Gold Fever (Last of 2 series)

Pocket mining in Benguet boomed in the late 70’s, and people from all walks of life seeking the elusive fortune sang one chorus, “Entako maki-sayew,” or, “entako maki-abukay,” or “entako makisaga-ok.” literally meaning, “let’s go pan for gold.”

In practice, however, this method involves sharing of work and gold output among the panners by the better-off miners as way to help the less fortunate gold hunters.

There’s this belief among Igorot gold prospectors that any among them with a heart of helping the less unfortunate gold panner will be rewarded in the future with more finds of rich nodes of gold.

Those who “makisagaok” help in collection of the “naba,” useful rocks containing minerals that undergo gold extraction through pounding, mixed with water, crushed finely by ball mills and minerals separated with cloth washed in a basin.

With the gold dust in their hands, many pocket miners were able to take control of economic dire straits and became successful.

You may well remember that at Magsaysay Avenue, parts of Lapu-Lapu Street, Lakandula Street, and elsewhere in parts in Baguio City, there exploded business establishments that bought gold from the pocket miners, contesting Central Bank rates per gram of gold.

Others thought the gold will never run out from the ground and never thought saving for a rainy day.

Still, others found themselves much poorer than they originally were. Why? Many became victims to simple neglect in insuring for the future.

With money in their hands, many exuded a “Hang ‘Em High” feeling and fell prey to temptations.

If you listen If you to the song, “Magsaysay Express Avenue,” sang by a highlander with the monicker, “Sendong,” it was at Magsaysay Avenue where those (like gold panners and gardineros) with money were seduced to part with it.

Stories abounded of gold panners, after selling their gold, went on drinking spree, closed the bars at Magsaysay Avenue and caroused with bar girls until wee mornings.

Waking up groggy and feeling sick of hangover, they groped their pockets only to find out their hard-earned gold profit disappeared –  in like manner the bar girls having disappeared, too.  Where the bar girls went? He-he! Your guess is as good as this laborer.

Sendong’s song says, “Adda maysa a lugar/Idiay siyudad (Baguio) a sentro/ Magsaysay ti nagan na.”

“Naglalaok ti tattao; paradaan ti luglugan,”

“Ngem mayat a pagpasyaran, ta isu ti pakaserpatan; babaros ken babalasang.”

“Nu sika makalagip; ta agrelax sagka bassit.  Idiay Magsaysay Express; umistambay apagbi-it.”

“Ikolding mo, ikalbit; ngem madi ti agpaswit,”

“Shot ka muna kapatid, sakan tu agawid.”

Sendong goes on to describe how Magsaysay Avenue seemingly holding a mysticism of magnet on persons like gold panners or gardinero’s that would define their step in life.

He goes on to sing, “Magsaysay Avenue, napunpuno ti tattao/ Nu mamingsan, natalna, nu mamingsan nagulo/Addu met ti naul-ulaw/Addu met nagprogreso; ay kasta ti biag idiay Magsaysay Avenue.”

Elpidio Dangsuwil, a grizzled veteran gold panner in the days of yore in Dalicno and now retired from panning, learned from his mistakes and told merry tales of their carousing.

Often, it happened this way: It begins with gold panners, after changing their dust of gold to money, going to bars for a drink.

Filled with wine spirits, they would venture out of the bars and head towards the location at Magsaysay Avenue where women called “Magsaysay Express Girls,” are jauntily grouped.

There, a different transaction evolves. Having been cooped up in tunnels for long, the gold panners seek another kind of entertainment. And the “Magsaysay Express Girls” and the gold panners haggle over price.

Elpidio explained the evolving scene: The Magsaysay Express Girls, street-hardened women or hookers who engage in illicit commercial sex, reeking of cheap perfume would eye passing men as prospective customers.

These women smiled coyly or devilishly, according to Elpidio, and bared V’s of their breasts.

They would coyly pinch men, suggestively where it felt, here, there and everywhere while cooing, “Oy! Gwapo, papanam?” Then they would say, “Agpakape ka man ketdi,” or, “Agpakan ka man ketdi,” or “Agpainom ka man.”

When male prospective customers like gold panners, gardineros and other men don’t bite the bait of the hookers, the true character of said females surface as gleaned by their talk.

When they are turned down, many would say to a man, “Walang binatbat!” And curse the man to hell and damnation, saying, “Masunog sana kaluluwa mo sa impyerno!”

Often, Elpidio wondered, “Who among them (Elpidio, other men or the express girls) should be burned in hell?

Elpidio also related tales of married gold panners in conflict with their harried wives, these men not coming home immediately after selling their gold.

To this situation, this laborer has a reaction: “Aws, ikaw naman Misis! Parang di mo alam.” Nandoon sila sa Magsaysay Avenue.”

“Nandoon sila sa lansangan, nag-prospect sila ng chicks, este, ginto, este, nagbibilang sila ng dumadaan na chicks, este, taxi at jeep. . .”

Fortunately for Elpidio, he mended those wayward ways. How? This dumb headed laborer asked the jolly ex-gold panner.

Well, Elpidio dug deep in his memory and he remembered promising this way: “Verily, I say, farewell old bottle. I will kiss thy gurgling lips no more. My wife will laugh and my children would sing and reward me for saying, good bye, Magsaysay Express Avenue.”

Today, Elpidio rents a three-story building, accumulation of his efforts from blood, sweat and tears tunneling underground.

Hunting for that elusive balitok had always been in the blood of the early Cordillerans who have tasted of the balitok and found it very much addicting. The tradition goes on today.

Gold panning has lifted a lot of families from the shackles of poverty; it has also been pointed to as an environmental problem.

This incompetent daily laborer offers his head for the chopping block that unless the yellow metal is totally devalued (impossible as you know) mountain people will still scour the uplands for that elusive metal called balitok.

For even governments know for a fact that balitok is a deeply rooted and commercial instinct of any human being or the governments, themselves. Haaay, balitok, aya…

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