History of Balbalasang

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by Augustus Ulat Saboy, 10 July 1996

Historical accounts of early foreigners who crisscrossed the length and breadth of the Cordillera region reveals that Balbalasang was a mountain settlement that existed before the Spaniards set foot on the island of Luzon.

In 1877, a team of Spanish engineers and military personnel conducted a survey of the forbidding mountain borderlands of the eastern part of the province of Abra. This survey was ordered by Governor General Domingo Moriones as part of the plan of the Spanish government to connect the Cagayan region with a road linking the Ilocos region cutting through the provinces of Abra and Kalinga.

The survey party started out in March that year with one army engineer, two officers and 40 soldiers from Bucay, Abra passing through the mountain range of Mt. Lamonan where the group encamped. They finally reached the headwaters of the Saltan River and rested in the village of Balbalasang.

The report, bolstered by other eyewitness accounts of the existence of Balbalasang by succeeding foreign discoverers of this primeval human settlement, gives credence to the fact of Balbalasang as a sedentary community long before the Spaniards stepped into Philippine soil.

Later documents of foreign writers reveal that Balbalasang was visited by writers and anthropologists, foremost of whom were Hans Meyer (1882), Alexander Schadenberg (1887), and the American anthropologist Fay Cooper Cole (1902) at the start of the American occupation of the Philippines.

The location of the primitive Balbalasang village, however, is not the present site where the “modern” village now stands. The old Balbalasang settlement, now abandoned, is located about one kilometer downstream of the Saltan River at a riverside bluff hemmed in by the Maatop Creek and the Saltan River.

The Spaniards who were engaged in their road construction project established their garrison at Binolgan (or Vinungan) some two kilometers up the pine-forested mountain to the northeast of present Balbalasang village. Another outpost was established by the Spanish troops on a hillside promontory at Docligan overlooking the confluence of the Mapga-Tapao Creek and the Saltan River. This is now the site of the Community Picnic Park being developed by the Balbalasang barangay government.

When the Philippine Commission through Act No. 1876 on August 18, 1912 created the Mountain Province as a distinct political territory, Kalinga was among these seven sub-provinces created along the ethnic groupings of the people in the Central Cordillera mountain range. The province was to be reorganized into five sub-provinces. Kalinga was later organized into municipal districts and among these first four municipal subdivisions was Balbalan.

For Balbalasang, this political administrative set-up was pivotal in its historical development. For when Lt. Governor Walter Hale, an American politico-military administrator who first served as Lieutenant Governor of the defunct sub-province of Amburayan, was assigned to Kalinga, he appointed Presidentes (municipal mayors or administrators) and Juan Puyao, a Kalinga Banao tribal chieftain form Balbalasang was appointed as the Presidente of the Balbalan municipal district.

At the time that Puyao assumed the municipal administratorship, the political territory of Balbalan – aside from its present barangay composition – included some barangays of the present municipalities of Pasil and Pinukpuk. But Lieutenant Governor Hale had special admiration for Juan Puyao for his magnetic personality as a leader and uncompromising stance in his administrative decisions.

Puyao was a native of Balbalasang who, through his strong and visionary leadership among his people, saw not only the future progress of his fellow tribespeople but also the whole municipality of Balbalan. Puyao had, first of all, sought the re-settlement of the people of Balbalasang from its old site to where Balbalasang is presently located. At the time of its nascent development, Balbalasang was among the far-flung villages allotted the so-called “Settlement Farm Schools” in the Mountain Province. These settlement farm schools had a triune curriculum that offered vocational, agricultural and academic work from the first grade to the intermediate grades. Thus, came the Balbalasang Settlement Farm School which was built in the new village of Balbalasang.

In 1925, American missionaries scouting for missionary outposts in the Mountain Province learned about Balbalasang from students studying in the La Trinidad Settlement Farm School at La Trinidad, Benguet. These students who were mostly from Balbalasang used to drop by at Bontoc in the Boys’ dormitory of the Anglican (Episcopal) Mission for accommodation. The students who were now oriented to the Anglican faith had asked these American missionaries to visit Balbalasang.

In 1922, an American Episcopal missionary, the Rev. Edward B. Sibley, set foot for Balbalasang to look for a land on which they would build their church in relation to the expansion program of the Episcopal Church in the Mountain Province. In June 1925, the American Episcopal Bishop of the Philippines, Governor Frank Mosher,* visited Balbalasang together with other American missionaries and established the Anglican Mission in the place named, The Saint Paul’s Mission. Juan Puyao’s leadership was demonstrated once again when he and the leaders of Balbalasang donated to the Anglican Church the premises on which the church properties are located.

Leaders come and go. So do religious missionaries who had prepared the people of Balbalasang for full leadership of their people. Father Leonard Wolcott, Father Arthur Richardson, Father Alfred L. Griffiths and the indefatigable and intrepid woman missionary-nurse, Miss Charlotte G. Massey, who founded the church clinic and at the same time served as a Deaconess of the Church were among the illustrious missionaries who had served and made Balbalasang not only a bastion of Christianity but also a microcosm of modern civilization in the Cordillera Region. In 1946, after bowing to the wishes of the people, the St. Paul’s Memorial High School was established, furthering the educational growth of the community. Today, Balbalasang ranks high in literacy among the villages in the Cordillera region – and for that matter, the Philippines – with professionals of various fields from the village serving in all levels of both government and non-government sectors.

In 1973, Congress enacted a law declaring a portion of the Balbalasang peripheral forests as “National Park” and the village of Balbalasang a “National Tourist Resort.”

Origin of the Name “Balbalasang”

Interpreted in literal terms, “Balbalasang” in the Banao dialect is a woodland dominated by a cluster of trees called “Balasang.” In Banao orthography, repetition of the first syllable of the word (in this particular case, “BAL”) denotes multiple number. So, Balbalasang means an area where there are many Balasang trees.

The Balasang is a terrestrial tree with heights ranging from six to fifteen meters of pinnate simple leaves. Its young leaves are light red, and its flowers bright red and willowy. The long, willowy flowers arranged around the tree like the flowing hair of a woman measure up to one meter in length. Significantly, these trees are only found within the Balbalasang region but at present, it is now an endangered species with only a few trees seen in certain places. The flowering season of the Balasang tree is on the dry months of the year (i.e., February to May).

The Legend

Legend has it that a beautiful maiden (balasang) once lived in what is now known as Balbalasang. In the ancient Banao times, beautiful maidens were the prime and price objects of courtship by dashing young warriors who return triumphantly from war with a number of human heads as trophies from headhunting exploits.

One day, the maiden found to her disheartening that her warrior lover married another lady in a far away village. In the depth of her despondency, she transformed herself into a beautiful tree. That is why this tree was called “balasang.” The tree multiplied in a certain region which was to be called “Balbalasang.”

* Thanks to fellow yBalbalasang Romy Tangbawan, an editor for Arab News, for correcting the typographical errors (Moser for Mosher, Alfredo for Alfred).

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