Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Philippine judiciary, midnight appointments, democratic institutions, corruption: Blessed coincidences for author of controversial book on judiciary

Blessed coincidences for author of controversial book on judiciary

By Maurice Malanes
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Posted date: June 01, 2010

THE HEAVENS MUST BE smiling at Marites Dangilan Vitug, author of the controversial “Shadow of Doubt: Probing the Supreme Court.”

The must-read book for the next Philippine president and for every Filipino concerned about helping strengthen a crucial institution of democracy may have been rejected by its original publisher-distributor and a big bookstore chain. But even to Vitug’s surprise, the book has been selling briskly through more independent and smaller outlets.

“So there’s hope for would-be authors [whose work might be refused by established publishers and distributors because of controversial content],” says Vitug. “We can tap alternatives.”

Vitug was in Baguio City last week for a break. She also took time to promote her book before a meeting in the city of the members of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP).

After the original publisher-distributor backed out and a major bookstore chain refused to sell copies of the book, Newsbreak, an online media outfit in which Vitug is editor, finally published “Shadow of Doubt.”

But the refusal of established outfits to publish, distribute and sell the book all the more generated public curiosity about it.


Vitug feared her book would be eclipsed by the election. “To my greatest surprise, the controversial midnight appointment of the new Chief Justice [despite the ban on midnight appointments] helped generate more interest about the book,” she says.

President Macapagal-Arroyo’s appointment of Renato Corona, who is perceived to be close to her, courted controversies and scathing editorials and commentaries from critics.

Midnight appointments and Corona were also among the subjects of “Shadow of Doubt,” thus making it as hot as the current headlines.

The 13 counts of libel that a Supreme Court associate justice filed against Vitug in March also helped promote the book. The libel cases filed by Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr. were based on an online report by Vitug about the propriety of the magistrate getting involved in partisan activities, with his son preparing to run for representative of Marinduque.

So it was not surprising that the first 3,000 copies printed when the book was launched in March were all sold out.

Newsbreak had to print another 5,000 copies, which were sold out after Vitug toured the cities of Cebu and Davao in April to promote the book.

Another 5,000 copies had been printed, which she would continue to promote through more “book tours,” says Vitug.


One lesson, which Vitug says she learned from the experience in relation to her latest book (her fourth), was also devising and getting involved in marketing strategies such as promotional book tours.

After Baguio, Vitug says she and her publishers slated other book tours in Tuguegarao City in Cagayan and in Hong Kong, where she seeks to court the interest of overseas Filipino workers.

“Shadow of Doubt” no doubt is a book for presidents, students and citizens concerned about protecting and strengthening the judiciary, which is an important institution of democracy in modern societies.

This is why Vitug says, “I hope he (presumptive president-elect Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III) gets to read the book.”

The book, she adds, is relevant to law students. She is grateful that the University of the Philippines Law Center has been encouraging students to read the book.
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Monday, May 31, 2010

Coopbanking: It’s not just counting the eggs laid by golden goose

It’s not just counting the eggs laid by golden goose

By Maurice Malanes
Inquirer Northern Luzon

Posted date: May 29, 2010

LA TRINIDAD, Benguet – Cooperative banking is not just about people organizing themselves and pooling their resources together so they have some money to borrow when the need arises.

“Cooperative banking must also be relevant and responsive to the current issues and concerns of our times, one of which is the challenge brought about by climate change,” says Gerry Lab-oyan, general manager of the Cooperative Bank of Benguet.

Established in 1990 with a paid-up share capital of P1.25 million, the first and only cooperative bank of Benguet now has P147,392,167 in net assets (both cash and property). The pioneers of the bank were first oriented by the Land Bank of the Philippines, which sponsored a seminar on how to develop and manage cooperatives.

For Lab-oyan, cooperative banking is not only about counting and accounting the eggs laid by the golden goose.

“It is also about ensuring that the goose remains healthy so it continues to lay those golden eggs,” he says.

The golden goose is Lab-oyan’s metaphor for the community where members of the Benguet co-op bank are engaged in various businesses.

An environmentalist and a management expert, Lab-oyan is aware of the impact of a deteriorating environment on the Cordillera, especially on Benguet, whose ecosystems are being degraded by extensive commercial vegetable farms and mining.

