Monday, October 2, 2017

Valle de Benguet

“I have heard some Igorot say that beyond the great mountain called “Tonglo” which overlooks Santo Tomas and Agoo, and is one of the noteworthy mountains of Luzon, there was a very large town situated in a broad and fertile valley the inhabitants of which were very rich and brave people and made war upon the pagans of the foothills.” (Espedicion al Valle de Benguet en Enero del año de 1829)

The expedition diary of Lt. Col. Guilermo de Galvey in 1829 is a fourteen-day account of his voyage to “Valle de Benguet” (present day ‘La Trinidad Valley’). Galvey is without a doubt, “the greatest despoiler of the Igorots Spain ever sent to the Cordilleras”.

Seventy years after the punitive expedition of Tonglo by Pangasinan Governor Arza, Galvey marched to the mountains with his Igorot friend, Pingue, about a dozen officers and a troop of  fifty,  and some 200 ‘Polistas’ (Filipinos forced into labor). They crossed wild rivers and climbed steep rocks. For days they shielded themselves from the traps of ‘pagans’ and heavy rains, until the eight day where they finally ‘came upon the pine trees’.
At 4 am that day, they finally arrived at the valley where Galvey wrote: “…we discovered from the heights the beautiful valley of Benguet, the lovely sight of which surprised us all, so that even the soldiers gave vent to their admiration by joyous shouts”.

Galvey’s troops were advancing when two drunk Igorots with spears planted themselves and confronted them furiously. They were later bound after a brief scuffle and another group of Igorots were brought to Galvey for interrogation. He set them free and told them to go back and tell the headmen to see him the following day and assured them that no harm would be done to them, but that if they attacked, he would burn their village.

That afternoon he described Valle de Benguet as: “…a valley of a league and a half or more in circumference; it is surrounded with springs and forms a basin. The soil was very well cultivated, with immense fields of sweet potatoes, gabe and sugar cane, but no paddy in this tract of land. All was irrigated and fenced in by dividing lines of earth after the manner of Spain, and provided with wells. The houses which had numbered some 500, were of broad pine boards and very dirty. He finally decided that it is in the valley that he will establish the capital of the district.

At 8 pm however, their camp was attacked by Igorots, and Galvey, in response, killed a number of natives and captured twelve Igorots – all of whom were drunk and were shouting savagely.

On the next day, Galvey found himself surrounded by more natives who were angrier than the night before. It is at this tipping point that Galvey decided to “give them a lesson”. He and his troops stormed the village firing at the natives and burning down some 180 houses.

After that unforgettable violence, Galvey and his troops went southwest with twenty-eight Igorot prisoners. They continually descended towards the west for days until they arrived at Aringay in the fourteenth day.

As a final reflection, Galvey wrote: “…the expedition, though short , served well for those I made later, as the Igorot of Benguet shortly afterwards asked me for peace and have since been my friends. On different expeditions I have passed eight or ten times through their valley, and far from attacking me, they have treated me with kindness, providing me with rice, cows, and other food. Still, as a consequence of this expedition and of smallpox, this town has been reduced to about a hundred houses. I am, however, doing everything to make it flourish again, and my highroad reaches there”.

Ten years later after the expedition, Don Guillermo de Galvey died in 1839. Despite popular tradition that La Trinidad was named after his supposed wife Dona Trinidad de Galvey, his military records in Madrid revealed that he is in fact unmarried (soltero).

In 1875, one of Galvey’s successors, Commandante Manuel Scheidnagel renamed “Valle de Benguet” to La Trinidad.

In my ridiculous moments, I wonder why our Igorot ancestors had to get drunk before they took any action against the foreigners (or just about anything). Maybe it has something to do with the “shy mangu” and “agbainbain, ngem nu nabartek ket mang-ibabain” stereotype. Just maybe. But then, we have a history of even defending our “right to get drunk”, just read the case of People vs. Cayat.

