This is the first full-feature contribution from one of our avid readers, Rodelio “Del” Hernandez of Lipa City. He shared with us the written accounts and photos of his visit to Calatagan’s gallant lighthouse of Cape Santiago..
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REVISITING EL FARO DE CABO SANTIAGO
“Even with time and the elements acting against them, the beauty that the Spanish engineers erected on our soil cannot be erased. It is time that we, the inheritors of this patrimony should do what we can to ensure its survival for the next 100 years. For these lights not only lit the souls and imagination of those who chanced upon them; they also guided a nation to progress.” (Manuel Maximo Noche Lopez Del Castillo: “The Spanish Colonial Lighthouses in the Philippines”)
Constructed in December 15, 1890 by Spanish engineers, the Calatagan Lighthouse is reportedly one of the oldest working lighthouses in the country, providing guidance of approach to Manila Bay, lighting up the Verde Island passage, the San Bernardino Strait onto the southern route across the islands (Faro de Punta de Malabrigo in Lobo – 1896, is the other lighthouse in the province of Batangas).
With its Spanish title of Faro de Cabo Santiago (Lighthouse of Cape Santiago), the lighthouse is also called Punta de Santiago (Santiago Point) or Cape Santiago, named after Don Santiago Zobel who, accordingly donated the approximately one-hectare property where the structure is located.
We embarked on a journey to said lighthouse, coming from the eastern part of Batangas (from Manila, it’s via SLEX onward through the STAR-Calabarzon Road), passing through the Cuenca-Alitagtag-Taal-Balayan route. From Balayan, there’s a westward road passing through barangays Sambat, Canda and Duhatan, a 15-minute stretch leading to the Balibago intersection of the Lian-Calatagan road (a right-turn would lead to Matabungkay beach about two kms. away). We turned left, noticing many signages of prominent resorts as we went on until we came to the sprawling Hacienda Bigaa (Zobel family) area, eastside of the national road, before reaching the town of Calatagan.As we entered the town proper, there was the Sto. Domingo de Silos Church on our left, a structure of Spanish influence. Making another left turn, we proceeded to the direction of the parola (lighthouse) reportedly about 8 kms. away. We wound up and down the hills passing through the busy development sites of Playa Calatagan, past several welcome archs, until we came to the end of the cemented road at Brgy. Bagong Silang where the lighthouse is located.
We turned right through an unpaved path, then left, carefully tracing the course to avoid the aroma bushes (with their protective 1-inch sharp thorns) and after a few turns, we reached an inclined approach where a padlocked makeshift gate to the lighthouse blocked the entry to the premises. From the Balayan take-off point, it took us approximately less than an hour to reach Cape Santiago.
We were met by the lighthouse keeper with whom we coordinated earlier. His name is Antonio C. Coz, Jr. or Jun, a third generation lighthouse keeper whose devotion to his job had apparently helped stave off further deterioration of the century-old facility.
Jun narrated to us how the lighthouse was attacked by the Americans during the 2nd World War, because a Japanese garrison was situated nearby. He showed us the battle scars on the steel gate’s grills (which are as thick as a man’s thumb) due to the impact of 50-caliber bullets fired by strafing American warplanes. His grandfather was the first lighthouse keeper, followed by his father who was almost killed by the Japanese on account of his uncle’s joining the band of guerillas during the war.Jun obliged us with a tour of the brick-cum-lime cement (tisa) structure of the antiquated parola, through an entrance at the main building (pavilion). Above the entrance was a vintage brass sign in Spanish at the top and bottom part which read: “FARO DE 4* ORDEN DE PUNTA SANTIAGO… Encendido El 15 De Diciembre 1890” (probably denoting that the lighthouse of Point Santiago is of the 4th order… commisioned in December 15, 1890).
We carefully negotiated the old and narrow, spiral steel staircase of the tower consisting of 65 steps from the base to the opening at the top of the lighthouse, which was no mean feat for those with hip or limb afflictions. The top of the lighthouse was made of a glass-panelled enclosure protecting the equipment which housed the lamp and original lenses (later research after this travel revealed that technology of lighthouse lenses was improved with the introduction of Fresnel [pronounced FREH nel] lenses in 1822, ranked according to the order of their magnitude, from the first to the sixth order (the first order being the largest, most powerful and expensive, having the longest focal length).Cape Santiago’s original lens was of the 4th order, which was reportedly missing, was then replaced with another lighting device until the final replacement consisting of a solar bulb in 1980 (of Japanese make) was installed at the outer part of the tower’s pinnacle.
From atop the parola, we had a magnificent vista of the surroundings, with the wide expanse of Calatagan Bay at the west, the conjoining hills and beach fronts extending from north to south of the parola, while ongoing real estate development marked the eastern part of the historic landmark. At that point, we were approximately perched some 92 feet above sea level, since the hilly elevation of the Cape Santiago Lighthouse was 41 ft. while the structure itself stood 51 ft. from the ground.After our descent, we noted another marker in the pavilion hallway commemorating the lighthouse’s centennial in 1990. We learned that the upkeep of the Cape Santiago Lighthouse was under the auspices of the Philippine Coast Guard (under DOTC), Jun being a civilian employee whose official designation is “lighthouse keeper”. The main building used to house the lighthouse keepers and their families while the two smaller structures fronting the grilled courtyard respectively served as kitchen for the staff and storage bunk (almacene) for the combustible materials that were used to light the tower.
There was a time (1990-1995) when the main building accommodated transient guests but said endeavor was short-lived on account of the scarcity of funds to maintain it. It is due to the same financial constraint that the two (2) service buildings are presently in a sad state of disrepair, not to mention the fact that there is no official approach to the site because the area surrounding the lighthouse premises is privately-owned property.With the toll that the elements had taken on its facilities through the ages, a timely proposal was reportedly drawn to restore the lighthouse to its original condition through a joint effort of the Calatagan LGU and the Philippine Coast Guard Auxiliary (PCGA). It was meant to coincide with the celebration of Calatagan’s 100-year township in 2011.
Hopes are high that such move would materialize as it is deemed most providential to this historically significant icon of light which had served as a necessary beacon to seafarers for the last 117 years. At present, El Faro de Cabo Santiago is continuously extending its service to sea-worthy streamers plying the local routes to and from Manila as well as to international port of calls with the help of the other “Cape Santiagos” providing unsolicited guidance for maritime travelers. (April 2008)
This article was published in Beacon Post Magazine which I co-edited (catering to cooperatives) in June 2008. It also appeared on the maiden issue of the nationwide electric co-ops newspaper, Current News (July 2009) where I was Associate Editor. — Del Hernandez
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