Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Dust, Holes And Mud

One of the quaint experiences one can surely have when he is in the province of Surigao del Sur is traveling on the province's famous dirt roads.

When I use the terms "quaint" and "famous", it is, of course, with a great deal of sarcasm and an equal degree of frustration. After all, in this age of multiple lane highways, expressways and all the miracles and advances in modern, high-speed transportation infrastructure, the people of the province are still blessed with the best examples of old fashioned, traditional and picturesque dirt road engineering utilizing the best of obsolete road making and maintenance technology dating back to the middle of the last century.

At the sorry state of most of the roads now, they are beginning to look like proving grounds for the latest off-road vehicles or endurance courses for dirt bikes. Or perhaps they are attempts to recreate the experience of what it would be like to drive on the surface of the moon or the wastelands of the Martian landscape.

Bring in the rainy season and then you can have spectacular results like deep ruts, quicksand surfaces, landslides and flooding. Navigating through all that can be the supreme test not only of vehicle durability, capability and power but also of driving skill and prowess. Never mind the mental torture and aggravation plus the physical discomfort and agony of it all.

To be fair about it, the government has started to pave with concrete some of the existing road sections but the effort has been largely notable for being sporadic, lackluster and slow-paced. This is more true particularly in the middle municipalities of the province especially around the Lianga area which essentially links the northern and the southern areas.

So whenever visitors call me up about plans to visit Lianga or any place within the province, I usually have only three pieces of advice. First, they must either bring a heavy duty vehicle with off-road capability or just resign themselves to using the public transport system. Second, is to bring plenty of anti-motion sickness pills and vomit bags for the more queasy travelers. And finally, to prepare themselves physically and mentally for one of the bumpiest, dustiest and roughest road trips of their lives.

For the local inhabitants, however, the rough roads are no novelty. They are something they have to live with and endure every day of their lives. And it looks as if they would have to, at least, for the foreseeable future.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Mute Witness

In the municipal park of Lianga right just beside the parish church is a monument to the national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. It is similar to the thousands of other monuments of like design that can be seen in practically all towns and cities all over the country.

Our Jose Rizal has stood and watched over the town since as far back as I can remember. As a small child I played with other children under his gaze and watchful presence.

In those days, a water pump located in a small cavern underneath his pedestal pumped water to four circular fountains that threw the water up into the air in lacy and graceful arcs and when dusk came, colored lights danced on the curtain of falling water drops. The magic of those moments remain clear and vivid in my memories.

Through fair or stormy weather, through the heat of countless summers and the drizzle of unnumbered rainy seasons, the statue gazed with unflinching resolve at the town center, the marketplace, the coastal sea and beyond to the blue-green waters to the far distant mouth of the Lianga Bay.

It had been a witness to many of the tumultuous events of the town's contemporary history. Ah, what I would give to have seen what it could have seen. Imagine the stories it could tell if it were capable of doing so.

Now the fountains are gone and covered with earth and the plants and grasses grow where the waters used to play. The decades have passed and change has not been kind. The town's golden age has come and gone. There is an atmosphere of listlessness and languor that pervades the streets and collective souls of the townfolk.

The people who pass through the park everyday do not really see Jose Rizal on his monument. They do not even see the statue. Not even the students who pass the park everyday on their way to their schools. Not even those among them who are forced to study the life and works of the man whose stone image stands so calmly and bravely above them as if in defiance of their indifference.

Reflect on that and weep.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Going The Parliamentary Way

"No! They just want to stay in power, that's why."
"Our congressmen know best. They know the law, they make it, so therefore, they know what's best for the country."
"I will never approve of a system where the people cannot elect the leader of the government themselves. It's not democratic!"
"Parliamentary, presidential or federal....it's all the same! The rich have the power and the poor have no say at all. It's all bullshit!"

I just stood there bemused as I listened to some of the common folk in Lianga express their views on the issue of constitutional change particularly on the proposal to change the present system of government from the presidential type to one based on the parliamentary model.

The few who did bravely voice their comments were aware that their opinions would matter little in the actual deliberations on this very crucial question of the day. Most if not all of them also freely admit that that they have not received adequate and unbiased information either from the government or from the media. And for all of them, who never had any direct experience living under a parliamentary democracy much less the occasion to study the workings of one, grasping fully the mechanics and processes inherent to parliamentarism can be an insurmountable task.

