HISTORY OF LAWAAN E.
SAMAR AND THE LEGENDS ABOUT AGTAK
Crispin Gañas Gavan (1917 – 1994)
Retyped unedited by direct grandson Ramon Leo L. Gavan, DBA, CTP
To my grandchildren, grandchildren’s children and youths of Lawa-an whose curiosity and want of information from this profile may warrant referring to this work, the same is lovingly dedicated.
ACKNOWLEDGMENT The idea of writing this profile was first suggested by Mayor Pio C. Diasanta, now deceased, and afterwards seconded by the members of the Municipal Council (Sangguniang Bayan) to be included as “annex” to the Town Fiesta ’85 Program but which did never materialize by reason of some unavoidable circumstances. To them, I sincerely acknowledge their inspiration and encouragement. Many of the details of this profile were made possible through the contributions of some respectable old folks presently residing in Lawa-an, such as Mr. & Mrs. Rosendo D. Gavan concerning the plight of the first settlers; Mr. Hilario Tiozon about the family name of Etifania; Mrs. Martina G. Tigley who disclosed the deception of the bananatrunk warriors and the subsequent construction of the stone-tower; Mrs. Eufrosina G. Gadicho for her reference to the sequence of Tenientes del Barrio within the Gabornes clan; Igmedio Gacho relating the participation of Lawa-an in the Balangiga Massacre; and Mrs. Clotilde G. Bumby filling some additional details in the manuscript. To them, I likewise extend my gratitude and acknowledgment.
C. G. Gavan 1985
HISTORY OF LAWA–AN
Profile Venture of CRISPIN G. GAVAN (1917-1994)
This is a brief profile of Lawa-an, the latest municipality out of the twenty-three towns comprising the province of Eastern Samar. It is bordering Western Samar on its south-western tip.
CURRENT HAPPENINGS: (1985) As of this writing, Lawa-an has already undergone two stages of attack by the New People’s Army (NPA) terrorists, the first of which was in the morning of November 16, 1984 when a strong bond of more than 200 heavily armed men suddenly entered the town proper, violently confiscating the firearms of the unsuspecting members of the PC/INP detachment, terrorizing the innocent civilians and robbing them of valuables. Being the first of its kind that ever happened in this municipality since time immemorial, our policemen were rather caught off-guard and taken aback except the Sub-station Commander, Cpl. Francisco Gavan, Jr., who managed to return the NPA fire, but withdrew after a minute or two of battle-testing. This action killed one NPA, modified later by the sporadic fire of two CMDF members, inflicting one more casualty upon the said outlaws. Again, four months later, at about 7:00 o’clock, AM, March 10, 1985, another attack of a more drastic and crucial magnitude was attempted by the same insurgents. This writer had the rare chance of witnessing exactly what actually transpired as he was virtually trapped in the house of one Macario Guino directly opposite the Rural Health Center where the insurgents deployed and started the attack. Fortunately, the handful of our defending force (6 or 7 were in the vicinity of the municipal building at the time) were sufficiently warned of their coming and were instantly in their foxholes and improvised embankments when the outlaws arrived and immediately tried to penetrate the hedge-obstructed area behind the above-mentioned house where this writer was in hiding.
As the firing grew in volume and intensity, it became clear that our defenders, apparently summoning enough courage, were not going to withdraw but were determined to hold their ground. Nobody budged an inch, despite of the overwhelming odds of being greatly outnumbered. For two long hours some thousands of bullets were exchanged. At last the NPAs pulled out, somberly bringing with them their own casualties (4 dead and 2 wounded). Of the defenders, there was not even a scratch. In their hasty retreat, an NPA member was overheard inquiring from a companion what happened in the main area of battle, saying: “Na onan-o kamo?” (How did you fare?) at which the other answered: “Waray pakadali.” (Not successful.) Then the former said: “Balika ta.” (Let’s go back.) But the latter angrily retorted: “Deri ako, Hi kamo nala. Matig-a.” (Not me. You go yourselves. It’s hard.) A hand-grenade, one round of M79 ammunition, a fully loaded Armalite magazine, a water canteen, a pair of jungle boots and a hunting knife were left behind by the outlaws and recovered by the police. Friends and even relatives are now mistrusting each other, suspecting one or the other as an NPA sympathizer or supporter of active members. There is now widespread agitation as many residents have gone to other places to escape reprisal or harassment from either side. Under close analysis, one might come to the conclusion that the cause or causes behind this deplorable situation is due to some disgruntled individuals bewitched by dirty politics all over again. And unless otherwise stipulated by divine intervention, such misguidance of irresponsible elements in our midst may flare up into an awful tragedy. The future of this town whose memorable past has been full of glory and ablaze with romance, is in serious jeopardy. One thing certain: Lawa-an shall never be the same again. What is bewailing and hard to understand by the people is the fact that many of the participants in these sneak operations were identified as native residents of Lawaan themselves, composed of malcontents, low-minded peasantry and social outcasts, acting as guides to expose the identities of NPA’s black-listed persons in the government service. Their motives cannot be explained or understood by their concerned relatives in the poblacion. Apparently, it is their unbelief in the supposedly
democratic processes of the government or its operation of social justice that spurred these skeptics afar from the law.
