The first time I heard about Paracale was in grade school. My father told us his boys that the town was rich in gold, that people would dig holes in their backyards and extract gold from it. The idea of seeing Paracale has simmered at the back of my mind since then. A week ago, I decided to go. I told my father this and he disapproved of my plan. Citing that the town is not safe. Even mentioning that the father of Robin Padilla, Roy Padilla Sr., was killed in Paracale. That’s old news I said. People that die these days in Paracale are miners diving in those narrow mud holes.
I took an ordinary bus from Daet to Paracale. Passing the agrarian towns of Talisay and Labo. I saw farmers selling pint size pineapples, watermelons and other produce along the road. There were a couple of men that took the bus with their digging tools. I could just imagine the routine of hundreds of miners that used to get up every day to take this same route to mine Paracale during its heyday. By the time the bus reached the junction called Talobatib, the bus seats were all taken. Somewhere in Labo, asphalt was being laid on the road. Vehicles had to stop but the delay was not that long.
Paracale has attracted prospectors, miners and settlers ever since gold was discovered beneath it. From the Spaniards to foreign investors that today has established big private mines that pollutes the river and the bay. There’s not a lot town in this country endowed with such an abundance of natural resources like Paracale.
But even with all the mining, Paracale still exudes remarkable, scenic natural beauty. Before you reach the center of the town, you’ll pass by its wide flowing rivers that gracefully drains to the bay. I’m no geologist but I suspect that the mineral buildup must have been deposited here by the natural process of alluviation. The rivers where panned out in the past because gold had settled beneath it.
The brilliant Filipino Chemist, Pio Andrade, who’s now writing the history of his native Paracale, told me that “the Paracale and Malaguit rivers are the sites of gold dredging operation from 1908 to 1920. During the the 30’s gold boom, Paracale was a major tourist attraction with the third best airport and the Philippines best country club. Pulandaga beach boasts of its clean sandy beach, azure waters and beautiful coral reefs.”
I then asked him why the town, with all its gold, appears ‘backward’ today?
“Mining is a boom and bust business–answers your view why Paracale today is not progressive. During the 30’s gold boom, Paracale was the richest in the Philippines!…second largest hardware and cold storage in the country. The war which nationalist historians do not write about was a big factor for Paracales decline.”
This compleat historian then advised me to go to the church’s bell tower where “kamagsa vines holds the heavy bells and two yakal crossbeams for over 150 years now!” I did and was fascinated how the vines managed to hold all that weight for more than a hundred years! He then added to go and see for myself the Lady of Candelaria in her golden raiments. The decorative embellishments on the Virgin’s dress is much more detailed and extravagant during important religious occasions. At the back of the altar, there’s a hole where the faithful could put their hands and touch the dress of this revered icon.
Unfortunately, all other important 19th century historical structures of Paracale had been demolished according to Pio Andrade. The historian is set to launch his book, “Romancing the Gold: The History of Paracale,” in the coming months. Such works are important contributions for it brings people closer to the historical identity of their town. In a world where globalization and standardization is fast becoming a trend, these local history books are reminders of our unique human qualities and identities.
I spoke with some old folks around and they were delighted to share their stories about the town. Most of these tales revolved around their beloved Inay Kandi. The most memorable is the story of how the Virgin defended the town in 1809:
It was in the morning of this day when 37 fully loaded moro vintas attempted invasion of the otherwise peaceful community. From her nicheon the altar, the Lady was suddenly disturbed by the frantic scampering out of the worshipers in the church. It turned out later that the church goers had been frightened by the outcries of men, women and children scurrying in different directions after having caught sight of the approaching vintas.
The lady descended from her tabernacle, and in no time was waving and brandishing her sword to warn the intruders to flee. Amused by the sight of the little woman on the beach, the pirates came nearer and nearer only to find that the woman really meant business. Wading through the foamy waters, she struck here and thrust with such lightning speed and wonderful accuracy that her foes found no time to defend themselves from what, at first had seemed a joke. When the fray calmed down, the water around was crimson with blood and, except for a handful enemies were swallowed in one huge gulp by the waters of the sea.
The virgin lost a finger, in the thick of that several attempts were later made by devotees of the patron saint to have her hand grafted with a new finger, but each attempt proved a failure. On each occasion the new finger fell off as easily as it had been grafted. This miracle is interpreted as the sigh of the virgin’s desire to forever remind the natives of that memorable event on august 29, 1809.
Before I left I sat down inside the church with the altar boys that helped me scale the church’s belfry. Three boys whose age range fro 8 to 15, there’s this dark chubby boy, Mark, who promised to study to become a priest one day. Another Mark, older but timid and wore no slippers. Then Angel, who plans to study in Manila to become a ‘seaman’. I asked them if they enjoy living in this arcadian town and they all said yes. Even if that means that they have to travel all the way to Daet to buy stuff sometimes. Angel then reminded me that they’re not far from Calaguas, an island many compares to Boracay, he continues, “Eh Sir, kayo sa Manila magta-travel pa kayo kung gusto n’yo mag-swimming at mag-beach.”
The kid’s got a point. I was expecting them to bemoan the town’s lack of progress but got an answer that reminded me that life in the province has its perks, like, living close to traditions, existing close to nature…things a chesty city dweller like me perhaps would never understand.
Story of the Virgin taken from http://www.paracaletourism.com/