Category Archives: Siquijor

Siquijor Diary: Adios! La Isla del Fuego

The sea was calm that morning. It was so beautiful.

The sea was calm that morning. No pollution, no noise, no people, just this. Probably took a hundred or more pictures! the mountains, the seas, the corn fields, the coconut forest! Something tells me I won't be back here anytime soon...

People leaving the island at 6 in the morning.

People leaving the island at 6 in the morning.

It was a fine morning but I had to leave...

It was a fine morning but its adios time for me...


Siquijor Diary: Lazi & Larena

Lazi Convent

Lazi Convent

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…

Circa 1900

Circa 1900

Miembros, Corazon de Jesus

Miembros, Corazon de Jesus, San Juan Siquijor 1926

Early 1900s

San Isidro, Early 1900's

Photo of Siqiojors Iglesia de San Francisco convent at the turn of the century

Photo of Siqiojor's Iglesia de San Francisco convent at the turn of the century

Siquijor diary

While there are trips from Cebu City going to Siquijor (ships that still make stops in Bohol & Dumaguete), I decided to go to Dumaguete first, taking the usual bus trip from Cebu’s south station terminal, going to the port in Santander then crossing Tañon Straits to Sibulan, then finally Dumaguete. I left Cebu at 3am. The bus ride to Santander would take around two hours but the trip down south is most practical if you want to get a foretaste of Cebu’s bucolic landscape, passing by the charming towns of Carcar, Sibonga, Argao, Dalaguete, Alcoy, Boljoon and Oslob. The winding stretch close to Santander provides a breathtaking elevated view of the Bohol Sea.

Siquijor, Siquijor

Siquijor, Siquijor

I’ve always wanted to go to Siquijor even if it’s against my Bisayan Mother’s wishes (she’s a firm believer in asuang professing she had seen one) I could not pass up the opportunity. I’ve always dreamt of its wonderful heritage sites, the unparalleled beauty of its coast and the warmth of its people. Old belief are so hard to change, they die hard and even though I’m not from the island I feel bad, frustrated even, that this peaceful paradise like island is associated with all these negative images. Siquijor’s black legends has long fueled the imagination of outsiders, many still have this picture of an evil time and place where witches and asuangs wanders freely around the island. Some people even advised me, “don’t let people there touch you, they can put you under their spell!” I can’t fathom where this mindset comes from, considering that they’re all from the same region, speaking the same language, sharing the same religion, culture and tradition. Kawawa naman ang mga kababayan natin, napakaganda ng Siquijor at napakabait ng mga tao. It’ll take more than these horror tales to stop me! Shamanism and witchcraft exists in many Filipino culture, these practice even predates Christianity in the islands. Why everybody seem to believe that Siquijor is the center of all these baffles me.

Siquijor time

Siquijor time

Travel time from Dumaguete to the port of Siquijor is an hour and a half but it depends on the prevailing weather and sea condition, for those who can afford the fast cat (catamaran type boats) it’s less than an hour I think. At the time of my crossing the waves were quite scary. I couldn’t sleep even if I wanted to; the restless motion of the sea and its massive waves was driving me crazy. I’ve never seen anything like it. Ok, I have yet to conquer my fear of the open seas, I’m Red from Shawshank telling Andy how scared he is of the pacific, “Shit, about scare me to death, something that big” but when you travel around the islands you’ll just have to live with it or else nothing gets done. I could be the only one restless on board, dahil ang iba’y nakukuha pang matulog! Most of the passengers were just watching some movie inside. I guess it’s just a matter of getting used to it.

The port of Siquijor was very simple and modest, it doesn’t look like a port actually. It could accommodate ro-ro shipments and it has regular daily trips to Dumaguete, as soon as the barge’s flap opened it began unloading the two trucks it was carrying. I was among the first to get off, Yes! What a relief! From here, the beautiful Iglesia de San Fracisco de Assisi can already be seen, and here you get to sample the islands pristine splendor – if their ports have crystal clear waters and white powdery sands, how much more are the resorts tucked away in the tall coconut forest far from the populated communities?

Not far from the port are some local eateries and bars where there are many locals but they don’t bother vacationers. I approached some of them and asked if they know any discounted rooms where I could stay. Some of these folks act as agents for lodge owners – a guy offered to show me a house where I could rent a room. So I hopped on his scooter and was taken to a house near the provincial hospital, it’s called Das Traum guest house. I believe they also own the bar beside the port. The room cost 200 pesos. It was a pleasant house, I was told that the place is very popular with scuba divers, mostly European; I saw some of them in the house. The room that was provided to me was fresh and comfortable; it has cable tv and a veranda that offers a panoramic view of Mt. Bandilaan.

