Thursday, July 2, 2009

Sto. Nino Shrine of Tacloban Revisited

Went to see how this shrine is these days. Been there during my younger years but I think I did not care much about it. Aw, before I proceed, for those who are not very much aware on what it is, try googling it. There are a lot of information, descriptions and even photos of the place in all of webdom! My story here is about the state of that place today, as I see it. Specifically, if it is still really worth the tourist’s time.

From the highway, looking at the building, nothing much has changed. It still looks commanding and seems worth a peek. Well, even if it did not look so, I was determined on going forth as indeed I wanted to see the whole of it!

The front lawn is still maintained even if less meticulously than before. The circular thing where the image of the child Jesus stands on a replica of the island of Leyte is still the same sans the water. The big brown jars that line and adore the front of the building are still there though I saw one has already crumbled into pieces.

Entrance? P200 for just me, myself and I – which would have been no different if there were 5 of us. So PCGG, the ridiculous government entity managing it is trying to tell us tourists we go there in fives, okay? Then the entrance fee would come out as just P40 each. At the massive wooden entrance door, there is signage that say about that, and entrance fee becomes P20 in excess of five people who pay P200. It also says you have to pay another P200 if you have a video camera or P30 if you have an “ordinary camera” (whatever that means hehe)! Well, I had my digicam but I was not charged anything more than my P200. This damn pesky camera does not like dark places even with its flash on, so, good that I was not asked to pay more as my pictures are really bad.

From that same signage, the official name of the place now seems to be “Sto Nino Shrine and Heritage Museum”. I wonder! As far as I remember, this place was named Sto. Nino Shrine. Whether or not that is applicable has already been such a ridicule even during the reign of the Marcoses. But to add “Heritage Museum”, I think, is idiotic! What “heritage” is PCGG trying to show? Whatever!

Alright, I was unfortunate to have Annabelle for a guide. She is that woman who sits on that desk at the entrance door where you pay the entrance fee – if she is around anyway! I waited for something like 30 minutes before I could get in and start to tour the place because she “went out for a while” said another lady who seemed to be cleaner or something. Annabelle and her colleagues in the shrine were/are not as professional as you would expect of museum employees. They kept talking (shouting) at each other in a very loud voice since the place is really big – even if there was an ongoing tour, my tour! I was short of scolding Annabelle to concentrate at my tour and stop talking to her colleagues but I resisted. Imagine this… we were in one of the rooms and she was telling me things about it… all of a sudden she blurts out shouting (for her colleagues to hear) “san-o man kuno maabot an mga lamesa” (when will the tables arrive)!

Annabelle seemed to have been very busy during my visit – at least that was what she was trying to portray. She kept rushing things. Her annotations were very obviously rushed that she would mumble many of the things she had to say. And, as if guilty, she repeatedly said the tour was just for 30 minutes. She would even half-run to flick lights on or off as we entered or left any room. Needless to say, I felt I was a nuisance that she had to immediately dispatch. Yes, it was a miracle that I did not in anyway show I was not just annoyed but truly pissed of her actions.

What angers me more as I write these is that her decorum was what remained in my memory instead of all the infos about each of the rooms we visited. Oh yes, I have heard all those annotations from better tour guides when I was younger and toured the place with my family. But I did not care in those days, therefore I have forgotten, I just remember that the 13 rooms on ground floor (slightly elevated from the chapel) are supposed to represent the original 13 regions of this country. Really, whatever Annabelle has been blurting out in her rush rush mode have all been overshadowed at my annoyance with the kind of treatment I received.

Imagine this, at the banquet hall at second floor, after describing where they came from and what they are made of and how fantastic those chandeliers are when lighted, she was even so forward to tell me, “di ko na i-o-on ang lights, kasi mag-isa ka lang naman” (I won’t switch the lights on since you are alone). I did not protest. In my mind though, all I wanted to say was “putang-ina ka, bakit mas mura ba ang ibinayad ko dahil mag-isa ako?” No, I won’t translate that!

