Just an hour or so away from the bustling streets of Metro Manila lies Biñan City in the province of Laguna. The city has a total area measurement of 4,350 hectares and a population of 407,437 as of 2020. While some say that Biñan is just a small city, it didn’t hinder the streets of Biñan from being almost always bustling with activity.
It’s also home to some of the Philippines’ largest industrial estates and export processing zones, earning it the moniker “trading and commerce center of the south,” as well as the world-renowned rice cake called “Puto Biñan.”
Biñan is among the cities in the country that don’t shy away from progress and modernization. Once there, you’ll see that the city is teeming with life as the Biñanense have access to everything they need—quality education, healthcare, security, and even exposure to their cultural heritage.
This February 2 to 4, the city of Biñan will celebrate Araw ng Biñan, which encompasses three relevant holidays for the Biñanense, namely, its 12th cityhood anniversary, 77th liberation day, and 275th founding anniversary, respectively. This year, the celebration focuses on the history of Biñan and how it grew from a pueblo established by the Spaniards to the developing city that it is today.
“Araw ng Biñan mainly focuses on histo-cultural festivities. During this time, we conceptualize events and public programs that the public can appreciate while promoting our history,” said Biñan City Culture, History, Arts, and Tourism Office (BCHATO) head Dr. Bryan Jayson “BJ” Borja, ATOP-DOT’s Most Outstanding Tourism Officer of the Philippines 2019.
He added that the three-day celebration focuses mainly on Biñan’s triumphs as a city, the struggles and challenges in their liberation, and the fruits they reap from all their efforts since their founding.
Borja has been the head of BCHATO since 2016. The people of Biñan know that he played a significant role in keeping their cultural identity alive.
Atty. Walfredo “Arman” Dimaguila, Jr. Biñan’s City Mayor, established the office on his first day as mayor. Those who have worked closely with himcan attest that Dimaguila has an innovative mind partnered with an old soul. These two attributes empower the mayor to lead his city towards progress while keeping its historical heritage intact.
Establishing BCHATO as one of his early projects is a testament to Dimaguila’s love for his city.
Preserving the heritage of Biñan
When visiting the proud City of Biñan, one thing that hardly goes unnoticed is how intact their historical sites are. Commemorative plaques are also scattered around the city, recalling the deeds of Filipino heroes and the pioneers of different industries.
As the head of BCHATO, Borja believes that knowing the city’s history, art, and culture keeps its roots alive.
“It’s important for you to remember your history because it becomes relevant when you do. If it’s relevant, you’ll learn from history things you can do in the present and how you can plan for the future,” he said.
For this year’s Araw ng Biñan, the city government took all the necessary steps to encourage the Biñanenses to remember.
Borja explained that, in Biñan, they preserve their past because they want the people to remember.
“We want people to be proud of who they are. We want people to know and understand where we came from because, at the end of the day, we will always look at culture as our soul,” he said.
Residents and tourists who want to get a glimpse of the city’s soul can start at the Plaza Center, the cultural center of Biñan. The area is surrounded by historical sites that each has a story to tell. Among them is the Sentrong Pangkultura ng Biñan (Cultural Center of Biñan), which houses the Biñan City Studies Center, the Biñan City Museum, and the venue for performances by the Biñan City Center for Performing Arts.
In front of the Sentrong Pangkultura ng Biñan is the newly restored historical Alberto Mansion, the ancestral home of Teodora Alonzo, the mother of the Philippines’ national hero Dr. Jose Rizal.
There is also a heritage district located on Jacobo Gonzales Street that boasts of well-preserved Spanish houses.
Despite the presence of historical sites in Biñan, the city continues to take steps towards a progressive future. Borja clarified that preserving heritage doesn’t mean being anti-development, and the best way for the past and present to coexist at the same time is to find common ground between them.
“There is a science in doing it, and the Philippines may not be fully aware of the science of heritage conservation. Some may think that it’s too expensive or not an investment, but we have to invest in our past to make sense of the present and the future,” the head of BCHATO said.
Honoring the Biñanenses
Another part of the Araw ng Biñan celebration is the recognition of important citizens who contributed to the liberation and longevity of the city.
The three-day celebration will also put the spotlight on the city’s frontliners as the government prepared a program that emphasizes their efforts of keeping the citizens safe amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our frontliners always hear us thanking them, but we want to make them feel that we formally recognize and honor their sacrifices. One of the highlights of our celebration is the Saludo (salute), wherein we will formally recognize our frontliners and their institutions by giving them a token of our appreciation,” Dimaguila said.
Veterans from World War II will also be recognized in this year’s Araw ng Biñan. Although their last surviving veteran has passed, Borja said that the city government continues to honor them by recognizing the legacy they left behind—their families.
Before the pandemic struck, Araw ng Biñan always welcomed an eager crowd of Biñanenses in the Plaza Center. Among them were students from different schools who either enjoyed the festivities or prepared a performance to honor the people and heritage of their city. But since the global health risk prevents minors from leaving the safety of their homes, BCHATO came up with online programs that will make viewers feel included in the celebrations despite not being able to venture outside.
For years, Biñan City stood strong against the difficulties they faced. Araw ng Biñan combines the legacy of their past with their present achievements and plans for the future to demonstrate to the people that they’re a city that has a strong connection to their roots and a clear view of their path to progress.