Trip to Argao

We called it a bonding activity, our first major endeavor since we started holding meetings for the past 10 months. “We” refers to City Central School’s Batch 72, or specifically “us” belonging to Sections Sun and Moon. But only seven in our batch joined Saturday’s trip to Argao–Lilu, Eva, Emerson, Edwin, Renier, Brenda (Maria) and me.

“What is there to see in that town?” someone asked. I spent part of my younger years in Argao (I studied in Grade 1 there), so I did find the question relevant. That can be said, too, by critics of Capitol’s “suroy-suroy”: what can one find in Cebu, anyway? Often, we think that, being Cebuanos, we know everything about our province. Wrong.

First off, that “heritage tour” wouldn’t have been made possible without Brenda, who is based in Norway, visiting home and Nilo, who is now in Hongkong, being with us in spirit. Our batch is big–we were more than 20 sections when we graduated–but only few have been contacted. Which makes the plan for a reunion in December formidable.

Anyway, I never thought there is such a thing as guided tour to Argao’s heritage sites. But Lilu linked us to Alex and Richie for the purpose. Obviously, as Alex’s slide presentation showed, a one day tour wasn’t enough. I was interested in the mountain sites, but that would be for another trip. So we made do with roaming the low lying areas.

In Argao, there’s always the torta and, in this case, the bahalina and suka. With the torta, there is no problem: the baking process and sale is brisk. I don’t know if there’s a way to improve the production line of Argao’s famous bahalina and suka. As for those engaged in the traditional hablon, the industry is dying for lack of government support.

Local chief executives can actually do many things if they are just creative and are not ignorant of the potentials of their turfs. I therefore hope new Argao Mayor Edsel Galeos will be different from his predecessors. He just has to take a second and deeper look at people churning out these popular products and map out ways to help them.

Which brings me to the other sorry point that prevents you from fully appreciating Argao’s heritage. I am referring to the failure of both the municipal government and Church officials to preserve historic sites, especially in the so-called old “pueblo.” The central structure of this formerly well fortified settlement is the St. Michael Church.

Much has been said about the gold-painted church altar, courtesy of parish priest Jose Montecillo. But other disturbing things stand out as well: the multi-colored lights attached to the upper portions of the wall, the fish net on the choir loft, the gigantic post beside the statue in front of the church, the neglected Spanish era station of the cross, etc.

The setting up the museum is laudable, although I would say it is in dire need of a professional curator and a larger area. Many items need to be identified, the better for visitors to appreciate them. Museums, after all, intend to bring us to a ride back in time. But I like the effort of townsfolk to salvage old items and put them on display there.

Not that the trip was not enjoyable. I am even planning to invite climbing enthusiasts in Sun.Star to a visit of the mountain sites. That is if I can find time for it.

-I wrote this for the Aug. 8, 2007 issue of Sun.Star Cebu

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