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Old Tagbilaran and Its Grandeur
« on: March 16, 2018, 01:09:19 PM »
By Tagbilaran Tatler on

It has long been assumed by many that Sitio Ubos is the oldest district of Tagbilaran, that it was here that the town started and grew upward as more and more people started settling here.  After having studied the district, however, certain things about Sitio Ubos had come to my attention that could cast doubts on this belief.
For instance, if indeed, Sitio Ubos is the oldest part of Tagbilaran, why is the area dominated by only 4 families?  Can a town be owned only by four families?  As former Tagbilaran Mayor Honorio Grupo described Tagbilaran in 1916, there were only four families living there: the Oppus-Borjas, the Rochas, the Manigques and the Butalids.  The Rochas almost wholly owned the place and the positioning of their houses show their great economic clout in former times.
The very first Rocha house in the row was owned by Doña Carmen (Nyora Amen) Rocha which used to stand at the corner where the road from the upper town leading towards the old port area joined Franklin Street- the only decent road in the area.  It was a typical Bohol ‘balay-nga tabla’, i.e. woodboard and with nipa roofing.  The house is long gone now but a portion of this house is shown in a very old photograph of Sitio Ubos, taken around the turn of the 20th century. Long before the causeway bridge to Totolan, Dauis, was constructed around 1959, people from across the straight used to land right across from the house of Nyora Carmen, giving rise to that old Tagbilaran joke on the telegraphic speech of the Dauisanon: “Sakay mi’g bruto pro’ dunggo Nyora Myen.”( We take the dun-colored boat from Dauis and land in front of Señora Amen’s house.) It was said that Doña Carmen was so rich she once made a pilgrimage to Rome.  We don’t know for sure when the house disappeared.  Early in the previous century, it was still used as a school.

Another Rocha-owned house that has disappeared was the old house of Borbara Rocha who married Baldomero Gonzaga.  It used to stand directly across Doña Carmen’s house where today stands the Visarra House, now turned into a bed-and-breakfast facility. During the war, the Rocha-Suarez family decided to transfer some of their furniture to this old house.  They had just transferred their antique sala set to this house when it mysteriously burned.  Behind the Rocha-Gonzaga house, there used to stand a bodega made of mamposteria.  The building used to extend further towards the end of the pier  ( the causeway bridge that now connects Tagbilaran to Dauis was finished only in the late 1950’s).  This structure also belonged to the Rocha clan.  The remains of its masonry walls can still be found until now.

Next to Doña Carmen Rocha’s house is the house of Don Fernando Gorraiz Rocha. He was once a schoolteacher in the Spanish school for boys.  Early in the 20th century, he served as governor of Bohol. He was married to a local lady of Spanish extraction, Dona Catalina Fortich.   Like the adjoining Rocha house, this residence of the Rocha couple was also made of woodboards and with nipa roofs and must have been built before the 1850’s.  The groundfloor of this house once served as a bazaar, but it was the baking skills of the unmarried sisters of Don Fernando that attracted more people to the house.  These ladies, called Las Hermanas Rochas, once produced the best pastries in town, such as hojaldres, broas and kinatloan.  But it was the plebeian fare- the Dugmok(toasted left-over bread) – that used to be the favorite of untold number of kids in Tagbilaran.

Aside from stories about resident dwarves(cf June 11, 2014 post), the most poignant tale I heard about this house was of that beautiful woman who once lived here in the decades before the war.  It is said that she was a Clarin from Cebu, a close relative of the Rocha-Fortich family who had had a nervous breakdown. Their house had caught fire and to escape death she had to jump out the window.  They said she was sent to Tagbilaran both to recuperate as well as to hide her from social stigma.
Easily the most impressive house in sitio Ubos is the Antonio Rocha House.  It has tile roofs and has stone groundfloor skirting.  I remember when we were still kids we used to call it the House of the Roosters because there used to be a pair of ceramic roosters standing on both ends of the main roofs. The date 1831 is inscribed into a backwall, giving us an idea about the age of this grand structure. This was the house of the mestizo sangley Don Antonio Rocha who served for a long time as escribiente of the Tagbilaran parish. 

Time had not been good for this branch of the Tagbilaran Rocha.  By the 1970’s its owners had to rent out some of the rooms of the house to students.  One of those students later became a colleague of mind and he told me of his experiences while staying at the house.  It seemed he had befriended the old lady who lived in the house and one time this old lady requested him to help her move around some of the things the family had kept at the stockroom under the house.  One of the objects he saw there was this huge wooden chest full of old coins.  We may never know what happened to this valuable cache.  What do know is that a member of the family sold the property to a Manila-based antique collector who shelled out some earnest money so as to gain foothold in the house, after which he began methodically stripping the house of valuable antiques before selling the house its present Swiss owner( I got the chance to visit the house while this was going on and I saw this painting showing the very Chinese-looking Antonio Rocha, placed against the wall and stripped of its frame).  My colleague who once boarded here also told me a hair-raising stories of supernatural encounters here.  One night while he was sleeping in his bed, he was rudely awakened when the bed was violently shaken.  Another time he was awakened in the middle of the night when both his feet were pulled down by invidible hands.  He sat up to see a dark shadow hovering at the foot of the bed.

Across the street from the Antonio Rocha House once stood another stone house owned by the Manigque family, also of Chinese extraction and who is said to have originated from Mindano.  Unfortunately the house burned down in the 1950’s. 

At the other end of the block, another old house belonging to the Rocha family can still be found.  At present the property, which is truly in bad shape, is owned by a Chinese family in Tagbilaran. 
The other two old houses in Sitio Ubos used to be owned by the Butalid clan, another old Tagbilaran family of Chinese descent.  We have already written about the Butalid-Calceta (now Beldia) House in two previous posts.  We shall not be writing about this.

It is the other former Butalid House that we will talk about last.

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