Camotes’ continuing past

I was poring over the file of my previous works when it just occurred to me that it would be best to re-issue them in this blog. There is really no reason to leave these works to myself considering that some of them are interesting, like my short fiction and poems and yes, the special reports.

“Reviewing Cebu History” that I just published in this blog was one of my more memorable works considering that it generated much public interest. After that came out, I joined a team of anthropologists from the University of the Philippines who conducted an archaelogical survey in Poro, Camotes, Cebu in November of 1993. My coverage of the survey also resulted in a three-part series that I will soon feature here.

The team was led by then UP museum curator Israel “Sweet” Cabanilla and Proj. Jerome Bailen, both of whose experience included the exposure of the Tasaday hoax and the discovery of the Tabon man. My memory of the other members is now hazy. One had the unique name Mumtaz Mahal (I forgot the family name) while the other was the sister of Juliet de Lima, wife of Communist Party of the Philippines top gun Jose Ma. Sison.

Our main contact person in Poro, which is the hometown of my mother Juliana Ortega Wenceslao, was then councilor Ronald Carcellar, son of protestant preacher Emie. The mayor was Isaar Rama, who was operated for throat cancer and spoke using a gadget (he would die years later). Ronald is now vice mayor of Poro.

It was a learning experience. I have always considered my homeplace Camotes (my late father is from Poro’s neighboring town, Tudela) as backward until the archaelogical survey tended to show that the islands was a flourishing trade center being in the middle of the main islands of Samar and Leyte on one side and Cebu on the other. That made me proud tracing my roots from these islands.

It was just unfortunate that the local government unit did not see the importance of preserving the artifacts and continuing the diggings. The UP team had grand plans for Poro but the mayor had other priorities. Seeing how Camotes is starting to become a tourist hub now, the plan to make Poro a site for archaelogical research would have complimented well with this development.

The idea was this. In one barangay, we found a complex of caves that Bailen and Cabanilla believed was inhabited by primitive people. Cabanilla asked municipal officials to preserve the site and wait after their project proposal would be approved. They planned to conduct a digging and leave whatever artifacts would be found in the caves. Meaning, they would transform the place into an onsite museum that should attract students, archaelogists. etc.

A few months later, I joined Cabanilla when he returned to Camotes, noting that the project proposal was approved by a foreign institution. To our surprise, we found the caves already mined of stone supposedly to be sold to the sinter plant in Leyte. Only one cave remained, but Cabanilla lost the drive and returned back to Manila, his project scuttled.

Incidentally, the man that successfully convinced the mayor to have the caves mined was an “engineer” who claimed to have joined treasure huntings in Mindanao. The man was so convincing he even successfully persuaded some of the people to help finance the mining operation with the promise that they would profit from it once the stones are sold. That didn’t happen. months later, the man just disappeared from Poro.

Because of that incident, even the plan to set up a town museum for the artifacts dug during the survey was abandoned. I don’t know what has happened to the sekeletal remains dug up in Sitio Maktang, Barangay Esperanza and the artifacts. The last time I saw the artifacts was in the office of the mayor. The skeletal remains were in the mayor’s house, placed in garbage bags. The UP anthropologists no longer returned to formally set up the museum, and I couldn’t blame them.

As for the claim of some Porohanons that the Battle of Mactan between Ferdinand Magellan and local chieftain Lapulapu actually happened in Maktang, I admit that is a long shot. But I agree with Prof. Bailen that we should not close the issue. There’s still a mystery about the name “Maktang” that needs to be solved. Besides, the controversy would help in the effort to construct Camotes’ historical records.

I have not been to Camotes for several years already as I am still trying to find the time and is still convincing my wife, who is afraid of riding pumpboats, to finally visit there. That place is now in a tourism frenzy, but I just hope government officials there will not forget the truism that to really move forward they should start valuing their past. Camotes still has a lot of stories to tell. Residents there should continue the process of reconstructing it.

—andido Wenceslao, June 1, 2006


4 Responses to Camotes’ continuing past

  1. Lineth says:


    I am from camotes and this is a very interesting writing. I was hoping we can share it to the newly build forum for camotes to hopefully spread awareness to out fellow kababayan, that if you dont mind.

    The forum www/

    More power!


  2. Samuel L. says:

    If you ever want to see a reader’s feedback 🙂 , I rate this post for four from five. Decent info, but I have to go to that damn msn to find the missed pieces. Thanks, anyway!

  3. Cipinfopvog says:

    Outstanding internet site! Will come back soon.

  4. John says:

    This is really interesting, but a bit light on details. Where was the dig? Are there any reports – online – newspaper – which can help?

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