HUMBLE BEGINNINGS: How Lawa-an Got Its Name It was probably in the latter half of the 14th or early part of the 15th century, or thereabouts, long before the colonizing Spaniards started spreading the cause of Christianity and converted the Filipinos into the folds of the Roman Catholic faith, that an enterprising young couple by the names of JUAN (Guingot) GABRILLO and his wife ETIFANIA HALBAY, together with their children, set sail one day in a small sailboat from Guiuan, in search of a greener pasture of an ideal place to settle. On their westward journey along the wooded coastline of Southern Samar, they reached a small island known as “Monbon” which was bordering the mouth of what is now the Lawa-an river. It was just in time to see that a severe storm was brewing from the western horizon. Being apprehensive of their safety should they remain in the said island, they decided to move inland, hastening towards the coastal jungle in their immediate front, to seek shelter behind the trunk of a towering tree which was clearly visible from the sea. It was behind that great tree that the frantic family was divinely protected from the roaring fury of the storm and a dire calamity was happily averted. When the typhoon subsided the next day the couple noticed that another tree of the same height and stature was also growing on the opposite bank of the river, twin sister to that of the other side – both so majestic and impressive in appearance, such that the branches up above completely overshadowed the river in-between. After a hasty and meager breakfast of hot porridge, the small family looked askance of their surroundings and was deeply impressed by their new environment. The jungle growth even along the seashore bespoke fertility of the soil; the abundance of rattan and “hagnaya” vines was easy source of income and the shallow sea beside them was teeming with marine life of all kinds. All these offered suggestions that the place was ideal haven for habitation. So they abandoned their journey westward, instead, started building a makeshift hut at the foot of the same Lawa-an tree where
they took refuge, at the same time, collecting whatever few belongings they could salvage from the wreckage of their boat. The days and weeks that followed were a series of trips inland by Juan Guingot – to cut rattan and hagnaya vines hereabouts or, perchance, he might find some edible fruits or root-crops nearby. Still further, he found unmistakable signs that the area was infested with wild life. The presence of these predators posed quite a problem to his intended plan of growing a vegetable farm; nevertheless, Guingot presently started his clearing (caingin) and the making of traps to capture some wild hogs or monkeys for food. As was predictable in situations like this, Guingot reconstructed his sailboat, loaded it with rattan and hagnaya vines and sailed back to Guiuan where he sold his cargoes, telling the people and his friends along the way how he, with his family, was overtaken by a dreadful storm and escaped disaster behind the trunk of a giant Lawa-an tree. He emphasized to them the bright prospect of settling in the area partly as a token of gratitude and reverence to that haven of refuge – the enormous trunks of the twin Lawa-an trees; but most importantly, that the surrounding area was abundant and ideal for habitation. “Mamatay lak O-toy”, Juan Guingot would excitedly employ the slang and flavor of the Guiuan vernacular, “mamatay lak, dedi okoy ha Lawa-an (naming the place Lawa-an for the first time), ayaw pag-alang. Di ka mawawara hit doro-ongan kay kita gud iton hita-as nga kahoy ha dagat.” (Boy, when I die, stay here in Lawa-an, don’t hesitate. You will never get lost of the loading dock because the tall trees can be seen from the sea.) Indeed, there was no other point of reference more appealing to the settlers this outstanding landmark conspicuous from the sea. That was how the present town of Lawa-an at first received its name. Ironically, five wide centuries have come and gone; people have lived and died along with generations in accordance with the short span of human life, but the name “LAWA-AN”, a former barrio of Balangiga, province of Eastern Samar, has remained, to this day, unchanged.
EARLY SETTLERS Months and years crowded past. Many people by then were new Catholic believers – converts from paganism and idol worship. In their enthusiasm for Christianity, they gathered together in small groups to discuss or talk about their new faith and/or about their way of life. As news traveled fast enough by word of mouth in those days, people were sufficiently informed in due time about the new settlement; thus, was started an influx of excited travelers, all attuned to the prospect of adventure and the romance of migration in Lawa-an as though a gold deposit was found. Sometimes people would come in numbers, sometimes singly from nearby places, then from farther east and distant west like Leyte and the Bicol region. It is said that Boholano peddlers bearing the GACHO family names chose to remain in Lawa-an with the idea of getting happily married to some modest country beauty in the area. Many came only with scanty clothing on their backs with nothing more than the will to work and cast their lot in cooperation with the other settlers. There is the story, as an example, of a young revolutionary from somewhere in Luzon named Julian Flores. He was a deserter and a desperado wanted by the Guardia Civil in Manila. At first, he went to hide in Dulag, Leyte, thinking that his whereabouts can no longer be traced by the Spanish authorities. But one night, Julian Flores was tipped by his friends that some persons were hunting for him. Immediately, that very night, he slipped out of town, stole a banca and paddled across the sea towards Samar, and upon reaching Capines point, left the stolen banca and trekked eastward along the seashore until he finally arrived at the tiny Rawis peninsula where Juan Guingot and his bond of settlers were encamped. Whereupon, Julian Flores humbly introduced himself before the breathless crowd and frankly told them everything concerning his plight as a fugitive including his desire to join and stay with them should they accept him into their fold. Guingot was all but very willing to admit him as one of their members on condition, however, that he (Julian) should be willing to change his family name, that is, to forget “Flores” and become Julian Gadicho, instead, so that in the event of a further hunt of his person in the settlement, he could not be pointed out as Julian Flores, the escaped renegade, but Julian Gadicho, a peaceful and harmless innocent man. Julian,
without second thought, readily agreed. What better fate or fortune, he thought, could he ask of God and man! Thereafter, Julian Gadicho was Juan Guingot’s favorite and regarded him as one of the most active settlers in the camp. And, in his constant and close association with his new acquaintances, he fell in love with Guingot’s charming daughter, Marciana, eagerly married her, to be blessed later on, with the birth of a son christened Carlos Gadicho, destined to become the first Teniente del Barrio of Lawa-an.
