|Fish vendors await customers at a wet market in Larap. Fish vending has become one of the major sources of livelihood for the locals after the iron mine was shut by the operators Philippine Iron Mines (PIM) decades ago. Local fishermen have complained that their catch would no longer support a day's need of the family as fish has become scare at the Larap Bay after mangroves on the shoreline of Larap were demolished by firewood and charcoal makers. Mangroves, they said, were the breeding place of marine life like crabs, shrimps and fish. - Photo courtesy of Taga-Larap Ako Facebook account.|
"TAGA-Larap ka ba?"
IT'S a simple question that elicited varied, if not positive, reactions and answers from many natives of this place, who are now living elsewhere in the Philippines and overseas.
Just a quick browse on its account on Facebook simply called "Taga-Larap Ka bBa?" would surprisingly show the enthusiasm that is being generated by FB account holders from this community, who are tightly networked with this social site.
And although they have been away for too long a time, they are still willing and felt honored to be referred to as Mambulaoans. This heartens me, being a dyed-in-the-wool native of Mambulao.
If I am not mistaken, this cyber unit on FB has 840 registered members or so, who are based in many parts of the world - from the US to Asia, to Middle East and Europe and spanning to the Pacific.
Indeed, it is a huge human resource that could move mountains and stop ocean waves when asked.
Larap, as every Mambulaons knew, was home to the former iron mines, the Philippines' biggest during the early 50s and 60s.
The iron mine had become the major source of tax revenue for the municipality of Jose Panganiban; it was the economic heart that had pumped millions of pesos into the local economy.
And to the people of Larap, it was their life - their bread and butter, the source of their inspirations, the colors of their dreams and their path to prosperity.
And Larap, for all its wealth and grandeur, became a bustling community - in fact a separate entity almost nearing a township in itself -- although just a barrio (those days but now designated as a baranggay), much bigger and full of life than what Jose Panganiban, the town, was.
But when PIM the miner decided to call it quits, as it was no longer profitable to continue operating the mine, it abandoned the community like a discarded rag, with nothing to support itself with source of livelihood, and at the same time leaving the whole place a virtual dust bowl that it took decades for some trees to grow again.
Post-withdrawal contingencies to support Larap in terms of source of living for the locals who would be left behind had never been thought of by the mine owners.
So the years that followed after it was abandoned had been grueling for those who did not have options but to stay put and eked out a living from whatever catch the nearby bay could offer.
More than 50 years after the mine's shutdown, many natives of Larap, apparently successful after working overseas and who returned to the country but opted to retire elsewhere, are coming back to Larap with sheer vengeance.
A flurry of Facebook messages say it all - the once-children themselves during the boom years of Larap but are now in their happy retirement, and those younger ones who are actively pursuing their dreams of financial fill overseas, are talking in one voice: Development for Larap, the home of their youth, to bring its old glory back.
Everybody agreed that it's a tough job, but are nevertheless optimistic that their high-level of enthusiasm to help put their old community back on its feet is doable with fair chance of success.
At the moment, they are organizing to push the concreting/cementing of the road leading to their isolated community, starting at Parang, home to our Alma Mater Jose Panganiban High School.
In this part of the world, a paved road network - cemented at that - is just as vital as your two working feet to speed up the movement of people, goods and services to enhance the creation of livelihood.
Right in the heart of Larap, there are many things that needed face-lifting - from schools to public plaza facilities, public market and water source.
The Facebook Larap natives wanted very much to do it, and if possible, together with the Jose Panganiban municipal government.
But of course, the town administration might have had other things in its mind for now, and giving Larap the much-needed boost is out of the question.
So, the Facebook community of Larap has to do it on its own, hoping that self-reliance could do the trick.
Reminiscing the glory days of yore, one Facebook texter, herself a kid during those years when the fiesta of Larap was the biggest thing in her youth, quipped: I miss Larap ... let's put her back on the map.
Yeah, in my youth, I had never missed a celebration of fiesta here.
I believe putting Larap back on the map would be the day.
- From AP HERNANDEZ (JPHS Batch '65). Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea