Coconut palm trees are everywhere in Northern Samar, but nowhere more defining of an alluring landscape than in San Jose.
The coastal municipality just out on the northwest part of Samar Island and counts six more captivating tropical islands within its territory. The poblacion is a valley tucked on between the mountain ranges of Palusong in the south and Hitaasan in the west.
The main road through Northern Samar cuts through a scenic side of San Jose, providing travelers from east and west of the province with a vista of mountains on one side, and on the other a coastline ringed with coconut palm trees dancing to the sweet cadence of balmy sea breezes.
San Jose will forever be Carangian to the older Samarnons, who have always applied to the town the vernacular term for the native trap used by local hunters to catch the ilajas that abounded in the area in decades past.
The ilajas, wild chicken known for their speed and agility in eluding pursues, could only be caught with the use of carang traps. So when the local menfolk left home with their carangs, it was widely known that they were bound for Carangian, the barrio of Bobon that eventually became San Jose.
The barrio was elevated into a municipality on July 25, 1949, largely through the initiative of the late Congressman Eladio Balite and was given the name San Jose in honor of former Bobon Mayor Jose Balite, the congressman’s brother who had just passed away at the time. The executive order was signed by then Philippine President Elpidio Quirino.
San Jose is one of the bailiwicks of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) or Aglipayan Church in Northern Samar, if not in the entire Samar Island, with over 20 percent of the population of San Jose belonging to the religious sect. this is a significant number considering that Nortehanons are known to be staunchly Catholic.
The strength of the IFI in San Jose is attributed to Gen. Vicente Lukban, military and political governor of Samar at the time the sect was founded, and his followers. Lukban espoused it as a nationalist movement against Spanish colonial rule and American imperialism during his military campaigns in Samar.
It took sometime before Carangian’s new name was accepted by many Nortehanons. Carangian, or San Jose, was popular to many Nortehanon old-timers because it had a seaport that hosted the only passenger ships plying the Northern Samar – Manila route. Manila-bound commuters from all over Northern Samar would have to travel to San Jose to board them, no matter how crowded and decrepit they often were.
Till now, San Jose has a deep seaport that can accommodate both inter-island vessels and international ships. But the absence of new ship operators to replace the ill-fated Venus and Neptuno as largely affected the usability and popularity of the seaport.
The opening of the Philippines navigational highway that introduced the roll-on, roll-off (ro-ro) has likewise conspired to end the reign of San Jose as the seaport capital of Northern Samar. It relinquished its title to allen primarily because of the latter’s proximity and closeness to the port town of Matnog in Sorsogon, which ferries passengers buses and cargo trucks from Luzon to the Visayas and Mindanao.
During its heyday around the 1960s, Samar folk flocked to the San Jose seaport to board ships bound for Manila or others parts of the archipelago. They would journey into town early from various destinations on the island, perking up business in the port neighborhood.
That is gone now. Sometime in 1995, a passenger vessel, the m/v Mary the Queen, tried to revive the San Jose – Manila route. For awhile, it reportedly boosted trade and commerce not just in San Jose, but also in the entire province. It was short-lived though, with the vessel operator reportedly unable to recoup the cost of his operation.
The main gates of the port are close these days, with only a small pedestrian gate open workers to enter the port sea area. Container ships still call at port every now and then, but not often enough to hire full-time personnel for the pier of for vendors to reopen small kiosks for arriving or departing passengers.
The container ships are for cement products to be delivered to consignees in Catarman, while others serve as pick up point for copra bought by buying stations from various municipalities.
Some port stevedores keep themselves occupied by engaging in rod fishing at the pier area. The almost abandoned pier is a rich fishing ground for anglers, with some of them able to catch mamsa (trevally in English; talakitok in Tagalog) large enough to satisfy a family four.
The poblacion of San Jose is home to a number of concrete and well-appointed houses, starkly different from many other places in Northern Samar.
There’s a natural waterfall along the highway in San Jose called Honeybee Falls. Its not a big cascade, but it is a cool and delightful as any other waterfall, running over and between large smooth boulders, old trees, and the soothing rhythms of nature. Some women use the endless flowing spring water for bathing and laundry, but there may be more to this little gift of nature tucked into a side of the road.
As a coastal town, San Jose has its own share of pristine beaches and coastal waters, and charming fringed islets ideal for ecotourism. Aside from being excellent places to relax and unwind, they are also blessed with marine resources for food and livelihood.
The islet of Pangilala, for instance, accessible from Brgy. Aguadahan, is an island Eden with fine whitish sand and shallow beach water ideal for swimming and snorkeling. There are a number of tidal islets as well, submerged during high tides and exposed during low.
For those interested in fish culture, the islet of Pangilala is close to a floating commercial fish cage introduced by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to help in livelihood training and employment generation. The contraption is designed to allow fingerlings to grow in commercial sizes in controlled natural saltwater environment, enabling its operators to harvest every three months.
Consigned to stay in the middle of the water for weeks, sometimes months, the caretakers are just too happy to have visitors on board and to show them around the fish cage, or even allow them to experience feeding the fish. Of course, permission from the mayor or directly from caretaker is necessary as a matter of courtesy and respect.
The town of San Jose is pleasantly open to try other undertakings outside of copra production, sea port operation, and fishing. Unlike many towns in Northern Samar with inaccessible tourism possibilities, road networks appear to be already in place to embark on a new adventure of promoting the town for ecotourism.