61st Courier Anniversary Issue
Beautiful Baguio: Relax, enjoy, and have fun
Being a minority across time
Exotic and mystical Abra
Home of the Isnag Tribe
Benguet has it all
Ifugao, home to bountiful heritage
The Pride of Kalinga
The land called Mountain Province
Benguet farmers'
woes over vegetable prices
Festivals for peace and progress
in Mountain Province
Kalinga: A roadmap to progress
A Napulawan experience
Displaced binga folks:
Pesky footnote in Napoco's legacy?
A peek into Cordillera’s last nature frontier
A taste of Abra
Atty. Federico Muñoz Mandapat Sr.:
A story of a war and sports hero
61st Anniversary Cartoon
A peek into Cordillera’s
last nature frontier
by: Kat Acupanda

The grueling journey from Baguio belied what is in Kabugao — Apayao’s capital town.

At first, pushing through with the Apayao trip was a big question, as details about how to go there were hazy. Looking at the Northern Philippines map, one would surmise that it would be a short trip from Baguio, it turned out we need to pass through La Union, Pangasinan, Nueva Ecija, Nueva Vizcaya, and Isabela, taking 10 hours to reach Tuguegarao City in Cagayan. From there, it was a four-hour drive to Poblacion in Kabugao. In Tuao, Cagayan, long dirt roads welcomed us all the way to Kabugao.

In a stop in the municipality of Conner, Apayao, I asked one of our companions about the mode of transportation in Poblacion. He said there is none. I was told that people walk within the town, and for a few seconds I panicked, how would we go around? Then he assured me that it is a very small place and that we could go around just by walking.

An hour later we were in Poblacion. The first impression would be that it really is a small place.

And it was astounding in its simplicity.

‘Unspoiled natural attractions’
The Apayao River meanders beside town, and misty mountain tops peer all around. Our host’s warm welcome was the first of an onslaught of remarkable experiences we had there. Our cell phone signals were dead, as if cooperating with the quaint life that we were about to have for three days. Residents have a rudimentary way of life, most apparent of which is how they still depend on the river for a lot of their needs. We saw a boat ferrying locals, who were carrying baskets of merchandise on their heads, from the other bank (the river was about 50 meters wide). The river also serves as the easiest and fastest way to travel to nearby municipalities.

Apayao is abundant with natural attractions: waterfalls, lakes, underground rivers, and caves, which would be great sites for ‘adventure tourism’ if properly promoted and developed.

We had plans of going to the Anag-Sicapo Wildlife Sanctuary but we were told that it would take a ten-hour hike to reach the site. Add to this the about four-hour trip from Poblacion to the town below Mt. Sicapo. We didn’t have that much time so we scrapped it off our list of must-sees. In fact, we had to scrap a lot of sites from our list because of transportation quandaries.

But Poblacion didn’t completely disappoint, there is the Apayao River, which is a magnificent sight on its own. It is a 15-minute walk from the town proper and we had two paths to choose from — cemented and pebbly — so it gave us some of the adventure we were looking for. We chose the pebbly path, of course. We decided that even if we couldn’t go around the municipality that much, the river will suffice.

But then two very helpful locals, Macoling Agunos and a friend, brought
us to Balasig Falls Resort in Badduat. It was a 20-minute drive from Poblacion to the roadside/bridge where we began a ten-minute hike to the falls. It was not splendid, but it had character — an imperviousness that seemed to convey that it was contented with what it was; that no amount of development can make it any prettier in that it is already beautiful on its own.

Cement pathways, a cottage, and a platform are by the stream, these are for families and groups who would like to hold a picnic in the area.
The site is free for everyone.

We surmised, hoped actually, that the other natural attractions of Apayao looked like Balasig Falls. If so, then these other natural bounties will be sure hits to those seeking wild sites, then Apayao’s tourism industry will benefit.

The cloud-kissed peak of Mt. Solo, Apayao’s highest mountain which is located in Pudtol, is visible from the Provincial Capitol.

Other sites worth checking out in Kabugao are: Awihan Falls in Bulu; Aguibay Cave, where there is an underground river and hot springs; Gololan Falls, Malabisin Lake and underground river, Malabanag hot springs, Anganupang Cave, all in Paco Valley; Bayugao Lake in Dibagat; and Ladda Pond in Musimut.

The Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) stated that “Our young province is one of the most richly endowed areas in terms of natural resources ranging from forest, water, land, and mineral resources which are characteristically scenic, fresh, and abundant, providing a distinct and unique picturesque [backdrop], inherent among Cordilleran topography.”

A young province
Apayao is surrounded by Abra and Ilocos Norte in the west, Cagayan Valley in the east, and Kalinga in the south.

It became a province in 1995 by virtue of Republic Act 7878 authored by then Kalinga-Apayao congressman and present Apayao governor Elias Bulut Sr. Thirteen years after it became independent, it is evident that it is still an evolving province.

Tourism officer Fe Piluden admitted that they are not yet ready to handle many tourists, as they are still “looking around” and they don’t have accredited tourist guides yet. Asked if they have a tourism brochure, she said they don’t but that they will try to produce one this year. She assured, though, that they will assist tourists to the best of their ability.