After unloading my stuff and taking a quick shower, I decided to skip launch and go straight to Iglesia de San Francisco de Assisi, I wanted to give thanks for the safe voyage before going to the sites I wanted to visit. Actually, the church was one of them. The church was founded by a secular priest named Fr. Setien in 1793, since the island was under the pioneering Diocesan padres of Dumaguete. Then the Recollects came with their mandate “to build churches and occupy the existing ones”, entirely placing the whole of Siquijor under the bells. They were the ones who taught the early Siquijor natives of “the basic tenets of Christianity and counting, reading and writing”, the Recollect Padres was also “required to train and pay teachers, they took responsibility that the basic necessities for teaching purposes are provided”. These men also taught the Siquijoranons how to cultivate maize – wanting to keep their converts away from famish conditions that continually threatened the sparse population of the island. You could still see corn taking up portions of the road so it can be dried. Many wonder why the Recollects had to own vast lands in Cavite, the infamous estates that is often depicted as stolen lands. Most of it were donated, actually, like the one in Bacoor by a rich lady with the condition that the “Recollect Fathers of Intramuros would offer masses for her soul!” The friar estate is often misunderstood, today, sects that wants to grow their following no longer have  to keep and cultivate lands or engage in profitable business to fund their missions, that’s too much of a hassle when they can justify asking for money straight from their supporters pockets. That I can go in these islands and meet people who practice my faith is tribute to the labors of these great Catholic missionaries.

The islands oldest iglesia, San Francisco de Assisi

The islands oldest iglesia, San Francisco de Assisi

This needs to be saved! the Spanish coat of arms on the main door could be the biggest engraved in stone.

This needs to be saved! the Spanish coat of arms on the main door could be the biggest engraved in stone. The architectural design of this convento is unique because it was made to provide defense for the townspeople

The towns campanaria

The towns campanaria

Its campanaria stands a few meters from its side; it serves dual purpose of alerting the people of incoming piratical raids and reminding them of their spiritual duties. So frequent are the Moro pirates forays that the convento was built to double as a defense structure, with its undersized windows and door, it served as the perfect cover where the towns people could hide and defend themselves. Since there is no wood used in the outer portion of the convento, setting it on fire was impossible. No wonder this place has survived.  The convent is located across the church and now serves as the residence of the cura paroco, it’s surrounded by class rooms.  Perhaps the biggest Spanish escudo de armas carved from stone can be found here. The church complex is one of the most unique I’ve seen. Rarely do we see the church, its tower and the convento all built independently. Usually the Iglesia is attached to the convento or the bell tower to the church but not all separately. There must be some reason why it was built this way. I’ll ponder on the possible reasons but first I like to have a little something for my stomach.

I try to eat what’s not on the menu but instead what’s cooking in the mercado, they usually offer the cheapest and the widest selection of local dishes. I stay away from restaurants because aside from my scanty budget, it’s best to eat amongst the local rather than eat some pasta in some resort. I don’t see the point, if you’re out to discover how people live, you have to discover how they eat first and you can’t do this elsewhere but in their homes or their mercado. I read local tourist on some internet forum complaining that their food in the resorts were expensive, I guess that’s the price you’ll have to pay for the comfort of being there in those exclusive resorts. I was looking for dugo-dugo, yes, dinugaan! I wanted to tell my Nanay that I had dinuguan for lunch in Siquijor! But ended up eating tinola because there was none, not the chicken tinola like most of us are familiar with but fish with a delectable hot soup. Another soup dish I ordered was sinigang, it was weird because it doesn’t have any vegetables on it, this must be their way of cooking it or they just forgot to put the vegetables. Soup dishes are a favorite of mine, especially when I’m tired and sleepy, together with rice, gives me energy, keeps me awake.

I did a little walking around the town, para matunaw naman ang mga nakain, the market was more of a talipapa, it was not busy at all, and to think that it was weekend. A very simple, uncomplicated life these people have, I would want to enjoy such setting when I’m grey. Everyday feels like Sunday here I’m sure. After taking pictures of the town, I went to the surf. I was supposed to go to Cantabon cave, the most popular among the more than 40 cave in this little island but decided not to, I had nothing left and I was told that the trek would not easy. So I decided to stay in Siquijor town’s shorelines, from a distance I could see the port where we landed – I wonder where the expensive resorts are. But it’s not bad here, just gazing into the sea and the neighboring islands as the sun sets into the horizon, it’s nice… (more later)

Siquijor, Siquijor

Yutang among gimahal

Sa tanan mga kakulian

Ikaw among panalipdan

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