By By Pablo A. Tariman
THE ISLAND IN MY MIND
posted 13 days ago  ·  
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Photo By Frank Lopez
The newly inaugurated island marker.

Catanduanes is 74.

The truth is it has existed from way back as part of the Camarines and later, Albay.

The islanders credit Congressman Francisco Perfecto who authored House Bill No. 301 which made it a separate province.

For now, the island is proud of its new batch of teachers, lawyers, accountants, doctors, nurses, soldiers, priests and religious leaders of various persuasions.

The last elections yielded new faces and old.

You can see on the internet that the islanders are all over the world from New York to Florida to Africa, England and the Middle East to Australia and beyond.

In the last 74 years, the island has produced its first senator, its first cabinet member, its first cardinal, its first cycling champion, its first kundiman queen, its first impresario, its first active arts writer and film critic and some promising filmmakers and screenwriters.

The glory of the island is still in its past.

In its primeval time, the island was home to rare Philippine brown deers peeping into tents of the island’s first road builders.

Add to that the flying foxes, rare bat species, pythons and sailfin lizards, among others.

Rare bird species also abound such as the Philippine hornbill, rail parrot, pheasant, the oriole and kingfishers, to cite a few.

Photographer Ferdie Benavidez Ocol has documented some remaining bird species to the amazement of foreign visitors. They thought those rare birds have long been gone with the onset of illegal logging.

We wonder if those rare species of pitcher plants and rafflesia are still around in the remaining forest cover as well as the endemic banana varieties.

Many hardwood trees such as yakal, apitong, palosapis, and molave are still around and as usual threatened by wanton logging.

Its vast wide sea facing the Pacific Ocean is home to endangered species like rare kind of mollusks such as giant Triton, cowries, abalone, cone snails, octopus and squids among others.

The island coast is said to be the best marine refuge for flying fish that on its fullest size can weigh 300 grams.]

Sad to say the island is paying for blatant rape of the environment.

Dynamite fishing still rampant in some remote towns has killed rare fish species on top of poisoning the sea.

With typhoons came landslides and swollen rivers now slowly drying up from rampant quarrying. Like the sad story of Sto. Domingo River.

Horrendous floods unknown in the past have started to ravage towns and barrios.

The slow death of the island forest and rivers has become normal as the dirty elections.

On Sundays, the islanders troop to the church and ask forgiveness. They light votive candles for the departed and whisper prayer of thanks for kins who did well.

But with progress came the discovery of the island’s first shabu laboratory.

In the new president’s war against drugs, the island yielded thousands of drug users and the local courts continue to convict drug dealers.

The biggest discovery is that the drug network was known to people who are supposed to protect the islanders from such degradation. It used to be known only in the big city.

The country’s leading choir sang “No Money, No Honey” in the fundraising concert for the church. It might as well be the theme song of those who equate success with fast bucks.

Indeed, the drug trade yielded so much and tempted many islanders.

On its 74th year, the island celebrated with the usual street-dancing and parades and beauty contests for both sexes and obligatory speeches from both politicians and island honorees.

After 74 years, Catanduanes has seen a cycle of birth and death, growth and destruction and three generations of worthy sons and politicians.

To be sure, the Albertos brought in the first wave of infrastructures and the Verceleses introduced the island's first cordless phones and cellular gadgets.

Three terms of Cong. Cesar Sarmiento brought in better roads and bridges and extended sea dikes.

As the island observes its 74th year, you cheer its honorees, its only surviving island paper, the Catanduanes Tribune; the island’s first award-winning actor Dindo Fernando; the island poet Jose Tablizo; its pioneering island musicians Teodulo and Nestor Publico, among others; its kundiman queen Carmen Camacho; its theater pioneers Efren and Sonia Millete Sorra and the late Estrella Placides and her cultural group for promoting what’s left of Catanduanes heritage.

Meanwhile, you see the island’s first fastfood chains, the new hotels and new resorts.

The face of the old island is the ancestral house of former Virac Vice-Mayor Ariston Sarmiento whose house still reverberates with the music of Mozart and Vivaldi.

He still remembers the idyllic Catanduanes of his youth thus: "The island was virtual rainforest. During the island's first road construction projects, I remember the nights when the Philippine brown deers would casually peep into our tents. There were no tricycles, just horses and carabao carts.”

The late island poet Jose Tablizo sums up the old Catanduanes before the advent of cell phones and internet cafes.

I have quoted him many times simply because what he wrote still applies to the island old-timers who remain proud of the island past.

"There are many things we do not have

A few things we do have.

We have no hustling, wide, cement boulevards

With glittering streetlights; no sinful women

on the boulevard under the street lights,

We have no traffic jams, no ticket fixers,

We have lazy narrow roads — and lazier streams

We have devastating typhoons and generous seas

For what we do not have, we are proud:

For what we do have we are humble."

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