Likely Unlikely

I regained my consciousness two hours before midnight and found a different crowd. Still, the spirits have swayed the attendees to imagine intimate friendships – so much for a coffee to gin decision when you haven’t been inebriated for some time. Coffee shops are now a thing in Baguio and La Trinidad, but the old bars in Assumption where we spent our college lives have not lost its charm.

“So who do we believe now?” the younger millennial (or centennial) looked at me like a sage because maybe ten years made the difference on our outlook in life. Believe me, we can sub-categorize millennials further; the ‘Xennials’, or the older millennials who must have breached 35 by now, the “90s kids” like us who had the best childhood, and the “centennials” or the post-millennial generation.

“Definitely not fake news” it hit me that I have spent the last two hours explaining how media works, and how online-trolls become weapons for propaganda – the ‘like-generating-system’ to a web-content which gives the impression that a certain post is popular and therefore publicly-accepted. The teenagers which must have been tailing us for hours, expressed their distrust to the ‘traditional media’, and felt that the alternative/new media is more organic and tells the real stories. If it wasn’t a face-to-face conversation, we would have bashed each other like cyber-trolls do – but, ‘personal dialogues’ will forever humanize us.

From our conversations, I could clearly imagine the alarming extent of social media as part of their lives. Although I do check my facebook a lot, these teenagers confessed of much worse tendencies like; deleting an uploaded photo when nobody hits a ‘like’ button in ten minutes, choosing a boyfriend who has a good camera “so he could take great FB/Instagram perfect shots”, and even joining a certain Facebook ‘FAME’ group which assures hundreds of ‘likes’ and can elevate their posts to ‘viral-status’ (because topping their bucket list is to become ‘viral’ someday). That desperate need of social media attention is definitely today’s youngsters’ tragedy.

“Not everything that is viral is true” I repeated. Having a few viral posts in the last two years, I personally knew the feeling of affirmation in having a post that was ‘liked’ by thousands of people. It will be hypocrisy to deny that fleeting euphoria that it gave. But just like most people I know who experienced brief social-media fame, disillusionment often follows. After their popularity, most of them became inactive social-media users. Perhaps just like in real life, we only strive for something that we do not have. We finally lose interest when we finally get what we wish for. Unless, it is part of our jobs. Hopefully not because we are addicted to it.

In this generation measured by buttons and where our value depends on digital thumb-ups, we have to log out more often to protect ourselves from the chaos and stress of the ‘social media’ world. It is likely unlikely that our idea of social-connectivity through social-media does not connect us at all. On the contrary it divides us to binary codes; Dutertards or Dilawan, Liberals or Republicans, Like or Exit, black or white. Stressful indeed.

What we really need now is to get out more often. Be in the moment, away from the sucking whirlpool of this modern digital tradition. Maybe get a coffee, tea, or gin with a good crowd. It is likely that this is what we need this Tuesday. After all, coffee shops are now a thing in Baguio-La Trinidad.



The name of Aang San Suu Kyi, the Nobel prize winner and politician, is reminiscent of “Angsan” – our local expression to remind us not to veer away from what is acceptable. This is closely similar to “Inayan sa” or “ululay sa” – our indigenous people’s expected wisdom to know what is right from wrong, what is morally tolerable and what is not, even without the written laws.  Aang San Suu Kyi’s silence to the atrocities against the Rohingya people, however, proves a stark contrast to our culture of ‘angsan’ which demands moral responsibility to speak out against injustice and oppression.  Lest we become like Aang San who will be judged unkindly by history, we speak.  Lest the spirit of ‘angsan’ and ‘inayan’ curse our breath and blood for not raising our voice when we were given much,  we speak.
It is a challenge to convince our friends (even our teachers) that the world does not revolve around polarizing extremes of being for the administration, or for the opposition. When we dissent and criticize, it does not mean that we are already ‘dilawans’. We only speak out because there is a need for such. And the living are the only ones who can speak for the dead. It is simple really; as citizens, we give credit to a job well done, and we react against abuses and injustices, regardless of position or politics. We speak because silence amidst cruelties is ‘Angsan’: that is not right.
People ask my opinion about tourism and violence, “How do you promote our country with all the bad news?” “Will it be morally acceptable to paint rainbows to cover terrorism and killings?” “Is your work even relevant today?” Contrary to common perception, most tourism officers are not shallow people whose only job is to promote a place. Because they travel often and interact with different people, they can form well-balanced and substantial opinion on various topics – arts, culture, economics, trade, and yes, even politics and current events.  For tourism, the negativity surrounding our country today may only be purged by simply being human. Humans with a conscience like that culture of ‘angsan’: Violence is angsan: it is not right. Abuses are angsan: they are not right. Disrespect for the rule of law and basic concepts of justice and human rights is angsan: it is not right.

