At the Foothills of the Holy Mountain

Because of our country’s complex history reflected by our different cultural heritages, Filipinos became a group of people with different beliefs and traditions. From Catholicism to Islam among various religions, from political to social institutions we are divided by different ideologies and philosophies. 

One of the places where one is sure to witness and experience Filipinos’ various beliefs is the so-called “Holy Mountain” – Mt. Banahaw. It is a three-peaked volcano complex located between the provinces of Laguna and Quezon. The mountain is a popular pilgrimage site and millenarian sanctuary.

Bangkong Kahoy

Situated in between parts of Mt. Cristobal and Mt. Banahaw is the mountain valley called Bangkong Kahoy (wooden bench). It was Agripino Lontoc, the person who discovered the place who called it Bangkong Kahoy. The name originated from the trees dominating the area during that time which grow up to three meters high then grow sideways and up again mimicking a bench-like structure.
Bangkong Kahoy Valley

With an elevation of about 2,400 ft. above sea level, Bangkong Kahoy has a cold weather allowing farmers to harvest produce like that of La Trinidad, Benguet. Farming is the primary source of income in the community.

The caretaker of Bangkong Kahoy, Junee-Lee Pullan promotes self-reliance among the local residents. He wants the community to stand on their own without relying on whoever politician or social group. He talked about how they managed to brought electricity and internet connection to the area on their own. They were also the ones who constructed the roads which hindered the students to go to college before.

Green and Ripe Raspberries at Bangkong Kahoy Valley

Honesty can also be observed in the place. They have what they called “honesty bar” and “honesty store” where customers go inside, get what they want, check the price, leave the payment, get their own change and leave – a system that will not likely be implemented in other places especially Manila. 

Pullan is an environmentalist. He introduced organic farming to Bangkong Kahoy vegetable farmers. From lettuce to raspberries to mushrooms and others, all of these produce are organic. His advocacy is to help out in the protection of the area – the forest and the ecosystem that they have.

Different Crops at Bangkong Kahoy Valley

Bangkong Kahoy can be considered as a secular community where people regardless of religion or belief are tied with one goal – to take to heart the care of their mystical mountain and uplift their way of living through education and a better social and economic system. Environmentalism as promoted by Pullan governed the community. Although there are some arguments which proposed environmentalism as a religion, stating that environmentalists look back to a fabled paradise state of Eden in which man lived in unity with nature, before deconstructing this idyllic view of nature or that they worship Gaia (Mother Earth)[1], the Bangkong Kahoy, I can say is a secular community concerned on biodiversity and balance in the ecosystem based on scientific observations and theories with no spiritual, supernatural, or religious components.

Suprema Iglesia Ciudad Mística de Dios 

Suprema de la Iglesia del Ciudad Mística de Dios (The Supreme Church of the Mystical City of God) is the largest of about 30 cults in Dolores, Mt. Banahaw which venerate the mountain as sacred where God, the Catholic saints and the heroes of the 19th century Philippine nationalist movement dwell in[2].

Members of the Ciudad Mística de Dios believe that the unfinished work of Jesus Christ had to be continued by Dr. Jose Rizal and by “the twelve lights” of the Philippines (heroes of the 19th century nationalist movement). Their work, in turn, would be brought to fulfillment by a woman, their founder – Maria Bernarda Balitaan (MBB). They believe that Rizal and MBB had sprung from the same Divine Source and their combined labors will bring history to a close – whereupon humanity will be reunited with the Creator[2].

Ciudad Mística de Dios can be compared to other religious and secular groups characterized by communitas, in which asymmetrical relations of power, self-interest, individualism, competitiveness, antagonism, domination by one group or class or sex over another are nullified and replaced by an existential condition of solidarity – a community of brothers and sisters sharing an “economy of abundance”[2].

CMD is a community where members are bound together by their religious views and supernatural beliefs. As stated by Quibuyen in his paper, and as reflected on how they view Rizal, Bonifacio and other heroes of the 19th century nationalist movement as saints and on how they considered the Philippine flag as an important symbol of their sect, CMD might be a result of a counter-discourse of the hegemonical Spanish Catholicism and colonization way back the Spanish period exemplifying its political or rather nationalistic origin. Filipino nationalism, Christianity and indigenous beliefs makes up the cosmology of Ciudad Mística de Dios.

Whether supernatural like the Ciudad Mística de Dios and other religious sects or secular like the Bangkong Kahoy knit community and other ideological groups, we, all Filipinos, belong to only ONE national community. We are all living with a sense of national sentiment under ONE brightened sky brought to us by Rizal, Bonifacio among other heroes.


[1] Secular Religions. In Rational Wiki. Retrieved from on March 5, 2014.
[2] F. Quibuyen. (1991). “And woman will prevail over man:” Symbolic sexual inversion and counter-hegemonic discourse in Mt. Banahaw – The case of the Ciudad Mistica de Dios. Retrieved from on March 5, 2014.

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