Friday, July 17, 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... 

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