Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Shrines of Our Times

It’s been a sweet coincidence to find ourselves in Jose Rizal’s old home in Dapitan at the very day of the annual commemoration of Philippines’ independence from Spain. Ate Glo advanced the celebration a day earlier, the same day we stepped on the port of the “shrine city”.

Rizal lived as an exile in this town for four years before his trial and consequent execution in Bagumbayan. The old compound, where the national hero used to reside, faces a panoramic view of Dapitan Bay. His life-size statueis the first monumental landmark in the area to greet visitors. Scattered across the historical grounds are sawali huts, which are faithful replicas of the houses where Rizal once lived with his family, treated his patients, taught young locals, and sheltered his chickens.

Faith, our host who is the daughter of former Dipolog Congressman Roseller Barinaga, has nothing much to say about the shrine. She has toured too many visitors to this place her entire life and has probably come to realize that there’s really nothing much to tell about the park that one cannot read in history books. Imagine our surprise, and sudden fit of laughter, when Ron suddenly confessed that he thought it was where Rizal was actually executed.

Most streets in Dapitan were named after places, people, and things connected to the national hero. There was one named after Josephine Bracken, an American girl Rizal met, fell in love with, and later married in Dapitan. Maybe during their courtship stage, the charming Pepe would ask the young Josephine to attend mass with him at St. James’s Church, so that he could later wow her lady love with his very own grass rendition of a Mindanao relief map--said to be designed based on the hero’s brilliant memory—from across the street.

However, I’ve noticed that Dapitan’s take to its title as “shrine city” has somehow gone beyond merely being a city that gives tribute to some of our national hero’s most memorable days. Based on the many banners posted all over the place, the title seems to have already been stretched to mean the shrine city to the efforts and establishments put up by the town’s most powerful political clan. The largest of these shrines is a humongous local resort that has a good stretch of white-sand beach, two pools, a golf course, a chapel, a large garden for wedding receptions, restaurants, bars, a game house and numerous big cottages.

Dapiitan seems to have also stretched its title a little further to accommodate the buena familia’s tribute to those they seem to hold dear, such as the new Libis-type recreational compound they named Gloria de Dapitan. The compound has a high-end steak house and an equally high-end bar, boutiques, a carousel, a poker house, and a circular arena for cock derbies.

But what I came to love most about Dapitan, is it’s also a shrine city to the good old “kamayan” tradition. Except for the breakfast we had in Dakak, I couldn’t recall any other time in our two-day visit there when I ate using spoon or fork. I must have added a few pounds savoring every meal with my bare hands. Every dish—from kinilaw to barbecues, from ginataang alimango to bottled Spanish sardines—were finger lickin’ good.

We truly had the most unforgettable meals in Dapitan, thanks to Faith’s overflowing generosity: the grand dinner of crabs, squid, crispy pata, sinigang, tinola ang kinilaw at Kamayan ni Manay (the temporary home of Lab Kamayan, Dapitan’s most popular seafood restaurant); our lunch with the locals at Selinog island, where we had a feast of grilled flying fish and Montano’s Spanish sardines (locally made in Dipolog); and our barbecue dinner at Sunset Boulevard, which was Dapitan’s version of Manila’s Baywalk.

But while it seems that I have only been paying tribute to the city of Dapitan with accounts of the experiences Ron and I had there, what I really want to do most is to pay tribute to the hospitality shown to us by our hosts in Dipolog. Our rich experiences, though mostly situated in Dapitan, would not have been possible without the kindness of Faith and her family. They have accommodated us in their home for two nights, made our stomachs constantly happy with sumptuous meals, arranged for us a rare trip to the beautiful remote island of Selinog, and treated us to an overnight accommodation in Dakak.

They have proven to us that the proverbial Filipino hospitality is still very much alive, especially in the most remote provinces of the Philippines where it is readily offered without any other agenda. How I wish more Filipinos could be living shrines to this good old trait.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hi! in your last pic, is that a picture of faith barinaga with her husband? i'm a long lost friend of hers, haven't been to dipolog in a long long time... am planning a balikbayan trip real soon! i hope you could post pics of faith barinaga-lim if you know her, thanks :D - daisy