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The Ivatan Window

A Reflection on Batanes Mission Exposure
March 29 to May 3, 2007
Rev. Fr. Louie R. Coronel, OP

A meter-thick wall of lime and stones opens to the horizon through a small orifice with wooden flaps secured by double horizontal beams and vertical wedges which snuggly fit into its corresponding holes. Such is my finite description of a typical Ivatan window. Somehow, it reflects the people of Batanes. Like any Filipinos, Ivatans are friendly and hospitable yet they are ever prepared to fight for their land as evidenced by their formidable fortresses called Ijiangs atop geographical elevations where they used to hurl volcanic stones against their enemies. The isolated province is composed of ten[1] islands of which only Batan, Sabtang and Itbayat are inhabited. It is even nearer Taiwan[2] than mainland Luzon. Likewise, it is a point of entry as well as exit of tropical typhoons which make the people resilient in taming the wind. The geographic, climactic and cultural orientation of Batanes is naturally as defensive yet receptive as an Ivatan window.

 Batanes holds two distinctions: it is the northernmost and the smallest province of the Philippines both in terms of population[3] and land area[4]. However, it is more than just geographical superlatives. It can broaden the horizon of its tourists both foreign and local. I, together with Fr. (then Rev.) Val Magboo, OP, treasure my exposure in Batanes as a deacon not only for sentimental reason that the Dominicans evangelized Batanes but also because of the warm welcome that was given to us by the people headed by Most Rev. Camilo Gregorio, DD, Bishop-Prelate of Batanes and the challenges of the mission that we experienced. 


1.      Bro.Val and Bro. Louie: a Liturgical Committee of their own?

We arrived with the Bishop himself via Asian Spirit Airlines few days before Holy Week to assist in the ministry of the Prelature. We were confident that since we were not really familiar with the entire liturgy for the Holy Week, not mentioning the custom of the locality and the Bishop’s preference, the deacons of the Prelature will help us especially that Fr. (then Rev.) Francis Montero was there who is adept with regard to liturgical matters. They provided great assistance but in an unexpected turn of events, the Bishop dispersed all the deacons in the other islands on Maundy Thursday leaving just the two of us in Basco for the Easter Triduum.

 In the Studentate, there is the ever-reliable Studentate Liturgical Committee (SLC) to assist us in our liturgical needs. There, we really took time to read the Ceremonials of Bishop, review the General Instructions on the Roman Missal and browse other Liturgy Books. I prepared the liturgy for Good Friday and Black Saturday while Bro. Val prepared for the Easter Vigil. We coordinated with the choirs, the lectors, the monoguillos[5], and virtually to everybody concerned. The priests assigned in Basco were very helpful and supportive. We made a systematic inventory of the things that we needed like the basin for washing of the feet, the Paschal candle, towels, the veiled Cross for Good Friday and matches among others even the Rite of the Liturgy itself. They really appreciated our service.  It’s an experience to be both the ministers and an SLC of our own. 

 2.      Singing without Vocal Chords!

 On day one of our exposure, we were given the assignment by the Bishop himself to sing the Filipino Exultet. Whew! It is a tough job for non-cantors like us who just perform privately while taking showers. We don’t have the vocal chords for singing the Exultet though we have been given the opportunity to sing in the Novitiate before. We decided that both of us will sing it so that both will have the experience and it would not be too heavy a load for us. The Bishop boosted our morale especially when he said, “The people love you as you areno matter how your voices will sound.” We practiced every now and then and on that night, we sounded just fine. Every brother/seminarian must really take their music practices seriously.

 3.      Preaching in the Pulpit 

We delivered homilies on several occasions: Holy Week, Baptisms, Weddings, Funerals, Feasts of Patron Saints, the Seven Last Words and even the blessing of a sari-sari store. Our preaching is anchored in our study, prayer and community. Without these, it will be empty. The people seemed happy to hear us deliver our preaching. They even commended us. Of course, we expressed our gratitude for their affirmation but we didn’t outrightly believe them because there are still many things to learn and improve. We need a deep spirituality in order to produce a quality reflection that must be executed in accord to the parameters that we have learned in the formation house.

 My Good Friday homily was my favorite. When I kneeled before the Bishop asking for his blessing before the Gospel, he whispered and told me to deliver it slowly, clearly and from the heart. It was a touching homily about the love of God. I realized that if one preaches from the heart one can never be short of moving the people to God. 

