My introduction to Tacloban City in Leyte, and to this region for that matter, it being the gateway to the Eastern Visayas, came when my brother-in-law married a Waray and decided to live there. Since then I have become a regular visitor, using the city as a stepping stone to exploring the wonders of the region.
Through the years this 108.56-sq km. city of 178,639 Taclobanons has also grown by leaps and bounds to become the commercial, educational, cultural and social center of Leyte and the premier city in the region. The city’s name was derived from the panaklub, a woven rattan or split bamboo contraption used to catch crabs, shrimps or fish. Tacoban is worth a longer stay, it being steep with World War II history.
Unknown to many, the Provincial Capitol (built in 1907), along Sen. Enage Street, became the seat of the Commonwealth government when Pres. Sergio Osmeña came in 1944 with the liberation forces of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. The Redoña Residence, along T. Claudio Street, was the official residence of Osmeña and his staff until the reestablishment of the Commonwealth in Manila. MacArthur, on the other hand, stayed for three months at the more spacious Price Mansion (now the College Assurance Plan Building), along Justice Romualdez Street, an American colonial house built in 1910 by American businessman Walter Price. Here, the general escaped injury when a Japanese bomb penetrated the roof over his room but failed to explode. The hole left by that attack can still be seen. The story of the liberation is best seen, in pictures, during a stay or visit to Hotel Alejandro, along P. Paterno Street. Formerly the residence of Dr. Alejandro Montejo, built in 1932, it was occupied by the Japanese Imperial Army and later, during the liberation, by American war correspondents. Displays of original photographs of the Leyte Landing and Gen. MacArthur are everywhere within its halls
The status of Tacloban as the gateway to the region was further enhanced with the completion of the San Juanico Bridge, which connects Leyte with Samar. Crossing San Juanico Strait (considered the narrowest but most navigable strait in the world) at Brgy. Cabalawan, it is was formerly called the Marcos Bridge and was inaugurated on July 2, 1973. Located 10 kms. from the city, this impressive S-shaped bridge, the longest in the country (and in Southeast Asia), is a major link in the 3,000-km. Pan-Philippine Highway. Also said to be the most beautifully designed bridge in the country, it is 2,162.4 m (7,092 ft) long, 10.62 m wide with 43 spans and towers 41 m. above the sea at its highest point. The S-shaped structure, on the Samar side, had to be adopted to make use of the importance of the existing islet, the Cabalauan islet that lies in the middle of the San Juanico Strait between the two island provinces of Samar and Leyte. This islet serves as resting point and provides added support to the massive structure soaring over the swift currents of the strait. Any short visit to the city is never complete without crossing this bridge.
Leyte is identified with former first lady and art patron Imelda Marcos, who was born in nearby Tolosa. In the city, her spirit lives on at the Sto. Niño Shrine and Heritage Museum, along Real Street. This colonial-style structure, built from 1979 to 1981, housed her vast collection of art objects from all over the world. The museum has an image of the Sto. Niño by Fernando Amorsolo, paintings (including the 14 Stations of the Cross by Filipino painters), priceless furniture, musical instruments, fine English, French and Chinese porcelain, wooden bas-relief of the legend of Malakas and Maganda (the Filipino version of Adam and Eve), ivory and wooden sculptures of local, English, Russian, French and Chinese origin, 13 tastefully decorated guest rooms of varied Filipino motifs, a spacious ballroom, chapel and other priceless collectors items.
Another must-see for art lovers is the 40-ft high Crucified Christ, along Magsaysay Boulevard. Designed by sculptor Nemesio R. Miranda Jr. (Nemiranda for short) and unveiled in 2002, it has the map of Leyte interpreted as a sculptural island, shaped by nature into the image of the crucified Christ. Nearby is a symbol of peace between the Philippines and Japan, the Madonna of Peace. Located at the foot of Kanhuraw Hill, near the City Hall, this Japanese-funded multi-tiered landscaped garden has a lovely statue of the Goddess of Peace called Maria Kannon, fashioned by a famous contemporary Japanese sculptor from a rare piece of miyagi stone. It has a panoramic view of Cancabato Bay.
For those who want to experience three fiestas rolled into one, visit the city during the Tacloban Festival, held on June 28 and 29 in honor of patron saint Sto. Niño de Leyte. The Subiran Regatta, on June 28, is an annual boat race held within the Cancabato Bay area and is participated in by different fishermen using subirans (a native sailboat with outriggers used in small-scale fishing). The race is done without using the paddle, using only their skill and techniques in maneuvering the sail. The Pintados de Leyte, on June 29, features street pageantry of ethnic dancing to the rhythm of bamboo sticks and a contest focusing on the Leyteños’ old custom of tattooing that signifies courage and status in the community, which earned for the Leyteños the name of pintados. The Balyuan, also on June 29, is an afternoon pageant reenacting the historical exchange of images between barrio Buscada of Basey, Samar, and Sitio Kankabatok (now Tacloban City).