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Saturday, April 19, 2008

New Image Header: Balbalasang

My blog's new image header is a photo of Balbalasang which I took in 1995 as part of my documentation for my undergrad thesis on the Bodong (peace pact) as practiced by the Banao tribe, dubbed "the most peaceful tribe in Kalinga." The Banao tribal territory is home not only to the province's cleanest river, Saltan, but also to one of the country's 38 national parks, the 1,338-hectare Balbalasang-Balbalan National Park (BBNP).

As more and more local and foreign tourists experience what I call the "Balbalasang Mystique," this village is gradually becoming a worthy rival of both Sagada and Banaue [see related article here] as a tourist mecca in Northern Philippines.

Personally though, my primary concern is not about Balbalasang's becoming the top tourist destination in the Cordillera. In the first place, I don't think there is a need for competition because all the tourist spots in the region have their own unique allure. What we need is to encourage sharing of best practices among various stakeholders in the care of our remaining forest reserves.

What I'm more interested in is how the Banao tribe will be able to sustain its communal strategy in balancing socio-economic development and environmental preservation. Showcasing the richness of ethnic/cultural heritage and natural resources without commodifying them is a tough call. I sometimes wonder if it is at all possible for us to promote the Balbalasang Mystique and at the same time avoid burying that mystique under a load of grave mistakes that crass commercialization engenders. But if the Sagadanians and the people of Palawan have managed to keep the beauty of their environs even in the face of ceaseless tourist influx, maybe the Ibvyanaos can do the same across the next decades.

Presently, the community-based forest and wildlife management of the BBNP has been a much-lauded effort. This is attested to by the following excerpts from two reports made in 2003 by the the DENR's research and development arm, Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau (ERDB):

An inventory of the mammals of Balbalasang-Balbalan National Park (BBNP) in Kalinga Province, Luzon conducted in 2000, 2001, and 2003 documented the presence of 31 species, including 12 species of bats, one insectivore, two non-native pest rodents, 12 native rodents, and four large mammals. The two species of non-native rodent pests were found only in agricultural habitats and in town. Sampling was conducted at six locations from 925 m to 2,150 m, in habitats ranging from agricultural areas, pine forest, and lower montane forest to lower mossy forest. We found that bat species richness decreased slightly with increasing elevation, but species richness of native small mammals (shrews plus rodents) increased. Ten species of non-flying mammals were recorded at 1,950 m and 2,150 m, representing the highest species richness documented at a single location in the Philippines. Many of the small mammals represented species and genera that are endemic to the Central Cordillera of Luzon. Though some remained poorly known, it is likely that all of the species in the area were represented by large and stable populations, due to the highly successful traditional forest and wildlife management practices of the local Banao community. Even large mammals such as deer and wildpigs were common due to careful local management. Future conservation efforts should reinforce this successful, traditional management.*


We provide information on the amphibians and reptiles of Balbalasang-Balbalan National Park (BBNP) based on field surveys we conducted on several localities in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2003. We recorded a total of 51 species of amphibians and reptiles from the area. Baseline data on species richness, habitat and altitudinal distribution, and natural history are presented. The nerpetofauna exhibited high levels of endemicity and included at least 13 species that are potentially new to science (nine frogs of the genus Platymantis, three scincoid lizards of the genus Sphenomorphus, and one snake). We suspected that additional species await discovery after more thorough inventories have been completed especially targeting the low elevation forests of these vast mountain ranges. part from these exciting new discoveries, another significant outcome of our survey work is the rediscovery of five "lost species" from the Cordillera Central mountain range including Platymantis cornuta, Rana igorota, and Sphenomorphus luzonensis, all of which have been considered previously as either rare of in the verge of extinction. Our data suggest that these species are fairly common within the national park. We provide accounts for these species and point out possible new areas of biological studies. The high species richness and endemism of the herpetofauna of BBNP is an indication of the overall excellent condition of its forests.**

Below are some of my shots on various sceneries in the Banao area in 1995:

[slideshow id=1945555039033040977&w=426&h=320]

1st Photo: "Most Peaceful Tribe" Marker

Last Photo: Deer domesticated by former Barangay Captain Brent Banganan & family


* Lawrence R. Heaney, et al. "Preliminary Report on the Mammals of Balbalasang, Kalinga Province, Luzon." Available, Accessed, 20 Apr 2008.

