Leprosy has been eradicated in Culion since the 1980s but the stigma still remains. It didn’t help that World Health Organization (WHO) only declared Culion leprosy-free in 2006. So why not embrace this history of healing of this infectious disease? The structures, the research, the tools and the story of the people who lived while it was a leper colony still remains. Culion town is a witness on how a community persevered and healed.
La Immaculada Concepcion Church
The Culion Church of La Immaculada Concepcion Church is an eye-catching structure on a hill. It’s hard to miss its bright red wall facing the sea when approaching the town. I had written about the story of this church when I visited in 2013. The charming Hotel Maya beside it has become a quarantine facility for COVID-19. The back of the church where the seal, canon and watchtower has been cordoned off at the time of my visit. This is to prevent people from congregating in the area. Nothing much has changed with the church itself which is a good thing.
Loyola College of Culion
Just beside the foot of the stairway leading to Culion Church is another notable heritage structure, the Loyola College of Culion. The school was established in 1936 by the Jesuits as Culion Catholic Primary School. It was an exclusive school for the children of the leper patients. But by mid-1950s with the enactment of the Liberalization Law for Lepers, the doors of the school were opened to everyone. The school changed its name several times and settled to Loyola College of Culion in 1988.
Culion Museum and Archives
The Culion museum is the heart of Culion’s heritage. A two story building within the Culion Sanitarium houses the Culion Leprosy Archives. Thanks to the initiatives of the Philippine National Commission for UNESCO, this documentary heritage was officially inscribed to the UNESCO Memory of the World Register – Asia and the Pacific Region on June 18, 2018. A step closer to be a part of the international list and be recognized as a World Heritage Site.
The biggest change I noticed is the redesign of the museum. We were honored to be the first visitors since the museum’s redesign. It was originally planned to be unveiled earlier but the pandemic happened. The new interiors, sections and exhibit design is very similar to the exhibit design in the national museums in Manila. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was done by the same team. I liked the lighting and how organized the sections were. What they now needed is a good guide or recording accompaniment for the proper walk-through of the displays.
I do wonder what happened to that bust of that leper displayed before. I may have missed it or it’s no longer there. I forgot to ask.
Plaza Basa Avellana
Further up the road, past the Culion Church and Museum is the Plaza Basa Avellana. A plaza named after the second Filipino chief of the colony, Dr Jose Basa Avellana. This historical center comprise a number of heritage structures. And from the looks of it, the local government are developing the area as well to be ready for tourism, much liked the museum.
The Leonard Wood Monument. The leper patients themselves voluntarily built this statue in 1931 to honor Governor Leonard H. Wood. The leper colony was endeared to his genuine concern, his help in paving the way for a cure for leprosy through research and bringing better living conditions to the patients. It’s a rarity to have an American governor-general monument in the country.
The Tres Bolas. An interestingly designed trio of structures built 1920s used as a restroom near the hospital. It has been relocated here in the plaza as a display.
The Colony Hall. A remarkable looking two-story pre-war building constructed in 1912. Used as a town hall by the colony and office of the Culion Advisory Council.
The Grand Stairway. Just behind Leonard Wood’s monument is the vintage style stone stairway. It was a magnificent backdrop often used by Culion authorities and backdrops for picture taking.
The Grand Stairway connects to the Plaza Rizal on the upper level. Sadly a basketball court is now there to what was once said to be a beautiful garden. I hope they reconsider converting this to a park instead. There’s another heritage house in renovation nearby.
The Agila (Eagle)
Continuing up further the road, past the plaza is the jump-off for the “Agila” The seal of the eagle on the hill is the seal of the Philippine Health Services. It was built in 1926 to commemorate the colony’s 20 years anniversary. The people had to carry corals stones up this hill to construct the seal. The large seal warns incoming vessels they are approaching a leprosy zone. The site is now commonly called Agila a local word for eagle.
It’s actually a nice 333-steps hike up the Agila. There’s a statue of Christ atop the seal and view of Culion town and coast.
Culion Town Heritage
There’s so much going in terms of heritage in Culion Town. It’s nice to see the direction they are heading since I last visited them in 2013. I’m sure if the pandemic hasn’t disrupted their plans, they would have further developed and strengthen Culion as a heritage town destination not only in Coron but in the country. It looks very promising.
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.