Teachers and Teaching

Our country’s celebration of Teachers’ month will end this week, particularly on Oct. 5, which is also the World Teachers’ Day as declared by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1994. The celebration focuses on the nobility of the profession itself and intends to promote the international standards for the teaching profession.

I was a teacher for some time (how could I forget).  I was an eager English tutor during college at schools for Koreans in Camp. 7, served as an ESL teacher at BSU-ILC after I graduated, a College Instructor at King’s College of the Philippines for three years, and I also had a very short teaching stint at Saint Louis University . When I was in college, I dream of becoming the coolest teacher in town. I also made it my goal to teach in my own alma mater even for a short period – I just have to cross that experience in my bucket list. I was inspired by the Anime, “GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka”, which tells the story of a former gangster who became a teacher for some deviants. With his unorthodox methods in the otherwise traditional educational system, he taught life lessons beyond the routine school work. In the real world, however, the teaching profession does not approve the ‘unconventional’ or eccentric methods. That is why teachers are imposed with standardized lesson plans, uniform method of teaching, regularly scheduled grading periods etc. One cannot simply pull out a class to a smoky bar and justify their exposure to such ‘real life elements’ as part of a valued lesson or strategic teaching.

On my first day of classroom teaching, I walked straight to the front chairs and pretended that I was just another student like them. That was simply no. 77 of my bucket list that I have to cross. Since I still looked like a teenager that time, I started chatting with my seatmates/students with a grin. After some twenty minutes, the class became agitated and some even started walking out of the room. Before, they could take their complaints to the Student Affairs or to the College Dean, I announced that I was actually their teacher. “Sure you are!”, the students nevertheless laughed at my proposal.  I looked around and it hit me: nobody would believe me with my gothic wear and earrings. Eccentric is cool, but not effective. I would have a memo that day for that useless stunt. But hey, I crossed some lines in my bucket list.

The most challenging and tiring work for any teacher is ‘grading’. A teacher can stand and talk in front of the class all day with a smile, but the grading job after class hours will suck all those energy away. Add the daily lesson plans and researches, and the teacher will age considerably. Add the required graduate school, and family life, and the teacher’s brain is fried. No wonder we all look like hell sometimes.

But teaching is really a noble job; it is not an 8-5 duty but a 24-hour responsibility, not a routine, but an everyday hustle to survive before the bell, and an opportunity to change people’s lives. Despite its comedies and tragedies, a teacher finds comfort on the thought that his or her students will take over the world someday. Who knows, one of our students might even become the future President of our country. At least the teacher can boast: “Insurwak dayta nga ubing!”

The Igorot Dissent

A week ago, Igorots in social media exploded with unimaginable fury – condemning the use of the g-strings and gongs in a political protest. “They do not represent us!”, most kailyans strongly proposed. “Our traditional wears are only used in celebrations. Those are not Igorots”, our poor brothers were quickly disowned by their own Igorot kin.

For someone who once performed in Panagbenga wearing my traditional wear, it will be a double standard for people to cheer at me as a festival spectacle, but condemn me for wearing my wanes/kobal to express my political views. Our Igorot hero Macliing Dulag protested a damaging project using his ethnic garb with pride, same with those other mountain elders in the past who opposed land grabbing and environmental degradation. It only means; “I am an Igorot, and this is my political sentiment”, and not, “this is a political statement of the Igorots”. Most of us read the scene wrong.

