“Vehicle one shall be occupied by the employees from the Office of the Treasury, the Office of the Mayor….”. Dawn has yet to break at Vira, Alaoa, Tineg, Abra but you can already hear the heavy footsteps and marches of people scurrying their way to the vehicles bound for a trip in one of the more difficult terrains of the province. Mayor Corinthia Dannang Crisologo took it upon herself to arrange the passengers of the two vehicles for the annual Serbisyo Caravan, which will cater to her constituents in the interior barangays of Tineg. Due to the difficulty in transportation and the distance from and to the municipality center, LGU-Tineg can only conduct such Serbisyo Caravan once a year.
The annual Serbisyo Caravan is an opportunity for us at the Department of Trade and Industry - Abra to tap more stakeholders from the farthest and remotest areas of the province.
For the information of everyone, we at the DTI are armed with a wide array of interventions and promotions for entrepreneurship catered to different sectors and ages. We have the ONG, SSF, KMME, YEP, ICE, NSB, PPG, DTI-CARP, and a lot more. These clustered letters of the alphabet represent one program. In a meeting with the good mayor, I asked what might be the programs that the DTI can implement in Tineg, she smiled and after that, she said “come and see”.
Those words made me think of what we can offer to our kakailyans from Tineg. So, we timed our NSB and PPG advocacy with this Serbisyo Caravan in order to see and feel the literal and the proverbial terrain. This activity was scheduled for April 5-8, 2022 but we had to go to Vira in the afternoon of April 4 in order to be ready for this 3:00 AM start.
FIRST LAP: PAVED ROADS AND BUMPY ROADS.
Mayor Crisologo rode the first vehicle while I rode shotgun in the second one. With seatbelts buckled and tightly gripped passenger’s safety handle, sirens are pressed “Peep, peep” and off we started at exactly 03:12 AM.
Darkness still hovered Tineg as we made our way to the first barangay. Tail lights and brake lights served as our guide on a dark yet well-paved road, which allowed us to speed up and down the mountainous areas of Abra. At some point, I was lulled by the steady hum as we whined up, around, and down the dusty but pine-scented highway. The cemented highway gave way to a weather-beaten earthen road that explained why we had to use these kinds of trucks as our ride.
Being up so early, I was sleepy. My eyelids wanted to meet so badly and simply doze off. But my sleepiness was defeated by the need to tightly and steadily grip the car’s safety handle because the road was really bumpy. Bump. Bump, and another bump. Then we stopped. I thought it was just a gall bladder break for the travelers but out came some big and soiled chains. I watched with curiosity as the men wrapped the chains around the wheels of our vehicles. What are the chains for, you might be wondering…“For better traction”, explained the driver.
WE SKID AND SWAY, BUT RAIN, PLEASE GO AWAY.
After chaining up the truck tires, we set forth yet again. The mushy and slippery roads explained the need for an extra ounce of traction. Apparently, it rained the day before our trip, and not chaining the wheels can make it more difficult for us to move.
I looked at my watch, it was 05:06 in the morning. Out of the blue, I saw tiny drops fall from the sky…it was a morning shower. Looking back at the truck, I can only sympathize with the others who had to bear the rain shower so early in the morning. Included are some members of the DTI team. I felt guilty being at the front, with a cover on my head as they get showered while sitting in the open end of the truck.
Day slowly broke on the horizon. The light bared the deep ravines that seem to beckon our party down in the saddles and arroyos. “Ay! Ay!” exclaimed the other passengers as we watched the first vehicle skid and dance on the slippery road. This cheer covered that little tiny voice inside of me. “Be calm, and don’t worry” said the tiny voice, but deep inside I prayed “Lord, please bless our way.” The worry defeated the majestic view that the Tineg mountains have to offer. I cannot even relax to marvel and breathe in the wonderful scenery as I was transfixed by the pathetic state of the highway. Skid and sway, skid and sway, we chugged-chugged away. It was a test of endurance for the truck, a test of nerves and guts for the driver, and a test of stomach and how-strong-can-you-grip-the-handle for the passengers. I am sure that all the passengers have held their breaths, at one time or another, as if to help make the vehicles steady.
After a few hours, which felt like days, finally and thankfully the trucks came to a halt. “End of the highway” shouted the driver. This marks the end of the first lap. As we disembarked at exactly 07:05 AM, my mind chanted: Agsimao here we come!
