Roads and history co-exist

By: Zeidrick-J Cudilla

LAST Monday (April 1), the municipality of Balasan was surrounded with fanfare as it celebrated its annual festival intended to showcase the town’s heritage and culture. Dubbed as “Adlaw sang Balasan”, it is being held every first week of April, which is the month of the municipal fiesta before a 1998 local resolution merged it with the ecclesiastical celebration of the solemnity of the town’s titular, St. Anne, in July probably for reasons of practicality. April 4 is usually the highlight of the event (not for this year, however, as it was rescheduled for some unknown reason). When I interviewed people in the local government on the significance of the said date, they could not provide an answer with crystal-clear historical link. In my personal research on the town’s past, April 4, 1903 turned out to be the date of the enactment of Act No. 719 which contained a provision that ordered the conversion of the nearby towns of Carles, Batad, and Estancia to mere suburbs or arrabales of Balasan. Of course, that did not forge a strong connection to the true purpose of the festival. This remains to be discovered.

Hailing from this virtually unknown municipality, pinned in the map more than 80 miles north of the city of Iloilo, I realized that, upon setting foot in the bustling city in 2015 for my undergraduate studies, I had found new acquaintances who seemed oblivious of my hometown, with some even perplexed that it is actually in existence. One could not blame them for their ignorance. I am, however, saddened by this painful fact. To give due dignity to the town that witnessed my growth, allow me to write something about her.

The provenance of the name “Balasan” is unconfirmed. Many Balaseños agree that the nomenclature was derived from the word baras or balas, the local term for sand which was in abundance along the Bangon river. It is said that the first settlement thrived along this body of water in the 1850s. A contraction of the name from a couple identified as Blas and Asan, said to have lived hermetically in the mountains adjacent to the town, was discussed by a local chronicler, though not backed by any primary source documentation. Spanish writer Fr. Juan Fernandez, OSA, wrote of a species of a pandan plant locally called balasan as the source of the name—the same plant said to have existed in the banks of the aforementioned river. With these contradicting opinions, suffice it to say that the identity has not been substantially, if not completely, established.

In my study of my hometown’s history, I have negatively hypothesized that Balasan was deprived of being part of a larger historical picture because of the absence of a simple but significant thing necessary for societal development: good roads. Fr. Policarpo Hernandez, OSA wrote in his foreword to the translated version of Fr. Fernandez’ Monografias de los Pueblos de la Isla de Panay that Balasan had only been connected to the nearby towns with dirt roads initiated by an Augustinian prelate in the late 19th century, giving the impression that traveling there was quite a herculean task to handle. This was partly correct until 1915 when a survey of the provincial road system conducted by the Bureau of Public Works(now Department of Public Works and Highways) showed that Balasan and Estancia were connected by a third-class road while the former was only linked to Carles and Batad with land trails.

Before the road tracing the east coast of the Iloilo province was significantly materialized with the construction of the mountain road in the town of Barotac Viejo as a major prelude, Balasan was only accessible by sea through the jetties of Ajuy, Carles, or Estancia. If a land trip from Iloilo were to be insisted, one had to pass the hinterlands of central Panay and travel to Capiz in order to reach the town through an eastward route.

Highlighting the importance of roads to the gradual progress of a locality is one of the innumerable ways of critically appreciating and reconstructing history.