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The Politics and Logic of our Streets

Where is the Calle Real in our city? The Royal Street, where important personages pass through, where was it located in Naga?

Or, maybe there was no Calle Real at all. But, that would not be possible as Nueva Caceres, as this city of ours was known during the Spanish times, was one of the five royal villas established by the colonizers.

And yet, as I continue to make sense of places – and streets – in our small city, the more logic vanishes in how we have named (or renamed) some of the sites that we now see every ordinary day of our lives.

If we start with the barangays, all of their names have sounds that surely have been imposed from the colonial perspective – San Francisco, San Felipe, San Isidro, Sta. Cruz, to name just a few. You could easily count in your fingers places that have remained untouched. We can still be proud of Dayangdang, Tinago, and, to a certain point, Sabang. The latter though is commonly found in other places – urban or rural. In other Philippine languages, “sabang” refers to the point where a street, road, or mountain path, and rivers or streams meet. “Sabang” specifically could refer to the mouth of a river.

What does Dayangdang mean? The closest I got to know its meaning is the one provided online – it is a term for a common fish called “snapper.

Could Elias Angeles Street, the one named after one of the two brave Filipinos who incited the rising in arms against the Spanish, be the Calle Real?

There is the other revolutionary and his name is Felix Plazo.

Angeles and Plazo are the stellar heroes of the Philippine “revolution” and they share the same tragic fate of being not honored enough in their own cities with monuments. Felix Plazo has also the street, closer to the northern part of the Naga River, and a monument in Tigaon, the town that reclaimed this hero.

Something intrigues me also about the relationships of the streets in this city. When one crosses the Tabuco Bridge, one encounters a simulation of names that have become major in the nationalist imaginary of the revolution. Immediately after the bridge is Balintawak. Yes, I suppose, where the “Cry” took place. As one moves away from the bridge, we meet Fraternidad St., and Biak na Bato. If we are keen enough, we should look back to the People’s Mart, which used to be called Naga Supermarket, which then and now was never super in terms of order and cleanliness.

Behind the market is Igualdad! Why the exclamation point? Well, all we need to look for is the street called Libertad and we are able to form the tripartite values learned by our revolutionaries from the French Revolution – liberte, fraternite, egalite or Liberty, Brotherhood, and Equality.

Where lies Libertad?

If one could step back from the grandeur of these streets, then take note for you are in Triangulo – again the “Triangle,” – the tripartite concepts, the perfect form, the revered shape of Masonry. Or am I over-reading?

Let us be daring –for if we move from Felix Plazo, we can cross the river and reach Gainza.

We know the story of that old man who was supposed to be the force behind the “Tolong Hinulid,” or Three Dead Christ now enshrined in a small chapel in Cagbunga, Gainza. Located some five kilometers from the city, that village of the Three Dead Christ is a separate reality.

Outside of the ethos of suffering prevalent in the devotion to the Dead Christ, the Tolong Hinulid hides more realities. It is in fact an extension – or condensation of symbols – of the nativistic movements where the Filipinos reinterpret the icons of a foreign religion to make it theirs – or ours. But so much for the nativism of the place; at present, it has been co-opted by the Catholic Church nearby. This is not strange, for the Catholic Church was the main arm of the colonizers in reinventing what we were into what we are now.

From Triangulo, you can go back to Panganiban, a major thoroughfare that connects the city back to its journey to the other parts of the region. Jose Maria Panganiban is grandly honored in this city. Tracking Panganiban, you will hit two main mountains now giving their names to what used to be the suburbs of the city – Mayon and Isarog. Both are avenues. Short avenues. Tucked in between these two mountains is Taal, also an avenue. A taller mountain, Apo, is a drive, like Panganiban.

Parallel to Panganiban is a shorter interior street called Bonifacio, which lies side by side with Peninsula, which turns in half-circle to reach Caceres. What stories can we make of this naming? That Bonifacio is small-time compared to the big-deal we have made of Panganiban? That Bicol is a peninsula and the old name of Nueva Caceres is hidden in its older name, having dropped the “Nueva.”

From this cursory honoring of heroes, the streets become fruit-bearing trees in the Dayangdang area: Caimito, Manga, Kamagong…As you turn toward the Civic Center, on the street where a cable company is located, the street is named Kayangga. I had to check my sources to find out what kind of a tree this is. It is not a tree; it is another name for Gumamela.

I could go on and on but, pardon my ignorance: do we have a Rizal Street?


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