Summer of 1982. Just for the heck of it, Junior and I decided to volunteer “didto sa lugar nga walay gusto moadto” (there in the place where no one wants to go) for our summer apostolate.
It was a protest. We were dis-edified at those who were picky about their apostolate assignment and went to the extent of demanding to be assigned to the big, rich parishes.
It was also pride. We wanted to show that we had what it takes to tackle even the most difficult assignment.
It was also youthful idealism. We wanted to live out what we thought a follower of Christ must be and do.
We got their wish. We were assigned to Inabanga--not just Inabanga but a remote barrio of Inabanga called Kanbituon (or Cambitoon). It was so remote that to get there it was easier and faster by way of Sagbayan. It was not only a “bituon” (heavenly star). It was a “kan-bituon“. The word “kan” was attached to names of places that were so remote.
In Inabanga, there was news that an encounter between the government troops and rebels happened in a sitio beside Kanbituon. It bothered us. But we were undeterred.
We arrived in Sagbayan at a house I vaguely remember now as belonging to the friend of the parish priest. And from there we were transported aboard a motorcycle to a barrio at the edge of Sagbayan. It was dusk when the host, the barangay captain, who didn’t seem too enthusiastic, accommodated us. We stayed for the night.
We left very early the following day, after a breakfast of coffee and bread, anticipating a long hike ahead. There was no transport to Kanbituon. We had to walk to reach our destination. How far? Nobody could tell except with the “pout” of a mouth. It was the practice to point with the finger places that were nearby and to point with the lips places that were far. They point to Kanbituon with their lips. So, we knew it was way out there.
The road was gravel and narrow and the field on both sides were wide and empty. There were few houses visible from the road. It was quiet. And peaceful. The sun was merciless, but the wind was cool and gentle. After an hour, we chanced upon--actually overtook--a pison going towards the direction of Kanbituon. We hitched a ride, proud of having the once-in-a-lifetime experience of riding a pison. It was slow, and it vibrated tremendously. But we savored every minute of it. Until it was time to proceed on foot again.
The land was flat, though it definitely was on high elevation. There were no trees by the roadside to offer us shade. But we walked with leisurely abandon, unmindful neither of the sun nor of time.
We enjoyed sharing their dreams and aspirations. The serenity of the place must have prompted us to dream of missionary life or even of monastic life. We exchanged stories along the way, expressing our deepest hopes. Junior wanted to be writer. I wanted to go to remote and distant places. We both wanted the solitude.
Finally we reached a solitary sari-sari store that, although it was open, looked deserted. We asked for directions from an old woman. She told us that we had reached Kanbituon.
It was almost noontime.
There was a small clearing with around five houses around it, including the small kapilya (or chapel) and the barangay captain’s house. The clearing was deserted.
Soon, we settled at the captain’s house, which was entirely made of wood and nipa. It was clean and decent.
From Kanbituon, Bohol Channel and even Cebu island could be seen from certain spots nearby. Houses were widely spread, but probably within hearing distance from the kapilya. People would gather when they hear the bell. Rarely had they had a priest visit them, we were informed. And they would tell of those rare visits the way they would tell of myths told by their grandparents. “Sa una pa kadto. Bata pa ko. . .” (It was a long time ago, when I was still a child.) The people were excited to see two sotana-wearing seminarians in their midst. So on few occasions, Junior and I gathered the people and conducted adult catechism sessions. Sessions were also conducted for the children. The rest of the time we spent enjoying the serenity of the place, visiting people in their homes. We also attended mananita on cold mornings.
A special occasion it seemed to be to the people for having a couple of visitors from the city. Taga-Tagbilaran. Mga city boys. We stayed for around two weeks there. Until it was time to leave.
When we left one early morning, it was still dark. There were no people to bid us good-bye. In the same manner as when we arrived, we left quietly. We stopped by the same sari-sari store that greeted us when we arrived. We paused for a moment to reflect and wonder: “Anus-a kaha ta makabalik aning lugara ha?” (When do you think will we be able to return to this place?) We smiled to each other and started walking on the lonely road that stretched in front of us.
It was more than ten years before one of them, Junior, could return to Kanbituon for one brief visit. By then married with family, Junior penetrated the remote place to deliver brandy in his delivery truck. He asked around if any seminarian had visited them. The people he asked recalled: “Wala na sukad niadtong mianhi kadtong anak ni Tabel ug kadtong si Arcamo." (Not since the time when that son of Tabel and that Arcamo guy came.) Memories of that visit have lingered. And they told tales of that visit in the same way as they would tell of myths told by their grandparents.
They didn’t even recognize Junior who was asking them the question. (nox)