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    The ongoing Rizal@150 celebrations have brought about much interest in our National Hero, Dr. Jose Rizal – his life, his work, and his greatness with his birthplace in Calamba as the center of many activities.

    “I really wish people would read more about him to learn what kind of man he was,” says great grandniece Barbara Gonzalez. “He was a great man, and a very interesting man as well.”

    Barbara’s great grandmother Maria was Rizal’s sister, a woman ahead of her time who married a younger man, became a single parent, and eventually evolved into a successful businesswoman. She opened a boxing arena in San Pablo and also acquired a lot of rental property.

    As a child, Barbara recalls that she and her cousins would be awakened early in the morning, dressed in organdy dresses, and brought to the Luneta on a certain day of the year, later learning that these were for Rizal Day celebrations.

    The family did not talk much about their illustrious ancestor, and it was only much later when she read Rizal by Austin Coates that she came to realize what an extraordinary man he was. She recalls being moved to tears by the book, especially Coates’ account of how Rizal marched to his execution with such serenity, dignity, and grace, even greeting people on the way.

    Rizal, on the other hand, would have been proud of Barbara, who has had a successful career in advertising as President and CEO of J. Romero and Associates. She is also an accomplished writer – a weekly columnist for the Philippine Star; the author of books like How Do You Know Your Pearls Are Real in 1991 and Illustrada (We are History) in 1998; and the winner of the National Book Award in 1992. Today, she works with her cousin Mia Faustmann as Brand Management Director for 7 Castles, Inc., a manufacturer of silver jewelry.

    Like Rizal, Barbara made Calamba her home – she lived at Makiling Greenheights for many years, and here she takes us around her Calamba, her


    Barbara Gonzalez in front of the Rizal Shrine

    “I love Calamba because it is the home of my ancestors. They lived here and they, too, loved Calamba.

    I grew up in Manila, but would spend the summers in Laguna with my cousins. We would often go to my mother’s farm in Los Banos and would pass by a hill that I would really love to look at because it is very relaxing to see.

    We used to stop at this junction we used to call Jonson, where there was a lot of farmland. We used to go there just to read, walk around, bring friends from school, and play cards. It was also the official sunduan spot when we have to go to the farm and meet people.”

    Barbara is photographed in front of the Rizal Shrine in Calamba, Laguna.


    Rizal Shrine

    “If I would bring guests around Calamba, I would of course bring them to the Rizal Shrine.

    As a member of the Rizal family, I am often asked what message I would have for young people. I tell them that that it is not necessary to do something heroic. Just overcome your fears, do your best, and you will be a hero to your family, who will build a monument for you.”

    Located along Casa Real, just a few steps from the Old Calamba City Hall (now the city college) and the parish church is the shrine dedicated to our National Hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. The shrine is a replica of the Spanish colonial style house where Rizal was born on June 19, 1861.

    Reconstructed in 1949, the Rizal Shrine is now maintained by the National Historical Commission, and houses furniture and kitchenware of the colonial era, as well as Dr. Rizal’s clothes, paintings, sculptures and laminated excerpts of his written works.

    In the garden is a bahay kubo, a replica of the nipa hut where Rizal used to spend his days as a child, as well as a statue of Rizal as a boy by Dudley Diaz.


    Makiling Greenheights

    “I would also bring them to my former neighborhood in La Mesa – Makiling Greenheights. Not everyone knows that there are exclusive subdivisions in Calamba and these are really very nice. Staying here amidst the beautiful natural surroundings and friendly people influenced me to go into gardening.”

    Barbara amidst the flowers in Makiling Greenheights Subdivision where she used stay in Lily Pad, an origami house designed by architect Jorge Yulo and Lighting Design by Shoko Matsumoto.


    St. Marc’s Chapel and the Cross

    “I would make a stop at St. Marc’s Chapel on the way to the National Arts Center in Mount Makiling.”

    Set amidst towering trees and lush forest vegetation, Saint Marc’s Chapel is ideal for meditation and contemplation. Built without any walls, the chapel allows one to commune with nature, pray, and reflect on this unique one-of-a-kind place of worship.

    Designed by National Artist Leandro Locsin, the chapel features the outline of the crucified Christ hallowed out from a concrete cross. The well maintained surroundings makes Saint Marc’s Chapel the ideal setting for a garden wedding.


    National Arts Center in Mount Makiling

    “I would bring guests who love nature and the arts to the National Arts Center in nearby Los Banos.”

    The National Arts Center is a sanctuary for young and aspiring Filipino Artists that is located in Mount Makiling, Los Banos, Laguna. The Center was established in 1976 as a haven for budding artists, and its various buildings and facilities that are scattered over 13.5 hectares of the Makiling Forest Reservation. Photo shows the Tanghalang Maria Makiling Open-Air Theater. It also houses the Philippine High School for the Arts, a government run secondary educational institution for gifted young Filipino artists. The National Arts Center is currently administered by the Cultural Center of the Philippines.


    Samaral Seafood Restaurant

    “ I love the food in Laguna – our version of tamales, suman, and other kakanin. I also remember my Lola making batutay, and would bring guests to Samaral Restaurant because it is so lutong bahay.”

    Barbara enjoys the home cooking at the Samaral Restaurant, which named after samaral, spinefoot or rabbit fish that’s known for its firm, clean tasting flesh that’s great with vinegar and rice.


    SM City Calamha

    “SM has modernized Calamba, and with its prestige branding, comfort, and affordability, has become an upscale destination in the area.

    SM City Calamba has redefined shopping, leisure, and entertainment standards in Laguna.


    ACE Hardware

    “I love to shop for what I need, and I usually find it in the mall. Just now, I’m lucky to have found this bulb I’ve long been looking for at ACE Hardware in Calamba.’

    Barbara discovers a lot of finds at ACE Hardware.



    “My great grandmother supported herself by trying to sell all sorts of things, starting with jewelry, which probably explains why my cousins and I are still in that business.

    I have a cousin that already has a line of jewelry in Kultura, and for the Rizal@150 celebrations, we want to roll out a line of costume jewelry representing the women of Rizal and the jewelry they wear – like Teardrops designs for Leonor Rivera because she always cried for him.”

    Some designs from the costume jewelry line of Barbara and her cousin in Kultura Filipino.