Tuesday, December 1, 2009


I HAD TO BE THERE. A mobile phone call from Lambunao in Iloilo goaded the Cebu clan to have me represent them for the last burial rites of the late Enriqueta “Endring” Lavilles-Legayada on the morning of September 4, 2009. And so I took a Philippine Air Lines PR 380 Express Flight at 9:15 AM for Iloilo. I buckled my seat inside a Bombardier Q400 turboprop plane and waited for the plane to depart the Mactan-Cebu International Airport.

I seated myself nearest to the window and saw the power of the big propellers came to life and the plane roared on the tarmac at a speed and intensity much lesser than that of jets. As it became airborne, it made a clockwise turn passing over the fishponds of Kalawisan in Mactan Island then crossing the Mactan Channel and into the airspace above Metro Cebu. Underneath me, I spotted the little red square of a roof of my home and I smiled to myself elated, at last, to see my home from above aside from Google Earth.

As the plane climbed, clouds covered what's left of Cebu and I couldn't see the landmarks until it crossed a body of water which, I knew, is the Tañon Strait. Over the island of Negros, these same clouds trapped my vision and I saw two Cebu Pacific jets from Iloilo, one after the other, shot by us in the opposite direction. Then another body of water – the Guimaras Strait – appeared below me. As it progressed over the island of Panay, the Q400 dipped in altitude and I could see clearly now the topography of the province of Iloilo.

Iloilo, viewed from above, is an immense plain dotted here and there with farms and rice fields. Agriculturally, it is highly developed. It is of no wonder why it is called as the “rice granary of the Visayas”. Aside that, I appreciate at how the Ilonggos managed their lands. From the air, I could see no encroachments of housing and industrial developments upon their agricultural lands that are so common in the CALABARZON area and in other provinces.

Moreover, Ilonggos are environmentalists of their own right. The rice farms, for example, follow the lay-out of the land along cleavages and small valleys. It used the contours to a maximum so as to collect rain efficiently to water their rice paddies like mini rice terraces. Amidst that, trees and woody plants grew with wild abandon along the meandering rivers, creeks and waterways; atop ridges; beside roads and among communities. The plane circled among all these sights until it touched down in slow motion on the New Iloilo Airport in Santa Barbara.

From the airport I rode in a multicab for the highway and from there I caught a bus bound for Lambunao. It would be my second time there. I was with my mother, Marietta, when I went there the first time eight years ago today. We were there to celebrate the town fiesta in honor of its patron, San Nicolas de Tolentino. Now I am alone and I carried with me a mixed optimism and doubt and I just wished they would still remember me and I also hoped I could communicate with them thoroughly. I am Cebuano. What Ilonggo I learned during my sea-faring days many years ago have been eroded through non-practice.

Basically, the Ilonggos are people more akin to me, much more so in Lambunao, where my grandfather, the late Gervasio Lira Lavilles was born. Gervasio, during his one-way trip to Cebu in his youth in search of his older brother whom he had not found, decided to stay in Cebu for good and worked his way to finish elementary, high school and Bachelor of Laws. After a stint with the Philippine Scouts as World War 1 ended, he became a newspaper reporter and editor, lawyer, professor and a three-term councilor of Cebu when it was not yet a chartered city. He married and remarried and unknowingly became a patriarch of the Lavilles clan in Cebu.

I came, hoping to see a landscape what my late grandfather used to see, but I saw a tamer place. But the smell of the soil after an early morning shower lingered long enough to remind me that I am in the land of his birth; the playful sounds of their dialect rhymed and sang in my ears save, perhaps, for a few words that evolved in that long stretch of time were also the sounds that grandpa used to converse and listen with.

I arrived at the Lambunao Municipal Cemetery at 11:24 AM, way too late for the burial rite, and I decided to follow, on board a motorcycle-for-hire, the throng of vehicles filled with mourners to the dear departed's home. Feeling awkward, I decided to stand at the periphery until Amil Pabon, my second cousin Ligaya's husband, spotted me and dragged me, bag and all, inside where I was re-introduced to my kinfolks. The last of the Lavilles siblings sired by Gervasio's only brother Camilo, Rebecca “Ebeng” Lavilles-Lavilla, was there. The house was filled with grieving relatives and visitors and I became one of their numbers.

When the last of the mourners left, I had the chance to get to know of another second cousin based in Metro Manila working with the Bureau of Customs, Nelson Lavilles; and third cousin, Ephraim Leal, (technically my nephew) over glasses of Fundador Brandy. After the two bottles of brandy ran at the end of its course, Nelson opted to visit more of his relatives in Dingle and left early while I accompanied Ephraim to see the book – Bridging the Gap by Mercedita Lometillos – and explained to me why I am his uncle! On Page 108 of the book, I found my family line quite updated with my wife's name printed upon it as well as the names of my sons.

