Bro. Erle Frayne Argonza
[Writ 09 April 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila. The author was former Acting Deputy Provincial Manager, Ministry of Human Settlements, Batanes & Northern Cagayan, in 1982.]
A BrightWorld day to you all!
In the northernmost corridor of the Philippines is located the idyllic province of Batanes, a province with its own maritime ship. Small and sparsely populated, the province used to be perennially cut off from the rest of the ‘mainland’ (Luzon island) during inclement weather.
In the early 1980s, I had the privilege of serving this province as a development planner & manager for the Ministry of Human Settlements. My unit, the Provincial Action Center of PAC Gonzaga, covered Northern Cagayan and Batanes.
Handling the newly opened livelihood first, then later expanding to other developmental concerns, I immediately immersed in hard work for the province. At that time, there was no electricity, telephone, public transport, and those state of the arts utilities that one can have today. Contrast that with today’s Batanes, where internet facilities are available as far down as all of the rural villages, and essential utilities are present.
Integrated area development was then the in thing, and being from the urban/regional planning arm of government, we agency staff had the privilege of poking our fingers in all development efforts in a province and region. We consolidated the planning outputs into master plans which, for the first time, galvanized in all areas of the country. We state personnel did the same for this small province.
To recall, commerce between the ‘mainland’ and Batanes was quite scarce. Aside from the small ‘flying coffin’ PAL planes that traversed the Manila-Basco route, there was the Philippine Navy flat-bottom ships that were used for the purpose. Only two (2) scheduled trips of navy ships occur per year, once every semester, which brought forth rice, gin, and essential grocery items from Luzon.
Idyllic and paradise-like in its mien, Batanes is pathetic economically. To begin the development efforts there, core agencies got together to plan the installation of electricity, transport facilities and vehicles, warehouse and pier improvements, and development financing for micro family enterprises.
It was really tough and challenging a task to present ideas then to the natives, the Ivatans, who were real charmers but so simple and pretty satisfied in life. During those moments of duty, being a core institution-builder then of the development councils there, I presented the audacious idea of a maritime ship for the province. This will not only improve commerce between Batanes and its mother island Luzon, it will also be a booster to tourism and related development concerns there.
As to the question of who can own the ship, I remember having proposed the idea then of Batanes forming its own corporate unit. The said corporation can then own and manage maritime facilities and ships.
It was too said that I had to leave Batanes before I would ever see the crystallization of the idea. But I was happy to find out that the young development managers of the province, including some staff of mine who later became the dads of the province (today’s governor Castillejos was my part-time community organizer for Basco), developed the idea some more… Till the ship M/V Ivatan saw the light of day.
The locals decided to institute the Batanes Development Foundation that took care of ownership of the ship. It also engaged in other key programs to fast-track development there. I was so happy that my former staff (livelihood coordinator), Ed Puno, became its first CEO. (Mr. Puno later became vice-governor-elect.)
My fellows out there can go ahead and visit this paradise province of the North. The development story of this ‘cinderella’ province is a fairly successful story worth narrating.