 4.      Imnajbu[6]: The Gift of Presence 

Mere presence means a lot. When the Spanish Dominicans arrived in the 17th century in Batanes after circumventing the treacherous Balintang Channel, they landed in a site called Imnajbu. A marker stands to remind the people of the dawn of evangelization of the islands amidst the painstaking challenges of the mission. When we went there, somehow I felt the connection with the past. I admire the fortitude of the early Spanish missionaries and I am challenged to continue their mission of spreading the Good News to all walks of life. After Bishop Salazar’s term[7], it was only when we arrived that the people saw the Dominican habit again.  Our mere presence delighted the people. Our mere presence is a continuation of Imnajbu. It is a gift to be with them as well. It is challenge to make our presence felt.

 5.      Dominican Family Gathering in Batanes

 We visited the Dominican sisters’ convent on our first week in Batanes. Just imagine, we were in our jackets during the Holy Week! We had a great time eating dinner with them and afterwards, we played a game although an old sister was too sleepy already by 9:00 pm. We also met the Dominican Laity in Itbayat and in Batan. They pledged to pray for our perseverance in vocation and we are ever grateful for that. Even though the Prelature is not anymore under the formal jurisdiction of the Dominicans in the Philippines, I really felt at home because of the presence of the Dominican Family. Even Bishop Gregorio is a member of the Dominican Family. It is a challenge to orient further the Dominican Laity about their roles as Dominicans in the world and to give them spiritual guidance. The gathering strengthened the spirit of collaboration in our apostolate and mission.

 6.      The Bishop 

The presence of a Bishop in a liturgical celebration is a challenge indeed. It means more movement but it means more meaning as he is the shepherd uniting his flock. The Bishop, aside from being open, trusting, prudent and generous to us, is a proud Thomasian…a proud Dominican. Every now and then, especially after lunch, he gave us an informal lecture about matters of Consecrated life, Morals, Canon Law, History, Dogma and virtually anything under the Catholic Sun. Mere words and gestures are not enough to thank him for being a part of our formation.

 7.      Bumpy Roads and Bumpy Waves

 The transportation to Batanes nowadays is by airplanes but in the previous years, ships sailed for a time before reaching Luzon. From Batan to Sabtang, a bumpy faluwa[8] ride awaits. From Batan to Itbayat, there are two options: a 45-minute bumpy boat ride or a 10-minute air flight from a 10-seater plane which lands on an uncemented runway. I have experienced virtually all means of transportation there: jeepney, boat, truck, tricycle, airplane and my unforgettable 9-kilometer bumpy motorcycle ride from Nakanmuan to San Vicente (Centro) in Sabtang island which is comparable to a motocross race. 

 The water in Sabtang channel was turbulent considering that it was summer. What more during stormy season? It is natural for Batanes’ waters to be bumpy. The waves is not unidirectional, it opposes one another as the South China Sea meets the North Pacific Ocean. It is interesting to note that a boat ride to Sabtang is from San Vicente[9] in Ivana to San Vicente[10] in Sabtang. The people pray for a safe journey under the patronage of San Vicente Ferrer. The boat ride is a flight from one San Vicente to another so a committed missionary must face the challenge of transportation.

 8.      Stranded in Itbayat

 The supposed to be three days in Itbayat, the northermost inhabited island of the Philippines, became six. I cannot count anymore how many times we bid goodbye to the people without knowing that our flight will be cancelled again and again. Fr. Domingo Deníz, OP[11] did not allow us to take the boat. The people have superstitious belief that one should not take a boat on the feast of St. Catherine of Siena. In the previous years, accidents happened on this date according to them.  My companion was beginning to lose hope that a flight will not be scheduled until after a month because that happened to others. However, we remained steadfast in faith and we did the things that must be done momentarily until the flight resumed. 

 9.      Time out for Ivatan Time

 Ivatans have time for specific tasks. Most men are in the field during the morning. They play basketball in the plaza at high noon notwithstanding the scorching heat of the sun and drink liquor in the evening. The people sow seeds when it’s sunny yet they pray that after planting their crops the rain will pour to assure that their crops will grow. On the contrary, Ivatans seemingly do not have a specific time for events such as liturgical celebrations. The priests assigned in Batanes sometimes find it hard for the people to be punctual. Perhaps because of their orientation that in the islands they have the luxury of time. Once, we waited for 45 minutes before the arrival of the bride. The priest taught them a lesson by asking the choir to sing the entrance hymn while the entourage marched to the altar in the amazement of the people who first experienced a “wedding without a bride”. Actually, we just waited in the altar until the she arrives. 

 Generally, they are used to last-minute preparations. Missionaries must observe and respect their culture but they must re-orient them regarding punctuality in attending the mass and preparing for any event since in Batanes, practically all events are Church events.