“So it was not surprising that when Typhoon ‘Pepeng’ hit us last year, Benguet was among those badly damaged,” he says. “The damage, of course, affected our people’s livelihood and businesses.”

The damage caused by the typhoon in October prompted many borrowers of the bank to seek a moratorium in paying their loans.

Aware of the interconnection between ecology and agriculture-based businesses and livelihood, the bank has embarked on promoting alternatives to commercial vegetable farming and mining.

One of these alternatives is agro-forestry or integrating fruit-bearing and forest trees with farming. This is no wonder why the bank has been supporting initiatives to revive the Arabica coffee industry in Benguet and other parts of the upland region.

Arabica plants only need 25 percent sunlight so they need taller and bigger trees around them. Those who wish to plant Arabica, says Lab-oyan, must also plant “shade and nurse trees” such as alnus, caliandra and pine, and fruit trees such as jackfruit, star apple and other trees.

The bank has thus helped and continues to help farmers, local governments and entrepreneurs in organizing Arabica coffee councils, says Lab-oyan.

It has also helped the initiatives of the Benguet Organic Coffee Enterprises Limited Inc., a homegrown coffee processing and trading outfit, in reviving centuries-old Arabica plants.

“In helping promote the Arabica industry, we are encouraging people to plant trees, which can also help cool our planet,” says Lab-oyan.

Another thrust of the bank is promoting and helping local folk rediscover their own culture, particularly indigenous food and cuisine.

“The food recipes of our forebears were all natural and diverse,” says Lab-oyan. “And what people consume ultimately affects our environment.”

“If we go natural, we are actually promoting organic and diversified farming, which is an alternative to chemical-dependent commercial monocrop farming,” he says.

The bank has been collaborating with the La Trinidad government in organizing what it calls “Ethnic Food Festival” as part of the town’s annual Strawberry Festival.

The bank is also promoting what Lab-oyan calls “diversified agri-enterprise” and “integrated farming.” It helps finance farmers who integrate farming with raising cattle and poultry, especially those who go organic.

“The key is diversity because this is what is good for our environment,” Lab-oyan says. “And the more we diversify in our business enterprises, the more we diversify our skills so the bigger chances of success in our endeavors.”

The bank may not immediately reap the returns of what it invested in its various initiatives. “But the returns on investments on the environment and other initiatives related to helping address climate change may come in the long term such as in the form of healthier communities,” he says.

Like any other businesses, cooperative banks must also compete with other financing institutions.

“But in our co-op bank, we are not concerned only with how to stay ahead in the competition but how to be relevant also to the community,” Lab-oyan says.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

CORDILLERA AUTONOMY : A failure of listening and imagination?

CORDILLERA AUTONOMY : A failure of listening and imagination?

By Maurice Malanes
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Posted date: May 19, 2010

HARDLY ANY OF THE CANdidates in the Cordillera picked up regional autonomy as part of their platform for the May 10 elections.

This must be a fortunate coincidence, though. Otherwise, the political noise would have just drowned out a healthier debate about Cordillera autonomy, which, according to a University of the Philippines professor, needs a lot of listening and imagination.

For a debate on autonomy to prosper, the protagonists may have to sit down in the traditions of the dap-ay (the indigenous roundtable conference of the Bontok), the tongtongan (Benguet’s dap-ay counterpart), and the bodong of the Kalinga and Tinggian.

These indigenous institutions require the participants to listen to each other so they can agree on a consensus, which must ultimately serve the greater good of the community.

But the institutions and people who led in the autonomy debate had largely failed to lend their ears to each other. The result, says Dr. Athena Lydia Casambre, was a “disjuncture—the failure to meet point-to-point.”

This, says Casambre, a former UP Baguio faculty member, characterized the debate on Cordillera autonomy. “No wonder that the proposed Organic Act (draft law for autonomy) was soundly rejected in January 1990,” the first political exercise that could have helped institutionalize self-rule, she says.

Casambre, now a political science professor at UP Diliman, was at UP Baguio last month to attend a political science workshop and the launching of “Discourses on Cordillera Autonomy,” a book compiling her three essays on the upland region’s attempt at self-governance.

She cites almost the same failure of the various players to meet in 1998, when another proposed organic act was rejected.

Key players

Casambre analyzes how the autonomy issue and its key players evolved as a response to a long history of discrimination and neglect, which heightened during the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law reign.

