(This is one trip I totally forgot to blog about.  Years old, really.  In one photo, you’d even find campaign streamer of Fernando Poe, Jr. running for President back in 2004. Yeah, that old.  )

How did we end up here? Manila to Bangued, Abra took all of ten hours. Our butts hurt from all that confinement in the car. All 7 of us packed like sardines inside a van. We had some stopovers in La Union to empty our bladders and line our stomachs for the next leg of our journey. But the views did not disappoint. Abra is very very raw. Very agricultural. Very provencale.

The Mountains of Abra


We do not think the pictures do justice. But we have good memories of the place. We stayed in a hotel with a porch that offers the view above.  Big room good for 4 – 5 pax, all for P1,500. Not bad. 


Our Hotel in Abra


So, back to the question :  How did we end up here?   My long time housemate of more than 10 years decided to get hitched. An orphan, Mercy is like my “adopted daughter” who looks after my family which includes 2 “elves” 🙂  When she decided to get married to her Abra-based hubby, we planned on accompanying her on this trip to join her hubby.  We packed the van and prepared ourselves for the 10 hour journey.  There was time to break the journey at La Union in a beach resort I can’t recall now.


Abra Kids


As we drove farther and farther away from Manila,  we became more and more aware of how far removed this place is from the rest of the country.  From the verdant fields of Central Luzon,  the mountains farther North rendered the fields drier, the air dustier. Soon,  we were driving along lonely paved roads , meeting  local folks straddled on horses and kids playing , running along highways with complete abandon and utter disregard of motorists.   Mats laid out on the main streets laden with palay.   Old men and women with swarthy complexion effortlessly bearing baskets heavy with farm harvests.  As we looked around, we sensed how life must be difficult in this area.




We know very little about Abra, except that it is among those provinces named among the hot spots every election period.  Violence is daily fare.  We asked some of the locals , who seem to have outgrown fear like it is a condition of life in this neck of the woods. Armed goons come a-knocking in the middle of the night just to ask them who they are voting for.  Election has long gone,  but the specter of violence has sown fear in the hearts of many residents here.   As we walked gingerly along farm trails , we passed many curious neighbors and kids who stopped in the middle of their games to watch us  traverse the muddy trails towards a poor section of the neighborhood.  



Bangued is the capital of Abra. This is claimed to be a first-class municipality, but believe you me, I would’nt have known that.  A landlocked municipality belonging to a landlocked province,  Bangued means “roadblock” in the local dialect (Ilocano and Itneg).  Story goes that when the Spaniards led by Juan de Salcedo reached the place, there were big logs strewn along Abra River and stones blocking the paths towards this old town/municipality.  As was always the case,  a native was asked what the place was called and this native, thinking they were asking about the roadblocks, answered “bangen”.   And so that was how the place was called, until it was changed to “Bangued” when the American forces arrived.  I’m telling ya,  miscommunication and misinterpretations accounted for how many areas were first named.



Would I come back to this place?  The mountains beckon,  and you know there’s a Marlboro country waiting for you there. But I’m not sure I’d want to go back.  I don’t know,  for some reason the poverty there depresses me.  For another, I cannot explain how and why I do not feel so safe there.  So let me just imagine how life was then when Gabriela Silang fled to this place to continue the revolt began by her insurgent revolutionary husband Diego Silang back in those days.  Some trivia here.  Did you guys know that Gabriela Silang was adopted by a wealthy businessman from Abra by the name of  Tomas Millan. This fellow then married Gabriela when she turned 20, but the businessman died 3 years after the marriage.  Only then did she remarry,  to insurgent leader Diego Silang, and history lessons tell us more from that point on.  (Fast forward: if this happened today, people would scream “Incest”.  You don’t go around adopting a child and marrying her when she grows up, ei?)



So tell me, what else do you know about Abra outside of the election violence, Gabriela Silang and Father Conrado Balweg? What, you have not heard of Fr. Balweg?   Years back, it was not uncommon to see posters  citing “Ninoy is our hero… Balweg is our idol.” Fr. Balweg was  a relatively unknown priest of a rural parish in Abra, until he fled to the hills and joined the communist party’s New People’s Army in the Cordillera Region in 1979.  It is claimed that he led many NPA attacks versus military outposts. A native Tingguian — one of the “tribal minorities” in the north — Fr. Balweg was born to poverty and espoused revolution as his own theology by fighting for the rights of the Cordillera tribes.  If I’m not mistaken, there was even a movie inspired by the real life story of this rebel-priest.  Would anyone know if there’s a DVD of such movie that I can watch?


If none, I would settle for this video.