Events Heritage

Sinulog 2014 mobile web guide now available

It’s less than three months to the Sinulog 2014 celebration in Cebu and accommodations along and near the procession and parade routes are fast filling up. (Update: We now have an Android app version)

Have you made your reservations?

Some Cebu hotels and pension houses require two-night, three-night, or four-night stays during the Sinulog Festival 2014 weekend when the Solemn Procession and Grand Parade will be held, which is every third Saturday and Sunday of January.

Events Food

Blue Bell Ice Cream introduces products in Cebu

One thing I’m looking forward to this week is Saturday’s Discover Blue Bell Ice Cream event that will serve to introduce the brand in Cebu.

The Blue Bell Ice Cream is exclusively distributed in the Visayas by Visfood Corporation and it has organized a country fair-themed ice cream-tasting party at the Ayala Center Cebu Activity Center. There will be free ice cream, of course.

Plus, there will be games where guests get the chance to win extra scoops of ice cream. Although the Saturday event is by invitation only, the Blue Bell ice cream is available at several stores in Cebu.

Heritage Places

Around Argao in a day

One Friday, we found ourselves free from any pressing work or other commitments and decided to make our way to the town of Argao.

We were a motley crew of parents, teens, and children with a need for a break from home and work duties. Since the children had the Friday off from school, we decided to spend the day in a town 68 kilometers from Cebu City.

Our first stop was the “El Pueblo Hispano Antiguo de Argao” – which translates to old Spanish town center of Argao – or simply “cabecera de Argao (town center of Argao).”

Argao’s pueblo was patterned after Spain’s blueprint for its settlements in the colonies, which specified a church-rectory-municipal hall-plaza-complex and with the natives living nearby or “bajo el sonido de la campana (under the sound of the bell).”

argao church
San Miguel Arcangel Church in Argao, Cebu.

This means that if you were a Cebuano and you lived in those times, your residence must be within reach of the ringing of the church bells.

Argao founding

Existing church records say the town of Argao was founded in 1608 but it became a parish only in 1733, and this oversight was never fully explained in the history books, said the Cebu Archdiocese book Balaanong Bahandi.

The cabecera was once enclosed in a high and solid rectangular wall of cut coral stones, with entryways on each side of the perimeter. Only two massive gates remain of the wall constructed in the early 1800s as defense against Moro attacks.

Paul Gerschwiler wrote in his historical outline of Argao that the cabecera, as it stands today in Argao, and its fortification were rebuilt around the church by Fr. Mateo Perez during his tenure from 1803 to 1836.

Of the cabecera before Perez’s time, there has been no account of it in any church or history books.

Inside Casa Real in Argao. The door to the right used to lead to the old telecoms office.
Inside Casa Real in Argao. The door to the right used to lead to the old telecoms office.

Gerschwiler said we don’t know when it was raided by the Moros and the extent of the destruction, except that the defense structure put up by Fr. Perez came about as a consequence of these attacks.

San Miguel Arcangel Church

The existence of the present-day church — the central structure upon which the locations of other cabecera buildings were based — can be traced to as far back as 1788, said the book Balaanong Bahandi.

Although another church historian, Pedro Galende, attributed the current structure to Fr. Mateo Perez, which served as parish priest for 33 straight years from 1803 to 1806, the date “1788” engraved above the arch of the church’s side door indicates it may have been completed during Fr. Francisco Espina’s time from 1782 to 1798, the book added.

While the San Miguel Arcangel Church appears to look like any other built in Cebu by the Spanish clergy, this structure in Argao differs in the high artistic quality and symbolism of its masonry.

Take for example the division into nine panels of the church facade, formed by two horizontal double cornices intersecting with four vertical lines made up of paired half columns.

Gerschwiler said only five of the more than 160 Augustinian churches built in the Philippines used this style of division and all were built along the southeastern coast of Cebu.

Aside from the church, other buildings inside the cabecera that are worth a look or visit include the campanario (belfry) beside the church, museum in the rectory ground floor, paso or way of the cross wall, capilla mortuario or mortuary chapel, and Casa Real or municipal hall.