She also notes how the shift from Marcos’ martial rule to President Corazon Aquino’s liberal-democratic politics “provided the impetus for progressive groups in Cordillera civil society, principally the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), to push their political agenda further.”

After Marcos’ ouster in February 1986, the CPA sustained the momentum of mobilization against a series of the regime’s dam projects along the Chico River, she says.

With the “democratic space” under Aquino, it helped lobby for the inclusion in the 1987 Constitution of the provision for autonomous regions in the Cordillera and Muslim Mindanao, Casambre says.

This same democratic space and post-Edsa euphoria led to other interesting developments. Casambre cites the Aquino administration’s peace negotiations with Fr. Conrado Balweg’s Cordillera People’s Liberation Army (CPLA), which led to the sipat (peace pact) on Sept. 13, 1986, in Mount Data in Bauko, Mt. Province.

This pact eventually prompted Aquino to craft Executive Order No. 220, which established a special Cordillera Administrative Region to prepare the region for autonomy.

“The Edsa Revolt and the democratic politics immediately following upon it unquestionably hastened the coming to the fore of the issue of Cordillera autonomy,” Casambre says.

Since the constitutional provision for regional autonomy needed an enabling law, a measure was drafted and submitted to the Cordillera electorate in a plebiscite in January 1990.

Before the voting were intense debates on autonomy. Casambre identifies the main protagonists: CPA, CPLA, Bibak (Benguet, Ifugao, Bontoc, Apayao and Kalinga) Professionals Association or BPA, Cordillera Broad Coalition (CBC), and the regional National Economic and Development Authority.

Casambre notes, however, that the debates did not lead to a “clear, comprehensible and acceptable proposition” for supporting an autonomous region.

She finds it ironic that the CPA, which helped lobby for the inclusion of autonomy in the Constitution, made “a 180-degree turn,” campaigning to reject the proposed organic act.


The CPA’s move was “not least because what they (CPA leaders) had won in the form of a constitutional provision had become perverted as soon as the government entered into a sipat with the CPLA” but because the two groups “had radically different projects in mind,” Casambre says.

“The narrative of Cordillera autonomy,” she says, “became severely disjointed at this point.”

What Casambre calls the “middle” sectors, led by the professionals, “caught in a choice between two unacceptable projects, found themselves aligning with others behind the proposal for regionalization without the urgency of autonomy as espoused by the CPA and CPLA.”

The CPA argued for autonomy on the premise of a newly formed “pan-Cordillera identity” and called it “Kaigorotan.” This was not well-received because the Cordillera natives’ self-identity was and continues to be anchored in the village, Casambre says.

Its regional autonomy project was also conceived within “the larger politics of national democracy (nat-dem),” which, she says, “spooked” the majority of the voters.

Until now, she says, despite fostering empowered people’s organizations in the region, not enough voters would support an autonomous region as defined by the CPA because of the “nat-dem specter.”

“The CPA will have to engage in ‘coalition politics’ and collaborate with other groups in articulating a vision of Cordillera autonomy that will have a foreseeable future,” Casambre says.

But she says voters were also repelled by the CPLA’s version of autonomy based on a proposed “Cordillera Autonomous Socialist State” and a “romanticized Cordillera Nation,” with the bodong as the overall guiding indigenous political institution.

The participation later of bureaucrats and lawyers did not help either in clarifying issues on the autonomy debate, she says.

“Not a tenable basis for Cordillera autonomy has been achieved because of a general failure of imagination,” she says.

Casambre suggests the need for “discipline and direction” in gathering and analyzing data or putting the pieces together “so we could see the whole picture.”

Through these, the key players and stakeholders in the autonomy discourse can finally grasp the “unfamiliar from the familiar” and so “we can move outwards,” she says.

Elections as clan reunions

Elections as clan reunions

Philippine Daily Inquirer

Posted date: May 19, 2010

AS IN PAST POLLS, LOINA CAYAD-AN-PANTALEON HAD TO cook extra food for lunch for an expected reason during the May 10 political exercise.

Just a stone’s throw away from the two polling precincts in Barangay Poblacion in Kibungan, Benguet, her house has become the convenient second home and venue for instant reunions for family members and relatives, who have preferred to vote in their hometown than in their places of work, such as Baguio City and Metro Manila.

