By Pablo A. Tariman, VERA Files
Albay is in the news again with its official entry, Ivethe Maria Santiago, winning Bb. Pilipinas –Supranational.
Another beauty with Albay roots, Bianca Guidotti, ended up Bb. Pilipinas International.
Santiago did pretty well in the question-and-answer portion saying, “At a time when our country was suffering from man-made chaos and natural disasters, our queens kept our hopes up.”
It was an apt answer for a province known for its comprehensive disaster-preparedness program.
Indeed, Santiago put a human face in the ongoing Daragang Magayon (Beautiful Maiden) Festival celebrating the 440th anniversary of Albay.
However, the fact remains that Albay’s Mayon Volcano remains its number one tourism endorser with its constantly changing hues.
The historic photos of the volcano from the 1800 to the present surely documented the dramatic transitions in the volcano country.
Meanwhile, the province has posted 55% tourism growth last year with the Department of Tourism hopeful the province is the next big bet to lead the next major wave of tourist influx into the country.
The province has a P2.243 billion outlay to support its comprehensive tourism program while preparing to host the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) in 2016 where Albay will host at least three ministerial meetings.
On top of its unique approach to climate change and disaster-prepared program, it’s pretty clear Albay has a sustained cultural renaissance program incorporating the province’s heritage in the arts and its historic landmarks.
A strong candidate for the next world heritage site is the Cagsawa Church Ruins buried by Mayon’s tragic eruption in 1814. That volcanic upheaval killed 1,200 inhabitants most of whom took shelter in the Cagsawa Church and ended up buried when the church was overwhelmed by boulders and boiling lavas.
Cagsawa’s first parish priest, Fr. Alfonso de Jadraque, who took over in 1605, witnessed the relative prosperity of the settlement until 1634. Barangay Busay – which was part of Cagsawa – was where the first bullfight in the Philipines was staged according to the late Albay Bishop Teotimo Pacis.
Some 179 years before the cataclysmic eruption – on July 25, 1635 to be precise -- the town was ravaged by Dutch pirates and left it in total ruins.
Gov. Joey Salceda likes to think that the Dutch pillage of 1635 to the tragic Mayon eruption of 1814 and to the equally disastrous Typhoon Reming in 2006 have given way to the resiliency of the Albayanos who have learned to cope with all kinds of natural and even man-made disasters.
Some 200 years after the 1814 tragic eruption, both Mayon and the Cagsawa Ruins have become favorite tourist destinations.
To streamline the tourism program, the province has launched Guidebook for Albay Tourist Guides written by its poet laureate Abdon Balde Jr. who also heads the province’s Historico-Cultural Group.
In its 440 years, some little known facets of Albay remain known only to a few culture vulture.
In the book “War At The Time” by Clarence Lininger, the soldier author wrote of an opera house in Daraga, Albay damaged by the Filipino-American war in the province.
In the same book, Lininger recounted the first time Americans from Washington D.C. first saw Mayon Volcano. “What’s that?” gasped the gentleman from Washington awed by the miracle vision. “Oh, that’s Mayon,” said the other. “Most beautiful volcano in the world. Hemp all around it and well up its sides. Great possibilities, Mayon.”
“Indeed?” said the Washingtonian shortly; he became preoccupied and distant for the rest of the trip. Upon his return to Washington he introduced a resolution in Congress calling for an investigation of the acquisition of Philippine lands and other properties by American officials in the islands.
With the beauty of Mayon, there must have been frantic American effort to buy all the lands around the volcano and it was pure coincidence that Mayon rhymed with the American obsession to treat the volcano as “My (their) own.”
As to why the province changed its foundation day from May 14, 1834 to April 3, 1574, Salceda shared his historical findings, thus: “As many Albayanos know, May 14, 1834 was the day that Jose Maria Peñaranda became governor of Albay. He was an outstanding leader and Albay is what it is now largely because of his contributions. However, it was pointed out by one of the most prominent historians of Bikol, Dr. Danilo Madrid Gerona, that there is a more appropriate date to celebrate the birth of Albay.”
He cited a document in the Archivo General de Indias in Seville, Spain that clearly states that on April 3, 1574, the Spanish Governor-General Guido de Lavezares assigned to a certain Juan Guerra many villages in this area as encomiendas or “entrusted villages.”
According to Gerona, “As encomienda villages, they paved the way for the rise of municipalities which served as the structural base upon which the Spanish colonial regime in the province took root.”
Thus, the governor concluded that the immensely valuable document provides the indisputable proof of Albay’s entrance into the Spanish imperial chart.” While the document does not officially refer to the foundation of Albay, it nevertheless should be considered as an important date in Albay history… as the rightful date to celebrate Albay Day.”
(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)