Monday, March 20, 2017

SURIGAO DEL SUR: A PROVINCE EMERGING FROM THE SHADOW OF ITS MORE POPULAR SISTER PROVINCE.



Finally was able to visit the province of Surigao del Sur. More than a year before, I had to discontinue my trip to this province as my connecting flight back to Manila from Cebu was canceled due to the APEC summit that was being held in Manila.  That would have left me stranded in Cebu if I continued. Being a promo fare I could not reschedule the trip as the Cebu-Tandag flights were not affected by the APEC event. Had to wait for more than a year before I could get another promo fare with dates that suited by schedule. This time around, there were no more complications.


As a tourist destination, Surigao del Sur lags behind its sister province of  Surigao del Norte having Siargao as the foremost  destination with their famous white sand beaches and world class surfing. However, the province of Surigao del Sur is fast becoming a destination itself with their own unique sights of waterfalls, river resorts and white sand beaches found throughout the province. There are nineteen towns that compose the province of Surigao del Sur with Tandag City as the capital. Ecclesiastically the whole province belongs to the Diocese of Tandag. 

Had told Bp. Odchimar, the bishop of Tandag that I would like to visit his diocese before he retire from the diocese. When I told him of the final dates of my visit, he told me that he would be out of the diocese on those dates. However, he entrusted me to his Vicar General, Msgr. Cid Irizari who was the one who would take care of my visit. Msgr. Cid turned out to be the perfect host and guide.

Msgr. Cid was already at the airport when I arrived. He took us to the Bishop’s Residence where we had our lunch. We were told that right after lunch we will already start our tour of the province. Our first destination was an island hopping tour of Britania.  It was raining while we were on our way. It had been raining for the past several days and there was even already flooding down south in Davao.  In fact it was a bit dark even though it was only past one in the afternoon when we left the Bishop’s residence and Pastoral Center.

 Britania is part of the town of San Agustin about 80 kilometers from Tandag. At the La Enkantada, one of the resorts in Britania, Msgr. Cid rented a boat for the island hopping. It cost 1,500. It was a big boat with a maximum capacity for 35 persons. There are about twenty islets composing the Britania Group of Islands. But they are just near the mainland. We first docked at the Naked islet, a small islet with just a few coconut trees and white sand. Nearby was the Vanishing islet with no vegetation and would be underwater during high tides. Next we stopped by Boslon island. There were some stores on the islet. But the sea was grassy and shallow so we did not stay for long. Then we stopped where there were some corals and I jumped to the sea to snorkel. The last islet that we stopped had two other islets which we were able to traverse as it was low tide. 

          What was remarkable was that although it was raining when we started but upon reaching the first islet the rains stopped and the skies
 cleared. It was not until we were about to leave from the last island did the rains start again. And this would be the pattern for the next three days of my trip. There were constant rains for the whole duration while we were in Surigao del Sur. However, upon arrival  at our destination, the rains would stop and the  sun would come out and we could then enjoy the sights and take pictures. The rains would start again as we leave. Or it could be raining while we are indoors and would slow to a drizzle when we leave.  God is indeed good. 

There was a heavy rain when we started the island hopping tour. 




The skies cleared as soon as we docked on the first island. 









The Vanishing islet.





A few corals could be seen. 






From Britania we made our way back to the parish of San Agustin where we had an early supper prepared by the parish priest, Fr. Glenn Infiesto.  From San Agustin we were to proceed to Bislig, the second biggest town of Surigao del Sur and next to the last town of the province down south. We would be staying overnight there for our trip to the Tinuyan Falls the following day. Since we left our other things in  Tandag, thinking that we will return there in the evening, we stopped by in the town of Barobo on the way  to buy some toiletries. We arrived at the Forest Grove parish in Bislig at past eight already. The parish priest Fr. Bebot Pastera was already waiting. It was here where we stayed overnight. Forest Grove was the residential area of the employees of PICOP, a paper mill in Mangagoy which was closed in 2007. It is because of the paper mill in Mangagoy which is only a barangay of Bislig that the former is more progressive than the latter. 



