I woke up from my slumber half dizzy and disoriented. Worse, I felt numb all over, like I’d just been given a one-liter shot of anesthesia. And as I tried to turn my head to the glass-paned window where the soft glimmer of the afternoon sun was seeping through, a thousand needles seemed to stab my whole body with varying intensity, making me wince from the sudden jolt of pain. Fatigue and hunger were strongly fighting for my attention, their squabble interrupted only by different aches and pains assaulting my bones and muscles. As if on cue, my mouth began to instinctively utter one of the most hackneyed phrases in the movies: “Where am I?” Where was I indeed? As anti-climactic as it may seem, I was just in a bus and had been sitting on my cramped seat for over 24 hours, with only a few intermittent minutes of respite from the torture. Thus, my misery.
My arduous odyssey began when I boarded the Samar-bound bus at the Araneta Center Bus Terminal in Cubao. I had purchased my ticket late, and April being a passenger season month, nearly all of the seats had already been booked beforehand. As a consequence, I was delegated to the last seat available which was located at the rear end of the bus. It was the worst spot to be in. On that hell-hole, so to speak, the magnitude of every jolt and jump of the bus–even its slightest movement–was exponentially increased. You’d end up being tossed about in every which way imaginable, like a lifeless rag doll. Add to that the fact that you barely had enough room to even wriggle your toes. At the end of the journey, you’d feel like you had been crushed, trampled and trodden upon by a group of carabao-riding Katipuneros.
But why go through all the hassle? one might say. And what’s the big deal? Well, I was going home to my roots. I was going home to the place where I had spent more than half of my life. I was going home to Pagbabangnan.
But where in the world is Pagbabangnan?
On almost any standard Philippine map, the town of Guiuan looks like a dangling human appendix; an elongated stretch of land that comprises the southernmost tip of Eastern Samar, with the entirety of one of its side facing the vast expanse of the mighty Pacific. And scattered around it like green blotches on a bluish skin are islands of varying shapes and sizes. Some of them are so small they don’t even appear on the map.
One of the bigger islands that dot the environs of Guiuan is Homonhon Island. Shaped like a curled up lumbering caterpillar, the island of Homonhon bid its claim to fame when the Portuguese navigator, Ferñao de Magalhaes, landed on one of its beaches on March 16, 1521 hoping to find water for his thirst-stricken crew. Much to their relief, they did find water from a nearby mountain spring that Magalhaes named ‘The Watering Place of Good Signs.’ Just a few kilometers from the landing site (the place is now locally known as Magallanes) is a small but thriving community of fisher folks. Therein lay my destination: Pagbabangnan.
Nestled in one of the island’s many nooks and crannies, Pagbabangnan started out as a small fishing village attached to the larger community of Barangay Culasi. Back then, the village consisted of just a few scattered nipa huts, most of them concentrated in an area now known as Sabang. Coupled with the natural lush vegetation of the place, it was partly hidden from the outside world by a canopy of coconut trees. A long stretch of immaculately white beach bordered a deep blue ocean teeming with marine life. It was an idyllic place, a piece of heaven on earth in today’s standards. But to the Pagbabangnanons, it was just a place to live and to die; a source of their livelihood and a place for sustenance.
The post World War II era became a big turning point for Pagbabangnan. The general peace and calm that followed ushered in an influx of new settlers from the neighboring towns and barangays. There was a steady increase of population; so much so that in the 1970s, the sleepy little village of Pagbabangnanwas already almost as big as Culasi.
It was during this time that the Pagbabangnanons began to think of seeking independence. They felt that they were being ignored. There were no initiatives from the local officials to help develop their village and almost all government projects were just concentrated in Culasi. Moreover, Pagbabangnanons had to walk a few kilometers when attending communal meetings, social gatherings and church services since all of the communal facilities were located in Culasi.
Through the initiative of the village elders, the Pagbabangnanons petitioned the government to have their village elevated to the status of a barangay. In just a few years, the petition was granted. Pagbabangnan became a full-fledged barangay with equal status to Culasi. Since then, progress slowly but steadily came. A few years after it attained the status of barangay, a school building was erected. They then built a new chapel that they dedicated to Sr. Sto. Niño, Pagbabangnan’s patron.
Pagbabangnan has changed much since then. The community nowadays has access to electricity through a communally-owned generator. And a few houses now boast TVs and other electronic appliances.
Sadly though, not all changes were for the better. Rampant illegal fishing has now depleted the marine resources and a massive forest fire in the 1980s devoured more than half of Homonhon’s forest depriving the people of livelihoods and means of living. Irresponsible mining, carried out continuously for almost 20 years, further worsened the situation, putting most of the island’s inhabitants (including Pagbabangnanons) in extreme poverty and want. As a result, many of them went to Manila to find jobs and a new life.
So where in the world is Pagbabangnan?
As I sat there on my cramped seat feeling miserable, I caught a glimpse of rushing houses and trees from the glass-paned window, the images blurred by the fast moving speed of the bus. Feeling dizzy, I tried to close my eyes and shut myself out from the world. A few minutes later, the bus came to a sudden stop. I quickly opened my eyes. There was a new hustle and bustle inside the bus. People were getting up from their seats and the previous quiet was replaced by babbles of excited voices. I smiled. We had arrived in Guiuan at last.
My journey was not finished yet however. To get to Pagbabangnan, I still had to finish the last leg of my travel. I still had a sea to cross. But no matter, I’d soon be seeing my family. They were the reason why I had bravely endured the travails of travel; the reason why I’d been returning to Pagbabangnan. Ignoring the pain and numbness I felt, I quickly got up, and hobbled to the bus exit.
Pagbabangnan here I come, I said to myself, smiling.