Walk through Bohol’s past
TAGBILARAN—This is the capital of Bohol, but to most tourists, it is but a gateway. It is viewed as a city one merely passes through on the way to Panglao Island, where the biggest and most luxurious resorts are found, or to other tourist sites, such as the Chocolate Hills, the heritage churches, the tarsier reservation.
But if one only cares to look closer, one will find there is much to appreciate in Tagbilaran as well, which is the cultural, artistic, scholarly and economic center of the island-province.
Tagbilaran’s history and heritage are what resident and civic leader Nonet Madriñan-Bolo wanted to highlight—and preserve—when she first conceived of the Tagbilaran Heritage Walk. While her travel firm Dagohoy World Travel offers many other tours featuring Bohol traditions and folk practices, the Tagbilaran Heritage Walk concentrates on highlighting the history and lifestyles of the capital. This includes places and practices that Filipinos may find mundane but which fascinate foreigners who know only about our beaches and handicrafts.
For instance, the walking tour’s first stop is a small traditional barbershop where, the guide (in our case, a student) points out, a haircut costs less than a dollar. A few steps away is a carinderia, marked by aluminum pots and pans bearing the day’s victuals, and nearby, too, is a motorbike repair shop notable because, in Tagbilaran, there are an estimated 35,000 motorbikes, most used as a form of public transport called “habal-habal.”
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True to the reputation of Boholanons as among the most religious and conservative Catholics in the country, one can spot tricycles bearing Biblical phrases that, it turns out, were required by a municipal ordinance.
Indeed, those on the walking tour are directed to board tricycles and given P8 as fare to be transported to the Cathedral of St. Joseph the Worker, first built in 1595, but rebuilt 200 years later in 1798 after a fire destroyed the original.
But before proceeding to the cathedral, where the pilgrims are also directed to light candles for their personal petitions, they are urged to use the little Boholanon they know to communicate with the driver, such as: “Adto mi sa atuba-ngan sa cathedral” or “Please take us in front of the cathedral.”
Before the cathedral, the tour included a stop by the Holy Spirit School, now one of the top secondary schools in Bohol, but which began as a shelter for female students established by the Missionary Sister Servants of the Holy Spirit. Because the nuns were Germans, recalled Nonet, residents during the Japanese Occupation (including her relatives) sought shelter in Holy Spirit, believing that the Japanese would not harass their comrades in the Axis powers.
This part of the tour also includes a “visit” to the Casenas Mansion, a beautiful structure that, unfortunately, the current owners have decided to close to visitors. The mansion was followed by the Yap House, an example of a “typical” middle-class dwelling that features, among other things, a bullet hole in the living room wall dating back to the time it was occupied by Japanese troops.
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Because of the rains, we took the rest of the tour by van, but we made a stop at an eatery, called “Painitang Bol-anon” (or Boholano snack), where we were served the most popular rice snack items, including a suman fashioned from mashed saba banana.
Thus fortified, we dropped by the Carlos P. Garcia residence, which the late former president bought soon after he lost the presidential election to Diosdado Macapagal. Known for his eloquence yet shy demeanor, CPG’s Bohol residence, since donated to the provincial government, speaks loudly of its former owner: modest and self-effacing.
The last part of the tour brings the group to Sitio Ubos, meaning “downhill,” since it is located in a low area with access to the port area, now overrun by informal settlers.
The sitio is a pariancito or “little parian,” as the “Chinatowns” of the 1800s were known. Because of its location, it became the center of Tagbilaran’s trade and commerce with Chinese merchants, with the homes of traders being shining examples of the wealth and affluence of the mestizos, a term applied at the time only to those of mixed Chinese blood.
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Our guide pointed out three examples of these grand homes, two of them with ceramic-tile roofs mimicking the shape of Chinese pagodas.
“Casa Rocha” is believed to be the oldest bahay na bato or stone house in Bohol, with a marker in the kitchen indicating it was built in 1831, although Nonet, whose relatives used to own the house, believes the main structure was constructed years earlier.
Next door is Casa Rocha-Suarez, a bigger structure in the same bahay na bato style, that was once a lifestyle showpiece but is now shuttered and deteriorating. Its ground floor, said Nonet, was once used for shops and storehouses.
Our “walking tour” ended here, putting us in a nostalgic mood not just for Tagbilaran’s past, which is fast fading, but also for its heritage and the memories of its people, who are doing all they can to preserve the city’s history and use it to move on to a future of progress and substance.
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