Emergency money was printed at thr groud floor of the Bacarro ancestral house during the Japanese invasion in Mindanao. Photograph by Marc Gregory Guba
Travel Destinations

A slice of life in the heritage district of Jimenez, hometown of Aegis and 100+ ancestral houses

What is it like to live in a heritage town? We spoke to a few locals in fast-growing Jimenez whose feet are firmly planted in the idea of preserving its past
Clint Holton Potestas | Jul 29 2019

“I walk on the streets of Jimenez everyday to school and to nearby eateries,” says young student KC Sumile who recently returned to her hometown from Tangub City to study l senior high at the local Bethel Institute. “I always imagine that these Spanish mansions could have been the ‘modern’ buildings in 1947. The green grass and big trunks of trees surrounding them are truly an amazing view to take photos with.” 

Oh to have this high schooler’s fortune of being treated everyday to a trip back in time just by walking around her neighborhood. Ms. Sumile is a resident of Jimenez in Misamis Occidental, a hometown she shares with the pop rock group Aegis and possibly a population not more than 50,000. In 2014, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts conducted a survey in the municipality and later declared 34 houses as cultural properties that belong to the heritage or hermano district. The cultural map’s core is the Parish Church of St. John the Baptist, a National Cultural Treasure, famous for its painted ceiling and Gothic pillars.

St John Baptist Church

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Travelers heading for Ozamiz often take a stopover at this famous noodle and snack house. It is located along the highway.

The roads are interconnected in Jimenez, which makes landmarks and destinations readily accessible to locals and turistas alike. Having a personal vehicle here is not really a necessity; one could spend the day just walking around from one historical spot to the next. Or else, one could easily hire a tricycle or single(a motorbike).

What Meme delos Santos Ioves about her town is that it gives a jogger like her plenty of beautiful paths to choose from. Her morning jogs bring her from the district’s quiet streets but her occasional hikes lead her to the mountainous barangays of Carmen, Aquino, and Cabug. “What people do not see are our lush forests, perfect for those who like to exercise. I like the bukid. Most of the time, I do long jogs at the churchyard. It never fails to amaze me,” Meme adds. “For me, Jimenez is in the middle of transforming itself into a modern place and preserving its historical treasures.”

The heritage house owned by Cayetano Yu.

Within St. John The Baptist parish’s radius is the “buffer zone” where these heritage houses stand. Bong Abelidas, the tourism officer of Jimenez, says that the role of the buffer zone is to protect the central mark. All building developments must adhere to the Spanish architectural type with a height that does not surpass the belfry. He adds that the local government unit has found more than 100 ancestral houses, and it has made measures to preserve their stories and convert them to mini museums.

Window designs that resemble sunrays protected the Bacarro houses from the Japanese soldiers.

One of the most prominent structures in the heritage district is the Bacarro house, essentially an American Colonial Era bahay na bato built in 1914. Its former landlord, Rosito Bacarro, operated the famous Bacarro Printing Press where emergency money was produced during the second World War. “This house has many doors. My room alone has three,” says Ruth Sapalida, the administrator and aunt of Aldren Nacion who is now the owner of the building. The room has multiple doors, indeed, which is common in the style of houses in those days: One leads her back to the main entrance, the second to the dining hall. The third is her access to the foyer. “But I think it’s convenient for me. I could easily access the kitchen without disturbing those in the sala,” adds Sapalida. Good ventilation was clearly a priority in the architecture of the structure. All three of its floors have high ceilings and tall windows. The topmost parts of the windowpanes have carved details with sun motifs that used to be an indication of alliance with the Japanese army.

The last printed emergency bills preserved inside the Bacarro house.

The mansion of Ignacio Tumarong has its own historical significance. During Dr. Jose Rizal’s exile in Dapitan, he performed surgery on Tumarong’s aging eyes for P3,000. Abelidas suspects the procedure was done at the wealthy politician’s residence. Former congressman William Chiongbian now owns this mansion but Jimenez Mayor Rosario Balais is the appointed administrator.    

Jimenezanons believe that Dr. Jose Rizal performed surgery on Ignacio Tumarong's eyes in this white mansion. Jimenez Mayor Rosario Balais is the current administrator of the building.

Jimenez is believed to be the fastest-growing municipality in Misamis Occidental. Business types have taken advantage of the strategic location of these heritage houses. A fitness gym, for example, is now at the ground floor of the Casa de Ozamiz, the residence of Jose Ozamiz who was the first senator from Mindanao and the first governor of Misamis Occidental. 

The Casa de Ozamiz was the residence of Jose Ozamiz, the first senator from Mindanao.

Vice Mayor Joselito Chiong oversees the ancestral house of Pastor Chiong, which is now a hardware. A few meters away is the first and original convent of the Maryknoll nuns while the School of St. John the Baptist was the former convent of the Augustinian Recollects, later on converted into the first provincial capitol office.

“I hear stories about a ‘spiritual highway’ at the back of the school. You’ve never been to Jimenez if you do not know about some mystical stories,” shares Abelidas. Many believe this invisible path connects the gargantuan Balete tree inside the cemetery (also a local heritage site) to the camel tree by the banks of Palilan River on the opposite end. “Like the two end points of Edsa,” Abelidas illustrates. 

Jimenez Vice Mayor Joselito Chiong oversees the preservation of the ancestral house of Pastor Chiong. It now has a hardware at the ground level.

Found nearby, the steel hanging bridge becomes an alternative route for motorcycles when the river overflows onto the cemented road. The bridge was constructed by the Americans during the war.

Hanging bridge

“A lot of our visitors are surprised that our town is not as sleepy as what they expected. It is full of stories you may only hear here, or stories you have already read in history books,” Abelidas concludes.

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A house in the heritage district of Jimenez. 

A house in the heritage district of Jimenez.

A house in the heritage district of Jimenez. 

A house in the heritage district of Jimenez. 

A house in the heritage district of Jimenez. 

A house in the heritage district of Jimenez. 

A house in the heritage district of Jimenez.

A house in the heritage district of Jimenez. 

A house in the heritage district of Jimenez. 

A house in the heritage district of Jimenez. 

A house in the heritage district of Jimenez. 

A house in the heritage district of Jimenez. 

A house in the heritage district of Jimenez.

A house in the heritage district of Jimenez.

A house in the heritage district of Jimenez. 

To get to Jimenez, one may take the daily commercial flights from Manila or Cebu to the airport of Ozamiz City. On a bus or van-for-hire, it would take 30 to 45 minutes before one arrives in the heritage district. 

“Nothing has really changed about how I felt when I came back,” Sumile says proudly of her hometown. “It’s a sanctuary for us and an honor to be living in the heritage town of Misamis Occidental. Every Misamisnon knows that.” No wonder Aegis always sounds like it got something mighty great to sing about. 

 

Photographs by Marc Gregory Guba