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Simmering in Tugue

by: Regina Auan

Tuguegarao, CAGAYAN — I come here, the city where my parents grew up in, just as typhoon Luis leaves, ripping through the city fast and hard at 160kph. In two hours, he’s gone. Cornfields are left flattened, but farmers pick through them the next day without concern. Most have already been harvested earlier; their livelihood is safe. It seems the biggest inconvenience the storm has caused is a slight swelling of the Pinakkannawan River–not exactly the drama and danger that a group of American filmmakers were probably hoping for when they got there to shoot the storm.

Moira Lang, renowned screenwriter and film producer (her latest project: Norte, Sa Hangganan ng Kasaysayan), is with the stormchasers. I expect to grab a drink with her when I arrive, but she texts me that they have to leave, stat. “The film crew has to go back to Manila, but thanks for the help!” she says. My cousin, Randy, who is based there, had tipped them off on one of the most beautiful vantage points of Tuguegarao, Calvary Hills in Peñablanca, and she found it a prime place to shoot Luis’ onslaught.

The last time I was in Tuguegarao was a year ago, a quick in-and-out job to cover the partnership of an Argentinian farming equipment firm with a local agri tycoon in Isabela. We stayed overnight in Tugue, made a swift trip around the city, said hi to my cousins, and left again. I did not get the chance to visit our ancestral home, to order our famous Tuguegarao longganisa, or to eat our famed batil patung (a most unhealthy noodle dish made of egg noodles, topped with egg poached in broth, topped with another serving of noodles, topped with carabao beef and liver, served with a side of chopped onions and

chilies in vinegar and soy sauce).

The only thing I was thankful to miss out on, was the infamous Tuguegarao heat.

The place’s name itself means “fire”: “tuggi”. During summers, temperatures soar and scorch at 40-degrees Celsius. Conversely, temperatures can dip to a wonderful 19-degrees during cold months. The weather in this fire/ice pit—like the people and the cuisine—is extreme. Only the hardiest or most obstinate can handle it.

I’m here to continue my research on Slow Onset Impacts (SOI). To add balance and grassroots voice to the interviews I’ve already conducted with scientists, technocrats, and poets, I’ve been asked to locate and identify LGUs in areas most affected by SOI. That I’m from Tuguegarao is mere coincidence. Tough-talking action man USec Fred Serrano of the Department of Agriculture himself brought it up. “Dahil food basket siya (Because it’s a food basket),” he said. Meteorologist and IPCC member Dr. Rosa Perez said it would be a good place to visit also because of “desertification”.

Funny, then, that none of the six people I interview while I am here know what Slow Onset Impacts are.

“They’re the climatic changes that creep up on you, and bam! You’re dead,” I say.

Blank stare.

“They can be more deadly that extreme episodic disasters!” I continue.

Blink-blink.

“The thing is—they’re boring. They’re not extreme, they don’t carry any drama. So people don’t pay attention to them.”

A flash of understanding, and the concept settles. Cases and instances are mentioned. Drop in quantity and quality of yield of vegetable crops. Displacement of a hundred families in Cataggan. The need for a sturdier variety of rice, one that doesn’t need much water. Goats, sheep, the cabeer chicken as an alternative livelihood. Man-made problems as well—flooding, water security at risk. And one silver lining in the rising water temperatures: the extended production of agar-agar.

Maganda yang ginagawa niyo! Maganda yang research! (Your research is good!) Blink-blink turns into hopeful interest.

It’s enough to make me forget how furious I am at Luis. Fast, furious, his flamboyance merits the visit of Vice President Binay, a native of the region, an Ybanag, who gets there several hours before me. Binay is there ostensibly to check on the damage—which, if I’m to consider how the people and the disaster risk team at the City Hall are behaving, is exaggerated by the press. His presence causes mix-ups in my scheduled appointments with two of the three mayors I had contacted earlier, whose staff say had to leave unexpectedly because they were beckoned by the Veep.

So there we are, calling, re-scheduling, little ol’ Randy driving me around on now-unfamiliar roads to three municipalities in the tuggi heat. He patiently waits as we hold a few inane but necessary conversations just to make sure I’m treated nice by my interviewees, climbs with me a total of 34 flights of stairs to meet who I have to meet, listen in on whatever’s going to be said. On my second interview, he’s joining the discussion as well. Sharing what he understands about SOI.

I get what I need, maybe even more. And this time this Ybanag gets to squeeze in an evil bowl of papaitan and a coma-inducing plate of batil patung.

Featured photo caption: With Hon. Juditas Trinidad, Mayor of Iguig. Probably the only mayor with a photo of the Veep –instead of the Prez–as a backdrop to her desk in her office.

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