 10.  The Native Tongue

It took me quite a time to memorize “Maypaydamnay kamu su Dios su asa diniu” which means “Let us offer each other the sign of peace” and “Tayuka dana u misa. Dios machivan diniu” which means “The mass has ended. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” And they appreciated greatly our efforts to at least speak their native tongue. A missionary who will be assigned in the mission must learn how to study their culture even their language because in that way, they will be more equipped in enfleshing the Word of God in the hearts of the people.


1.      There are Many Things to do; We cannot do it all; and the Work is Unending!

We were on our last days in Sabtang island when we learned about the proposal to build a museum on the ground floor of San Vicente Ferrer Parish Church. I curiously asked the priest temporarily assigned in Sabtang about the materials that they would display in the museum if ever. He toured me in the former beaterio[12] turned storage room and the ground floor of the Church where precious vestments and termite-infested old books were kept respectively. These are treasures of the Church that needs to be preserved. We would have gladly helped in putting up the museum and archives but I realized that we are just on exposure. It is only just a taste! We cannot do such major project in such a limited time. Bro. Val was concurrently engaged in research as well. 

Furthermore, even in our future ministries there will be many things to do. We cannot do it all but we can make our apostolate worthwhile by giving our best for the Lord and for our fellow faithfuls. The work of the Church is unending and we will experience more in the future.

2.      Our Theological Knowledge is Useless unless the People Understand it.

 Other than our homilies during Eucharistic celebrations; baptism, house blessing, funerals and other liturgical services are avenues to preach, to reach those who do not regularly go to mass and to give catechetical instructions and exhortations in Christian living. Our Theological formation is indispensable but our preaching will be useless if we cannot translate our sophisticated Theological jargons into a more digestible form for our fellow faithfuls. We study not for ourselves but for the people. Indeed, we cannot share what we do not have. But we cannot also share what we have if a barrier exists.

 3.      Review your Liturgy.

 In our experience in Batanes, knowledge in Liturgy must a part of the preparation of anyone preparing for the mission. It is not enough that we just know the basics but a review is needed to effectively serve God. Modifications and adaptations can be used for pastoral reasons.

4.      Poor but not Hungry

Though majority of the Ivatans are poor, they are industrious people. They may be living simply but the abundance of their crops in the field and the fish in the ocean never cease to provide for their sustenance. As religious, we embrace poverty but this should not be a stumbling block to be productive and effective but, on the contrary, must help us to live simply, need simply and preach effectively by witnessing

5.      Preaching by Witnessing

Though the Ivatans are scattered in three major islands, a scandal in one island does not only spread in the entire island in no time but can reach the other islands as well especially with the advent of texting. People, naturally, desire to know. Being witnesses to our preaching is an effective way of spreading the Good News in these islands. Once, when I delivered a homily on the feast of St. Catherine of Siena in Itbayat, I was surprised that the people from Batan Island already knew about it when we arrived there. Even before we arrived in Batanes, the Bishop has announced to the people that we will be coming and they really anticipated it. By the mere fact that our arrival in the islands delighted the people, so they expected us not to be just nominal preachers but servants of God who preach by witnessing.

6.      Pagyamanin kung Ano ang Meron

Not everything that we can find ordinarily in other places can be seen in Batanes. There are no funeral parlors, no movie houses, no malls. Root crops, upland rice, some fruits abound but other foods are imported from the mainland. It was only in 2007 that the Bishop blessed a small market in Basco because the people are self-sufficient. They use the abaya[13] leaves as plates; upo as drinking vessel; cogon grass as roof; and another kind of grass as basket to mention few. Their resourcefulness is amazing. In stormy season when the rice supply is depleted and there’s no means of transportation, they can survive eating wakay (camote) and ube (whitish in color) and luñes[14]. If potable water is not available for a long period of time, the sea water can be cooked with garlic and onion for them to drink. They recycle their left-over food and call it balance for the following day. They adapt to their condition. They taught me how to be resourceful, innovative and flexible.

7.      Bayanihan Spirit is Strong in Batanes

Any great fiesta in Batanes will not happen without the entire settlement participating. I’ve seen it in Mahatao during the blessing of the newly-renovated Church and in Ivana during the feastday of St. Joseph the Worker. As early as 2:00 am, men slaughtered cows and pigs and the women cooked their traditional food and rice afterwards. The children also have a contribution in helping their mothers prepare for the feast. 

 If one needs help in planting crops or when a worn-out cogon roof must be replaced, the neighborhood is ever-ready to help. In time of their need, it is natural to help others as well. Bayanihan is community life. If a person has no community life, it is very evident because he will be fixing his own roof alone. 

8.      We are called to be “Servi Servorum Dei

We are privileged to meet the hospitable people of Batanes. I would like to mention two of them: Tata and Auntie[15] Fely.  