An I love Bislig sign by the boulevard along the sea as one approaches the city proper. 



STO. TOMAS DE VILLANUEVA PARISH CHURCH
Bislig, Surigao del Sur
Founded: 1642

The church was undergoing  renovation inside when we visited it. The facade needs a new paint. 



With a glass wall at the back of the altar, the garden outside served as the backdrop for the altar. 



Second Day

We had an early breakfast at 6:30 so we could cover a lot of ground during the day. The first stop was the Bislig church which was under renovation. Next stop was at the Tinuy-an Falls, 15 kilometers away from the highway on uncemented roads. The good thing with this falls unlike all other falls is that one no longer has to hike in order to reach the falls. The parking area was just right near the waterfalls itself. Having rained for a few days already, there was such a tremendous amount of water cascading down the falls. With a width of about a hundred meters and a height of 55 meters, indeed Tinuy-an falls which is the widest in the country is considered as the Philippines’ Niagara Falls. We climbed up to the second level of the falls where we bathed underneath a shorter falls.  We also  took a bamboo raft  at the first level to get near the falls.  



TINUY-AN FALLS




A hundred meters wide and fifty meters height Tinuyan Falls is considered as the Niagara Falls of the Philippines.  At the foreground is the raft that is used to get near the cascading falls. 





The second level of the falls. 





Afterwards we visited the Mangagoy church. It was already past ten in the morning. We then  went to visit the Hinatuan church.




ST. VINCENT DE PAUL PARISH CHURCH
Mangagoy, Bislig City, Surigao del Sur
Founded: 1952






SAINT AGUSTINE PARISH CHURCH
Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur
Founded: 1908



The old convento. 




 From there we went next to the Enchanted River. From the highway, it was still 9 kilometers  away but with good cemented road. No swimming was allowed yet this time at the Enchanted River as they were undergoing some improvements of the facilities. However we were able to take pictures of the place. It was just right as we had a good view of the crystal clear and blue waters. Bloggers suggest that it is better to visit the place on weekdays as it is always full of people. They just finished feeding the fish when we arrived and we still saw the fishes of all sizes and shapes still near the top of the waters. It was already past 12 noon when we left. 










We then passed by the churches of Tagbina, Barobo and Lianga where we had our lunch, courtesy of the parish priest, Fr. Juanito Rosales. Our last stop was at Marihatag church. Wanted to pass by Cagwait to see at least the white sand beaches there but we were running out of time. Another car was waiting at the Pastoral Center to bring us to Laswitan in Cortes.



OUR LADY OF PERPETUAL HELP PARISH CHURCH
Tagbina, Surigao del Sur
Founded: 1976



MOTHER OF MERCY PARISH CHURCH
Barobo, Surigao del Sur
Founded: 1975






HOLY CHILD PARISH CHURCH
Lianga, Surigao del Sur
Founded: 1879





Church altar of Lianga. 

The convento of the Lianga Parish.



HOLY CHILD PARISH CHURCH
Marihatag, Surigao del Sur
Founded: 1914




We met several cars and motorbikes on our way to Laswitan which was four and a half kilometers from the junction. We thought that since it was already late in the afternoon  there will already be few people there. To our surprise there were still lots of tourists. To get to the pool we still had to make our way down through some cemented steps. The pool was not that big surrounded by black rocks which separated it from the sea. So that when the waves splashed it would go over the rocks to the pool that is why the place is called Laswitan. 




Waves would strike the rocks that separates this pool from the sea, called laswit in the dialect. Hence the name Laswitan. 







