Pablito and Baselisa / by Bernice Beltran

Baselisa and her husband.

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Two years ago, a friend of mine and I embarked on a trip to learn more about the Batak tribe in Langogan, Palawan. The project had no clear direction but we were determined to help them. We learned that there were only very few of them left. They were vulnerable. Living in the jungle made them susceptible to many life-threatening diseases such as malaria and typhoid. Greedy businessmen were eyeing on their ancestral land. Some said these businessmen planned to build a resort, while others thought they would turn it into a mining area. 

One afternoon, we came to visit Pablito and his wife, Baselisa. The wife was once a chieftain and was representing the community in Langogan. We wanted to know more about her story. Out of curiosity, we asked Pablito how he courted Baselisa over cups of coffee, slices of bread and roll-your-own cigarettes. He is a Tagbanua and she is a Batak. Her father didn't like Pablito. He wanted her to marry someone from the same tribe, but Pablito was willing to risk it all for the love of his life.

He paid her a visit every night when everyone's asleep. She sneaked out of her hut to see him. If her father saw me, he would shoot an arrow at me, he said. But the cupid's arrow struck you instead? I joked. It wasn't my best punchline but it made everyone in the hut laughed. 

Life had been difficult for Baselisa and Pablito. They farmed to make a living and to support their family. They did not earn much but they made sure all three children are fed. Despite all, their love for each other endured.