Auntie Fely was always delighted to cook for us and to serve us our meals. She even cooked lunch for us at the beach. Tata, on the other hand, worked as a labandero, cook, gardener, etc. in Manila to support himself until he finished his studies. He is now an extraordinary minister of communion and even if he is not anymore underprivileged, he was very glad to get our soiled clothes and wash them as his service to the Church. Furthermore, there were a number of convent boys who were scholars of the Prelature who served us. Honestly, we were not used to being served like señores yet  coincidentally, we stayed in the palacio[16]! These people served us not because we are ordained members who are perfect but they serve us because it is their own way of serving God, serving wholeheartedly without expecting anything in return.

9.      Not Everything you Plan will Happen 
When the deacons of the Prelature had a recollection, Bro. Val and I made our own: a long walk from the palacio to Songsong Bay. We prepared our food, our breviaries and other things. The sun shone brightly but when we reached our destination, it rained. The weather was so unpredictable. We learned that we can plan but we should be ready for surprises as well. At the end of the day, we went home satisfied with a great experience.

10.  Reflecting does not Need too Much Effort

The priest assigned in Sabtang asked us not to leave the island without visiting the remotest settlement of Chavayan. We rode a truck going there. After visiting a beautifully maintained old Ivatan houses, we went to Savidug (hometown of Fray Gregorio Hontomin, OP) by tricycle. Then, we went back to the Centro by walking 3 kilometers. We did not take the road but the coastline. By looking at the mountains, the waters, the sand… we have reflected on many things. We talked about the greatness of God. At dusk, we arrived at the Centro. We have just experienced Fray Hontomin’s trail.


Not everybody has experienced Batanes. If they have been there, they would not have probably experienced what we have undergone in five weeks. We were trained in Liturgy and we experienced a very personalized Holy Week Liturgy with a Bishop. We lived in a former Dominican territory as guests of hospitable non-Dominicans. It was my first time to administer an adult baptism; to witness a funeral in which people do not weep; to observe an honesty store[17] and what else…to experience Batanes! We would like to share our experience to others but words are not enough and no matter how many pages this reflection takes, it cannot replace the experience of being there in Batanes. I hope that our experience will be experienced by others as well.

The terrains of Batanes is both beautiful and dangerous. Nature’s beauty will entice you yet the massive cliffs and ravines may challenge you.  Batanes is, indeed, a paradise for both Ivatans and  Ipulas[18] alike. At the height of our experience, we have realized that Batanes is only a Mount Tabor for us. We need to go back to our homebase to continue our work renewed; our horizons broaden; and share the paradise which is Batanes. We are privileged to have a peep inside the defensive yet receptive Ivatan Window. 

Dios mamajes[19], Batanes!

[1] The ten islands of Batanes are Yami, Misanga, Ditarem, Siayan, Itbayat, Dinem, Batan, Sabtang, Ivuhos, and Dequey.

[2] Batanes is 500 km. away from Manila while Batanes to Taiwan is just 218 km.

[3] Batanes has a population of 15, 656 as of year 2000 of NSO Census. It remained virtually the same since a number of Ivatans migrated to other places annually.

[4] The land area of Batanes is 23,000 hectares.

[5] An old Spanish term for acolytes or sacristanes.

[6] Pronounced as “Im-nah- boo”

[7] The third Bishop-Prelate of Batanes and the immediate predecessor of Bishop Camilo Gregorio.

[8]Faluwa is a native boat without oars designed for Batanes waters.

[9] A baranggay of the municipality of Ivana.

[10] A settlement in the island of Sabtang.

[11] A Spanish priest assigned in Itbayat for more than 33 years.

[12]Beaterio is the house of beatas who devote themselves to prayer and serve the needs of the priest and the Church. They remain single until they decided to leave the beaterioBeatas are only active in Itbayat  and some parts of Batan.

[13]Kamansi in Luzon.

[14] Pieces of fried overcooked pork in lard which can be stored for a long period of time even without refrigeration.

[15] The Ivatans’ respectful address to a lady.

[16] The old residence of the Prelates of Batanes like Msgr. Baltazar and the late Bishops, Peregrin and Salazar. The new one which was the former beaterio is simply called Bishop’s Residence.

[17] A store where there are no persons selling and buyers just leave the money, get their change if they have and go home with the commodity.

[18]Ipula means non-Ivatan which is usually applied to the people of mainland Luzon.

[19]Dios mamajes means “Thank You” in Ivatan.

This post first appeared on Pilgrim's Knapsack, please read the originial post: here

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The Ivatan Window


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