Erle Frayne D. Argonza
[Writ 12 April 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila. The author was former community development assistant at the Ministry of Human Settlements, Region II, in early 1981.]
If Bob Marley were alive today and visited Mayoyao in Ifugao, Cordillera region, he might achieve euphoria even without having to smoke pot. And his cause for Dionysiac wonderment would be: a fishpond atop a mountain. And he’d declare wide-eyed, with nary a 2nd thought, that “the Ifugaos are a free people! Hail Ifugaos!”
Free indeed is this sturdy ethnicity of highlanders, who used to be ferocious head-hunters and were dreaded by the Americans. They have since become tame, no longer do head-hunting, and have instead hunted for tons of bright ideas to multiply their survival chances up in the boondocks.
I was then a newly hired program staff for the Ministry of Human Settlements’ Regional Liaison Office in Region II or RLO-2. We covered the whole of Cagayan Valley and the Cordillera provinces of Ifugao, Kalinga and Apayao. As soon as I had a couple of days of briefing as a new staff, I immediately buzzed off for field work to monitor our community services at the town levels where we have deployed community organizers who were dubbed the HSOs (Human Settlements Officers).
Over 250 kilometeres south of Tuguegarao, the location of our liaison office (we were an adjunct of the central office in the region), was Ifugao which had to be traversed via Nueva Vizcaya. Armed with my monitoring sheets, itinerary, cassette recorder with The Police and Sex Pistols playing, and an escort of truly-armed Philippine Constabulary (our regional supervisor was Gen. Olivas of PC Region II), I visited couples of HSOs in Vizcaya for a day first, after which I proceeded to Mayoyao.
Well, the road to Ifugao was narrow, winding and gravel-rough, and only single-lane. And down below was crevice, hard rock, or some cursed dangerous vertical wall that King Kong would hate to scale. And my balls (excuse me) quickly moved from down loin up to past my head, as the goose bumps overwhelmed my being till we reached Mayoyao 40 kilometers from Banawe.
The recompense for the rough and hazardous ride was the beautiful scenery, so grand and beautiful beyond words. The best-looking rice terraces are found here, not in Banawe that is merely the entry point. And, without doubt, the fish pond built atop a mountain whose peak was leveled for the purpose.
How many places on Earth could one find fishponds that are not only impossible to build but also costly? And this one was built from concrete. Rectangular in shape, around it was classy cobble-like stone and cement aisle. Below is the pond, around two (2) meters deep, with the fingerlings just seeded. Covering around one (1) hectare in size or so, it was actually more of an experimental prototype, though the town residents thought of producing at commercial levels. Tilapia was the experimental species, to recall.
The Cordillerans are truly a wonderful people in terms of innovativeness in thriving. They’ve already chiseled out the mountains into productive rice lands. Now they followed through with fish farming, and of all places, atop a mountain.
The project, installed by cooperating agencies (mayor’s office, MHS, Bureau of Fisheries & Aquatic Resources or BFAR), was a success for the duration of my stay then in the MHS (I stayed till 1983). And there were no reputable enterprise financing programs for these types then. They funded it themselves, via local funds and private donors.
So for those who are interested to know the success story, please visit Mayoyao in Ifugao. Enjoy the ride up there. For relaxation, you can choose between bottles of gin or local rice wine (tapoy). And better quaff them, because whether hot or cold days, it is always cold up there. Ride the wave of the moment!