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Cebu City in the ‘Transit’ Age

By: Jobers Reynes Bersales - CDN Digital | October 28,2019 - 07:53 AM

As the streets of Cebu turn empty during the coming holidays to honor our dearly departed, let us look back at the time when Cebu City had no traffic, when riding pubic transport was a sightseeing tour more than a hot, humid and crowded affair one had to go through.

In 1929 or 90 years ago, Cebu City had a public transport within the city and its suburbs called the “transit,” a small bus that, for five centavos would bring you to your destination in five different routes: the Muelle-Mabolo line; the Muelle-Pardo line; the Juan Luna-Lahug line; the Norte America-Sikatuna line; and, finally, the Magallanes-Colon-Tupas-Sanciangco line. 

An article in the Progress newspaper issue of June 23, 1929, bylined Alfar, Luz and Borres and entitled “Cebu and Suburbs Seen from the Cebu ‘Transit’” offers us a glimpse of what has changed and what has remained with us until today. By the way, the authors did not provide first names but the Alfar there must be the Cebuano writer, Brigido Alfar, or a relative. 

The Muelle-Mabolo and Muelle-Pardo lines began at a terminal near Carbon Market and the authors, with so much wit and sarcasm, provide us this unmistakable scene: “(T)he line starts at a place far from commendable. Unless your nose is smell proof, you will be subjected to the stink of rotten fish, poorly cared for slaughter houses and rabishes (sic, rubbish?) when you come to “Carbon”, the busies place in the city where thousands of harmless flies find board and lodging for free. With the dust coming from the Chinese corn mills across the market and the carbon dust of the railway behind, coupled with the stink of rotten fish and the slaughter houses, the whole place is a challenge to the gas mask.” Thankfully Mayor Edgardo Labella has caused the area to be cleaned, following the lead of Mayor Isko Moreno Damagoso in Manila. But the stink remains: it is part of its ambiance.

The Muelle-Mabolo line passed by the provincial jail, the leprosarium (today’s Skin Clinic beside the regional office of the Department of Social Welfare and Development) and the cemetery across, “the grim walls…over which are towering a number of black and white crosses,  (that) remind you how you walked one night in the dark and felt someone was following you.” This line ended in a ‘country church’, in reference to the colonial-era stone church that once stood where the Mabolo Church is today. Gone are the days when, at the end of this line, passengers were “welcomed by smiling girls with baskets on their heads full of ‘minantikaang sagueng (sic) and camote’.”

 The Muelle-Pardo line, the longest of the lines, ended at the Pardo Church with a modern market across, a “typical barrio but with a modern background” as the authors describe it.  Along the way one would pass by the central train station (today, the area occupied by the Development Bank of the Philippines, Asian College of Technology, Elizabeth Mall, Cebu South Bus Terminal and the Cebu City Fire Station). At Mambaling, one could be treated to what the authors aver was the best “puto” in the city, now long gone.

It is, however, the Juan Luna-Lahug line where one could be treated to the best evidences of wealth in the progressive city for free. “Here you will be feasted with something new,” the authors invitingly state. “To the right and left you will have the stretch your neck for fear you might lose sight of beautiful modern houses. You will gasp and say, ‘Oh how beautiful it is, look!’ Only to find (that) the next house is more beautiful.” 

Lahug was where the Deens and other pioneer real estate developers sold lots to the wealthy who soon started building palatial homes across the Junior College (now UP Cebu). Very little has survived today, amid the onslaught of high-rise developments in the area. Two very striking remainders are the Agustin Jereza house and the Jose Castillo house across it, both adaptively reused as restaurants.

If Lahug was the playground of the up-and-coming nouveau rich, it is in the Norte America-Sikatuna line that one would meet the old political families of Cebu. Norte America, today’s Dionisio Jakosalem Street, was where, the authors say, “you will notice that houses of prominent men in the province are located…such as Gov. Cuenco’s and ex-Gov. Climaco.”   

The final route, Magallanes-Colon-Tupas-Sanciangco line, was the line that went around the city proper. The authors compared the scenes here with those of Manila: Magallanes, accordingly, was a ‘reproduction’ of Rosario, while Pasil, Ermita, Sanciangco and Manalili, were a “reproduction of congested Tondo.”

Look closely at the lines just presented and you will realize that nothing much has changed in the routes taken by the transit then and the jeepneys now, counting out present-day traffic, of course. While World War II and the wrecking ball may have altered the scene somewhat, our streets have remained where they are and, with them, the routes. And what better days to retrace the past than the coming weekend, when everyone troops to the cemeteries, turning the streets of Cebu City back to the times of the public transit, when going to Mabolo or Pardo or Lahug was a tour, not a frustratingly humid experience to be forgotten once one got home.

***

CONGRATULATIONS to my dear friend and colleague in church heritage advocacy, Louella ‘Loy’ Eslao Alix, on the launch of her book “Food and Love” at the Kabilin Lounge of Golden Prince Hotel later this afternoon. Ma’am Loy of course is the famous author of the USC Press-published bestseller, “Hikay: The Culinary Heritage of Cebu” and the upcoming book on Cebuano desserts and delicacies  “Tam-is.”

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