When I was boy growing up in Lianga in the late 1960's and early 1970's, shopping for new slippers, sandals and a motley of other personal accessories, household items and knickknacks meant a visit to one of two drab, dilapidated-looking buildings located right in the center of town and just across the town church and municipal park. One structure which was just along the shoreline housed the public market, a couple of "carinderia-style" restaurants and a store or two selling fishing supplies and agricultural supplies.
The other building right in front of the church was our usual destination, a collection of adjoining stores all selling dry goods and general merchandise, all owned and operated by Lianga residents originally from the island of Bohol in the Visayas or were of Boholano descent. Fiercely entrepreneurial, they so dominated the dry goods retail market in Lianga that the whole building housing the store spaces they rented from the municipal government was commonly referred to as the "bol-anon" in their honor.
There in dark, cool and often musty shelves they keep and display the wide assortment of goods and products they offer at modest profit to the town folk. Need cooking pots and pans, brooms and dust pans, water pails, dishes, table utensils and decorative items? What about footwear, clothing accessories or cloth and fabrics of all types and kinds? They were also the first to display and sell ready to wear clothes when they became fashionable. They even sold cosmetics, personal hygiene products.
As a group they were often shy and retiring, slow to anger and content to remain in the background of general community life. They were also intensely religious, avid churchgoers and contributed generously to church projects and activities.
For years, business was good for them and Lianga was at its height as a marketing town, a place where you do your buying and trading. It was also a transportation hub for both land and sea craft and the multitude of people that passed through it meant a ready market to be cajoled and enticed. Money came in and business was booming.
But as the last century drew to a close, the rise of nearby new market towns like Barobo and San Francisco who were more ideally located on the Butuan-Davao highway network led to the decline of the retail industry in Lianga. Visitor numbers declined as well as the number of investments and money coming in. Logging operations in the Diatagon area north of Lianga was halted and as incomes dropped or disappeared all together, small scale businesses also suffered greatly.
Nowadays, few of the old Boholano traders are still doing business in Lianga. But it is the Chinese and those of Chinese descent who are the new force to reckon with in the local retail market. And even they are not really doing that well.
But the old and decrepit building they used to occupy is still there and is still called the "bol-anon" by the townspeople. It is sad, in a way, to think that the name reflects the memories of the recent past rather than the reality of the present.
But then is exactly the way things are in Lianga today. It's people still remember and hunger for the good old days and the warm memories of its golden age. The bol-anon, just like the landmark purô or light beacon that stands just beyond the town's shoreline, is another neglected vestige of Lianga's glorious past.
It is past that continues to haunt the collective thoughts of its people today as they struggle to face an uncertain future and strive to recapture the lost glories of the days of old that really should not have been lost in the first place.