“We have something special for you,” Cayad-an-Pantaleon, the Sangguniang Bayan (municipal council) secretary, said as she welcomed guests. She was referring to the kini-ing (smoked meat) and other recipes that her family prepared.

The kini-ing was processed by her 89-year-old father, Celino Cayad-an, who was again excited to welcome his grandchildren, nephews and nieces.

Exhausted and hungry clan members appreciated the sumptuous lunch plus overflowing Arabica brew, which, they said, were enough to compensate for the three-to-four-hour queue they had to bear under the heat before they cast their votes on May 10.

The smoked meat was the elder Cayad-an’s endearing way of welcoming clan members, some of whom have made him proud.

One of the prominent members is Jurgenson Lagdao, a provincial prosecutor, whom the old man would always like to meet and welcome every election.

Although he and his family built their home in Baguio, Lagdao had never transferred his place of voter’s registration. Every vote he casts is his way of helping bring change in his own hometown, he says.

Political caucus

As Cayad-an reiterated the schedule of a bigger clan reunion in 2013, discussions over coffee would unavoidably shift to politics.

The instant get-together at Cayad-an-Pantaleon’s house had thus become an informal political caucus. The discussion became political also after Lagdao and Octavio Cuanso, an environment official in Benguet, took turns in suggesting ways for the country to return to a two-party system.

Other clan members agreed that a two-party system could help simplify the country’s electoral process.

“Through a strict screening process, each party can finally push for highly competent people, who can really run the country,” Lagdao said. “Maybe we can learn from other more mature democracies, including the United States.”

Cuanso also suggested mobilizing nongovernment and people’s organizations in helping facilitate discussions and forums to tackle the country’s return to a two-party system.

“If we have an efficient two-party system through which chosen leaders could really serve the country, maybe we can even do away with these party-list groups,” he said. Maurice Malanes

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Benguet town holds feast to purge election evil

Benguet town holds feast to purge election evil

Philippine Daily Inquirer

Posted date: May 15, 2010

KIBUNGAN, BENGUET—AFter enduring the hot, dry season sun during the long queue for the country’s first automated elections on May 10, upland folk here were treated on Tuesday to a community meal, consisting of carabeef and pork broth.

The treat came from the winners of the local election led by reelected Mayor Benito Siadto (Lakas-Kampi-CMD), Vice Mayor-elect Auriana Sacpa (Nacionalista Party) and the eight newly elected councilors of this upland town of 8,041 voters.

A carabao and two pigs were slaughtered for the feast. But the animals were brought only early in the afternoon so community folk, who had been waiting to partake of a lunch meal, had to wait until 6 p.m. for an early dinner.

After dinner, Kibungan election official Rey Oliva proclaimed the newly elected officials.

“As has been the tradition, this feast won’t just be a ‘blowout’ but a common meal to promote reconciliation and harmony again between and among the various candidates who might have verbally hurt or offended each other during the campaign,” said Fausto Songyoen, the town’s civil registrar.

A local elder, or manbunong, offered the sacrificial animals to the gods and spirits, invoking them to continue to bless the community and cleanse all the negative impact of verbal attacks and accusations candidates had exchanged during the political campaign.

Kibungan, a farming town of more than 15,000 residents, experienced almost similar glitches and discomforts, which other voters in various polling centers in the country experienced on Monday. The town is about 40 kilometers from Baguio City.

Election results could not be transmitted from the polling centers to the canvassing server at the town hall because many of the broadband-based transmission gadgets would not work and many voters had to endure heat, thirst and hunger as they waited for at least three hours for their turn to vote.

“This postelection feast would thus help us forget all our sacrifices and discomforts on Election Day so we could move on again as a community,” said Songyoen. Maurice Malanes, Inquirer Northern Luzon

Thursday, April 22, 2010

‘Fastest election’ held in 1914 in Benguet town

‘Fastest election’ held in 1914 in Benguet town

By Maurice Malanes Inquirer Northern Luzon First Posted 05:23:00 04/21/2010

KIBUNGAN, BENGUET— Almost a century before the advent of poll automation, this upland town had its “fastest election” on record, back when many of the native Kankanaey folk could not read and write.

Kibungan (pop: 16,000) had its first taste of electoral politics as introduced by American colonial officials in 1914.

