Heritage Sites in Tagbilaran
Bohol has long been associated with natural wonders such as the world-famous Chocolate Hills, marvelous Balicasag dive spot and the white beaches of Panglao. Did you know, though, that this province, which functioned as its own Republic from 1899 to 1900, also boasts of rich cultural heritage assets?
Tagbilaran supposedly comes from two words: Tagu (to hide) and Bilaan (invaders or pirates), who often came from the southern parts of the country. Even before the Spaniards arrived in the Philippines, Tagbilaran has already been trading with the Chinese and the Malay.
During the Spanish colonial period, the Jesuit missionaries who arrived in Bohol in 1595 founded the local parish, Saint Joseph the Worker. Aside from the historic Cathedral, however, heritage houses abound in Tagbilaran that date back as far as the 1800s.
On July 22, 2017 (during the 160th Bohol Day), I joined some locals during a sneak peek heritage tour in Tagbilaran City and learned about the stories behind some of the remarkable places in the city.
1. Plaza Rizal
Formerly called Plaza de Principe in honor of the Spanish Prince, the Plaza Rizal between the St. Joseph’s Cathedral and the old provincial capitol building has existed as an evacuation area during fires and storms. If you remember in history class, all Philippine colonial towns were required to have a plaza in between the two main buildings of the town – the seat of government (provincial capitol) and the church’s main structure (St. Joseph’s Cathedral).
A short skit by the Dulaang Kasing Sining on the reduccion during the Spanish colonial period
The monument of Rizal, built in 1912 during the American period, is said to be facing its back against the church in a symbolic stance against the abuses of the Spanish friars.
Just around the plaza are several trees that provide a bit shade. Two among the Mahogany trees, facing the old capitol, were planted by Elpidio Quirino and then governor, Carlos P. Garcia, who later became the president of the Philippines.
2. Fortich-Rocha House
A number of heritage houses in Tagbilaran can be found in Sitio Ubos (Lower Town), which was formerly a major port town in the city. According to historian Marianito Luspo, the old rich Chinese families built their houses here to establish their wealth during the period. One of these is the house of Don Fernando Gorraiz Rocha, once a schoolteacher in the Spanish school for boys and also a former governor of Bohol in the early 20th century.
Don Fernando lived here with his wife, Dona Catalina Fortich. The house, probably built before the 1850’s, was made of woodboards and with nipa roof. What made the house popular was the renowned pastries of the Las Hermanas Rochas, the sisters of Don Fernando, who baked broas, kinatloan, hojaldres, and dugmok (toasted left-over bread).
Local historian Marianito Luspo shares his stories about the Fortich-Rocha house during a pilot tour
3. Antonio Rocha House
The most distinct house in Sitio Ubos today is probably the Antonio Rocha house with its tile roofs. On the backwall, the date 1831 is inscribed so this was most likely the year when this house was built. Don Antonio Rocha was once the escribiente (clerk) of the Tagbilaran parish.
In the 1970’s the owners rented out some of the rooms to the students in Tagbilaran. The owner later on sold it to an antique collector from Manila, who then sold it to the present Swiss owner. Before doing so, though, the antique collector first got all the valuable antiques from the house including the frame of an Antonio Rocha painting.
4. Tandoc House
Now an antique shop in Tagbilaran City, the Ancestral House of Fernando Reyes stands tall until today. During the early parts of the American colonial period, the house of Fernando Reyes was the meeting venue of Boholano Patriots who secretly planned a resistance against the colonizers. The women staged a nightly novena in honor of San Roque as a cover-up for the secret meetings, which led to the insurrection in September 1900.
5. Balili House
We passed by more heritage sites, such as the home of former President Carlos P. Garcia that used to be a dormitory for girls studying in the Bohol Provincial School, now Dr. Cecilio Putong National High School. Then our sneak peek tour culminated at the Balili House tucked away along Borja Street.
Constructed in the 1920s when Mr. Eladio Balili, the original owner, was still a bachelor entrepreneur. Several political and social personalities gatheredfor grand functions in the Balili House. Two of these were former Presidents Manuel Roxas and Elpidio Quirino. Roxas once sat on the wooden Agila Chair, which is still in the house until today.
Should you decide to go to Bohol one of these days – in Panglao or elsewhere – don’t miss out to learn about the history and culture of Tagbilaran. For starters, walk around Sitio Ubos to check out these heritage houses then go up to the Cathedral of St. Joseph the Worker, the Plaza Rizal, and the National Museum, which are all in one area. You’ll realize that indeed, aside from its natural wonders – the Chocolate Hills and Panglao white beaches – Bohol has such a rich culture forged by the lives of talented and proud Bol-anons.