When people talk about going to Cebu, it’s usually about going around Cebu City proper and its nearby beaches in Mactan Island. It’s rare that people get to know the rest of Cebu as a province.
Early this year, we were rushing to finish a research on the implementation of the Social Pension Program for seniors. I got assigned some far-flung municipalities in Cebu as well as Bohol. While I once did a “cross-country” trip of Negros island, I had never done so in Cebu.
Touching down in Cebu, I quickly headed off to our Field Office to discuss our itinerary with the Focal Person for Senior Citizens, Ms.Temie. She said the towns of Tuburan and Barili were in opposite directions and we have to allot one day each for said visits. Travel time from Cebu city proper would average two hours each, so we had to leave at around 6:30 or 7:00 AM each morning.
I guess I am one of the lucky ones who manage to do official work and still have time to appreciate the places I visit. Maybe it’s the adventurer in me, or the smart traveller, that makes it a point to make each trip worthwhile by seeing something new all the time.
So we left early the next day, and headed south in the direction of Carcar City, a name synonymous with tasty Cebu chicharon. We took the coastal road that sent us across the port areas and gave a view of the channel as well as the open sea. We traversed Talisay City to San Fernando for a view of the rest of Cebu before we cut across to Carcar City. Always with an eye for old, turn-of-the century houses and colonial Churches, I observed how the rest of Cebu was touched by the Spanish occupation.
Bucolic and Peaceful Barili
Arriving at the inconspicuous municipality of Barili, the local social welfare officer had made all necessary preparations and our elderly interviewees were patiently waiting already. After a brief introduction, we immediately proceeded to conduct our interviews which was made quicker because my partner, Toni was helping me out.
I thought the day would pass uneventfully until the staff shared a story about a recently deceased senior citizen who claimed his social pension. I laughed, thinking it was a joke, until I saw they were actually serious. Apparently, we were discussing a supernatural encounter that still gives them goosebumps until now.
They explained that the sick senior citizen wasn’t able to claim his pension during the previous pay-out and a week before the next quarterly pay-out, his family already informed the LGU staff about his passing. However, on the day itself, they were too busy to remember his death that the social welfare aide didn’t think any of it when she guided him to a chair and the municipal treasurer handed him his 1,500 cash. Only when they were finishing up did the old man’s daughter approach them and complain that she hadn’t been called to receive her father’s pension. It dawned on them that all of them actually saw the old man and lo and behold, even their attendance sheet contained an actual signature. However, counting their cash again, they discovered they still had the 1,500 that his daughter was entitled to. Weird you say, but the old man’s family is rumoured to be involved in some supernatural practices, including keeping a unusual animal as a familiar. Ah, the folklore in these parts!
Before leaving though, I asked to see some sites their locality is proud of. Immediately, the MSWDO brought us to their old church. The parish used to be a district head, a “cabeza del partido” which had jurisdiction over other churches in southwestern Cebu and was only one of two secular parishes outside the city. It was smallish and the interior clearly had been remodelled already. It retained some of its original limestone foundation and walls though, some capiz shell windows and I suspect, the original bronze bell cherished by most churches as much as their statuettes and other relics. Dedicated to St. Anne, the original parish was built near the river but natural calamities kept destroying it. The present church was built around 1889 on a donated lot in its current location. Here we bought some candles to light from a few old ladies. Peddling their wares near the church, these female senior citizens find efficient use for their time finding a source of income for their families, at the same time being able to socialize with their fellow elderly.
Next was their Mantayupan Falls, an easily accessible nature preserve and possible source of hydro power. It consists of three “miniature” waterfalls and a medium-size falls, but with the amount of water flowing, one can guess the power it can generate. There are also basic facilities for those who want to swim, reminiscent of Hinulugang Taktak in Rizal, but the real beauty of the site is to enjoy nature in its most raw form. I particularly appreciated Mantayupan Falls not just for its waterfalls, but for how close it can bring you to nature.
On the way back, I convinced Ms.Temie to drop by Carcar if we had the time. Our driver graciously acquiesced to my request and I learned Carcar had more than just tasty pork rinds to be proud of.
Quaint and Historic Carcar
Carcar City is a perfect example of how socio-political and religious life were so intermingled during the Spanish era. In the olden times, the municipal center is where the parish, its convent or rectory, the plaza, and a school usually converge. The nearer your residence is to the church, the higher is your family’s status in the community. So one should always be mindful of where you ancestral home is located.
Today, the heart of Carcar City is the area where their old church, St.Catherine’s parish, the St. Catherine Catholic school, the public elementary school, and the city museum are situated. The old church alone is a sight to see and is comparable to the churches of Ilocos, Iloilo, and Bohol. St. Catherine’s has the same elaborate artwork on its ceiling, its interior lined with numerous images of saints, and its pillars marked by names of illustrious members of the community long –deceased. The traditional pulpit from where Sunday sermons are given still stand, perfectly preserved. And while the new pews have been commissioned to serve the parishioners, a few classically-designed pews made from solid Narra wood are still around.
