AFTER having just concluded the 69th charter anniversary of Naga City and its ambitious plan to start right away preparations for a grander platinum (70th year) celebration next year (2018), we cannot help but feel proud of what Naga has become now, recalling the early years, especially those dark times when Naga was in shambles due to the Pacific War and its eventual transformation as the first provincial city in the Bicol Region and one of the few in the country to have gained its own charter.
Like the mythical phoenix, according to the book, ‘Naga, the Birth and Rebirth of a City” by historian Danny Gerona, Naga’s recovery from the devastating effects of the Pacific War (at least four blocks of its centro was flattened to the ground by incendiary bombs unleashed by American planes in March 1945 to flush out Japanese soldiers from their trenches and private homes that served as their refuge) was remarkably quick. According to Gerona, by the first months of 1946, while other major Philippine cities were still wallowing in ruins, Naga was steadily regrouping its pre-war urban vibrance with its rehabilitation culminating in its creation as a chartered city in 1948.
Interestingly, Gerona wrote that rehabilitation was greatly facilitated by, among others, the restoration of electric power. “Except for a brief period of interruption particularly at the height of the battle for liberation, the distribution of power supply in Naga by Meralco from the 1930s until the post war years was generally efficient,” the Gerona book states. By the end of 1946, Meralco decided to give up control in favor of a local firm, as many local businessmen showed interest to take over operations. It was, however, former Secretary of Finance Jaime Hernandez who succeeded to acquire the firm and renamed it as the Bicol Electric Company (BEC). “With the power business in local hands, the work of energizing the large section of the municipality and its outskirts was immediately achieved. Unlike in other provincial capitals where the supply of electric power was only for 12 hours, the Bicol Electric Company boasted of a 24-hour service.” In the present context, Legazpi and Albay are hounded by frequent power interruptions and faucets in hotels and restaurants in Sorsogon City ran dry by 10 a.m. [they provide large drums filled with collected water] the last time we went there.
According to Gerona, the quick resumption of operations of major government agencies and basic public utilities buoyed up the local commerce and industry. As early as 1946, Naga had at least 8 stylish refreshment parlors and restaurants, some of which were already in business prior to the outbreak of the war. One of them was the New China Restaurant that remains in business until today. Hardware and lumber were doing brisk business as residents were busy repairing their homes. Construction of larger commercial buildings stimulated further demands for lumber and hardware supplies, with mostly Chinese and Chinese mestizos engaged in the trade. These brought enormous fortunes to the lumber business but, regretfully, at the expense of the environment. “Some businessmen in the city were reported to have amassed wealth through illegal logging activities,” Gerona wrote. With efficient power supply, businesses (hospitals, beauty parlors, bakeries, etc. continued their trade beyond the twilight hours. The more ambitious among the youth pursued their night schools inside lighted classrooms and worked during the day.
Alex and Bichara Theaters then resumed operations, along with Cine Cita of the Almeda family. Also at the same time, transportation and communication facilities were back in business. In November 1946, the “Far Eastern Transport, Inc. or FEATI made the inaugural flight of it passenger plane christened “City of Naga.”
With our 70th charter anniversary already coming, we wish that such celebration next year be made more significant, educational and a source of honor and pride by featuring lectures series and memorabilia exhibits, book launchings and cultural shows with depth and noble purpose, tributes and researches, and a call for both the preservation and enrichment of our proud cultural and historical heritage.