The advocates of constitutional change have cited the example of many countries in Europe and Asia who have had a long history of parliamentary governments and are vehement in their belief that a similar system implemented in the Philippines can be the key that will unlock political stability and economic progress for the country. On the other hand, staunch defenders of the presidential system and those leery of the "hidden agenda" of the politicians advocating charter change are as deeply convinced that the parliamentary system is merely another of those harebrained schemes that will simply lead to political chaos, anarchy and economic disaster.

To those in Lianga who are tensely awaiting the outcome of this on-going national debate, the question that is uppermost in their minds remains how credible and sincere are the motives of those politicians and individuals on both sides of the political controversy. In the absence of a credible and unbiased information campaign to educate the majority of the people on this issue, that is all they can really make a judgement on. That makes for a rather pathetic situation and not the ideal for what is supposedly a working democratic system where the people are supposed to be the final arbiters of political and constitutional change.

I have always been personally open to the idea of constitutional change and even to a shift to a parliamentary system of government. But only upon the most deliberate and open discussion and consultations with the greatest number of the Filipino people. That is why I, like so many Filipinos, was deeply insulted at the way the pro-administration representatives in Congress have sought to ram the idea of a constituent assembly down our collective throats. It smacks of legislative arrogance and tyranny of the most despicable kind.

If these are the people who will be in the Philippine parliament of the future and who will be in charge of directing the future course of this nation then the call by many sectors opposed to charter change for the Filipinos to take to the streets is call that we all should answer. The Filipino people are, in most cases, willing to accept change in all things and even in the area of politics and government. But it must be on their own terms and it must be for their own well being and welfare.

On the question of charter change, it does seem to be neither here nor there.

Friday, December 8, 2006

Children In The House

Having children in the house can be a double-edged situation.

On one hand, they can be irritating, obnoxious and inconsiderate. They also make unwanted demands on your precious time. They sap your energy, break your concentration when you are doing something really important and they can drive a saint to rage and despair with their persistent attempts, whether maliciously intended or not, to get your goat and drive you up the wall.

But they are also, in the final analysis, the reason why we are here and why we strive to be greater than what we are. They arouse the most overpowering feelings of tenderness and affection. They make us laugh with their frolics and antics, sympathize with their fears and anxieties and marvel at their emerging genius and intellect.

Because they are our future, we protect their welfare and safety with our very lives and it is in them that we realize the only form of immortality we can have on this earth.

I have asked myself so many times what is it about children that I like the most. Upon reflection I can come up with one answer.

I like children best because they are the ones who can teach us the greatest lesson about life and the art of living. For them, life is the greatest adventure and that the best way to get the best of what life has to offer one must go boldly into the world and embrace new experiences with zest and boundless enthusiasm.

To them the world is an exciting arena of opportunities and infinite possibilities, an exciting a colorful playground to cavort and play in. And where harsh reality may be limiting fun, their limitless imagination break down walls and boundaries and redefine that nature of fun and play.

So when there are children in the house I let them play to their heart's content. It can be noisy, disruptive and irritating sometimes and doing something else productive in the midst of such chaos can be next to impossible.

But it can indeed fun especially if you can let down your adult inhibitions, once in a while, and join in. After all, when it comes to finding joy and excitement in the most mundane times and places children are the supreme masters of the art.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Blissful Ignorance

Whenever I watch the national news on television and see the country's political leaders practically foaming in the mouth as they debate endlessly among themselves the issue of the need for constitutional change, I always wonder if they have any idea how irrelevant and confusing the matters they are so vociferously arguing on are to the greater majority of the Filipino people who they claim to represent.

Or perhaps that is the real intention after all; to make the discussion so esoteric and highfaluting that the ordinary man on the street would throw his hands up in the air in confusion, give up in despair and then leave the matter to their presumed to be more enlightened government representatives to "resolve to the nation's interest". Then the people's representatives, who may not be as noble as they project themselves to be, can really have their cake and eat it too.

The fact remains that the typically ordinary man walking the dusty streets of Lianga has no clear idea of what constitutional change is, what changes are to be made and what the consequences of these changes will be. He also has probably only a faint understanding of the effects of a shift from a presidential form of government to the parliamentary model. And if he did have an opinion on the matter, he would feel incompetent to publicize such a view and would regard his opinion as largely irrelevant in the general scheme of things.