Okay, tour done. I do not remember many things. But this I do remember vividly: we ended at some few inches away from her desk where there are tables strewn with “souvenirs” for me to buy. Annabelle was even too crass to tell me that I should buy any of those items displayed to help maintain the “museum”. In my mind, all I could think of was saying to her “an im iroy ka la nga birat ka han im kag-anak”! Well, at least she told me I could still go roam the whole place on my own and without her. Hey, I am not saying these bad things without basis. First picture I took while we were at the altar of the chapel was at 10:42AM (yep, its this picture) and the last pic I did (of her when she wanted me to buy souvenirs) was 11:04AM (that's the 4th photo above). For two-hundred-pesos ha?!

Here’s more… as I skimmed through the T-Shirts and other “souvenirs” on offer at the table where another lady was stationed to “assist” me, I overheard Annabelle talk on her cellular phone… “hello madi, pasensya na ha kay may-ada na liwat nagpa-tour didi… aw diri, usa la… Tagalog la, kasiring ko ngani Hapon o Koreano na liwat, maupay diri nose-bleed… aw oo nakakasamok hit aton chirika… anay daw, naano man hi kuan…” and so on. See?! I was after all just another nuisance all along!

Note: When Annabelle learned that I am a Filipino, she immediately started talking to me in Tagalog, which I accidentally did not mind. So, all throughout the tour, we were speaking in Tagalog. She did not ask, therefore I did not have to tell her that I can very fluently speak her dialect (how many dialects in this country don’t I understand anyway hehe, there are only 7 major tongues and I can speak 11 out of 60+)

Okay, enough of Annabelle and back to my “real” notes…

The shrine is nearly in total disrepair. Do you see those Moroccan-like, lace-like designs on the outside of the building? Those are made of steel and are rusting to oblivion. Many of the “banig effect” designs on the walls and ceilings of the shrine are actually made of one-square-inch wood chips and too many of them have chipped off and were not (are not being) returned. Those great mosaics of colored tiles (e.g., the Jesus Christ mural) are chipping off and am not sure if naturally or by the work of some unscrupulous hands.

Hallways outside of the building are either succumbing to the elements or vandalized by local residents. That attached building at the back-right that was supposed to have housed a kitchen and ‘crews quarters’ is dilapidating and now a residence for some squatters – which I presume whose children are themselves the vandals. Another building (also behind and) left was supposed to have been the “clubhouse” or rest area and bar for the pool. Now some religious sect rents it as their base of operations. The grassy lawn/garden that straddled back of the shrine and the pool has been fenced with wooden sticks (branches) to separate them. Oh the pool, yes it now seems to be not part of the shrine anymore care of the fence; it has murky waters and rented out to become Kyle’s resto-bar whose entrance now is via that road further behind the pool. The “special” tiles on those hallways skirting the building are not cleaned and walls are vandalized (except up front, main entrance).

What’s my point?

The place is sequestered and managed by the PCGG or Presidential Commission on Bad Government we all know that. But it has to be properly manned and maintained or properly disposed of, instead of being left to slowly crumble. It is a “monument” to Imelda’s extravagance, yes we all know that too. But why keep it? Why not dispose of it like sell the whole damn place to some commercial whatever? Now if indeed it is a treasure to be kept (as I am inclined to believe), it must be preserved properly to respect the architect, the architecture and the expensive materials that it is made of. Too many details about the whole shrine are actually one of a kind that should be given extra care if anyone wants to retain it for tourism purposes.

Verdict: if you want to see or know more about the shrine, they’re all on the web. Don’t waste your two-hundred pesos!

Trivia: As I went out of the shrine, saw some men bringing in a lot of kitchen and dining things. I asked what those were for and the reply was “may luncheon si Madam dun sa taas bukas”. Translation? Madam (Imelda Romualdez Marcos) will be hosting luncheon upstairs tomorrow! Sequestered place eh!

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