** Arvin C. Diesmos, et al. "Preliminary Report on the amphibians and Reptiles of Balbalasang-Balbalan National Park, Luzon Island, Philippines." Available,  Accessed, 20 Apr 2008.


Edna Baluyut said...

Dear Bro. Scott,

Thanks for the very informative articles, I agrew up in Baguio, so I could relate with the stories and aricles. I love Baguio, It is my city.

Thanks to Ann for sending me an e-mail, I wanted to keep in touch with her.

Hope to see you both when we spend our vacation this july in Baguio, praying for your family.

God Bless you with more wisdom.

Sis Edna

scott saboy said...

hi manang, thanks too for visiting this site. we look forward to chatting with you soon!

btw, as you may have perhaps already read in some of my posts, i have now left a sectarian cause and i no longer promote several of the ministries that i had been associated with in the past 10 years.

i do continue to admire though all other ministries that uphold the ideals of the christian church. may you and the church in fujira continue to be blessed! :)

cristina taruc said...

correction: Luis Taruc's full name is LUIS MANGALUS TARUC, not Luis Poblete Taruc

scott saboy said...

thanks for the correction, kapatid. my apologies... :)

Kristina said...


Me and my husband (from Sweden) are planning to visit Balbalasang-Balbalan National Park March 29th-April 3rd. We are thinking about going to Tubuk from Manilla by bus in the night, trek for a few days and fly back to Manilla from Tuaerago on April 3rd.

we would like to do a memobable and spectacular trek and I wonder if anyone could suggest wher we can ask for help with a serious guide and routsuggestions?

Grateful for an answer!


scott saboy said...

god dag, Kristina,

i suggest that you directly get in touch with the mayor of Balbalan municipality, Engr. Jesse Allen Mangaoang. I just called him up and he says you may call him through his mobile phone number (will be sending it via email -- please acknowledge receipt thereof so I'll know if I got your email address right). thank you for taking interest in the BBNP. i'm sure you'll thoroughly enjoy your stay in Balbalasang. please let us know how else we can make your stay in the Cordilleras more memorable. cheerio,

popoy :)

Kristina said...

Best Mr. Popoy,

Thank you!
However I have not received any e-mail from you so please try again. If the person you suggested, Engr. Jesse Allen Mangaoang, has an e-mail I would appreciate if you could accomodate me with that also. E-mail is much easyer for us because of work and time-difference.

Again thank you. It has been hard to find anyone who knows much about the area around Balbalasang and treks in the area. People usually suggest Sagada/Banau/Batad when one asks about treks among rice trecasses.

Best regards,

scott saboy said...

hi there again ma'am,

I just resent my message to you using this email addy -- (I hope i got that right). There is no internet access in Balbalan, so the Mayor doesn't have an active email account, as far as I know. However, his tourism officer, Mr. Regy Wacas, regularly goes to Tabuk to check emails for the LGU. You may email him @ or

There is another person you may want to exchange emails with -- Mr. Romy Tangbawan ( He grew up in Balbalan and certainly knows his way around the area and could thus orient you on BBNP-related matters. Although he now lives in the Middle East (more info about him @, he keeps tab on the goings-in in Balbalan, and regularly takes a leave off from work to spend time with our people.


Popoy :)

Kristina said...

Best Mr. Saboy,

I appreciate your help. I will contact the tourism officer you mentioned through e-mail but please give me the Mayors telephonenr. as well. I will try to call him tomorrow morning (swedish time), that is in the afternoon in the Philippines.

My e-mailadress is correct so if possible please use it instead of this site.

Thank you again for all the information!

Best regards

scott saboy said...

i got a "failed delivery" notice just now. aint sure why my email couldn't get through. may i suggest that you try sending me a test email at thanks. ___________________ you may address him as "Sonny," for that's what we fondly call him. :) will inform him via sms that you're calling him tomorrow which, by the way, is the big day in Balbalan as they are celebrating the LGU's centenary. please let us know how else we can make your visit to the Philippines worthwhile. :)

Kristina said...

