This Remote Island…



From Cebu Daily News Inquirer came this announcement: State-owned Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) recently installed automated teller machines (ATMs) in the underbanked municipalities of San Jacinto and San Fernando in Ticao Island in the province of Masbate, a top official said.” The news continued: DBP President and Chief Executive Officer Emmanuel G. Herbosa said the installation of two ATMs in the remote island is the first by a universal bank and is part of the bank’s thrust to promote financial inclusion especially in unbanked and underserved areas in the countryside.


I can understand the term “underbanked” to describe the municipalities of San Fernando and San Jacinto but not the idea of the island, to which the said two towns belong, as “remote.


I try to visualize a remote island. From afar, no one sees the outline of that piece of land. But the truth is you could see Ticao from Sorsogon and the other land mass across Ticao Pass. Then I try to imagine some more how a remote island with not two but four municipalities could be fitted with an electronic banking system.


If the settlement is remote, must it be integrated into a cash economy?


Of course, I am indulging in irony, you know that, which brings gaiety of reflection and the joy of wisdom, according to Anatole France, the French journalist and poet. Yes, if we could only reflect a bit and enjoy the moments of thinking then we would not rush into a sentence where we call a place that we are not familiar with, remote. Then we would find the happiness in the wise man who always asks himself the meaning of other places to him.


Let me tell you where I am coming from in my tale. I was born in Ticao and I know the island.


When we moved to the city, that was Naga in the early 60s, the place had just moved out of its being a town. Except for the huge neon lights declaring three kinds of beer that hovered over the Plaza Rizal, then an old-fashioned park (it still is despite the numerous nonsensical renovations), Naga felt like a town. Which eased the anxiety of this boy from the island. It was a site where everyone knew everybody.


But there were new things. There was the language, which was quite different from my first language, Tigaonon, a language closer to Samar-Leyte and Panay languages. The cinemas were bustling. There was also the presence of many churches. For a small city, the concentration of churches near each other was an imposition of faith. Priests seemed to be everywhere: on stage during official holidays; again, on stage during parades, priests in parties and more priests in Masses that were being offered endlessly as if the city needed badly redemption.


A few months after we settled in, my grandparents on the mother’s side arrived. For quite a while, the household did not have any problem with food. Rice was plentiful and the viands on the table were good. Then came the fish supply. Our Lola Miling had severe conflicts with the fish being sold in the market and especially those by itinerant vendors. She would look at the small fishes and declare: dili ini ginaluto sa aton! (freely translated into “we do not cook this kind of fish back in the island”). For this grand lady from a “remote” island, there were things in the city that surely did not pass her standard.


Marshall Sahlins, with his theory on the original affluent society, was partly right: affluence is not about surplus but of wants satisfied because production is just enough and desires are little.


The fact is isolation of a place never implies dearth or poverty but a cultural and political disposition. The difference between our island and your mainland is not the remoteness of the former from the latter but the perceived social distance (in the original meaning of the concept) of the “main” from those at the areas outlying. Thus, even among the inhabitants of Masbate (the bigger island where the capital is), Ticao is called “isla” as if by size their land surrounded by water has ceased to be one.


To the early settlers, however, the island was not remote. It was in Ticao where a pre-Spanish artefact called the “Ticao Stone” was discovered. It remains to be the only extant example of syllabary inscribed on stone. To the Spanish colonizers, too, Ticao was not a remote island for they used it as an important transit point in their journey. These colonizers knew about development – and conquest – because for them no land was ever remote, backward or isolated. We should have learned from them.