of Turtles and Men

clergyman, with a deep voice resonating in the jam-packed hall, giving a stirring invocation in impeccable Spanish, eliciting ovation from the entire assembly.

Who gave that distinguished invocation? Jorge I. Barlin. From Baao.

Another of Barlin's outstanding achievements was his having served the equivalent of a provincial governor of Sorsogon when the Spanish Governor and his staff, in the wake of the revolt, abandoned the province. As Vicar Forane of Sorsogon, Msgr. Barlin effectively held both secular and clerical powers3 - an anachronism in today's sacredly held principle of separation of church and state! He was then no different from the King of England. Barlin, from Baao.

Msgr. Jorge I. Barlin
Monument of the first Filipino Bishop in Baao.

No question, Bishop Barlin deserves a high place in Philippine history. A city street in Naga is named (not renamed, mind you) Barlin. The parishioners of Baao, under the stewardship of Fr. Demetrio Martirez, erected the Jorge Barlin Monument. There is a 4Barlin Debating Society at the Ateneo de Naga (its first members were then high school students and twins Fabian B. Gumabao and Jorge G. Barlin.)

The Baao Historical Society had the Barlin Monument declared a National Historical Landmark by the National Historical Institute and had funds allocated for its continuing upkeep. The Society, with Alfredo I. Perdon as Executive Director, also puts up an annual Barlin Festival. Kaiba, thanks to the strong leadership of then President Rullyn Garcia and the generous support of many benefactors, redeveloped the Barlin park that the townspeople now enjoy.

Those are just but a few undertakings to honor and preserve the heritage of Bishop Barlin. No doubt, he deserves more - a lot more. But, to honor him by renaming the town Barlin is to honor him at the expense of four centuries of Baao legacy.

People who are history-conscious want to preserve things. It is highly likely that if Bishop Barlin, who certainly had a deep sense of history, were still alive today, he would have been the first to raise a howl against the idea of a name change.

Baaoeños are a self-effacing lot, even to a fault sometimes. Barlin was no exception, as indicated by his rejection of the Aglipayan scheme. So, rename Baao after him? I can almost hear the monsignor retorting something like, "Marhay pa 'kong ngaranan 'ba-o-o' na sana, kaysa Baao ngaranan Barlin."

The premise of that name change idea, that Baao's economic progress is slow, is absolutely false. The fact is, the town's economy is strong and dynamic. Its human resource is extremely talented and deeply religious, its populace ever so vibrant (read: awake 24/7?).

Which town can boast of such record as the following?

rice fields of Salvacion
Rice fields in Salvacion with
Simurai in the distance.

  • Baao is a net "exporter" of rice, coconut products, fruits, and vegetables;

  • Three times already the Department of Agriculture has accorded its national award for the Most Outstanding Farmer of the Year to Baaoeños;

  • We also were pre-eminent in the production of tilapia fingerlings and helped spawn tilapia culture all over the country, thanks to the pioneering work of brothers Apolonio and the late Job Bizuña;

  • The town is the Philippines' largest producer of chicken eggs south of Manila; kudos go to Tiong Greg, Mayor Mel, and the rest of the Gaite brothers;

  • Business executives deeply rooted in Baao can be found in the boardrooms of some of the top corporations in the country;

  • With its townsfolk's quest for higher education, Baao prides itself for having one of the highest per capita professionals in the country;

    3Robosa, Paulix B., letter to the author, November 2004.
    4Founded in the early 60's by the late Fr. james O'Brien, S.J. who, like Fr. Raul Bonoan, S.J., the late President of the Ateneo de Naga University, was an avid fan of Barlin and to whose heart Baao and Baaoeños were very close.