17 December 2007

Home to heroes

MONDAY I found myself in Libmanan on invitation of its youthful Councilor Alexander James Jaucian, chair of the town's sanggunian education committee.

Jaucian wants to bring Synergeia's Reading program -- ongoing in Iriga City and Libon and hopefully soon in Rapu-Rapu, Albay -- to Camarines Sur's biggest town, and I explained before the sangguniang bayan what the foundation is, what we do, and how communities like Libmanan can improve the quality of education if only its local leaders will commit themselves to it.

The journey, my first ever to the town, was nostalgic in some ways. Many years back, I fell in love with a lass from the place but alas it was not meant to be. Then there's the legendary Handiong, the first king of Ibalon who is said to have built his capital in the Libmanan delta, laying the foundation for the first Bikolano civilization, in partnership with former nemesis and lover, the snake goddess Oryol.

It is also the main theatre of the guerilla warfare documented in the World War II book written by historian Jose Barrameda, Jr. on the Tancong Vaca Guerilla Unit (TVGU), which I wrote about in a column last month. Incidentally, it is also a highlight of an ongoing exhibit on the local guerilla movement -- whose title eludes me -- at the Ateneo de Naga university library. JoeBar would later email me a kind note with the following clarification:

"One, my father joined the resistance movement in Baao, Camarines Sur (for which reason I also dedicated the book to him) but he survived the war. Two, there was another big accomplishment that the TVGU chalked up, so that there were three of them in all. This was the second liberation of Naga in April 1944. The TVGU actually headed the liberation force through Major Juan Q. Miranda who was elected the overall commander the force. Moreover, the liberation was done by Bicolano guerrillas alone. The U.S. Army reached Naga some two weeks after it had been wrested by the sons of Handiong from the Japanese."
In that quick visit, I saw a town that seemed to be as ordinary as any other in Bicol, at least the ones I've been to. The streets are narrow and some stretches of the concrete road leading to the poblacion have seen better days, but who would ever imagine that it would bring forth mythical and real heroes that would define the Bikolano at his very best?

As Edwin Aspra, our office driver, and I negotiated the 35-km trip back home along the national highway, I told him during the war, Libmanan's link to Naga was via the snaking Bicol River and the railways, which played a prominent role in JoeBar's opus. The road we are traversing has yet to see the light of day. Unfortunately, both have been sidelined by the emergence of cars, buses and trucks as the primary medium of transport.

More unfortunate is the fact that Libmanan appears to have fallen for the siren song of the politician's empty promises that have driven them to desperation. That in the last elections they have reposed their trust on a stranger, who happens to be a son of the President, to represent them in Congress is a clear indictment of his predecessors.

Will their fortune change this time? I want to be hopeful, but the odds are stacked against it. For one, President Arroyo has just appointed Albay Gov. Jose Clemente "Joey" Salceda as new chair of the Bicol Regional Development Council, replacing Camarines Sur's Luis Raymund "L-Ray" Villafuerte, Jr., notwithstanding the latter's 38-6 advantage in the August 14, 2007 voting. In fact, in last Friday's (Dec. 14) RDC meeting, many governors -- who all voted for L-Ray -- were shocked to see Joey presiding. That renders the promised international airport in Libmanan to nothing less than a snake oil salesman's pitch.

The restoration of Philippine National Railways (PNR) service, a casualty of Supertyphoon Reming a year ago, would have been a more realistic and logical advocacy. But there are indications funding is not being prioritized in the national budget.

In the national convention of the Personnel Officer Association of the Philippines (POAP) I attended a week back, a PNR representative expressed his fears about it, and asked me if the Naga city government will support an effort to secure more funds for the PNR. I said restoring PNR services is always in the best interest of any Bikolano, and we will therefore do our part, but people like Dato Arroyo and Ower Andal are better positioned to make it happen.

I hope Libmanan once again rediscovers its inner strength and pride, and remembers its lineage as home to Bikol heroes. Because at the end of the day, nobody else will help it reclaim its glory but its own.