governor ordered to clean it up.
That was a bold move, I thought, especially in this age when commercialism is contagious in many cities of the world. Just by looking around in this progressive yet rustic town, Lingayen reminds me of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Featured in a documentary film, the city mayor banned all billboards and ads. Five years and counting, Sao Paulo’s urban charm and grandeur that was once masked by all commercialism has unfolded gracefully. It’s a remarkable example it sets for the world. Lingayen does it in its own right.
We spent our last afternoon in Lingayen by walking again to the beach. Families with their kids crowded the long stretch, happily enjoying their summer for free. With only a few ambulant vendors around, the vibe of getting together, in the middle of laughter and smiles seeing boys skimboarding and people swimming, picnicking and beach bumming, was a dynamic, collective, genuine energy of human relationships. That was the best thing in sunset to see in that place.
Neither the former governor Aguedo Agabayani nor the incumbent Amado Espino Jr. is familiar to me, yet my brief visit in Lingayen Pangasinan gave me a glimpse of their presence. I don’t know much about them, but I can only trust the energy I feel. I thought that the word politics (which at many times I distrust) was inappropriate to describe it. The word leadership does more justice to give that felt energy a name. More than political will, there is a leader’s will. Perhaps that sense moves these leaders to boldness and Pangasinan to its subtle greatness.
I presume that this boldness also moved Fidel Ramos to presidency. We got a glimpsed of the replica of the former president’s ancestral house, just sitting on a small street from Maramba boulevard. His old days in the town nurtured him, as seen in most of his pictures and books that he authored, priding himself the child of Lingayen. At the back of the house is The President’s Hotel, where my friends and I stayed for a few nights. It gives the quality, presidential service to every guest they receive. Inspired by Ramos’ presidency, the hotel was named as a tribute. Another way of looking back at Lingayen’s legacy through the hotel’s name.
I forgot that Pangasinan is home to Urduja but I was happy to remember. Urduja is Pangasinense’s legendary leader, an ancient icon of boldness. She – and not he – was their history’s sacred feminine, a woman and a warrior immortalized in many of their local legends and stories. Governor Espino paid tribute to her by erecting the Urduja House. Inspired by Balinese architecture, the house serves as an elegant venue where the provincial government hosts small events and receives important guests. We had a brief tour inside the house right before we had our last stop at the beach. I remembered Urduja’s portrait hanging inside its reception area. Her image beautifully haunted my memory, her fierce eyes reminding the Jungian archetypes of anima and femme fatale, a raw power of leadership, of leader’s will.
A friend and psychology teacher Reimon Cosare told me the meaning of pinuno, the Tagalog word for “leader”. He pointed out that our definition and sense of leadership has been shaped by the West. Unfortunately, our native understanding of leadership was lost. He seemed to resurrect this forgotten understanding. Punò (tree), nunò (ancestor), punô (filled) are anagrams of pinunò. He weaved a story out of this words: punò, a tree, firm and rooted, growing inside, expanding outside, fruitful and alive, is symbolic of a leader. nunò, an ancestor, old or dead, is always revered for his/her wisdom. Both are punô, in essence are filled – or more precisely, fulfilled. For me, this story of leadership in words is directly symbolic, resolute and primordial, the still-pulsing relic of leader’s will.
Now, I’m looking back at Lingayen, at its ancient, archetypal tree. Perhaps I got a glimpse of leader’s will in the living force of Lingayen’s political legacy. I’m not into anything politics, but with its gloomy landscape nowadays, I still hope and care for a change. This is a looking back, a paglingon, to remind myself of some silver lining. A short travel to Lingayen, a nice walk in the park, and writing words and stories are surprising ways to look back, to stumble upon insights along the way. Ang hindi lumingon sa pinanggalingan, hindi makararating sa paroroonan (Those who do not look back where they came will not arrive in their destination). I’m glad I did.