I wouldn’t want the weather to spoil my exploration in Dinagat Islands. I’m thankful I was able to visit Pangabangan Island and Lake Bababu, but I felt I wasn’t able to maximize my boat rental for the places I visited. With the weather showing no signs of letting up anytime soon, I decided to take a road trip toward the east instead. Escaping the habagat winds to a much, hopefully, fairer weather at the municipality of Cagdianao. Rex of JBN Inn managed to find me a habal-habal service for the road trip. The plan was to stop by interesting places along the way. Just within town are the Divine Master’s Shrine and the Islander’s Castle atop the scenic hills, our first few stops.
It’s hard not to talk about Dinagat Islands without mentioning the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association, Inc. (PBMA). For over half a century, this SEC-registered religious organization of more than 150,000 strong members both local and international, have highly influenced the lives of the people of this province. It goes down deep into the society of one of the poorest provinces in the country.
Believed to have healing powers and divine wisdom from accessing the Akashic records, the PBMA founder, Ruben Ecleo Sr, was easily embraced by the people. A region with poor healthcare facility and a large population with inability to pay for treatment, Ecleo was an easy option for people with only faith in their pockets. I haven’t encountered documented evidence of the claims that he was able to heal more than 3,000 people including cancer patients. But it was enough for people to revere him to Christ-like status and called him a “Divine Master.”
Divine Master’s Shrine
San Jose, Dinagat Islands is the headquarters of the PBMA and its shrine is located uphill in Barangay Aurelio. Established as the Divine Master’s Shrine and, the sacred grounds has become one of the main attractions of the island. They welcome visitors if mass or prayers aren’t held.
This was the first stop of our tour. At the guard outpost, I saw an elderly man murmuring some mantra I don’t understand along with hand gestures. He was facing an illustration of what I would understand to be the masters. We reached the golden gate of the shrine. How lavish, I thought. We registered and offered our donations so we could enter the shrine. There’s also a dress code to get in. For the males, pants, white shirt and enclosed shoes are required. Females should wear skirts, enclosed shoes and no sleeveless shirts.
The shrine grounds is sacred for the devotees. I can see and feel that from the workers and our guide. The garden is like an amphitheater with the two-story building as the centerpiece – the worship area. The garden was well manicured, there’s even a helicopter strip overlooking the greens and the town. I inspected the building and saw some interesting curious symbols.
I had been very cautious talking about religion as for some people, it is the pillar of their existence. Something to hold onto and make sense of life. PBMA may have rooted itself in the province with even some of the members gaining political positions. Though the religion has influenced the province, they are still open to accept other religions and let the people choose their faith. People still respect each other.
Short of two kilometers away from the shrine is another extravagant structure, the Islander’s Castle. Built in 2007 on top of a hill with a wide vista of green and the sea, it serves as residence for Governor Glenda Ecleo, the wife of Ruben Ecleo Sr. A private area but can be seen from the gates. How ironic that the lavish residence worth Php 350 million exists in a poor province where the roads remain unpaved and many families live in shanties.
The gates looks like it was starting to deteriorate. I wanted to fly my drone but the wind was blowing hard. Not worth risking it so we decided to continue our journey to Cagdianao.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.