This green town named Bansalan

By Henrylito D. Tacio

SOME few years back, friends of Leila Rispens-Noel wanted to visit her hometown. But they had difficulty in finding the town on the Philippine map. “I have to describe to my friends where the town is geographically located and assured them not to worry because one day Bansalan will be placed on the map of the Philippines,” said the native of Bansalan, Davao del Sur who left for the Netherlands in 1979.

Bansalan is a small town, with a total land area of only 20,770 hectares. It is subdivided into 25 barangays and is the boundary between the provinces of North Cotabato and Davao del Sur. It is about 72 kilometers south of Davao City and is very accessible by land transportation. The town is sandwiched by two cities: Kidapawan and Digos.

This is probably the reason why progress in my former town is so slow,” wrote Rispens-Noel in her column, Roundtrip: Bansalan-Holland. “Vehicles do not linger long in Bansalan. Passengers from North Cotabato are eager to reach Digos or Davao City, while passengers bound for North Cotabato are rearing to reach Kidapawan City and further to Cotabato City. It has never been a place where passengers stay longer for one reason or the other. Business activities remain in the hands of the local enterprising people. And so the town remains largely rural and agricultural and still waiting for a miracle for the local economy to pick up.”

There are always two sides of a coin. In a way, being a laggard in development can also be a blessing in disguise. As a matter of fact, Bansalan has been touted as a “green town” for being “environment-friendly.”

For one, it is the birthplace of the internationally-known Sloping Agricultural Land Technology (SALT). “The system is simple, low-cost, and timely method of tilling the fragile uplands, which comprise about 60 percent of the country’s total land area,” explains Roy C. Alimoane, the current director of the Mindanao Baptist Rural Life Center (MBRLC) Foundation, Inc. “SALT helps protect the soil from erosion and leaves of nitrogen-fixing trees and shrubs are used as fertilizer for crops and feeds for livestock.”

The MBRLC is located in barangay Kinuskusan, just 10 kilometers away from the town proper. Actually, it’s a training center for various sustainable farming systems. Considered the “Disneyland of agricultural lovers,” people from all over the country travel to this place just to learn the modern technologies it offers.

At MBRLC, you can learn how to make FAITH (Food Always In The Home) garden and to sustain your farm by adopting the SALT system and its three other modifications: Simple Agro-Livestock Technology (SALT 2), Sustainable Agroforest Land Technology (SALT 3), and Small Agro-Livelihood Technology (SALT 3). You can also learn how to milk dairy goats, harvest tilapia, and graft fruit trees, among others.

For developing these technologies, the Department of Science and Technology awarded the center “in the area of agricultural production” in 1987. In 1991, the regional office of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recognized MBRLC with a World Food Day Silver Medal for its contribution in “mobilizing people’s participation in tree planting and sustainable forest resources management.” Earlier, in 1985, its former director, Harold R. Watson, was given the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for peace and international understanding for promoting the technologies in various parts of Asia.

Speaking of Asia, the center houses its affiliate, the Asian Rural Life Development Foundation (ARLDF). “Our main purpose is to help develop and uplift the standard of living of the poorest of the poor in Asia,” explains Alimoane, of the foundation which was launched in 1988.

Through the foundation, the staff has trained more than 10,000 people from Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and South America. Trainees have included farmers and high-level officials, Christians and Hindus. “Aside from training, they also learned to know more about our country and our culture,” says Alimoane.

A few distance walk from MBRLC is the Mount Carmel International Convention Center. Every year, thousands of students from nearby provinces flock to this convention center for any of the following activities: camping, learning, wedding, and parties. “The place is quiet, far from the madding crowd, and is conducive to learning,” says Tito Felongco, the center’s manager.

Some advantages while staying at convention center: There’s fresh air. You can do your jogging early in the morning without people starting at you. Or, you can enjoy walking under the mango trees.

Just near these sites is the Lao Integrated Farm in adjacent barangay of Eman. If you love durian (described by a Westerner as a fruit that “smells like hell but tastes like heaven”), then you should not miss visiting this place. It is owned by Attorney Benjamin Lao, who planted 700 durians in his five-hectare farm. Other fruits you can find in the farm include mangosteen, rambutan, and lanzones. He also raises goats (purebred and upgraded). His fruits are grown organically as he uses goat manure as fertilizer for his fruit trees. Two years ago, Lao’s farm has become a model and earned its owner the Gawa Saka Award (integrated farming system category) from the municipal agriculture office. “What I want to convey here is that government service is never a hindrance to engage in other income-generating activities like farming,” said Lao, who is with the Bureau of Immigration in Davao City. During weekends, he comes to the farm.

Another place to visit in Bansalan is the training center of Salinta Monon, the last Bagobo weaver. In 1998, she was named one of the two Manlilikha ng Bayan awardees by the National Commission for Culture and Arts. Her citation reads: “For weaving traditional Bagobo textiles marked by quality workmanship and intricacies of designs and colors of her particular Bagobo community whose unique identity and creativity she has kept alive for the present and succeeding generations.”

Other areas to visit while in Bansalan are the Mainit Hot Springs in barangay Managa, Balutakay (where vegetables like cabbages, carrots, cauliflowers, and onions are grown), and Tinago and Angel Falls (which can be visited while on the way to Balutakay).

Every September, the town also celebrates its Bansaulog. A week-long celebration is observed and it culminates with street dancing. Participants come from various schools, both elementary and high school.

The good thing about Bansalan is that its new mayor, Edwin G. Reyes, is very supportive of the plan of making the town as a tourist destination. In fact, he has just appointed a tourism official and created a tourism council. “We have the potential of being one of the tourist destinations in the country,” he said.

The mayor’s other development plans also include: agro-industrialization, infrastructure development, economic development program, agricultural development, social services program, peace and order and political stability, fiscal management and human resource development, responsive and participative governance, investment and marketing promotion, and environmental protection program.

We are very happy of the development plan of the newly-elected mayor of our municipality,” said Rispens-Noel, who is the president of the Association of Bansalenos Worldwide (ABW).

Although most ABW members are now based in other parts of the world, they are still longing to see their former town to rise economically. “The longer they live abroad, the more they are drawn to this sleepy town like falling in love for the first time and falling in love over and over again,” Rispens-Noel wrote in her column.

According to some legends, Bansalan got its name from a Bagobo chieftain (datu) named “Dansalan” whose tribal folks were the original inhabitants of what is now the town of Bansalan. A so-called reporting error by the early surveyors transposed the name to Bansalan and somehow became the official name. Bansalan is also previously called “Miral” – name after the river – and some local folks still refer to this former name.

Bansalan was once a barrio of the town of Santa Cruz. In 1949, it became a barrio under Digos when it became a town of its own. In 1952, Bansalan was separated from Digos and became a municipality under Executive Order No. 506 signed by then president Elpidio Quirino. — ###

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