After gazing in amazement at the wondrous surroundings, I made my token three wishes for being a first time visitor at the church. At this point, I found Toni buying some candles from a little girl in a student’s uniform. After a short chat, I saw Toni pay her and give her a little extra cash. Later, Toni would tell me the little girl just came out of her classes but regularly sells candles by the church to help out with family expenses. Being a working student herself at one point, I understood why Toni sympathized with the child.
Our next must-see stop was the new city museum. Known as the Old Carcar Dispensary, it was a puericulture center once, a small nursing hospital which had a dispensary for giving out medication for women and children. Its very purpose and unique architecture speaks of the American influence on the township. It boasts of ornately-decorated balconies, mini-canopy- roofings and latticework straight out of the movie “Somewhere in Time”. It’s immaculate white paint completes the picture of a circa-1920s infrastructure, but inside are artifacts and antiques that go as far back as the 1800s. Depicted inside is the history and evolution of Cebu province, its indigenous culture, the Spanish and American influence that resulted in its unique Cebuano heritage.
Before exiting Carcar, we just had to drop by for its famous chicharon. At the roadside pasalubong cum reststop, you can choose from pork rinds that have been perfectly “puffed”, salty, spicy, and sour chicharon, with or without “laman” or some vestige of meat attached to the skin, pork “cracklets” as well as the traditional rice puffs or “ampao”. So much for my midnight snack that evening.
Secrets of Secluded Tuburan
The next day, we left early again. This time, it was in the opposite direction as we travelled to Tuburan, a coastal municipality on the other side of Cebu province. To cut our travel time, we were to cross over a central mountain range in the middle of the island. But we had to time our trip carefully so as to avoid the dangerous fog that made visibility difficult on the tortuous path. As we zig-zagged through the roads, the altitude likewise changed and we encountered some expected fog along the way. It made for some cool, even extra chilly, weather that reminded me so much of Tagaytay and Baguio during the rainy season.
Tuburan is a small municipality which served as a port area for those travelling from Cebu to the neighboring island of Negros. Facing Tanon Strait, its pier is primarily for fishing-related activities and small vessels crossing over to Negros Oriental to ferry passengers.
We proceeded to conduct our interviews at the office of the local social welfare officer. At least the seniors of Barili had their own building although they shared it with Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) and the kids of Day Care. Tuburan’s elderly had no such facility and we were all cramped in the Social Welfare Office, within hearing distance from each other.
I saw one of the Lolas take my partner, Toni’s hand and volunteered to go first. As with our experience in Barili, we needed a Cebuano translator for our questions. Fortunately, I understood a little Bisaya and some of the seniors can understand English, but Tagalog is a language not quite useful in these parts.
Like Barili, Tuburan is a “poorest of the poor” municipality and its populace are not of the “educated” sort. Most of these elderly only reached elementary education. Consider also the generation of these seniors whose parents put them to work in the fields and fishports as soon as they could to help with their family’s subsistence. Besides workforce considerations, I assume “early marriages” also contributed to the numerous children of these elderly. Most of them have an average of 8 to 9 kids, believe it or not. Yet we also found a possible candidate for the Centenarian Act gratuity award – an elderly woman who was past a 100 years old.
As is my wont, after the interviews, I asked to be shown what Tuburan was all about. Fortunately, nearby was their “mini-museum” of sorts. Being the hometown of Gen. Arcadio Maxilom, a known Cebuano revolutionary who fought the Spaniards, a library and mini-museum is housed in a portion of the Tuburan municipal hall. With just a handful of artifacts and antiques that barely filled the room because most of the donors decided to bring home their family heirlooms, the townspeople clearly recognize the importance of their Cebuano heritage. Even the municipal hall itself with its original hardwood stairs and flooring could very well be a part of the historical displays.
Afterwards, the municipal tourism officer went with us to guide us to their tourist nature sites. In Tuburan, it is not only human beings who can last long and grow to a ripe old age. They boast of a century-old tree that is so big, it is also known to be the palace of creatures from another world. Even the dry riverbed beside this giant tree is known for many supernatural stories such as the shining, golden ship that traverses it whenever waters flood this old waterway. Walking on this old riverbed with rocks that ranged from baseball size to basketballs, and a thick vegetation of deep forest trees all around, the scene can come straight from the pages of the “Lord of the Rings”, I tell you.
Tuburan got its name from the numerous springs that abound in the area. One famous freshwater mountain spring is Molobolo which appears as a natural swimming pool beside a hill still planted to its original forest trees. This “bukal. is found so close to the coastline, its waters empty into the nearby beach and its saltwater sea. While there are a few huts and a canteen for food and beverages for visitors, the place can still do with a lot of improvements for its facilities to attract tourists. A cool dip in these waters – freshwater spring or the nearby beach would be so inviting to anyone in the summer heat I am sure.
On the way back to Metro Cebu, we couldn’t resist the fresh fruit and vegetables for sale along the road. We got some very sweet bananas and yellow corn for our meryenda. After all the chicharon the previous day, this was a welcome diet, of course.
Reflecting on our interviews the past two days, everything I heard from the seniors, and all I saw of the Cebu countryside, I felt very fortunate once again to have met new people and to have seen places not many visitors to Cebu get to see. What started as an unwelcome assignment became another experience to be cherished in my memory.