I went to Larena early and took pictures of the old campanaria as soon as I arrived, there were several other structures that the Recollects built in Larena, a church and a convent but they were already taken down, “Burned and replaced by modern ones”. Larena is the principal port in all of Siquijor. I then went back to Siquijor to ride a jeep that would take me to Lazi. The terminal was not really a terminal that you’d normally expect; there was only one jeep, ito na ang terminal dito. I think this is the only public vehicle that goes to Lazi because when I was heading back to Siquijor, I rode the same jeep! The trip going to Lazi was long not because the roads were bad – I was actually surprised that all are well paved; we were just going too slow, Manong was leisurely driving at speeds reaching 10 to 15 km/h! (He must’ve been riding carabaos before he switched to jeeps) But this is how they do it here, I like it, no ones in a hurry except maybe me.
Lazi town’s most famous landmark is the convent, our biggest Catholic convent at the time it was built; it is not Asia’s biggest, like what many books and websites states because the biggest is Sta. Monica in Goa which was finished in 1627, this predates our Lazi convent but ours is definitely the grandest and most demanding ever built because it was raised from then an isolated island. Some guy that made the tourism poster referred to it as “vacation house for the priest”, he made it sound like the Padres built a beach resort but it could be the case for some visiting priest, it is said that “sick priest come here to recuperate” and there were other “recreational activities”. The dimensions of the house could be attributed to the fact that the Recollects had plans to make it the hub of their missions “in the region of Visayas”.
One of the reasons why I’ve always wanted to visit Siquijor is Lazi. Reading Recoletos’ history compelled me to go here because Lazi is one of their greatest legacies. It was the Recollects’ espiritu emprendedor that made “construction of the church, convent, schools, municipal house, cemetery, bridges, irrigation canal” possible here. Nick Joaquin referred to them as “jungle specialist”, and I have seen substantiation that they are indeed tough and survivors.
It’s a shame that we don’t treasure these buildings no more, we admire it, because its beauty gives us no other choice but we don’t really respect its history because we were taught to hate it. The image our countrymen have of these Friars is that of Damaso in Rizal’s novel – we were never introduced to the good ones, those who really helped us – and they far exceed the bad ones. Branding these structures as leftovers of the cruel colonial past is easy, everybody say it is – but is it, really? Or we just don’t get it, having all these books and teachers and professors tell us that it was the hands of evil that brought all of these to our shores and that this “evil religion” made our poor lolo’s prisoners and slaves so they can build their churches and roads are familiar and accepted ideas – but were these constructions signs of our society’s decline? How our culture was destroyed? Or were they in reality a “step forward”? I guess the question should be, did these changes created ”meaningful transformation?”. I think the sad part of this nationalized denunciation is that you won’t find a Filipino ashamed of being Christian, in fact we are proud to be “the only Christian country in Asia”, we are still in love with our old traditions, traditions that are still deeply rooted with our Catholic faith, and we see it as a miracle, we see this mix of faith and tradition as the definition of what a Filipino is. Not too long ago, Webster dictionary describes the Filipino as the “Christianized” population of these many beautiful islands – a description that could only be credited to the fact that the Filipino was Catholic first before it became what it is today – of course, this is not the only definition since we had to define it politically. “We have been chosen” say many but most could not get their minds around the truth that it was the Spanish Orders that made our “Christian” identity a reality and with their labors, the shape of the nation.
You’ll just have to see it from a distance first before you get close to see the details. How can something like this be put together in old Siquijor is beyond belief, truly an amazing feat. Giants must’ve help build this place for it is still the largest structure in the island, as if when the architects left everything stood still. The founding of this massive convent shows us that our ancestors were capable of achieving great things. While the Recollect padres conceived of everything, we must take pride that it was the local laborers, masons and artist that implemented the plan. These great builders, these Filipinos, unfortunately are stripped of their skills and artistry every time we hear scholars talk that they were just mechanical slaves and forced laborers. It was that brilliant man, Fr. Galende, the Augustinian author of books about Philippine churches that told me “they’re not Spanish churches, they’re Filipino churches”, when I had a brief interview with him in Cervantes years ago. These belong to us all. The building of the church was not totally gratis labor, several repairs and reconstruction of damages caused by the earthquake was actually halted in 1895 “because there is no money to pay for the laborers undertaking the constructions”. The convent was described by Recollect historian Padre Licinio Ruiz de Sta. Eulalia as having “select wood…thick column stones”, while the façade “composed of stone arches with corridors surrounding the lower and upper stones”. The rooms upstairs were “spacious and comfortable, sleeping quarters, dining areas”, the entire building having “large windows that surround the convent with color panes that filters the sun light”.