SECOND LAP: UP AND UP WE HIKE
“Let’s take advantage of the cool morning, the caravan shall proceed to Belaat”, the energetic mayor directed the group. For a wider reach, we divided the DTI-Abra team. One group was assigned to go with the caravan up to the farther barangays of Belaat, Naglibacan, and Anayan while another group covered the other four nearby barangays
My mind was very willing to go for the further barangays. But these weary bones of mine might give in so I led the two-man team that was left in Agsimao. I was joined by one of our Business Counselors, Gayleen as my companion. The other team was led by Tasha, a Business Counselor, and our two OJTs, Nino and Jameel. They were to stay with the main caravan group. Off they went to Belaat, a 1.5-hour hike away while we conducted DTI advocacy in Barangay Agsimao. The Serbisyo Caravan was also conducted in barangay Belaat that day.
TEAM 2 GOES THUD AND BLAGG…
“Wake up Ma’am Tash, wake up Jameel, it’s already past midnight.” Nino woke his two companions up. They hastily put on their trekking attires as they had to leave the place at 01:00 AM. Upon arriving at the jump-off point, it was the deafening silence that greeted the DTI team. A resident informed that team that a few members for the group have already left. Worried about the team, the resident offered them food. “I will heat food for you so that you will eat before you go” volunteered the resident. Althoug shy, the team grabbed the opportunity to have a warm meal before the long walk that awaits them. “Just bring us rice, I have a canned good for our viand,” said Nino. And the three munched together.
After eating, they decided to push through with the trek and try to catch up with the earlier team. They agreed to return if they shall have no contact after an hour.
In the dark hours of midnight, the DTI team followed the barely visible trail, illuminated only by a flashlight which has limited reach. After a few hours of walking, a group of military personnel caught up with them. A little bit more walking and they were able to catch up with the first group who had earlier left them from the starting point.
Thud… blag… followed by ooops or ay!!! Sometimes with nervous laughter. The rain has loosened the ground, increasing the danger in their travel. Every now and then somebody slipped and fell butt-down in the mud. Even the Army escorts were not spared. On the dark and slippery trail, slippers gave way and rubber boots were stuck in the mud. For precaution and safety, there were times when walking on fours was the best way.
“Ma’am Tash, okay ka lang?” (Ma’am Tash, are you oaky?) asked Nino. “For public service, no retreat, no surrender”, answered Tasha as she continued with the trek despite the difficult and dangerous terrain. “Here, drink some water” offered Jameel.
Resources were scarce during the travel as they can only bring a few items with them to make their travel lighter. In preparation for the long hours of walking and climbing, the DTI Team decided to share one towel, one tumbler for water, and two bags for all their clothes and NSB/PPG paraphernalia. “We even contemplated on using just one toothbrush,” laughed Tasha when she told their story.
After six hours and hundreds, if not thousands, of sighs from the tired members of the team, they reached Naglibacan at last.
WE REST THEN WE CONTINUE FOR OUR PURPOSE:
The next three days after arriving at their destination were a test of endurance, perseverance, and dedication for the DTI Team. Long hours of hiking followed by NSB and PPG advocacies for our kakailyans was no easy task.
Friday was supposed to be “home sweet home” for the team. But due to the bad weather, the Caravan had to make some adjustments to their scheduled activities. At 11:00 AM, they started from Naglibacan to Agsimao, where the trucks were waiting to take them home. One foot up, the other foot down, the group trudged up and down. Rain and drizzle were their companions’ bringing chills that seeped to the bones. The goal was just to keep on moving. At past 07:00 PM, Team 2 found us in our lodging in Agsimao. They arrived dripping wet, tired, and haggard… But in their eyes, I gleaned some spark, “we have done it and we survived.”
With some cups of coffee in hand made by our generous host, we swapped our experiences, realizations, and stories. These stories echoed in the mountains of Tineg.
Overwhelmed, I brushed a tear of joy away, then I smiled at them and said, “I am proud of you guys. This is a start and you are a part. Any way you see it, you have earned your bragging rights” Due to the incessant rains and the exhausted condition of the caravan team, the good mayor decided that travel home shall be on the next morning.
