I usually take side trips to locations of my favorite Filipino movie or TV shows when I travel around the country for business. I’ve been to the Manila Central Post Office just to see, in real life, where the movie “Ikaw Lamang Hanggang Ngayon” (2002) starring Regine Velasquez and Richard Gomez was set. Once I rode the night bus to Tuguegarao just to see the beautiful grotto in a cave featured in the John Lloyd-Bea movie “The Mistress” (2012). And then there was the time I had to revisit Paco Park in Manila after watching Olivia Lamasan's “Starting Over Again” (2014).
Last July, my girlfriend Jul surprised me with a trip to Albay to see the Our Lady of the Gate church in Daraga, location of the TV series “We Will Survive” on ABS-CBN and the Kathniel-starrer, “She’s Dating the Gangster” (2014). But what I really looked forward to was a drive to Pagsanjan, Laguna with my favorite show in mind: “Tabing Ilog.”
The Sunday afternoon teen drama was aired on ABS-CBN from 1999 to 2003. The show was about love, family, and friendship. It starred Jodi as George, John Lloyd Cruz as Rovic, Kaye Abad as Eds, Paolo Contis as Badong, Desiree del Valle as Corrinne, Patrick Garcia as James, Baron Geisler as Fonzy, and Paula Peralejo as Anne.
The series was shot in picturesque Pagsanjan, in its houses, on its streets, inside classrooms, and at the famous dock underneath an old tree by the river where the fictional barkada usually convened. I was 13 when I first dreamed of visiting the location. As a die-hard fan, I thought the closest I could get to my favorite show was only through purchasing memorabilia from the Star Studio shop. And then November happened.
The “Tabing Ilog” set was a happy and relaxed one, no small thanks to the laid-back vibe of the town. “Yung dumating kami sa point na dadating kami lahat sa set tapos wala pa kaming script,” recalls Kaye Abad of a memorable moment taping the show. “Pero walang nababadtrip samin or naiinip sa set kasi masaya kami na magkakasama. Minsan kami kami gumagawa ng script.”
It’s easy to locate the “Tabing Ilog” locations. Everything is close to the Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine. George’s residence is among the charming old houses on Mabini Street. And it still looks the way it appeared on TV many years ago, except its swing gate is covered now with a green steel plate. On the street’s far end is Badong’s house, which is across Pagsanjan Academy.
Another memorable spot is the Francisco Benitez Memorial School at Cosme Street where they shot the show’s classroom scenes. Before reaching the school, one will first pass Rovic’s house which is in a nearby corner. The gang often met here for parties and meetings, and to seek advice from Rovic’s wise grandmother Juling, played by Caridad Sanchez.
Visiting the actual site, I still recognized the wooden house with beautiful capiz windows and the stairwell where Rovic often sat alone with his thoughts. The ground floor, however, which was a garage in the show, has been turned into the living room area.
But the tree featured in the program ID remains postcard-perfect. The new breed of serye fans might not recognize my generation’s teen drama, but they likely have seen the “puno ng Tabing Ilog” or the Lagaslas Picnic Grounds. The dock and the makeshift swing made of an old tire. It was a favorite spot in the series, where the kids poured out their sentiments, argued, laughed, and fell in love—with only the Bumbungan River and each other as witnesses.
In her vlog, Jodi took the forest route to get to this now iconic spot. I, on the other hand, hopped on a boat to view it from the river, which is also the main waterway to the famous Pagsanjan Falls. The dock and the swing are no longer there. We can only assume the typhoons over the years have led to the dock’s destruction, and the tire stolen by some avid fan.
“Naging sikat ang puno dahil sa Tabing Ilog,” says a boatman. “Pag summer, may mga mesa at upuan ang ilalagay dyan sa ilalim ng puno. Maraming pumumunta dyan nga mga pamilya, kumakain, picnic, minsan naliligo sa ilog.”
Not a lot of tourists come and ask to see the houses in the show, says a tricycle driver. “Pero tandang-tanda ko pa na dito sila nag-shooting. Matagal-tagal din yun, mga apat na taon, nung mga kabataan nila John Lloyd. Nasanay din kami na gumagala lang sila dito.”
Reruns of the series are on IWantTV, but I bet fans like me are hoping for nothing less than a reunion project. “Walang dalawang isip!” Kaye says when asked if she’d be game to take part. “I would say yes basta kumpleto kami ulit.”