Dimasalang, Masbate: A Place of Sextilingual People

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Dimasalang, Masbate, a normally laid-back, rustic but usually obscure place is in the headlines lately because of the recent ferry sinking claiming the lives of at least 40 people including many children.  Ironic that quiet, obscure places are suddenly put into national attention not because of some achievement but because of some big tragedy or calamity that visits them.  This is what happened to San Fernando, Romblon which suddenly became world-famous because of the ‘Princess of the Stars’ sinking.  Gaining notoriety their natural characteristics and charms are sometimes just put to the shadows.

Dimasalang is the center of the 3rd congressional district of Masbate which comprises the eastern portion of Masbate island. The sunk ferry, the ‘Don Dexter Cathlyn’  which is actually a wooden motor launch or motor boat is the town’s service to their alternate commercial center which is Bulan, Sorsogon.   It usually leaves Dimasalang at 1pm arriving in Bulan after nearly 4 hours of travel.  It leaves Dimasalang at 8pm the next day.  Like most motor boats in remote inter-island corners, it serves not just  people but also cargo like a truck or bus of the inter-island seas.

In Dimasalang like most towns of the 3rd district of Masbate, it is not unusual for one to ask a question in the Waray tongue and get answered in Bicol or Cebuano or Masbateno.  All four are considered languages in their own right.  The four tongues has a high degree of mutual intelligibility because it all belongs to the Bisayan group of languages.  Given the fact that most Filipinos speak English and Tagalog/Pilipino, many people in this corner of the Philippines are actually sextilingual (speaking six languages).  But for people here that travel to western Masbate, it is probable that they even speak a seventh language, Hiligaynon, the lengua franca of that place.

Maybe, of all places in the Philippines this little corner of Masbate is the greatest melting pot of Philippine languages.  And all because of sea lanes served by quaint, little launches the size of yatchs.  This place aside from its connection to Bicol has connections to the nearby islands.  Go to Cataingan and a daily motor boat is available for Calbayog City, (Western) Samar.  Move over to Placer or Cawayan and several motor boats ply the Cebu route daily.  Go to the town of Milagros and a daily boat to Roxas City, Capiz and Estancia, Iloilo is available.  Go to Mandaon and boats are available for Romblon and Lucena City, Quezon.

The town on the southeasternmost tip, Pio V. Corpus (Limbuhan), which has its own boat service to Cebu, whose lengua franca is Cebuano produced the current medical director of the Philippine Children’s Medical Center in Quezon City, Dr. Julius V. Lecciones, who is a member of UP Ibalon.  Proof that being raised in a remote corner of the Philippines is no hindrance in rising to the top.

Dimasalang might have gained temporary notoriety but for me what a heck of a place!

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