According to my Philippine map tracker app, I have already gone to 51 out of 81 Philippine provinces. While I loved each of these places, no province has become so special to me the way Bohol has. During my two separate trips to Bohol in the past couple of months alone, I realized just how different they are from the other provinces.
I say this because the fact that there are no major commercial malls like SM or Robinsons or Ayala Malls there, that there is not even a single Starbucks branch on the island, or that there are no major factories in Bohol says a lot about their traits: modest, meek, and self-effacing.
I say this because I discovered so many beautiful natural spots that I thought might make popular tourist destinations, but I could tell that Bohol chose not to develop or promote them too much. In Anda, for example, there is this hidden lagoon that has clear-blue natural water; you could see it glimmering when the sun rays hit the water. I could also tell that not a lot of people go there because there were no directions that would guide tourists like us (my friends and I needed a local tricycle driver’s company), Waze could not locate it, and the road going there was not even paved yet. If Bohol was hungry for more development, it would have improved and promoted these less-popular natural wonders more.
I say this out of my memories of the locals whom I have met particularly during my month-long stay in the quiet barangay of Bil-isan in Panglao. When I first arrived, I went to the nearby sari-sari store to buy essentials like bath soap, rice, and canned goods. I called the woman who owned the store “Nanay” and the other woman who was selling barbecue and isaw beside Nanay’s store “Ate.” They knew right away that I was a tourist; they kept asking why I chose to stay in Bil-isan when it was far from the more popular beach towns like Tawala, Doljo, and Bolod. A month later, when I was preparing to head back to Manila, I realized that I was calling them differently already; “Nanay” became “Tita Tessie” and “Ate” became “Ate Mariebel.” They became more than just store owners but, really, good neighbors and friends who never failed to ask me how I was adjusting to their town, to welcome me and treat me like a neighbor and not as a tourist that they should not mind about.
I say this because of what I learned during my interactions with the village people in the town of Valladolid in Loboc. One Saturday, I met their chieftain, Kap Jun, who showed me around; I saw local women weaving nipa palm leaves and coconut fronds to make roof thatchings in nipa huts. I watched strong local men climb up coconut trees to collect various sap that they would make as Tuba or coconut wine (yes, of course, they made me drink!). They taught me the basics of cockfighting (I lost ₱200 or $4 to a bet, but it was the only time I was happy I lost), too, and showed me the entire process of harvesting their rice.
On that day, they mentioned that the last natural calamity to have damaged their town was in 2013 and that they had a hard time bouncing back. “We already lost our biggest income source – tourism – because of the pandemic. So now, we rely more on agriculture,” they told me in Filipino. “If another strong typhoon comes, our farms would be destroyed and we would lose our last few income sources already. We would be left with nothing.”
Little did we know that just less than a month after that conversation, a super typhoon would strike their quiet town and the rest of the island with hard blows again.
When Super Typhoon Odette (Rai) hit several provinces on December 16, Bohol was one of the most severely affected (they reported the most deaths with 96 fatalities as of this writing). Seeing photos of the damaged man-made forest in Bilar, the broken trees or the residences of the tarsiers in Bohol Tarsier Conservation Area (reports say that of the 150 tarsiers that lived there, only two have been found so far), the overflowing Loboc River, and the toppled electric posts and broken houses was such a painful experience for me – how much more for the locals and travelers who were there during the live nightmare?
I feel grateful to have missed the typhoon; I was supposed to head back to Manila on December 18 (two days after the typhoon hit) but thankfully I left on December 11, not knowing yet that a super typhoon would come. But also, I feel sorry that I left the people who became my neighbors and friends there to brave the strong rains and winds. One of my neighbors in Bil-isan (who once made me leche flan) has a 6-month-old baby and I cannot imagine how they survived the hard blows. Many of them told me through text that they no longer have electric, water, and food supplies, so any form of aid would be very helpful.
It is so amazing that, in the Philippines, relief operations are quick to happen just right after a typhoon. The Philippine Gift of Life Foundation, for instance, has already raised ₱262,600 ($5,200) as of December 22. They pack relief bags that contain rice, canned goods, noodles, and hygiene kits that have already been distributed to approximately 500 families from badly-hit towns like Loon, Calape, Getafe, and Inabanga. Interested donors may send their cash donations to the bank account provided in the poster below as they plan to reach more towns in the coming weeks.
As I said earlier, Bohol is modest, meek, and self-effacing. Perhaps they always thought that what they had was enough already, that they did not want or need anything more. They always relied on one another, on what they already had. Maybe they were independent in that sense, and to them that was okay.
But while those are wonderful traits, Bohol, like other severely-hit provinces, needs others’ attention and help, too, especially in a very unfortunate time as now.
It should not take extra effort to think what Christmas wishes are being made under Bol-anons’ roofless houses right now – all while they are being blanketed by the cold, sad holiday breeze.
Though I am now in the comforts of my home far away from Bohol, I am with the Bol-anons in making those Christmas wishes, too.
Juju Z. Baluyot is a Manila-based writer who has written in-depth special reports, news features, and opinion-editorial pieces for a wide range of publications. He covers cultures, media, and gender. The views expressed are his own.
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