I have got to admit that this city was crucial in making me realize that Filipinos deserve more. The events that happened after it was hit by Super-typhoon Yolanda became a turning point in my politics. I saw, as an outsider, how the city and the region was forced to its knees and slowly recovered from the ruins of a disaster despite the mismanagement of the national government. This is Tacloban City - ang lugar na noon pa man ay nag-iwan ng tatak sa akin.
First called as Kankabatok, Tacloban City is the center of governance and commerce in Leyte. It is believed that the city was installed in 1770s with its name derived from the local word “tarakluban”, which means using a bamboo contraption called “taklub” to catch crabs, fish, and shrimps. The area of Leyte was crucial during the liberation of the Philippines in World War 2. It was in Leyte where Douglas McArthur fulfilled his promise “I shall return” to the Philippines. The city served as the country’s capital from October 1944 to February 1945.
The highly urbanized city is now home to 250,000 residents making it the most populous area in the region. It serves as the main gateway to Eastern Visayas and to the many tourist attractions in the region. Let us go around the city and learn more about its history and its urban beauty. Taralet…
San Juanico Bridge
The San Juanico Bridge is THE tourism icon of Tacloban City. The 2.16km bridge, a project under the administration of former President Marcos Sr, connected the provinces of Samar and Leyte. Prior to the opening of the Cebu-Cordova Bridge, the San Juanico Bridge was the longest bridge that spanned a body of water in the country.
The bridge is part of the Pan-Philippines Highway or more commonly known as Maharlika Highway. Completed in 1973, the bridge spans the San Juanico Strait, connecting Tacloban City in Leyte and Sta. Rita in Samar. It serves as a vital road network that helped spark economic development in both provinces. The bridge serves more than just a vital infrastructure but also as a symbol of unity. The marker, located at the foot of the bridge, shares the symbolism that the San Juanico Bridge carries. It stands for the unity of the north and the south as one nation.
Of course, I couldn’t miss on the opportunity for a quick joyride on the bridge. I rode a tricycle to get me across to Sta. Rita and then back to Tacloban. We made a few stops along the way to get panoramic pictures of the bridge. Take extra precaution when doing so as it is still a highway over the San Juanico Strait. It was a thrill to finally get to see in person an amazing infrastructure project that has left a legacy to Filipinos.
MV Eva Jocelyn Shrine
If the San Juanico Bridge was legacy from former President Marcos Sr., the MV Eva Jocelyn Shrine is a reminder of nature’s fury and an administration’s idiocy. The city was hit in full force by Typhoon Yolanda in November 2013. The super-typhoon flattened the city with its brute force and storm surges that left thousands dead. The force was so strong that the cargo vessel MV Eva Jocelyn was washed ashore. It was one of the 10 vessels that were swept ashore.
The bow of the ship now stands on the site where the vessel settled after the storm. It is one of the three memorials in the city that were set up in remembrance of the locals who died that fateful day. It also stands as a firm reminder that we are bound to lose more when we put idiots in power.
Overlooking Tacloban City, Calvary Hill offers a perfect view of the city and its surrounding areas. Locals flock to the hill during the Lenten Season as part of their penance as they climb the concrete steps to visit the 14 life-size Stations of the Cross that were installed here. At the top of the hill, is an image of the Risen Christ extending his hands towards the city.
Calvary Hill is more than just a pilgrimage site. It is also a perfect location for a quick hike in the city. You will be treated with an amazing panoramic view of Tacloban and the San Juanico Strait. From the vantage point, you can clearly see the iconic structures of the city. You also get to enjoy the serene vibe while enjoying the breeze as you cool you down.
Leyte Provincial Capitol and Plaza Libertad
Did you know that Tacloban City served as the country’s capital during the liberation in WW2? Yes, the city served as the country’s capital from October 1944 to February of 1945. It was in the Capitol Building where former President Sergio Osmena was installed as President of the country.
Today the Leyte Provincial Capitol serves as the center of governance for the province. Its historical significance is marked by a historical marker that outlines its historical value in WW2. There are two tableau that flanks the “Kapitolyo”. Both artworks highlight two significant events in the region - the arrival of the Spaniards in the country and the arrival
of liberation forces in Palo, Leyte.
Plaza Libertad is an open-space park in front of the Leyte Provincial Capitol. An image of a lady carrying a knife is the central point of the park. It is a good afternoon spot to chill down and relax after a long day in Tacloban.
Tacloban City Hall / Philippine-Japan Commemorative Peace / Madonna of Japan
The Tacloban City Hall is the center of city governance. Located atop a small hill along Magsaysay Boulevard, the building houses the local government offices that handles the needs
of the city folks. This is where you will also find the “I love Tacloban” sign that would be perfect for your socmed posts.
There are two important installations in the city hall compound. The first is the Philippine-Japan Commemorative Peace - a memorial to the soldiers who died in the area. The second is the Maria Canon Madonna of Peace Shrine. The shrine, that sits adjacent to the city hall, features the image of Madonna carved out from Miyagi rock by Japanese sculptor, Shinichi Tani.
Archdiocesan Shrine of Santo Nino
At the heart of the Catholic faith in Tacloban City is the Santo Nino Church. The church is the most important religious site in the province because it is home to the revered image of the patron saint of the city, the Senor Santo Nino. It was the Agustinians from Cebu that introduced the devotion to the Holy Child when they took over the Jesuits in 1770.
