Alluring Antique and the Late Governor Evelio B. Javier

Alluring Antique

And the late Gov. Evelio B. Javier

By Apolinario Villalobos

Antique is invariably likened in shape to a seahorse and described by others as an oversized serrated hemline on the western border of the three-cornered, scarf-like land mass that is Panay. It is nestled between the bluish China Sea on the west and mountain ranges on the east. With a length of 155 kilometers and a width of 33 kilometers at its widest, Antique has a total land area of approximately 252,000 hectares. Long mountain ranges separate it from the rest of the provinces of Panay Island. It is bounded on the north and northeast by Aklan, on the east by Capiz, and on the southeast by Iloilo. On the west is the Cuyo East Pass of the Sulu Sea, part of the vast China Sea.

The province is rich in metallic, as well as, non-metallic minerals. Metallic reserves include copper, chromite, gold and silver, while the non-metallic include China clay, structural clay, pottery clay, phosphate, coal and marble. A yet, undetermined volume of manganese, nickel, gold and silver are believed to abound in the lowlands of Pandan and Libertad. Coal is found on Semirara Island.

Other than rich geologic resources, Antique is also endowed by nature with alluring attributes that are bound to enthrall visitors, making them wonder how it could have stayed unnoticed for a long time.

The Antiqueῆos, just like the rest of the inhabitants of Panay Island are charming and hospitable. They are ready with a smile that can make a stranger feel at home, the moment he steps on the province’s threshold. There is a mingling tint of races in their physical make up. While some show strong Malay features, the rest are of the Ati and Spanish strains. Their Visayan dialect, called Karay-a may not sound lilting due to its rolling accent, but the intonation is pleasant to the ear.

Antique’s own kind of January festival with a religious undertone, though, with strong historic feature is called “Binirayan Festival”. The “biray” refers to the sailboats used by the ten Bornean datu who landed at Malandag, when they escaped the tyrannical rule of their sultan, Makatunaw. Their landing site at Malandag is marked with an austere structure. The celebration has caught up with the rest of the festivals of provinces of Panay, such as Ati-Atihan of Kalibo (Aklan), Dinagyang of Iloilo, and Halaran of Roxas (Capiz).

A visitor will never be bored in Antique which is blessed by nature with mountains, waterfalls, profuse wildlife, beaches and coral gardens, not to mention the historic landmarks in practically, every town. At San Jose de Buenavista, the capital, snorkeling can be enjoyed at Comun, where clusters of colorful reefs can be found. It has also its share of beautiful beaches, such as the Madranga and Taringting, where visitors usually rest after a day’s revelry during the Binirayan Festival, held at its permanent site, the La Granja.

South of San Jose de Buenavista, a little more than an hour away from downtown, is Anini-y, with its medicinal sulphuric Sira-an hot spring, that gushes out of rocks, overlooking the Panay Gulf. The town’s Hispanic past is punctuated by its centuries-old church made of white corals. It also takes pride in its two islands, Nogas and Hurao-Hurao. The former is ringed by coral gardens, while the latter can be reached by wading in the water during low tide. There’s also the Cresta del Gallo which the locals call Punta Nasog, so appropriately named because the cliffs look like a cock’s comb, especially, when they are silhouetted against the darkening horizon late in the afternoon.

A quarter of an hour’s drive from San Jose is Hamtic, the site of the first Malay settlement in Panay. The site is particularly located at Malandag, a progressive district where an austere structure serves as the marker of the historic spot.

Going northeast on a forty-five minutes of commute on a jeepney, one will reach San Remegio, a beautiful hillside town, frequented by weekenders for its two scenic waterfalls, as well as, Bato Cueva, a cave situated on a hill. From this perch, one can have a sweeping view of the plains traversed by a river down below, and cloud-capped jade mountains.

At Culasi, one will surely be impressed by the mountain ranges that serve as the boundary between the neighboring provinces of Capiz and Aklan, with Mt. Madia-as as the highest peak. Approaching the mountain from town, its awe-inspiring “hundred waterfalls” can make one gasp in admiration.

Seen from the shores of Culasi is Mararison Island which could be reached on a pumpboat in thirty minutes. During the ‘80s, we had a rare opportunity to pitch tent on it shore after our memorable climb of Mt. Madia-as. While approaching the island, we were impressed by the coral gardens below the calm waters, so that, as soon as we have pitched our tents, we raced to them. Practically, the whole island is ringed by the coral colonies with varying depths. A surprise was the freshwater spring whose gushes can only be enjoyed during the low tide, as it gets submerged during high tide. Not far from Mararison Island is Batbatan islet with its equally inviting coral reefs.

Culasi, particularly, Lipata point is historically significant, for having been made as a temporary port for the submarines of the Allied Forces during the WWII.

Practically, the whole length of the province’s coast from Anini-y to Libertad is dotted with beaches and historical landmarks, such as the watch towers at Bugasong and Libertad, and beaches, foremost of which are those of Taguimtim, Cadiao, Hatay-Hatay, Manglamon, and Barbaza, Piῆa.

The sturdy churches built by the Spanish friars in major towns of the province have survived years of natural calamities and still are the center of the people’s activities. Virtually, every major town has one.

Other inland attractions are the Pula waterfalls and Lake Danao of San Remigio which is already known for its Bato Cueva; Macalbag waterfalls of Barbaza; Bugang River of Pandan; Tiguis cave of Tibiao which also boasts of a swift river ideal for kayaking; Sebaste’s waterfalls; and, guano-filled Maanghit Cave of Libertad. A less explored group of islands are those that compose the municipality of Caluya, which aside from the island town, are Bogtongan and Semirara, known for their white beaches, and with the latter enjoying a protection as bird sanctuary.

Near the Aklan boundary in the north is Pandan, a town famous for its Malumpati Beach and Hot Springs. It is much nearer Kalibo, though, as the travel time on a pumpboat is a little more than an hour. The late governor Evelio Javier brought me to this place for a pumpboat ride to Boracay when this internationally-renowned island was just in its virginal state. He guided me around the famous island, whose powdery white beaches at the time were just dotted with quaint fishermen’s lean-to cottages. During his lifetime, the brisk development of the island was perhaps far from his mind, because of its almost inaccessibility. He was an advocate of ecology and what I will never forget while we were tracing our steps back to the waiting pumpboat, was when he told me, “I hope this island will not be damaged by the tourism industry…” He was proud of Boracay, as though, it was within the scope of Antique, for geographically and politically, the island is part of the neighboring Aklan province. By God’s design, perhaps, he did not live long to be saddened at how Boracay looks like now. He was mercilessly assassinated on February 11, 1986. To commemorate his staunch leadership as a young governor of the province, the EBJ Freedom Park was built in his name.

While in Antique, one can always find something to do, as it is replete with varying natural endowments – from nature tripping to culture research, and religious exploration. It is this variation that made its youthful governor, the late, Evelio B. Javier advocate ecology-based tourism so that both the man-made and natural legacies can be preserved and shared by the Antiqueῆos with the world – in their unspoiled state. He must have felt the fear for the onslaught of the uncontrolled tourism industry to happen years beyond his lifetime, hence, his heartfelt advocacy. Unfortunately, his fear has become a reality….

Today, every time Antique is mentioned, what comes to my mind is the face of the late “manong Belio”, as how I called him then. He was the first governor I met who did not have any single bodyguard when moving around. He always had time to be with his people, even driving to as far as Valderrama, an inland town, to play basketball with the young farmers. Most especially, he was proud of his culture, and his Karay-a dialect that he uses without qualm, every time he had an opportunity. I just hope that his spirit will guide the Antiqueῆos so that his advocacy will live on.

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