How can we forget the Igorots’ history of dissent? From the punitive Battle of Tonglo to Galvey’s conquests? From the Spanish to Japanese Rule? How can we forget our history of opposition to oppression? From the famous case of People vs. Cayat, when an Igorot was prohibited by the government to get drunk, to the protests of Trinidad School (now BSU) students against their exploitation as cultural entertainers for the Americans, to the number of cases when our 'apapongs' were jailed for simply harvesting sayote in properties owned by the ‘crown’ (government)?

Why do we get angry when our colors are worn by our brothers and sisters to express their beliefs, but we are delighted when they are sold as a product or displayed as a fashion trend (or even used as a table topper)? In the words of someone from Besao; “You cannot glorify something as sacred, and at the same time sell them for profit.”

But I’m not a purist, my background in tourism and sociology does not allow me to. To become a purist and to be of this modern world is a paradox. The Igorots are not frozen in time – can the Ibaloi woman in her smartphone know what it is like to carry a camote-packed Kayabang and walk ten kilometers to get home? Can the young i-Bontoc guy in Assumption know what it is like to carry the head of his nameless enemy to the fires? Can the young Igorot today know what it is like to travel to the lowlands to trade meat for salt? I doubt that. They can only learn the cultural constructs, the tools; language, cultural dances, symbols. They can only wear their names and their ethnic wears. But beyond that, they have changed.The world before is different from the world today. The Ibaloi child in the past, admonished for simply beating the gong; “ngantoy, wara in-partian mo?”, is now encouraged to learn the tradition to keep it alive. “Entako men-gangsa” while infusing the western Country music line dance in the routine is now tolerated.

Our traditional wears, as part of our heritage, were originally used in every aspect of our ancestors’ lives – both in joyful celebrations and mourning, in respectful gatherings and even in passionate protests, in the fields, and even in their homes. They wore it because it is part of them. Ironically, the Igorots we condemned and judged for expressing themselves as Igorots (though I don’t share much of their political views) simply acted like the proud Igorots of the past. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

La Trinidad at a glimpse

La Trinidad at a glimpse 
(Valred Olsim Eternal Student Column for SunstarBaguio June 13, 2017)

At 4 in the afternoon, we discovered from the heights the beautiful valley of Benguet, the lovely sight of which surprised us all, so that even the soldiers gave vent to their admiration by joyous shouts – Lt.Col. Guillermo Galvey,1829

During the Spanish era, the valley of La Trinidad was originally called “Valle de Benguet” from the local term “Benget,” which means the stench emitted by the mud-covered swamp area.  Its original settlers were Ibalois, who grew rice, kamoteng kahoy, sweet potatoes, gabi, and sugar cane on hillside gardens and terraces along the mountain slopes. Power and wealth were measured by one’s ownership of land and livestock. These were shared by holding the prestigious feast called “Peshit”.

For centuries, the whole Gran Cordillera went undiscovered, not until the Spaniards heard about the gold-rich Igorots trading with the lowlanders. Earliest Spanish visits by Captain Garcia de Aldana and Don Alonso M. Quirante were recorded as early as the 1620s.

Although the District of Benguet was established in La Trinidad by 1846, it was only in April 21, 1874, under Commandant Manuel Scheidnagel, that “Valle de Benguet” was renamed “Valle de La Trinidad” (La Trinidad Valley). Despite popular acceptance that it was named as “a fitting tribute to Galvey’s wife - Doña Trinidad de Galvey” – recent research has revealed that credit should have probably gone to Scheidnagel, having been inspired by the three prominent adjacent hills (in effect, forming a Trinity: a religious icon of the Christian campaign) overlooking the Poblacion church, where the seat of government, the Cabecera, was established.

