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.
Bontoc, 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.
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 investors 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.