November 29, 2022

This is a father story in a Mothers’ Month, another off-key celebration for stories in this section of the Baguio Midland Courier. But this must be written for all rhymes and reasons because this great man, Geoffrey Carantes, has fathered history in many ways, hereabouts.

My first taste of singed chicken in pinikpikan begins this love story with Rizal and Sun Yat-Sen in the late 80s when I returned to the university. I forget the members of our history team that prepared for the inter-school competition in celebration of Rizal Day.

We bought the chicken and were going to review for the contest at the Carantes home in Bayabas, La Trinidad, Benguet. A professor of history and humanities at the University of Baguio, Sir Jeff, was coach to the group from the College of Education that won the inter-college contest. There were more stories about everything else except the review of the facts but we won the contest against rival University of the Cordilleras. He gave us bits and pieces of the parallels in the lives of the two heroes and the monuments that revered them across the China Sea, Rizal in Taiwan and Sun Yat-Sen in the Philippines. That meal fed our soul with nationalism that Sir Jeff gave us.

This bond continued as the history of the Cordillera was unfolding at the Cordillera Executive Board (CEB) and the campaign for autonomy echoed through the valleys and hills. Through art, he contributed some of the symbols that were unique to the ethno-linguistic groups in the highlands. He would show some of his sketches over cups of coffee or snacks with his wife, Rose. Until I shared my version of Baguio’s sketch in my romance novella published in 1992.

He encouraged my writing and I admired his art that fueled his political ambitions to serve the Ibaloys. By then, I started a career in journalism and we worked in tandem, particularly with the “Panaspulan” (a cultural gathering) in 1994 that was later renamed as the Strawberry Festival. This was the predecessor of Panagbenga that started in 1995.That festival must have won him his seat as councilor of La Trinidad.

He converted the images in his drawings into a reproduction of the best practices of the culture. If memory serves me right, the catching of the pig, the process of cooking the meat in vats, the blood sausage, the pisingor boiled taro, boiled sweet potatoes, the dancing, the rice wine or tapuey became part of the festival. I seem to remember enjoying the binubudan or boiled cassava sprinkled with yeast for a day or more in one of these agro-tourism festivals.

La Trinidad awarded him for this seven years after his demise when former mayor Edna Tabanda was at the helm. It would be a treat for visitors to enjoy similar images and food fare.

Fired up, with the failure of the implementation of Executive Order 220 in 1987, which was signed by then President Corazon Aquino as a provision in the creation of the autonomous region for the north and the three failed plebiscites until 1998, the art preserving the Ibaloy images continued.

His sketching continued after the publicationin 1985 of “A People’s History of Benguet” with Anavic Bagamaspad and Bridgitte Pawid. The centerfold sketch depicted the traditional lifeways of the Ibaloys. After that, he completed a 1987 pen and ink mural that was showcased at the Benguet Capitol and later converted and enlarged into a relief by his cousin Dominador Carantes which was dedicated in December 2018. 

The first Ibaloy University of the Philippines Fine Arts graduate has purposed his life and will forever remain in history books and articles some 17 years after his passing.The administrative region was created instead as a regular cluster of provinces including Baguio City until the Regional Development Council (RDC) will be able to convince the provinces of CAR to become autonomous instead of an administrative region.

To see Sir Jeff daily, walking with his black umbrella as a cane along Burnham Park at Kisad Road going towards Pines City National High School and later arm-in-arm with his wife Rose making their way through the market and down to the parking area of the Bayabas jeepney line are the warmest thoughts of him.

He jived his schedule with hers so they could go home together. According to his wife, who was a high school teacher, he was the sweetest partner, one could have ever been blessed with. They were inseparable before and after work. This sweetness shown in his sketched card that had a rose in dedication to her. His artwork that celebrates many images of couples dancing or eating are his own expressions of affection.

His daughter, Lynette Grace Bibal, was awarded the “Kapwa” Award as a film maker by National Artist Kidlat Tahimik in the recent 1stMontanosa Film Festival. Her work Pengsasan, which means chronicling in Ibaloy, is her tribute to her father. This 10-minute feature is conversations with her father about his drawings. It is her generation’s melancholy journey into their identities as Ibaloys. She notes that it is a new mission that she is being called to as a theater major. She has sights on creating a series of movies that will tell more Ibaloy stories.

To appreciate the works of the Ibaloy visual artist, one must journey into the rich past. The “monkey dance” has no equal in any other ethno-linguistic group. To capture the dance movement in a pen and ink illustration with the facial expression is one to behold. This is only performed at the Bendiyan Festival in Kabayan, Benguet and the only occasion to see an amusing performance of a man with a group of musicians. This refreshes memories of old about a barrel of monkeys climbing up the mountains of Benguet through the browned blades of grass as a child. Where have the troops gone?

The other drawings should be meticulously observed because Carantes has made sure that the details are correct and authentic. Otherwise, he would not have been faithful to his preservation of stories told to him and his own story. A hopeless romantic, his last words to his wife must be immortalized as he lay half paralyzed by the stroke, “I don’t want to live, if I can’t make love to you anymore.”

The father, husband, brother, friend, ally, teacher, artist, story teller, and historian will always be my champion.