FEATURE STORY: Preserving Ilocos Sur’s “pagdadapilan”

By Imelda C Rivero, PIA, Ilocos Sur

VIGAN CITY – Back in the ‘60s, children in this city’s barangay Cabalangegan would gather at the ‘pagdadapilan’ in their barangays to savour every minute when their folks prepare the ‘bennal,’ the cooked sugarcane juice and ‘tagapulot’ or native sugar in a huge vat.

Today, the pagdadapilan in this barangay has long gone but elsewhere in the province, as in the towns of San Ildefonso and Santa Maria, there are still pagdadapilan that sustains the local wine ‘basi’ and vinegar industry, as witnessed during trade fairs in the province.

Pagdadapilan is where Ilocanos in the province meet to watch and help in the traditional process of squeezing the sugarcane juice with the wooden wheels powered by a cow, called ‘panagdapil’.

Because of the different sourness and signature taste of the Ilocano vinegar or the “sukang Iloco”, the industry is thriving and growing. Local tourists from all over the country who have constantly visited the World Heritage City of Vigan, and now one of the New 7 Wonders Cities of the World, prefer this vinegar. And this pushed the residents of the two towns to line their sides of the national highways with stalls selling sugarcane products – basi, sukang Iloco, balikutsa (candied sugarcane juice), tagapulot, and varieties of basi and vinegar with chili.

In barangay Maynganay Norte in Santa Maria town, both sides of the national highway is lined with stalls full of basi and vinegar in recycled bottles. Hanging above them are the balikutsa and tagapulot. This is sponsored by the local government to give livelihood to residents. When Santa Maria Church was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, tourists have been flocking to this town and have contributed in the growth of the sugarcane industry.

In San Ildefonso town where the One-Town-One-Product is the basi and sukang Iloco, the make-shift display stalls along the national highway is found in barangay Gongogong before the bridge that one passes through to the poblacion.

Today, tourists who visit the National Museum in Vigan City can now explore Ilocano culture through an exhibit on the basi industry of the Ilocanos. Displayed here are the ancient wooden sugarcane juicer, bottles of various sizes and shapes that used to store basi, and bamboo containers from the Mountain Province. And topping them all is the 14 oil paintings of Vigan resident Esteban Pichay Villanueva who was commissioned by the Spanish government to show through paintings what happened to all those who joined the Basi revolt and discouraged further uprisings.

The Basi revolt in 1807 came forth when basi lovers of Piddig town rose against the Spanish government rule that forced them to buy basi from government stores as private manufacture then was banned.#