Monitoring the Subway Project near Plaza Independencia.
Between 1892 and 1896, large stones were cut and hauled from the nearby mountains and rivers of Cebu for a pioneering ambitious project: a “terraplen” or reclamation of a section of the shoreline behind the Seminario-Colegio de San Carlos, then occupying for nearly three centuries one of the choicest spots in the capital town of Cebu: the beachfront property located to the right of Fort San Pedro and the central square—today’s Plaza Independencia.
The ambitious project was the brainchild of the beloved Vincentian priest Pedro Julia, whose fame (he was called the “Vincentian engineer”) and respectability was such that he was the only non-Filipino invited by Cebuano leaders in the negotiations for the terms of surrendering the town of Cebu to the Americans in 1899. He was also the longest serving rector (1888-1908) of San Carlos since the time it was passed on to the Congregation of the Mission or C.M., (popularly called Vincentians or Paulist Fathers after the order’s founder, St. Vincent de Paul) in 1867. It was under his rectorship that San Carlos grew in size and whence it opened its first bachelor’s program in 1891 that eventually facilitated the education of such Cebuano greats as Don Sergio Osmeña and Gov. Dionisio Jakosalem.
In an interesting sidelight to Padre Julia’s terraplen project, Gov. Gen. Eulogio Despujol approved it on condition that a portion of the Estancia in Mandaue (then owned by San Carlos) be donated to the government to serve as an agronomical research station. Today, Estancia continues to host a large research station of the Department of Agriculture.
Fast forward to April 22, 2009 and what is most probably a section of Padre Julia’s terraplen gave one backhoe a hard time excavating Block 21, one of the remaining portions of the Cebu Subway Project carried out by the Japanese conglomerate Kajima Construction. Located along the intersection of Osmeña Street (leading to Pier 1) and MacArthur Avenue, the neatly piled river stones cut across the western half of Block 21. To the east of the block, lay a swath of colonial period middens or trash pits suffused with nearly 3,000 broken Chinese and European ceramic pieces, and wine and beer bottles, some of which were complete (one even had its cork still attached!).
Such is the thrill that archaeology brings and I thank the National Museum for deputizing me to monitor the project and ensure that the archaeological materials beneath Block 21 are properly recovered and documented. Project engineer Hikonari Maeda of Kajima, together with personnel assigned to us, especially Tony Comaling, have also been most gracious in allowing my team to comb through the block, assisted by construction crew members and inspectors as well as personnel from the Criminal Intelligence and Investigation Bureau (CIIB).
Of course, as in Boljoon and Argao, I wish to thank NM curator Ederick Miano and my students who volunteered for this work that runs from 8 in the morning to 10 in the evening: Ma. Cecilia Cabañes, John Monsanto, Johnbert Roma, Popoi Senajon and Mc Victor Sumagang). Work continues and by late May we should be near the spot where burials were recovered in October. Let’s see what more surprises await us.