At Ermita Hill with goose pimples and eternal gratitude
Though born and bred in Manila, I consider myself a native of Baler, Aurora. My paternal grandmother, Leticia Angara-Moises comes from an old-line Baler family and his late father, Juan Angara, was the first lieutenant governor of the then sub-province of Aurora. My grandmother’s family is deeply attached to our hometown, so in a sense, I see it as my own.
I am based in Manila but I know the town and I am updated with the goings-on there – via the stories from a whole army of cousins who were born and raised in Baler, and whose only interruption to their Baler-based lives were their college years in the Metro.
The fact that I work for Genesis Transport Service Inc., the bus line that serves Aurora’s long routes exclusively (plus Joy Bus, the luxury bus service to Baler), keeps me in constant touch with what is going on in Baler. My attitude towards Baler is the attitude of a native – in love with the place, without the mushy musings of visitors /tourists. Even if you strip Baler of its surfing mythology, my feelings and attitude toward Baler will not budge an inch.
Yet, I cannot say that I can have the disposition of a native while at Ermita Hills. I can’t stand on that now oft-visited spot without expressing a sense of eternal praise and gratitude – and with all my goose pimples rising.
Why? This is the brief story.
On December 27, 1735, a powerful tsunami called Tromba Marina struck the old settlement of Baler, what is now Barangay Sabang. The settlement, because of the sheer force of Tromba Marina, was wiped out in minutes. Baler was then one of the remotest reaches of Luzon and there was no architecture to speak of except for fragile houses of bamboo, and Baler’s version of nipa. Tromba left no survivors except for six families who managed to make it to safety on a hilly ground of Baler. The place of safety is now called the Ermita Hills.
The six families that survived the Tromba were the Angaras, the Bitongs, the Bijasas, the Carrascos, the Lumasacs, and the Pobletes. It was the high and safe ground of Ermita Hills that saved them. And this guaranteed that Baler would not be a ghost town post that killer tsunami.
At Ermita Hills, there are now statues that simulate the whole experience of moving to higher ground and into safety – a long straight line of locked arms and cold, wet bodies being pulled upward into higher ground.
For those who descended from the six families – and I am one of them – I am forever thankful for the quick mindedness of my Angara ancestors. Otherwise, I would not have my Lola Letty, who at 93 is still healthy, and the generation that came after her.
The perils of living in a coastal town on the Eastern Seaboard had been underscored by the Tromba for decades, which also forced the six surviving families to move the township into higher ground. But the passage of time has all but erased the story of the deadly tsunami and survival in Baler. The six families, now the Baler “originals” have moved on from the terror of that tsunami and have built lives without fear. A descendant of one of the six families, the late Senator Edgardo Javier Angara, was once president of the Philippine Senate, president of the University of the Philippines, and president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines. His son and namesake, Juan Edgardo “Sonny“ M. Angara is now a senator of the realm.
I do think that they still see Ermita Hill as hallowed ground. This is exactly what I feel about the place.