El Capitan Parroco

Boljoon, Cebu, the Philippines

March 5, 2011

Boljoon, Cebu Island, 1823.

Monsoon winds from the south are agitating the waters around the Spanish settlement town of Boljoon. Atop a watchtower, a sentry spots a fleet of pancos outlined against the horizon. He frantically hoists a red flag on a tall bamboo pole. A group of villagers, assigned sentinel duties for the week, shouts “Moros! Moros!” They ring a massive bell at the baluarte and prepare the canons peeking out of the loopholes. Hearing the alarm toll, brawny menfolk mount their armada of wooden sailboats, the balangayes.

Lindzey Romero, MHistory

Ten balangayes race to meet seven pancos on the high sea. Canon fires are exchanged. Three pancos capsize as the others gather speed and collide with the Cebuano fleet. The warring vessels lock into one another. The Boljoanons engage the Moros in close combat using arnis martial arts moves while teetering on their bobbing boats on the choppy sea. At this point, the battle is waged by the bolo (machete) and the kris (wavy dagger).

This decisive three-hour battle keeps the raiders at bay for nearly three decades. Exhausted and bloodied, the Boljoanon warriors return to the cove where villagers loudly cheer for their victory and mourn for the casualties. Then the swarming crowd cleaves to make way for Fray Julian Bermejo, El Capitan Parroco – the warrior priest of Boljoon.

Fr. Bermejo’s Baluarte (Blockhouse)

Fast forward to 2011.

Boljoon is now a sleepy town; its fortresses are mere vestiges of its action-packed past. Fr. Bermejo’s baluarte, under restoration during my visit, and Boljoon Church’s belfry have similar fort windows. The belfry housed not only a bell but also canons back in the day.

Lindzey Romero, the president of Boljoon Heritage Foundation, is kind enough to give a crash course in Boljoon history to travel buddy Ki and me. He explains that Fr. Bermejo built a chain of fortifications in the coastal towns of Cebu and trained Cebuanos in tactical defense to quell a spate of Moro raids. The Moros from the south were resistant to Spanish colonization, unlike the indios in the Visayas and Luzon (central and northern Philippines) who were easily subjugated and converted to Catholicism. This partly caused constant conflict between the Moros and the Spanish.

Belfry-cum-Baluarte in Boljoon

These days, Boljoon has no more need for El Capitan Parroco. But a new season brings with it new dangers. Looting, defacing, and neglect plague the country’s historical heritage. It’s nothing short of a miracle that Boljoon’s historical treasures have mostly dodged such dangers. Still, Boljoanons should remain vigilant in safeguarding them. Lindzey comes off to me as this town’s heritage guardian, attempting to preserve the vestiges of history that add quaintness to the naturally picturesque Boljoon.

Boljoon Parish Museum

Artist Rendition of Ancient Boljoon

Intermittent excavations have been conducted since the early 1920s (pioneered by archaeologist Carl Eugen Guthe who scoured the country’s southern islands) to unearth the remains of a pre-historic settlement where Boljoon Church now stands. Several human bones have also been dug up, indicating that the Cebuano ancestors buried their dead under their dwellings. A rendering of that ancient community (with the church structure outlined for scale) and Spanish era artifacts are exhibited at the museum, located at the ground floor of the rectory. Most memorable are an uncredited Madonna and Child painting with undetermined origins and extant handwritten baptismal records from centuries past.

Madonna and Child painting at Boljoon Parish Museum (Photography by Ki)
Boljoon Church

Boljoon Church (The Church of Patrocinio de Maria)   

Rebuilt in 1783, Boljoon Church is one of the best preserved colonial churches in the country. Much of the church’s coral stone structure and bas-reliefs survive to this day. Even the gold-gilded retable has not lost its sparkle. Local artist, Miguel Villareal, painted the wooden ceiling in the early 1900s with drawings of various church architectural designs. However, much of the church’s charm lies in the fact that its front door invitingly opens up to the sun-drenched water of Bohol Strait. Behind the belfry, a walled Spanish churchyard overgrown with flowers and weeds, lies in partial ruins. Ki and I find it by chance while taking photos of the church at different angles.

Boljoon Church Bas-Relief
Boljoon Church Retable
Boljoon Church Ceiling Mural
View of Bohol Strait from Boljoon Church

Spanish Churchyard

Partly concealed by the bell tower, an ancient cemetery sparkles in the glow of the afternoon sun. The gate’s skull-and-crossbones design and the pediment’s carving of an otherworldly figure lend an eerie ambiance, only balanced off by the fragile beauty of a bed of flowers.

Spanish Churchyard in Boljoon
Yellow Flower at Boljoon Spanish Churchyard

Escuela Catolica

A recent addition to the church complex, Escuela Catolica was built in 1940. The house marries masonry and wood in stately harmony. I stop at its front steps to take everything in. The intricate calado woodwork on its pediment base and the prayerful murmurs from a religious meeting detain my senses.

