By Pablo A. Tariman, Vera Files
Catanduanes, the country's 12th largest island of the country's 7,000 or so islands, is observing its 67th founding anniversary with street dancing, a beauty pageant for both sexes (a Binibini and Ginoong Catanduanes), and with obligatory speeches from both local and national politicians.
This is the home province of former senator Francisco "Kit" Tatad and the famous political clans, the Albertos, the Verceleses and likewise the land of birth of the Sarmiento brothers, Rep. Cesar V. Sarmiento; Jorge V. Sarmiento, president and chief operating officer of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation; Rene V. Sarmiento, commissioner of Commission on Elections, and Juan V. Sarmiento of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
The island is also the home province of kundiman queen Carmen Camacho and the home province of Anna Bagadiong, the mother of Germany's top rapper, Kay One, who is Kenneth Glöckler in real life.
Some 67 years after it was founded as a province separate from Albay, Catanduanes has seen a cycle of birth and death, growth and destruction and three generations of worthy sons and politicians.
Catanduanes musiciansThe poets who recorded the island's idyllic past and present were the late José Tablizo and Benito Bagadiong (the German's rapper's grandfather). The fictionist of Catanduanes was Romulo Lofamia.
It is said that the Albertos brought in the first wave of infrastructures and the Verceleses introduced the island's first cordless phones and cellular gadgets. Indeed, Rep. Jun Verceles and his Filnet 2000 surely brought in the TV sets and the cellular phones in the early 90s and in between, the movie stars and basketball teams. Tatad was a favorite patron of would-be priests in need of ordination sponsors and this sat well with the island and first and last cardinal, Cardinal Sanchez.
Congressman Sarmiento comes from a family of non-politicians and his lifestyle shows it. He moves around without bodyguards (the status symbol of the old politicians) and is keen on changing the face of politics in the island on top of preserving the province's cultural heritage.
At a glance, surviving musicians in Catanduanes and music mentor Nestor Publico still tutor young musicians literally for a song. The island's "national" dance is the pantomina, and it is a common sight during town fiestas and election period. The most active and versatile theater group used to be Efren Sorra's Hablon Dawani, which toured the island with no regular funding but with lots of passion and dedication.
The Center for Catandungan Heritage Inc.-- founded by Estrella Sarmiento Placides and Dave Templonuevo -- has given due recognition to the island's surviving musicians, among them Nestor Publico and his famous father, maestro Teodulo (a UST graduate).The Publicos started formal music lessons in the island in 1933, and virtually for a song. Among the violin students was actor Dindo Fernando, who also hails from Catanduanes.
Meanwhile, Minerva Morales, president of Catanduanes State College, is trying hard to give the performing arts a decent venue by recommending that the former Catanduanes Cultural Center, built by former Rep. Leandro Verceles Jr., be rehabilitated. It became a rice bodega even before it could be inaugurated and now the ceilings are about to give way and the entire venue, including a battered upright piano, are threatened by wind and floodwater.
Rep. Cesar Sarmiento in Macutal FallsRightly or otherwise, progress has caught up with this island's 232,757 people (as of 2007) inhabitants. Pres. Aquino turned over a new PAGASA Doppler Radar for the typhoon prone island, internet cafes have sprouted in all the eleven towns, a fast food chain (Jollibee) finally invaded the island and the provincial government is working hard to promote tourism , among them, the favorite surfing destination in barrio Puraran in Baras town.
Even with progress setting in fast with the advent of cyber age, the Catanduanes that the old timers prefer to remember is the island untouched by bad politics and illegal logging.
Former Virac Vice-Mayor Ariston Sarmiento — whose house reverberates with the music of Mozart and Vivaldi — remembers the idyllic Catanduanes of his youth. "In the days of yore, the mountains of Catanduanes were virtual rainforest. During the island's first road construction project, I remember the nights when deers would casually peep into our tents. There were no tricycles, just horses and carabao carts. Our house was filled with recordings of famous orchestras and opera singers and piano lessons were a must in most families. What I really want my fellow islanders to acquire is a taste for the finer things in life even with the regular onslaught of natural calamities."
The late island poet Jose Tablizo sums up the old Catanduanes before the advent of cell phones and internet cafes:
"There are many things we do not have —
A few things we do have.
We have no hustling, wide, cement boulevards
With glittering streetlights; no sinful women
on the boulevard under the street lights,
We have no traffic jams, no ticket fixers,
We have lazy narrow roads — and lazier streams
We have devastating typhoons and generous seas
For what we do not have, we are proud:
For what we do have we are humble.
(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")