Revisiting the Magical Water of San Fernando, Masbate

MY nostalgia paper on the building of artesian well in 1916 in the town of San Fernando, in the island of Ticao, in Masbate, has elicited interest and more questions. As with all my articles about the island and the town of birth, memory is the one that initiates and propels the narrative.

The history in contention was where I culled all the data for my memories: the paper of Liborio Y. Bayot, a person who would be called by my grandfather, Elpidio A. Genova, if he were alive now, “imponente.” Bayot, after all became a lawyer in those days when higher education was limited to the elite, the fortunate and the brilliant.

I expected the responses to be on the level of remembering as well. I forgot to consider that my childhood friends had become engineers and entrepreneurs and they would have perspectives quite different from what the column, written in haste each week, intended. The least response I expected was for politics to resurface in the reading of this basic historical account. But maybe I was expecting that.

First to respond to the column was my sister, Lilibeth Tanaka, who, in Toky0, was holding the reunion book written by my cousin, Dr. Roger Lim, some years back. In the book, there was the information as to who were the presidente municipal during that time. This fact was important because, according to Liborio Bayot, one thing puzzled the engineering group, and that was the site where the well should be dug. Two important persons were fighting for the site. In the end, the presidente municipal of 1916 prevailed upon the American engineer to build the well near his residence. Who was this person? Two names are possible: Eleuterio Medina or Honorato Alindogan: the former ended his term in 1916 and the latter began it in that year. But this is not that easy to decide. In the data of Historical Bulletin, Eleuterio Medina was the head of the town of San Fernando in 1916, with Honorato Alindogan becoming the leader in 1919.

But the Bayot Paper holds another hint: “the drilling was made near his [the municipal president] residence, a little over a hundred meters from the beach. Who in 1916 had a home that was that near the beach – Medina or Alindogan? The plot thickens: There were other ardent responses from my readers. One was from my Primo Jun B. Villamor who sent in messages from Pare Alex Amante, who, in turn was quoting from another kin, Baby Lozano, who recalled the account of his father, Dr. Ricardo Lozano, Sr. Their message located the well in front of Dr. Alteza, in Cogon, which is quite far from the beach. The memories recall of a well that was sulfuric. Another kin, Lia Monteverde quoted her own brother, Mamang Infante, a surveyor, who thinks it is the same sulfuric well. The brother even remembers a water diviner and the presence of a huge water vein, with the spring surging and not merely flowing on some parts of the town. Linking their memories with the account of Bayot was the tale of the island of Ticao said to be connected to Mayon Volcano. The engineering team did not mention the word “sulfuric.” There was Mr. Burnham, an American chemist from the Bureau of Science and he took some samples to Manila. The result was this: the water did taste like Tansan, the famous mineral water botted by a Japanese company. In my first essay on this topic I did not write the details of the test. Here was the scientific description of the water sampled from that well: “It is saturated with carbon dioxide and heavily loaded with calcium bicarbonate.” The report continues: “All other common mineral constituents are present in permissible amounts and it is practically sterile as to bacteria.”

Calling water chemists: would that description refer to a sulfuric source?

Things become even more interesting: Liborio Bayot talked of his attempt to use the water from the well to cook rice the end-product was a rice that tasted salty. Next, they directed the water to an irrigation canal but, according to the report, it had “a detrimental effect to the plants” for it killed them! (exclamation mine). The writer described how the water turned yellow the grasses and whatever it got into contact with.

For all these negative effects on the surroundings, Liborio Bayot maintained that the water tasted like Tansan and asked that the water be bottled. He asked us to “imagine 480 gallons of Tansan water being wasted per minute!” (exclamation point by Bayot). He further teases us when he asked: “Can one conceived (sic) of the number of bottles of Tansan and the wealth which will accrue to our treasury?

In my first essay, I was concerned only about where to locate the well and who was the presidente municipal during those fateful days? Presently, my readers who, in one or another, have strong connections to the town of San Fernando and the island of Ticao, are concerned about locating the well. More than finding the site, there is a desire to bring the well back to life. Who knows, maybe, just maybe, one could bottle the water, and make the town a bit richer, the people a wee happier.