By Joel T. Fagsao
After fifteen long years, I was back in Natonin. The last time I visited the place, I was in my prime and enjoyed the day long walk to Poblacion after an overnight stay in Kadaclan, Barlig. There was already a road at that time but you would need a front drive vehicle with winch to get you through. If you talk with the locals, they would tell of the hardships when roads were not yet in place and you had to literally walk in the forest and hopefully avoid the leeches.
Things have changed. You can now hop on a mini bus or a charged up Ford Fiera for a five hour ride (64 kilometers) from Bontoc to Poblacion, Natonin. The ride is an adventure in itself. The view is just awesome. Everything is green!
I was in Natonin as part of my commitment to share what I had learned on entrepreneurial development in India. In Poblacion, the few establishments that we have seen before have increased and the town center now has its own public market. Funny, I recall during our trek, a bottle of soda (never mind the price) was a godsend and seemingly our only connection to the outside world. Now, the products of the world have come to the town. Mobile phones and accessories courtesy of our Muslim brother merchants, DVD you have it! Visit a general store and a sign is posted- longaniza, hotdog and bangus (milk fish)-part of a changing diet for the locals. The presence of tricycles also has contributed to a changing landscape. A bakery, several karaoke cum general store joints are there, mobile phone load anyone?
We stopped by the market to look for local products; alas this is an area that needs improvement. I asked the local vendor where vegetables come from and she said “Bontoc, Isabela.” The only local produce we could find is the large variety cucumbers and some squash.
Our final destination was Saliok, the barrio nearest to Paracelis so we have to stay for the night in Poblacion. You can have a comfortable stay at a quaint lodging house managed by the local Arang Cooperative and I liked it that Bertha was there to take care of the cooking.
The next day, we took a Mitsubishi (front drive) van that covers the Natonin to Paracelis route. A mere twelve kilometers from Poblacion to Saliok sets you off by seventy pesos. The 45 minutes trip to Saliok provides a showcase of what cemented roads could do to community development. There still are some road-portions that make your heart skip faster but generally, the rest of the road portions are A-Ok. We reached Saliok, a hilly barrio with large swathes of flat land. Things have changed too in this place. A “jumbo” bridge has replaced the rickety wooden bridge of old. The muddy road was no more and the atmosphere and look of barrio Saliok has similarities of a community in the Ilocos region.
Saliok is warm and humid but the water and forest resources provide an abundance of natural food at its best. The ‘paco’ (fern) salad served us is just perfect. This is a big change from the usual over-processed food fare that we have in the growing urban areas that we come from.
The three day stay in Saliok made me realize the impact of development in a community. But there is more than meets the eye. Yes we want development in our communities but there could also be a price to pay. Influences from a foreign culture could have an impact on the values of the locals. A karaoke joint in a barrio may be a good place for a visitor to relax but who gets to stay in this places when the visitor leaves? Roads could also make it easier now to transport illegally cut Nara and other forest products. This is quite a challenge to the DENR and the community leaders who are tasked to protect the forests. Natonin will need a master plan on sustainable development. By sustainable development, it will need to work on economic programs that will meet the needs of its residents today and also be able to provide for the succeeding generations.
The rich natural forest resources that the municipality has are its crown jewel. The municipality needs to work on a conservation program on its resources. Natonin and Barlig are the only remaining truly ‘green’ municipalities of the province of Mountain Province.