(This is a three-part series that I wrote for The Freeman, the first newspaper in Cebu City I worked with. The first part was published on August 30, 1993, with accompanying photos taken by photographer Tonee Despojo.This special report was spurred by archaeological finds in Camotes. It is the first full-length journalistic probe into the discoveries and may spark further studies as well as provide background for new research.–Candido O. Wenceslao)
Nineteen seventy-four. A group of treasure hunters from the town of Liloan, Cebu arrived in Poro, one of the municipalities in the Camotes group of islands. Why they chose the area to conduct their search, we do not know. What we can be certain is that they were a determined lot and that their determination eventually paid off.
The turning point in their search came by accident, or by what might be considered as a stroke of luck. This happened in a largely neglected near-shore village called Maktang, which is part of Barangay Esperanza in Poro, Camotes.
Pablito Vera never knew he would have a date with history then. He was standing one day in an area near the seashore when he noticed something unusual on the ground where a pig just poked its snout. He dug the sandy ground with his hands and found an antique porcelain ware locally called “tibod.”
The find sparked a frenzy of treasure quest that would last for the next several months. Nobody until now could say how many and what kind of relics were found in the area at the beginning of the craze and until it subsided. Those directly involved with the activity were either no longer around or do not simply want to talk about it.
About a year or so ago (or in 1992), the diggings resumed, this time on a wider area. The hunt no longer involved the Liloan group but persons Poro residents said were from Leyte. Again, the artifacts found were lost to traders of antique objects.
For several years now, Poro folk talk about the possibility that the historic Battle of Mactan may have actually happened in Sitio Maktang and not in the island now called Lapulapu City. But the idea remained wild because there was no proof that a settlement existed in the area during pre-Spanish times.
It was only after ABS-CBN’s “Magandang Gabi Bayan” reported the Poro diggings that municipal officials started taking the issue seriously. For the first time, they felt they had something solid to anchor their theory on.
They then decided to stop the diggings and to preserve the artifacts that the diggers found. What followed were efforts to revisit the past and review accounts about Cebu.
The town where the artifacts were found looks at first glance as an unlikely place for an old settlement to flourish. Poro is is part of a three-island chain located between the provinces of Cebu and Leyte. The islands, collectively referred to as Camotes, are Pacijan (facing Cebu), Poro (which is the middle) and Ponson (facing Leyte). Pacijan and Poro islands are connected to each other by a land bridge. Ponson is far from Pacijan and Poro.
Pacijan has a single municipality, San Francisco. Poro has two municipalities: Poro in the west and Tudela in the east. Ponson has the town of Pilar.
Camotes is a part of the fifth congressional district represented in Congress by Ramonito Durano III and in the Provincial Board by Agnes Magpale. Its main agricultural produce are root crops and coconut, although sugarcane plantations owned by the Duranos once dotted San Francisco and Poro prior to the crash of the sugar industry in the eighties.
Poro has 14 barangays that are mostly near the shore. Spanish influence is evident in the names of many of these barangays, like Mercedes, Esperanza, Adela, Paz and San Jose. Maktang is part of Esperanza, whose barangay center is some eight kilometers from the town proper.
The barangays in Poro are connected by largely un-cemented road network. The only concreted road is part of the San Francisco-Poro-Tudela link. Concreting was a project of then governor Emilio Osmeña.
Maktang is a sleepy village whose people are dependent on agriculture and fishing. Its shoreline is facing the northern tip of the Cebu mainland and the northwestern portion of Leyte, specifically the town of Isabel.
The open sea is blocked to the west by the eastern portion of San Francisco, particularly in the area where the two islands are closest. There a cove is formed, one side of which is bounded by the land bridge connecting Poro to San Francisco.
During low tide, the Maktang shoreline extends more than half a kilometer. Coconut trees grow near the shore. Unlike Mactan in Lapu-lapu City, no mangrove grows on the coastline.
Village elders claim that Maktang was the site of the oldest settlement in the municipality and was therefore the town center. The other populated area during the early days of Spanish rule was the place called Tag-anito, which is located in the eastern portion of the island, in what is now the town of Tudela.
Oral history says an animosity existed between Maktang and Tag-anito. To resolve the conflict, leaders of the two villages met in an area in the middle. The place later blossomed and became poblacion of Poro town.
The transfer of the town center from Maktang to what is now the poblacion resulted in the decline of the old settlement. In the poblacion is located Camotes’ main port. Development therefore shifted away from Maktang, transforming the area into a sleepy and obscure village.
Apolonia Lloveras y Carcellar, who is in her seventies and is a long-time resident of Maktang, said that she found nothing spectacular about their village, not until the diggings in 1974.She even contradicted the theories of his son Emie Carcellar, a Seventh Day Adventist minister and former mediaman, about the past.
Lola Apolonia insisted that it was only recently that she heard stories claiming that the battle between the Spaniards led by the conquistador Ferdinand Magellan and the warriors of Lapulapu happened in Maktang. But then she could not also say whether the similarity of the name of their village with that in Lapulapu City is merely coincidental.
Poro residents point out that Maktang has always been the name of their place. Even with the Hispanization of their culture and the renaming of the barangay to Esperanza, people still referred to the area simply as Maktang.
Even in history books, the area was never mentioned. There are, however, references to the islands but not as a flourishing settlement. The Spanish chronicler Antonio Pigafetta who was with Magellan during his voyage around the globe, mentioned the islands, or something like them, in his writings:
“There is a distance of twenty leagues from Mazaua to Gatighan. We set out Westward from Gatighan, but the king of Mazaua could not follow us, and consequently, we awaited him near three islands; namely, Polo, Ticobon, and Pozon.”
Mazaua has been identified by historians as Limasawa. Polo, Ticobon, Pozon could be Poro, Pacijan and Ponson. But even that could not answer the question of whether the islands were already inhabited at that time.
In Poro, oral tradition goes only as far as the early period of Spanish colonization. Beyond that, nothing much can be gleaned. It seems like the customs and practices of the old settlement have been obliterated, as if a people suffered collective amnesia.
Was there a settlement in Maktang prior to the coming of the Spaniards? Did this settlement open itself up to trade with other people like the Chinese? Was this the same settlement that refused to bow down to Magellan and dared to challenge the might of the Spaniards? What happened to the settlement later?
Nobody can provide definite answers. But the artifacts that were dug up, which range from antique porcelain wares to jewelries to stone ornaments to the skeletal remains, including one that bore teeth decorated with spots of gold could provide some clue.
(Part II: “The Things Dug Up”)