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Bomas-ang’s Journey Home from a Successful Voyage

“Bomas-ang” may be a simple Kankanaey term which means “to cross a mountain or a river”. But to the world, it is a brand of Igorot success following the Cinderella story of Besao native Engr. Rufino Bomas-ang.

Despite his retirement from the government, Bomas-ang remains a well-respected energy specialist in the country. He holds the record for being the first Undersecretary of the Department of Energy (DOE), a position he assumed from 1992 to 1995.

Young Bomas-ang: The Firewood Gatherer in Besao 

Born on July 7, 1940 to a Kankanaey parents in Besao, Bomas-ang was among the natives in the Cordillera highlands who were not registered in the government's Civil Records.

When he was five, the Japanese-American War began.

“Suddenly, a plane hovering the barrio skies dropped something that exploded in the air with a big flash,” recalled the former mining engineer in his book “From Gathering Firewood to Managing Energy Resources”.

He shared that they hid inside a cave, and then went out when the terrible bombing ended.

He described his childhood as “extremely poor but happy”. In the book, he recalled how he spent his younger days gathering firewood in a pine forest 10 kilometers away from their house.

That time, firewood was used mainly for cooking and partly for lighting homes. He remembered that he would sell a load of firewood for a peso to families with no one to do the gathering which considered a “man’s job”.

In 1950, Bomas-ang first experienced the convenience of electricity in Bontoc, capital of Mountain Province. He had no idea that one day he would be helping greatly in providing energy and opportunities to thousands of homes and families across the country.

Rise to Prominence: How Bomas-ang Crossed the River

Bomas-ang finished his elementary education at Besao Elementary School (BES) as the class valedictorian. He then enrolled at Saint Mary’s School (SMS), an Anglican institution in Sagada that was founded by American missionaries.

Bomas-ang was one of the brightest and the smartest. However, he still had to face the reality that his family cannot give him all the financial demands of studying. 

He recalled one time when students at SMS were going on a trip to Banaue, Ifugao. He was  very excited to reach the tourist spot, but had no choice but to stay behind because his family cannot afford to pay his transportation contribution.

However, his Banaue Dream did not end there. He was only able to reach the Ifugao town years later- now as a respected manager.

Graduating as the class salutatorian in 1958, Bomas-ang wore a pair of black jeans that was once blue before it got dyed for the special event.

Young and hopeful, Bomas-ang then traveled to Manila for his tertiary education. 

“Coming from the Cordillera, life in Manila would be radically new to me and I needed to learn how to survive the big city,” admitted the highlander in his book.

He narrated how he was able to cut his expenses and saved money for his studies. He shared that he once worked for the UP Canteen and spent some time at the Lepanto copper mine as an apprentice mine mechanic helper.

Eventually, he finished a degree in Mining Engineering at the University of the Philippines Diliman.

He then took the board exam while working in a manufacturing firm and was extremely overwhelmed to see his name listed as the board top scorer.

Before Bomas-ang became a DOE Undersecretary and an Igorot legend, he worked for numerous companies and learned lessons that he used in managing the country's interest when he was appointed to the top government post.

One of the memorable moments he mentioned in his book deals with his first plane trip. 

I wore a coat and tie; and of course, as it turned out, I was the only one aboard in such attire,” wrote Bomas-ang.

In 1981, he was appointed as the first chief Philippine representative to the ASEAN Experts Group on Coal (AEGC). He co-chaired the Indonesia-Philippines Coal Cooperation Committee in 1989. His dedication to the coal mining industry made him a new nickname “Number One Coal Boy of the Philippines.”

His Reuters Media biography sums up his achievement as an international energy development specialist:

“Formerly a mining engineer, having worked in recent years as an International Energy and Mining Consultant, focused on the development of untapped indigenous energy resources in the Philippines. From 1996 to 2004 Mr Bomasang was President and CEO of Philippine National Oil Company – Exploration Corporation. Mr Bomasang previously worked with the United States Agency for International Development as an Energy Consultant, providing technical assistance to the Philippine Department of Energy. His other directorships include Non-Executive Chairman of Otto Energy Investments Limited, a subsidiary of Otto Energy Limited.”

The i-Besao, the Hero, and the Samaritan

“Regardless of what happens, I believe that the time has come for me to pay back the indigenous community in the Cordillera where I was born and raised and which instilled in me the important values, which ultimately helped me realize my hopes, dreams, and aspirations in life,” confessed Bomas-ang in his book.

Currently, his Engr. Rufino Bomasang Initiative (ERBI) is raising money for the rebuilding of St. James School. A building of the school was destroyed by fire months ago.

In a write-up produced by Floyd Lalwet, he described Bomas-ang as “a fund-rasier par excellence for various schools of the Episcopal Church”. As of mid-March this year, the campaign, which mainly features a raffle draw, is able to raise about two million pesos, with Bomas-ang paying for the cost of ticket printing and purchasing tickets worth P20, 000.00.

He spearheaded awareness campaigns for the pitiful condition of Besao Elementary School. Meros Foundation and other Episcopalian institutions then sent loads of books and other learning materials to the school.

Bomas-ang also leads in reviving the glory days of his alma mater SMS. He organized a golf tournament that had former president Fidel V. Ramos as a celebrity player.

As the chairman of the board, he is able to gather funds from alumni of the school to pay for renovations and facility upgrade. With his efforts and the support of the school's alumni in different parts of the world, the once dying school is able to attract more students. 

SMS is again one of the top performing schools in the province. Bomas-ang is now working on a project that will soon make SMS a tertiary education provider in the North.

“God willing, I hope I will be able to continue taking steps and making contributions towards promoting quality education in Sagada, Besao, and the nearby communities,” pointed out Bomas-ang in the book.

In April, Bomas-ang vocally showed his support to Igorot companies as mining partners.

“Rather than wait for government action, the people in the Cordillera can go ahead and start setting their own mining and energy companies [or cooperatives] under Philippine laws,” Philippine Daily Inquirer quoted Bomasang.

“After all, we already have so many Igorot professionals, many of whom have had foreign training and experience,”  scored the Igorot legend. 

At 72, Bomas-ang regularly visits both Sagada and Besao to be more acquainted with the people he once dreamed with. Now a champion of renewable energy, an alternative source of electricity that is safer and more friendly to the environment, he believes that exploring renewable energy opportunities in the locality is one of his legacies to the future generations on top of his inspiring story on how he crossed the highlands to reach the national scene.

Christian is a Marketing Communications practitioner in Quezon City. He is an Igorot from Sagada, Mountain Province. To get in touch with him, please shoot an email to christianaligonow@gmail.com.


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