Facts and Fiction about Biliran

(Letter to the editor of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, published on March 9, 1997.)


A waterfall in Almeria, Biliran Province. (Photo courtesy of the Biliran Provincial Government.)

A waterfall in Almeria, Biliran Province.
(Photo courtesy of the Biliran Provincial Government.)

As a native of Naval, I kept hearing comments that the drinking water in my native province of Biliran was tam-ison (sweet). Then in a speech during a visit to Naval in January 1994, President Ramos surprised the Biliranons with his announcement that the Guinness Book of World Records listed Biliran as the source of the world’s “sweetest-tasting water.”

I featured the presidential revelation in the banner story for a local newsweekly. I believed, talked and wrote about it until early last year, when I was told that the citation was non-existent. Biliran Gov. Wayne Jaro told me in April 1996 that a search by the Malacañang staff failed to locate the “Guinness” entry on Biliran’s water. Nobody knows where the President got his information, which was taken as fact by his audience and led to a wild-goose chase for the specific water source (which is believed to be Tomalistis Falls in Caibiran).

The INQUIRER propagated the fiction with the front page article, “Biliran town has world’s sweetest water” last Feb. 3.

This myth-making started by the President must be corrected.

Biliran has factual attractions other than the fictitious entry in “Guinness.” The white coral beaches of Higatangan Island off Naval, Dalutan Islet off Almeria, and Sambawan atoll off Maripipi could give Boracay a run for its money and fame. The tiled Masagongsong Swimming Pool in Kawayan and the San Bernardo Swimming Pool in Caibiran source their crystal clear mineral water from adjacent underground springs. The Casyawan Falls in Cabucgayan and the Pondol Falls in Iyusan, Almeria are fascinating sights to behold. The latter is celebrated in the recorded legend about the local fairy, Maria Benita of Panamao.

Above all, Biliran is a historian’s feast. City folk who had watched “The Mission,” the movie about the aborted Jesuit experiment in communal society living among the Guarani Indians in the forest of Paraguay, did not know that its Asian parallel was carved out of the forest of Biliran town.

The Biliran Religious Revolt from 1765 to 1775 was the most successful revolt in Philippine history, though it is not found in our textbooks. It was led by Padre Gaspar Ignacio de Guevara, a native priest who was appointed as the first parish priest of Biliran pueblo. He later claimed that he was St. Peter with his royal throne in Biliran. The revolt ended after its leader was captured by Moro raiders, not by the Spaniards. The Franciscans in Samar believed that if the Moros had not caught Padre Gaspar, “there would not today [1775] be a Christian left in Samar and Leyte.”

The “Biliran commune” would be replicated elsewhere by members of the Dios-dios movement in Leyte and Samar in the 1890s, during the revolution that ousted the Spaniards from the region in 1898, and during the Pulahan Wars (1902-1907) against the Americans.

This native model of commune living, invoked by millenniarist movements during dangerous and uncertain times, preceded Karl Marx’s communist manifesto by nearly a century.

In Biliran, you can establish the historical basis of myth, folklore, oral accounts, place-names and rituals. You can also expose the fiction behind a presidential fact.

ROLANDO O. BORRINAGA, UP School of Health Sciences, Palo, Leyte

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