Saturday, May 27, 2017


ON my first visit to Camotes, I count it as a blessing that I ate at the house of a resident.

Having breakfast at the ancestral home of the Borlasa clan in Poro, I was fortunate to not only break fast with colleagues who have become friends, I escaped the tourist handicap of seeing a new place as being created for the express purpose of amusing me.

Jiji, who once sat in my classes as an undergraduate and now teaches at the same state university, recalls spending summer with cousins who homed in from many parts of Visayas and Mindanao.

The home of her grandparents may have been transferred to above the street after a truck veered off and rammed into it, but it still retains many reminders of those endless summers of reunion.

If by some quirk of fate, the Borlasa home in Poro will lose all its material connections to the past, there’s still Jiji’s aunt.

Josefa “Pipay,” 82, does not only give obvious cues about how Jiji will look when she breaches her 80’s. Aunt and niece share, beyond a puckish humor and a direct but inoffensive way of speaking, a sense of place.

When the expression, “take root,” is used, it often refers to how something germinates, flourishes, takes hold.

Over the course of four days, I’ve seen how Camotes takes root in people, no matter how dissimilar they are.

Perhaps due to an economy that has remained agrarian and maritime, the two generations of Borlasas reflect how the people of Camotes are segregated between the native-born who never leave like Josefa, and those like Jiji who live and work elsewhere but never fail to go home.

Yet even among her sons and daughters who cannot escape the diaspora, the hold of Camotes on their sensibilities implies a complexity lying below its pastoral and placid charms.

Wrapped around the island is a thick belt of mature, verdant mangroves that serves as a natural buffer for disaster.

This resource so vital for marine ecology and disaster preparedness co-exists with the beach resorts, caves, and other hangouts in Santiago and Mangodlong.

Yet, more than political will prioritizes sustainability over present gains.

The community decides and participates, down to the “barangay,” ”sitio,” and “purok”.

A dialect named Porohanon is still spoken fluently despite the influx of Cebuano and English. Traced to migrants from Bohol and Leyte, Porohanon fascinates: “Nikuligi na l’at an puza (the child is crying again).”

A nylon sack, that’s reused after storing rice to holding trash, hangs outside every home in Camotes. It speaks volumes to visitors, perhaps not in Porohanon but of the ethos of interdependence: my home is your home. Treat it as you do your own.

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* First published in SunStar Cebu’s May 28, 2017 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”)

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