In Cagayan de Oro City, the Christmas season usually begins with the unfolding of the Christmas Village at VIP Hotel right smack in the main business and leisure district of Divisoria.
Eileen Escobar-San Juan, a genteel Canoy who runs the family-owned hotel, loves to display in the hotel lobby the hotel’s collection of miniature houses, cars and toy people spread out in a dreamy mountain resort kind of scenery blanketed by faux snow, complete with holiday music and pinpricks of light winking at the festive mise-en-scène. The city’s residents elbow their way around for touristy photo-ops.
Dressing up the hotel lobby is Eileen’s way of cheering up the city’s folksy denizens. Her accomplices in this regard are her twin sister Laureen and their cousin Teza Canoy-Sambile, who designs the Christmas Village every year.
Once, Eileen surprised her habitués with a collection (Charley Canoy’s) of toy planes that seemed to swoop down from the ceiling: vintage mockups, no-nonsense facsimiles of commercial models, cutesy designs.
At regular intervals, Eileen, a leading light in the Promote Cagayan de Oro Foundation Inc., continually exhibits the works of the city’s gifted visual artists, such as the inimitable Errol Balcos.
Not too long ago, Eileen hosted a traveling show of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts showcasing the history of Philippine media. And why not? The Canoys figured in the exhibit as the visionary founders of the Radio Mindanao Network, now an institution in the national media landscape.
But the ladies who lunch—the likes of the Ikebana ladies such as the cool Raisa Velez and her mother Consuelo Aberasturi, Dr. Marissa Mercado, Nancy Lomarda, Lennie Medalla and Evelyn Roa-Clavano—go to VIP Hotel mainly for its salad buffet, aside from their usual chit-chat.
From the VIP Hotel, you may walk to the left and get lost in the labyrinthine throb of the night market.
On weekends, the Divisoria thoroughfare is transformed into what is generally considered as the singular greatest achievement of our four-term city mayor, the Honorable Vicente Y. Emano—the Night Café, a no-holds-barred pedestrian beer garden-cum-bazaar.
Further down the road, past the Divisoria area, is the Rodelsa Circle, the rotunda at the new bridge which had become, until very recently, a very happening place in anticipation of the Paseo del Rio complex being built under the aegis of Dr. Rafaelita P. Pelaez and her Zealep Group. The Paseo will have a mall, a hotel and a 3,000-seat convention center all designed by the environmentally savvy architects of Palafox and Associates.
The ongoing construction at the Paseo saved so many people during the flood, serving as a safety refuge from the roiling waters below. Even the trees in the area suddenly flowered with people scrambling up for survival.
But if, upon leaving the VIP Hotel in downtown Cagayan de Oro, you turn right and amble on, you will pass the Central Elementary School, now a major evacuation center.
This stretch of road is called Velez Street, the city’s main artery. It’s named after the Cagayan de Oro hero who, during the Philippine-American War at the turn of the previous century, routed an entire battalion of American soldiers.
Way back then, this was the Calle del Mar, or the road that ended up in the sea.
At the time, there were only three streets in the city, all emanating from the hub of Spanish colonial power in Cagayan de Oro —the area now known as Gaston Park, the Metropolitan Cathedral of St. Augustine and the Bishop’s Palace, where the much-loved and much-revered Bishop Antonio Ledesma, SJ holds sway over his beleaguered flock.
The two other streets were the Calle de la Iglesia, the road that began at the church doors; and the Calle Real, the road that spilled out of the Spanish fort. Today, these streets remain as well, but renamed thus: Burgos Street and Capistrano Street, respectively.
Burgos Street originally skimmed the Cagayan de Oro River. Over the years, it began to be wedged in by a multitude of houses. And when it could no longer accommodate the onrush of a population crunch, Burgos Street became the jump-off point to Isla de Oro, a delta of overland runoff in the middle of the river.
Why the city mayor allowed it to become a residential area boggles the mind, but in no time at all it became the choice residential enclave of labanderas and lechon-makers. Isla de Oro was erased by the rampaging waters last weekend.
Capistrano Street, up the slope from parallel Burgos Street and away from the river, is fashionable today because of such must-go-to’s as Thai Me Up, a delightful open-air theme diner, and Atelier Lachica, the foremost fashion shop in the city run by Melvin Lachica, chosen by the Department of Tourism to represent the Philippines for innovative fashion at the World Expo in Lisbon.
Capistrano Street was lapped by floodwaters, but there the deluge came to a halt, as if it were the brim of the water basin the low-lying areas had become.
Which meant that Velez Street, the city’s main street, had relatively been left unscathed. And now, if you continue your walk past the Central Elementary School, you will pass by the City Library, which has been ignored all these years by the city government it has become such a sorry affair. And there’s the refurbished, spritzy Pelaez Sports Complex, the Misamis Oriental General Comprehensive High School and then the stately Provincial Capitol Building of Misamis Oriental.
This is where your walk of downtown Cagayan de Oro would probably wind up. (Uptown Cagayan de Oro, where SM City is sprawled, was spared from the calamity.) Here, the capitol and its sweeping garden welcome you to evocative Christmas lights—not fancy, nor cheap, but soulful in its quiet elegance.
The popular Gov. Oscar S. Moreno has allowed his provincial administrator, the artist Patrick Uyguangco Gabutina, to continue the tradition of lifting everyone’s spirits at this time of year with good cheer and in good taste.
And that’s the point, I suppose. All things considered, the leadership of a burgeoning and beleaguered city such as Cagayan de Oro requires, at the very outset, good taste that captures all our hopes, our dreams and yearnings. The city residents are in search of that statesmanly kind of leadership. Yes, dearie, the bells are tolling for thee.
Meanwhile, Dr. Rose Huerbana of the Safer River, Life Saver Foundation Inc. is busy running comprehensive relief operations in the riverside barangays, which had been all washed out. The relief operations are based at the Civic Center of Liceo U. Please get in touch with Dr. Huerbana through 0916-5779318.