The coastal municipality of San Toque, like many of the towns in Northern Samar, is blessed with a magnificent view of the sun as it ritually sets, disappearing into the horizon at the edge of the sea. It moves gradually and gently, glowing and gliding like a giant sea bird going back to its nesting place in the bosom of the ocean.
The sun sets slowly in San Roque, casting long shadows along the white coast as though heeding the call of church bells to end the day and allow darkness to settle and lull the town to sleep and rest. This is the signal for everyone to close shop, stop all outdoor activities, head for home, and, for still many practicing Catholics in town today, to pray the Angelus with their families.
Not much has changed for this tiny and sleepy town that has thrived on fishing, copra production, an rice production for generations. Originally called Lao-angan, the town was a former tropical forest that was part of Pambujan. Its name is derived from the rainforest tree Lawaan or Lauan, also known as Philippine mahogany. The tree is not a mahogany though, but rather belongs to genus Shorea, a timber plant that grows to more than 80 feet, a natural skyscraper in the tropical forest of Southeast Asia.
Lao-angan was a sitio of Pambujan as far back as 1762, when the latter was part of Laoang, one of the old towns o the island. The sitio folk had petitioned the Spanish government for conversion into a pueblo late in the 1880s, but the appeal was overrun by events – first, the outbreak of the Filipino-Spanish War, and later, the Filipino-American War over the issue of Philippine independence.
The clamor to elevate Lao-angan into a municipality was revived in 1907, during the American Regime and in post-war 1952 through legislation, but both attempts did not prosper until 1960 when the late Congressman Eladio T. Balite introduced House Bill No. 1804, which smoothly passed into law with the help o the late Senator Decoroso Rosales. Thus, on March 16, 1960, the once tropical forest of Barrio Lao-angan became the Municipality of San Roque, a name chosen in honor of its patron saint.
The five-kilometer long San Roque beach is town’s most popular tourist draw, with locals and tourists from nearby municipalities coming in on public utility jeepneys and habal-habal. The beach is relatively safe even for non-swimmers because its fine white sand gradually and gently slopes into the ocean floor.
The beach is less than a 500-meter walk from the highway – close to the municipal hall and public market – and features and unusually long footbridge connecting the heart of the poblacion to the beachfront.
Many beach lovers come in ubiquitous motorcycles, with their families back riding with them. They are allowed to use the footbridge and park close to the seacoast foe their ease and convenience. There are private resorts close by, designed for optimum relaxation for those coming from far away towns with their own bálon of drinks, cooked food, and native delicacies. There are a growing number of foreign guests out to tan their skin on a sunny day and relax at night listening to the nostalgic sounds of night creatures and sea waves.
San Roque Beach is actually a fishing village of Brgy. Lao-angan. Menfolk from this barangay regularly sail off together on their small wind-powered fishing vessels and reach as far as Villareal in the next province.
When they return from their voyage and emerge from the deep horizon, their fleet of sailboats is reminiscent of the vintas of the once fearsome Moro raiders notorious for sowing chaos and mayhem, death and destruction to villages in the old days of the galleons. This time around, however, the fleet of sailboats carries onboard food and business for their families and town mates.
San Roque Bay is continually windy and is ideal for marginalized fishermen using makeshift sails from recycled rice or flour sacks. There are a few tourist sailboats made of fiberglass and other sturdier materials ideal for windsurfing and other forms of recreation.
One of the islands within the bay is called Tabon, named after the same birds that inhabited the archaeologically famous Tabon Cave in Palawan. The island, or rather islet, is popular for its white pebbled beach and is visible from mainland San Roque.
For those not too keen on beaches and whispering sea waves, the town offers an equally enticing alternative for campers and trekkers – the Cambilica Falls. This natural water cascade is located 7.5 kilometers from the town center and is sure to strike a chord in the hearts of adventurers and trekkers seeking nature in all its raw and alluring splendor.
The falls sit on the rim of an almost virgin forest within trekking distance north of San Roque, close to the town of Pambujan. For those with a more spiritual bent, the miraculous San Roque Shrine at the foot of a mountain about three kilometers from the poblacion is an attraction as well. Devotees believe this image of their patron saint walked to this spot, close to a spring, to provide hearing during a cholera epidemic in years past. The shrine has since then been attracting devotees and pilgrims who continue to trust in the shrine’s healing powers.
Forests and rivers
This former tropical forest has much more assets to offer in terms of tourist attractions. More than 17% of its land area is composed of still unspoiled forest cover, with still unexplored and unaccounted number of waterfalls, caves, springs, and other natural physical structures that appeal to men’s primal instinct to return to a natural habitat.
The town has four major river systems that have traditionally been used by early settlers to explore the land and build communities close to river banks. These rivers – Bantayan, Balud, Cagbunga, and Pambujan – continue to be used as major transit points for passengers and goods to enhance commerce and industry. With adequate tourism promotion, these same river systems can be tapped for its tourism possibilities, such as sightseeing, kayaking, and other outdoor adventures.
San Roque’s tourism plan is not anchored on building resorts with tiled swimming pools, colorful concrete theme parks, stylish kiosks, and other artificial tourism infrastructures though.
It is in rediscovering and harnessing what is left of its tropical forest and leafy skyscrapers that continue to change with the seasons and thrive deep in the town’s interior barangays – offering a refreshingly incomparable feast for the senses.