That is not how democracy is supposed to work. Issues like charter change must be made understandable to the masa or the common folk. There is supposed to be general discussion and debate not the general impression that the whole thing is being rammed down our throats without us having even a tiny say in the matter.

Opinion polls have consistently shown that majority of the Filipino people oppose charter change now and a similar majority does not view with approval the shift to the parliamentary system of government. But even these figures can be misleading if you consider the vast majority of the people who have virtually no awareness much less an opinion on these issues.

The masa in Lianga are among those unfortunates whose opinions will not be counted. The even greater tragedy is that they would not care less being bypassed and ignored. In their world, just surviving in the midst of poverty is a daunting enough challenge they have to meet every day. Why worry then and lose sleep over something as unimportant and irrelevant as charter change.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Being Poor

That there is poverty in the Philippines is more than true. That there is poverty in Lianga is glaringly obvious.

I am reminded of the true story of an elderly European woman who, on her first trip to this country and this part of Mindanao, was passing by car through the rural countryside. After many minutes of watching the local scenery through the car windows she turns to her companions and said, "I don't know why we were all told that this is a poor country. Look at those nice country houses and cottages. People who can afford to have those weekend houses can't be that poor!"

Apparently she had thought that the rude huts and cottages on the side of the road and on the mountain sides were merely vacation houses for the people in the cities. Or maybe she needed a new pair of glasses.

The fact is that being poor in Lianga, like in so many other unfortunate places all over the world, is more of the rule rather than the exception. The lack of economic opportunities, a moribund local economy and an unresponsive and corrupt local government have merely served to worsen what is already an alarming situation.

Decades ago in the past, Lianga used to be a model town. Local business was booming, the logging industry in its northern barangay of Diatagon was at its peak, local fishing was bringing in bounties from the sea, and the people benefited hugely from the aura of prosperity that the seemed to envelop the area.

But time has passed the town by and only the memories and echoes of its golden years remain. Most of the other towns that surrounded it have surpassed it now in terms of progress and economic activity. And Lianga is back to where it started; a quaint, sleepy, little coastal town in one other secluded part of the world.

Perhaps then we here are not really poor, we are, in reality, merely rural. The rundown houses are not dilapidated, they are merely rustic. And life in the slums is not actually depressing and degrading but merely challenging and exotic.

In that case then, being poor or being excitingly rural or exotic can be just a matter of perspective.

Friday, November 24, 2006

A Welcome Development

I just heard that the Surigao del Sur Polytechnic State College campus here in Lianga had, several days ago, announced that its students can now avail of internet access through its school computers. This is indeed a welcome if not a long overdue development. In fact, I have been wondering what took them so long to provide that essential service when the technology for setting it up at a reasonable cost, even in remote towns like Lianga, is already available.

Schools and the internet are linked inevitably to each other like a carpenter to his tools and the ordinary craftsman with the right tools can be a hundred times more effective in his job than a master can ever be without them. Used properly and in conjunction with effective teaching methods, the internet access can address that glaring problem of the insufficiency of library and research materials that local students run into in the course of their school work. And there's nothing like the internet to expand one's world, bridge oceans and reach other people in far away places who, digitally at least, are as close as a mouse click away.

The only downside to this exciting development at the SSPSC-Lianga campus is the fact, if the stories I have been told are true, that the students are being made to carry an unreasonable amount of the cost of the installation and maintenance of the internet service. Students have told me that they have been asked to pay P300 to get the service up and going although the said amount also allows them free use of the computer facilities for at least 5 hours a week for the rest of the semester.

My point is that the SSPSC is a state college operated by the government and established to provide affordable, quality education for those who may not be able to tackle the costs of studying at the ruinously expensive private colleges and universities in the cities. To burden the students with such unreasonable fees for what should be seen as an essential service, without consulting them first and seeking their approval, is in my view an extremely unwise and precipitate move on the part of the school administration. After all, the cost of setting up the technology for the internet service in the school campus is not really that expensive and even ordinary home users in town can now afford to set up a similar system in their own homes.

Still I must congratulate the college administrators for their foresight and dedication in making the effort to provide their students with access to the tools of the internet age. What remains now is for them to make such access affordable enough and easily available for those who need to eventually work, live, survive and, most especially, excel in the digital world of the future.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Family Time

It has been said that one of the consolations about loved ones being apart most of the time is the joy of anticipating the times when they can get together again.