Escuela Catolica in Boljoon
Calado Woodwork of Escuela Catolica in Boljoon

The Boljoanons

Other than Lindzey, we have the privilege of meeting other townspeople who embody the soul of Boljoon. Lani is the neighborly sort who injects local trivia to Lindzey’s historical stories. Without qualms, she reveals that she’s a descendant of a friar. Her Spanish lineage shows in her sharp facial features and fair complexion. Someone was El Amante Parroco in Boljoon’s history. Rounding up the small town cast, the town clown, Jose, takes care of all the laughs.

Ki with Boljoanons: Lani, Lindzey, and Jose (seated)

Church Plaza

Before we know it, Boljoon is bathed in the last rays of sunlight. As Ki and I wait for a Ceres bus by the church plaza to take us back to Cebu City, we hear the church bell peal. It vaguely conjures up the long-gone era of El Capitan Parroco, although its relics are preserved through the efforts of the capitan of the town’s heritage. The wars and violence that have shaped Boljoon’s history and architecture seem unimaginable in the present peace and quiet. Just beside Fr. Bermejo’s baluarte, we see young men playing soccer with nary a care and the elderly walking in brisk half-steps to evening mass. All is well with the world in Boljoon.

Ki in Boljoon Church Plaza
Boljoanons Playing Soccer at the Church Plaza
Reluctantly Walking Away from Boljoon
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72 thoughts on “El Capitan Parroco

  1. Wow that was really an interesting read! I felt like you brought me back in time… Didn’t know this place had so much history in it. T’was very action packed too. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Daghang salamat, Cherrey! You’re right, Boljoon has so much history and so many stories. El Capitan Parroco is just one of ’em. I think his story and the setting has cinematic potential. If only I were a filmmaker!

    1. I appreciate your attention to details, Lili! This post is representative of the kind of transcendental traveling I do. I visit both a time and a place. Yeah, I’m weird like that. 🙂

    1. To be honest, I knew about Boljoon from Joel’s FB album. Never heard of this town before! So when my friend and I had nowhere to go in Cebu, I suggested this place. And whadya know – Boljoon was the best thing that happened in the trip. 🙂

    1. Thanks for the generous comment. There are many other stories, yes, but I’ll leave it to other bloggers to tell them. 🙂

  2. Tama sya, Claire. AJ knew about Boljoon when I first went there last year. Ang kinaswerte lang ni AJ ay kung paanong pinag-tagpo sila ng tadhana ng Piolo na yun!

    (punas-laway)

  3. What an interesting history! I love reading about places like these…actually I am lying…I would like to travel to a place like this!

    Your photos are stunning AJ!

    1. I hope you find yourself on our tropical shores, Nelieta. We have a lot of small towns with long histories. Thanks for the photo love. 🙂

  4. ..oh, chills…suddenly that photo of ‘Escuela Catolica’ reminds me of a nightmare i had years ago…it’s strange but the structure’s almost the same as it used to be in my dream… yay, bka dahil nakita ko ‘to managinip n nmn ako…i hate nightmares p nmn…prang totoo kc at nakakatakot… anyhow, i appreciate the other photos but not that ‘EC’ one…hehe… pasensya na..(T__T)

    Good day.

    ~Kelvin

    1. Sorry for giving you the chills with the Escuela Catolica photos, Kelvin. Like Cherrey, I’d like to know what your nightmare was about. Parang “Bahay ni Lola” ba? 😀

    1. Just tried my hand at a bit of historical fiction. But of course, I based it on an actual historical event. Glad you dig it, Gael. Boljoon has a lot more stories that deserve to be told.

    1. I was gunning for a testosterone-packed Michael Bay action flick effect, but a theater play will do just fine. 😀 Thanks Gay!

  5. Back here after a couple of weeks and I still am amused by the pictures on your blog! Boljoon is so beautiful! Never heard of this place but looks interesting:)

    1. Nehha!!! I like your handle – sonrisa. Isn’t that Spanish for “smile”? 🙂

      Anyway, Boljoon is under most people’s radar, even in my country. Which is a pity cuz it’s really a picturesque town. On the other hand, it’s good that it doesn’t attract touristy throngs. That wouldn’t be picturesque at all!

      1. Yes, you’re right! But I don’t know how the system pulled up this username :p

        I am sure when I would want to go on a travel spree abroad, I’d definitely have to go through your blog to choose the best places to visit in and around Philippines 😉

  6. Part of this world we haven’t paid much attention to AJ but you’re certainly highlighting it for us and stimulating our interest!
    Enjoyed your post…as usual.

