By Denver Ejem Torres
“AYAW og adto didto. Naa ra bay mang-hilo sa San Remigio.” This was how my friends ruled against my plan. But I was stubborn. Obviously I did not share their fear.
To set the record straight, I did not travel to San Remigio because of a self-imposed dare. I went there because it sounded like a nice and accessible place for a breather, which I needed very badly at that time. I was trying to mend my broken heart without hurting my wallet. Bus rides and nature are my pills for heartbreak.
So one early morning I found myself inside a non-air-conditioned bus at the North Bus Terminal. For some 20 minutes (while waiting for it to depart), I had to hold my breath as the stench of the poorly maintained toilets kept on wafting inside the Hagnaya-bound bus.
“Sa Bantayan, Bogo, Cordova ug Santander pud,” my friends added them to the list of must-keep-away-from places in Cebu. Where did this come from? I enquired. As expected of rumors, the provenance is unknown, or at least my friends could not provide any credible or factual answers beyond this statement: basta naay nag ingon nako sa una nga naa siyay kaila nga na-biktima daw.
Rumor has it that in these places the locals will hex or poison your food so that you will fall sick. And once you are, they will offer to bring you to a healer who is purportedly the sole person who can cure or remove the said hex or poison. In all this, of course, money is central.
Practically, this rumor tells us that in operation here is a system of sham meant to scam money from visitors.
After roughly four hours of travel time and some seven seatmates, the bus arrived in Hagnaya. The moment you step out of the bus, you will be greeted by peddlers selling ampao, chicharon, boiled eggs, pintos and other sweet stuff, shoving consumer goods in your face. No matter the reasoning of an old lady and fellow passenger: I’m diabetic!
Something is wrong in this picture, I told myself. I was bothered by the whole enterprise of pushing for merchandise so hard when in fact it is food. It would not be hard to sell food to Filipinos, and yes, even to those who have diabetes.
It was lunchtime when I arrived. Immediately I settled under a food stall by the pier to take my lunch. Just as I imagined, it offered stewed squid and tinolang isda, all fresh. I was starving and had conveniently forgotten the threat of being poisoned and scammed. I ordered two servings of the squid and two platefuls of steaming rice. I was formally welcomed by San Remigio. This princely treatment didn’t end there, but in the very accommodating, smiling and friendly Manang who owned the stall. Her panache in the way she chatted with me revealed much about her home’s character or the so called personality of a place. She asked where I came from and what I was doing in San Remigio. Later she offered to have me transported by her husband to the resorts she would recommend to me (and did so with ratings and review! She was a walking travel magazine).
After my lunch I sat under a big tree outside a public school near an old church. I sat beside a woman who was waiting for her child. When she heard how I was marveled by the beauty of the tree we were under, without being asked, she offered an explanation. The tree, she said, was being tended to by the dili ingon nato. She looked like the best person to get intel from. But when I was about to finally ask her if she had any knowledge about the poison stories, the school bell rang.
On my way home boarding another Ceres, this time, an air-conditioned one, I was speculating and thinking to myself. Maybe the true victims of this rumor are the locals of these places and their livelihood. I thought of the case of Siquijor. And I pit it against Boracay. This comparison affords us a view of how (in Siquijor’s case) a rumor of black magic can bring prejudice to a place and deprive it from achieving its full economic potential.
Rumors, especially of this sort which is an exercise of othering, can only be consequential. I applied a simple supply and demand analysis to my speculation. Could it be possible that the sales of the peddlers and the food stalls near the pier have been affected badly by this rumor? I am entertaining here a probability. But I believe it is not an exaggeration to think that this is one of the ill-effects of that nasty rumor.
It is not difficult to imagine that a decline in sales will eventually translate into disinterest in these commercial pursuits. If, say, the delicacies such as the pintos will no longer be patronized, will they not eventually stop making them?
On the other side of the spectrum, such rumor can discourage people from visiting or even passing by these places. The equation is a no brainer: fewer visitors means there is higher probability of a paradigm shift (read: that the locals will be discouraged from doing what they have been doing and will find other means, eventually.) In other words, this rumor threatens the very existence of these places and its people. I believe that this rumor will, at some later time, displace the locals.
But of course, this is an overblown and a crazy-sounding conclusion. But for some reason, in the very same vein, I also think this is not entirely unfounded. I could not help but wonder what would become of these places (socio-economically speaking) without this rumor.
When I returned to the city and was about to get off the bus, it hit me. And then the rumor became personal. I suddenly had a newfound fear.
I imagine, sometime in the future, when I travel back to this place again via bus but sans the peddlers and their chant-like enumeration of the names of their baligya; a kind of selling technique that could only come from them. I imagine arriving in Hagnaya and being greeted by the wide sea and its susurrus sans the food stalls of fresh sea food and home-cooked dishes, sans the Manang who settles us to a table like our mothers would. Imagine that.
I fear the end of these things.
(Denver Ejem Torres is from Cagayan de Oro but has fallen in love with Cebu since 2010. His essays have appeared here in Sun.Star Weekend, in Philippine Star and GMA News Online. He works as a Team Leader at Wipro BPS.)