I found myself sitting inside a bus bound for Cabanatuan City and trying to research as much info that I could about the place. I was on a personal errand that had me heading off to this city in Nueva Ecija and I quickly saw the opportunity to check out interesting spots in this city. I guess that is me trying to find the opportunity to get to know the place. Traveling is an everyday thing.
Cabanatuan City prides itself as the “Tricycle Capital of the Philippines” with more than 30, 000 tricycles plying its thoroughfares. It is the largest city in Nueva Ecija and the center for economic activity. Its strategic location as a gateway to Cagayan Valley has spurred economic activity in the area.
Apart from its business strength, Cabanatuan City was immortalized in films – the American film “The Great Raid” and the Filipino blockbuster film “Juan Luna”. Both films banked on two historical events that took place in the area during the Filipino-American War and during the liberation of the country in World War 2. Hence, Cabanatuan City has its own share in Philippine and World History.
Having two hours to spare, I decided to walk around the city center and discover Cabanatuan.
I started my impromptu city walk with Cabanatuan’s Freedom Park – the largest park in the city.
The sprawling park sits at the center of the city complete with the usual stage and a large gathering area at one end. The gathering area can easily be converted into a basketball court and a volleyball court as the open space can easily accommodate both. At the time of our visit, small shops selling different merchandise surrounded the plaza that indicates that locals visit the area on a regular basis.
At the other end of the park stands a gazebo in the midst of a large space with park benches and greens. I guess the area is best appreciated during the afternoons where you get to see the more laidback locals spending time in the area. In full view of the park is a water tower and it is just a few meters from the park. The water storage was used during earlier times and I think it is still in use until today.
A monument in honor of Juan Luna was also installed within the grounds of Freedom Park. This is honor to a Philippine hero who was assassinated in the city.
Old Provincial Capitol
Just right across Freedom Park is the Old Provincial Capitol of Nueva Ecija. Cabanatuan City served as the province’s capital until 1965 when the capital was moved to Palayan City. The building is still in use until today and the city has managed to preserve the structure.
The building’s simple architecture was similar to Filipino-American structures mixed with a modern look. It was nice to see that the city has managed to incorporate its rich historical value with the architecture of the Old Provincial Capitol.
Nueva Ecija High School
Adjacent to the Old Provincial Capitol is another building that is hard to miss because of its architectural design – The Nueva Ecija High School. It is one of the oldest secondary schools in the Philippines and its architecture is reflective to that of the pre-World War 2 designs. Great thing is that it is well-preserved.
A historical marker was installed in front of the school that states the school was established in 1905 in the town of San Isidro and that it was later moved in 1927 when Cabanatuan was established as the new capital.
The school prides itself for having produced great leaders and movers of the province.
In the midst of the hustle and bustle of the city is the Cabanatuan Church, neatly “squeezed” within the city center. It is the seat of the Diocese of Cabanatuan.
Unlike other churches, the Cabanatuan Cathedral deviates from the usual church design with courtyards and lawns. The simple façade of the church can actually be mistaken as a regular city building because it blends perfectly with its environment.
The beauty of the church is found within its walls. The beautiful interior is highlighted by a simple altar with a crucifix as its focal point with two Saints standing alongside it. The simplicity of the church is a reflection both inside and outside. The only difference is that its interior is simple and elegant.
It was also on the same grounds where the great Filipino hero Juan Luna met his demise. It took me quite a while to actually find the marker by the adjacent convent walls because it is camouflaged by the walls and it is along a major street of the city.
General Antonio Luna Monument
On the afternoon of June 5, 1899, a great Filipino leader, Heneral Juan Luna, together with his trusted aide, Colonel Francisco Roman, died in the arms of Filipino guards, who should have been fighting with him side-by-side against foreign oppressors. Sadly, the assassination is said to be a reflection of the country’s present situation.
Fronting the church is a huge open where a monument stands in honor of Heneral Luna. It is said that the spot where the monument stands is where he died. His death has raised a lot of questions but one thing is for sure that his death has put the city in our history books.
Too bad though the open space has not received ample attention. It has deteriorated and functions as a parking area. I hope that the local government can beautify the space in honor of the fallen hero. One good thing though was that small stalls are located in the area that serves rice cakes.
Cabanatuan Public Market
Before finally heading home, we headed off to the public market which is just a few blocks away from the church. Just like other old communities in the country, the center for politics, religion, and commerce are all located within walking distance with each other. We had no difficulty getting to the market.
The market was organized and neat but our reason for heading to the market was to bring home one of the food products that Cabanatuan is known for – Batutay.
Batutay is Cabanatuan’s version of longganiza or a local sausage. It is a beef-based sausage known for its unique blend of sweet and garlic taste. The caramel coating also adds up to its unique flavour. So never leave the city without it.
Post Travel Notes
Cabanatuan is a city that is historically rich. Unlike other destinations, it does not offer the usual beach or party atmosphere but it has its own distinct small town charm. It is a great destination for those who want the “home” feel where you can take an afternoon stroll by the plaza while munching on popcorn or banana cue. It is for those travellers who want a different take on travel where you can experience a bucolic day in the Philippines. It is a destination where you can enjoy what a typical day in the province.
Getting there: Going to Cabanatuan City is easy as the city sits along the main highway heading to the Aurora or Cagayan Valley. You can take a bus that passes through Cabanatuan City and the bus lines that ply these routes are Baliwag Bus or Five Star in Cubao and Pasay City.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.