Argao Hall of Justice
The Argao Hall of Justice stands on the site of what used to be the cuartel de infanteria or infantry barracks during Spanish times.

Nature park

Seeing that our kids needed a break from history, we decided to go to a place that would allow them to expend their boundless energy.

We heard about the Argao Nature Park and went there after taking our lunch at Carmen’s Eatery located on the town highway. The park is just a short drive from the road across Carmen’s.

argao nature park
A boat ride is one of the activities at Argao Nature Park.

The entrance to the park, built by the Municipal Government on a property owned by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, is only P5 per person. It’s just a small park with plenty of trees and activities guaranteed to make any child happy. It offers a canopy walk or a walk on a hanging bridge built on the treetops, boating on a medium-sized pond, short zipline ride, and wall climbing.

It even has a mini-zoo and an outdoor chess set. The area is where the train used to make a stop in Argao, a staff at the Argao Tourism Commission told us.

Torta, tableya

Hungry after all that running around, we decided to make food our next stop. We ended up at Jessie’s Homemade Torta bakeshop and eatery.

The owner, Jessie Magallones, gave us a tour of her bakery, showed us the hurno (clay oven) where she bakes the torta, and talked about she got into the business of torta-making. Jessie’s contact details: 367-7455 and 0947-6994027.

Argao Torta and Sikwate
TORTA AND SIKWATE. Torta (native sponge cake) and sikwate (native chocolate) in Jessie’s Home made Torta in Argao. The town is known for these delicacies.

Afterwards, we had torta and sikwate (hot chocolate drink made from tableya) at Jessie’s and even bought some to take home. Jessie’s torta is baked using tuba (coconut wine) as leavening, which is the traditional way of doing it.

We just couldn’t go home without bringing Argao tableya (bitter chocolate rounds made from cacao beans) so we hied off to the main maker of the product, Nang Guilang, in Argao. This is the same tableya used by the Tablea Chocolate Cafe branches for its chocolate and choco drink products.

Interested in ordering tableya from Nang Guilang? Call her store at 0909-8226747.


Kalanggaman Island boasts of powder fine sand, clean sea

Kalanggaman has a long stretch of powder fine white sand.
Kalanggaman has a long stretch of powder fine white sand.

Around 400 foreign tourists in a cruise ship that stopped by Kalanggaman Island in Palompon, Leyte were so blown away they stayed for 12 hours.

Powder fine white beach. Clean sea. Long, long sandbar. This in a nutshell is Kalanggaman, an uninhabited island between the northern Cebu mainland and Leyte.

Locals call it paradise and they’re not far off the mark.


Kawasan Falls perfect balm to summer heat

If you’ve ever been caught in a cloudburst, when huge drops of rain suddenly fall on you, multiply that feeling a thousand times and you know what it’s like to stand under Kawasan Falls in Cebu, Philippines.

The tallest of the seven Kawasan Falls is just the right height and has just enough volume to allow visitors to stand under the falling water without it being too painful.

Enterprising locals rent out sturdy rafts made of bamboo for only P300 and ferry groups to cruise under two waterfalls that flow down beside each other.

Rising temperatures drive people to nature sites like Kawasan Falls in Badian, Cebu.
Rising temperatures drive people to nature sites like Kawasan Falls in Badian, Cebu.

They tell you that the P300 is for your whole group and for as many times as you want. They probably know from experience that groups only want to go under the water once and only a few ever choose to take a second turn.

Kawasan Falls shower

Local guides brought maneuvered our raft to the smaller of the two waterfalls, probably to get us used to the pounding water.

You think you know how it would feel but nothing prepares you for that great rush of water falling on you. It’s like something solid and heavy has fallen on you, only it does not bounce away but continues down.

It forces your head down. The water is so thick as it falls you must hold your breath or take in water. You stagger to get away but take it from me, you’ll soon get used to it. You will even get to like it.

Our raft travels behind the tallest of the Kawasan Falls so we can take a shower underneath.
Our raft travels behind the tallest of the Kawasan Falls so we can take a shower underneath.

