Bontoc Into the Future

Joel T. Fagsao
This post was written in 2008.  I hope this would serve as a perspective in the present times…as to how far we have gone since the time I wrote this.

basketBontoc, my hometown is 100 years old!  By the time this paper hits the streets, the celebration will already be in full blast.  As I look back to the place of my youth, I realized, Bontoc had all the right things to let anyone get on a good start whatever plans one has in his or her life.  For one, it had good preparatory schools.  The teachers were great, whether you studied at Saint Vincent’s Elementary, All Saints Mission Elementary and my alma mater, Bontoc Central School.   Reading, writing, math and sciences were emphasized.  There was this passion among the teachers to really imbibe in their students a good educational foundation.  In high school whether you were at Saint Vincent’s or MPGCHS, the same passion was there.  The old Mountain Province College also contributed to the town’s growth.  For one, it had the same dedicated teachers who despite the lack of facilities turned their students into great midwives, civil servants and entrepreneurs.  The college was then using our rooms at MPGCHS after our classes.  I took summer classes in the old wooden structure of Mountain Province College and enjoyed discussions with students and teachers.

It is thus not a surprise to see successful alumni, trekking back to Bontoc to celebrate class reunions and thank a town that helped contribute to where they are now.  Second, the values, the preservation of culture and keeping the faith helped mould the ideals of the residents of Bontoc. Bontoc in the earliest years of its development was host to the Roman Catholic and Anglican faith.  The religiosity of the people coupled with their traditional beliefs and practices provided a solid foundation of their values.  I grew up in a household with Dad as an Anglican and mama as member of the Jehova’s Witnesses.   Religion was never an issue as Dad allowed us kids to join in the Kingdom hall services of Jehova’s Witnesses. On occasion, he would bundle us to attend midnight mass at the Anglican Church and would always remind us kids to light candles at the cemetery for our grandparents.  Thus, we had quite a liberal upbringing as I wonder, could dad who had an American principal at All Saints Mission Elementary school, be a contributing influence to his outlook in life?   In my elementary years, I will never forget the values that I learned from my Grade 1 chums, Joseph We-eng and Fabian Pachakeg.  They were the kids I hung up with at my grandfather Lino’s house in Chakong.  Every afternoon, after class,  they and other classmates from Bontoc Ili would rush in all directions.  “Nak safaten si Ina tay namoknag, awitek awit na..” (I have to go meet mother who has gone to the rice fields and help carry her load) they would say in unison and off they go.  These children, young as they are had respect and responsibility.  With that, I was no longer ashamed to carry “arasao” (spoiled food) from neighbors for our gaggle of pigs or had to scrub every rung of our stairs a hundred times before going out to play. I maintain respect and admiration for my Ifab-fey (Bontoc Ili) classmates to this day.

mapurworld2 I also give thanks to my kindly neighbor my late grandma Christine Camarillo who obliged me to read all the comics I could get my hands into.  Aliwan, Banawag, Liwayway, Darna, Lamor, Wakasan or DC comics- Superman, Spiderman, Unknown Soldier and oh they were for free! No rentals.  This was my library and I was not yet in school then.  It gave me opportunities to learn.  It was my Internet Café in those days. Of course, who would not forget our town librarian, Mrs. Andaya?  The old library (now housing the Land Bank and multi-purpose building) had in stock copies of National Geographic even though how old, helped us pass the time during our two years of job search after graduation in college. Mrs. Andaya would kindly lead us to dusty shelves and introduced us to good books.

  My other grandma Theodora Basco would regal me with Bible stories and yes my first cousin Ligaya Accab who was patient enough to tell Hansel and Gretel every mealtime or before bedtime.  Third, the humility, tenacity of the Bontoc, I will carry till in my lifetime.  Sometimes, I feel a bit bad when I hear words like “Bontocish..”, ey dakayo ay iBontoc, maid progresso yo, compara sinan daduma ay taga Mountain Province…” well today, I just shrug it off.  After all, this is not a contest, as the saying goes…”we should never compare ourselves with others, for if we do, we will only be frustrated as surely, there would be others better than us.” Third, Bontoc is a hodgepodge of cultures.

 The Ilocanos, our Chineses neighbors, lakay (old man) Kinga of the Lumber store (they were always neat and courteous in their dealings with customers), American classmate Mitch Bowling, the Belgian sisters, the Kastens of Chakchakan and others of various nationalities helped form the ideal landscape for learning in this town.    Dangwa Tranco who started service in Bontoc as early as the 1930s is also worthy of mention in Bontoc’s development.  Operated by the late Bado Dangwa, the bus company played an important role in the town’s trade and commerce.  My grandmother, Theodora was an astute businesswoman.  She opened the town’s first shoe store and Dangwa was there to help move the goods.  As her niece, my mother, Carmen, grew up In her tutelage, she learned the ropes of the shoe trading business and again, Dangwa was there.  Despite the bad roads, the bus company never gave up and became an important vehicle literally for the town’s development.

Today, as Bontoc celebrates its centennial and when the last piece of trash is hauled off from the day’s activities, let us take stock of things and envision the Bontoc of the future.

