A resplendent emerald captivatingly nestled in the heart of the Philippine islands, Claveria, Masbate is a promising and rising kingdom of the blessed serving not only as an abode of humanity of the industrious and virtuous stock but more importantly, a paradise whose natural powers and charm caresses eternal youth, invites personal contemplation and reflection, cherishes its culture and tradition, and fosters an attitude of friendliness and righteousness among its people. Named after one of the country's well-remembered former Spanish governor-generals, Narciso Claveria, who introduced to the natives the use of Spanish names and surnames, the town is a relatively young public corporation whose birthyear as a municipality was circa 1959 and whose history counts it as a former barangay - the country's smallest political unit - of a previously bigger municipality of San Pascual whose past territory comprised all the islands and islets of the Burias group of islands and which was then composed of three major barangays, namely Poblacion, Nonoc and Claveria; Poblacion now stands as the remaining domain of San Pascual while Nonoc became an incorporated and oldest barangay of the newly-reconstituted Claveria. (The eventual break-up was a result of gerrymandering manuevers of previous Philippine Presidents, particularly Diosdado Macapagal and was not without a controversy: a few Pascualenos still consider Claveria as an integral part of its mother municipality and believe the whole of Burias Islands belongs to San Pascual) As a former Spanish colony, Claveria was home to Spanish mestizos who decided to stay in the island after liberation to intermarry with the natives, thus enhancing the genetic characteristics of the inhabitants and producing a new breed of youngsters with Spanish lineage. Positioned near the equator, the island accommodates only two seasons: first is the dry spell that commences on February and ends in July; second is the wet period beginning in August and lasting until January.
Country folktale has it that on the night Cinderella inadvertently left her bejewelled shoe in the city of Marikina, the squash that was turned into her carriage actually originated from Claveria because the fairy godmother is a living inhabitant of the town. Folks from the eastern barangays of Albasan, Boca Engaño, Buyo, Canomay, Peñafrancia, Mabiton, Nabasagan, Osmeña, Quezon, San Isidro, San Vicente, and Taguilid surmised that the fairy godmother whose identity cannot be ascertained, is no other than Maria Makiling (MM), the earth goddess of environment, who is said to be responsible for preserving and safeguarding the ecological balance and maintaining a pollution-free community. Allegedly, MM takes good care of the mountains, the flora and the fauna and Claveria's fabled beaches, most notably the pristine white sand beach of San Isidro that stretches from the periphery of San Ramon to the easternmost tip of the island, spanning more than 10 kilometers of powdery substance sparkling under the sun. MM also keeps the resident marine creatures in the beaches such as the crabs, lobsters, starfishes and sea anemones on their rightful place in the water and in the sand, and drives away business-minded tourism tycoons who might turn the alluring waterbodies into a Cancun or Montego Bay depending on the magnitude of their profitability. Commoners domiciled in the downtown district - Claveria's Poblaciones Uno and Dos - hypothesized that the fairy godmother is the modern-day incarnate of Melchora Aquino, a deceased old lady (her identity will be revealed later) whose magnanimity and hospitality contributed to a large extent, not just in building edifices of worship for the spiritual needs of the people but also in feeding the poorest of the poor. Meanwhile, settlers in the western villages of Cawayan, Calpi, San Ramon, Pasig, Mababang Baybay, Nonoc, and Imelda believed that the fairy godmother is the Blessed Virgin Mary whose merciful embrace guided their public school teachers, students, public servants and other career-oriented individuals in going through their usual daily routines and whose loving grace showered them with annual bountiful harvest of valuable crops and livestock despite periodic visits of the catastrophic disturbances like the typhoons, the tornadoes, and the earthquakes - regular mafia of destruction bringing untold misery, death and agony to the people.
Like in any other Hispanic city or locality, Claveria's religious brotherhood of fathers, brothers, and laymen deemed it necessary to set aside certain days of the year to show deference and celebrate the feast days of the town's patron, San Isidro de Labrador, a Spanish farmer and patron saint of farmers and fishermen. Since the town's major source of livelihood and occupation is farming, fishing, and other agriculture-related activities such as cattle raising and the cultivation of poultry and livestock, it is but fitting to dedicate a little time of the year to take a dayoff, relax, eat the town's finest noodles (believed to have the power to lengthen folks' lives) and other food products of excellent local cuisine, and most significantly, exercise the solemn tradition of paying respect to the well-loved San Isidro for all the blessings and the gifts received all year round by offering prayers and participating in the annual town fiesta in his honor. Long-established frontrunner in the cultural arena, the town fiesta is celebrated with so much pomp and pageantry in such a manner that the town's most beautiful ladies usually put on their most elegant dresses to vie for the most prestigious Miss Claveria title either by putting up the biggest amount of money to sponsor the celebrations (the money contest) or outwitting the other competitors in a battle of mind and body (the beauty contest). Not to be forgotten in these festivities is the traditional annual May 15 maritime procession of images of San Isidro in a more than an hour morning sea voyage which is attended by all the major domestic sealiners and seacrafts and is accompanied with enchanting melodies played by a musical band, candles carried by Churchboys or knights of the altar, prayers recited by an army of Catholic men and women, and fireworks lighted by the sealiner's crew members. The philosophy behind this outpouring of devotion and gratitude to the saintly farmer is for him to always keep the passengers and crew members of the ship and other ocean-going vessels alike safe and protected from the roughness of the seas and the raging sea storms and to assure that losses and damages to growing plants, animals, and other invaluable properties be pegged at minimal levels during occasions of weather disturbances or natural calamities.