After leaving Laswitan on our way back to Tandag I told the driver that we pass by the church of Cortes. Was told that we already passed by it as the town proper of Cortes was just after the turn going to Laswitan. I was thinking all the while that the town proper was along the highway. The driver suggested that we turn back to go to the town. From the highway it was about three kilometers to the town proper. When we asked where the church was, we were asked right away which church we were looking. The Catholic church was at the end of the town with just a small space in front. It was already a bit dark when we arrived and the church was closed. From the grills I took pictures of the altar but was not that clear already. As we left the place we passed by a bigger church that was well lighted with many people around. It was the Iglesia Filipina Independiente. In front was the town plaza. Was told later that the town is a stronghold of the Aglipay. Hence the main parish of the Catholic church is in Burgos, a barrio of Cortes. The one in Cortes was just a chapel.

Third Day

Upon the invitation of Msrg. Cid, I celebrated the first  mass of Sunday at the Cathedral of Tandag. Was surprised that the mass instead of being celebrated inside the Cathedral was at the covered court of the St. Theresa College which was just beside the Cathedral. Msgr Cid later told me that they already received a notice of demolition for the church because of structural defects. Only weekday masses are said there. They are afraid that if an earthquake would occur during Sundays the church might collapse. They are now building the new Cathedral just at the outskirts of the city of Tandag.


SAN NICOLAS DE TOLENTINO CATHEDRAL PARISH
Tandag City, Surigao del Sur
Founded: 1622

The old Cathedral which badly needs repairs in front of a new sparkling plaza now looks like an eyesore. 

The altar of the Cathedral.

A newly developed plaza just in front of the Cathedral. At the farthest end is the Provincial Capitol. 


The Cathedral convento.




After breakfast at the cathedral, we returned to the Pastoral center. Msgr. Cid said that he will pick us up at about  ten in the morning after his 8:30 am mass. Our route for the day will be the northern towns of Surigao del Sur. 

Just after ten the driver of Msgr. Cid picked us up at the Pastoral Center. Our first stop was at the Lanuza Marine Park and Sanctuary. Msgr Cid said the place was a good one for snorkeling as there were plenty of rock fish in the area. However this time since the amihan was still ongoing, the waves were strong that swimming in the area was not advisable. 
















Next stop was to see the surfing area in the town of  Lanuza. There were a number of surfers riding the waves there. One was a young lad from Butuan who recognized Msgr Cid. The sea this time was brownish in color as there had been rains this past week. The waves here are not that big and is good for beginner surfers. We then went to the town of Cantilan where we joined the birthday celebration of one of the priests assigned there, Fr. Richard Limbaga. The parishioners were there for the celebration. From Cantilan we proceeded up to the northernmost town of Carrascal. Carrascal is a mining town and made their presence felt by the sports structures built in the town. From afar one could see the mountains which have already been stripped of their top soil.  


IMMACULATE CONCEPTION PARISH CHURCH
Cantilan, Surigao del Sur
Founded: 1791






Giving a short message at the birthday celebration of Fr. Richard Limbaga.




OUR LADY OF MT. CARMEL PARISH CHURCH
Carrascal, Surigao del Sur
Founded: 1914




ST. ISIDORE PARISH CHURCH
Madrid, Surigao del Sur
Founded: 1915












ST. VINCENT FERRER PARISH CHURCH
Carmen, Surigao del Sur
Founded: 1917






The northern towns of Surigao del Sur is called Carcanmadcarlan, short for Carrascal, Cantilan which is the mother town, Madrid, Carmen and Lanuza.  From Carrascal going back south, we passed by the parish churches of Madrid, Carmen and Lanuza. In Carmen we found the parish priest, Fr. Apple Orosco hearing confessions of children preparing for their first communion.  In Lanuza we first visited the ancestral home of Msgr. Cid which is supposedly the oldest house in the province built in 1898. An old maid auntie of Msgr. Cid is living in the house. This house belonged to Gabriel Herrera, who was the great grandfather of Msgr. Cid from his mother side. He was the first mayor of Cantilan, when the five towns of Carcanmadcarlan was still one. One of the 16 children of Gabriel, Filomeno would later on become the first mayor of Lanuza when it became an independent town.




The Herrera Ancestral home in Lanuza is considered as the oldest house in the province of Surigao del Sur, constructed in 1898. 

