I arrived in Maasin City past midnight with my in-laws after driving a rental car for about two hours on a balmy evening from their place in Ormoc in July 2017. I was surprised to find out that President Rodrigo Duterte was born in this humble city, the capital of the Province of Southern Leyte, at the southwestern tip of Leyte Island.

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Early next morning, we drove for half an hour to a town called Padre Burgos aiming to hop on a boat across to the tiny Limasawa Island. I was glad to be told that we can safely leave our car next to the Police station which was also very close to the pier we were setting off from.

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I was also lucky to be with my in-laws who spoke the local dialect so yeah we were able to go across in an outrigger canoe called pump boat for the standard fare. An earlier group tried to hook me up a more expensive private deal in their boat.

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With my super nephew Jethro and his beautiful daughter VJ
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My niece Oshen mastering the art of the selfie

I was also glad to meet in this boat a patriotic Visayan from Hinunangan, Southern Leyte who commutes weekly as a teacher in Limasawa Island. Rejie is well-versed about issues concerning the Visayan region and has many ideas on progress including federalism.

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Rejie (yellow top) sitting next to my sister-in-law Ate Lita with Oshen’s baby boy Skyler

You’d have guessed that the main focus of our trip to the province of Southern Leyte is to make it across to this island of Limasawa. We were indeed very excited!

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That is because Limasawa is said to be the site of the first ever Roman Catholic Mass in the Philippines and probably in East Asia.

We were given a short well-referenced history lesson by the tour guide on the authenticity of this claim for Limasawa Island as we contemplated in awe the life-size depiction of the first mass inside the shrine.

He explained that whilst Ferdinand Magellan first set foot on Philippine soil in Homonhon Island, he continued on to Limasawa where he was welcomed by the friendly chief Rajah Kulambo. This gesture of friendship prompted him to send Fr. Pedro de Valderrama ashore to celebrate the first Mass. Here are some of the documents the tour guide presented to us.

We were also surprised to learn that the famous Magellan’s Cross in Cebu is not the first ever cross planted on Philippine soil. The first one is on a hill next to the First Mass Shrine in Limasawa.

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Here are some photos of us taking on the big challenge to get to the top. Look at baby Sky struggling with her Patam (Lola) while Mommy Oshen is happily taking selfies and the triathlete of all people had to rest sitting down halfway up.

But we all eventually got up to the top of the hill to say our short prayers in front of the cross and to have a little rest enjoying the cool breeze.

After heading back down, we went into a small museum showcasing life in Limasawa centuries ago.

We then headed to our resort to relax on the beach at sunset before going to sleep.

I was thrilled to see how true the Filipino’s love for basketball when I saw this court not just on the shore but actually submerged partially in the sea.

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The next morning, we set off early back to Padre Burgos and were literally shaken by the southwesterly wind…

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…but when I saw how confident the captain of the boat was, I was able to settle down and calm the others as seen in these lovely images of my happy companions.

We then drove back to Maasin City to visit firstly the Provincial Capitol. I was very impressed to see the words of Republic Act 2227, which created the separate Province of Southern Leyte in 1960, in very large print on a wall inside the Provincial Capitol.

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A large photo of the signing of the Act in Malacañang is also hanging on the wall along the staircase of the Capitol.

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I was also very lucky my visit to the Capitol coincided with the compulsory Monday morning flag raising ceremony and briefing. The employees had to go outside but I stayed upstairs to take this photo.

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We finished off our trip to Southern Leyte Province with an appropriate visit to the Maasin Cathedral of the Our Lady of the Assumption to cap off our trip before driving back to Ormoc City.

Many thanks to Manang Lita, Jethro, Oshen and the kids for joining me in this amazing three-day journey to the Province of Southern Leyte. I am sure I will be able to see the eastern towns of Southern Leyte on my way to Surigao Province and Dinagat Islands Province in the future.

Coach Conto – Athlete, Warrior, Statesman, Spirit