Kakarong De Sili Shrine

Bulacan is synonymous with fancy inland resorts, fabulous fiestas, and food feasts, but we often overlook that it has the rare honor of being the birthplace of the country’s first three republics.

On the 23rd of January 123 years ago, the Philippines inaugurated its first republic in Malolos, Bulacan after declaring independence seven months earlier. The first democratic government in Asia, it was a shining moment for the Filipinos and a culmination of a revolution and nationhood which took centuries in the making.

But even before the Malolos Republic, did you know that the archipelago had two other short-lived and lesser-known republics where our heroes tried to show they are rife for self-governance.

To commemorate this momentous occasion, yours truly went on a so-called “republican road trip” with the Bulacan Tourism Convention and Visitors Board to relive history, and at the same time indulge in the culinary, adventure and recreational activities along the way.

The sites of these republics can easily be reached via the North Luzon Expressway and adjunct roads, particularly the Plaridel Bypass Road, which have helped drive the tourism boom in this metropolitan northern neighbor.

Klir Waterpark Resort and Hotel

Republic No. 1: Kakarong De Sili. Reachable via the NLEX Tambubong Exit in Bocaue, this unheralded republic was established by freedom fighters in late 1896 after the outbreak of the revolution.

A hilly village called Kakarong de Real in Pandi, it had a small fortress which functioned like an independent territory, employed a police force and military band, and boasted of an arsenal and repair shop for weapons. It also had a set of officials led by Canuto Villanueva which functioned like a shadow government.

The young republic met its bloody end on January 1, 1897 when they were attacked by Spanish troops where over 1,200 Filipinos died, and its general, Eusebio Roque, was captured.

Now called Inang Filipina Shrine, this municipal park is an emerging off-the-beaten path destination among bikers and riders who want to rediscover history on two wheels.

Aguinaldo Cave at Biak Na Bato National Park

Republic No. 2: Biak Na Bato. Tucked in the wilderness of San Miguel town, it was established in 1897 by Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo when Filipinos sued for a peace treaty with Spain. Now a 659-hectare national park, its centerpiece is the Aguinaldo Cave, the revolutionary hideout where the republic’s constitution was signed.

This republic ceased to exist a few months later when Aguinaldo and his top brass left for exile in Hong Kong under the terms of the Pact of Biak Na Bato, which put a pause in the Philippine Revolution.

On top of its historical value, the site is now a favorite for newbie trekking and caving, and wildlife watching because of its rich biodiversity. For more adrenaline-pumping adventures, hie off to Madlum Cave and River eight kilometers away.

Within the town proper, you can marvel at the well-preserved colonial-era mansions and sink your teeth on crunchy chicharon, sweet pastillas, and local dishes.

Kalye Mabini dishes

Republic No. 3: Malolos. Recognized by the government as our first full-fledged republic, it was established at the Barasoain Church where the first Congress was convened three months earlier to draft the constitution of the new nation. Made iconic by the old 10-peso bill, it has an adjoining museum where the historic republican events are chronicled.

An equally historic church is the nearby Immaculate Conception Cathedral, which became the initial presidential headquarters of Aguinaldo.

The city also takes pride in its ilustrado houses which hosted the departments of the newly established government. Many have retained their grandeur, while others have been repurposed into commercial establishments.

History buffs can travel back in time with the opening this year of the Palacio Real de Sto. Nino with the conversion of two century-old ancestral houses into a leisure complex consisting of a hotel, restaurant, and an events place by local construction firm Malbest.

Malolos is also the hub of Bulacan’s culinary scenario with the number of home-grown restaurants. A notable dining outlet is Kalye Mabini in Mojon, which touts itself as the home of delicious ribs and fusion food. This intimate roadside resto used to be the room of its owner, which will give you a truly homey and comfy ambiance, particularly at the driveway-turned al fresco dining.

Not too far away is Enlins Bakeshop for the obligatory pasalubong of assorted bread, desserts and baked goodies, which are tasty and inexpensive.

After a heady historic trail, clear your mind and settle at Klir Waterpark Resort & Hotels, arguably one of the best in the province, with its giant wavepool and cozy rooms. Located just a few minutes from the NLEX Sta. Rita exit, the three-star resort is positioning itself as a homebase in exploring other tourist spots.

All told, this experimental republican journey revealed to us that beyond fiestas and old churches, Bulacan is a hotbed of revolution and recreation which is really worth the trip.