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IN MY EYES: Our GUMIL Sta. Ana adventure

It was only my second time to join GUMIL Filipinas national convention.

It was held in Sta. Ana, Cagayan April 20-22, fellas, my first time around was in Lingsat, San Fernando City (La Union) in April 2017, at the Union Christian College (UCC) where we also visited Poro Point in one of the evenings.

GUMIL stands for Gunglo Dagiti Mannurat nga Ilokano or Guild of Ilocano Writers – whether you write in native Iloko (or Iluko if you wish), Tagalog or English. Prominent Ilocano writers such as Mario Albalos, Reynaldo Duque, Arthur Padua and Godofredo Reyes are already gone, but the likes of Juan SP Hidalgo, Cles Rambaud, Jun Bumanglag, Diony Bulong, Joe Bragado, Roy Aragon, Ariel Tabag, Danilo Bautista, Precy Bermudez, Ben Pacris, Joel Manuel and the popular Urata brothers (Arthur, Joe and Tony) among others are still here and kicking.

Also to include in the list are the Alicias brothers, Robert and Eduardo, who are both very adept in manipulating the English language. Robert has published, so far, 11 books, all in English where his best columns are compiled in his “Morsels of Life” and “Surfing the Minds of the Maetroas” series. Eduardo is a retired UP professor whose book, “Humor and Madness” is a record-breaking holder recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records. He has written and published a lot of books and has lectured in many colleges and universities. He is also partly educated in London.

The 50th GUMIL Convention in Sta. Ana was a pleasant experience, fellas.

Sta. Ana is more than 500 kilometers north of Vigan City, where we started via two vans, (only 8 passengers including yours truly) passing by the Ilocos Sur towns of Bantay, San Ildefonso, Sto. Domingo, Magsingal, San Juan, Cabugao and Sinait. From the south, Ilocos Norte starts with Badoc, then Pinili, Batac, San Nicolas, Laoag City, Bacarra, Pasuquin, Burgos, Bangui and Pagudpud.

The Cagayan road to Sta. Ana starts with Sta. Praxedes, Claveria, Sanchez Mira, Abulog, Ballesteros, northern tip of Aparri, Buguey, Sta. Teresita, Gonzaga and then Sta. Ana, situated at the northeasternmost tip of Cagayan. The highway is good and wide and the travel was smooth.

While traversing the 8-hour trip (with several stops), we saw Cagayan as composed of wide farmlands, so wide we saw ricefields as far as we could see from both sides of the road. Most of the farmlands were already harvested but there were still many fields laden with golden grains.

Sta. Ana is fondly called the “Paradise of the North.”

It has Port Irene, the cozy northern Philippines port of entry, but not so open now. You have to secure a permit before touring the area. Port Irene is also that famous (or infamous?) landing port of smuggled goods (it’s a common knowledge, anyway) including cars, both ordinary and luxury. When President Rodrigo Duterte ascended to power, he started cracking out the Bureau of Customs corruption nut and Port Irene was not spared. Visible to the eyes along the highway beside Port Irene are hundreds, if not thousands, of impounded cars weathered by the sun and the afternoon rains (it’s rainy afternoons there this summer), all rusting, waiting for their fate to be auctioned or to be either sold to the junkshops or stay there forever as a living memento of the smuggling that was once there. Sta. Ana and the other towns where we passed dropped by reminded me of Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur during the last decade. When we dropped by Gonzaga on our way home to visit some of the Alicias clans, the FMR road to Barangay Baua via Sta. Maria was just starting to be concreted. But for me, it was a beautiful sight, so serene, so Philippine setting that I wanted to stay there for a while, away from all the noise and pollution of urban surroundings — so nostalgic one can easily recall the local color presented by Manuel Arguilla in his story, “How My Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife.”

(TO BE CONTINUED)