The good thing about the raft is it’s big so you get to step away. We had children with us and soon they were shouting their enjoyment, standing again and again under the water. My 10-year-old son Lennon likened the waterfall shower to as many as 500 water bullets falling down on you at once.

From the small waterfall, we proceeded on to the bigger one. Our raft approached from behind the waterfall and the only way out was to go through it.

Water massage

This second waterfall is much bigger and stronger and the pounding water really hurts when it hits you. So when the raft goes through it to get to the other side, it will hit all of you. There’s no stepping away this time.

If there are children in your group, the guides can shield them from much of the water.

The cool and refreshing water from Kawasan Falls is a perfect balm to the summer heat.
The cool and refreshing water from Kawasan Falls is a perfect balm to the summer heat.

Their advise is for all of you to lie face down on the raft when it goes through the falls. That way, the water does not hit your face and falls evenly all over like a massage. A very hard one, though.

Children or people in your group who can’t swim must wear life vests. It’s easy to fall from the raft into the water which is deep at the foot of the falls. Vests are being rented out for P50 each.

The two tallest Kawasan Falls are part of seven formed by the Matutinao river system in the town of Badian in Cebu as it makes its way to the sea.

Getting there

From the main road, the first two falls are 1.3 kilometers away. If you’re bringing a vehicle, you will have to leave it at a parking area in front of the barangay church. Parking fee is P100.

If you’re just visiting for the day, entrance fee to the falls is P10 for each person, from seven years up. At the waterfall area, you can rent a table for the whole day at only P300.

Staying overnight is possible since there are air-conditioned and fan rooms that can accommodate from two to 15 people and cost 1,000 to 3,500 pesos. Kawasan Falls room rates and contact numbers listed here.

If you don’t want to bring a vehicle, commuting to Kawasan Falls in Badian, which is about 100 kilometers from Cebu City, is easy. Buses regularly leave for the town daily from the South Bus Terminal in Cebu City.

The journey on an air-conditioned Ceres bus is comfortable. Passengers are charged 5 pesos each as terminal fee.


Cebu heritage walk showcases island’s history

Cebu to do list is a tour of heritage structures such as Fort San Pedro, oldest and smallest triangular bastion fort in the Philippines.
Fort San Pedro in Cebu is the oldest and smallest triangular bastion fort in the Philippines.

What tourists should include in their Cebu to do list is go on a heritage walk. Cebu City’s downtown area is a heritage belt of old churches, houses, and other structures that date back to its colonial Spanish past spanning no less than 300 years.

These places are of walking distance from each other and have given rise to guided visits that include stopovers in some or all of these sites. Whether you hire a licensed guide or do the tour on your own, this is one walk you can’t afford to miss.

Cebu to do activities

Longer tour

1. Start at Fort San Pedro, oldest in the country. It was constructed on May 8, 1565 or 11 days after Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi arrived in Cebu. According to a report from Restoration USA (Source:, its restoration in 1972 called for the replacement of 20,000 pieces of coral stones in the main building. /A. Pigafetta St./ 256-2284, 416-7080/Monday to Sunday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Entry fees: regular, P30; senior citizens, P24; students/children, P20
Parking fees: car, P15; coaster/bus, P30


Hale Manna: House of Good Energy

Hale Manna shore

Nature never travels in a straight line and at Hale Manna, which is Hawaiian for House of Good Energy, great pains are taken to ensure that this natural order of things is followed.

The ground is uneven and rocky and trees are planted to match this terrain, steps are carved from rocks to serve as pathways around the 2.8-hectare property and to the seashore, and wild flowers are allowed to grow in abundance.

Walkways at the Hale Manna Beach Resort and Coastal Gardens in Moalboal, Cebu follow a winding course, and its owner Rebecca Pestano-Smith, a permaculture enthusiast, said this is in keeping with nature’s ways.
“A seawall is the sea’s natural enemy. A wave has a lot of energy and when it makes contact with the seawall, the surrounding environment will suffer from the force it brings,” she said, to explain the scouring of the sand in some areas where structures have been built so near the sea.