First, Bontoc is a growing town but infrastructure and basic services are much wanting.  Water is a perennial problem in this town.  How come?  I came to know from old timers that in the early years, the water system had installed meters and thus was a bit regulated.  The old system never grew with an increasing population, worse the meters were no longer in use.  An overhaul of the water system is the order of the day.  Tabuk City has a good water supply system in place.

 In our case, we have an ample water supply source but the resources to bring it to our homes are a problem.  If we are able to spend for our own water pipes then surely, we can afford to pay for metered water.  Second, is there not a way for us to tap the river as an alternate source for our household cleaning needs?  HK uses sea water to flush toilets.  Third, we have no systems in place yet to entice investors to set up business here in town.  Business investments will mean jobs to our youth who have no choice but to look for jobs elsewhere.  I’m willing to work with organizations, the Local Government Unit to help draft an investment code for our town.

We should be prodding Bontocs who are now based overseas to invest in their hometown.  I wish somebody would set up a business process outsourcing (BPO) center in town.  A call center in operation encourages the growth of other businesses such as trade, services and food jaunts. We have trainable young people who can be employed in call center services.  All we need is the right telecommunications infrastructure.  Other areas for investment would be the tourism sector.  The tumanyans (clan landowners) can open up their idle lands (mountains) to host children’s summer camps, retreat, develop hiking trails or partner with invexijen1stors to develop their lands to host high value crops and even flowers for the Manila market.  Next, Lengsad and other areas can be developed to host the expansion of Bontoc.

 The lands on the roadside towards Guina-ang and Mainit are also ideal residential areas.   I also envision Bontoc as a future university town.  The reason I set up Xijen College of Mountain Province.  There is so much talent we can tap to really make this town a viable alternative educational center after Baguio City.  To dream is free and nothing is impossible in this world.  I would encourage town mates wherever you are to join a think tank that would help plot the future of Bontoc.

Fun-tak Technologies of Old versus Modern Day Technologies

Photo by Joel Fagsao

Photo by Joel Fagsao

Bontoc celebrates its 104th  anniversary as a pueblo (town) on September 16, 2014,  and I would like to share with you insights about my hometown.

The earliest studies of Bontoc could have been made by Spanish expeditions.  Then in 1903, American anthropologist Albert Ernest Jenks made a study of the way of life of my ancestors.  Jenks stayed in Bontoc for five (5) months with his wife during that year.

First, Jenks writes that the name Bontoc is “Ban-tak’,” a Spanish corruption of the Igorot name
“Fun-tak’,” a common native word for mountain (but then we don’t use fun-tak anymore for mountain, do we?), the original name of the pueblo.  There could have been more interesting facts about Bontoc had the paper records not been burned by a Spanish insurrect named Captain Angels.  Jenks based his research on a few remaining Spanish records and interaction with the locals.

In Jenk’s research there are two distinct institutions in Bontoc which sets them apart from the other tribes of the Cordilleras.  One is the lack of a lone leader who controls the affairs of the community.  In Bontoc, the affairs of the community are left to a council of elders. Jenks writes that the control of the pueblo by the groups of old men called “intugtukan,” operates only within a single political and geographical portion of the pueblo.  The pueblo is a loose federation of smaller political groups.  This could probably explain the proud character of a Bontoc and the existence of the Ato as the political unit of the community.


Photo by Joel T. Fagsao

Photo by Joel T. Fagsao

Jenks continues to write that the second institution which is the Olog (Jenks writes it as Olag), an institution- of trial marriage.  It is in this area that I do not agree.  While Jenks did not write about men going to sleep with girls in the Olog, attributing the Olog to trial marriage is a misinterpretation.  Indeed, in the Bontoc culture, if a married couple cannot bear children, both are free to find another mate.

Alas, the focus of my article for the re-launch of Weaves is on technologies.  I could write about the Olog issue at a later time.

So what are the technologies developed by my ancestors?  Plenty, but I believe it is more on agricultural practices and the related infrastructure that Bontocs and other Igorots fare better.  It took several years of schooling and even a doctoral degree for some to finally realize that modern agricultural practices are not the answer to food shortages.  In fact, the green revolution has wreaked havoc on the planet’s fragile eco-system.

Yes, organic farming has become fashionable and endorsing a return to such practices would just be met with a raised eyebrow by Ikit (grandma) Lapu who could just say “I told you so…”

Remember our khongo (the Bontoc pig sty)? It was a functional compost pit.  Our pigs then were fed with natural food and not on antibiotic laden feeds, and of course from our morning rituals which we now do in the confines of a ceramic cistern (khongo is bad, bad, say the health authorities, use the toilet….).

Local farmers have turned to the use of modern technologies to increase production.  A garden in Bontoc, Mountain Province.

Local farmers have turned to the use of modern technologies to increase production. A garden in Bontoc, Mountain Province.