Best Mr. Saboy

I tried to e-mail you a few hours ago. I did not get a reply so did it work? If not the below is what I wrote.

Again thank you.

Me and my Örjan are visiting your country from Sweden for three weeks in March/April. The days before March 29th are organized already. The last days however we would like to spend in Norhtern Luzon, and in a region that is non-touristic and can offer genuine and beautiful scenery and nature experience. We think that the province of Kalinga and Balbalasang-Balbalan National Park can do that. I read about the province in my Lonely Planet-guide but have had trouble finding out how to get there and whom to contact for guides and trekkrouts etc. As I told you the people I have talked to usually suggests the area around Banaue/Sagada and Batad but my lonely planet guide says that the province of Kalinga is just as beautiful, has the same spectaculour rice teracess and offers less tourists. We also found out that Autobus can take us to Tabuk during the night of the 29th and that we can fly back with Philippine Airlines around lunchtime on April 3rd from Tuguegaro. We therefor hope that the short time in between is enough to trekk in the area of Balbalasang. I have read about the scenic village of Lubo, the rice teracesses there, the Buaya caves, the route between Balbalan - Balbalasang and much more. I however do not know the distance or how to get from Tabuk, possible routes to trekk, which villages to visit etc. We would like to hike for approx 3 days (not more than two nights) with good seriouse guides we can trust.

Anyhow, I do not know who you are but I will contact the persons you mentioned and hopefully they can help me. I´ll let you know.

Many grateful regards.


scott saboy said...

Hi Kristina,

I did receive your email but my replies kept bouncing back. I even tried writing you through my yahoo! account but it seems like it didn't get through as well. I'm sorry but i just couldn't figure out how to resolve this glitch.

Anyways, let me just say that based on what you just wrote, I'd say visiting Balbalan is just perfect for the two of you. re: your Manila-Tabuk trip and back, I suggest you take the Victory Liner bus -- it's much safer and better maintained than any other buses plying the route.

I hope you were able to contact the mayor or his tourism/info officer.

Kristina said...

Hi Scott,

I work at a government authority and the spamfilter somtimes sort out yahoo e-mails coming in. I do not know why but that is probably the reason you can not e-mail me back.

Anyhow, I got hold of the mayor and have e-mailed his tourism officer. I seems like they can help us arrange a memorable trip and I realy look forward to spending time in the area and also meeting the nice people there.

Thank you for the tip about Victory Liner. I will check their webpage and see if they have a nightbus leaving Manilla to Tabuk, March 29th.

I will let you know how we experience the country and the area around Balbalasal-Balbalang in particular.

Have a nice week.

Best regards,

scott saboy said...

i see. it's good though ma'am that you were able to reach the mayor. i will also be getting in touch with them re: your trip. they just concluded the municipality's centennial celebration and regy wacas informed me a few moments ago that it was a success and that they got the whole event in dvd, a copy of which he will soon send me. i'm sure you will want to watch the video coverage when you get there. :) i'll keep in touch...

Kristina said...

Hi Scott,

Very nice to hear that the celebration was a success!

If you get in touch with the Mayor and Mr Wacas re: our trip I would very much appreciate if you could give Mr. Regy Wacas Örjans e-mail adress. It is: since I have problems receiving yahoo-e-mails and since we are leaving Stockholm this Saturday for Manilla. I have e-mailed Mr. Regy this as well.

Again, many thanks.

scott saboy said...

Hi Kristina,

Got your letter sent through Orjan's email addy. I hope my reply got through. Regy called me up this morning and told me he'll be in Tabuk tomorrow, so you should be hearing from him soon. Collins, by the way, is currently the village headman (barangay captain) of Balbalasang. In case you need to send me a message via SMS when you get here, you can text me @ +639293439019.

Take care...

popoy :)

Kristina said...

Hi Scott,

We got your first letter to Orjan´s e-mail (thank you) and sent you a copy yesterday of our e-mail to Regy Wacas. We have however not received any reply neither from Regy or you. Todyay is the tomorrow you mention is isn´t it?

Orjans e-mail adress should work and he checks it regulary so that is the best way of reaching us.

Hope to hear from Regy soon. Thanks for your mobilenr.

Best regards,