Story & photos by Mau Victa / Correspondent
THE grotto of the Virgin Mary sitting regally atop an island locally known as immagamang has stood for the longest time along the coastline of Narvacan, Ilocos Sur.
The grotto can be viewed from the highways leading to the heart of Ilocandia and the Cordillera region. Aside from offering travelers a breathtaking view of the West Philippine Sea framed by rocks and mountains, the fascinating image seems to be standing as a faithful guard of the Ilocos town, to serve as a reminder that its beauty and potentials could reach greater heights and overcome nature’s blows, depending on how its handlers look after them.
The “earth, wind, water and fire” elements have become closely guarded resources for Narvacan in laying out development in the once-sleepy agricultural town. Now, as it slowly emerges in the country’s map as among the few of the best spots for extreme sports and adventure hub, Ilocos Sur’s biggest municipality is aggressively intensifying environment preservation, cleanliness and discipline as a way of life for all Narvacaneos, a culture magnified in its various tourism pursuits spread year-round.
With its strategic proximity to the acclaimed Unesco wonder city of Vigan and being the gateway to the Cordillera region through the province of Abra, Narvacan under the leadership of Mayor Zuriel S. Zaragoza has set its sights on further developing its agricultural industry that for generations has been the town’s main industry, along with the great potentials of its magnificent natural attributes—a valley situated along the costal lines of the West Philippine Sea and with vast mountains and forest reserves. It also banks on its rich history and heritage, a major force in ushering in the celebration of another milestone for Narvacan, its 441st foundation day as a town this December.
Now, more than ever, keeping Narvacan’s environs sheltered from the threats of improper use and lack of foresight is the top priority as the town leans toward a sustainable and vibrant economy.
Taste of Narvacan
LIKE other local government units in the Philippines, the town formed in 1576 puts its best foot forward through festive activities on the day of its founding. But unlike other localities, Narvacan under the administration of Zaragoza created not only one, but various festivals to pay tribute to the building blocks that made it shine as a locality.
As home of the famous and best-tasting bagnet (fried pork belly) in Ilocos, the municipal government launched the Bagnet Festival in 2010 to showcase the culinary prowess and industry of the Narvacaneos who depend on crop production and livestock raising as their main livelihood source.
Now on its seventh year, the event continues to add fire to the economic growth of the town, open more opportunities for the sturdy and industrious residents and, at the same time, preserve its rich culture and traditions.
Other festivals the municipal government institutionalized are meant to instill good environmental practices and awareness, as well as spur tourism in Narvacan, Narvacan government Environmental Management Specialist II Arman Anga-angan said.
As a coastal town, Narvacan takes pride of its crystal clear and pristine seawaters that abut some of its barangays, namely, Bulanos, Sulvec, Pantoc and San Pedro, and, thus, the aim to fulfill a commitment to protect the same.
In 2013 Narvacan started holding the “Fiesta del Mar,” the Festival of the Seas, as a strategy to raise awareness in the conservation of the seas and in campaigning for the restoration and renovation of the coastal areas and the marine ecosystem as a whole. The goal is to make Narvacan an ecotourist destination in Northern Luzon.
Narvacan considers its coastline an integral part of the local government’s tourism-development plan, the reason it embarked on its development in promoting its tourism. Through this festival, residents and participants are encouraged to do their part in ensuring the cleanliness of the shoreline in order to maintain the integrity and viability of the town’s tourism projects.
Anga-angan said Fiesta del Mar aims to showcase the splendor and breathtaking view of the sea through a series of water sports and tourist activities held near the Narvacan shorelines.
“These activities serve as a reminder to all of us that our coastal areas are crucial to our ecosystem,” he said.
Zaragoza emphasized this as the municipal government categorically shunned the operations of black-sand mining in the rich coastal areas of Narvacan in order to protect its integrity. In support, the three-term mayor said all barangays have passed ordinances disallowing any attempt to exploit the coastal lines, in the guise of exploration activities, for black-sand mining.
