New Tabuk, old Rizal

By Danilo P. Padua, PhD

” If the coffee trees will be supplanted with other crops, there will be a lot of other businesses that will be affected. We would like to see government agencies complementing each other in their projects, not trying to excel at the expense of another. “

Four days after the rampage of typhoon Ompong in Northern Luzon, a team from Benguet-Baguio area dared travel to Tabuk City to serve as evaluators for the Research Development and Extension In-house review of the Kalinga State University.
The team included Ms. Flordeliza Naje, and Hector from Cordillera Consortium for Resources Research and Development (CorCARRD), Dr. Diosdado Estigoy from DENR, Dr. Annie Ekid from MPSPC, Dr. Stanley Anongos, Dr. Tecah Sagandoy, Dr. Esper Feleciano, and myself from BSU.
As we traversed Isabela, I was expecting to see farmlands devastated since the super typoon landed nearby Cagayan province. Lo, and behold, the effect of Ompong was very minimal. When we reached Tabuk, I was surprised that almost everything seemed to be in tip top condition except trees that have been trimmed of leaves.
I have been to Tabuk at least 8 times. My earliest trips have been forgettable, (or unforgettable in many sense) as the place was still devoid of decent, concrete roads. I can still vividly remember one of my trips when I led a BSU team to visit the Ileb, Nambaran resettlement area of former CPLA rebels. We went there to ascertain some of the needs of the rebel returnees. That was 1999 if I remember right. They were then living in several light, makeshift houses. As we saw and interacted with them, they projected a more peaceful existence. It was obvious however, that they were cautious about visitors.
As we talked to them, they became more relaxed and open. They were very hospitable, and they really took care of our security at night by surrounding our sleeping hut with several armed guards. I also remember the freewheeling discussions with the men and women, that lasted up to the wee hours of the following morning. They needed a good water system, electricity, a school and many more. We made our recommendations but I honestly didn’t know what happened to them.
On our way to Rizal town, I craned my neck to see if there is any improvement in the resettlement after 20 long yerars. From the road, I wasn’t able to discern any development. I should have alighted from the van that we were riding and walked a few meters to the site. Anyhow, I learned that Dr. Ma. Luz Fang-asan, one of the team members then, is conducting a study in the area.
Now, Tabuk seems to be in a hurry to develop. Roads are now concrete, and it boasts of the widest avenue there is in the entire Cordillera region. Have you seen a 6- or 8-lane road in Baguio city or in any of the capitals of the 6 CAR provinces? You can see that only in Tabuk city. That the city is burgeoning is attested by the Jollibe store in Bulano, the barangay with the highest population among the 42 barangays of the city. Other businesses including hotels, have sprouted.
One of the biggest reasons why Tabuk is growing is the presence of Kalinga State University, the only university in the province. It has about 5,000 students coming from various provinces, even outside of Kalinga. Faculty members of the university come from different ethnic backgrounds, clearly indicating that the school is not of the parochial type. KSU, which is presently headed by Dr. E. Bagtang is now becoming a state university of consequence not only in CAR but throughout the country.
The school’s experience in agricultural development is a mute testimony of how government agencies’ projects are not complementary but are in fact antagonistic. For example, DENR, DTI and KSU are advocating the planting of coffee or rejuvenating the existing plantations, because Kalinga is already known for this commodity. There are in fact around 13 different coffee brands from the province alone, competing for the local coffee production. Ms Grace Agtina, the award-winning owner of Kalinga Blend believes though that there is complementarity and not competition.
On the other hand, the DA came along with its corn production program, convincing the farmers that there is more money in this crop. Many farmers dutifully followed the DA line, so they cut down their coffee trees not for the intention of rejuvenating them but to change them with corn. What a pity. Coffee trees nurtured for several years, with still a lot of economic years to show were unmercifully cut down. Fortunately, KSU is doing its best to reverse the situation.
Ms Agtina, the CAR Gawad Saka awardee in 2017 for Outstanding Agricultural Entrepreneur, is a bit wary of such development. She painstakingly built her Kalinga Blend for around 10 years already. She attended seminars on coffee production, processing, and marketing then joined exhibits for 2-3 years before she realized some income. “It was not an easy start,” she says. In fact, she confided that when she joined exhibits, she was looked upon as a competitor instead of a comrade-in-industry. Her brand is now known nationwide thru the Robinson’s supermarket and All Day supermarkets. She may have already broken into the international market. Ms. Agtina believes that there is enough room for every player in the coffee business. “We just have to see each other as partners so we could solve problems together and grow better,”she encourages
Her love affair with coffee is even distinctly exhibited in her other businesses. She named her hotel, Golden Berries Hotel, which is now a popular venue for conventions, seminars, wedding parties and the like. It is found along the highway in Bulanao barangay
If the coffee trees will be supplanted with other crops, there will be a lot of other businesses that will be affected. We would like to see government agencies complementing each other in their projects, not trying to excel at the expense of another. At the moment when we talk of coffee and rice, Kalinga immediately comes to mind.
Tabuk, by the way is strategically located. From there, one can go directly to Cagayan, Isabela, Mountain Province, Apayao and Abra. This is an important economic consideration. Tourism is also in the upswing. The city could be the next best important investment site in the Cordillera. Tabuk’s size is definitely a plus factor. Its area is more than 5x the combined size of Baguio and La Trinidad. In CAR, only Calanasan and Cabugao in Apayao, and Tineg in Abra have bigger land area. In income, it is surpassed only by Baguio city in the.
Because of its proximity to the abovementioned places, as well as the presence now of good roads, it might be a good idea to have an airport there. It was not devastated by Ompong suggesting that it is not easily damaged by typhoons.
Next week, we will talk about “old” Rizal in Kalinga.**

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