This was after the Philippine Commission of the first Philippine civil government enacted Commission Act No. 48 on Nov. 22, 1900, which organized local civil governments into townships, each to be headed by a directly elected leader called presidente (the equivalent of a mayor).

During an election in 1914, the local elders were ushered into the precedencia or town hall to elect the presidente. The instructions were quite simple: Pick among the candidates—who were made to stand before the public at the town hall grounds—by forming a line behind them.

“The candidate with the longest line was immediately declared the winner,” according to a historic municipal document.

The first elected presidente was a certain Bolnotan who hailed from Palina, the community that served as the seat of the municipal government until 1920.
The presidente could then appoint an escrebiente (the equivalent of today’s secretary) to take down minutes of meetings and draft resolutions.

Voting system

The process got more sophisticated a few decades later. By the early 1950s, the voting system in Kibungan used colored strips of paper about six inches long and half an inch wide.

Again, standing before the people at the town hall grounds, each candidate was assigned a color. Voters would then select among colored strips representing their chosen candidate.

The candidate who got the most number of strips was immediately declared the winner.
The two election methods were considered not only the fastest but the cheapest at the time. (The candidates, after all, didn’t have to spend a fortune for their campaigns.)

The system was again upgraded in 1953, when secret balloting was introduced. The first mayor elected using this method was Alban Molitas, who served from 1953 to 1955.

Despite the introduction of electoral politics, the local nankakay (male elders) had adhered to one unwritten rule: No one should have a monopoly of political power.

The consensus was that, as much as possible, the mayoral position would be rotated among qualified leaders from each of the seven barrios. Hence, no mayor had held more than one term from 1914 to 1963.

The rotation, however, was discontinued in 1964. Mayor Bruno Siadto was able to govern from 1964 to 1986, the longest in the town’s history, largely due to the suspension of local elections for long periods during the Marcos dictatorship.

Changing political

But times have changed in Kibungan. Gone was the nankakay’s unwritten agreement of power-sharing.

After electoral democracy was restored under the Aquino administration, the political landscape in Kibungan has since become like those of other towns.

Any elected official could vie for reelection and serve for up to three consecutive terms. Losers can always make a comeback.

But until the 1970s, few citizens developed an appetite for politics because of the paltry per diems received by elected officials. Many considered politics sangaw or a waste of time.

In the late 1980s, when elected officials began receiving monthly salaries, many well-meaning folks who wish to have a say in municipal affairs saw a more attractive incentive to seek public office.

Although the women of Kibungan had been active as seers, healers and priestesses, they shied away from mainstream politics. This went on for decades until Corazon Aquino came to power as the country’s first female president.

Blazing the path was Rosalinda Ab-ab, who won as barangay chair of Poblacion in 1989 and served up to 1994. She was later elected town councilor, serving from 1996 to 1998.

In 1998, Susan Atayoc also aspired to become a town councilor and won, serving until 2007 after she was reelected in 2004. She won as vice mayor in 2007, the first woman in Kibungan to hold the position.

Another woman, Aureana Sacpa, won a seat in the council in 2001. She holds the position to this day.

Both Sacpa and Atayoc have joined the vice mayoral race this May, forging a three-cornered fight with Councilor Bobby Wayan.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Metaphors in Baguio’s Market Encounter

Metaphors in Baguio’s Market Encounter
By Maurice Malanes
Inquirer Northern Luzon
First Posted 17:32:00 02/20/2010

Filed Under: Economy and Business and Finance, Entrepreneurship, Health and Beauty Products, Consumer Issues

BAGUIO CITY – A talented child’s search for healthier body care products for her allergy-sensitive skin eventually created a home-based industry, unexpectedly transforming her and her pastor-parents into accidental entrepreneurs.

One can discover this story among the more than 200 tent-covered business stalls at Burnham Park in what has been packaged as “Market Encounter,” a highlight of the yearly Panagbenga, a February 1 to March 7 festival celebrating the blooming season of flowers in Baguio and Benguet.

During her teens, Melody Ayupan found that her body was extra-sensitive to certain foods and to chemically-laden and scented soaps. To deal with her food allergies, she simply shifted to organic diet.

But for her skin allergies to scented soaps, Ayupan embarked on a scientific research on how to make alternative soaps and other body care products for her personal use.

She searched the Internet and books and consulted a chemist friend about how to make skin-friendly organic soaps. Her effort paid off.