The sala upstairs of the Herrera ancestral home with Msgr. Cid, (left) one of the great grandsons of the original owner.  


ST. ANTHONY OF PADUA PARISH CHURCH
Lanuza, Surigao del Sur
Founded: 1913






Pastoral Center of the parish of Lanuza. 


Afterwards we proceeded to the Magkawas Falls which still belongs to the town of Lanuza. The falls was about forty feet in height. As there is a rock on top, the water gushes down on its sides but joins as one when it falls to the pool. Two pools have been developed for swimming, one just below the falls and a shallower one after the first level.















From Magkawas, our last stop for the day was to visit the Babac Bungalows. This is a private resort in Lanuza which is also a site for surfing. The Filipina owner married to an Australian also gives yoga classes to the guests.  It has native nipa huts, no aircon, only fans. It started to rain hard while we took our snacks of delicious seafood pasta and brewed coffee.


Babac Bungalows. 

It rained hard while we were having our snacks at the Babac Bungalows. 


After supper at the residence we still had time to visit the newly opened  restobar in town, the Lions CafĂ© and Restobar. It was on the fourth floor of a new commercial building. There was a three-member acoustic band playing. After some time we moved to another location to listen to another band at Nico’s Garden. But there was just dancing when we arrived and would have waited another hour before the band would play. We no longer waited but instead left for home and called it a night. It was just fine for a soon as we arrived back at the Pastoral Center, the heavy rains started again which would last the whole night.  

Fourth Day

Since our flight to Cebu was still at 11:55, we still had the time to visit the beach of Cagwait. Msgr Cid picked us up at the Pastoral Center by 8:30am so we could first visit the construction site of the new cathedral. It was indeed a massive building which could contain more than a thousand people. Fronting the church is the baptistery. It is a 150 million peso project. They already have put 80 million into the project.  Elevated with a wide ramp, the church building will have function rooms underneath the church.




The new Cathedral of Tandag undergoing construction. 





From the new  Cathedral site we proceeded to Cagwait, visiting first the parish church. Then we went to the Cagwait white beach which is situated on a big cove. One of the beach resorts is owned by the LGU. From Cagwait, we passed by the church of Bayabas which was the home town of our companion seminarian,  Rolly. The last stop was the church of Tago. An early lunch was prepared at the bishop’s residence before leaving for the airport.





The Church of Cagwait
Cagwait, Surigao del Sur


















ST. IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA PARISH CHURCH
Bayabas, Surigao del Sur
Founded: 2003





The parish convent of  Bayabas




A temporary wooden bridge connects to the town proper of Bayabas while a permanent one is being constructed besides it. 


OUR LADY OF THE HOLY ROSARY PARISH CHURCH
Gamut, Tago, Surigao del Sur
Founded: 2005




LA PURISIMA CONCEPCION PARISH CHURCH
Tago, Surigao del Sur
Founded: 1913














In just about three and a half days I was able to visit seventeen of the nineteen towns of Surigao del Sur together with their churches and all its touristic sights. It was indeed a very fulfilling trip.

My flight from Cebu to Manila was supposed to be at 9:30 in the evening and I arrived in Cebu at one in the afternoon.  Msgr. Cid mentioned that Cebu Pacific allows chance passengers to take earlier flights. I remember that I tried that a few years back but was told that since my ticket was a promo fare I cannot take an earlier flight unless I pay a rebooking fee.  Philippine Airlines had this service though. Since I had nothing to do in Cebu I tried to go to the ticketing office, but was just told by the guard that I go to Counter 18 of the check-in counter. When I showed by boarding pass from my cellphone, as I just checked in online,  the person at the check in counter after a while handed me a printed boarding pass and told me that boarding will be in a few minutes. Was I glad of this change of events. If Msgr. Cid had not told me about it I would have waited for nine hours at the airport with nothing to do. This saved our driver who I told to meet me at the airport at midnight when I was supposed to arrive.