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A glimpse at the history, cultural festival of Libagon

The municipality of Libagon in Southern Leyte is found at the eastern side of Sogod Bay, a body of water that looked like being trapped by a cleavage of land in the map. The word “Libagon” itself supposedly evolved out of a cleaved lot, a direct mispronunciation from the Bisayan word “libaong,” which means a depression in the ground.  The story goes that Spanish authorities met a peasant who pointed at a depressed portion of the land when asked what was the name of the place.  It has since been known by the name Libagon, a barrio of Sogod.

Over time, just as the name of the town came out of a casual encounter, its name and location actually kept on changing.  It all began in the year 1884, when Domingo Espina was elected municipal captain.  He held office in a Libagon that was called Sogod del Norte.  Succeeding Espina as leader was Don Nicolas Idjao, an appointed municipal mayor by a certain Gen. Bursett at the onset of the American rule.  Both Espina and Idjao governed the constituents of Libagon which was at this period of time called Sogod del Norte, and at this time also Leyte was under the American military government.

In 1904, Ladislao Decenteceo, a resident of Consolacion, which was then a barrio of Libagon/Sogod del Norte, was elected municipal mayor. He made a bold move of transferring the seat of government to Consolacion, and reduced Libagon/Sogod del Norte into a barrio.

Noteworthy to note in this historical episode was that during the Decenteceo administration, Mariano Espina was elected councilor.  It was Espina who worked, and succeeded, in establishing and declaring Libagon, no longer Sogod del Norte, as an independent town.  On October 16, 1913, Libagon, the name and the place, became an independent municipal government, with Mariano Espina as the first Municipal President.  The arbitrary splitting and constant moving came to an end.

Exactly 110 years has passed, and those intervening years saw the flourishing of the municipality of Libagon under the administration of almost a dozen local chief executives all throughout the American regime until the Philippines gained independence from the United States of America on July 4, 1946.  Before the US-driven freedom, however, Libagon was not spared the devastation brought about by World War II, especially during the Japanese occupation in 1943-1944.  The people of Libagon showed their mettle and survived the war by actively involving and supporting the guerilla movement that eventually drove the Japanese forces, causing their defeat, in the island of Leyte.  They stood proud of their sons who died, as well as those who lived through the Death March after the fall of Bataan.  The victories and the freedom won by the local guerillas in their encounters with the Japanese forces in 1944, aptly referred as the “Liberation Movement,” enlivened the life of the people.

The town of Libagon continued to ink its place in the new Philippine Republic that grew out of the ruins of second world war.  After July, 1946, local governance in Libagon exemplified by the election and administration of subsequent Municipal Mayors “normalized” the conduct of the town’s social, economic and political affairs. Moving on the political tempo of the national government, the Municipality of Libagon was witness to the two-party Presidential system from the time of President Manuel Roxas to President Diosdado Macapagal, echoing and passively participating in a very centralized system of governance.

Nevertheless, Libagon had been privileged to having been served by committed and dedicated public officials, among others: Mayor Francisco E. Espina, Mayor Mario Espina, Mayor Rito Monte de Ramos, and Mayor Salvador Resma.  

During the Martial Law rule of former President Ferdinand Marcos, Atty. Domingo P. Espina was appointed municipal mayor and was eventually elected during the 1980 elections. Later on though, in 1986, with the EDSA Revolution, the political changes in the national government affected the local government with local officials being replaced by new appointees.  The local chief executives who held the political reigns after the Edsa Revolution are the following: the late Mayor Rogato J. Paitan, former Mayor Domingo P. Espina, former Mayor Rizalina B. Espina, Mayor Oliver E. Ranque, and the current Mayor Sabina B. Ranque.

Then the passing of Republic Act 7160, otherwise known as the Local Government Code of 1991, brought in pronounced changes in the administrative and political structures in the local government, with the devolution of authorities, human and financial resources from the central government. The expanded power authority devolved to the local government proved to be jolting, yet challenging to the local government bureaucracy.

Old Municipal Hall (Centennial Building)

Libagon municipality stood out as having a two-story municipal building made of wood, an iconic landmark to a place that used to be here and there.  Its construction was carried out by a bayanihan system, locally called “boluntaryo.”  The structure was designed by a German architect with materials gathered from Patag Daku, a dense mountain range in the town rich with native trees.  The cut trees were transported by the townfolks using a carriage pulled by carabao.  This traditional transportation system is called “balsa.”

Carpenters working on the wooden building were hired from Bohol. It was said that in order to lessen their exhaustion and tiredness they were accompanied by a “banda,” a live band singing their souls out for fun and enjoyment, while the workers build the building.

The distinct structure survived the rigors of war and natural calamities, the latest was Typhoon Odette on December 16, 2021.  In the last decade or so, with a new, concrete municipal building just a stone’s throw away, its official function may have been diminished, but not its glory, its importance and secured place in local history.  The old, centennial building was then used and occupied by the following offices:

Municipal President and Mayor’s Office

Municipal Library managed by Marietta Espina Navarro

Municipal Session Hall where sessions and Gala parties are held

Office of the Municipal Judge - Judge Ibarra Castañares

BIR Office - Manuel Espina, Head

Office of the COMELEC - Camelo Edillo, COMELEC Officer

Office of the Treasury - Enrique Rodriguez, Municipal Treasurer

Office of the Municipal Civil Registry - Milagros Arriola, Head

PHLPost Office - Francisco Bautista, Postmaster

Municipal Jail - Roberto Dajao, Chief Inspector

Pangilis festival

Pangilis has been a long tradition carried over from generations. Rooted from “lumads” since the early 1900s, Pangilis is celebrated every July 17, or the day after the Feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, July 16.  While devotees pay homage to Our Lady on her fiesta day, they likewise look forward to the fun-filled, well-attended Pangilis event following the fiesta. Much like the fiesta in perspective, Libagongnons celebrated the Pangilis occasion as a personal thanksgiving for graces received, like safety, protection, good health, and blessings or good fortune, and other personal reasons, as well as prayerful expression of faith.

As the name of the tradition suggests, the root word of Pangilis is “ilis,” meaning to change.  The day begins with the usual Diana, an early morning beat and sounds of drums and bugles at break of dawn. By eight in the morning devotees gather inside the church to participate in the annual meeting of the Kapunongan sa Nuestra Senora Virgen del Carmen, a religious organization.  During this gathering a new set of officers is elected, including the Hermano and Hermana Mayor.  Thus, “ilis” or changing of the new Hermano and Hermana Mayor, the main sponsor traditionally of the Church-based fiesta activities.

The outgoing Hermano and Hermana Mayor will then lead the procession along with the devotees, and hand-over the venerated image to the newly-elected leaders. With the parade/procession done, people from all walks of life proceeded to the day-long revelry in the town’s center. Pangilis celebration is highlighted by an abundance of food, rhythmic dancing, folklore games, and various competitions. Also, among the day’s highlights is the ad hoc crowning of the festival king and queen using some indigenous flora especially cadena de amor.

The celebratory activity then extends until the wee hours of the night.  The unique Pangilis tradition and festival instills a sense of pride among residents and locals, enhances cultural identity of the community, and preserves the arts, culture, and heritage that is truly Libagongnon. (MMP/PIA Southern Leyte with Neil Christian Nantes, Libagon Information Officer)

About the Author

Marcelo Pedalino

Regional Editor

Region 8

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