We were recently in Cebu for business and only had the time to sightsee for one morning before flying back to Manila.
To only have time to zip around Cebu city for the window of a single morning (roughly 9:30 am to 12:30 pm) is a brave and foolhardy effort given the cultural and historical richness of the place. Still, it’s better than nothing, and our hosts were kind enough to take us on a limited tour of one of the most fascinating cities in the country. This is the kind of itinerary I imagine businessmen following if they still had the energy and inclination after a weekend packed with meetings, breakfast buffets, boardroom lunches, and dinners in restaurants sitting atop corporate towers. It’s a brisk tour, and one that hardly capitalizes on the city’s many glorious vistas both past and present—think of it as a personal promissory note for a return ticket when one is with the right company and has more time to spare.
More about Cebu:
Something about my post-colonial identity was missing until I finally saw the single most important artifact of my colonial past. I’m talking about Magellan’s cross, which, for some, is the bringer of miracles, and for others, the bringer of, well, Christianity and 300 years of Spanish subjugation. Housed in a kiosk within walking distance of the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño, the kiosk also depicts key scenes in the Christianization of the Philippines.
Beneath an octagonal mural stands the first cross planted in the Philippines by Magellan in 1521. The view comes complete with murals depicting two important events that occurred on the same day in April, 1521. Half of the octagonal ceiling portrays Father Pedro Valderrama baptizing Rajah Humabon and his household; the other half depicts this same wooden cross being planted on Cebuano shores. The cross is something to marvel at, towering over you like your own Catholic guilt, but the murals painted by Serry M. Josol and Jess Roa enliven and contextualize the massive wood.
P. Burgos Street, Cebu City. Opening hours: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The Basilica Menor del Santo Niño de Cebu
This basilica is the logical next stop given its proximity to Magellan’s cross. It is the country’s oldest Roman Catholic Church, having been founded in 1565 by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. The basilica also houses one of the oldest—and arguably most important—religious icons in the Philippines, that of the Child Jesus. The statuette is believed to be the same relic given to Rajah Humabon by Magellan in 1521.
The basilica itself was constructed in the same place Legazpi discovered the statuette some forty-four years after Magellan’s expedition.
Pilgrim’s Center, Osmena Blvd., Cebu City.
The Jesuit House Museum
Hidden within Ho Tong Hardware store is the oldest house in Cebu—an edifice almost 300 years old. Owned now by Jaime Sy, the stone and wood house has undergone several transformations across the centuries, and ownership has passed from religious to secular hands along the way.
To arrive at the house, one has to cross a warehouse where various hardware supplies are stored. It’s anachronistic and thrilling to find an old bahay na bato among shelves lined with pipes and sundry plastics. A plaque reading 1730 Jesuit House dates the edifice—but Chinese lanterns hang from the open stone entrance both to establish current ownership and past location. The house was built in Parian, Cebu’s old Chinese district. Before crossing to the second floor, one visits the museum proper in a basement that showcases Jesuit presence in the city—from glass-encased statuettes of Ignacio de Loyola to museum notes about the religious order’s movements in Cebu. According to Fr. Rene Javellana, this was home to the second highest official from the society.
Climb up to the second floor and one time travels through various stages of local history all at once. You can see a four-poster bed in one of the bedrooms, but furniture in the living areas include boxed television sets and vintage electric fans (among other vintage paraphernalia). The current owner purchased the home from the Alvarez family who had acquired the home in the last years of the 19th century.
26 Zulueta St. Cebu City. Operating hours 8:30 to 12 p.m., 1 to 5 p.m., Mondays to Saturdays.
By now, our hosts began looking at their watches, which we all took as our cue to get moving—but not before we stopped at one of the hottest imports from Cebu for lunch. Granted, there are Zubuchons to be had in Manila, but there’s nothing quite like the fresh fare to be had in Cebu. The skin is crunchier and the meat is more lushly seasoned than what one is accustomed to in Manila branches. Cuts of meat are more generous (far from the bone, and dripping with fat).
One Mango Mall, General Maxilom Avenue, Cebu City. Operating hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Photographs by Deiniel Cuvin