The earth, represented by the mountains and forests, is also part of the jewels that Narvacan puts high value on, since it is home to two well-known mountain ranges, the Bantay Abot and Bantay Tirad, where visitors and residents can experience the thrill of mountain climbing and trekking. Both mountains provide an unparalleled picture-perfect view with their beautiful landscape. Bantay Abot hosts the Narvacan Outdoor Adventure Hub or Noah, which has been re-launched by Zaragoza as the town’s flagship project in promoting ecological, experiential and adventure tourism and showcasing Narvacan’s best features.
Just this June, in time for the observance of the Environment Month, Narvacan also launched the Piesta iti Kabambantayan, or Festival of the Mountains, where activities are set forth to raise awareness on the need to preserve mountains and its forest ecosystems.
In conducting the festival, Narvacaneos pledge to protect the mountains in recognition of the fact that these increase their resilience against climate change, by acting as a natural barrier against the typhoons, while forests help mitigate flooding and, therefore, protect crop damage and threats to life, property and infrastructure in the lowlands.
Their commitment is amplified in the choice of activities for these celebrations. For Piesta iti Kabambantayan, for example, they feature a run for a cause, and its purpose could not be any clearer. Participants just do not run, but they carry tree seedlings that they will have to plant upon reaching the finish line in the forest. Moreover, reaching the finish line is an extraordinary experience, as runners will have to navigate through a challenging path that one has to pass uneven trails, others dotted by trees and wade through bodies of water.
The Piesta iti Kabambantayan is a reminder that “planting a tree may be a simple act but is actually very meaningful, as it a long way in efforts to save the environment by restoring the natural balance and viability of mountains and forest areas.”
The municipal government this year is also searching for the cleanest and greenest sitio, putting the leaders of its 34 barangays at the helm of activities in their respective sitios. The competition aims to recognize barangays with the best tree park, gulayan (vegetable garden), material-recovery facility, solid waste-management practices and best coastal area among Narvacan’s 195 sitios.
“We are campaigning to become the cleanest town in Ilocos Sur. We have this competition because we want all barangays to participate and for all its leaders to lead cleanliness in their turf. We want to instil discipline among the residents, and we want to start it from the simplest task of cleaning our surroundings, because we believe from there, discipline in other aspects of life and undertakings will follow,” said Zaragoza, in whose term the transfer of the town’s dump previously situated near the coastline to a more suitable area was implemented.
A salute to the farmers and agriculture
DESPITE rebranding Narvacan as a major tourism hub, support to tillers of the vast and fertile lands of Narvacan remains upbeat. Agriculture, Zaragoza said, still receives a substantial annual allocation from the municipal government to assure that farmers have good harvest and are able to supply the agricultural needs of the population and also upgrade their practices through trainings and sufficient farm inputs and implements.
Conrado B. Molina, Narvacan’s municipal agriculturist, said a total of 6,230 farmers continue to beef up the production of rice, corn and tobacco, and tomato, onions and garlic as secondary crops; as well as hogs and by-products, chiefly the Ilocos region’s best bagnet and longganisa. Around 2,500 hectares of farmlands are dedicated for rice production; 1,200 hectares for corn; 1,200 hectares for tobacco; 150 hectares for tomato; 180 hectares for onion; and 45 hectares for garlic. An average of 35 to 40 heads of swine is butchered daily for meat products. The town also has 1,200 registered fishermen.
Narvacan also produced the best quality of tobacco in the region, especially Virginia and Burley varieties. In a recent meeting with farmers and buyers of tobacco, Zaragoza encouraged farmers to plant more tobacco to help boost the share of tobacco-producing towns like Narvacan from the proceeds of the excise tax as provided for in Republic Act 7171.
“The agriculture industry is the life of the people, and so the municipal government provides the necessary interventions to support them,” Molina said.
Narvacan is among the municipalities in Ilocos Sur that allot the largest budget for farmers. Zaragoza said the support comprises regular supply of fertilizers and quality seeds. Almost all farmers also have their own water pumps.
Living legacies of historic past
WELL-KNOWN as one of the first seats of Christianity in Ilocos, towering in its grandeur at the heart of Narvacan is the Saint Lucy Parish Church or Narvacan Church, recently renamed Our Lady of Mount Carmel, also established in 1576. It first served as a visita and a first house of worship for the local populace. It survived the ravage caused by first and second World Wars and continues to stand as an enduring reminder of its glorious history. The church bears the marker of the National Historical Institute.
Image credits: Mau Victa