"Pinukpok" abaca fiber
Weaving its way into the high end fabric industry
By Emily B. Bordado

"PINUKPOK" is the fine, smooth and silky fabric derived by manual pounding or hammering of the abaca strands or fibers. It is hand-woven as pure abaca fiber or blended with cotton, silk, polyester or piña. This fiber is said to be three times stronger than cotton and silk fiber and could last for several years.

Unlike the "SINAMAY" another fabric derived from abaca stalks used for various by products like fashionable hat, bags, pouch, ribbon, table runners, and for decoration purposes, pinukpok is exclusively used as textile usually for high end fashion just like jusi. Moreover, the process for making pinukpok is much tedious. After being hammered or pounded the fibers are fed into a rotary press machine to make it a smooth, fine and seamless fabric.

The weaving and production of various of sinamay products has long been practiced by Bicolanos but the production of pinukpok was introduced in Bicol only 1996 when the Tupa ng Baras Multipurpose Cooperative Incorporated was assisted by the DOST through its Provincial Science and Technology Center (PSTC) in San Lorenzo Baras by conducting a basic training on weaving patterns for abaca pinukpok with a resource person from the Philippine Textile Research Institute (PTRI).

In 1998, this group adopted the name Apanti Development Company, after the man behind this company, Virgilio Apanti. It acquired 5 units jack-type handloom with the help of the DOST. The following year, the PTRI again conducted training on scouring, bleaching and drying, and advanced weaving. Later the weavers were trained
on natural dye extraction and application on abaca textile.

The weavers and workers of the company were mostly the families living in Baras. The company was the sole provider of abaca fabrics to designer Dita Sandico-Ong.

In the province of Albay, it was only in early 2000 when 'pinukpok" gained attention. After the eruption of Mt. Mayon in 1992, hundreds of families within the danger zones were relocated in a resettlement area in sitio Banquerohan in Legazpi City. Although they were provided with shelter in the new site, the absence of livelihood opportunity was the problem faced my most of the families. To address this problem the LGU with the help of an NGO identified the prevalent or common skills among the resettled family members. Weaving was found to be among the main skills of the residents. Thus, the women in particular were further trained on the latest technologies for handloom weaving, dyeing, processing to upgrade their shills in the production of high value exportable abaca textile products under the guidance of the Department of Science and Technology, and the assistance of the Fiber Industry Development Authority (FIDA) and the Bicol University.

Through the help of the Department of Labor and Employment and the Bicol Small Business Institute Foundation Inc. (BSBI), the weavers were provided with 20 units of steel handloom, one mechanized steel fiber rotary press, and a plastic press from the Philippines Textile and Research Institute and other tools and materials for the mass production of pinukpok.

Since then, pinukpok has evolved into a fine high-end fabric. Slowly this fine fabric is weaving its way not into the textile industry and into the fashion scene. Known designers like Rene Salud, Ditas Sandico Ong, have featured this fiber in their fashion shows. Prominent personalities like former first lady Ming Ramos, Sen. Loren Legarda, Patis Tesoro frequently order this fabric. Local designers like Dan Clint Arispe are doing their share in promoting this fabric by using them in their creation.

PINUKPOK is also slowly weaving its way into the consciousness and attention of the local chief executives and officials of Bicol as they are now ardently promoting this fabric. Albay Governor Joey Salceda organized and staged the Albay Pinukpok Fashion Show in 2010 to showcase the elegance and grandeur of Bicol's "Golden Fiber". The governor himself led the fashion entourage of government officials donned in pinukpok attire.

The Regional Development Council composed of the region's chief executives of various government agencies also spearheaded the "Rampago Pinukpok" fashion show featuring the couture collection of Bicolano designers with the special participation of famed designer Rene Salud.

Although the abaca industry is already wee-established, the pinukpok as a sub-industry is still considered a sunshine industry. Its entry into the mainstream textile industry is painstakingly slow because of some problems that hamper its total development. For one, there is lack of raw materials; second, the process of weaving is tedious and time consuming; third, there is lack of machineries for weaving and what are available are either crude (usually made from coco lumber) or too expensive, like the rotary press machine which cost about half a million.

The woven fiber fetches a high price of P800 to P1,000 per meter because of the difficulty and longer time in weaving the fiber. Even the fastest weaver can only finish 2 maters of the fiber in a day. Moreover, the Pinukpok fabric is being marketed exclusively for formal or high end wear. Not as an all around fabric like sinamay. This gives Pinukpok an air of class, exclusiveness and inaccessibility which also contributes to its high price.

Despite the problems faced by the abaca industry prospects are bright encouraging. According to Dr. Editha O. Lomerio, Regional Director of the Fiber Industry Development Authority (FIDA), the Bicol region has reclaimed its title as the top abaca producer of the country in 2009 after having been overtaken by Eastern Visayas and Davao over the past years because of the bunchy top and mosaic viral diseases which infected most of the abaca plantations in the region. But slowly the abaca industry is regaining its foothold after massive and intensified rehabilitation efforts for its abaca plantations and application of modern technologies such as the use of tissue-cultured planting materials. She adds that the province of Catanduanes holds the distinction of being the top province in abaca production nationwide. As of 2010 the estimated abaca production in the region was 17,729 metric tons from over 50,2112.34 hectares of abaca plantation with an average yield of 354 kg. per hectare.

To address these aforecited issues, Fiber Industry Development Authority (FIDA) for its part massively campaigned expansion rehabilitation of abaca areas; distributed twining & handloom devices to pre-identified recipients of SAIS-BC, DA-HVCC & DA-BAR's ABAKAYAMANAN Projects in the region including a skills training package for the intended beneficiaries.

It is worth mentioning that some significant legislation have been passed and enacted into law in support to abaca and other indigenous fibers which could boost the local fiber industry. In 2004, Republic Act 9242 also known as the Philippine Tropical Fabrics Law was approved. Under this Act tropical fibers are defined as those containing natural fibers produced, spun, woven or knotted, and finished in the Philippines. These fabrics are mostly used for the uniforms of government officials and employees. On January 24 this year, our country observed the Philippine Tropical Fabrics Day to promote public awareness and use of indigenous textiles in the country.

The government through the FIDA is arguing textile and garments manufacturers, associations, and institutions to give their full support in the local production and use of local fibers. Natural and biodegradable fibers are in demand in the local and international fashion scene as some clothing lines makers look for exquisite and unique materials for their designs.

With these developments Bicol's pinukpok will slowly but surely weave its way through not only into the fashion scene but also into the mainstream of fiber and textile industry.