Samar caves provide refuge and livelihood
(The Philippine Star) - November 8, 2015 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Visitacion Colinayo has been chairwoman of Barangay Guirang in Basey, Samar for five years now. Under her watch, the barangay weathered two strong typhoons: typhoon Yolanda in November 2013 and typhoon Ruby in December 2014. Both natural disasters damaged homes and livelihood in the village; Yolanda sent 315-kph winds howling through homes and coconut trees, while heavy rains from Ruby caused the Cadac-an River to overflow. Nevertheless, Barangay Guirang posted zero casualties.

Barangay Guirang’s secret to its survival: its caves. “We have four caves, including Panhulugan and Sohoton Caves. When I heard on the radio that Yolanda and Ruby would hit Samar, I ordered the use of these caves as evacuation centers. I had generators brought to these sites so we can have power during the typhoon and we also have water, dried fish, canned food and plenty of rice from the October harvest,” says Colinayo.

Such was Barangay Guirang’s preparedness that even when an official from the local Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (PDRRMC) came to the village to take the residents to a different evacuation center, they declined to be relocated from the relative safety of their caves.

In Sohoton Cave alone, around 195 families hunkered down inside the 16-feet-high cavern. It’s so huge that it is reported to be the third largest cave in Southeast Asia and can accommodate at least 500 individuals. They stayed in the caves for at least a week after the typhoon had passed while the men from the village rebuilt their torn houses.

“We didn’t have to worry despite the strong winds outside or the rising waters from the river below. The cave was high enough and its sturdy walls kept us dry and safe. It was better than staying in an overcrowded evacuation center,” Colinayo says.

Barangay Guirang isn’t the only place where villagers sought refuge in caves during typhoons. Elsewhere in Samar, there were reports of other caves that were used for the same purpose. Three more caves in Marabut, Samar were also used as evacuation centers. In Guiuan, Eastern Samar, Tarambungan Cave and Sikob Cave also served as temporary shelters for evacuees.

The usefulness of Samar’s caves is not limited to protection its people against inclement weather. In fair weather, these caves are sources of livelihood for residents.

In Barangay Basiao, still in Basey, Saob Cave serves as a workplace for Basey’s banig weavers. Unlike Sohoton, the Saob Cave is but a rocky outcrop that formed a shallow cavern perhaps from millions of years of being submerged in water during prehistoric times. The cavern offers a cool shade away from the sun – ideal for weaving pliant ticog reeds into colorful, export-quality mats that are only found in this part of the Philippines.

The weavers of Basiao would sit inside the cave, and with their hands they would weave together dyed ticog into a mat of intricate patterns, a process which would take them at least a week. They would sell each mat for P600 to P1,000 to merchants who would then turn it into bags, purses, wallets, curtains, planner sheaths and even wallpaper. Many Basaynon weavers depend on caves for their livelihood.

Meanwhile, a different kind of livelihood is taking shape at Sohoton Cave – tourism. Basey is trying to promote the cave as its premier tourist destination. After all, it isn’t Asia’s third largest cave system for nothing.

Forest ranger and tour guide Nicolas Obregoso is among those making a living from Sohoton Cave. Every summer, he tours visitors inside the cave, showing them the various shapes formed by stalagmite, stalactite and calcite protrusions.

During our guided tour of the cave, he directed us to a unique stalactite column, which served as a natural musical organ. “During prehistoric times, they would go inside the cave and tap on this column to make music,” Obregoso shared.

The cave is a spectacle to behold. The figures one’s eyes can spot are limited only by the imagination: a pillar shaped like the Virgin Mary, an eagle’s talons, a king’s throne (which evoked images of Game of Thrones), even a pig’s hind leg.

But the spectacle doesn’t end with the cave. After a brief rest, we were each given life jackets and helped into our kayaks. It was a 30-minute paddle upstream the Cadac-an River to Sohoton National Park’s best-held secret, the Sohoton Natural Bridge.

One will be literally struck by awe upon approaching the two natural arches formed by the Cadac-an River on solid rock. The bigger arch rises some 30 feet above, with trees and vines growing on top of it. It could well be a prehistoric cave cracked open by Cadac-an River. Visitors can swim in pristine waters that flow through it or simply admire the view that evokes feelings of being in a land before time.

“I really hope more people would come to Sohoton and see our caves and natural bridge. There’s nothing like this elsewhere,” Obregoso says.

Since prehistoric times, caves have served as a place of refuge for mankind. In the Philippines’ Caving Capital, caves are no longer just destinations to relish our basic existence in the past; these are places where the people’s very existence very much depends on.

 

ACIRC BARANGAY BARANGAY GUIRANG BASEY CADAC CAVE CAVES SAMAR SAOB CAVE SOHOTON SOHOTON CAVE
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