Published on Page A19 of the June 28, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer
Editor’s Note: This is the third of a series of reports on lighthouses in Northern Luzon. The Inquirer is featuring these century-old structures to highlight their importance to the country’s northern sea lanes and call attention to their neglect.
FOR 101 years now, the Cape Bolinao lighthouse stands proud atop Punta Piedra Point in Barangay Patar in Bolinao, Pangasinan, guiding ships and vessels cruising the international passage along the South China Sea.
Nestled amid trees, the lighthouse was built in 1905 by Filipino, British and American engineers. It is one of the five major lighthouses in the country and the second tallest, next to the Cape Bojeador lighthouse in Burgos, Ilocos Norte. It has become a prominent landmark that tourists frequent.
The 30.78-meter (101-foot) tower provides a panoramic view of the blue sea and white beaches, offshore reefs and rock formations, as well as rolling verdant hills. Once in a while, a passing vessel dots the sea, an international route of vessels going to Hong Kong, Japan and the United States.
The 140-step winding stairway of the tower leads to the illumination room, 76.2 m above sea level. According to Pedro Honrada, the lighthouse’s head keeper, the lantern is visible 44 kilometers away, guiding seafarers (led toward this area by a lighthouse in Zambales) toward the lighthouse in Poro Point, La Union.
The late Bolinao historian Catalino Catanaoan said the original light machine was manufactured in England, while the lantern, with three wicks and chimneys, was imported from France.
“Filipino machinists were able to copy the original [when they repaired it]. The light machine is rotated by a system of gears like that of a big clock with a pendulum of weights, winded and suspended with steel cable,” he said.
The lighthouse was fueled by kerosene during its first 80 years of operation. When the Pangasinan I Electric Cooperative extended its lines to Patar, the lanterns were powered by electricity.
In 1999, the lighthouse was renovated through a loan package extended by the Japanese government to the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), which is in charge of the facility. Aside from repairing and repainting the tower, the assistance included setting up solar panels, a new apparatus and two beacon lights. The panels recharge the lights.
The lighthouse has also been getting the attention it deserves from the municipal government.
In June last year, Mayor Alfonso Celeste entered into a memorandum of agreement with the PCG to “adopt” the Cape Bolinao lighthouse to ensure its preservation and maintenance, under the PCG’s “Adopt a Lighthouse Program.”
Under the MOA, the PCG continues to be the sole owner of the lighthouse. It has the right to deny entry into the area during emergency cases and is responsible for the operation, repair and regular maintenance of the beacon light and its supporting mechanisms.
On the other hand, the local government will take charge of rehabilitation and maintenance of the immediate vicinity (except that of the beacon, solar panels and other equipment), provide maintenance personnel, and protect the facilities from vandals.
The local government is also tasked with promoting the declaration of the lighthouse as a cultural heritage.
Already, the lighthouse compound has been spruced up. The uphill road leading to the tower has been paved with the help of Pangasinan Rep. Arturo Celeste. A view deck has been put up in the area.
The rehabilitation of the administration building and a public bath was funded by the Department of Transportation and Communications.
Brunner Carranza, municipal planning and development officer, said a worker assigned by the local government keeps the area clean all day.
While the lighthouse has become a tourist attraction by itself, it has failed to do its “job” of guiding sea vessels at night, Honrada said.
In early November 2004, the beacon lights started to dim until it finally shut off on Nov. 8.
“The batteries bogged down,” Honrada said. He has been following up with the PCG navigation command the repair of the batteries that cost about P1 million—to no avail.
“My wish is that before I retire [in October], the lighthouse will be working again,” Honrada said.