There is a small museum at the back, paying the fee and buying merchandize supports the initiatives of the Diocesan parish. This parish needs all the help it can get. If you look closer, the convent is actually fast deteriorating, there could be number of factors – there should be a study on how it can be restored and later on, programs on how it can be conserved because even a grand building like this require preservation works. I don’t know what’s being done or if there are already existing plans. All I know is that it’s urgent that we restore it especially the foundations of the building, we are fortunate that Siquijor hardly ever experience typhoons.
Siquijor is not only gifted with natural beauty but of splendid heritage structures. It’s sad that we lost many of it because of development. Lazi was the third parish to be established, there are literature that suggest that the Recollect Friars sought help for the completion of the convent as far as Mindanao. Fray Toribio Sanchez is credited for these great monuments, he reminds me of Padre Cena’s work in Las Piñas, these would be his legacy before dying in Manila, unfortunately, he never saw his beloved convent finished but he would forever be remembered with what he achieved here in Lazi. All the missions eventually became separate towns except Enriquez, an accomplishment fueled by the perseverance of the Recoletos. An example of this perseverance is this lone Recollect, Fr. Archiniego from Macapilay who devoted “25 years of his life” in that town, living amongst the people in houses “built in grass”. He built separate schools for boys and girls, a 17 kilometer road to Lazi and Siquijor. He single handedly administered all the other public works of the town – including water “irrigation and farming techniques”. It was a labor of love and the town he created reciprocated his efforts, we all can learn something from these caring human being. Unfortunately, you would not find them in our history books; you would have to delve into old documents and dig up their names before their contributions and heroism is revealed to you.
The other heritage attraction that Lazi locals are very proud of: The Church, San Isidro Labrador, also a project of Fray Toribio. It’s listed as a national cultural treasure. It could be the only church in the country that still has its original wooden flooring intact. The Iglesia has no visible alteration which is quite an accomplishment, thanks to its people and its parish heads. Siquijor is a litter free country, so it’s not a surprise that the church is spotless and well kept. The youth here are disciplined; I’ve never seen any forms vandalism. There were several people sweeping and mapping the floor right after the mass for the dead ended. The old baptistery is still being use; generations after generations of Lazi natives must have been baptized in the intricately designed binyagan. I’m sure that dead man was baptized here, had his first communion here, got married here, had his sons and daughters baptized here – a cycle his sons and daughters would carry on.
Then there was the falls near the poblacion, it was breathtaking, it has brownish stream of water, the breeze was fresh and delightful, unlike the other popular falls I’ve visited, this one is pristine, we could be the only people in the area at that time. I was told by my very reliable guide, I forgot his name, let’s just call him “Chancho”, that the cascading falls, Cantabon, are made up of several layers, and that there are still some that’s unexplored, and he reminded me that the one I’m looking at is not yet the falls! I would want to discover it but aside from having no cam (batts were all out), for some reason I felt exhausted, my legs are out – the lack of sleep and all the traveling suddenly took its toll. But at least, I have the perfect excuse to go back! After this, I went to the mercado of Lazi, where I found a panaderia with very good ensaymadas! I probably ate more than five pieces – I was that hungry. With the little that I have left, I tried walking around the mercado to see what I can find, like what I’ve said earlier, places like this mirror the true lifestyle of the town. After grabbing some kakanin and coke (yes, eating again!) I then asked some guy where the terminal is, I went there following his instructions, unhurriedly walking, and found Manong!
Looks like it’s going to be a long drive back…