After the Revolutionary period in 1900, La Trinidad grew vegetables via the Trinidad Farm School (now Benguet State University). Along with socio-economic changes, the concepts of freedom of religion, titling of lands, formal education and the democratic election of leaders were introduced. Paid labor and money became an important feature in the economic lives of the people. Such time of plenty is fondly recalled by old folks as that “time of blissful peace.”

In contrast, the Japanese occupation and World War II were turbulent times. Residents were imprisoned without formal charges and pitilessly tortured. This prompted able-bodied men to join the guerrilla movement, while their families fled for safety to the mountains.

After liberation, on June 16, 1950, La Trinidad became a regular municipality by virtue of RA No. 531.  To get back on its feet, La Trinidad went on a massive production of vegetables. For this, the municipality soon came to be widely-known as the Salad Bowl of the Philippines. And with the establishment of the La Trinidad Vegetable Trading Post, the valley solidified its status as Benguet’s marketing hub of highland vegetables.

Owing to the need to diversify and with the introduction of new varieties, strawberries soon became the town’s main product by 1980s. Growing acclaim for these red and luscious strawberries earned La Trinidad for itself the title “Strawberry Capital of the Philippines.”
Farmers likewise ventured into cutflower production, and by the 1990s, many barangays in La Trinidad were soon growing chrysanthemums, roses and a variety of flowers. Barangay Bahong, a major flower farming community, was named “The Rose Capital of the Philippines”.

By the turn of the century, migration and urbanization paved their way in, bringing with them a colourful tapestry of peoples not only from the nearby Cordillera and Ilocandia regions, but from all islands of the archipelago.


La Trinidad will be celebrating its 67th foundation day this Friday (June 16, 2017) at the Municipal Gym. There are many things we hope and pray for La Trinidad, our home; we passionately hope and pray for the cooperation of the community in many programs of the town, as well as dedication and wisdom for our officials to work for the common good of the community. We hope that we will all love and take care of our home, La Trinidad, for the very simple reason that…it is our home.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Millenials

About nine years ago, I was a fresh college graduate eager to take on the world. With an average grade, and the absence of advantageous connections, however, I didn’t have a choice but to be confident with my creativity and communication skills.
Thankfully, in the SLU Humanities department before; most of us, while studying, worked either as part-time English Language tutors for foreign students, or call center agents for outsourcing companies at night. Aside from our distinct approach and confidence, we were admittedly party-starters hungry for new things – information, culture, gadgets, and perhaps, experiences. They call us the "Millennials."
The Millennials, or "Y" generation, those born from 1980s to year 2000, and majorly shaped by technology; from the advent of Walkman, MTV, the popularity of video games, to the rise of the new media and smart phones, is seen to have the tendency to be impatient, self-absorbed and vain. As the link to the old school and new school, they were often misunderstood.
No thanks to social media, they were exposed to a culture where self-worth is measured by the number of "likes," and information gathering is affected by the unstable environment of alternative facts and fake news. Throw in the pop culture of YOLO (You Live Only Once), and DIYs (Do It Yourself) challenged by the existing age-old traditions and systems in the government, school, and work places, and we have a bunch of confused and exhausted generation (or maybe I’m just talking about myself).
Despite this however, most from my generation are bold people; leaving sleepy towns for the hurly-burly and fast-paced energy of Metro Manila, or going abroad in search for remunerative jobs, or even bravely contending for executive, or official positions at home never mind the tradition of seniority, or politics. They have the willingness to face challenges – a quality instilled by their hardworking Generation X parents, and that brashness of trailblazers like Mark Zuckerberg, the millennial who flipped the world. As such, they believed that they can fairly call themselves the Generation next.
It is too early to tell how my generation would place in the history of the world. Nevertheless, just like the generations before ours, there are also many great challenges that we are bound to face – from the rising costs of assets, the need to conform to trends to be accepted, urban decay, environmental degradation, the judgmental social media society, up to waiting for the "One Piece" comic to end. The world today is different from the world before. But, if all generations regard themselves as the best, then perhaps we can also comfort ourselves that we can be great ourselves.