Monday, February 3, 2014

San Pablo : A Glorious Past of a Town

Isabela is indeed a must-see province to those who want to have a history and heritage filled tour northeast of the Philippines. Aside from Tumauini, the town of San Pablo offers the visitor a glimpse of the past, not only of the province of Isabela, but of the whole Cagayan Valley as well.

Upper part of San Pablo Church facade. San Pablo, Isabela.
I came to visit San Pablo that one fateful day when I was travelling north to Tuguegarao from Tumauini. While on the bus, I noticed a tall, old-looking bell tower which instantly piqued my curiosity. Even though I have already paid for my fare up to Tuguegarao, I decided to get off the bus to visit that thing which made me curious, and voila! I discovered another hidden gem.

Ruins of Casa Real de San Pablo. San Pablo, Isabela.
Parallel to the national hi-way is an old calle - I assume to be the old main street of the town - where ruins of two structures can be found. The first ruins is that of the old Casa Real de San Pablo. The ruins were left standing there as a testament of the town's importance during the early days of its existence.

San Pablo's Casa Real Marker.
A marker stands mute in front of the ruins with the following inscriptions :

"The Ruins of Casa Real

San Pablo, Isabela

A mute testimony that this town was once an important government center during the Spanish Regime completed in 1846. This building was used by the colonial administrators. Found in one of its walls was the inscriptions, "esta casa tribunal se cun cliuo en ano de 1846 siendo governad d' Juan de Guzman""

San Pablo Municipal Hall. San Pablo, Isabela.
Some steps away from the old casa real ruins can be found the present municipal hall of San Pablo, a glaring contradiction of the former. 

San Pablo (first called "Maquila", then "Cabagan", then "Cabagan Viejo") is actually Isabela's oldest town founded on November 30, 1646, preceding Isabela's founding as a province by 210 years. It was formerly part of the province of Cagayan during the time when Cagayan Valley was consisted of only two provinces: Cagayan and Nueva Vizcaya. The town gave birth to two more towns during the American occupation: Cabagan Nuevo (now Cabagan) and Sta. Maria.

San Pablo Church Interior (Ruins). San Pablo, Isabela.
Though the town was founded in 1646, the town's church was founded earlier, in 1624, making it Isabela's oldest church. Its six-level bell tower is also the tallest in all of Cagayan Valley region. 

San Pablo Church buttresses. San Pablo, Isabela.
The church facade is of Rococo style while some parts such as the interior walls and buttresses are built of red bricks. Unfortunately, this church is also now just a ruin, with only its walls, bell tower, and facade intact.

Interior Wall. San Pablo Church, Isabela.
A smaller chapel occupying almost half of the interior of the ruins was built for the use of the current population utilizing the same walls but with modern roofings and interior facade. 

Church Altar and Interior. San Pablo Church, Isabela.
Facade of the smaller church inside the ruins of San Pablo Church, Isabela.
Efforts to restore the church to its former grandeur was made in the past years. A book was actually written and consequently published for the same purpose on March of 2008 entitled "The Silent Sentinel : San Pablo Apostol de Cabagan Church Reveals 300 Years of Secret of the Philippines". The book aims to relive the role played by San Pablo Church in the history of Cagayan Valley and was written by an American author, James Edward Cleland.

San Pablo Church. San Pablo, Isabela.
Just like Cleland (who underlined the fact that while the church lies in ruinous state, other more celebrated Philippine churches undergo highly-publicized renovation), I think San Pablo Church needs more attention from the government to ensure its long term preservation. San Pablo Church deserves it, just like any other heritage churches anywhere in the Philippines, given its historicity and role in preserving the Filipino unique identity.

My unexpected visit to that quiet but historical town was definitely fulfilling. It proved to me that there really are many less-known and off-the-beaten places out there just waiting to be discovered, experienced and sometimes, just be seen... :) 


Cebu Pacific offers day flights to Cauayan and Tuguegarao from Manila for only 35-45 minutes, and vice versa. San Pablo can be found north of Cauayan and south of Tuguegarao so one can just take bus from either city going to the town.

One can also just hop on any bus going to Tuguegarao or Aparri passing through Ilagan City. Travel time is 9-10 hours.


This is part of my Isabela-Cagayan tour last August 20-21, 2012. For more on Isabela, you may also visit:

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About the Author

I am ROMEL RAFOR JAIME, the man behind San Josenyong Gala. My travel blogger name came about because I am a proud resident of the City of San Jose del Monte, Bulacan. In real life, I am a licensed librarian who works in a college in Gapan, Nueva Ecija as a librarian and teaches general education subjects from time to time. My goal is to visit all the 81 provinces of the Philippines before visiting other countries. As of 2017, I have already visited 73... :)


  1. Brod nice find!!! I want to visit this someday... iba tlga epekto sakin ng mga old churches and structures ;)

    1. Yup, nice find nga talaga... daanan natin to pag natuloy yung North Luzon escapade natin... :)

  2. Its a nice ruin.