Compost fertilizer from the khongo is carried on a khimata (two baskets tied on each end of a wooden pole) to the rice fields.  The soil is further enriched with sunflower leaves and stalks and grasses.  With organic farming came the preservation of ancient rice seeds which are now being re-discovered and sold as heirloom rice.  Reliance on a few modern rice varieties has contributed to the extinction of 1500 local varieties in Indonesia as reported by

Then we move on to the rice granary which was well secured even without the modern day padlock or high tech biometric based security.  Only the owner knew the right combination to open the rice granary door with a few strokes of either removing a thin piece of wood here or there. With the spate of robberies in town, could a return to the rice granary as a storage area be the better alternative?

Before the National Irrigation Administration, ancient systems of irrigation were already in place.  Irrigation was engineered by our ancestors with no formal engineering training.  Yes, it’s true, cement and modern water impounding techniques further improved the traditional alak/payas (irrigation system) but remember, our ancestors did not go to school.

GreenhouseWhat about time keeping, weather observations and communications?  Of course the rooster foretells of the coming of the dawn.  Insects and birds tell the time-especially the coming of dusk.  It is noon when the sun above is at the center.  Hovering dragonflies warn of a coming rain or worse a typhoon.  I was surprised, on this day and age, I heard young men of Bontoc Ili (in the early hours of night) hollering names and “tengao si wakas!” (translation:  tomorrow is a day of rest-see it is not only the President who can declare a holiday!) The young men of Mat-ao in Alab (today) would put some twist to announcing a holiday by shouting “agtengao tayo no bigaaaaaaaat! Can we announce on radio or send a text message to announce a tengao?   I bet not, it simply doesn’t work with modern communication tools. When someone in the community was near death’s door, a lone gong is played on hallowed ground in a last ditch attempt to ask the one above (Lumawig) for mercy.  The sound of the gong also creates awareness in the community of someone dying.  This probably explains why not everyone agrees to the playing of gongs for a “show.”  The fotatiw (believed to be the light of the spirit world)- small fires that you see at night and would gather in a house also foretell of death in that household.  When (I see this flickering lights In Samoki at night in my childhood, I could not comprehend why all of a sudden, the light from afar would suddenly jump to a great distance. For sure no human holding a torch could do that).  When 24 hour electricity arrived in Bontoc, the fotatiw was gone.  Is there a modern gadget that could probably foretell of a coming death?

Today, the material world has made inroads into the Bontoc life-ways.  Things have changed.  Several questions have come to my mind.  Could modern gadgets translate to quality in the way we lead our lives?  Without modern gadgets, could our ancestors have led a pitiful existence?  If we were to go back to a simple lifestyle similar to how our ancestors lived, could we be better off in terms of peace of mind and contentment with what we already have?   I believe, my ancestors lead an existence of contentment despite the lack of material trappings of the modern world.  They ate full square meals from the fruits of their labor, they did not worry about having to pay monthly interests on a loan, they did not worry about having to pay the monthly dues on electricity, the car, the house, etc.  With the complications of modern life, I wish I were transported back in time, don a simple garb and live a simple life.

Bontoc: A Special Place in My Heart

By George Galo Devera
Ventura, California

bontocI always thought sightseeing was for vacations or new areas of interest. This all changed when I came down with the flu this April traveling by POV across Northern Luzon to Southern Luzon. The Weather was Hot, Humid with down pour of rain at no moments notice. The flu shortened my sightseeing for almost 2 weeks, there were times when I thought of the worst. I hoped to be at home where I could readily see my Primary Doctor. As I lay in bed, unable to do much of anything except feel sick and sorry for myself, I put my mind in gear and went down memory lane and began recalling all the beautiful and unforgettable sights I had seen the last 43 years.
Being a Military of over 26 years combining with 15 Years Federal, Juvenile Correctional Officer and a counselor for a total of 41 years, I found that I had many memories to draw upon. Rest and recreation in Europe, North America, Asia, Africa, South America and Australia first came to mind. When I thought of all these places, I recalled the delicious food and the guest houses I went to, the small but quaint stores we used to shop, the narrow roads that took us to villages, the high rise buildings, the amusement parks and all the tourist spots were so beautiful and lovely; words are inadequate to describe. But nothing beats the beauty of the Philippine countryside which was filled with the aroma of flowers, bushes, pine trees, countless beaches, mountain springs and waterfalls specially my home town Bontoc, Mountain Province. Closing my eyes and recalling the beauty of my birth blace, I could see it all again. I could visualize, too, the locals in the villages dressed in their native garb, going about their errands, rushing to the different shops, attending to the daily needs.
Then I recalled a different memory when we lived in town during my 20 years growing up there. It was sparse and sometimes dull, but with a unique beauty that often caught one off-guard; a homeliness and charm that is hard to describe. I think sometimes the simplicity and plainness of the area can gently take one back to another time—one filled with goodness and decency; a journey that is refreshing and wonderful most Specially to the Town Folks of Bontoc, I highly recommend and visit Bontoc, Mountain province and you will see Nature at its Best and the Town Folks Hospitality…

Now, I think of sightseeing as not just of visiting and vacations but one that is filled with memories both sweet and bitter–a kind of time machine where one can sight-see any time, anywhere…..Perhaps I can now say that sightseeing is not just for the summer traveler but a kind of “twilight-time-zone” where you can sight see to your heart’s content