TROUBLES AND PETTY PROBLEMS Obviously, the first settlers were beset by persistent rumors about strange, naked cannibals called the “ONGLO”, and were in existence and roaming the jungle wilderness of Samar. These were hairy human beings, of enormous height and size, whose elbows and knees were said to be as hard as stones. They were jungle wanderers without permanent dwellings but would just lie down on their bellies behind tree-trunks to sleep wherever they were benighted. They thrived on raw meat they could capture and wild fruits in the forest. Being shy and timid creatures, the Onglo moved inland with occasional visits to the seacoast as predators and rapacious burglars. They stayed away from the coastal settlers whose hunting dogs they greatly feared and avoided. It is said that their body-odor was similar to that of the wild hogs and whenever the dogs sensed their presence by way of their smell the Onglo would be chased or pursued without let-up throughout the jungle. Because of their animal-like mentality and backward way of life, they have ended up in utter extinction. Another disturbing factor that bothered the later peaceful life of the settlers was the serious threat posed by the occasional appearance of Moro Vintas (Pangko). The Moros, at the time, mistook the sea separating Samar and Leyte to be a great river basin suited for their marauding expeditions, on the pretext of selling or bartering their wares (tan-bark and fancy jewelries), but in reality, they meant to plunder the coastal villages, kidnapped able-bodied men and women to be sold or bartered among the cannibals (Tidong) in the island of New Guinea or North Borneo. As a precautionary measure, it was Etifania, wife of Juan Guingot, who initiated the construction of a stone-tower off Rawis, seat of the settlement, to protect the people
from the plundering Moros. With the assistance of the early Spaniards, the work was led and supervised by Julian Gadicho, later taken up and completed by Carlos, Julian’s son. When the construction was completed, it was the simple policy in the settlement to sound the alarm the moment More Vintas were sighted off the coast, thereby all women and children would gather inside the tower while the men being armed with bow and arrow, bolos and spears, would remain on top and around the tower ready to defend their families happen what may. As a result, never was there any effective attempt of attack by the Moros until the passage of time rendered the tower in ruin. However, long before the tower was in existence, an attempt at landing was ventured by four or five Vintas (Pangko) which, one early morning’s sunrise, dropped anchor and hastily sailed away upon seeing the shoreline of Lawa-an occupied by scores, if not hundreds of warriors in staggard formation seemingly ready and poised for battle. In reality, these would-be warriors were merely banana trunks left standing on the sand, dressed like warriors, holding bolos, spears or bow and arrow. This simple decoy was a deception to make the Moros believe that the place was heavily defended. As usual, the scheme was attributed to Etifania’s ingenuity – that genius of a woman in ancient military strategy, the centerpiece and rallying figure of the booming settlement. This skillful feminine endowment was to be inherited by her grandson, Carlos, in his coming manhood.
EARLY TIMES Naturally enough, marriages and intermarriages became common within the settlement, perhaps even among distant relatives, as can be gleamed from most bonafide natives in Lawa-an this day whose family names begin with the letter “G”. Perhaps it was due to inadvertent errors or corruption in the assignment or distribution of family-names or simply coincidental on the part of the Spanish friars performing the baptism of newly born babies at the time, the real truth is quite difficult to account. Indeed, it is uniquely a wonder nowadays that many present-day residents are a conglomeration of family names beginning with “G”, such Gadicho, Gabornes, Gavan, Gayda, Gamalo, Gabrillo, Gacita, Gacillos, Guino, Gapul, Gacho, Gade, Gacus, Garrego, Gagaboan, etc., all were the first inhabitants of Lawa-an who conspired,
bonded together in a wholesome spirit of harmony and friendship to form the nucleus of a flourishing community. It is of common knowledge that nature always has its own way with things and people, as was true in early Lawa-an days. Perhaps this community might have been different today were it not blessed with the existence of a man named Cenesio Gavan, alias “AGTAK” who rose to local prominence by healing and alleviating the sufferings of persons possessed by evil spirits or under the spell of unnatural enchantments. Incredibly enough, his exploits, far and wide, as a famous “TAMBALAN” are legendary to this day (please see the Legends about Agtak). His ability and power over the evil characters of the underworld night have been related with mild exaggerations from time to time yet, one thing is certain: the name “AGTAK” is still widely remembered with mute reverence and abiding admiration by the conservative generation at present. It is said that Agtak wore no clothing except for a rugged loin wrapped around his waist. His old and faded camisita was always hanging across his shoulder wherever he went. His small hut (lagkaw) was located at the foot of a Narra tree he himself planted in Rawis which can still be found growing today. This was the spot where he was to be sought and contacted by the anxious relatives of sick persons. The people knew then as a premonition that a sick person was going to die or live because, if going to die, Agtak was nowhere to be found. But if Agtak was around or found inside his hut he would readily agree to visit the patient who was surely going to survive or be healed.
FIRST LEADERS At the close of the Spanish era or early American rule, Lawa-an became a barrio under the municipality of Balangiga. At this juncture, the people were awakening to the tenets of democracy by taking interest in the makings of the government. Barrio officials were first appointed then elected to take part in the government administration. The first Teniente del Barrio, as was stated before, was Carlos Gadicho, grandson of Juan Guingot Gabrillo and Etifania Halbay. Having inherited the whole land comprising the present town proper of Lawa-an, Carlos, upon assuming the position of Teniente del Barrio, voluntarily distributed or divided this area among his constituents without benefit of payments. It was this benevolent measure of Carlos that initially
promoted the spirit of clannishness among his people as if they were a bunch of one single family around this grand old man of the village at the time. Carlos Gadicho, on his old age, was superseded by Pablo Gabornes, the next recognized leader of the people. At this juncture of Lawa-an’s early political advent, the adult population became involved in a plan to suppress the abuses of the American soldiers garrisoned at Balangiga by staging a surprise attack against them. It was led by Balangiga’s strong man, Valeriano Abanador, the town’s remarkable leader. It was known as the infamous “Balangiga Massacre”. The 100-man contingent from Lawa-an was headed by Paulo Gacho as its Lieutenant. This memorable event took place in 1901 and the outcome was a complete success in the sense that by Abanador’s cunning and ingenuity of planning, the Filipinos fought only with bolos and daggers against a heavily armed and well-trained foreign soldiers, wiping them out except one American sergeant named Bumpos who managed to escape unscathed to Leyte to tell the tale. Now Lieutenant Paulo Gacho’s short but splendid career as one of the leaders in that massacre earned for him a happy return to Lawa-an with his election as the next Teniente del Barrio vice Pablo Gabornes. Paulo Gacho was succeeded by Evangelista Gabornes whose wife was Marcelina Gavan. He was subsequently followed by one Hilario Trajano, another revolutionary renegade from Bicol. After Trajano, Leoncio Gabornes, younger brother of Evangelista, came next. He was afterwards succeeded by his brother, Regino Gabornes, who was finally relieved by Alejandro Gabornes. They were all sons of Pablo Gabornes. After the Gabornes period of leadership came Vicente Gacillos, otherwise known as the carpenter who used to make some public improvements by working alone. Then he was succeeded by his own brother, Silvestre Gacillos, who died in office. His position was then taken over by Mateo B. Inciso, an outstanding merchant in the locality and later on, to be elected Municipal Mayor after Lawa-an was created a new municipality. As Teniente del Barrio, he was succeeded by Guillermo Abuda, a belated settler from Guiuan and a former police officer.
