Catanduanes revives abaca festival after two years hiatus

By Rhaydz B. Barcia

Showcasing the province’s ingenuity and colorful events, the provincial government of Catanduanes revived the “Abaca Festival” after two years of hiatus following the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions.


Carmel Bonifacio-Garcia, Catanduanes provincial tourism officer, said the 6th Abaca Festival with a theme “Uswag Abaca: Dagos sa Maogmang Isla” (Develop Abaca: Welcome to the Happy Island) highlighted the abaca hand stripping competition with MASK (modified abaca stripping knife) wherein the local farmers (men and women) showcased its ingenuity and fastest abaca stripping locally called “hagot”.


It’s a festive week for the region’s “Happy Island,” the first festivity celebration held in public in Bicol following the revival of “Abaca Festival” now on its six years annual celebration after two years of virtual event due to the pandemic.


One of the events of the festival was the Philippine Motorcycle Tourism, a 360-degree ride around Catanduanes participated by 130 riders across the country showcasing the panoramic scenery of the province. The festival also featured agriculture, business and trade fairs.


Colorful street dancing presentations using the abaca materials and by-products exude the province festivity as the tribute to the island’s major source of livelihood among the Catandunganons.


The declaration of Catanduanes as the abaca capital of the Philippines is a “very timely gift” for the people in the province as it celebrated the 6th Abaca Festival last week of May and as the country’s tourism industry gradually recovers from the pandemic, Garcia said.


Last month, President Rodrigo Duterte declared Catanduanes as the country’s abaca capital by the virtue of Republic Act No. 11700, acknowledging the province as the country’s top producer of abaca fiber, or Manila hemp.


Following Duterte’s declaration, re-elected governor Joseph Cua said that it would bolster tourism industry and the abaca production in the island as more funding from the national government would be allotted for the development of the industry that would propel more livelihood programs for over 13,000 abaca farmers in Catanduanes.


Cua also said that more projects are in the pipeline for 2022 through the Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority (PhilFIDA) to revitalize abaca farms devastated by super typhoon ‘Rolly’ (international name: Goni) [in 2020] in November 1, 202o.


Training on basic handloom hand weaving, creation of abaca provincial seed bank, mechanization, dryer and diagnostic laboratory are on the pipeline to develop the abaca products, Cua said.


“At the core of our annual celebration of the Abaca Festival is our farmers who selflessly raise our local abaca products, elevating the province as the abaca capital of the Philippines. They are considered the lifeblood of the province who contribute significantly to our local economy,” the official said.


As part of the festival highlights of this year’s 6th Abaca Festival, the farmers’ and fisherfolks’ month was also conducted on May 27 at Queen Maricel Inn to pay tribute to their selfless dedication and contribution to the island’s economy.


Similarly, the provincial government of Catanduanes chose the Outstanding Abaca Farm Family in the province.


To develop the abaca products, Kennedy T. Costales, PhilFIDA executive director, said that his office is constructing the first fully-mechanized abaca processing facility in Caramoran town in Catandaunes and is expected to be operational in September this year.


“Construction of the very first fully-mechanized abaca processing facility in Caramoran, Catanduanes is now in its full swing. We project its operation by August or September this year. In the next five years, granting ample funding from the national government is provided to PhilFIDA. We plan to establish 4-5 fully-mechanized abaca processing facilities in “Happy Island” as PhilFIDA intends to mechanize the whole province to benefit our abacaleros,” Costales said.


Catanduanes accounts for 89.4 percent of Bicol region production and 36.2 percent of the country’s total abaca supply as of 2020, data from the Catanduanes provincial agriculture office indicate.


Aside from abaca, the province is well-known for breathtaking tourist destinations like the Binurong Point in Baras town, Puraran beach, Carorian Wonders in Bato town, and Bote lighthouse and church.


In the town of Pandan, tourist attractions are Tuwad Tuwadan Lagoon, Hiyop Highlands, Paraiso ni Honesto, andCagnipa Rolling Hills; Our Lady of Sorrows Shrine in Calolbon town; Summit View Park in Viga town; and the coastal beaches in Virac town.


Historically, the Bicol region is the country’s top producer of abaca. The abaca which is known as Manila hemp is one of the indigenous crops found in the region accounting for 32 percent of total abaca output across the country.


About 50,212 hectares of abaca farms in the Bicol region are being cultivated by 21,124 farmers. But the majority of abaca plants are destroyed in 2020 following the occurrence of three consecutive stronger super typhoons and are barely recovering as of presstime.


Abaca fiber is considered the strongest among natural fibers and the products derived from abaca are export champions. The Philippines is the world’s leading producer of abaca fiber with the United States and Germany as the leading markets, based on FIDA Bicol data.


In 1996, the Department of Science and Technology in Bicol assisted weavers of the women’s cooperative and trained on scouring, bleaching, drying, natural dye extraction, advanced weaving and application on abaca textile.


Commercial fabric production was introduced in the Bicol region in 1996 by DOST when the agency assisted the community-based cooperative in Baras Catanduanes through its Philippine Textile Research Institute.


Because of abaca’s socio-economic impact on many Filipinos specifically in Bicol, the Industrial Technology Development Institute, also an agency under the DOST, continues to encourage activities to strengthen the abaca industry.


The Philippines supplies more than half of the world’s demand for abaca. Abaca fabrics have gained popularity abroad as a packaging material. The growing concern for environmental protection and forest conservation the world over has provided more opportunities for natural fiber like abaca, the FIDA Bicol said.