Thursday, March 3, 2016

Catanduanes gets ready for Abaca Festival
By Danny O. Calleja

LEGAZPI CITY, March 2 (PNA) -- Bicol’s island-province of Catanduanes is getting set for the first-ever celebration that will showcase its people’s life and resilient spirit inspired by being the country’s top abaca producer.

“We have already organized working committees tasked to handle the various activities lined up for the First Abaca Festival the province will be holding on May 21-27, this year,” Governor Araceli Wong said in a statement reaching here Wednesday.

These activities will feature, among others, the culture and tradition of Catandunganons made exceptional by their resilience to natural calamities, given that the province occupies the first landmass to be kissed by the waves of the Pacific Ocean, exposing it to tropical cyclones constantly hitting the country’s eastern seaboard, according to the governor.

The exotic feature of the island, called the Land of the Howling Wind, will also be the focus of the celebration that will place at the center stage the marvelous local tourism attractions popularized by verdant environment, rich ecosystem and majestic beaches.

Catanduanes is a promising travel destination, owing to its off-the-beaten path ecotourism wonders, dive sites and sea surfing venues like Puraran Beach where waters offers thrill and adventure reeling with surf, sand and sun -- featured as the island’s tourism icon sitting amid the backdrop of scintillating coves and rolling hills.

Cultural presentations, street dancing, native songs, sports competitions, pageants and fashion shows featuring “pinukpok” abaca costume creations and trade fairs are among the colorful events of the week-long festival dedicated to the province’s booming abaca industry.

It is high time now that the province pays tribute to the industry in recognition of its significant contribution to the island’s economy and to the good life that its people enjoy, Wong said.

“We are going to do this by way of the Catanduanes Abaca Festival which we are institutionalizing from this year on as an annual merrymaking that will be a venue for expressing our gratitude to God for this heavenly blessing. It would be a grand affair to showcase the greatness of Catandunganons in nurturing this industry and an event to promote the province’s tourism industry, she said.

The province, sitting off the northeastern side of the Bicol Peninsula and separated from the mainland by Maqueda Bay has a total of over 35,500 hectares of abaca plantations cultivated by 15,454 farmers who produce an average of 19,000 metric tons of fiber yearly, representing 33.2 percent of the total national annual production, to become the country’s fiber industry leader.

This makes abaca its backbone industry that since time immemorial has made the island a prized contributor to country’s fiber export earnings.

In 2012 alone, the country posted an amount of US$ 120 million in abaca export earnings or an over Php5 billion on the back of increased demand for abaca pulp and cordage in the Philippines’ major markets, according to records of the Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority (PhilFIDA).

The development of new end-use for abaca fiber in composite applications for the automotive industry in Germany contributed to boost the demand for the fiber.

Car manufacturer Chrysler-Daimler has cited the superb ecological balance of abaca combined with its excellent technical properties similar to those of glass fiber, the material previously used in the under body protection of cars.

Likewise, with the stricter policies against dumping of synthetic fishnets and cordage materials in open sea as enforced by most European nations, users are returning to the use of natural biodegradable materials like abaca fiber.

Abaca pulp, meanwhile, has been gaining more popularity owing to the expanding demand for specialty papers for tea bag, meat and sausage casings, currency papers, metallized papers, cigarette papers, filters, hi-tech capacitor papers and other non-woven items and disposables.

As the environmental protection movement heightens, many countries are becoming more protective of their ecology, particularly the timber forest -- the source of wood pulp which is the traditional material for pulp and paper production.

Japan continues to import abaca pulp from the Philippines for the manufacture of its currency notes and Japanese bills of Y10,000, Y500 and Y1,000 denominations have 60-percent abaca components.

Other applications of abaca pulp in Japan include capacitor and insulation papers, tea bag, masking tape, paper cloth, stencil paper, filter oil absorbent paper, casings and other specialty paper products.

On the other hand, innovative and functional fiber crafts from abaca have continued to evolve and introduced in both the local and international markets with the Filipino intrinsic artistry, ingenuity and world-class craftsmanship coupled with the versatility of abaca fiber.

The construction industry is also making use of abaca for light structural walls, insulation materials, floor and wall coverings and roofing while apparel makers use it as raw material component for organic denims.

Called a smart crop owing to abaca plants’ resistance to typhoons and drought, it serves as the top agricultural commodity that keeps the local economy alive from the farm gate down to traders’ receipts providing stable employment, livelihood and business opportunities leading to the province’s lower poverty rate compared to other Bicol areas.

In its latest poverty incidence report, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) placed Catanduanes’ poverty rate at 27.1 percent, the second lowest next to Camarines Norte’s 24.7 percent among Bicols’ six provinces—topped by Masbate at 44.2 percent; followed by Albay, 36.1 percent; Camarines Sur, 33.5 percent; and Sorsogon, 32.1 percent.

On the other hand, the National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction (NHTS-PR) or Listahanan of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), in its first assessment done in 2009, listed Catanduanes as having the comparatively lowest number of poor households at 51 percent or only 16,743 out of its 32,811 households assessed.

In the same assessment, Masbate’s 160,257 households have 103,478 or 64.6 percent identified as poor while of Albay’s 141,617 households, 88,242 or 62.3 percent were poor; Camarines Sur with 226,714 households had 136,208 or 60 percent listed as poor; Camarines Norte, 40,802 poor or 56.5 percent of its 72,227 households; and Sorsogon, 75,769 poor or 53.6 percent of 141,388 households.(PNA) LAP/FGS/DOC/CBD/EDS