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Carasi Beyond the Numbers

by April Aquino

Bounded by the Cordillera mountains and accessible only through narrow dirt roads, Carasi is some 38 kilometers from the Ilocos Norte capital of Laoag. It is a fifth class municipality, composed of only three barangays and 1,490 people, making it one of the least populous municipalities in the country.

We’ve been on the road for two hours and I was beginning to doze off when we finally passed by a big sign declaring that we were at last in our destination.

We turned left from the main road and proceeded to a winding, uphill path locals had touted Abortion Road–for reasons I’m supposing you can already deduce. There were fields of dry grassland, stretching as far as the eye can see; no trees in sight, save for the occasional kasoy and ipil-ipil; and fiery, coppery-red soil everywhere I looked. The driver said temperatures hitting 34° were pretty normal around here, but I was still surprised at how scorched and barren the flora looked like.

We finally came to a halt at Barbaquezo, the poblacion, where I was ushered into their municipal hall.

I found out that Mayor Rene Gaspar is fairly new to the post, having just assumed office last year. I also learned that contrary to information , farming is actually not a very viable source of income in the municipality. Apparently their soils weren’t fertile enough and can only yield certain types of root crops. Instead, people turned to livestock and hunting. Quite a few of them were also employed in the small-scale mining site operating in Virbira.

Because the PCF-granted projects were proposed and implemented before Mayor Gaspar was in office, I was accompaniedinstead by the Municipal Planning Development Officer (MPDO) and the Municipal Engineer to the locations.

Completed in 2011, the project called for the rehabilitation of three existing farm-to-market roads in the barangays of Angset and Virbira.

The first site was located close to a day-care center and was hardly noticeable because most of the canal was filled to the brim with soil and rocks. Apparently this happened all the time and they had to employ manual labor to clear the area every time it filled up. It was the same for the second and third site, only they were built in particularly steep areas in Virbira. To the right was a solid wall of soft, red soil; to the left was nothing but free fall. Very reassuring.

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The canals, obviously shallower than what is ideal, were intended to be deeper to successfully withstand the landslides in the area.

“But doesn’t road rehabilitation seem more of a local development project?” I asked. “What made it fall into the Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation (DRRCCA) category?”

They explained that road scouring is a perennial problem in their area, recalling incidents of landslides and even citing a DENR hazard map that illustrated how Carasi had the highest landslide-susceptibility rating in Northern Ilocos. The area was, after all, teeming with tension cracks and steep slopes. They proceeded to show me the spots where they installed slope protection and canal lining to divert run-off water.

The canals were ideally supposed to be deeper to successfully withstand the landslides in the area, but they explained that it would mean higher costs that will be impossible to cover with the Php 1,000,000 that the PCF allowed them.

The phone rang just as we were heading back to the vehicle. It was time for lunch.

A few minutes into lunch, however, commotion broke out. There had been an accident. The mayor’s brother was apparently on his way home to Carasi when the car he was driving slipped and fell off a cliff.

I knew then that we’d have to go on without the mayor, so I was surprised when he asked his wife to check on the accident instead and insisted he stay for the interview.

Shaken, but determined to complete the assignment, we proceeded.

Being a fifth class municipality meant that Carasi was Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA)-dependent. That, coupled with a portion from RA 7171 or the Tobacco Excise Tax Law and revenues from the mining operations in the area, makes up the only sources of funding for Carasi’s development projects.

Topography is also a major drawback, they further explained. Aside from being unable to yield

a wider range of crops for profit, their soils also made it impossible to grow trees that were crucial in limiting soil erosion. A combination of these factors point to the reason why it has been extremely difficult to draw in investors whose revenues would’ve contributed significantly to their development funds.

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LGUs with the Seal of Good Housekeeping are entitled to the PCF.

But they assured me that they haven’t given up.

For one, the PCF-funded projects are a start. They recounted how it has been significantly easier and safer for the residents to travel in and out of town, not to mention more convenient for the farmers peddling their produce, since the projects were put into place. They also showed me a new PCF proposal they were currently working on– another landslide-prevention project, only this time set to cover more land area.

“And we just received a good news,” their mayor happily informed me on our way to the vehicle that would take me back to Laoag. Apparently, a foreign organization has reached out to them about the possibility of putting up a big-scale solar power plant in the area. They were scheduled to visit Carasi next month to survey its lands.

I uttered my final thanks as they all bid me goodbye and with that I was off to Laoag.

I came to Carasi knowing full-well that it was one of the more financially challenged municipalities, but witnessing their plight first-hand and talking to actual residents provided insight into a way

of life that no carefully drawn-up statistic or well-written primer could even come close to providing.

Hope wasn’t lost after all. Carasi, Ilocos Norte was rallying.

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