I TOOK a four-day leave from my work in order to join my creative counterparts at the National Commission for Culture and the Arts as volunteer committee member on cinema to discuss previous and proposed projects since 2019 marks the centennial anniversary of Philippine Cinema.
Having spent most of my life in a mountain city, I welcome every opportunity to be near the sea especially on clear and sunny days and I treasure the moments when I spent days in Palawan, Coron, Siargao and recently, Batanes.
As our plane approaches the Islands of Batanes, the sight of sandy beaches and rolling hills from the window really made me wish that I can scale a few peaks even if my left knee manifests signs of weakening.
The islands of Batanes consist of 10 small islands north of Laoag and Aparri where the Pacific Ocean meets the South China Sea. The group of islands is characterized by a complex terrestrial wetland and marine ecosystem that according to Unesco is one of the last remaining areas in the Philippines with unique natural physiographic features like wave-cut cliffs, cave-like outcrops and secluded white sand beaches. These islands are among the few remaining sites where pink and red corals are found and serves as an important flyaway for many migratory bird species and other marine life.
A common sight that also reflects the local’s tradition and customary practices are the stone houses that are meant to respond to strong winds and monsoon stresses and Batanes is one place in the Philippines that is often isolated from the rest of the country during the rainy months.
Tito Valiente, the most senior in our group said during our tour that “the place is incomparable” as he thought it was all tourism hype at first until he saw the mountains and the seas and the rock formations”. Tito also asked me to snap few shots of the goats clinging at the rocks and cliffs.
Batanes is not only a paradise and perfect subject for landscape photographers and impressionist painters but it is truly an awesome destination for nature lovers and trekkers as the place is so pristine and free from the intrusions of modern day Marco Polos and corporate giants.
Noticeably, the local government of Batanes made it easier for guests and visitors like us to explore the island’s grassy terrains with paved roads and available tour packages. The place is now a world class tourist destination with regular flights especially during the months with clear skies.
The food is exotic and distinctively tropical and I enjoyed feasting on fish mostly with turmeric rice, fern salad and squash soup.
The island is also booming with arts as the place is not only the birthplace of the late Pacita Abad whose memories, art-works and images are cast in metal and enshrined in a family gallery but the creative spirits of the locals lingers in those weather beaten houses that has stood the test of time.
Going around the place with rented vans, uniquely fashioned trikes and walking along the suburbs and villages, one can marvel how old folks built those stone houses meant to withstand even the strongest lash of Pacific winds. It is also quite amazing that products of craftsmen and artisans are displayed side by side with the works of artists as can be seen in a place now known as the Creative Hub.
Our NCCA group had an interaction and short lecture at the Batanes National Science High School composed of enthusiastic grade eleven students and teachers. Babyruth Villarama in her social media post said “What a priceless, almost utopic experience to teach film with them. I am excited for the many possibilities that will be born out of this labour of love.
Our group is composed of an actor, an archivist, a film critic, film directors, film producer, art professors and myself who represents the country’s indigenous community and our well-documented three-day cultural immersion and travelogue was well covered with tweets, instagrams and social media posts. Yes, Batanes is quite remote but social media is bridging the gap between the lucky ones who managed to set foot on the place and those who are still dreaming to reach the place. For me, the art scene in Batanes is also a reawakening especially when I learned from lawyer-politician Florencio Butch Abad who invited us to their family that the works displayed at their family art gallery were contributed by talents from the place. Before we returned to Manila on our last day, Noli Gabilo, one of the country’s top corporate photographers came to send me off as I was not able to see him earlier due to our hectic schedule. Noli, a fellow UST alumnus took the photos shown at the Batanes airport and the moment we reached NAIA, a slo-mo image of our 90-seater jet greets me at my social media wall: ”Bon Voyage Art Tibaldo”.