She first made her own bath soap using strawberry and vegetable oil in 2000. She was then barely 14.

“She understands chemicals, enzymes and other substances very well like a pro,” says Lorna Jane Ayupan, a pastor and mother of Melody. Melody being a science buff (she was a science high school scholar) definitely helped her, says her mother.

Since then, Melody, aided by her parents, has been making her own bath soap, which proved excellent for her sensitive skin.

Consumer demand

During Christmas and other special occasions like weddings and birthday celebrations, Melody and her parents would offer their products as gifts to friends, relatives and church mates.

What proved helpful to Melody and her parents turned out to be effective for those who received the soaps as gifts. In no time, the gifts’ recipients began making orders.

Melody and her parents had no choice but to produce and deliver the goods. But this time, the goods were no longer free gifts, but for sale. The Ayupans have been thrust into business.

“We never intended to go into business,” says the elder Ayupan. “But we had to respond to the orders. The interesting thing about this venture is that it has become a business only after consumers created the demand. We see this as God working in strange, miraculous ways.”

Natural metaphors

There was no turning back for the Ayupans, who in late 2003 finally registered their products with a brand name Melody coined -- Natural Metaphors.

“I just love the word,” says Melody, referring to metaphor. “It is interesting that we can understand many things through metaphors. The blind, for example, can understand the color white through the metaphor of the soft cotton.”

She says her brand is also a metaphor for many consumers’ desire for natural alternative products, which are friendly not only to people’s bodies but to the environment as well.

With a business to establish first, Melody, now 24, has to temporarily quit her political science course as her planned stepping stone to a law degree.

“Every thing has its time,” she says. “I can always continue my pre-law course and law degree once my baby [referring to the family’s new business] can take off on its own.”

From the few bars of soap, which she used to make for her own use, Melody, aided by her parents and a chemist consultant, now makes an average of 2,000 pieces of 150-gram bath soaps each month at their home in La Trinidad, Benguet.

Retailed at P100 each, the soaps alone can gross P200,000 monthly. This income is shared by some 100 retailers, who buy the products at wholesale prices and retail them at the suggested consumer price.

“We are happy that this home-based industry is helping ordinary housewives, office workers and students who can earn extra pesos during these hard times,” says Melody’s mother.

Besides their now popular strawberry soap, the Ayupans make other soaps using rice bran and various fruits (like papaya, banana, pineapple and avocado) and vegetables (like carrots) in season.

They are also gradually diversifying their products, which now include feminine wash and facial creams and toners. “Also watch out for our shampoo bar,” Melody announces, referring to a solid, instead of liquid, shampoo product, which will be out soon.

The story of winners like Melody and her parents with their pioneering products is what helps give soul to Panagbenga’s Market Encounter. Otherwise, the business stalls in tents would just be another tiangge or flea market.

Sights and scents of flowers

Also adding life to the Market Encounter is its accompanying landscaping competition. This year’s competition involves two categories – the open and carpet categories.

Under the open category, participants integrate flowing water, old driftwoods, rocks, Igorot hut replicas, and other items with an array of plants and flowers. The carpet category involves only short plants, but the joyful mix of their flowers with all their rainbow colors prove to be this year’s new attraction.

“Our landscaping competition is now slowly becoming international,” says Market Encounter coordinator Damaso Bangaoet Jr., the acknowledged father of Panagbenga.

He cites Usanee Pascual Fungladda, a Filipino-Thai lady, whose landscaping entry reflects scenes and contexts from the Philippines and Thailand. Her father, who maintains orchid farms in Thailand, exports orchids to various countries while she and her mother have an orchid farm in San Jose, Nueva Ecija, which supplies orchids in the country.

The 21 landscaping entries under the open category and the 19 under the carpet category promise to make the Market Encounter not only a business experience. They can also help both visitors and residents to take time to relish the sights and scents of flowers as the bees and butterflies do.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

In this Ibaloi cultural capital, coffee is elixir of youth

Inquirer Northern Luzon
In this Ibaloi cultural capital, coffee is elixir of youth
By Maurice Malanes
Inquirer Northern Luzon
First Posted 21:35:00 02/02/2010

Filed Under: Culture (general), Consumer Goods, Travel & Commuting, Tourism
BENGUET, Philippines--DRIVING THROUGH THE newly built Baguio-Nueva Vizcaya road is a breeze. But detouring along the way toward the upland town of Kabayan in Benguet is another experience.

