Days of rape and plunder…

by Ronnie Hoyle

NOT all visitors to Panglao Island on Bohol have been made welcome in the past, not like they are today by the growing population. It was not that the islanders themselves were not as friendly as they are today - it was just that the hordes of ‘tourists’ who attempted to visit and stay for a while before taking home some souvenirs of their trip were not the sort you wanted to make a repeat visit.
What the tourists of days gone had their eye on was a little bit of rape and plunder for their evening entertainment...and somehow no one on the island was prepared to put up with any of that sort of hospitality with their wives and daughters.

Luckily for the locals, the Recollect priests from Spain who were trying to convert the locals from animistic beliefs to Christianity also took a dim view of the invasion of Moro pirate visitors from far off Borneo and the southern island of Mindanao who wanted to disturb the peace and tranquility and create a bit of murder and mayhem.
The priests decided to build a defending watchtower with lookouts to protect their burgeoning community, but not until 1851 after the church and the village of Panglao itself had been raided several times and the original church burned and sacked on several occasions by the unwelcome visitors.

Conscripted local labour was used to build the hexagonal tower - a rare design among Spanish watchtowers in the Philippines - but the cement used in the coral limestone construction was of an inferior quality.
The tower is now on the point of collapse, with the walls bulging out at the bottom: the wooden stairs to the lookout posts on the upper floors have already disappeared and much of the original tile roof has caved in and it now looks like a bit of the island’s history may crumble to the ground soon if urgent action is not taken to preserve what remains.

Only people with special interest and special permission are allowed entry at the moment because of the current danger.
Reputedly the tallest watchtower on Bohol, it becomes the backdrop for the Hudyaka sa Panglao dance festival on August 28 every year when thousands of people surround what is termed ‘the biggest plaza in the province of Bohol’ when many of the dramatic and enthralling dances feature symbolic re-enactments of past invasions and their repulsion by the forefathers of local people today.
Across the other side of the island, fronting the sea beside the church at Dauis, is Panglao’s second watchtower which, curiously, is of a similar hexagonal design but more squat in nature and claims to have been built in 1774, suggesting that the pirates were a plague in that town before that time.

Commissioned by Recollect Father Santiago del Corazon de Jesus, local people refer to it as the ‘Castillo del Corazon de Jesus’ after its’ builder and that it was intended to defend the church and its’ treasures at Dauis, close to the original peace pact settlement of Bo-ol, where the Spanish signed the Blood Compact with local chieftain Rajah Sikatuna on March 16, 1565, and to protect the burgeoning community around St. Joseph’s Cathedral at the other end of the narrow strait which eventually became Tagbilaran City.
The steps up to the tower lookout at Dauis are described as being ‘visitor-friendly’ and give a view of the convento, the church and the strait, which is today almost an inland lake with the two bridges and their causeways blocking entry to any large vessels which might carry a few unwanted souvenir hunters. The top of the tower is rimmed by some fancy woodwork, while carved heads made of coral stone protrude from the corner angles.
Records do not exist on how many times the pesky pirates from Mindanao might have tried to visit Dauis to join in its feast and fiesta day on August 15 every year, or for its second feast day on the last Sunday of January, but the church was reconstructed several times with records saying that it was originally of wood and bamboo with a nipa roof and was burned down in 1795, probably the result of another pirate attack, despite the building of the watchtower: it had last been razed to the ground in 1769, five years before the watchtower was built.

The present church is the fifth built on the site and was started in 1863, with the final touches not finished when it was consecrated on August 23, 1923: it eventually took 61 years to complete after the first cornerstone was laid and, thankfully, although it was taken over by the Japanese in World War Two, not a pirate has been seen since!