By MARY LOU O. MARIGZA
This Sunday we will travel to Lacub for Cordillera Day 2011. It is with great anticipation that I join the throng to Lacub to commemorate the struggles of the Cordillera people of the past and the present and to the promises of the future.
It was twenty-four years ago when I first stepped on Lacub soil. I was with a group of human rights and health workers who joined Atty. Benesa for a fact-finding and medical-relief mission to the town. A nun from Manila who worked with the Task Force Detainees joined our group and we teased her no end on her first experience to ride a horse in the Cordillera mountains at that. She had to deprive somebody from the town of supplies from Bangued since the horse was supposed to carry the goods purchased from the capital, and the horse had to make another trip the next day to ferry the goods left at the junction where the jeeps stopped.
This was the mode of transportation then. And the mode of delivery was via DZPA and the jeeps and the horses. The relatives in Bangued would purchase the goods, send it through the driver or a relative to be met by relatives with the horses in Lacub. How many horses to be sent ga sumabath depended on the volume of goods purchased. So if the public service at DZPA called for three horses, you can be sure the agaw-awag has a store in the barrio. Awan pay ti cellphone idi. DZPA provided a lot of these public service calls and nobody missed listening ta baka adda bilin dagiti taga-Bangued ken tagasurong. If one did not hear the public service, the neighbors are sure to tell them of the message. DZPA had proven to be the most reliable messenger in Abra.
The jeeps I remember only travelled once a week from Bangued to the town but not to the sentro itself as there were no roads reaching the sentro then. I heard jeeps now can reach the sentro during summer. The trails we trekked were cool since pine trees and the bush provided a canopy for the hikers. And we were carrying medicines and our stuff for the medical mission spearheaded by Chestcore – yes, the same Chestcore that is now being harrassed and receiving death threats!
Also with the group was a young doctor who was working for the provincial hospital whose first time it was to reach Lacub, which he described as between earth and heaven. He was invited by Atty. Benesa and Mayor Vic Barona. He had his share of load of medicines but he joined the banter with the sister who was so cool in her horse.
I also remember Cooper Resabal of Malaya was with us in this trip. Cooper gamely carried his cameras since he was afraid the horses might drop or damage them if they slipped on the road. Hindi pa DSLR noon, may film pa ang mga camera. On the jeep to Lacub, a young priest who was newly assigned to Lacub rode with us and he must have been so amused at our naivety but admired our daring. Of course, he trekked ahead since we were so slow walking. He offered the use of the clinic of the parish for the medical mission and the use of the medicines for the people. There was no government clinic in Lacub then. It was only the parish that had a clinic and that had the means to bring very sick people for treatment to Bangued. That young priest is now the president of Divine Word College in Laoag City, Fr. Boboy Jimenez. Thank you again Father for the help you extended to our group.
We slept late since we had to meet for the tasking of the group in as much as we were to be divided into medical-relief and documentation teams. Cooper was on his own for he had to interview the people for his paper. I remember Atty Benesa sleeping late because the elders wanted to talk to him about problems in the area. Some of us were already snoring but the old folks were still talking over hot cups of mountain coffee. Part of their stories were tales of their struggle against the Marcos project of logging Abra pines for Cellophil Resources Corporation.
We stayed three days only because there was an announcement on the radio the next day after we arrived that a storm was coming. They had to call again for the horses to ferry us back so we can go faster down to the junction for the jeep ride. The doctors and the nurses had to work overtime for there were a lot of people who came for treatment. Some of the documentors had to help them later since they needed help with registration and putting medicines and prescriptions so the people will not forget how many times they have to take their medicines.
I cannot now remember what was the most prevalent sickness then. What I remember vividly is one old man who was sick and had to be carried on a hammock so he can get treatment. One of the young nurses of Chestcore could not help but cry at the lack of medical care for the interior municipalities then. I also remember how our group had to move to the school since the parish clinic became too small for the people who badly needed the care of health workers. One of the nurses had to conduct a dialogue with the mothers on the proper care and nutrition for babies, a task we did not anticipate we had to do when we planned the mission. But the Chestcore nurses ably accomplished the additional work.
Now, for the trek down on horseback. I am used to horses having ridden several of the Wright park variety. But I have never ridden a horse on wet and slippery mountain slopes. Our nun companion complained that her buttocks was still sore but we could not do anything for the rain was now pouring with the entry of the storm on the Phil area of responsibility. The poor horses slipped, slid and slid and we had to hold on for dear life with rain covering our bodies and eyes, which was a blessing since we could not see the ‘rangkish on the side. All I can see are the skid marks of the horses’ hoofs. But those horses were real mountain hardy ones. Not one horse dropped. They got us all safe and sound to the jeep. The jeepney ride was also dangerous since the roads have also become slippery. There were water spouts all around. The government doctor said he will treat us all to ice-drop if we reach Bangued. He marvelled at the sister as she said this was not even a dangerous mission. She had been to more difficult ones in more difficult circumstances.
Of course, we had our ice-drop and we had more – blisters all around and pain all over the body for trying to brake with the horses. Atty Benesa and Atty Astudillo (brave human rights lawyers of Abra) and their families treated us to a sumptous dinner in Atty Benesa’s house. Nobody wanted to take a bath as soon as we reached the staff house of the Task Force Detainees in Bangued. All we wanted was to sleep the pain away and dream of the nice place in the mountain sky with sturdy, warm and loving people who welcomed us as their own.
The trip to Lacub this year would make this Cordillera Day for me more memorable. Would I still see the plentiful and sweet-smelling pine trees? Is the road now more friendly to travellers? Do they now have a health center and a full-time nurse if not a doctor? Is the school where we held the medical mission now bigger? What would happen if the foreign capitalist mining companies would exploit the area? Will the people again fight like they struggled against the logging of Cellophil? Will it happen again? # nordis.net