The town of Bustos in Bulacan is known for its 19th century bahay na bato (literally “stone house”) structures, particularly in the villages of Bonga (pronounced as “bunga”) Menor and Bonga Mayor.
These houses are noted for the bas reliefs on the stone exterior walls that feature stylized flowers and other designs that make them uniquely Bustos-Baliuag-type of stone-and-wood houses.
Aside from these Spanish-era domiciles of the rich, the town’s built environment is also composed of American- to post-war-period houses in varying states of conservation.
Some are well-preserved and some need attention, as they mirror the history and heritage of the municipality, which was originally part of the town of Baliuag.
Bustos became an independent town in 1867, was reincorporated to Baliuag in 1899, and separated again to form an independent town in 1917.
These houses are concentrated in the Poblacion area especially along Santo Niño Street. Examples include the Paulino house which dates back to January 1936, and the American-era to post-war houses of the Gaba, Santos, Cruz, Ramos, Prado, Marquez, Lopez, and Gaspar families.
The adjacent barangay of Tanawan is also home to a number of heritage houses which include one of the Lopez families as well as those of the Gaba, Lazaro and del Rosario clans. The Lopez house, which was built in 1936 and is now the Green Trees Resort and Hotel, has Art Noveau calado details in the interior, as well as Art Deco details on its ceiling.
An exception to these houses in Poblacion is the Villa Florencia mansion or the Jacinto aka Mateo heritage house which dates back to the Spanish period. Located in the compound right beside the rather-new Bustos church complex, this house, a bahay na bato, has undergone renovation recently. Its buttressed perimeter wall is made of larger than the usual adobe blocks and inside the compound is a most likely 19th century huge stone camarin for storing rice.
The compound’s iron gate located adjacent to the church is quite a surprise since it is dated 1889. This detail stirs curiosity since these types of gates are typically found in cemeteries. Whether it came from a cemetery or originally installed in the Villa compound is a question that needs to be answered by further research.
Speaking of cemetery, tucked in an inconspicuous area of the Poblacion and accessible only by a narrow path is the town’s cemetery, one of a number in the province which has remnants of its Spanish colonial past. Its gate, portions of the perimeter wall, and old niches are still extant.
According to Gilbert Ramos, a sepulturero, the land where the cemetery is located was donated by the Mateo family which originally owned the huge house beside the church. Doña Florencia (the house was named after her) and Don Tomas Ramos were interred in this cemetery in the American-era style niches.
General Alejo Santos, former Bulacan governor and one of the founders of the World War II guerilla force in the province, the Bulacan Military Area, was interred in the family plot inside an adjacent private cemetery.
Another cemetery in town is the Bustos Memorial Park which has an open-air chapel of the International style particularly its aspect, brutalism.
Not far from this cemetery is the town’s post-war municipal hall building constructed from 1956 to 1959 through the help of Gen. Santos. This heritage building is scheduled to be renovated soon.
The only structure that identifies Bustos as Bustos is the American-era Bustos Dam or the Angat Afterbay Regulator Dam constructed in 1924.
This dam irrigates farmlands in both the provinces of Bulacan and Pampanga through a series of irrigation canals of varying sizes, starting from the immediate area of the dam itself, one on the side of San Rafael town and the other in Bustos.
The big irrigation canal in Bustos has an irrigation tunnel inscribed with the phrase “Angat River Irrigation System” and year “1924.” Atop this tunnel is a portion of the Gen. Alejo Santos Highway and a number of residential houses. This tunnel leads to the irrigation canal, called patubig, that leads to the villages of Malamig, Talampas, Cambaog and beyond.
The water level on the canal, which is also crossed by American-era concrete bridges, is controlled through a number of locks.
A village of chapels
San Pedro is as interesting as the town itself. Located along the Angat River, this is literally a village of chapels due to the number of chapels within its territory.
In Bulacan, it is normal to have one barangay chapel called a bisita but in this barangay, aside from the bisita of San Pedro, there is another one dedicated to the Nuestra Señora de Lourdes de Bustos, a chapel originally erected in 1933 due to the devotion of its residence to the Virgin. The present structure, a uniquely round one, is the third on site, having been constructed in 1972.
Aside from these, San Pedro is also host to a small kapilya of the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) built in the 1970s.
This teeny-weenie kapilya is reminiscent of early mission chapels of the INC — semi-concrete and small rectangular structure, having a simple facade with triangular pediment topped by a spire in the tradition of the Filipino Gothic which is a church trademark.
For its culinary heritage, the town is known for its minasa, a cookie made from the flour of the arrow root plant as well as cassava flour, egg yolk, butter, coconut milk and sugar.
A personal discovery is the mariposa or butterfly bread of the Antonio’s breadbasket in the village of Cambaog, made with an array of ingredients including flour, desiccated coconut, cheese and condensed milk.