She explained that permaculture is a discipline that encourages ecological sustainability in human actions, and she brings it to her resort by building into the existing environment as well as through her rainwater catchment, herb and vegetable gardens, and composting methods.

Smith, whose work in coastal resource management with USAID brought her to live in Hawaii for several years, said she was impressed by how this US state took care of its lifeblood that is the sea and wanted to do something similar in her home province Cebu.

Hale Manna gardens and grounds

She bought the coastal property in Moalboal sometime in 1995 but only opened her resort in February this year.

Gift from heaven

The Hale Manna house is huge, sprawling, and open. Sunlight streams in and the breeze flows through. The seven rooms of various sizes are large and airy, and cool even without the air-conditioning turned on.

All the rooms have access to a common or private veranda with a view of the nearby gardens and, farther away, the sea’s blue vastness.

The wide receiving area at the ground floor is designed so that a guest can choose to read in solitude or be with others talking or playing board games.

Open cottages, hammocks, and seats are placed strategically near the sea, and the sound it makes as it breaks against the shore is all you hear.

Two cottages nearest the sea have beds and Smith said some guests choose to sleep there where there is no better lullaby than the sea’s strange song.

So that the resort will have access to the sea, Smith has carved steps from the rocks leading down to it in at least three parts of the property.

The main steps are wide and lead to the main beach while the two other stairways go down to private coves sheltered by trees. Smith’s favourite spot is a place near the farthest cove, where she sees only the sea and hears only the surf, and it is there where she is truly one with the world.

Smith said the two letters “n” in the word manna means gift and manna is from heaven and this place in faraway Moalboal is a gift from heaven, and it is easy to see why.

Floating raft

Because of its well-kept corals and wide variety of marine life, the Moalboal sea has gained a reputation as a scuba diver’s paradise but diving does have its stringent requirements.

The next best thing would be to snorkel there and Hale Manna makes this easy by providing its services and equipment for free when you check in at the resort.

Some 500 meters away from the shoreline is Hale Manna’s floating raft, which is anchored at the boundary where the sea’s eight feet-deep bottom gives way to the blue nothingness that divers call the wall because the descent is sudden and steep.

The raft is tied by rope to a huge concrete slab in the bottom of the shallows.

Hale Manna brings guests to this raft using its kayak and while they snorkel in the area, two experienced swimmers serve as lifeguards. The resort provides life vests and snorkelling equipment.

What guests can see underwater are corals in various forms as well as schools of fish in every conceivable color.

Out of the sea, Hale Manna also has a billiards table for those who wish a crack at the game.

Rooms, food rates

The months from December to June are peak season and rooms at Hale Manna range from P3,800 for the four superior rooms that can fit in up to four people and P4,800 for the largest family room that can accommodate up to seven guests.

The superior room is only P3,040 while the biggest family room is just P3,840 during non-peak months.

Buffet breakfast is priced at P180 to P250 per person while lunch and dinner cost from P250 to P385 per guest depending on the menu.

Smith said guests can book the entire resort for exclusive events. They will need to pay for all the rooms and there is a small charge for the garden.

Hale Manna is full on most weekends and can host wedding receptions or, in the case of divers Mitch Dumlao and Sarah Laigo, a venue for a proposal.

The resort has a regular staff of 10 people, who are all from Moalboal, and eight others who are on call, added Smith, who also owns Handuraw along Gorordo in Cebu City.

She said she plans to hold cultural activities in the resort and bring in local bands to play in events like full moon parties.

Publicity-wise, Smith said she is only relying on the resort website and online social networks like Facebook as well as through word of mouth.

This is probably why Hale Manna is not as well known as other resorts in the town, but in terms of facilities and amenities it certainly is among the best.

Hale Manna location map



Cebuanos go on Visita Iglesia or beach trips during Holy Week

For Christian Catholics in Cebu, the Holy Week celebration entails a long break from work.

Spanish period church in Argao. Click to enlarge.

In keeping with the solemnity of the week, many Catholics go on a “Visita Iglesia,” a religious practice that involves visiting seven churches on Maundy Thursday.

