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OTON: A Quest for its Heritage

Submitted by on October 10, 2011 – 2:57 pm12 Comments

Oton Municipal Hall

It was seven in the morning and I was nearly complete with my nursing endorsement. Just been through an eight-hour shift, I was quite exhausted but at the same time excited at my day’s itinerary. It was a quest for me, a chance to look at a beauty long lost. I sent an SMS to my handler and chaperon and it seemed he just woke up.

I decided to pick him up at their place near the old fort and that what I just did. In my mind, he might take a while and to save myself from waiting I decided to drop by at Iloilo Capitol grounds and take some pictures. It was a sunny morning following a rainy dawn, the set was ideal for a photo shoot – fresh, green and wet but at the same time the sun is in full blast giving me a vividly colored scene.

Museo Iloilo at Capitol Grounds

Half an hour later, I picked my companion at their place. Bewildered and still sleepy, he asked where the day’s destination is. I said “Oton”, the first capital of the Spanish power in Panay on 16th century, home of probably the most beautiful church in the province when it existed. But this day’s visit was different for it is a search for that old Spanish church destroyed by an earthquake in 1948. I only saw it in pictures and I was longing to see if even its ruins are still there. It was a chance to meet history at its face.

I drove along the highway, past our place at Molo. I was thinking of my bed but the thought of seeing Oton and looking for its past kept me going. Then we finally arrived; I drove around the plaza and parked somewhere near the parish church. With our cameras we jumped out of the car, entered Oton’s plaza and looked for the stone mural first.

Oton Plaza Mural

It was not long till I saw the wall where images of history were etched on. It was good though partly vandalized, history’s villains chiseled out of the mural (the way ancient Egyptians did it at their monuments). A sort of anger that was channeled upon the art piece. I took series of shots because I intended to use Photostitch to merge the photos (above).

Oton Municipal Hall

Not far from the mural is Oton’s humble and elegant Municipal Hall, built in 1955. A beautiful small garden with a surrounding pool is found in front of the building.

We moved to the church at the south side of the plaza and rushed my companion for the mass is about to start. I thought we’ll have difficulty taking pictures if the mass is going on.

Oton Church Iloilo

Oton Church Interior

The church was modern in design, leaving no trace of the once imposing church of limestone, corals and mortar that occupied its place for centuries. I was asking, where did that huge church went? Where are its traces?

We entered the church, said our prayers, and took some photos. Then we looked around, and found nothing. Schools, offices, playgrounds, parks and benches are all present but no trace of the old church. Exhausted, I sat down at the benches facing the grotto and watched my companion took pictures of the Virgin Mary. Then staring at the wall at the side of the grotto, something caught my eyes – a coral mixed on a wall of stone which is engulfed by the roots of a humungous tree. I stood up, and stared at the wall. This was it, I thought. What else could it be? I shouted at my companion and excitedly pointed the corals at the wall. There like a Jew praying at the Wailing Wall, I stood, prayed and marveled at the remains of the old church. It was like an explorer looking at the walls of Angkor Wat covered by trees when I found it. There was no marker, nothing to remind of what that wall represented.

Oton Church Grotto

Oton Church Ruins

Looking around the wall, I found an elderly talking to a vendor. In my Tagalog accent, I asked if the wall was part of the old church, she said no. There was no other church in the place except the one that we were staring at where mass goers are entering she said. Disappointed, I looked back at the wall and was still convinced of what it was.

Oton Public Market

Oton Public Market Under Construction

Oton Iloilo

Hungry and tired, I invited my companion to eat at the market. Just like the old days when I was at Tarlac, we ate arrozcaldo and siopao at the public market. It was Sunday, and the place was nearly full. As I devoured my hot arrozcaldo and with siopao at the other hand, we talked about how important Oton was in the province’s history.

Oton Arrozcaldo

Then I told him if we could visit the old Oton Catholic Cemetery where a centuries-old mortuary is still present. Unfortunately, both of us don’t know where it is. We asked directions at the store’s attendant and we headed straight there.

At first I was in half-mind to visit the cemetery as I was sleepy and tired, and really weak (honestly, I was fearing that since I was weak physically, some forces may latched on me). But we persisted and found it at the side of the highway; I parked the car and entered the place with my friend. There it was staring at its visitors, a stone chapel that was first of its kind in town, probably in all of Iloilo and Panay. It does not anymore carry the signs of the ancient for it was renovated many times. It was simple in design but there are symbols at the structure which may date back centuries ago.

Oton Cemetery

I walked around it and I could feel it was interested in its new visitor. The structure was like an old lady sitting and snubbed by people who doesn’t knew what she had been through. But now, here’s a young man paying her a visit, eager in her heritage and understood her history. I could feel like it’s saying, “You saw my sister’s remains at the town, pity she was gone. We were complementary, more like twins.

Oton Cemetery Chapel

After taking some photos and marveled at the chapel, we left and drove home feeling satisfied. I went straight to my bed and took my sleep bringing in my subconscious how much Oton lost its history and prestige.

About Oton’s Old Church

Oton Old Church

The construction of the Old Oton Church started in 1874 and was completed in 1889. Its design is of Greek cross, with all wings of equal length. The center of the church was marked by a high altar, a similar style seen at St. Peter’s in Rome. It has Byzantine and Gothic influences, much like a combination of the Hagia Sofia of Istanbul and Paris’s Chartres Cathedral. It was the biggest and tallest church in its time, making it a source of pride for Ogtonganons. Unfortunately, it was completely destroyed in the 1948 earthquake that hit Panay. A small wall that was converted into grotto is the only remaining memory of the old church today.

Oton’s Old Catholic Cemetery

Oton Cemetery Chapel Marker

Located less than a kilometer away from Oton’s old church is the Spanish-era catholic cemetery. Probably built at the same time with the old church, few traces are left that may testify to its heritage. A chapel of glowing yellow with a cement slab as its roof greets visitors who enter the place. The chapel is almost 200 years old, but any sign of its antiquity was erased when it was renovated and repainted in 1997. The stone walls are adorned with bas reliefs of skull with cross bones. A Hiligaynon inscription on top of the chapel’s entrace says, “Sa Dios magdayao ang mga tol-an sang mga nagpaobus sining cabuhi” or “In God will praise the bones of those who humbled in this life”.

Iloilo I LOVE! traces the sights, scenes, and sounds of Metro Iloilo Guimaras (MIG). This zone is composed of Iloilo and its environs (Oton, Leganes, Pavia, San Miguel and Sta. Barbara), together with the island of Guimaras. Come and experience Metro Iloilo Guimaras here at Iloilo I LOVE!

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