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Pride of Place
Adopt a lighthouse

By Augusto Villalon
First Posted 00:43:00 07/23/2007

Filed Under: Architecture, Culture (general), Lifestyle & Leisure

MANILA, Philippines -- Lighthouses, supreme icons of solitary human perseverance standing on remote typhoon-battered bluffs and inaccessible islands, are the stuff of romance for many.

But maintaining the 21 surviving Philippine lighthouses located in the deserted extremes of the Philippine archipelago, all rendered obsolete by 21st-century satellite or sonar navigational system, is not the stuff of romance, as the Philippine Coast Guard now realizes.

Adopt a Lighthouse program is its answer.

Corporate or private individuals who adopt lighthouses enter into an agreement with the Coast Guard who basically allows them use of the property in exchange for its maintenance, leading me to wonder if the adoptive ?parents? of lighthouses would be allowed, or even encouraged, to reuse the restored facility for a compatible commercial activity to help offset restoration and maintenance cost.

Many lighthouses, built during the Spanish and American colonial regimes, are up for adoption. Some barely manage to survive in the farthest reaches of the Philippine archipelago. Others are in populated areas, one hidden in the mouth of Pasig River in Manila, and another surrounded by an upscale residential seaside development in Cebu.

During the early days of maritime travel, international ships relied on lighthouses to guide them safely out of the open sea and into Philippine waters. Once within Philippine waters, lighthouses marked treacherous points in the archipelago, pointing out safe passages leading vessels to ports of call.

Paramount in lighthouse location is its obvious function of guiding the marine traveler, whether through wood fires on top of rocky peaks, or through sophisticated optics atop tall towers, an out-of-date signaling system.

The Coast Guard states four important functions of lighthouses.

First, they serve as stationary points with navigational cross-bearing capability along primary and secondary maritime routes. Reference points and landmarks, lighthouses are navigational aids for charting ship position in the seas. Either beams of fixed or occulating light at night, or the sight of lighthouse towers by day allow navigators to establish their position en route to any Philippine port.

Second, lighthouses are navigational tools that channel vessels safely to our ports and harbors. Scattered all over the archipelago, they direct vessels and fishermen to their home ports as well as pointing the route for larger vessels to maneuver through narrow Philippine straits and channels.

Third, they warn navigators of treacherous sea conditions surrounding the light station. Shallow seas, dangerous for unseasoned sailors, appear in early Spanish colonial records as the cause of numerous shipwrecks, together with inclement weather and grounding, marine disasters that diminished after the construction of lighthouses.

Fourth, lighthouses provided landfall lights to reveal approaching land to sailors, assist trade vessels sailing into Philippine waters either to dock in local ports or to sail through to other foreign destinations. Regardless of advanced electronic navigational aids, visual aids are still necessary to confirm the vessel?s location.

Towers of brilliance

Lights of different intensities were installed in lighthouse towers to guide the numerous ships passing through our seas. The first lighthouses had lamps lit by candles, its glow beamed by powerful prisms intensifying its light to be seen kilometers away. Later, gas burners replaced candlelight.

The American colonial period installed the latest technology of the day, gensets that powered incandescent bulbs. The magic of Fresnel lenses, complex prisms of highly polished glass, greatly magnified lights of low illuminance.

Toward the end of Spanish colonial rule, authorities constructed 55 lighthouses throughout the islands in response to increasing trade caused by the opening of Suez Canal, attracting more trading ships to call on rapidly growing Philippine markets. The Ports of Manila or Cavite Viejo no longer dominated local shipping. Cargo was now directly shipped to new centers of trade and ports in Cebu, Iloilo and Legaspi.

By 1926, another trade surge during the American colonial period increased the number of navigational aids to 193 lighthouses, buoys and beacons, all strategically located within the vast, sometimes treacherous coastline of the archipelago.

Today foreign grants assist the government in maintaining and preserving these outdated, neglected monuments, providing more advanced light systems backed up by solar panels. With new technological advances, the need to inhabit lighthouses is no longer necessary.

Lighthouses, mostly built over a century ago, originally provided with basic, spartan accommodations or its keepers, are now in poor condition, many abandoned, all fantastic, forgotten heritage, await rescue by adoptive parents.

The Philippine lighthouses are Bagacay in Cebu; Bagato, Sorsogon; Batag, Northern Samar; Bugui Point, Masbate; Cabra, Mindoro Occidental; Calabasa, Iloilo; Canigao, Leyte; Cape Bojeador, Ilocos Norte; Cape Bolinao, Pangasinan; Corregidor, Manila; Cape Engaño, Cagayan; Melville, Palawan; Cape Santiago, Batangas; Capones, Zambales; Capul, Northern Samar; Donsol, Sorsogon; Jintotolo, Masbate; Malabrigo, Batangas; Pasig River, Manila; San Bernardino, Sorsogon; and Siete Pecados, Guimaras.

For information on Adopt a Lighthouse program, contact 5273985 or e-mail kikomnl@yahoo.com.

Feedback is welcome at pride.place@gmail.com

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