In Cebu City, there are a lot of churches that can be included in a Visita Iglesia. Among these religious structures are centuries-old churches built during the 18th century.

Cebu City’s heritage of churches include the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño, the oldest founded in the Philippines, and the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral. Here’s a listing of Cebu City churches that can be made part of a Visita Iglesia.

Many cities and towns outside of Cebu City also have their own Spanish period churches and a Visita Iglesia can double as a religious practice and a revisiting of Cebuano’s Spanish heritage.

Southern churches of Cebu bear various architectural influences such as Graeco-Roman, Gothic, and Baroque, among others. A Visita Iglesia of churches can be done with a guide or without. Churches in the towns and cities of the province are located at the town or city center, which is easily accessible by buses that ply the southern route on a regular basis.

The younger crowd hits the beach during the long Holy Week break from work. They have a variety of Cebu white sand beaches to choose from. Cebu’s smaller islands like Bantayan and Camotes are popular destinations of young people.

Feature Heritage

Centuries-old churches in southern Cebu

Santa Catalina de Alejandria Parish Church in Carcar. Construction of this structure started in 1860 and was finished in 1875.

Centuries-old churches of various architectural influences that were built during the Spanish occupation of Cebu can be found along the entire stretch of the mainland and even in satellite islands. A trip down Cebu’s southern part is a glimpse into the religious aspect of Spain’s influence on Cebuano heritage.

Spanish period churches in souther towns and cities:

Sta. Teresa de Avila Parish Church in Talisay City

• Church construction started in 1836 and was completed in 1848, roof was replaced in 1877 after it was destroyed by a typhoon
• Located at the city center, near the old City Hall

The structure bears influences of Greek and Roman architectural styles in the use of Doric columns to support a second floor balcony that serves as an awning shielding the entrance and in the arches used on the massive domed-roof belfries flanking a recessed facade.


Cebu City’s heritage of churches

A typical afternoon at the Basilica del Sto. Nino church.

Cebu is an architectural feast of Spanish period churches in the styles of late Baroque, neoclassical, Greco-Roman, and Gothic or a combination of their elements.

The Augustinians came with Spanish conqueror Miguel Lopez de Legazpi to the Philippines through Cebu in 1565 and zealously went about converting people to Christianity.

Proof of their fervour is the churches of coral slabs and ornate retablos or altars, which were as much fortresses as they were places of worship, that can be found all throughout Cebu.

Common in many are massive belfries, minaret-like domes, arched portals, triangular pediments, facades with bas reliefs and intricate carvings, and painted ceilings.


Sinulog 2012 depicts Cebu as ‘City of Culture’

A retracing of Cebu’s journey through the years, the people and countries it interacted with, and their influences on the island’s values and beliefs will be the central idea behind the 2012 Sinulog Festival.

The theme “One Beat. One Dance. One Vision.” remains the same but the concept changes year by year and it will be “Cebu, City of Culture” in 2012, said Sinulog Foundation executive director Ricky Ballesteros.

Ballesteros explained the concept was influenced by Cebu City’s award in July 2011 as first ever ASEAN City of Culture, which was bestowed by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Ministers of Culture and the Arts.

Photo by Daniel Ybanez, Sinulog 2011 Contingent Category 6th place winner. Used with permission from Sinulog Foundation, Inc.
Photo by Daniel Ybanez, Sinulog 2011 Contingent Category 6th place winner. Used with permission from Sinulog Foundation, Inc.

At the launching parade on January 6, 2012, students from 15 participating schools in Cebu will be dancing to the beat of the Sinulog garbed in the costumes of ASEAN member nations as well as Philippine regional dresses.

During the Grand Parade finale on January 15, 2012, the stage will transform into different time settings that will end with tall skyscrapers depicting a modern and cosmopolitan Cebu.

People can also expect the ongoing nightly cultural activities at the Fuente Osmena circle to be wholesome apart from having entertainment value since these are being screened by the foundation, said Ballesteros.

“We want the children to learn more about our culture through the nightly events at Fuente. The children today are focused on computer games and other things, they know little about our heritage,” he pointed out.


