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Visit Bicol

March 15, 2019

MA. ISABEL ONGPIN

THE endless rice fields and the flowing rivers and creeks of Bicol are still on my mind. Bicol is on the cusp of modernity, a mixed blessing in any circumstance when rural turns urban. In this country, the bad of modernity sometimes trumps the good because of lack of vision which means no definition of values, no priority on what must be saved and what is dispensable in the rush to modernize.

Already the capital cities of Daet, Naga and Legazpi have their variety of malls, fastfood outlets and the attraction for the rural inhabitants to migrate to them, no matter how much they lose in healthy surroundings, adequate space and living standards. Not everything new is good and not everything old is useless, so not everything urban is better than rural. But then modernization marches on.

Traffic is not yet a problem. National roads are good and travel is efficient and comfortable. The Bitukang Manok area between Daet and Naga, notorious for its zigzags that caused numerous accidents in the past is a spanking new infrastructure, wide and with proper drainage. Traffic is light enough for one to see the trees, creeks, valleys and mountains, a panorama of nature.

In Legazpi, there is no high-rise that dares to block Mayon or interfere with the sightline for it. In Buhi, the lake provides the smallest edible fish in the world, samsargan. And catching it is limited to certain months of the year so as not to overfish it. The mayor of Buhi wants to transfer the market from its lakeside setting (which may cause pollution) to a more rational downtown setting. She is at work on this.

In Legazpi which has extensive city boundaries, we visited Banquerohan, a new settlement by the local government for people who had to be evacuated from the danger zones of Mayon Volcano a few years ago. The place has a rural setting of trees and creeks with a view of Mount Mayon in the distance. And the inhabitants, erstwhile evacuees, are happy and at work. Government agencies from the labor, trade and industry, agriculture and other government departments taught them livelihood skills. Weaving for the women is one and they have a weaving center provided with looms (some given by private foundations like the BPI Foundation). What is more, they have a market. One large barong tagalog manufacturer (who probably manufactures other items) orders huge quantities of woven abaca i.e. sinamay. The demand is so great that a new building has had to be constructed to take in more looms and more weavers. We met the weavers of all ages who were looking quite healthy and confident. They treated us to maruya (banana fritters) and buko (young coconut). Their new home is just as green as their old home and they can see all of Mayon from there. So, they are at home.

Having seen Camarines Norte and Sur, and Albay, it was time to venture into Sorsogon. Again, we traveled on good roads that are new and wide. We noted, however, that the contractors are not neat. They leave construction materials unattended along the way or dump rubble from the old roads by the wayside. Someone should inject discipline into them so that the landscape of Nature is preserved and attractive, not dotted with debris of manmade materials.

Along the way we had views of the Pacific Ocean as we were traveling in the east towards the south. There were stands selling cooked crab, fresh and dried fish, and fresh oysters. We stopped for a plate of oysters that the vendor shucked right there, dipping them in vinegar with onions. Delicious and far away from Paris oyster prices.

Sorsogon is abaca and coconut country to the nth degree. In Gubat, we serendipitously bumped into Mayor Sharon Rose Glipo Escoto, when we stopped to look at the construction of her new City Hall which she was also viewing. She didn’t look official, just a young lady dressed like everyone else. Next thing we knew she had invited us to her office where she showed us a special abaca weave called salanigo. They were in a pair of slippers made by one of the few women left who could do it. After eating what was apparently her merienda (cassava with coconut milk cake topped with pili nuts)—which she graciously offered and we shamelessly accepted—we hied off to visit Aida Felisino, the nearest woman who could do salanigo in Sta. Ana, Gubat. She had some slippers in different colors. In Sta. Ana we also met the kagawad who showed us a loom donated by the BPI Foundation in her residential area full of trees. At last our group was clearly shown what a pili tree looks like because in the forest of trees in the landscape it was hard to discern which was a pili. It produces a nut that can be roasted, salted, candied, turned into marzipan and even into oil for skin care, among other things. Bicolandia’s gift to her fellow countrymen is the pili nut.

In Gubat we also saw a very uplifting social enterprise run by the 24-year-old daughter of Mayor Escoto, Karylle Glipo Escoto, who is a graduate of agricultural management from UP Los Baños. It is the Gubat Agritech Industries Company and it processes coconut waste from copra. Meaning the coconut shells left after the coconut fruit is extracted for copra or other uses. These shells which were considered waste are processed into fiber which is then turned into rope and even anti-erosion mats used in road construction. What was mind-bending about the factory is that it uses solar power for the fiber extracted from the coconut shells, turning it into rope via motion-activated machines. Women fed the fiber into the motion-activated machines which blended them into ropes that two other women pulled out in two rows after which they put them in a spinning machine that produced a single rope. It looked easy but one of us tried it and could not manage it. The rope was then put through a steel loom with a huge shuttle which two men handled by pushing and pulling (hard work) and turned the rope into the anti-erosion mat, rolls of which were piled all over. I am taking time to give the details because Kaylle Escoto said her family was given a mission by her grandparents who owned the nearby land to continue employing their longtime workers when they were gone. An uncle who seems to be a mechanical genius designed the solar-powered plant and the motion-activated machines. And women make up about 75 percent of the labor force.

I could go on and on, from the abaca parts fashioned into panels that Japanese are mad for and made in Gubat by Visitacion Fulgorino, to the variety of buri and rattan baskets that we saw in Bulusan.

We passed the town of Barcelona which has a heritage church and is now being rehabilitated. Across it facing the Pacific are ruins of an old convent school and the town presidencia of Spanish times. Happily, they are now a well-cared for park and we could see young people and old people there on an afternoon outing. Meanwhile, the Pacific Ocean’s endless blue waves looked like something out of Paradise on a sunny and cool afternoon in Sorsogon.

Visit Bicol.

Credit belongs to : www.manilatimes.net

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