After World War II, the next Teniente del Barrio was Francisco Ballon from San Joaquin, Leyte who married a descendant of the Gabornes family in Lawa-an. Then Nicolas Inciso came next and was later elected Municipal Councilor of Balangiga representing Lawa-an. Nicolas Inciso’s term was succeeded by Anacleto Boñol whose mother was of the Gadicho clan. After Boñol’s term expired, Manuel Gayda was elected next. This writer, after years of military service and teaching positions in the public schools, upon suggestions by prominent individuals in the barrio, finally agreed to run for the office of Teniente del Barrio which position was won and acquired by relatively unanimous vote. It was shortly before Lawa-an was separated a new municipality from Balangiga.
SOCIAL AND POLITICAL GROWTH The progress of Lawa-an was sadly interrupted by the advent of World War II wherewith all civic and economic activities were held at a standstill. Chaos became nationwide in scope as this writer and all other reservists were ushered and inducted into the service of the United States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE), only to be routed afterwards by the Japanese in utter defeat in every battlefront. The enemy occupation that followed was known to all as a three-year period of anguish, misery and humiliation. People went to the hills to escape the Japanese onslaught. Guerilla defenders continued to fight while Gen. MacArthur, then in Australia, was frantically making good his promise “I shall return” to liberate the Filipinos. It was our country’s only hope, and so in October 20, 1944 our American liberators finally came and the Filipinos breathed once more the air of decency and freedom and the barrio of Lawa-an resumed once more its program of post-war activities. As was stated before, this writer was the humble barrio executive at this time, while the late Rosendo Gadicho, a Lawa-an native, was the Mayor of Balangiga under which Lawa-an was a barrio, when our people jointly agitated or clamored for a political change. Evidently, our people thought and believed that we were sufficiently qualified to become a town. Accordingly, ex-Mayor Gadicho and this writer took this matter to the attention of Hon. Felipe J. Abrigo, Congressman, 3 rd District of Samar who
subsequently filed or sponsored a bill to this effect. The same bill, making Lawa-an a separate municipality, was approved by Congress in 1958. The first mayorship was offered to ex-Teniente del Barrio, Mateo B. Inciso. But incidentally, he politely declined and refused the offer. So the office was given to Rosendo Gadicho, being the most logical person and whose term of office as Mayor was already terminated at Balangiga. Ironically, Rosendo Gadicho was the great grandson of Carlos Gadicho, first Teniente del Barrio of Lawa-an. On August 13, 1959, the municipality of Lawa-an was duly inaugurated, inducting Silvano D. Balasbas of Barrio Maslog as Municipal Vice Mayor, together with six Municipal Councilors. The members of the Police Force were carefully picked from among the veteran soldiers of World War II. This writer, being an ex-Army Officer, was appointed first Chief of Police with a monthly salary of P45.00 together with eight policemen at the rate of P25.00 each. Clearly enough, this position was a matter of personal challenge and sacrifice on our part, but being inspired by our sense of loyalty and the inward desire to serve and uphold the law and order in our town, we ventured to take the job in the hope that Lawaan might be maintained as such and have a better future.
LOCAL POLITICS Appointed Mayor Gadicho launched his candidacy for the same in the next local election, being challenged by his compadre, Semeniano S. Trajano, son of an exTeniente del Barrio. Gadicho won by a very close margin. But Trajano filed a formal protest and, after almost three-fourths of the terms had expired, he was proclaimed the winner. Trajano became the second mayor of Lawa-an. As the next local elections approached, Mayor Trajano was, with hesitation, challenged by Mateo B. Inciso who, as was to be remembered, the very man who refused the free offer of the office at the start. But now he won as the third mayor a resounding victory. He refused a try for a second term, so the party candidacy was taken up by Filemon Gañas versus Pascual Grefiel – both neophytes in politics and descendants of one family clan. Gañas was duly elected fourth mayor of Lawa-an.
The following local elections was a four-cornered fight among re-electionist Gañas, challengers Cornelio Dacuno of Bo. Bolusao, Jose Eder of Bo. Taguite, and exPC Sgt. Ignacio Badilla. Badilla won by a comfortable margin, but with Pio C. Diasanta as Vice Mayor, a vice mayor candidate of the Dacuno line-up. Fifth Mayor Badilla’s incumbency was, so far, the longest stay in office (a period of almost eight years) being interrupted and intervened by the proclamation of Martial Law of President Marcos in 1972, but which administration could have been extended a little longer were it not for the fact that Badilla’s performance in office was found wanting of accomplishments by the authorities. For that matter, he was considered undesirable and ordered relieved. Vice Mayor Pio Diasanta assumed office as the sixth mayor of Lawa-an. Pio C. Diasanta, by the way, was a dashing, astute young man, enterprising in his own ways and was rather a prosperous settler from Balangiga. He married a young teacher – the former Miss Fe Inciso, scion of the mixed Gabornes-Gavan-Inciso families. The couple then settled in Lawa-an, ventured a business enterprise and afterwards entered politics. As Mayor, Diasanta was challenged by Marina Inciso Gavan and ex-Mayor Ignacio Badilla again, the fight was virtually between Pio and Marina only, involving practically several, if not most of the family clans in early Lawa-an days – families bearing letter “G” names. Finally, Diasanta won by a good margin.
MARKED IMPROVEMENTS Lawa-an by then, was under the dogma, like all other towns, of the New Society of President Marcos yet, has miraculously survived the ordeal of political intrigues, setbacks, and the worsening economy of the nation all along since that fateful day of August 13, 1959. Perhaps due to downright ineptitude of our past leaders, our progress has been rather stagnant and relatively slow; whereas at present, the Diasanta administration by way of infrastructure projects, such lasting souvenirs never before attempted, much less started by any previous administration are now on display before our very eyes. Nowadays people, even among the subversive elements and antiadministration, if any, cannot deny some structural achievements here and there, as they go around the municipal jurisdiction.
