By Jake Crisologo
Everybody comes from somewhere. In the Philippines, or more specifically, in UP, you’re either from Metro Manila: bereft of an exotic native language, ignorant of the sticky complexities of making kakanin and stupid, when faced with a carabao-drawn plow and what you’re supposed to do with it; or you’re from a province: your early childhood involves being deprived of the overt capitalism, the even more overt hedonism, poverty, metrosexuality and overall pop culture that makes Manila Manila. Manila is Manila; unique with its city lights, cigarettes, universities and malls– no matter what my pa-Metro friends from Cebu or Zamboanga say about their home-cities (let the Tour Major tell you that no two places are exactly alike.) If you’re not either of the two, the Manileño or the probinsiyano, then you’re probably a foreigner (most likely, Korean!) or a hybrid of city and countryside genes. I think I’m the last kind, being half- Manileño and a passionate lover of city life, the clean side of it at least. But here’s why I’m essentially a “promdi”.
In my Form 5, ID and more importantly, my dorm application papers, my permanent address is here in Abra. As I’m writing this article right now, I am in my sister’s slipper store soaking up the air conditioning and free internet. A few hours from now, I’ll be going back to UP where Stat 101 and a plethora of Tour majors are patiently waiting to make my life miserable again (oh well, for taumbayan and whatnot, gora lang). Anyway, I want to talk about Abra, and how it’s like New York. Well NY minus Broadway, the liberalism, the fascinating array of subway gunk or whatever street-thing they always show on TV, the yellow cabs, Times Square… Ok fine. Let’s be simple. The only similar thing about Abra and New York is the fact that both places have been publicized as tough places to live in. But at least in New York they have a brilliant CSI team solving crimes and stuff. How I wish Dr. Mac Taylor (played by Gary Sinise) was here! Or did I watch too much TV in the weekend?
Speaking of weekends, I just realized that this “weekend” vacation started last Thursday night and ends today, THURSDAY. In this week of a weekend, you might be wondering why I went home to Abra despite the nauseating eight-hour bus ride with that nauseating fellow passenger who. Wouldn’t. Stop. Crying. (Fine, she was probably just two-years old but it didn’t make her wails less infernal.) Anyway, I went home to talk to Governor about a project we’d like to involve the government in. Oh yes, the Governor; the big man himself in this land dirty politics and gunmen. Speaking of which, a man got shot two days ago just a block away from where my sister’s store is. But what’s new about that? This is home sweet, bullets-flying-everywhere, warzone-esque, home. This is Abra! The Jericho Road of the North. But at least it’s a bit more subtle than Maguindanao.
I would not like to give the impression that I’m some province-hating prick who’s glad that he’s away from the province for most of the year. The truth is, I really love Abra. But like most things we really love, we kinda hate them at the same time too. In many ways it’s beautiful. In many more ways, it can be more beautiful. It’s kinda frustrating given my course, BS Tourism; to know that it has so much potential, which I fear is slowly dying away amidst the insane frequency of political killings that go on there.
A few people know about what makes Abra beautiful and an untapped tourist destination. I’m from the place but I only knew last week that there was an underground river in the Municipality of Lacub, a place I’ve never been to despite living there practically my whole life. There are caves that have not only been explored, but ignored in such a way that I think is pathological. Add to that the gold and limestone deposits in other municipalities. Not a lot of people know about a large flower in the mountains that changes color in different times of the day, from pure, virginal white in the morning, blushing pink at midday and deep red in the evening. Even less few people know about the whole host beautiful animals that are there that go from the likes of flying lizards, the endangered cloud rat and the wild boar and deer that are hunted down by the farmers. Add to that the plethora of ingenious bamboo and string equipment that fishermen use to catch eels and river fish.
Culturally, Abra is one of the most unique, in my opinion. The majority of it is Ilocano however, with its close proximity to the other provinces in the Cordilleras, its influences are both from the toils and imaginations of people from the plains and mountains. Musical instruments, dances, rituals and practices that are reminiscent of Ilocos and Cordillera can be found here, if people looked hard enough.
I think there’s the problem right there. People, and daresay, including the people of Abra, are not looking hard enough. The political killings and corruption in the government is bad enough, its normalization worse. It’s terrifying, actually. During election time, a lot of people just wait for the campaign brigades to hand out the cash so they can sell their votes. Some people don’t dread the occurrence of another killing– they await it. It’s the meat of gossip and discussions, which is weird because we’re actually talking about human meat. Add to that the irony of Abra being the home of the Catholic Diocese in the North. It’s becoming so normalized people might be desensitized and not realize that it’s wrong. The thought that “that’s the way things are” annoys me so much. People don’t feel disempowered because they’ve forgotten that they had the power to start with.
Abra is a sad case of a skewed history of politics and a people who need to have their values and sensibilities checked. An example of the latter is the sad fact that some local farmers are actually stopping farming to look in the forests to look for forest geckos, or the local tik-ka (tuko in Tagalog). They’ve heard of the news that they’re actually worth a fortune to exotic pets enthusiasts. They don’t know anything about how those creatures are actually part of an ecosystem that they take for granted.
But then again, what would the word “ecosystem” mean to local farmer anyway? It’s not as if it’s ethical to stop them from making a living, but then again I don’t think this about lesser evils. Before these things; the environment, the dying dream of social equity and sensible politics, social empowerment and value-recovery, economic growth through tourism or any other means; are given importance, the people need to know why it’s important to give importance.
No two places are exactly the same. Places are beautiful and terrible in their own ways but the breadth of these depends on the choices people make. I’m leaving for Manila in a few hours, but I’ll come back to Abra eventually. I’m not getting my hopes up to high that it’s all of sudden gonna be fair and wonderful in Abra, but when I come back, I hope the governor I spoke to can straighten up his people to put the province on the right track. If it’s not, well then I’ll make a mind-blowing speech for the youth activity we’ll have on October, because this one Abrenio believes in the possibilities of Abra. Now it’s just a matter of other people knowing it too.