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Roxas, Isabela: A food basket in the making

In Photo: Trying his grip on newly harvested rice panicles reaped by a local farmer, Roxas, Isabela, Mayor Benedict Calderon (left) conducts a surprise farm visit on one of the rice-growing villages in his municipality. The town is a major producer of premium-quality rice in the region.
In Photo: Bahay Kubo and pinakbet vegetable strains are displayed enticingly on a vegetable stand at the Farmers’ Market in Roxas, Isabela. The vegetable and fruit center showcases homegrown vegetables and fruits.
In Photo: Bahay Kubo and pinakbet vegetable strains are displayed enticingly on a vegetable stand at the Farmers’ Market in Roxas, Isabela. The vegetable and fruit center showcases homegrown vegetables and fruits. Leonardo Perante II

IT was barely a decade ago when the chopper that covered my photo shoot over Honeymoon Island at the Pacific coast of Isabela province touched down in a school quadrangle in Roxas town.

It was my second time, however, to see the place again when I attended a Rice Harvest Festival organized by the Magat River Integrated Irrigation System (Mariis-Division III) early last month hosted by an already urbanized municipality of Roxas.

Armed with my favorite full-frame Nikon D700 FX camera mounted with an ultra wide-angle Nano lens (Nikkor AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G ED), I decided to revisit, a couple of weeks after the festival, what many describe as the fastest-growing municipality today in the Cagayan Valley Region.

“Welcome back to Roxas, the Pinakbet Bowl of the North!” said incumbent Roxas Mayor Benedict Calderon, who proudly served as my tour guide around his booming municipality.

Elected mayor in 1998, Calderon’s first major accomplishment was the construction of a municipal hall.

“The seat of governance and legislature literally needs a strong foundation for a developing town like Roxas, that was precisely the reason we established a timeless and classic-looking town hall,” Calderon said.

More than good farm-to-market roads and highways, there are 26 reasons a visit to this town in Isabela’s second congressional district is a must, especially for traders. The town’s 26 vegetable-growing villages contribute largely to the growing economy of the agricultural town with an average of 6,500 metric tons of vegetables per cropping season. Of the town’s total land area of 18,480 hectares, 12,000 are devoted to agriculture or 65 percent of the whole. A first-class town, Roxas is known for its large-scale production of bahay kubo vegetable strains, premium-quality rice and corn in large quantities. It is also seen as a potential livestock haven.  No wonder, its people are working hard to make it a veritable food basket.

In Photo: Framed by a green landscape with a classic design is the Roxas, Isabela municipal Hall.
In Photo: Framed by a green landscape with a classic design is the Roxas, Isabela municipal Hall. Leonardo Perante II

For producing an enormous volume of eggplants, Roxas is called the eggplant basket of the north. It was dubbed, too, as “Pinakbet Bowl” because of the extraordinary abundance of vegetables associated with this Ilocano delicacy.

“While we are popular for our all-season vegetables,” Calderon said, “these days, Roxas is better known for its large-scale production of hybrid rice.”

Its rich soil is blessed with all-day sunshine that favors the growth of quality rice. Many local farmers are certified rice-seed growers.

The local government initiated hog dispersals in all its rural villages, including the mass distribution of dairy Bulgarian or Italian buffalos and cows to sustain the town’s daily meat and milk requirements to reduce dependence on other livestock-producing provinces.

To address the need for modern infrastructure to house vegetables and livestock supplies, the construction of a modern slaughter house, livestock auction center and a vegetable trading post are in full swing. 

“We were able to get a contract with Monterey with an average of 100 heads of hogs butchered a day at P150 per head or a daily income of P15,000 that translates to P450,000 a month and with the vegetable trading center, our farmers and fruit producers would go there  directly without the need for middlemen.  It is equipped with on-line real-time updates of prevailing prices in Metro Manila and the rest of Luzon,” Calderon said.

For hometown consumption, the LGU has constructed a so-called Farmers’ Market at the commercial district of the town exclusively designed for vegetables and fruits.

“We want our constituents to get farm-fresh home-grown vegetables and fruits in one roof with affordable prices,” Calderon said.

Without any cost to the local government, it has enticed developers for the construction of business establishments in the heart of the town that attracted the influx of more investors.  Puregold and Savemore supermarkets with local shopping giants have rapidly congested the town’s commercial district. Jollibee and McDonald’s food chains have strategically launched their respective outlets.

Roxas has eventually become the business center of Isabela’s Mallig region. A total of 565 commercial establishments operate in the municipality, 12 of which are in Banking and Finance.

There are seven hospitals in the municipality. The new Roxas Municipal Health Center is equipped with a birthing facility and 19 clinics are strategically located in different barangays.

“We only prosper with a healthy citizenry,” Calderon said.

All its villages have their respective elementary schools and a number of government secondary schools that get subsidy from the local government. 

The Isabela State University and the University of La Sallete have their respective campuses in town. Before it reached its modern-day status, the town was originally occupied by the Kalingas until they were overruled by the Ilocanos, who migrated from the Ilocos region and from other parts of the country, making it a mixed race of inhabitants.

It was first called Bindang (Hero) and was renamed Vira, then a barrio in Gamu, Isabela. However, on July 1, 1948, President Elpidio Quirino issued Executive Order 136, converting Barrio Vira into an independent municipality named Roxas in honor of his predecessor Manuel A. Roxas, who just died a few months earlier.

The town was inaugurated on July 4, 1948, and Rafael Lintao became its first mayor. With well-paved highways, the town could be reached 9 to 10 hours by land from Metro Manila.

Image credits: Leonardo Perante II

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