The Chocolate Hills and the tarsier may be Bohol’s main claims to fame, but these are just the most obvious come-ons of this Central Visayas province. Scratch the surface and you have great beaches (the most famous supposedly named after one of Philippine cinema’s early sex sirens, Alona Alegre, who famously ran topless along that stretch of fine white sand), great marine adventures (dolphins are regular visitors, and whale watching in season with the spotters of Pamilacan island is an experience in patience not to be missed) and great food (one of the country’s biggest prawn farms is located in the northern part of the province, and the owner has opened a restaurant in Tagbilaran, the capital; many new restaurants – several of them located within resorts – have of late opened in Tagbilaran, Panglao and Dauis that offer Filipino and international cuisine from the rustic to the sophisticated).
But go a little deeper and you’ll find the music, straight from the heart and connecting to your soul. After the obligatory tour of the tarsier sanctuary and the Chocolate Hills in Carmen town (trivia: there are 1,268 officially listed hills, which are actually coral mounds, and they used to be called the Carmen Hills, until a resolution was adopted in 1988 to use the more fun name), we zigzagged down the mountain and headed to Loboc town, to the Tourism Complex next to the Loboc Church, which was almost totally destroyed by the 7.2 magnitude October 2013 earthquake. It was heartbreaking to see the church in ruins – both front and back portions of the church crumbled – and even more heartbreaking to learn that the church could be de-listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site due to the extensive damage.
We walked across the bridge – also destroyed by the earthquake, hence not passable for vehicles – and were greeted by music from a marching band – the Loboc Youth Ambassadors Band – and children and adults waving Philippine and Chinese flags. Whatever maritime tensions there may be between our governments, friendship between Filipinos and Chinese was the order of the day in the lovely town of Loboc.
A little background may be in order at this point. The renowned Loboc Children’s Choir had just returned from a successful tour of China, placing second overall and in the youth category at the 12th Children’s International Chorus Festival in Beijing last Aug. 1. Before that, the choir has had regular tours in China, starting in 2000 with the International Children’s Culture and Arts Festival in Tianjin, plus performances in Beijing and Hong Kong.
In 2003, they toured Europe and participated in the 6th International Folksong Choir Festival in Barcelona, taking the gold medal in the children’s choir category and a special Europe and its Songs 2003 Cup for garnering the highest overall score among the 13 participants.