The church structure dominates the skyline of the city. In fact, you can see the three belfries of the church jut out from the urban landscape from Calvary Hill. The simple facade of the church is highlighted by the three belfries and the stained-glass window image of the Santo Nino, flanked by the images of the saints.
The inside of the church maintains the simplicity of the church. The altar is void of the usual grand design that old churches usually have. A simple gold-colored altar highlighted by the image of the Santo Nino serves as the main centerpiece of the church. The church was also damaged during the onslaught of Typhoon Yolanda and was rebuilt with the financial assistance a foundation.
Tacloban City was vital location during the liberation of the Philippines in World War 2. Because of this, it was not unusual to find structures that remind you of its place in Philippine history. The Price Mansion (CAP Building) in Sto. Nino Street in downtown Tacloban is an example of these structures in the city.
The Price Mansion served as the official residence of General Douglas MacArthur for three months when they landed in Palo, Leyte. It is easy to find because of its grand design that stands out. The capiz-shell windows give it that old house heritage vibe. A monument of Gen MacArthur and Pres. Osmena depicting the turnover of the country to Filipinos was installed on the lawn of the compound.
People’s Center Library
When I first saw the structure when we touched down in the city, I thought that it was an NFA office/warehouse. The massive structure reminded me of huge storage areas of rice in the provinces. Little did I know that it was a storage area of sorts. It was the People’s Center Library that houses volumes of books from here and around the world.
The Greek-inspired structure is the believed to be the oldest library in Eastern Visayas. It has a wide collection of books from all over the world that it is often visited by students and researchers. It was already late in the afternoon when I visited it so I only took a peek inside and found the first floor empty. It was like an auditorium. My guess is that they moved the books on the second floor as an after effect of Typhoon Yolanda.
Sto. Nino Shrine and Heritage Museum
The Santo Nino Shrine and Heritage Museum is a structure that was sequestered by the PCGG from the Marcos family in 1986. The mansion is believed to be one of the alleged 20 Presidential Houses built during that administration. The rest-house has a chapel honoring the Santo Nino, 21 bedrooms, a museum, 2 dining areas, 2 receiving areas, and a grand ballroom. Interestingly despite the association as an alleged Marcos property, the Marcoses never stayed in the “resthouse” and was only used 2 or 3 times since its completion in 1981.
The mansion is said to stand on the ground where the family house of Imelda Marcos once stood. You can find a historical marker on the side of the compound honoring Imelda’s father. The mansion has a 13 themed guest rooms on the first floor and 7 rooms (one for each family member) on the second floor. A chapel on the first floor honors the Santo Nino however official masses are not done there.
A museum tour will have a guide walk you through the mansion starting at the chapel. You then walk through the themed guest rooms. The rooms have specific motifs depicting Philippine culture and attractions - Ifugao, Muslim, Ilokandia, Coconuts, Shell, and Capiz, just to name a few. Each room has a diorama of the projects of the First lady and the Marcos Sr. administration. The first floor has its own receiving area and a state dining room.
The second floor houses the family rooms. Ferdinand Sr. and BongBong are on one wing complete with its own bathroom and offices while the ladies are on the other wing. The room of Imelda is the grandest having its own jacuzzi. The second floor has its own receiving area and a bigger state dining room. It is also where you will find the ballroom that is said to be a replica of the one in Malacanang. A huge painting of Imelda as a sea goddess holding her kids as pearls is mounted on one of the walls in the ballroom area.
The museum also is a repository of artifacts, art works, and antiques. The fixtures of the house are collections in itself as these came from different parts of the world. There are also collections of intricate religious art pieces displayed on the first floor. Ivory pieces and a jade stone are also on display, as well as, gifts given by foreign dignitaries to the Marcos family.
The mansion is now a shrine and a heritage museum that showcases Filipino creativity and culture. It also serves as a repository of valuable collections of artifacts from around the world. The discussion as to whether the mansion was a display of the Marcos’ excessive spending is yet to be cast on stone. We had more than 30 years to prove such allegations and yet we still have nothing to date. Unfortunately in that 3 decades, this mansion in Tacloban is slowly decaying when we could have bagged it, kept its grand beauty, and earned more for its proper upkeep.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
Tacloban City is a city that speaks of resiliency. Going around the city, you could see the unique fusion of its grand place in history and its hardest and harshest moments. You could see how legacy and lessons from different presidents stand alongside with each other. Interestingly, you can also see the contradictions. The city once came down on its knees by nature and further beaten by an administration’s poor crisis management but it managed to stand up on its feet without forgetting the lessons that went with it.
If there was one destination that opened my eyes, Tacloban City is that destination. It opened my eyes that Filipinos deserve more than just “pogi points”. We need better leaders in action to be a better nation. This city was one that I was excited to visit because it already had a place in my heart long before setting foot on it. Walking its street gave me that assurance that I stood my ground well.
And that, my friends, is one benefit of traveling, you see, hear, and learn beyond your bounds.
Getting there: Tacloban City is an hour away by plane from Metro Manila. All major airlines fly to Tacloban from the major airline hubs of the country. Going around the city economically can be done by jeeps or tricycle.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.