FEATURE: Remembering ComVal

BUTUAN CITY (MindaNews/19 January) — Strangely, I always associate Compostela Valley with Mawab, a once tiny village settled along the Davao-Butuan highway. Mawab, created as a regular municipality in 1959, became famous to me after I read Leoncio Deriada’s award-winning short story, “The Road to Mawab,” published in the long-gone Asiaweek Magazine in the early ’80’s.

I was a first year Mass Com college student in Silliman University then and the beautiful, poignant story stuck in my mind. When Mr. Deriada became my teacher I told him the story was my most favorite and he told me he actually lived there once. When I started going to Davao years after that I made sure I would peek outside the bus as it passed by Mawab. I felt an unknown connection.

In the early 2000, I meet a friend from way back in high school who told me he was going to Monkayo to look for his younger brother. His brother left home one day and it took them weeks to know he had joined a group of gold panners in the gold-rich mountain of Monkayo. Someone told them he became one of the guards of a private tunnel owned by a local politician who became filthy rich.

I asked him if his brother became rich too, and he said he could be because a few years later someone saw him in San Francisco, Agusan del Sur, looking, well, rich enough. He was driving an expensive car. “I have to let him come home, at least to see our ailing mom who wanted to see him badly,” he said.

My friend migrated to Canada and I learned his brother did come home to see the mother but was never heard of again. They suspected he could have been a victim of cave-ins or of foul play.

Six years ago, I took a trip to Maragusan, the town nearest to New Bataan. I went there as summer began. The unpaved road on most part was unfriendly that our vehicle, an old sturdy jeepney, had to grudgingly snake up in what seemed like an eternity. The river below, forming like a crack with its boulders looked so menacing, I never took a second look. I think it was worse going to the Mountain Province, way up in Baguio.

After two to three hours, we reached Maragusan. The town seemed so quiet. We headed straight to the market and bought some goods. We were, after all, going beyond the town proper, to a retreat center up in the mountains. The forest, ah, was so thick, lush and mysterious. But the road going up further was horribly inconvenient, making us twist and turn that we ended up laughing. I was convinced I was riding the strongest jeepney in the Philippines.

Finally, we arrived. We must be in the belly of a huge mountain. I heard the rushing water not from the river but from a falls tucked somewhere. On foot, we clambered up a mountainside and I wondered why on earth we’re doing this when there was hardly anything up but trees. I was wrong. When we reached the top, a house sat there – and right beside a cliff! Talk about real-life monastery, Pinoy -style.

Thick fog naturally enveloped us most of the time, though we rarely went outside, immersed in our individual spiritual quests. But one night, while asleep, an earthquake struck, and the first thing that came through my mind was, what if the house crumbled down the cliff?

That journey would not be complete without attending oneself to the waterfalls below whose sounds kept calling us. Ice-cold and inhabited by colorful butterflies guarded by dark sharp boulders, it became our ritual of baptism, a connection to the spirit world, if you will.

That was six years ago. Last December, one week before Typhoon Pablo battered the province I visited a banana plantation there. Most of the stalks were about to bear fruits. How terribly sad they were all flattened and wasted to the ground a few days after. (Ramon Jorge Sarabosing/MindaNews)