It would have been fun to explore the other towns if not for the arduous travel it entails. For instance, to go to Calanasan by land, one would have to go out of Apayao and travel to Claveria in Cagayan where a 55-kilometer road reaches Barangay Tanglagan and from there, Calanasan may be reached on foot. It would be easier by water, but there was no available motor boat at the time, pity, as Calanasan has several potential tourist spots: Eva Garden, a marble mountain, Crystal Cave, Allabang Cave, Carmel Falls, Blue Haven, Agamata Park and Wildlife, Purit Cave, and Danao Lake.

Other must-sees located in the other municipalities of Apayao are: (Pudtol) Spanish church ruins (over 400 years old) in Mataguisi and Emilia; NPC hydroelectric dam at Guinned; Lizardo Brook; Swan hilltop view, overlooking Apayao River and four municipalities; Waton Subtarranean River; Agora Wildlife Sanctuary; and Swan Ogee Dam; (Luna) Calabigan Falls, Nalvo Lake, Carunuan Cave, Abbot Cave and Lover’s Lane, and Turod View Deck; (Conner) Purag Cave and Falls; (Flora) Dacao Irrigation Intake; a Jamboree Site; and Negritos Village; and (Sta. Marcela) Bacut impounding dam and the proposed Panay airport site.

Steps toward development
Bulut said that “Apayao is the freshest frontier for business in the Philippines. Investors will find many areas in which they can participate and become partners in our march towards progress and development.”

In the late ’80s, electricity in Poblacion, Kabugao ran only from 6 to 9 p.m. As of 2003, only five barangays were energized in Calanasan.
Also, transportation entailed one to ride on top of a rickety jeepney as bags and merchandise were the ones put inside the vehicle.

Now Poblacion is electrified 24/7 and there are vans going to nearby Conner and Tuguegarao City, where residents get most of their supplies. The road is still dusty and a bit bumpy but surely there has been progress.

Apayao has an abundant water supply which can be a source of irrigation and a potential source for power generation. It is rich in timber and forest resources, hard and soft woods such as almaciga, narra, lauan, ipil, tanguile, rattan, and bamboo. This makes the province a potential source of raw materials for handicrafts and furniture. There are also reserves of metal such as copper, manganese, and gold as well as non-metallic mineral such as limestone, sandstone, shale gravel, siliceous sands, and guano.

The province’s major food crops are rice, corn, vegetables, and root crops; commercial crops are banana, coffee, legumes, citrus, lanzones, coconut, rambutan, pineapple, and santol.

The provincial and community ENROs have been active in apprehending illegal loggers and in assessment of wetland areas critical to biodiversity and wildlife resources conservation.

One of Apayao’s remaining development constraints is its limited electric power coverage. Only barangays along major roads are serviced by electric cooperatives, however, some remote barangays use solar and hydroelectric power. Also there is an inadequate and inefficient communication system, which hampers coordination among different offices of the LGU and national line agencies. Luna, where there is a sub-capitol, is the center of communications and governmental activities in the area for it is where almost all the government branch offices are.

Flooding, uneven distribution of population, high poverty incidence, unemployment, inadequate institutional linkages, and limited funding resources are the other constraints.

Apayao is one of the country’s top 20 poorest provinces, along with neighboring Abra, Mountain Province, Benguet, and Kalinga.

Road improvements first
Indeed Apayao can use some income from tourism. And it sure has a lot to offer. But authorities are one in saying that roads going to the province have to be paved first before they can look at promoting tourism in the place. Also, development within is a foremost priority.

“We want to uplift the life status of our people,” board member Erick Amid said. Health care, education, peace and order, and basic necessities are given ample attention and if one looks closely, these are going to be enough for a people who is used to hardships. Amid said, however, that an “immediate response to [their] requests” by the national government would greatly help the province.

Kabugao mayor Reynald Talimbatog agrees that Apayao’s tourism potential is huge, but he said that development within cannot be focused on simultaneously with attracting tourists, “Kailangan maayos muna ang daan papunta dito,” he said, referring to the Tuguegarao-Kabugao Road.

As of now there are proposed major transport projects linking the different municipalities, farm-to-market roads, as well as linkages with Ilocos Norte.

Talimbatog cited his constituents’ role in Kabugao’s steady subsistence in spite of delayed, and most times non-existent, support from the national government. Kabugao is the oldest of the Apayao municipalities, having been organized in 1913. The Provincial Capitol is in its Poblacion.

Board member Sedolito Agunos said that poverty alleviation projects are one of their top priorities, adding that the province is 80 percent dependent on its Internal Revenue Allotment. They are also helping farmers by assisting in the building of rice granaries; students by constructing libraries and giving out scholarships; and residents through livelihood projects.

“The construction and completion of the major transport and infrastructure projects is expected to trigger further development on the province. When complete, the project shall increase flow of people, goods, and services and there shall be a multiplier-effect in the economy,” reads Apayao province’s primer.

Our most vivid memories of Apayao would be of its rolling green mountains, the mighty Apayao River, and the gracious locals. It would then be our wish that the province stays positively impervious even if the advent of further development is upon it.

The grueling journey to Apayao was all worth it and now, going back there is not a question anymore, it is a statement.


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