I have two memorable Bantayan Island experiences, one in the mid-‘80s and the other in the ‘90s. I once did some organizing work in the fourth district, though only for a very short time (a couple of months or so). Life in the towns there, especially for the poor fisherfolk and sugarcane workers, was hard, in contrast to the opulence of the landlords.
When I first set foot in the island, I spent time in Bantayan town’s plaza and even thought of spending the night there when I realized people might get suspicious. So after sunset, I started walking my way to a barangay in neighboring Madridejos town to rest in the house of one of the fisherfolks we organized. In the darkness, I ended up getting lost.
The first wrong turn brought me to a dead end. I managed to get back to the main road and later made another wrong turn. After walking for another couple of hours, I got the shock of my life when I found out that I was back where I started, in Bantayan proper. Suffice it to say that I did reach my destination at dawn, after finding the correct turn.
The ‘90s experience happened when I was in the media covering the Capitol beat. Then Provincial Board member Benhur Salimbangon brought us to the island to update us on Capitol’s barangay electrification project. We rode a yacht going there, getting off on the pristine white beach of Sta. Fe town. We spent the night in a beach resort cottage.
The next day the weather took a turn for the worse. The winds howled and the waves slapped the islands with certain ferocity. Having traveled many times to and from the home place of my parents in Camotes islands, I knew it wasn’t the best time to go back to the mainland. But Salimbangon herded us to the port to assess the situation.
There, we met then Sta. Fe mayor Rogelio Ilustrisimo Sr. who, according to Salimbangon, had made it safely fours before riding a small pumpboat from mainland Cebu to the island. The passenger boat moored to the pier was bobbing up and down with the wave. “What do you think? Should we proceed?” Salimbangon asked Ilustrisimo.
The veteran sea traveler didn’t flinch. “That boat fights waves well. And while the waves are big, these do not move in rapid succession. You should go,” the mayor said. Frankly, that was the worst boat ride I was in and I would have vomited had I not stood up throughout the trip, allowing seawater that splashed into the boat to wet my face.
—I wrote this for the May 10, 2007 issue of Sun.Star Cebu