    1. Such a nice thing to say, Jim. Boljoon is not even known in my country. If you find yourself in our fair shores, do pay a visit to this town. 🙂

    1. Xie xie! Lindzey Romero (the Piolo Pascual of Boljoon, hehe) has become one of the tourist attractions of the town! 😀

  7. salamat po… but would have been better if i was not wearing that outfit.. kakahiya po.. .. salamat for the storyline and the feature…

    1. Wow, it’s THE Lindzey Romero! Truly honored to have your comment in my blog. *genuflects* 🙂 No worries, your shirt is so cool. Actually I want one.

      But I should thank you, really, for sharing your passion and historical knowledge. Your stories and love for your hometown made Boljoon’s history come to life! Thanks for dropping in.

      1. Hi AJ. I’m going to Cebu Feb 8 and thinking of hiring a van (for 5 or 6 of us) to do Oslob, and then Boljoon and Carcar on our way back to the city. How do I get in touch with Lindzey? Love this blog, AJ. We’re 2 suckers for history, indeed. And if Lindzey is there to guide old ladies like us, it would be great!

    2. Southern Cebu road trip! Would love to do that again.

      Here’s Lindzey’s contact details (he did give me his business card so I suppose he wouldn’t mind my posting it here): Mobile +63 922 889 9808. Email: lindzey82@yahoo.com

      You’re gonna have a blast, T.Lili!

    1. Actually not that old. Built in the 40s, it’s actually the newest structure in the Boljoon church complex. It’s wooden that’s why it looks ancient. 🙂

    1. I may have walked away, but my heart is still there in that precious little gem of a town. Oh, and I must credit Lindzey for making the town’s history come alive. 🙂

  8. I am happy that they were able to preserve this place. It seems like I was transported back in time while I was reading this post. Thanks for this cultural exposition. Places and history like this make me truly proud to be a Filipino.:)

    1. It’s easy to forget national pride in Metro Manila, where streets are filthy and criminality rampant. Our small towns, though, could easily remind us of our heritage and how much we can be proud of as a people. 🙂

  9. Beautiful shots and historical place….. !! Parang naaalala ko lang ung mga old church and plaza nung mga sinauna sa history ng Pilipinas… nice post!

    1. Thanks Shiela! It’s good that the town of Boljoon did not build gaudy multi-purpose structures made of cement by the church. Other old churches in other towns (Pakil and Cavinti come to mind) are not as lucky.

  10. Write a book, for crying out loud! I think I already mentioned in one of your posts that I am awed by your writing skills. Man,you can get away with an entire post with all words and no photos and it will still be interesting.

    1. Whoa DG, over! 😀 Well, I have 3 articles in the first issue in 2012 of BluPrint Magazine. It’s not a book, but it’s the next best thing, I think. 🙂 Thanks for the appreciation. It makes the long nights of writing worth it.

  11. Im am blown out on how good you are on writing! How I wish I will became as good as you! I you also got very good photos. You got it all I think? I admire you the most! 🙂

      1. I don think so but its nice to learn while writing at the same time. What will be you after 10 years!? I will just heard that you will release you first written book, dont forget to keep a copy for me if ever! 🙂

    1. Oh geez, I’ll be so old in 10 years! 😀 Actually I have a book coming out this summer. It’s a grade school textbook, hahaha! Yeah I co-authored it and it’ll be used in schools this coming schoolyear. But I guess that’s not the kind of book you mean. I need an agent to get me a book deal. 🙂

      And yeah, I’ll remember your encouragement and give you a signed copy. #dreaming 😀 Thanks Novie!

    1. Thanks for the props, Jen. Right now, I’m experiencing a major writer’s block. Haven’t written a new post in 2 months. But the well isn’t dry yet. Just busy with other things perhaps. I’ll get back into the groove soon. 🙂

  12. The Escuela Catolica looks like it could fall at any minute. I hope its strong enough to withstand typhoons.

    The church looked eerie but something worth seeing. Love the Spanish feel of the place.

    1. You have a point there, Kathy. Escuela Catolica has withstood typhoons for about 7 decades now, but then typhoons nowadays are stronger than before.

      I think any old church has an eerie quality to it. In Boljoon it’s the Spanish cemetery by the church lying in ruins that monopolizes the eeriness. There are strange, seemingly pagan symbols carved on its stone walls.

  13. that’s a piece of history you have written there AJ.yea sometimes it feels sad when historic sites are left to banish and lost its significance. glad there are still people who could bring the past glory in its light for us to learn and appreciate. the people of Boljoon you’ve met are treasures by themselves!

    1. Traveling does let you see places with fresh eyes. Boljoon is just 103 kms south of Cebu City, which is about 2 hours by Ceres bus. Do pay the town a visit when you go to Cebu. It’s so lovely.

    1. The bell tower is already a reconstruction, but the facade still has the original indigenous-designed bas-reliefs. Truly a church worth visiting for its heritage value.

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