As early as 1962, this writer, seconded by then Vice Mayor Silvano D. Balasbas, initiated a resolution, petitioning the Diocese of Calbayog to grant and register the Parish of Sto. Niño and install a Parish Priest in Lawa-an. The said Diocese accordingly responded by sending Rev. Fr. Dionisio Chinel as the first Parish Priest. Shortly thereafter, Father Chinel, at this writer’s suggestion, applied for a permit to open a High School in the poblacion. This High School is now known as the Divine Child Academy, a secondary institution of secondary level. A few years later, the government put up the Lawa-an School of Craftsmanship of Home Industries, followed by the coming into existence of the Bolusao Barangay High School. These were precisely big strides obtaining in Lawa-an in matters of education – in contrast to educational opportunities way back in the 1920s when the highest curriculum opened in the grade school in Lawa-an was simply Grade IV. At the time, a pupil could enroll in Grade V either in Balangiga or Basey; could start high school either in Tacloban or Catbalogan and take college in Cebu or in Manila. It was a real test or trial in endurance, constancy of purpose and firm determination among the youths and, incidentally, only a comparative few ever succeeded. In Lawa-an now, secondary education is practically brought to our doorsteps. As a result, scores, if not hundreds, of our children have become professionals in many fields of studies – Medical technologists, Certified Public Accountants, Practicing Lawyers, Doctors of Medicine, Civil Engineers, Registered Nurses, Midwives, Clerks, etc., all because of these institutions. We have lots of professionally trained teachers, both in high school and elementary level. There is no reason for any youngster nowadays to lag in ignorance and wallow in the mire of want of knowledge. There is virtually scamper for higher education being spurred by the accessibility of these schools within the municipal jurisdiction – seemingly beckoning our youths with that irresistible light towards a brighter dawn. But with the emergence of insurgency nagging at the back of the people’s mind, the future appears somewhat gloomy and still has got to be seen. As the famous author Mathew Arnold, amply puts it: “Only the events will teach us in its hour.”
THE KILLING OF A MAYOR (Pls. see supplement)
THE KILLING OF A MAYOR
The shadows were shortening as the midday sun across the sky, was moving towards its zenith that fateful day of August 13, 1985 when Mayor Pio C. Diansanta of Lawa-an, Eastern Samar, Governor Federico Mingote, a certain Engineer Estaron, together with a few other civilians, started from Balangiga, to inspect the progress of the work on the access road construction leading from Brgy. Guinob-an, Lawa-an, Eastern Samar to the Amandaraga and Amanhuray Falls. From Balangiga they boarded a small motorboat and went direct to Guinob-an. Many people, later on, reminisced why Mayor Diasanta did not suggest to the Governor by passing Lawa-an proper to fetch some PC/INP soldiers to act as their security during that trip, considering that some reliable information disclosed the fact that his life (the mayor’s) was already doomed or menaced by the NPA insurgents. Or, could it be that he simply ignored the advice of the Governor, if at all, for him not to go to Guinob-an without the benefit of security? Very obvious. Upon landing at Guinob-an, the small party got inside a service truck and moved towards the road jobsite; thereupon, were promptly joined in or accosted by some four or five armed men. The Governor, apparently alarmed at this sudden turn of events, stepped down from the truck, presumably on the pretext that he would conduct the inspection alone. But Engr. Estaron, it is said, accordingly followed the Governor, leaving Mayor Diasanta inside the vehicle. Presently, the armed men commanded the Mayor to come down or, rather pulled him bodily from the truck and led him to a clamp of bushes several meters off the road, with the avowed intention of shooting him down. Too flabbergasted as to inquire as to his dismal situation, he stepped forward being prodded with the muzzle of a gun from behind. He had never been in a worst tight place. With a life of rich promise, so suddenly going away, the poor Mayor must have already felt, at this moment, some occasional flash of pain – the kind that comes to a man when he realizes that nobody, save his wife and children, would give him a good
last chance – when he dies. His five and a half decades of life on earth had not been verged from the ruts of the ordinary roadway or would have seemed in the winter of his life around whom tragedy would suddenly break and swirl. It was then that he thought of lost dreams, blown away by the realities harsher than the cold chilling winds of December. Helplessly surrounded, the song of birds and the soft plash of the cascading Amandaraga and Amanhuray falls on his ears, the poor prisoner stood aghast. His protestation of innocence was the fact that the tragedy was going to be played out in the presence of the Governor. Certainly, the aftermath would not be without the elements of black comedy, for he could not have imagined a more perfect purpose of these men other than that of killing him. He was, at this juncture, in the midst of personal crisis that society’s laws cannot hope to understand. Second by ticklish second, five spiral minutes crowded past. The next sound the Governor and the rest heard was the dreaded explosion of a gun, followed by the agonized shrieks of Mayor Diasanta behind the bushes. One hurried glance at the scene of the commotion immediately told them that the Mayor was shot and on the throes of death. What was important now, the Governor reflected, was to hurry back to Balangiga with information about the sad incident passed along the way. At Lawa-an, an armed party was immediately organized by some municipal officials and PC/INP personnel who, afterwards, found the body of the victim sprawled on the ground face downward, with gauge-12 pellet wounds at the back of the body and several nasty stab-wounds. No stage drama could equal the impact of the scene displayed before their eyes; there was no doubt in their minds as to the premeditation of the murder, judging from the weary resignation mirrored on the victim’s rigid features. Perhaps there have been some forms of previews provocation on the part of the Mayor, but could any degree of provocation be sufficient enough to justify the callous killing wantonly committed that day? Was his position as Mayor, like many others of his kind nowadays, a license for him to die? In fact no other Mayor in Lawa-an, has ever managed to make marked improvements as Mayor Diasanta has done. Indeed, but it is the unwritten law of these NPA fanatics.
