October 1, 2023

As a tenderfoot Boy Scout, a way one earned a merit badge on survival is learning the traditional way of cooking rice in bamboo. The scoutmaster would teach to simply puncture or bore a small hole in the bamboo and put rice and water in small amounts, measured by the traditional fingers (millennials know nothing about), sear it with leaves, and cook it over fire. Mabalin nga ituno wenno isarabasab, grilled over charcoal or controlled fire. Tinungbo is the Ilocano’s description of the process.
To showcase Pugo, La Union’s way of a simple life, Mayor Precy Martin, who traces her roots to Tadian, Mountain Province and Mankayan, Benguet, conceptualized the Tinungbo Festival four years ago to promote the town’s prime agriculture sector and traditions passed through generations.
Dr. Precy has emerged as the dragon that Pugo needed to slay and move forward for better. Tinungbo portrays Pugo as a cultural melting pot and shows how the livelihood of its natives combined with their festivities: Agawis or the local’s invitation to townmates; Gaget or the portrayal of industrious farmers and fishermen; Rukbab or giving thanks, especially after a fruitful harvest; and the movement of pugo, the bird the town was named after.
The Pugo mayor is the wife of Eugene or Gene, the two-star police general, who in his heydays was the only soldier who was brave enough to throw out rebel priest Fr. Conrado Balweg from overstaying in the cottage across The Mansion.
Gene, known dearly to friends and nemesis as “Butchog,” is an officer and a gentleman from Philippine Military Academy Class 1977. He joined the then Philippine Constabulary at Camp Dangwa as a young officer and started chasing cadres in Buguias where he discovered the character of a junior officer and concluded that he cannot be trusted, but that is another story.
He went on to be intelligence officer and the fair haired boy of Regional Commander Roger “Roy” Aguana. In the mid-80s, we met through my law partner and “partner-in-crime,” the late former Judge Thomas A. Rufino. I can’t recall now if Tom or BIR-CAR honcho Douglas is a relative of some sort of Auntie Salma. Every once in a while, we would drive to his farm near my batchmate Rolly Bautista’s in Pugo. Yes, Gene already had this property long before it was renamed Pugad. We would have meals or booze or both coupled with endless tales and stories. Joining us was the late (parang ako na lang ang buhay ah) former Gov. Raul “Rocky” Molintas.
We went on to see each other at the old John Hay fairways where he was a regular golfer, summing up with uncle Sam Diciano and other officers. He saw to it that he regularly played or sponsored a hole in our EMA Cup tournaments, starting at the first one when then President Fidel V. Ramos graced the tee-off with then PNP Chief Recaredo A. Sarmiento who asked about him. Like in showbiz, the PNP was a snake pit full of intrigues and I always stood by him too.
Of course, he was not spared after the fact and was “thrown”in war-torn Zamboanga by the cliché group of his junior officer. Fortunately, Sen. Miriam Santiago and husband Jun realized the injustice perpetrated on him by fellow officers because of apal nga dakes and absorbed him via special detail in her office. He then headed Task Force Abra, which dismantled at least six private armed groups and for the first time elections in Abra was relatively peaceful. When Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin’s brother, Rep. Chit, was assassinated while attending a wedding, Martin was tasked to go after the killers and bagged them swiftly. The mastermind, a common friend of ours, was convicted and serving life.
After getting his star, General Martin was installed Cordillera police director, where he prioritized the dismantling of private armies and intensified the campaign against illegal drugs and illegal logging. He had a track record of not tolerating sacred cows and proved it when he made the Cordillera peaceful during his stint. He was promoted to a two-star rank and designated as chief of the PNP Directorate for Intelligence where his anti-terrorism skills were put to good use.
Retired now, his passion for golf continues with subaltern Peter Go in his side. They go back a long way and maybe that is a trait that shows his character, walang iwanan. Gene is a man of honor and a true loyal friend. When I was in distress not too long ago, I cried out for help and he came running. I have always thanked him privately for this, but the world should know that he is indeed true.
Back to ma’am Precy and Tinungbo, the festivities started December with a float parade, recognition of outstanding citizens, chorale competition among schools and barangays, Mobile Legends competition, battle of the bands, That’s My Tanod, Pasungad 2020, Mutya ti Pugo, Tinungbo fun run, Educator’s, The Tinungbo cross country mountain bike race, Tinungbo tabo tattoo competition, dance craze, and Enduro Motorbike Challenge 22.
They will have the Tinungbo community night, drum and lyre competition, hataw sayaw, farmers’ day, Tinungbo cookfest, and Laro ng Lahi. The month-long festivities will be capped by a mass, grand civic-military parade, street dancing competition, and PMA silent drill on the 19th.
This Sunday we celebrate the end of the Christmas season with “Three Kings,” the biblical magi who visited the newborn Jesus after his nativity paying homage and bringing him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Appropriately, Tinungbo has proven to be Martin’s legacy and gift to Pugo and she too will be king forever, at least to Gene.