The Captivating Hinterlands of Tapaz (Memoirs of an FPIC Team member)

Western Visayas is brewing again another milestone in irrigation development. Alongside with the preparations for the implementation of the Jalaur River Multi-Purpose Project Stage II (JRMP II) in Calinog Town, Province of Iloilo, is the feasibility study that will be undertaken for the Panay River Basin Integrated Development Project (PRBIDP) in Tapaz town, Province of Capiz. 

A major water resource for agriculture, domestic and industrial use, the Panay River Basin once developed is seen to boost agriculture production, mitigate perennial flooding, and provide source for potable water and renewable energy for the province. Important too is the development of sustainable measures in the management of the Panay River Basin Watershed.

The feasibility study for PRBIDP covers 27 barangays, 20 of which are communities of the Panay-Bukidnon Indigenous Peoples of Tapaz. As such, mandatory consultations through the Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) Process were undertaken by the National Irrigation Administration

Regional Office 6 (NIA-RO6) to secure IP consent for the FS. The FPIC is provided under Republic Act 8371 or the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), a guiding principle of the PRBIDP.

I am one of the lucky few who were chosen to comprise the FPIC Team for the project. Being in NIA for less than a year, I was privileged to document the process and discover the wonders of Tapaz that remains unknown to many.

The Extra Mile

Conducting the community assemblies for PRBIDP meant going the extra mile for most of the FPIC Team Members. We were literally miles above sea level, far from our homes and the comforts of life in the city. We spent 20 days or more in the hinterlands of Tapaz, visiting one community after the

other. But in all these, it was an extra mile spent well for it was made for the good of many.

January 23, 2015 was when I first set foot on the hinterland barangays of Tapaz. It was the second stretch of the Consultative Community Assemblies for the FPIC Process. The first set of community assemblies were conducted in December 2014 and focused on the lowland areas of the town.  Our journey started with a long winding trip from Iloilo to Tapaz aboard a four-wheel vehicle,

until the most remote area that it can reach. Then with our bags and packed supplies, we started to walk to reach our destination.

One unforgettable experience we had was our travel from Barangay Buri to Nayawan.  “Nayawan” is a local term for getting fed up or having more than enough. And we seriously did have more than what we expected.

We trekked the steep rolling terrains of Tapaz for hours. Everytime we ask our guides if we are near the location they would just answer “lapit na lang” (we are near) but truth is we were miles away from the actual location. After the long trek, we reached the bank of Panay River. Because of the deep and strongly flowing river, we need to ride on bamboo raft. After learning that we need to cross the river, the first thing that popped into my mind is “how are we supposed to do that? I ain’t a swimmer. We don’t have life-jackets.” I wasn’t actually the only person who thought of it, all of us in the team are no swimmers.  To take worries away, our guides improvised a raft which would carry us to the other side. A rope was stretched from one side of the river to the other so we can hold on to it while crossing. The improvised raft could only accommodate two FPIC team members per ride. So,

patiently I waited for my turn while nervously watching my other co-members cross the river. When it was my turn, I felt like my nervousness swallowed me whole. I’ve never been that afraid in my whole life. God forbidsthe raft or the rope to snap while we cross. My hands were ice-cold and I could feel my sweat running through my bald head. It was the longest raft ride I ever had. All the fear and the sweat were paid off when we reached Nayawan safe and sound. After setting foot on the barangay proper, we confessed to the residents we surely had enough just to get to their place and that is how much love we have for our work and for them who will benefit the project if ever

it is feasible.

Tapaz in a plate

I’m sure the rest of our team would agree that aside from mountain climbing and trekking, river swimming and many other experiences we had throughout the FPIC process, native cuisine has made our journey gastronomically unforgettable. Staying there for weeks, I had this chance to taste the indigenous foods of the Tapaz hinterlands. Made with local ingredients and prepared the traditional way, their food was a unique experience for my discriminating taste.

Pako, an edible fern, is one of the foods I could never forget. It is almost an ubiquitous plant that grows in the river or creek and tastes far better than any other vegetable I had tasted

my whole life. Like any other green leafy vegetables, it could be served blanched and added with a bit of soy sauce, sliced tomatoes and onions. It could also be cooked in coconut milk with mixed ginger and tomatoes. Natives call the delicacy as “Ensalandang Pako”. Another traditional way of cooking it is “tinuom” which means “wrapped”. Locals wrap the fern, tomatoes and other spices with banana leaf and cook it in pot for few minutes. Another prized food of the IPs in Tapaz is their “unog” which is a small fish that are abundantly found in rivers or creeks. There are actually different ways of preparing it but my favorite is “Tinuom nga Unog”. Nobody would ever think that small river

fishes could be gigantic in taste once cooked well.  With these food served on the table, who would still complain of the long hours of trekking and river crossing? Definitely not me.

Binanog Dance

The FPIC experience has opened my heart and mind to the culture and traditions of the Panay Bukidnons of Tapaz. Though I have seen various Binanog dances before, still I was fascinated by it. Binanog is traditional dance of the Panay Bukidnons imitating the hawk locally called as “banog”. Binanog dance is usually performed during courtship however in most of the barangays we have visited we were welcomed by the locals through this dance. IPs gracefully danced through the beat of drums and improvised bamboo instruments. It was an amazing experience for me and definitely no welcome can ever be warm than through Binanog dance.

The People

Above all breath-taking sceneries we saw, the palatable food we tasted and the wonderful dance we were welcomed with, the top reason why I enjoyed my FPIC experience the most is the people we have met. Panay-Bukidnons in Tapaz were very hospitable. They have even offered their own houses as our shelters during our stay in their community. Many of them left their jobs in the farm to attend our assembly. Everybody attentively listened to the discussion and participated during the open forum. Many of the IPs in Tapaz rarely go down the town proper so they are used to see the same faces all the time. As such, we expected that most of them would be very aggressive and reluctant to communicate with us but to our surprise they were actually friendly and very caring. Everybody smiles all the time. They seem to be contended of the simple lives they have in the hinterlands.

In all these, the FPIC Process for the FS of the PRBIDP was a treasured experience

for me. More than being trusted to perform a duty others may have turned down, I feel totally happy that I am involved and that I have done something for the agency I work for and the people of the Tapaz. As of writing, NIA is awaiting for the issuance of the Certification of Pre-Condition from NCIP to finally effect the IP consent for the FS of PRBIDP. /JP Ramon C. Salvilla, CDA-II