Saturday, July 18, 2015


Through the Sto. Nino was the Visayas catholicized.

Magellan first landed in the Philippines on March 16, 1521 in the island of Homonhon which is now part of Guiuan in Eastern Samar. The first Catholic mass was held 15 days later in the island of Limasawa which is now a municipality of Southern Leyte, the first Christian baptism in Cebu 14 days later where Magellan presented an image of the Sto. Nino as a baptismal gift to Humamay, wife of Humabon, ruler of Cebu, who was said to have requested Magellan to subdue Lapu-Lapu, ruler of Mactan, the acknowledged conqueror of Magellan, after which Humabon poisoned the surviving Spaniards for raping some of the local women [Wikipedia].

The Spaniards returned to Cebu 44 years later in 1565, burned some houses, found Humamay's Sto. Nino in one of the burned houses, built a church on that burned house, which today is the Basilica Minor del Sto. Nino, which of course housed Humamay's Sto. Nino, that as of today is the oldest Christian image in the Philippines [Wikipedia].

The Augustinians of Cebu brought the Sto. Nino veneration to Tacloban in 1768 after the expulsion of the Jesuits, and with them a likeness of Humamay's Sto. Nino which the locals called El Capitan. The image was sent for repairs to Manila in 1889 but got lost when the ship carrying it back to Tacloban caught fire and sank, so a borrowed replacement was used for the fiesta procession who became the lesser El Teniente.

Six months later, the Military Governor of Leyte was informed of a boy waving from a box found by fishermen floating near the island of Semirara, which when opened contained the image of El Capitan. It was brought back to Tacloban but without the boy who vanished, and paraded to exorcise a cholera epidemic.

A church built by the Franciscans in 1860 houses the image of El Capitan today.

Tacloban is of course the image that portrayed Super Typhoon Haiyan's ferocity to which the world descended, in planes and ships and the marked SUVs that zip across desolate swatches of the coastal road between Guiuan and Tacloban as the displaced watched from their temporary residences, and waited to be moved to their permanent and uncertain future.   

But Tacloban, with the blessing of El Capitan and the lesser El Teniente and El Sargento, is rising, and getting recharged.

Friday, July 17, 2015


Sa pinakamahabang tulay ng Pilipinas nagtatakbo si Vivian Velez upang pigilan ang Hari ng Stunt sa pagtalon sa pinakamakitid na kipot ng bansa.

"Dante, huwag!," ang sigaw ng Original Betamax Queen.

Lumingon si Dante, huminga ng malalim, 'tsaka tumalon.

Slow motion, tatlong frame, paulit-ulit.

Wasak ang damit niya nang lumutang siya, dumudugo ang ilong, pati yata tenga.

Pagkatapos n'un ay sumikat ng todo si Dante Varona at nagplano pang tumalon mula sa Golden Gate Bridge.

Pero hindi na 'yun natuloy.

Akala ko, hindi din ako matutuloy na kunan ng maayos ang San Juanico Bridge.

Hindi kasi puedeng huminto sa gitna ng tulay at hindi ako nakahandang lakarin ang 2.16 kilometrong haba nito sa katanghaliang tapat.

Nagkasya na lamang ako sa isang talikod pose.

Akala ko, 'yun na 'yun.

Hanggang sa maimbinta kaming sumakay ng bangka papunta sa isang resettlement site.

Hindi ko maipagmamalaking tumalon din mula sa sa San Juanico Bridge.

Pero maipagyayabang ko na isa ako sa iilang turista na dumaan sa ilalim nito...

Thursday, July 16, 2015


Basey is a town in Eastern Samar made famous by its tikog mats. It was established by the Jesuits in 1591 but supposedly got its name its name from Elizamond Basye --- an Englishman turned pirate who in the early years of the 1700s was marooned in the Philippines, eloped with a local princess, and settled in what is now Basey [Wikipedia].

But I did not come for the mats, or for Elizamond Basye. I came for the Church of St. Michael which officially is the first colonial church I've ever visited in the Eastern Visayas. The church is Eastern Samar's oldest surviving Spanish-era church having been first built by the Jesuits in 1663. It was probably rebuilt by the Franciscans in 1804, again in 1880 after being damaged by a typhoon, but generally survived the ferocious winds of Typhoon Haiyan.  

Basey came during my first trip to Eastern Visayas on our way to Guiuan from Tacloban. So is Balangiga, that town made famous by its looted bells, which I made sure to drop by on our way back to Tacloban from Guiuan. 

In 1901, Filipino revolutionaries dressed as women ambushed American troops garrisoned in the town as they were having breakfast. The church was burned down in retaliation with Gen. Jacob Smith issuing his famous order to turn Samar into a "howling wilderness" and to shoot any Filipino males above 10 years old for which he was court martialed and retired. The church bells were taken by the Americans as war trophies. Two are currently on display at the Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming, while one is at Camp Red Cloud in South Korea. The Philippines has been trying to repatriate the bells since 1995.   

Back in Basey, we went looking for the tikog mat weavers of PKKK in Basiao and stumbled on a makeshift shrine inside a cave where human remains found in the area were kept. We were told that the remains belong to Japanese and American soldiers who died during World War II, and even of Spanish soldiers from the Philippine War for Independence era. The caretaker told us that people come to pray over the remains, to ask the spirits to intervene in times of illness, and maybe seek for divine intervention for anything else. 

On the other side of the shrine is where Basiao's tikog weavers create their mats under a limestone overhang that maintains the cool temperature required for the brittle dried tikog reeds not to break. Further in Basey town proper, another group of women, also affiliated with PKKK, embroider the mats from Basiao into beautiful pieces of art.    

And that was how 287.6 kilometers from Tacloban and back turned out. There was a bridge too but that will be another story...