EVEN before Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan set foot on Mactan soil, Cebu was already a bustling economic area. This is evidenced by the pre-Hispanic artifacts unearthed in Cebu.
Southeast Asian merchants and those from as far as Arabia were seduced by Cebu’s rich spices. This is proof that Cebu’s port was already active way before Spanish colonization in 1521.
By 1565, port activities in Cebu became more significant when it participated in the galleon trade until 1604, when Manila became the trading hub of the country.
But in July 1886, the Cebu port was again opened for international trading through a Spanish Royal Decree. This was the time of Europe’s Industrial Revolution and the demand for raw materials was high.
Cebu became the center of trade for copra, corn, pearls, spices, sugar, silk, and cotton textiles and tobacco. It became the center of trade in the country.
The Port of Cebu is rich in history, dating before the Spanish era. This is why it is among the 37 featured sites in the ninth Gabii sa Kabilin spearheaded by the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc.
It is important to know the history of Cebu’s heritage sites because history brings a sense of identity. This is why the theme of this year’s Gabii sa Kabilin is “Founding.”
“Gabii sa Kabilin is like story-telling, and the participating sites are the characters of the story. After much brainstorming, we thought of offering information about these places for people to really understand how they were founded, what was the germination point on how they came to be,” said Dr. Jocelyn Gerra, Rafi Cultural and Heritage Unit executive director.
Another significant and interesting chapter in history that will be showcased in the annual event is the Cebu railway.
As Cebuano leaders continue to debate whether a light railway transit is practical in the Philippines, it is important to note that Cebu once had a railway.
In the early 1900s, the Philippine Railway Construction Company built a 57-mile railway that spanned Argao town in the south and Danao town in the north. The primary purpose then was the transport of sugar, coal and other products around Cebu.
The railway’s central depot was located at the corner of Leon Kilat and P. del Rosario Sts. While the port of Cebu opened international trading doors, the railway system served as an inter-regional trading transportation.
From the central station, one rail track led to the north, another to the south while another led to the port area.
There were many stations along the way. But among the few remnants of the Sugbo railway is a restaurant in Barangay Valladolid, Carcar City, which utilized one of the remaining stations in Cebu. Another former train station located in Barangay Sab-ang, Sibonga, has been used as the library of the Simala Elementary School. Argao’s then train station is now a fire station.
Going north, the train went straight to Danao from the central depot. While any trace of a train station in Danao has been lost, one sitio, where the loading and unloading bay was located, was named after it—Sitio Estasyon.
The rotunda in Poblacion, Danao is where the old train would turn around to go back to Cebu City.
The demise of Cebu’s railway came during World War II. The tracks and the central depot were bombed. The damage was so bad it was not worth rehabilitating. But while the railway may be gone, its importance had been engraved in Cebu’s history, particularly because of its crucial role, along with that of its port, in its development and modernization.
“The challenge is educating the public on how to make history relevant to the people. It’s like building a friendship. We develop friendship between and among the people and the heritage sites by sharing how these places came to be,” Gerra said.
“Because if you don’t know the place, you don’t become connected. If you are connected, on the other hand, you will try to build that relationship, that friendship, further as you interact through time. That is what Gabii sa Kabilin wants,” she added.
To join the Gabii sa Kabilin, guests must purchase a P150-ticket, which serves as an admission ticket for all destinations, one tartanilla (horse-drawn carriage) trip within the city’s old district, and unlimited rides on the Gabii sa Kabilin-designated buses. (PR)