Thursday, 28 June 2012

North to Kalinga

Many decades ago, in the last century, I ventured a couple of times to Kalinga, beyond the mountains of Mainit. Ad lagud (to the north), Kalinga province used to be one half of Kalinga-Apayao, which is now two separate provinces, the other of course is Apayao. In those days I was single, and I lived them one by one.
Once I met a posse of Kalinga lasses, but cupid's palaso was all amiss. It could not hit a miss.

Another time I squeezed myself in to pose with a group of pangats (well-heeled citizenry). I got out before they could lasso me for ruining their photo.

Those were the days and I do not remember much of them, or what I was doing there. Suffice to say I visited parts of Kalinga from east to west. 
Eastern Kalinga, at the lower portions, abuts the province of Cagayan, and is generally flat with rolling grasslands and gently sloping foothills suitable for pasture. The province’s upper western portion (Balbalan, Pasil, Lubuagan, Tinglayan) is characterized by sharply rising interconnected peaks with steep slopes, and pockets of flatter slopes on the hillsides around which ricefields are built and where villages are situated. A good portion of the mountain ranges including the high plateaus and deep valleys have extensive areas of rainforests that make for an all-year sheen or hue of natural green.
A few weeks ago, I visited there again – after more than 20 years. Coming up from the town of Baccari in Paracelis, the road is transformed from a dusty dirt road to a concreted highway in Bulanao. Traditional modes of transport still endure however, as shown by these young lads riding on the backs of carabaos.
These young kids have got one foot in the old, and one foot in the new ways, QED.

Tabuk is traditionally a rice producing agricultural area, but is now a bustling commercial and industry center with wide tree lined boulevards. I did not have opportunity to look around the new Tabuk, but will certainly visit there again. 

On the way out of the Chico river plains, I noted the turnoff to the highlands of Balbalan. I remember seeing Pantikian and Talalang and a couple of other villages - places I have fond memories of. Leaving the warmth of Tabuk, I travelled up to the cooler hills around Lubuagan, where Aguinaldo (remember Emilio the original trail runner?) found trails and refuge and a hiding place, if for a few weeks, from the pursuit of the colonial American army during the Philippine-American war. In 1900 Aguinaldo established the revolutionary government of the Philippine republic here in Lubuagan and proclaimed the town as the national capital.

Looking towards Pasil and Pasil River which flows northeasterly away to join the heavily polluted Chico River downstream behind the green mountains.
Aguinaldo would have stood in awe of these mountains, that during his time, very few outsiders had the chance to see.  Now roads are getting built deeper and higher into the mountains.
Much more needs to be done to improve or rehabilitate the farm-to-market roads and trails accessing the many far-flung barangays. There is an immediate felt need for the construction of the road links between Lubuagan and Pasil, and Lubuagan to Batong Buhay. These national roads are main transport arteries in these mountains. They can grow the economy, facilitate travel and delivery of services, and encourage tourism. These roads are indeed 'national road' status and yet this is the state they are in. Not Kalinga state :-), but state of disrepair or even a state of non-existence.

Mt Binuluan below has great potential as a tourist destination.
Looking up towards the cloud-enshrouded peak of Mt Binuluan from a ricefield in the town of Uma. 

Uma in many towns in Bontoc to the south of Kalinga, means a field (generally planted to camote or sweet potato) other than ricefield or payeo.
The Kalinga people are second to none in sculpting or carving the mountain sides to build rice fields. Terrace-building is the art mastered by Igorots (highland Filipino ethnic groups) in the mountainous Cordilleras.  Many of the terraced wonders of Balbalan, Lubuagan, Pasil are at least equal to any mountain rice fields around the region. One wonder that has no peer in the world is Unoy, Kalinga rice grown up here in these mountains. I enjoyed a few platefuls of this rare delicacy on my brief sojourn here. 
Now when you sit down to a meal of unoy and traditional smoked ham stew with woodfire-burned chicken, followed with a mug of Kalinga coffee, over sweet rice cakes topped with orange marmalade ....
Martin STOP! You were saying about roads...?
Batong Buhay gold mines have long operated in Pasil, though they have not been mining for some years. But more players in resources and energy have come into the picture. Chevron corp and GMC-APEC JV are exploring for geothermal projects in Pasil, Tinglayan, and Lubuagan.

These multinational companies have to comply with agreements and address the issues raised by the affected communities. But first they need to answer questions. Some of the environmental issues of geothermal energy are: (1) Pollutant gases, notably carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, methane and ammonia. All these contribute to global warming, acid rain  and noxious smells. (2) Hot geothermal water may hold trace amounts of toxic chemicals such as mercury, arsenic, boron and antimony, which can cause environmental damage. (3) Geothermal development utilises energy from a polluting source. (4) Plant construction can adversely affect land stability. Subsidence has occurred in New Zealand and Germany. (5) Geothermal systems can trigger earthquakes and seismic events.
Residents want full disclosure from the project proponents about the effects of geothermal energy development on their environment. After all they live here. It is their home, it is their land. Can they risk all the above? 
What about the communities downstream? Have they been consulted? Is government (LGUs, provincial, regional, national, the NCIP) in on the picture?
Many communities are still awaiting the implementation of an agreement dating back to 2007. The present and immediate concern of elders and leaders is the effect of geothermal projects on volcanic activity in the area. This should be addressed post-haste to give the people and the government peace of mind on the feasibilty of development. It has been proven in Krafla volcano in Iceland that the volcano can be deliberately tapped for supergeothermal energy. Are similar methods intended here? Conversely Iceland saves $100m per year on oil imports. Its capital city Reykjavik, once the most polluted, is now one of the cleanest cities in the world, all due to geothermal energy.
The proponents can give you long lists of benefits of geothermal energy. But if that's all they give you, ask to see the other list. It may only be a short list, as above, but that will make you think twice, especially if you live here or downstream. NIMBY it's called. Everyone will say it's good because it is nifty, I mean nimby. I think I should visit Nimbin again. I mean Lubuagan.
Geothermal, thy name is nimby or whatever-it-is.
Will the tranquil days of a mountain lifestyle remain or go?
Will we remember them, will we remember when?
When we lived in simple times, when we danced to the gongs.
 When you can still hear a wild rooster crow, or still catch one even.
When you wake to a lazy summer's day,
and watch the verdant boon
of sweet young unoy rice seedlings bloom
to pearls of golden rice grains in June.
Where home is where the carabaos roam.
Where it's a long and a dusty road, to home.
It's a log and a heavy load, to tote.
But where not all roads are rough and dusty.
Are there better roads awaiting? Are they far off? Hey! Wait for me!
I better rush down there before the bus leaves. 
Or else I’ll hang on these roads of troubles.
Hang on – 
I’ll have to hang on. 
It’s hanging room only in that vehicle, but they aren’t selling postcards.

Clouds shadows cover the silhouette of the peaks of Sleeping Beauty in the background in Tinglayan,
while the sun shines on Lubuagan kids at play.
I hope their future is as golden as the sun’s rays.
And the sun will shine fair on Lubuagan.
Lubuagan, Aguinaldo's last stand.
Lubuagan was the first capital of the independent Philippine republic in nineteen-damo.
But you already know that.


  1. Dear Admin,
    Great blog you have here. I would like your permission to feature it on our mobile app on a periodic basis under the "feature/guest blog" section. Would this be okay?

  2. Mr/Ms Pocket Igorot, You are most welcome. You've got me in your pocket.


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