Ghost towns and pirates | Inquirer Opinion

Ghost towns and pirates

12:03 AM December 24, 2015

There are new developments in the search for three lost towns of Ilocos Norte—Bangbang, Adang and Vera. “If you go to the center of Barangay Banban in the town of Bangui, there is a forest and church ruins inside,” wrote Leilanie Adriano (Across the Nation, 11/4/15). The “ruins” she referred to are quite familiar to me, as I always make it a point to see the place each time I visit my mother’s hometown of Bangui.

When I was a boy, my mother told me stories about those ruins. The people living in the vicinity believe the crumbling walls to be once part of an imposing church which stood there during the early years of Spanish colonization. It is said that its massive roof was carried away one stormy night by a band of marauding demons on board a flotilla of rafts that flew across the sky; that on some enchanted evening, one may by chance hear the sound of music and merriment, bursts of laughter and language emanating from the area where the ruins are; that headless friars often waylaid fishermen on their way to or from the sea late at night.

As a boy, I believed those stories implicitly, in the way that we tend to believe everything we’re told by those we love, even tall tales and lies. Now that I’m an old boy, I know better: that the roof of that blighted church must have been blown off by strong winds during a typhoon, that the music of the valse riding on the night breeze could only have come from the hearer’s own wild imagination.

And yet, how wonderful it is to be able to escape into the world of magic and fantasy! I find that when I’m there, that part of me yearns to see the stories my mother told me reenacted and come alive. I want to be transported to those halcyon days when fat friars went about headless and heedless and tirong or pirates openly pillaged and plundered the coastal towns of Ilocos. That was a time when people were at least true to themselves and lived up to what they really were, and you knew right away that it’s a tirong standing before you when you saw one. Those were indeed less parlous times, when the enemies were way out there in the Bay of Bangui. When the pirates attacked, the people simply sought the sanctuary of the forests in the mountains. The lines of demarcation separating good and evil were clearer then, more manifest. Not so today.


The ruins are now overrun by rank vegetation, fenced in by morose trees that bear neither edible fruits nor fragrant flowers. All joy and mirth seem to stop there, a world caught in an ambient miasma of silence and sadness. Even then, the effort of Fr. Ericson Josue, the archivist and curator of the diocesan museum of Laoag City and chair of its heritage committee, to search for the lost towns is commendable and deserves our support. The municipal council of Bangui ought to mobilize itself posthaste to preserve what’s left of the ruins so as “to save their stories from oblivion and to serve as guideposts for tomorrow’s generation.”

Will we find traces of the three lost towns now that we are looking for them? Will we, in the end, lose all that we now possess because we are not looking for the things that really do matter, like truth and honesty and goodness?

The 2016 election is a storm brewing in the near horizon, a category-5 supertyphoon with the potential to uproot everything from where we now sit or stand. We are given to select, and then to buy, from a box of worm-eaten and rotten apples, none of which meets the minimum requirement for color and freshness, quality and integrity. These same dogs sport new collars, new slogans, new logos and new corporate colors, yet they are infested with the same lice, spouting the same lies, couched in the beautiful language of sweet vows and saccharine promises. These pirates in barong and Armani hope once more to ensnare us, ever the gullible fish that we are, using a seine woven of deceit and duplicity, hype and propaganda. The promise of marriage, alas, is programmed to be broken as soon as the rape of the bride had been consummated! The present raft of politicians seeking to be catapulted to the highest positions in government spread and perpetuate the bubonic plague of unending poverty and unmitigated hopelessness. Most of them are headless friars and heartless tirong, whose buccaneering ways will leave in their wake a string of ghost towns and lost cities.

The pirates have landed and the enemy is within me, within you, in our cities and in our towns. The enemy is us. We must strive against the onslaught of collective amnesia and dementia by taking a lesson from these ruins. If we are not careful, we, too, will stand in real danger of becoming lost, disembodied ghosts of the past. For ignoring the guideposts, Laoag will in time succumb to the repeated attacks of the pirates, will itself be lost to the encroachments of apathy and indifference, time and history. In the not too distant future, the sea will rise to reclaim the coast, the mountains will descend to claim the land, and all the beautiful towns of Bacarra, Pasuquin, Burgos, my beloved mother’s Bangui, and far high Pagudpud will be no more. Only the long thin ribbon that is the Patapat Viaduct will remain, a tenuous tightrope on top of which we will forever tremble and totter, a testament to our collective folly.


If you should stand in the middle of the ruins in the middle of the forest, and if you make a sincere effort to listen with your heart, you will hear the absent bells of a nonexistent belfry tolling, tolling, tolling their two-note exhortation: “Take heed! Take heed!”

Antonio Calipjo Go (sickbooks_togo is the academic supervisor of Marian School of Quezon City.

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TAGS: Elections 2016, fantasy, Ilocos Norte, Supertyphoon

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