Pio C. Diasanta was a man given to load laughter that could rattle a room. His position as Mayor was, to him, a professional life with a gift of authority filling for the first time with a passion that he had never otherwise possessed. I think it was only his fault, delusion or shortcoming if ever there was any that could be counted or considered. His incredible death which was entirely devoid of justifiable reason was a depressing tragedy that tore us away from him. There is nothing we can do but cover our pain with a veneer of almost cocky toughness and accept it as if it was the monument to his life and his despair, that is – we try to recognize that such outrageous death is the merciful handiwork of Providence. Those of us who are fortunate enough to continue living and have faith and believe in the divine purposes of God, can find a deeper meaning in the untimely death of Mayor Diasanta. As I have known him personally, I have observed that was always a feeling of goodwill about the man. There was in him no façade, no pretense. Due however, to the pressure of work mandated by his office, he was seldom aware of his imminent mortality which I hope his transient and brief existence will forever reside in our memories and in the memories of his loved ones. He is now forever gone to eternity – returned to the Father in an afterlife that is beyond description. He died a violent death, it is true, but death with dignity.
The next day, August 14, 1985, Vice Mayor Ambrosio Palaña of Barangay Maslog was sworn into office as Municipal Mayor.
LEGENDS ABOUT AGTAK
LEGENDS, as referred to in Roget’s Thesaurus, are mythical stories about past events concerning wonderful persons long deceased. It is the passage of time that tends to diminish the truth of factual happenings, changing them into legendary tales mostly by the new generations. Legends about Agtak, as I call them now, have actually happened as recalled by great great grandparents in Lawa-an, although shunned and set aside now as mere legends and unbelievable tales by the new-thinking individuals in the modern age. Indeed, based from scientific fact that “nothing can happen without a cause,” the following exploits of Agtak can be considered as fictitious. Yet they have been definitely told and retold by our elders in every anniversary novena commemoration held yearly in Lawa-an by the town’s people. And such tales appear plausible and true. But people now are no longer given to superstitions and bigotry and the stories about Agtak seem incredible and quite hard to believe. I am recounting these tales about Agtak supposedly of handing down to posterity, not because his true and real name was Cenesio GAVAN alias “Agtak”; in fact, I have no claim as a recipient of his mystic power except for the fact that one of my two sons is christened “Cenesio Gavan” as a grateful fulfillment of my personal pledge that, should my tenth child be a boy – after the consecutive births of nine (9) girls – I would christen the tenth, God willing, “CENESIO” in reverent memory of Agtak, the alleged famous ‘Tambalan’. Agtak was only my father’s uncle, his father being a younger brother of said Agtak. His direct great grandson now living is Abundio T. Evina whose mother, Pastora, was Agtak’s first grand-daughter. But Agtak was already long dead before my father, Ramon Gavan, was born. In every novena commemoration, tireless stories of Agtak’s abilities and power of healing sick persons and his superiority over the fairy people (Encantos) were being repeated by elder men before the listening ears of youngsters. The following are typical examples:
First, there was a story by an old man at Camp Dones, Ormoc, Leyte, from Palompon, who upon hearing that a Gavan trainee was in the camp, passed thru the gate and inquired about me. Upon being summoned to the guardhouse, I introduced myself and he asked me what relation was I to Agtak whose real name was Cenesio Gavan from Lawa-an, barrio of Balangiga, Samar. I told him that he was my father’s uncle. “Why?” I said. The feeble old man begun his story, recalling his younger days when he was but a little boy of 12; how he happened to be with a party, in a big two-masted sailboat just to fetch Agtak at Lawa-an that he might heal and save the life of their Parish Priest who has been sick for already about 12 years. The priest, he said, has been brought to Manila for treatment but to no avail. According to the old man, the informer was a man from Basey who vouched for Agtak’s extraordinary healing power. The leader of the party found Agtak in his small hut at the foot of a Narra tree near the mouth of the Lawa-an river. Without further ado, Agtak readily agreed to go with them despite the prospect of the long and inclement journey. Palompon was quite far. As usual, he was only dressed with a rugged loin wrapped around his waist and an old undershirt (camisita) thrown across his shoulder. When all was ready and aboard the sailboat for the return trip, Agtak told him (this old man), being then the errand boy, to go back to the hut and get his “capipis” (small nito bag) which he had forgotten and left hanging on a side corner of the hut. He then waded ashore and, truly enough, he found it there, but out of curiosity, he secretly opened it by himself to see what was inside, to be so important in his personal mission, but he found it entirely empty. But before he climbed inside the boat he noticed that the small capipis was already quite heavy and saw, to his surprise, that it was already filled with roots and herbs of different kinds. This astonishment he kept to himself. The trip back to Palompon lasted for three days. When they arrived, Agtak was escorted direct to the convent where the priest lay lingeringly dying. The patient was already in a serious condition, mirrored by his emaciated body and his subconscious feeble movement.
