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Remembering Lumbia airport

A. Paulita Roa .

HOW do we say our goodbye to one that has been so much a part of our lives and of Cagayan de Oro for over six decades? I am referring to the closure of the iconic Lumbia Airport five years ago on June 14, 2013. I learned that tears where shed on that day by many – among them, the second generation workers of the airport. To us, Kagay-anons, this airport that we simply call “Lumbia” has been closely identified with us. It holds innumerable memories of personal and public events that happened there through more than six decades of its existence.

Research is still ongoing regarding the exact date when this airport was constructed. Some say that it was the Japanese Imperial Army that built it during World War II. However, no records can be found regarding this information. What we have are the accounts from Fr. James Haggerty, the famous guerrilla padre and that of Cagayan’s liberator, Col. Fidencio Laplap –  that the Japanese occupied this airport during the war. That Laplap and his group attacked and destroyed the enemy planes and facilities in Lumbia. There was no casualty on the guerrilla side but there must have been several among the Japanese. Years later, a memorial altar for the dead was set up by the kin of the Japanese soldiers in the small park across the parking lot of said airport.

Lumbia is the name of a species from the palm tree family that once grew in abundance in barrio Lumbia. Sago is the starchy by product of this tree and is credited as the one that saved the people from starvation during the time of a great famine. The area where the airport is located is on a small elevated plain surrounded by several small undulating hills. Unknown to many, several hundred meters east of the terminal building are limestone cliffs and below that is the Cagayan River. My friend, the late Roy Gaane, told me that as a teenager, he and his friends once discovered and explored a cave or two in that area.

I will sorely miss those rides to the airport and back for I never get tired of the beautiful scenery along the way – wide open spaces, the hills with the majestic mountains of Bukidnon as a backdrop. From the airport on the way to the city, one can see the Macajalar Bay and on a clear day, a blue outline of Camiguin Island loking like the mythical Bali Hai. This spectacular view is some kind of my bragging rights to my friends that I met at the airport and are visiting the city for the first time. Now, it will be a different ride with a new scenery to the Laguindingan airport. And I can honestly say that it will not be equal to the lovely visual treat that we all were used to on our rides to Lumbia Airport.

There is a need to install a historical marker in the old airport so that people will remember the important role it played as the center of the travel industry of Northern Mindanao for over 60 years. It also stood as a mute witness to many happy, sad and historic events of the city.

When Rene Barrientos became the world’s flyweight boxing champion, he was given a hero’s welcome upon his arrival at the airport. Or who can forget that one sad morning in October 1964, when a huge crowd jammed the airport building  with some climbing even to the control tower as they waited for the plane that carried the body of their beloved City Mayor Justiniano R. Borja? He died of cerebral hemorrhage while on an official trip to Manila. To this day, no event can duplicate that very long procession of cars, jeeps, buses and trucks filled with mournful constituents who followed the mayor’s hearse from the airport to his residence at the poblacion.

I can go on and on sharing the events and stories I knew or heard of that all happened in Lumbia. Like the big weighing scale for the luggage and packages of the departing passengers used to be located hear the entrance of the old airport and was not locked. My brother, Imok and I were able to convince our cousin, Raul Roa Balan, to weigh himself in that airport scale for he was so fat and had no idea how heavy he was. One night, we drove to the airport, found it to be pitch dark and with no guards around. With a flashlight in hand, Raul stepped into the scale, we converted the kilograms to pounds and found that he weighed  exactly 475 lbs. Then, we realized it was only the three of us in that dark area that we became so scared. We ran into the car and drove away at top speed.

Memories aside, I know that there were more than a hundred porters, some of them second generation workers, who were left without a means of income when the airport was closed. Today, most of them are back working in Laguindingan airport and that is a big relief to us who knew them from the way back.

To me, what makes Lumbia airport very special were the people and how they interacted with many of the events that happened in that place, some of which are now part our public memory. It’s never about the cement, cold steel, weighing scales and planes.

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