From the village of Bangao in neighboring Bokod town, the road becomes rough and bumpy, a situation which the hardy Ibaloi folk have long lived with since 1960, when the road to the Ibaloi cultural capital was first opened.

But if the road to Kabayan in eastern Benguet is rough and rude, the people are gentle, friendly and hospitable. And they are great storytellers.

In a visit to Kabayan recently, reporters heard stories about a Spanish trail, Arabica coffee, centuries-old mummies, descendants of the insurrectos (rebel soldiers) of Emilio Aguinaldo and the secrets to the vitality of Ibaloi elders.
The Coopbank of Benguet and the homegrown corporation, Benguet Organic Coffee Enterprises Ltd. Inc. (Bocael), organized the trip for important reasons.

Coopbank manager Gerry Lab-oyan and Bocael operations manager Rudy Guisdan said visitors and tourists must appreciate that Kabayan offers more than just the experience of climbing Mt. Pulag, the Ibaloi’s “hallowed ground in the clouds.”

Spanish trail

An interesting story was the Spanish trail that began in Aritao in Nueva Vizcaya and traversed the Benguet towns of Itogon, Bokod, Kabayan, Buguias, Mankayan and Bakun before exiting towards Cervantes and Tagudin towns in Ilocos Sur.

The elders said the Spanish trail was built through forced labor in the 1800s. When the Spaniards ordered Filipinos to pay tributes to the Spanish crown, they imposed tres dias (three days) of forced labor.

For the people of Kabayan and nearby communities, the forced labor meant working to help build the trail, says former Kabayan mayor and local historian, Florentino Merino.

The Spaniards distributed Arabica coffee seeds for local folk to plant along the trail. “It was just logical for the Spaniards to impose that the coffee seeds be planted along the trail so they could easily monitor the crops,” says Merino.

Arabica coffee, he says, must have been among the prized products for the Spanish galleon trade.

Locals eventually came to appreciate how to brew coffee, which became a prized beverage especially offered to welcome visitors and to keep guests and community folk awake during traditional sacred feasts called the caƱao or peshit.


As early as then, Arabica coffee had become a vital barter item.

Kabayan Ibaloi folk would go down to what is now Pangasinan and barter their coffee with textiles and blankets, sugar, salt and dogs.

Why dogs? “Our ancestors needed dogs, which they could train to help hunt wild game,” says Merino.

The 80-year-old Merino, however, says Arabica coffee was just a secondary barter item. Even before the Spaniards came, the Ibaloi people’s primary barter item was gold, which they panned from the Agno River and its tributaries.

Historians, including Merino, say the Spaniards forced locals to build for them a trail after they learned about the Igorot people’s gold.

It was thus not surprising that the Spanish trail also led to gold-rich Lepanto in what is now Mankayan.

Interestingly, many of the towns along the Spanish trail, such as Itogon and Mankayan, had also become mining boom towns when American colonial soldiers turned to gold prospecting.

Coffee trees

With tidbits of history, the media people drove along a dirt road toward Barangay Pacso.

The place is considered one of the town’s historic sites because a big battle against Japanese soldiers during World War II was fought and won there. And there’s more.

Among the areas traversed by the Spanish trail, Pacso is one of the communities with centuries-old Arabica coffee trees, which continue to yield aromatic coffee beans.
Among the living stewards of these coffee trees is Tosie Maranes, who at 91 still gathers coffee beans and sips cups of brew each day.

Asked about secrets of his long life and good health, Maranes says: “I always pray to and thank God for my life and, of course, I drink brewed coffee.”

In this upland town of about 12,000 people, many, in fact, believe that brewed Arabica coffee is both an elixir of youth and an energy drink.

“I know of many farmers who claim that if they take coffee, they can work all day long without getting tired,” says Merino.

Maranes estimates that the Arabica coffee plants still growing in his backyard are 200 years old.

That the centuries-old coffee trees are still thriving and bearing fruits must be good reasons to protect them, says Guisdan of Bocael.

Taking on its role as “guardian” of Benguet’s centuries-old Arabica trees, Bocael has helped teach local folk to rejuvenate these trees through proper pruning.