Agtak eyed askance the pitiful priest, whereupon he asked for a coconut shell of tuba. The tuba was produced immediately and Agtak mixed it with his saliva by spitting on the said wine. Then in the presence of the onlookers he forced the tuba into the Priest’s system thru the mouth. The watchers were inwardly aghast and apprehensive least the priest would suddenly succumb and die by just a swallow of the liquor. But he did not; instead, he opened his eyes as if to welcome the stranger. Then Agtak announced to the people present that at 4:00 o’clock that afternoon it was going to rain and he and the priest were going to take a bath in the rain. Truly enough, it rained on the specified time, so that Agtak roughly dragged the agonizing patient downstairs until they were both soaking wet. Presently, the two seemed to be having a wrestling match until the priest appeared to enjoy the game. Evidently, the people watching the show observed a physical transformation was actually obtaining in the priest, as was shown by his increasing strength, agile movement, and smiling countenance. Seemingly getting tired of the sport, Agtak beckoned the priest to go up the convent – both happy and gay. The priest, changing for dry clothing, called for a celebration immediately that evening of all the town officials together with their families. The Municipal President was Master of Ceremonies during the dance. While the merrymaking was in progress, it was proposed that Agtak must now render a dance number locally known as LaJota to be paired by no other than the charming First Lady, wife of the President himself. Being a shy and timid old man, Agtak acted as though taken aback by the announcement. He kept declining the demand, considering his rugged attire. But the President firmly countered by saying that the purpose and significance of the celebration that evening would never be complete unless the audience was honored by Agtak’s compliance. Empathically, he said: “It is not your appearance or how you look that counts. You are our special guest and we simply adore your true person.” So Agtak beg to be excused from the crowd and went outside. After a while he came back entirely a changed man. From rugs to the richest attire ever beheld by the people of Palompon, he appeared. He danced the LaJota with gusto and utmost agility ever performed. The audience was held spellbound and agape with admiration. What manner of a man is this
stranger named “Agtak”? It was not Agtak himself in their midst but his double – the “TAMYAW”. The Tamyaw is said to be a friendly spirit from the underworld character who obeys whatever command is given by his human master in all circumstances. The gayety having subsided the next afternoon, Agtak was graciously offered a hatful of silver coins by the Priest and the Town President. Agtak picked up only a piseta (20-centavo coin), politely saying that he was not used to payments. As the sailors were busily preparing for the return trip to Lawa-an, Agtak was nowhere to be found. Apparently, he had slipped out unnoticed. After several days the people of Palompon learned that Agtak was already in Lawa-an, again drinking day in and day out. How he managed to go home was a complete wonder and mystery.
THE RESCUE AND RECOVERY OF TABIANA Tabiana was a beautiful woman by ancient standard. She was very religious, always praying in church every morning and afternoon. But one day, she disappeared, nowhere to be found. She was greatly missed by the priest and the church-going public. The priest, therefore, lost no time, in his sermon, in proclaiming that Tabiana was surely ascended unto heaven body and soul. In his Spanish guttural waray-waray dialect He declared: “Hi Tabiana, tungod han iya kama-singbahon, a-adto na ha langit lawas pati kalad.” As was his wont, Agtak, perhaps mildly drunk at the time, was passing by the chuch at the moment and overheard the priest delivering his sermon about Tabiana, countered by saying: “Hibobo nga langit, a-ada la hi Tabiana hit sanga hit dalaquit ha Palaypay.” This comment of Agtak was overheard by some members of the congregation near the door, so that he was reported to the priest immediately after the Mass ended. The priest, furious and bursting with anger, ordered that he be arrested and taken before him. Sooner than expected, Agtak was bodily brought before the foaming priest. “Ano an imo sering – hi Tabiana a-ada la hit dalaquit ha Palaypay?” “Oo, Padre, ongod iton,” Agtak submitted. “Ta hala, niyan mismo kuha-a. Deri ngani nimo madara hi Tabiana, pag kakalirohon ka.” (to be burned alive). “O-o, Padre. Tagui la ako hin mga kaupod nga iba nga tawo,” Agtak confidently assured the priest.
The following dawn, at about 3:00 A.M., a party consisting Agtak, the Vice President, three councilors, and four policemen set out to a place called “Palaypay” about 1 ½ kilometers eastward. On their way, Agtak informed his companions that the Encantos or Fairy people who abducted Tabiana were making hasty preparation to leave for Homonhon, home of the fairy bridegroom of Tabiana. They were presently at this dalaquit tree where the wedding feast was in progress for almost a week now. At the foot of the Balete or Dalaquit tree, or so it appeared to the men, Agtak signaled them to be quite and cautious least the fairy people be alerted. He huddled them together with the last-minute instruction to take a firm grip at whatever object he brought down for their assistance. These companions below worried and apprehensive of what was going to happen next. Agtak now disappeared from their sight. Suddenly a commotion broke up-above. Agtak seemed to overturn tables, topple down tables and cabinets and break appradors while women scampered for safety. There was wailing and cries of distress all over the big house. With aid of his Tamyaw, Agtak was dominant and master of the situation and completely taken the fairy people by surprise. Sooner than expected, Agtak was already downstairs or at the bottom of the balete tree, exclaiming: “Kapot kamo”, as if in despair. Thereupon, his companions rushed to his succor, grabbing hold of a three-foot wriggling rod-like object covered with sharp thorns, inflicting painful stab-wounds upon their hands. The party immediately turned back to town with their strange prize. As daylight materialized, the men discovered that the wriggling object in their bleeding hands was already a female monkey, biting and scratching them and struggling to get free. It was inside the church of Balangiga, after the priest has anointed the monkey with holy water that Tabiana became herself all over again. Her appearance as a beautiful and charming woman was completely restored to normal, but she remained mute and dumb, entirely devoid of speech, never to talk again. Having been claimed by her family, Tabiana grew to be an old maid, outliving Agtak by several years. She died long after Agtak was dead.
AGTAK AND THE PARISH PRIEST The Priest, thereafter, became friendlier and solicitous of Agtak, but the townspeople of Balangiga, except his relatives, acted hostile to him, perhaps because of the drinking spree and annoyance he caused in town. In order to silence him policemen would lock him up in jail. But every time he was locked up in jail, Agtak would go out at will, continued drinking and making noise around. That was Agtak’s only mischief and shortcomings. While in Balangiga one day, Agtak was invited by the Priest to visit him in the convent. Presently, after their dialogue the priest asked Agtak to show him any of his feats of power over the evil spirits and enchantments in order that he might come to believe him. “Waray ko gad abilidad, Padre.” Agtak told him. Still the Priest was insistent to show him anything unusual, so Agtak said: “Kon asya man, pangadi tubtub hit imo hinbabaro-an kay mag bubuhat man ako hit akon mahihimo.” So the priest knelt before the altar and said his prayers, invoking the powers of all the Saints in heaven to extend their help in this hour of need. At this juncture Agtak moved closer to the window and uttered a mournful cry – like an animal lost in the jungle. Suddenly, there was a rustle of a strong wind hitting the convent, followed by a violent earthquake, swaying the convent back and forth like a pendulum. The doubting priest could no longer stand upright, but lay spread-eagled on the floor. There was utter panic in his features and, finding words at last, said: “Husto na, Cenesio, husto na. Natu-od na ako.” By the gesture of Agtak’s hand the wind and the earthquake stopped as if nothing has happened at all. What remained visible was the trembling body of the panic-stricken priest with which all his supplications to heaven never served as a restraint to the power of Agtak’s Tamyaw.
