Tag Archives: eastern-samar

Historic church of Balangiga in Eastern Samar

At first look, the structure looks like the other thousands of churches that dot this predominantly Catholic country. With one big difference: it is missing its original three bells. The loss of the church's three bells is just a chapter in a story that started in 1901 with what is now known in Philippine history as the Balangiga massacre--an incident that triggered a response so overwhelming it turned this place in Eastern Samar into a "howling wilderness". It was a Sunday morning when we visited Balangiga and the church was closed so we were not able to come inside. A marker on the wall of the church explained its role in the massacre. The structure is a replacement to the old church that was burned down by American soldiers in retaliation for the death of their comrades. (Click on photos to view larger images) Balangiga In the town plaza, a monument immortalizes the Balangiga massacre of 1901 that started when native Filipinos, reportedly forced to do labor for American soldiers staying at a garrison in Balangiga, plotted against US troops belonging to Company C of Ninth US Infantry who sailed into the Eastern Samar town on August 11, 1901. The natives were among guerilla leader General Vicente Lukban's best bolomen. While the Philippine-American war, which started on February 4, 1899, was officially proclaimed to have ended on July 4, 1902, fighting went on in some parts of the country like Batangas, Pampanga, Tarlac, Ilocos, and the Visayas. The attack on the soldiers in Balangiga by bolo-wielding natives--who hid in the church near the American garrison in the Balangiga plaza the night before the attack--happened on the early morning of September 28, 1901. The night before, women carried small coffins to church and hid inside them the cane cutting bolo knives that were used in the attack. Balangiga monumentThe ringing of one of the Balangiga bells was the signal for the natives to attack the unprepared and clueless American soldiers who were having breakfast in the plaza where they set up their garrison. At the end of the day, 48 US troops were killed, 22 were wounded, and only four unharmed. Retribution from the Americans came soon and swift. US General "Jake" Smith ordered the transformation of Balangiga into a "howling wilderness," directing his men to kill anyone old enough to carry arms and to him they are old enough if they are over 10 years old. The Americans took with them as war booty the three Balangiga church bells, including the smaller one that was used to signal the attack, when they left the Philippines. Currently, there is an ongoing campaign led by Balangiga Mayor Catalina Camenforte for the return of the 104-year-old bells to the Balangiga church. She believes the return of the bells would complete the healing and end the conflict that has strained US-Philippine relations. Two of the bells are kept at the Francis E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming while the third one, the smaller bell, can be found in an American Army camp in South Korea. Our visit to Balangiga was a side trip to our Calicoan Island sojourn. For details on how to get to Balangiga and Calicoan, click here. Balangiga is three towns before Guiuan, where Calicoan Island is located. Any of the vans for hire or other modes of public transport bound for Guiuan pass by Balingaga.

Call of the surf

Travel by boat and van from Cebu to Calicoan in Eastern Samar is one long and rough ride but the wonders of the island are worth every minute of ache and discomfort. Calicoan is among the numerous islands and islets that ring Guiuan, a town at the southernmost tip of Samar, the third largest island in the Philippine archipelago. Our destination in Calicoan was The Surf Camp, a resort on the side of the island that faces the Pacific Ocean. It was night when we arrived at the resort and a rumbling sound--it was a few minutes before it dawned on us what it was--greeted us when we arrived. (click on photos to view larger images) Surf Camp Tired and hungry upon our arrival, we feasted on seafood--fish, prawns, and crabs--and put the sound at the back of our minds. It was when we realized what it was that it filled us city people with awe. It was unforgettable--that sound; it followed us around all the time we were at the resort. It was background noise to our conversations--it was loudest in the mornings--and it lulled us to sleep at night. It was sometimes loud and guttural and insistent and at other times soft and melodious like a siren's call. It was the sound of the surf, of the waves breaking on the island's shores. Sand, sea, skyWe were at a place battered by waves rolling in from the Pacific over the 10,000-meter Philippine Deep all year round and on certain months they become powerful swells. The best waves for surfing, people at the resort told us, usually appear from October to March. Calicoan is a surfer's paradise but surfing is just one of many things it has to offer. The island also has white sand beaches and one of these is a long stretch called ABCD, which is also the prime surfing area. Resort people said some adventurous visitors to the island stay in tents on the beach or make do with a surf hut. We stayed at well-furnished cottages and villas in The Surf Camp resort. In both architecture and furnishings, the cottages take inspiration from Thai, Balinese, Indonesian, and Filipino cultures.Surf Camp bedroom Our cottage came with two twin-size beds, air-conditioning, cable television, mini bar, hot water, safety deposit box, and intercom. The resort has a saltwater pool aptly named Infinity, as it offers a wide and unhampered view of the Pacific Ocean. It also has two viewing decks built on a rocky outcropping along the beach and connected by a long walkway. At certain times of the day, the waves would get stronger and as they break upon the rocks, sprays of seawater would fall on the decks. At the resort's restaurant, we dined on baby lobsters fresh from the island's seas. Outside of the resort is one of the island's tropical forests and residents say wild monkeys sometimes cross the dirt road that cuts through it. I've never seen one though in our four-day sojourn in the island. Time constraints prevented us from exploring the island's other wonders, such as its lagoons--the largest is reportedly 30 hectares in size, caves along its forests, and wetlands that teem with fish, shrimps, and crabs. More photos, click on images to enlarge: Walkway to Surf Camp deck Surf Camp view deck Viewing deck at Surf Camp Surfers Tip of island Surf Camp sunset Cottage accommodation Deck Cottage accommodation at Surf Camp Inside the cottage We were, however, able to devote time to visiting a pilgrimage church located a little farther into the village of Sulangan, where the resort is located. Village folk say the two saints in the church grant favors but only if you give to one the exact offering that you give to the other. As we went back to the resort from the church, the day was dying and we were stopped in our tracks by the kaleidoscope of light that filled the skies as the sun bids goodbye. While we watched transfixed, the colors exploded into a single shade of orange that darkened the clouds and lent the world an eerie glow. Dusk finally set in and we headed for home. Road to Calicoan The Surf Camp offers round trip travel from Cebu to Guiuan and back to Cebu at $150 per person. The Guiuan airport is only 25 minutes from the resort. In our case, we caught the two-hour Supercat boat trip from Cebu City to Ormoc City. In Ormoc, we hired a van to take us to The Surf Camp for 2,500 pesos. The amount does not include the cost of gasoline for the whole trip. We arrived in Ormoc City at around 1 p.m. and at past 8 p.m. in Calicoan. We made several stopovers along the way--one of which was in Tacloban City--to buy provisions needed for our trip. We passed by and had our pictures taken at the two-kilometer San Juanico Bridge that connects the islands of Samar and Leyte. Surf Camp sunsetA less expensive option would be to ride any one of the passenger vans in the Ormoc City pier to Tacloban City and transfer to another van bound for Guiuan. The fare is 120 pesos from Ormoc to Tacloban and 110 pesos from Tacloban to Guiuan. ABCD beach is located in the village of Sulangan and it is just 20 minutes away from the town center where the passenger vans make their stop. Tricycles are the modes of transport to Sulangan and they can be hired for a minimal fee. There are a few pension houses, a hotel, and convenience stores in the town center. Regular commercial flights fly daily from Manila to Tacloban. Calicoan is just a three-hour ride from Tacloban City.