Lavezares is a quiet and peaceful town at the opposite end of Palapag along the historic San Bernardino Strait. Approaching from the sea, travelers are welcomed by a landmark unique to the town – a Marian scene cast in shimmering white stone rising above the waters of Lavezares Bay.
The image is that of the Blessed Virgin Mary stretching out her arm to rescue a desolate male figure, seemingly helpless in the swirling waves. It is depiction of the Nuestra Señora de Salvacion (Our Lady of Salvation), patron saint of Lavezares.
When the tides are high, it is a comforting sight of hope and redemption. At ebb tide, the base of the sculpture is visible – a vast coral reef at the heart of a bay that has been designated as a marine park.
The monument is widely believed to have been built shortly after a passenger ship capsized off the coast of the town and its passengers said to have been miraculously saved through Our Lady’s intercession.
The town of Lavezares was originally known as Pinonayan, which literally means the home of the ponay. The ponay is a native bird famed for the melodious sound it makes, inspiring a Lavezares priest, Fr. Alejandro Campos, to compose a popular Samar ditty exulting the bird for the joy it brings to Lavezaresnon:
O an tamsi nga layaw naglalayaw-layaw
Nahugdun nalupad bisan diin ikalpad
Sin balay siya waray nga sadang pamahuway
An tamsi nga layaw, an tamsi nga Ponay nakalipay…
Pinonayan was an old sitio of the pueblo of La Granja, now known as the municipality of Allen. It was known then as a sanctuary for residents of other pueblos who were forced to leave their homes because they were constantly attacked by Moro pirates, compelled by Spanish authorities to serve as para-military volunteers against the Pulahanes or Sumuroy rebels, or enlisted for forced-labor in the Cavite shipyards.
There was also a group from Leyte, persecuted by Spanish authorities because of their refusal to convert to Christianity, who also sought refuge in the friendly and resource-rich community. As there were a number from Sorsogon, who fled their homes at the foot of Mount Bulusan when it started spewing ashes and moved to a new settlement across the strait.
Around 1873, as the number of the residents grew in number, the leaders of four visitas – Pinonayan (Poblacion), Borobaybay, Socjan (Villa), and Mamban (Rosario) – Petitioned the Spanish governor-general to elevated them into a pueblo.
The petition was granted two years later and the new pueblo was named in honor of Guido de Lavezares, the second governor general of the Philippine Islands and successor of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, who had proclaimed the entire archipelago under the sovereignty of Spain.
The pueblo was officially recognized on January 7, 1875, but it was only in 1894 that it was officially declared a parish, ecclesiastically independent from La Granja, Fr. Severino Parano was installed as its first parish priest, and a local resident named Severino Flores was appointed capitan, the equivalent of today’s mayor.
Since travel and processing of official documents for the King’s signature in Spain took months to accomplish, it was not until November 26, 1878, that the cedulario containing the royal approval for the establishment of the pueblo of Lavezares reached the Philippines.
So while the National Historical Institute (NHI) recognizes January 7, 1875 as the official founding of the town, a local Sangguniang Bayan resolution which was passed and approved in 2005 sets the municipal observance of the Foundation Day on November 26.
Lavezares anchors its tourism pitch on its claim to be the gateway to Biri Island and its famous rock formations, primarily because the latter is considered the official face of tourism in Northern Samar.
But more than just a portal to a more popular tourist destination, Lavezares complements the allure of its sister-municipality with its own enticing attractions of beaches, waterfalls, caves, marine sanctuaries, and its own unique religious monuments.
The La Laguna Eco-Park, a bay surrounding the islands of San Isidro, Maravilla and San Juan, is described by local residents as their town’s last frontier. The lagoon is surrounded by a vast and marine-rich mangrove forest, growing from crystal clear waters where marine life spawn and spring.
The blue lagoon leads to the so-called enchanted Kaluy-ahan Mountain, a sanctuary for wild monkeys and other land-based animals, giant fruits bats, and endangered birds, including the Philippine Eagle which has reportedly been sighted in the area. It is ideal for mountain trekking and bird-watching, but there are strict prohibitions in place to protect and maintain the natural and pristine state of the mountain sanctuary.
The beaches in Bankawan and Marsons are ideal for diving and snorkeling, yet for now remain within the provincial government’s action plan to develop a Catarman-Balicuatro Island Eco-tourism Package. The coasts of Barobaybay and Urdaneta are similarly entrancing, but would- be tourist have to navigate some dirt roads with habal-habal just to get there. Cool for some perhaps, but not for many.
Deliberately or not, the town is also drawing in tourists in the form of pilgrims who come in droves during summer, particularly the Lenten season, for spiritual nourishment and renewal. The larger-than-life religious icons depicting significant moments in the life of Christ are set upon a backdrop of lush foliage in a prayer garden adjacent of the Catholic Church.
The image of Our Lady of Salvation, towering in the midst of Lavezares Bay, and the Shrine of the Risen Christ in Brgy. Balicuatro are inspiring in their splendor and compelling in their significance as places of worship, meditation, and spiritually.
Construction of the Maria monument – fondly called “Santa” – was inspired by a former parish priest and carried out by sculptor and incumbent Biri Mayor Dodoy de los Reyes with the support of the Cuyco family in 2009. The statue of the Risen Christ, located on a rock hill overlooking Lavezares Bay, was similarly chiseled by de los Reyes and funded by the Cuycos.
Believer swear that the number and strength of raging storms that frequently battered the province in the past had been greatly reduced and weakened because of the giant religious sculptures that guard their shores.
They may yet – spiritually and realistic – the road to salvation that the town badly needs to draw more tourists and pilgrims, and generate sustainable livelihood for its people.