One thing I noticed in Lambunao is that all the big families and clans start with the letter “L” like Lira, Lavilles, Legayada, Latorre, Launio, Leal, Lavilla, etc. You could see some of those names in the street signs of Lambunao except for the name Lavilles which is a street sign in Cebu. Ephraim proudly declared to me that Lambunao produced the most number of generals second only to Batac in Ilocos Norte. Batac, of course, was the hometown of a former dictator.

I went around the poblacion after that and I saw the face and name of the present town mayor – a former police general - all over the place. Well, the last time I was around here, the streets were not paved. Now it is concreted. I assumed he did his mandate quite well. I went to the town plaza and I took pictures of the San Nicolas de Tolentino Parish. The run-off to the incoming fiesta can be felt in the air with all those piryahans in the plaza. I just learned that Lambunao hosted twenty-five major waterfalls which I am ignorant of until I saw a tarpaulin sheet announcing Lambunao as “The Land of Waterfalls”. So, I will see more of Lambunao in the near future.

Going back to the Legayada home, now the permanent resident of Amel and Ligaya, I sipped coffee with them after a novena. Later, we were invited to partake of a dinner hosted by sisters Soledad Latorre-Mendoza and Sonia Latorre-Ebuna, both my second cousins. Soledad, is the better half of the present DOTC Secretary, Leandro Mendoza. The Latorre house had evolved into a big edifice with several rooms and a large dining area. After that, I slept early in the house of the Legayadas.

I woke up at dawn preparing my things to leave Lambunao once more. I bade them goodbye again after a hearty breakfast. I rode down the great Panay Plateau in a vehicle-for-hire together with two other guests for Metro Iloilo. We rode a fastcraft at 10:15 AM for the port of Bacolod and arrived there an hour and fifty minutes later inspite of the huge waves battering the craft's starboard side. I caught up with a Cebu-bound Ceres Bus with minutes to spare. It's my first time to set foot in Bacolod City yet, again, I only saw it in a minute's passing.

The bus steadily climbed the national highway and traversed the Negros central highlands where I was afforded some new scenes and sights that awoken my explorer spirit. The Mandalagan Mountain Range and Mount Silay were off to the north of me while Canlaon Volcano towered in the east. Amidst those, were deep rivers that cut deep into the high plains; rushing rivers whose laughter echoed in the distance. A camera would have been useful here, sorely, I lacked one.

The bus steadily cut the distance away to Cebu and we passed by remote Don Santiago Benedicto town with its neat little rice paddies that gave the place an allure all its own. It was raining and the fields around us were amazingly green and so clear nary a mirage of smoky haze normally caused by pollutants. Ridges were topped off with pine trees and people were so laid back in their movements, uncaring of the world outside them. This is another paradise that I hoped won't be raped by greedy capitalists and landowners.

Finally, I arrived at the port of San Carlos City. Been to this place many times in my youth and it is, as it had been in the past, the gateway to Central Cebu from Negros Island. Endless armies of battering waves shelled the wharf caused by the strong gusts of wind from the southeast. My clothes ruffled and reverberated on my skin and I hid back to the comfort of the parked bus as we wait for the ferry that would take the bus and me and the rest of the passengers to Cebu.

The unwieldy seacraft unmoored from the Port of San Carlos the moment we settled in and crossed the wide Tañon Strait for the Port of Toledo. As I sat on the lee of the craft, I noticed solitary little brown birds, locally known as gorion, crossing the strait in the other direction. They crossed over the wide distance singly in intervals of between five to fifteen minutes. They rode the wind current and flew effortlessly towards Negros. Finally, we arrived in Toledo City and the bus went on its way towards the Naga-Uling Road.

I arrived at the Cebu South Bus Terminal at 7:15 PM on September 5, 2009. It was a memorable trip for me the moment I rode that turboprop plane yesterday for Iloilo until the moment I arrived at San Carlos. Most of those circumstances, I have done for the very first time and it got itself etched forever in my memory. Meantime, all is well in my home from the time of my absence until my arrival and a hearty hug to my grandson assures him that all is alright, after all.

Document done in OpenOffice 2.1 Writer.


Fr. Felmar Castrodes Fiel, SVD said...

hehe nakapunta na ako sa iloilo pero hanggang sa pier lang. lol.

PinoyApache said...

Father, don't worry. Heaven is the best destination.

God bless! :-)