WHOLE OF NATION APPROACH FOR TEAM 1
“Gayleen, how is our profiling?” I asked. “It’s already complete sir, I even concluded my coordination with the barangay captain.” As the other team went up farther north, my team conducted an advocacy campaign to the 4 other barangays of Upper Tineg. These barangays are Agsimao, Cogon, Lanec and Lapat-Balantay.
On the average, these barangays are a 1.5-hour hike away from our base in Agsimao. Since the hikes were shorter, we took advantage of the time to conduct longer consultations with the residents. Some residents visited us in our lodging house for more interactions, even if it was already dark outside.
During our consultations, the people saw us as “all-knowing”. Their queries and issues included health, environment, peace and order, senior citizens’ welfare, and even legal matters. Truly, the government’s presence is in itself an issue. Since we are of no wrong door policy, we tried to shed light on some of their queries. Some we answered some we deferred to the proper agency with jurisdiction. This is the advantage of the active ELCAC or Whole of Nation Approach here in Abra because, at one time or another, we have heard about the current programs of the other agencies, thus we were able to impart some useful information to the residents.
Reaching these places might be an ordeal, especially for the unseasoned traveler. But once here, a nature lover can just give a contented sigh. The green scenery, the cool breeze, the soft murmur of the river, and the semi-unhurried way of life bring a peaceful, easy feeling that can drive the worries all behind. The people belong to the Adasan Tribe, whose dialect is very close to that of the Isnags in the Province of Apayao. And like all Cordilleran tribes, they are very hospitable, industrious, and peace-loving. They have met the caravan team with cultural presentations. Most thrive in farming and fishing while some venture into trading. It was very evident though that the place is wanting in other government services.
The rest of the world is talking about bullet trains, aero-buses, and skyways but in Tineg, we stick with the basics of about hiking and river-crossing. When the trend is Google, Facebook, e-mails, and even digitization and innovation, here, we hear “Break! Break! Bela-at, Bela-at, this is Agsimao, come in, over” from walkie-talkies which are rarely used in city centers. It is good that most of the people in these Geographically Isolated and Disadvantaged Areas (GIDA) have at least an 80-watt electric panel as a power source for some electronics. Transportation is through the SKW truck whose frequency depends upon the weather. There were some months when not a single trip was available because the heavy rains forbade them from leaving their towns. Merchandise for sale oftentimes doubles in price due to transportation and hauling costs. “We have a lot of fruits during peak seasons. I have abundant ginger but unfortunately, no buyer.” Lamented one senior citizen. “I make good soft brooms but the buying price in Bangued cannot even defray my transportation cost.” added another.
Their issues are legitimate, causing a lot of headaches to business counselors like us. – Shall we? Or shall we not? Shall we leave others behind?
FIRST THINGS FIRST
We agree with Mayor Crisologo when she said that development cannot be attained overnight. It has to come in stages. Thus, there is really a need for a workable framework that can produce steady results and involve all sectors. Infrastructure is the primary priority, followed by health, social work, environment, and the rest. Self-sufficiency should also be a priority. This is where agriculture, agribusiness, and entrepreneurship come into play. Problems are realities here to live by. Anybody can see that a road network is a necessity but, in the meantime, we need to advocate entrepreneurship in the context of sustainable development. And it starts with an entrepreneurial mindset.
The excess ginger, for instance: “why plant more than you need if you cannot bring them out?”. Processing can be introduced to preserve the excess fruits and vegetables, and give them a longer life. Their existing handicrafts can undergo product development in order to produce a genuinely unique output, giving them a marketing advantage. Sharing of farm produce is a virtue among the people, but try sharing with a fee so as to discourage the characteristics of dependency and indolence… But most of all, try to discern the needs of the people and find a way to satisfy them, the entrepreneurship way.
Be it as it may, we shall still award the livelihood kits of the PPG and the NSB. These shall give a boost to the economic activity in these far-away localities. These shall also strengthen their faith that the Almighty, through the government is looking at them favorably.
WAR ON POVERTY
I am glad to be a part of this trail-blazing activity to plant the seeds of entrepreneurship in all walks of life, in these parts of the country. At the end of the day, we can proudly say that we are doing our part in the whole-of-government approach in the fight against poverty. Propagating entrepreneurship in these areas is a gargantuan task but the provision of an entrepreneurial mindset is a meaningful start. The initial steps were taken, and hundreds of thousands more to go, but the gears were set into motion for others to innovate and follow.
By: Francis D. Pacio, OIC Provincial Director DTI- Abra