Tales of two historic towns damaged by Typhoon Yolanda
As the country rises from the ravages of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), two historic towns out of many have been ravaged: Guiuan, Eastern Samar; and Panay, Capiz. These towns are separated by land and sea: one in the east and one in the west. I visited both and established good relations with the local governments in the past.
In 2008, the Embassy of United Kingdom commissioned the Center for Social Responsibility of the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P) to conduct mentoring sessions on project development to the staff of mayors of 12 municipalities—seven in the Visayas and five in Luzon. A book, Project Development for LGUs by LGUs, was published in 2010.
We met dynamic Mayor Annaliz Gonzales-Kwan, a De La Salle CPA graduate who attended the UA&P Strategic Business Economics Program. Annaliz was recently succeeded by her brother Christopher Sheen Gonzales, who is now in the international limelight for causing forced evacuations before the landfall of Yolanda.
I tried to call Annaliz in the aftermath of Yolanda but no connections. A few days later, a distress text for help was received by a UA&P colleague who passed it on to me. It turned out to have come from the consultant of Annaliz. It was not only Tacloban that needed help but also Guiuan. By Nov. 14, she called me that she is in Manila; her house was totally destroyed. Luckily, a friend’s private plane picked her up from Guiuan. She was in Manila to rally support.
Where exactly is Guiuan, and what is its historical significance?
It is a peninsula jutting out into the Pacific with some 47,000 people. Coconut and fishing are the main sources of livelihood. It played a significant part in Philippine history.
In 1521, Ferdinand Magellan first landed on Homonhon island in Guiuan. In 1595, the Jesuits took charge of Guiuan. By the mid-1600s, it was the third largest fortified town in the Philippines, the other two being Manila and Zamboanga.
The town’s church, the Church of the Immaculate Conception, is one of the oldest in the country. I went to Guiuan in 2010 via Tacloban. It was a three-hour trip that took me through the towns of Balanggiga, Salcedo and Mercedes.
During the Second World War, the American Forces landed in Guiuan where they fought their first battle in Philippine territory three days before Gen. MacArthur landed on the beaches of Leyte.
In December 1944, the US Navy poured into Guiuan Bay and transformed it into one of the biggest naval bases in the Far East at that time. Probably the biggest landing force to land at any airbase in the Pacific War took place at Guiuan before the invasion of Luzon.
In 2010, Guiuan Airport had a 2,800-meter runway built on top of a World War II runway. Annaliz was instrumental in generating funds from the national government with the purpose of making Guiuan a tourist destination, with attractions such as the Calicoan Island.
Another historical tidbit is the landing of White Russian refugees from the Communist revolution. Dr. Ricardo Soler, a Manila-based writer, said the White Russians, faithful to the tsar of Russia, first settled in Harbin, Manchuria during 1917-1920 to escape the Bolshevik communists. Later, they moved to Shanghai. In early 1949, with the approval of President Quirino, some 5,500 “White Russians” escaped from Shanghai with the help of the International Refugee Organization and sought sanctuary. For 27 months, the village of Tubabao became their sanctuary, until they could be admitted to countries such as the United States, Australia, and France.
Today, Guiuan is devastated. Most coconut trees are down and fishing boats destroyed. It will take at least six years for coconut to bear fruit and three years for damaged crowns to rejuvenate. When it will recover is a big question.
The arrival of the US Navy fleet is a big help. Many government officials did not know that Guiuan has a working airport. Thanks to Mayor Annaliz.
I met Mayor Dante Bermejo, former provincial administrator of Capiz, three times during the course of our UK-funded work. He showed us the cultural heritage of Panay, the old church with the largest church bell in Asia and the Church Museum. Panay, with its 43,000 people, used to be the capital of Capiz. It is also called the Heritage Capital of Capiz. Rice and fishpond are the main livelihood in Panay.
Panay was founded by the Spanish Augustinian Friars in 1581 and it became the second Spanish settlement in the country next to Cebu. After food shortages and attacks of the Portuguese, Don Miguel Lopez de Legazpi reportedly left Cebu and settled in Panay because of its strategic location and abundance of food.
Atop the five-story belfry is a gigantic bell whose booming sound can be heard within an eight-kilometer radius. It is over two meters in height and diameter and weighs 10.4 metric tons. The Spanish curate from 1844 to 1886, Father Jose Beloso, cast the bell using 70 sacks of coins collected from the townspeople. The bell was completed in 1878.
Panay was the center of the first act of revolt against the Spaniards by the revolutionaries headed by General Esteban Contrera in the Province of Capiz. Before the coming of the revolutionary forces from Luzon to Panay, the Katipunan already existed. The first battle against the Spanish army took place in May 1898.
The last contact I had with Dante was Nov. 14. He said the town needs help. Some 80 percent of the houses were damaged and the town got flooded by the storm. The town got a water treatment plant from UNICEF and some relief packs from private persons. I hope more relief goods have reached the town by now.
(The article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or MAP. The author is the 2014 Chair of the MAP Agribusiness and Countryside Development Committee and the Executive Director of the Center for Food and AgriBusiness of the University of Asia & the Pacific. Feedback at <[email protected]> and < [email protected]>. For previous articles, please visit <map.org.ph>)
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