Dárlán Pálénciá Bárcélón
“The whistling of the waves and balmy breeze is indeed a symphony of healing and serenity. There is greater experience than communing with God’s created wonders – that even the ocean waves take their hellos to the people all the time. I should also take my hellos down to the beach and sell these audacious waves to the tourists.” – Dárlán Pálénciá Bárcélón
It’s a public knowledge to every Bagamanocnons about the story of LORAN complex and its history are still kept in their minds, and preserved orally through folktales and anecdotes, yet still unknown to many – the municipality of Bagamanoc once has been a host to an American military complex sitting atop of a hill in Barangay Quigaray, Panay Island, Bagamanoc, Catanduanes.
A privately owned land with a total land area of 4.8 hectares owned by the Villenas, is prominently facing the vast Pacific Ocean – was once the exclusive site to some 21 regular crews of the the United States Coast Guard, manning the site and providing American battleships, submarines and airplanes with a lower frequency hyperbolic radio intended for the long range navigation.
LORAN is an acronym, for long range navigation, this was a hyperbolic radio navigation system developed in the United States during World War II.
It was similar to the UK’s Gee system but operated at lower frequencies in order to provide improved range up to 1,500 miles [2,400 km] with accuracy of tens of miles. It was first used for ship convoys crossing the Atlantic Ocean, and then by long-range patrol aircraft, but found its main use on the ships and air crafts operating in the Pacific theatre.
This was built in the early 1950’s in the north-eastern tip of the island province of Catanduanes and was a vestige of the Military Bases Agreement signed by and between the late President Manuel A. Roxas and Paul V. McNutt, the United States high commissioner in the Philippines that can only be found in Bikol region.
The complex has an air strip, with a half kilometer road connecting to the main complex and to the wharf in the western side of Quigaray where an American naval ship comes regularly every three months, while the American airplane also visits every week delivering food provisions to the crew. It has its own small fire truck and ocassionally, a U.S submarine are frequently spotted in the area.
The relics of the old wharf is still visible up to this day which is located in the western portion of Quigaray.
Residents from the adjoining town of Panganiban [Payo], in which the southern portion of Panay Island is under the territory of the municipality of Panganiban, they knew ahead if there is an impending typhoon because of the American weather facilities in Quigaray.
Practically, residents of Panganiban and Bagamanoc are relying their typhoon forecasts – not from the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration, but from LORAN, another source revealed.
In the accounts of Mrs. Florenia Arcilla – Bonifacio, 78 years old widow, the current caretaker of the LORAN ruins, the area is more than four hectares.
This place was surveyed by the Americans before and they [American government] paid no rentals to our grandparents, the Villena, she said.
It was only sometime in 1971, when the Americans abandoned this complex, the Philippine Coast Guard has taken over the facilities for a brief period after the the PCG left, we retook this place again, Mrs. Bonifacio explained.
We used the abandoned buildings as our shelter as we slowly converting the land, into gardening and tending the deserted buildings such as the engine room, radio transmitter room, mess hall, barracks, carpentry room, commanding officer’s quarters for our family use, the old lady admitted.
The vacant lot is now teeming with vegetables, fruit trees, root crops, poultry animals including rabbits.
Bonifacio who worked with the American Coast Guards as a laundry woman knew the daily routines of the facilities to include the rest-and-recreation activities of the crew. She was still able remembered the escapades of the Coast Guard personnel by jokingly recounted the thing of the past.
Among them, was the clandestine shacks where “escort women” are secretly housed in the beach front away from the main camp. Ladies from Cavite and Legazpi City were clandestinely sheltered in individual front hen was returned to the Philippines Coast Guard by huts, because it is forbidden by their superiors.
Some of the crew got married with the local ladies of Bagamanoc, like for instance Eckelberger, the erstwhile U.S Coast Guard Commanding Officer became the adopted son of Bagamanoc, she quipped.
The fine brown sand down the beach front of the former Coast Guard complex is exceptionally captivating and truly, the place exudes a country side recreation site.
With a zero-crime rate of Bagamanoc, a fifteen minutes boat ride to LORAN complex is indeed a rewarding Quigaray experience, as the hospitable host, Florenia Arcilla – Bonifacio’s hospitaly, is character to behold.