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Three distinguished Bicolanos from the province of Camarines Norte earned national acclaim because of their significant contribution in shaping Philippine history as a people. They are Jose Maria Panganiban. Gen. Vicente Lukban and Wenceslao Q. Vinzons. The events surrounding the lives of these three personages impinge in no small measure on the national life. Their heroism in different epochs was like a ray of hope especially during the turbulent years that attended this province. There are many others in this province who died for freedom who are by no means less heroic and are continually venerated as harbingers of social change. But the three aforementioned names stand out for their distinct nationalism which is tangent not only to the life of the people in this region but to the national polity as a whole. Thus, the names of these three men will always be inextricably linked with Bicol Region, alongside the great men whose names are almost synonymous to Philippine nationalism
The need to assert their rights compelled the people of Camarines Norte to resist colonial hegemony through an intellectual advocacy at one end, typified by Jose Maria Panganiban, and through an active or armed resistance on the other. However, it is a pity that over the years, there is very little attempt to bring to a focus the role of these heroes from Camarines Norte and the dynamics of their historical periods. This may be due in part to the propensity of some historians and history teachers to magnify the Tagalog-centered history Presently, however, there are serious efforts and keen interest as shown by the National Historical Institute and some historians to dig deeper into local histories using both documented sources and oral traditions. There is still so much to be done in order to fill in the gaps in our national history. For history to be relevant to the people down the grassroots, the local communities should see how they are integrated in the historical process and how history would find resonance in their developmental tasks.
A weak area in the writing of local histories is the inaccessibility of archival records and partly, the inability to road such records. The best remedy to this difficulty is to refer to published materials which extensively used primary sources. This precisely is what I resorted to capture some slices of life of the people of this province as they were vividly recorded by some eyewitnesses and other chronicles.
This paper presents some preliminary notes which could serve as a basis to jump-start a more thorough research for a comprehensive history of the province of Camarines Norte, oftentimes referred to as the province of Hilagang Kamarines. One interesting area that must be examined is the indomitable spirit of the people of this province. This province is not wanting in herpes and the spirit of communitarianism prevails especially during moments of disasters. The long list of heroes of this province is an eloquent testimony that the people could rise above themselves notwithstanding the great perils in their midst. They also know how to rise to the challenges of the times and cooperate with one another. This has been manifested many times over during calamities.
The letter of Governor General Guido de Lavezares to the King of Spain in 1570s about the valor of the people of Bicol is valid in Camarines Norte even centuries later. It says thus:
Juan de Salcedo conquered the region of Paracale and the Bicol river…Their maguinoos and datus possessed much gold. They are the most valiant people we have ever met in the region of the Philippines. Although they do not attack the Spaniard, they defend themselves in their villages and never surrender unless subdued by force of arms.
The foregoing passage provides a glimpse of how unyielding our forefathers were and the events in the late 19th century and recent developments could only confirm the observation made centuries ago. They were not described as savage brutes, neither were they made to appear as aggressors; they were simply seen as audacious defenders of their liberty. This explains why the intrepid Panganiban, Lukban and Vinzons never, at any moment, wavered in their struggle for freedom.
A province of brave men, Hilagang Kamarines is also rich in cultural resources being home to archeological artifacts, crafts, cuisine, myths, legends and lore. The indigenous heritage of its people is enriched by Spanish cultural-religious influences which are deeply engraved in the psyche of its affable inhabitants. The land area of this province, straddling a topography of partially undulating fields in most parts and mountainous slopes in the periphery with a total dimension of 2,112.50 square kilometers is blessed with tremendous physical attributes.
The natural endowments in Hilagang Kamarines provide opportunities for the flourishing industries of mining, fishery, agro-forestry and agriculture. Secondary industries in handicraft as well as service and knowledge work sector draw their strength nowadays from a wide base of skilled human resources. The lush vegetation of verdant values is crowned by emerald rainforests, which, like a fortress, shield the prairies. It is also veined by rivers like the Daet and Labo rivers whose freshwater exits at the eastern side of the province to suffuse with the flanking Pacific Ocean. Added to its physical allure are the uncorrupted, breathtaking beaches that are strewn in its shoreline. Other beaches are embellished by stretches of white sand situated in accessible islands that evoke an image of an enticing paradise. Scattered all over the province are waterfalls, some cascading like a rampage of blizzard in a steep descent as in the case of Mananap Falls, others beautifully spitting froth and spume into the air as the water reaches the receptacle river.
The climatic conditions have so toughened the survival abilities of the inhabitants of the province because sporadic cyclones cause fortuitous havoc in people's lives Calamities often bring out the best among the local inhabitants because they learn how to come to each other's rescue. The people have become resilient and tough in overcoming their difficulties. Through the years, the people of this province have built houses which are considerably vulnerable to typhoons but nonetheless suitable for a place that experiences distinct periods of dry season.
The charms of this province, as well as its storied past, continue to be a source of pride for its people. The inheritance of freedom won by our great forebears continues to inspire them to learn their past.
The groundwork to relearn our history was already started by a number of historians but much still remains to be done. This paper only presents some take-off points on which more comprehensive studies could be done.