Exactly 55 years on March 28 this year after then President Diosdado Macapagal rode on it, the calesa of Tuguegarao has outlived most of its patrons and refuses to bid the streets goodbye.
For the true-blue Tuguegaraoeno, the horse-drawn rig will always be a part of their lives from birth to death; a local mode of transport that has never seen bad days and continues to play its role to the hilt even as Japan started to flood the market with its motorbikes turned into trikes as early as the 1970s.
Gregorio Mabatan, also known at Tiyu Goryo of Barangay Ugac has been the face of the Ibanag cochero and wrote local history when he got a President of the Philippines as his lone passenger for a tour of Tuguegarao on that fateful day of March 28, 1962.
Eloisa Mangulad Mabborang, board of director of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts for Luzon, said that unlike most Spanish-inspired calesas all over the country, the Tuguegarao calesa is one of a kind.
“It has a distinct features and characteristics which set it apart from the rest of its cousin,” Mabborang said.
The Ibanag calesa is an open ten-seater ride with two rubberized wheels, two benches facing each other and bamboo floors. The body is made of galvanized sheet. The front part has a smaller wooden bench where the rig-driver and two passengers can sit. The wooden bench, Mabborang said, doubles as a box where the kutchero keeps his tools and other personal effects.
Right after World War II, the enterprising Ibanags all over the region recycled American wheels from destroyed jeepneys. These days, the wheels are rubberized and come from discarded tires of jeepneys.
Calesa comes from an old Slovenic church word Callash which means a wheel or carriage and pre-dates Spanish conquest.
The dramatic transformation of the Tuguegarao calesa from a lowly public transport into an icon of Cagayano culture is significant. It virtually covers all aspects of life among the residents. It is used in agriculture, business, trade and industry, socio-cultural and religious activities and events and even as a political tool.
In the early years of 2000 when Tuguegarao City has reached an alarming number of tricycles more than what its narrow streets could handle, a plan prohibiting the calesa in the town proper was hatched. However, Ibanags as they are, most of the Sangguniang Panlungsod, instead, enacted an ordinance allowing the existence of the transport along secondary streets if only for its cultural significance and image value.
In her study for a graduate diploma in culture education as a scholar of NCCA at the Isabela State University-Echague, Mabborang cited the socio-cultural and religious significance of the Calesa.
“ The fiesta in August is never complete without a parade of beautifully decorated calesas boarded by young mammaguinganay or little girls who either won or participated in local beauty competitions. Sometimes, participating schools and agencies also ride the calesa during those parades.
The boda-Ibanag wedding- is a significant cultural tradition celebrated with much pomp and fanfare.
The Ybanags are known for making this affair a highly celebrated family gathering as well as a manifestation of their strong kinship, hospitality and warm nature. From the time of the pangune (Iloco, padanun), the period where he families of the groom go to the house of his future bride, the calesa is already there bringing the caban (wooden chest) where the wedding paraphernalia and other wedding necessities are kept. It is also used to transport everything that shall be needed for the celebration,” she wrote.
But the calesa is not also spared from the highly volatile political scenario. It has become an unwilling medium for campaign sorties. Northernforum.net