SAN JOSE DE BUENAVISTA, Antique – Sibalom town, the biggest in the province of Antique, has a long and winding history. As long as its river which used to flow under, its history and religiosity had left an imprint on the Sibalomnon psyche.
Sibalom is just 10 kilometers away from the provincial capital and is one of the three inland municipalities in the province. It is the biggest, having 76 barangays which are all classified as rural.
Since time immemorial, Sibalom has passed several settlers and conquistadores and its effects shaped what a Sibalom native is today.
The town was, and still is, very attractive to foreign invaders, the Atis and the Malay settlers not excluded. It has two long and wide rivers, the Sibalom and the Tipuluan River that feed its flatland and thus become attractive to “invaders” who would want to farm and live by the riverside and be fed with its bounties.
During the Spanish period, the community was not spared by the colonizing arms but it took almost a hundred years before it became a visita of the parish of Hamtic. It was only in 1732 that the Augustinian priests organized Sibalom into a parish. Its first patron saint was, naturally, St. Augustine, whose image was brought by the Augustinian priests. But it was only in later years that Sibalomnons, mostly Catholics, embraced Sta. Rita de Cascia as their honored saint.
Sibalomnons believed Sta. Rita de Cascia to be the saint of the impossible. She also became popular as the saint run to by battered women as she herself was a battered wife. Through her fervent prayers, her husband was converted into Catholicism but was murdered by unknown killers. To spare her sons to commit murder to avenge the death of their father, Sta. Rita prayed to God to take her sons away. Living alone, she applied to the religious fold of San Agustin where she was accepted.
Today’s generation revered her by offering a nine-day novena to her and a High Mass on her death anniversary, which is May 22. Believers from neighboring towns would come and joined her procession where her image would be mounted on a high cart bedecked with red roses. After the procession, everyone would scamper to get even just one bud or stem of the red roses from her cart, believing that this would bring miracles to their lives.
Devotion to Sta. Rita is now spread all over the world and several churches in the Philippines honored and adopted her as their patron saint.
Sibalom is also a topnotcher when it comes to beautiful wonders of nature. Rafflesia speciosa, huge fossil imprints that revealed ancient presence of large animals and extinct marine life, endemic trees and forest life found in Mt. Porras, mussel shells found in a lake that never dries up nor overflows, the world’s tallest flower are some of the few that make Sibalom stand out among the other municipalities of Antique.
During summer months, Sibalom is often visited by tourists, both foreign and local because of the attraction it flaunt – a river bed that is covered with gem stones!
Sibalom also is home to artists, academicians with great minds, politicians who rose to national fame and residents who brought honor and pride to the town. There are Sibalomnons who were known in their chosen fields outside the town, Ramon Maza who was the first representative of the province, Juju Lotilla who became Energy Secretary, Leah Tanodra Armamento who is Undersecretary of the Department of Justice, she was also honored as Bugal kang Antique (pride of Antique) during Binirayan 2011; and Sinforoso Pagunsan who was number eighth in the bar examinations and is currently the manager of Housing Authority. Everyone’s favorite was Russell Tordesillas, a kiniray-a writer and storyteller who had been part of every Antiqueno’s childhood days.
These and many more besides, are the gems that make Sibalom a haven to come home to.