Erle Frayne D. Argonza
[Writ 01 May 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]
Samurais in Tuguearao! That must be a farfetched chimera, but truly in this capital town of Cagayan province (Northern Philippines) is located a village of cottage industries run and managed by marginal artisans. Their chief craft was, and remains to be that of bladed metal works.
I was pretty busy scouring for bankable projects in my own hometown (my basic education years were spent in Tuguegarao) as early as 1981 when news came to me that a certain group of Larion craftsmen desired to bolt away from their tradition and diversify into hmmm samurai swords. Already a junior executive of the Ministry of Human Settlements after barely out of college, I had the luck of having among my personnel a driver who was bona fide resident of Larion village (barrio was the term then).
The driver (Rolando Tumpalan), an Ilocano like all of his neighbors in Larion, was very vivid in his presentation to me one day of the plan of his neighbors to diversify into samurai swords and accessories. I knew since childhood that Larion produced bolos and knives, made from cast iron scraps, even as my own family abode possessed couples of the same products. But to say of samurai swords, well, my encyclopedia set was telling me that the original thing was made of a specially forged steel alloy. Besides, I knew by then that samurai craft (it was home industry in Japan) was dying if not dead already. Japanese considered themselves as Western people and had nothing to do with seemingly phoney items from their past, including kimonos and samurai blades.
Before some Larion guys might be playing tricks on me, I summoned my operations manager (Mia Calimag) and Livelihood Coordinator (Bong) to immediately set a rendezvous between the regional director of the National Cottage Industry or NACIDA (name now escapes my memory) and myself, with our technical staff around. The NACIDA was one of our partner agencies in implementing the KKK and was already in operations way ahead of us in the region (my agency was regionalized only in mid-1981).
Well, thanks to this magnanimous NACIDA official, he came right to my office, breaking protocol by visiting the office of an erstwhile official of lower rank. We than set our joint agenda and modus operandi first of all, updated each other about initial enterprise support operations of our respective agencies, and determined whether the Larion metalworkers were worth supporting. To my own surprise, this director (quite a fat guy but very intelligent) was very enthusiastic about the samurai project.
This being so, we immediately arranged for a visit to the proposed project site in Larion, had a chat with the officials of the cooperative (the coop served as beneficiary), inspected their facilities, and then delivered pep talks to the members. We were then shown models of the proxy swords produced by them, and wow! My eyes almost popped out of wonderment. The products were splendid! The intended captive market was the tourists, with domestic tourist resorts and trade exhibit sites serving as primary forward linkages.
The funding support from the KKK (Kilusang Kabuhayan at Kaunlaran) was needed to procure extra machines (metal lathe included), mini-furnace, increase the volume of raw materials (steel scraps), improve the storage area, hiring marketing & sales staff, re-train the artisans, and for around three (3) months of working capital. Funding level was past P0.5 Million, with approval done merely at our regional level (past the P1 Million it has to go to central office).
The Larion coop members were very elated over the support shown by us state officials over their venture. Such an elation would extend throughout the processing of their documents and pre-operational trainings, and on through their appearances in some KKK Recognition Days (held once a month).
The project did take off and operate successfully, and made the name of Larion blade makers shine brightly beyond their previous marginal state. It’s now over a quarter of a decade since that project commenced, and I wish the Larion samurais had graduated to global standards in any way.