THE CASE OF THE HERBAL ROOTS UNDER THE BOILING WATER My grandmother on my mother’s side died a centenarian at the age of 110 when I was still a small boy attending the grade school. Her story about Agtak was disseminated to me shortly before she died. According to her personal recollection, it was during her younger days as a teenager when she got sick of a strong fever. While she was lying in bed, her own mother hastened to invite Agtak to see what he could do
to her. When the old Tambalan arrived he instructed her mother to boil water early the next morning for her (the sick girl) to bath with. The instruction was strictly followed. Her mother secured a big clean pot and the water was boiling the next morning when old man Agtak arrived bringing some herbal roots in his hand. A big wooden basin (panay) was provided wherein Agtak dropped the said roots. He poured the boiling water into the basin while she (the sick girl) was getting ready for the bath. As she was waiting for the water to cool off, to her great surprise, she saw that the herbs inside the basin were actually bearing flowers instead of getting withered due to the heat. By merely observing and looking at what was happening to the herbs under the hot water in the wooden basin she felt an inward upsurge of hope and assurance that she was going to get well that very morning. Her mother bought only a liter of tuba with which to entertain Agtak. Thenceforth, for as long as Agtak lived among the people in Lawa-an, my grandmother said she never got sick again. BARRIO TENIENTE IN BASEY KIDNAPPED BY THE ‘ENCANTOS’ With the help of his double (the Tamyaw), Agtak was endowed with the power of claiming or recovering “binobugkot” persons from the custody of the Encantos as was in the case of Tabiana. At one time, Agtak was invited to Basey, Samar where a Barrio Teniente was said to have been kidnapped by the Fairy People at their dwelling inside a cave at Banglay mountain. Agtak went there, being accompanied by Rural Policemen and barrio officials. He got inside the cave, leaving his companions outside, where he virtually waged war against the Encantos, threatening them with serious trouble unless they give up their evil designs of holding the poor victim prisoner. Sensing their own destruction to be inevitable, the Encantos finally relented, throwing out a seemingly large snarling monkey from the cave. Agtak knew him to be victim who was already under the spell and influence of the Encanto devils, was chasing and roaring at his companions outside the cave. Thereupon, Agtak followed suit from the cave just in time to escape the terrible closing of the door (pagtangub), his loins wrapped around his
waist was caught and pressed in-between and immobilizing Agtak in his maneuver. One of his companions had the presence to hack it off with his bolo. As usual, the victim was hog-tied in order to pacify him and brought to the church in Basey where he was anointed with holy water by the priest. His old self was definitely restored but he remained mute and dumb the rest of his life. It is said that persons victimized by Encantos, if they ever return, can never tell anything about their experience or association with them. They have to remain speechless and dumb, for as long as they live.
THE LAST DAYS OF AGTAK In his old age, Agtak was soothed to heal a seriously ill person in Palo, Leyte. Another quack doctor had been administering healing medicine to this patient for a long time but was never successful. At long last Agtak was invited, with express notice to the former that Agtak of Lawa-an would be fetched so that the worsening patient might be saved. After a day of treatment the patient got well. This naturally called for a celebration in thanksgiving for the patient’s recovery. When the drinking and merrymaking were in progress the former Tambalan was cordially invited out of respect for his efforts to heal the now-recovered man. Sensing something queer in the behavior of his quack-doctor rival, Agtak excused himself from the group and went to the seashore to take a short nap and relaxation. He told his companions not to leave while he was asleep at the pro of their boat. Nevertheless, his companions did not heed to his warning and tarried somewhere else, away from the sleeping Agtak, long enough for the evil rival to take advantage of applying devilish witchcraft upon the sleeping person of Agtak. When he woke up he found out that he was feeling a sense of despondent weakness and he knew that it was this other Tambalan who made the mischief. He then soothed his antagonist to give him his own medicine in retaliation, after which he told his companions to make ready for departure and not to tarry any longer. But before they were cleared of the beach, Agtak and his mean heard the distressed wailing inside the house of his rival apparently dead, killed by a dose of his own evil-doing.
In Lawa-an, months later, Agtak died of a lingering illness inflicted by his jealous evil rival in Leyte, leaving a void irreplaceable in the region. No other drama could equal the impact of the people’s consternation and bereavement of Agtak’s passing. They could hardly be reconciled with so great a loss and, from then, onward they were to render a yearly novena to commemorate his memory, so that this commemoration is faithfully passed down through the years being sponsored by the surviving families and distant relatives of the late Cenesio Gavan, alias “AGTAK”.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
CRISPIN G. GAVAN was a retired government employee with 31 years in the service. During the outbreak of the Second World War in 1941, being a reservist of the Philippine Army, he was inducted into the service of the United States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE), saw action in Bukidnon, Mindanao. After the USAFFE capitulated in Mindanao, he managed to struggle home and joined the Guerrilla Forces, South Samar Sector led by Major Manuel O. Valley, which was later absorbed by the 42nd Infantry Regiment, 91st Division, Samar Area Command, under Lt. Col. Juan Causing. Crispin G. Gavan was honorably discharged 2 nd Lieutenant, Infantry, P.A. in 1946 at Calbayog City. After liberation, he taught for a time in the elementary school, then as teacher/PMT Commandant at the Balangiga Jr. High School. After his teaching service was terminated, he was elected Teniente del Barrio of Lawa-an. When Lawa-an was created a new municipality by act of Congress in 1958, Mr. Crispin G. Gavan was appointed first Chief of Police, then much later, he was transferred to the Municipal Court until he retired in 1980. A happily married man, Mr. C. G. Gavan was a father of a modest family with eight (8) children, all professionals. He died of diabetes at the age of 76.
From a family friend