There will be visitors from different countries, including a National Geographic staff and a crew from Hawaii mainstream tv that will be covering the religious and cultural sides of the Sinulog Festival. The tv station will be creating a video documentary on the Sinulog, said Ballesteros.

The Philippine tourism secretary and organizers of popular festivals like Dinagyang and Ati-Atihan will also attend as well as other national government officials, said Ballesteros.

“Organizers of other Philippine festivals are excited to attend the Sinulog. They want to know how we do it here,” he added.

There will be a lot of balikbayan and VIP guests and there might be representatives from ASEAN member nations showing up for the Sinulog.

For the convenience of Pinoys abroad and international guests who have come to Cebu for the Sinulog, there are help desks in big malls manned by Cebu City Tourism Commission personnel.

The City Government is also hosting a party for balikbayan guests at The Terraces in Ayala Center Cebu on January 12, 2012.


A few out-of-town contingents have signified their intention to join, among them free interpretation category grand champion Placer of Masbate. This 2012, though, Placer will send another group to compete in the Sinulog-based category. It first joined as a contingent in the Sinulog-based category and won but came back competing in the free interpretation, where it has been defending champion for the last two years.

“I’m excited to see this group perform in the Sinulog-based category,” said Ballesteros, adding it would go up against perennial Sinulog-based winner Tangub City. He added that Tangub has been finishing first in its category for the last 10 years, breaking Southwestern University’s nine-year win record.

Also to watch out for, of course, are other out-of-town as well as Cebu contingents, said Ballesteros.

Other groups who have signified their intention to join include four from Leyte and a few others from Mindanao like Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, and Cotabato.

Groups participating in either Sinulog-based or free interpretation, two categories for the grand parade, will be judged for their performances on the street and in the grandstand. There will be around eight judges’ stations along the parade route.


According to Ballesteros, the City is prepared for the influx of people that will be converging in Cebu for the Sinulog Festival.

Security is a priority in meetings being held to discuss festival preparations, he pointed out. A committee tasked to handle security measures is led by the military’s Central Command in coordination with police offices in Cebu City and Central Visayas.

Reinforcements in the form of additional soldies and policement will be sent in from neighboring provinces, he said, adding that like the last Sinulog celebration, the Marines will also be utilized for security purposes.

Along the parade route, there will be eight police outposts manned by Cebu City station heads.


Some more security personnel will be assigned at the Cebu City Sports Center where the Grand Parade finale will happen.

When the dancers perform at the stage in front of the grandstand, Ballesteros said the background will be clouds and designed in a way that it won’t be competing with the performing group’s props. Then later in the finale, this will change to tall buildings to showcase a modern and vibrant Cebu.

The stage will be adorned with red and yellow Sinulog flowers and a mini-chapel of the Sto. Nino will be placed at the side. This is so guests can see that th Sto. Nino is involved even in the festive side of the celebration.

Seats at the grandstand will be divided into four colors with different categories and prices for tickets: red is for sponsors and VIPs, blue is for balikbayans and other guests and costs P700, yellow costs P600, while green costs P500.

(This article is part of a project on Cebu tourism supported by Smart Communications, Inc., the wireless leader in the Philippines.)

Events Feature

BPI museum traces history of banking in Philippines

Ever wondered how and when banking started in the Philippines? The oldest bank in the country, Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI), tells the story through its newly opened museum in Cebu City.

Gold coins of 1861. (Click to enlarge)

On display at the museum are gold coins that started circulation in 1861, 10 years after the El Banco Español Filipino de Isabel II that we know today as BPI was established.


280-year-old Jesuit house in Cebu

In the hustle and bustle of Cebu City are houses so old, they’ve stood for about 300 years.

One of these structures is located between Calle Zulueta and the narrow side street of Binakayan in downtown Parian, the old Chinese district of Cebu.

It’s a two-storey house of cut coral stone walls, tugas hardwood floors and posts, and terracotta roof connected on its second floor by a walkway to a smaller house believed to have once functioned as the kitchen or an azotea.