A significant fraction of the cost in staging these festivities is shouldered by a number of generous townpeople, the most charitable of them is Claveria's most revered queen and the town's modern-day Melchora Aquino - the late Dona Amanda vda de Del Rosario, who allotted a sizable portion of her earnings to make possible the playing of the band, the placement of decorations in the streets, in the plaza, and in the church, and the provision of food to visitors and guests. Not everyone knows of her generosity because she did not let the public know that she donated something and how much is the donation. (It is sad that we, Claverians failed to express our gratitude to her while she was still living.)
The most amazing part of being a Claverian is being able to climb and reach the summit of Claveria' highest mountain, sometimes called as Iraya, but international mountaineering society groups and villagers from Boca Engano call it Mt. Enganoso, which stands at 428 meters, making it Masbate's tallest mountain and the country's 111th highest mountain peak. Atop the mountain, one can have sweeping view of both the picturesque seascapes and one of the world's most spectacular sunrises and sunsets not every individual in other parts of the globe can experience as it is only at this position on the planet that both the eastern Ticao Sea and the western Sibuyan Sea can be best assessed afar. At the same vantage point, trekkers will conclude that in essence, Claveria is surrounded by white beaches as contrasted to Albay's black beaches, that the neighboring provinces of Romblon, Mindoro and Aklan and the famous beach of Boracay are not really hundred miles away, and that the town's busy ports on each side of the island are active not just in catering to the commercial pursuits of sea crafts cruising from coast to coast but also in providing employment opportunities to inhabitants who are serving either as a ship steward or stewardess or a first engineer or a captain of a ship.
A tour of Claveria will not be complete without a traveler experiencing riding not the horseback but the karabaw's back, because in most of the town's farming villages, the best mode of transportation from one place to another is the water buffalo, affectionately called as "karabaw" in the native language. The water buffalo, Philippines and Vietnam national animal and symbol of the agricultural sector, is more industrious than a horse as it can work all day in the ricefields breaking hardened soil and pulling a plough to create furrows. Whereas a horse, when mentally anguished, can throw its riders meters away, the water buffalo is calmer in its dealing with humans and agreeable with bringing volume of goods and other forms of farm produce from here to there.
Outsiders, especially those from the neighboring provinces of Albay and Sorsogon have these mistaken impressions and false beliefs on Masbatenos, especially Claverians. These discriminating remarks which often place Masbatenos on bad light do not really create an atmosphere of harmonious social relationship among ethnic groups in the Bicol region and do not help in fostering a united Bicolandia which is ranked as one of the country's poorest administrative regions and which is trying to combat massive poverty, illiteracy and poor health among its people. First, contrary to outsiders' beliefs, there is no truth to their claim that Claveria is home to Twilight's Edward or the Stygian witches as no proof whatsoever can be presented that such underworld entities ever existed in the island and in the whole Masbate province. Masbate is not Hades realm; perhaps, it is more apt to say that the island is a dwelling place of Plato's philosopher king whose love for ideas, knowledge and wisdom help his countrymen search for truth, do what is right and avoid the wrongs. Second, Claverians are not really uncivilized and backward people who know little or nothing about modern scientific techniques or technological gadgetry. Although transportation of goods and services to the island may prove difficult sometimes, inhabitants are innovative and resourceful in finding ways on how to solve a dilemma or face a social puzzle. To allow such distorted statements to continue is not only to plant seeds of fragmentation among the hearts of Bicolanos but more importantly, to leave a young kid with a Masbate blood feeling inferior as compared to his playmates from other places and to create an unwholesome image of his place haunted by supernatural beings.
If Claveria were a ship, then its captain is the town's beloved father, Mayor Eduardo Andueza. Some sectors in the society may hurl criticisms against him and his style of governance, but to be fair, Claveria's socio-economic landscape has already changed since he first held office. More farm-to-market roads are established; indispensable nighttime electricity is already in place, enabling Claverians to watch their favorite primetime TV programs; a water system serving household needs is also circulating potable water; major telecommunications networks have already set-up their transmitters in the area making international conversations more like talking to a neighbor next door. Traveling to downtown Claveria to Pasig on the opposite side of the island is like driving without traffic from Los Angeles to Long beach.
Many of us are fond of accusing our leaders without first presenting a solid proof of their wrongdoings. Now is the time to change that attitude, bury the hatchet and start cooperation with those in powers to effect meaningful change in our society.
Because as the maxim goes: DIVIDED we fall, UNITED we stand.
(Note: This article is based on author's personal knowledge and research on Claveria. For factual errors, email him at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.)