And in this modern times, when the demands of work and the search for economic opportunities do tend to tear families apart and separate them from each other often over long distances, it has become more and more difficult for family members to find time and arrange schedules so that they can meet, reconnect and have fun together.

Filipino families, even many from small and remote towns like Lianga, have become, in this sense, globalized and this causes unique problems in a culture that sets the importance of family ties above all and where regular physical contact and interactions between close relatives are valued, encouraged and considered essential to the survival of the family and clan unit as viable and living entities.

It is true that Filipinos far from home have found ways to combat homesickness and maintain contact with their relatives and loved ones in a myriad of ways. Most make use of the internet and through e-mails, voice and video chats try to keep in touch. Others who prefer the time tested and traditional methods, write letters or make long-distance calls.

But nothing still beats the old fashioned family get together. That is what everybody lives, works and sacrifices for. The chance to throw aside the cares, burdens and responsibilities of a brutal world and spend time with the people who matter to you most; the chance to invest valuable time, money and effort in something that always nevers fail to return the most generous returns, immaterial and intangible it may be.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Papaya Man

We met him in a small village almost a dozen kilometers outside of town, a wizened old man, stooped a little with age and carrying in his two hands the biggest papaya I and my companion have ever seen.

It was round almost like a basketball and very much bigger than one. And when we had it cut open, the meat inside was a rich yellow-red, thick, juicy and absolutely delicious.

The old man took us to his small garden in the back of his small nipa hut and proudly showed us his small orchard of some two dozen papaya trees, all just taller than an average man yet every tree was fully laden with huge, round fruits that were still green although many were already streaked with yellow and probably nearly ripe. "My pride and joy," he said to us as we gaped and oohed at the astonishing sight.

After another serving of the fruit treat, we settled down to the business at hand. I told the old man that my companion had heard of his papaya trees and would like to buy some seedlings if he would allow that. My companion, I added, is an avid gardener and had a few fruit trees of his own but he loved papayas and would like to plant a few of the old man's variety for his own garden. But the old man refused saying that he did not sell seedlings. "They are like my children," he added with finality, "A man does not sell his children."

Disappointed, we left for the car but as we got inside, the old man came swiftly after us and, through the open car window, handed to my astonished companion four seedlings packed snugly together in a small cardboard carton. Refusing all payment, he smiled and said, "I could see that you a good man and that you will make a good home for my papaya trees. I cannot sell them but I can surely give you some." With that and a final wave, he left us.

As we went home, I realized that we got more than what we came for. We not only have the seedlings but we also met an unforgettable character, a person who just reaffirmed our belief in something we often have lost faith in; the fundamental truth that human nature, at its core, is basically good and that generosity is a natural consequence of unselfish love.

Monday, November 13, 2006

A Brooding Presence

The town of Lianga, like most of old towns in the Philippines, is built on the classic pattern of streets running parallel to the town center where the triangle of the Catholic church, the municipal hall and the town park dominates.

But in the placement of these buildings and structures, the original town planners left no doubt as to which structure was the most significant, the most important and which represented the real power in the life and affairs of the community not only in this life but also in the next.

The present Catholic parish church in Lianga, which follows the traditional cruciform floor plan of many Christian churches all over the world, was built over a previously more modest wooden structure in the 1950's. By local standards, the building is an imposing structure and together with its 100 foot plus tall belltower, it contrasts sharply with some of the other newer churches in the neighboring towns which have opted for a more modernist look. The parish church of San Agustin town some 26 kilometers north of Lianga is similar in form and design and was probably built from the same architectural plans.

That the church, both as a building structure and as a religious institution, dominates life in Lianga is less true now than in the past but it still can cast a large and powerful shadow over the local population if and when it chooses to. Other Christian sects and denominations may have already gained a firm foothold in the town and some have even expanded their membership substantially over the years but the cross of the Vatican still reigns supreme over the religious landscape in the same way that the church bell tower dominates the town skyline.

And since religious dominance translates to social, cultural and political influence, there is no doubt that the Church is still a major force to reckon with even in these times of declining church attendance and the increasing secularization of Filipino society. After all, more than 300 years after the Spaniards introduced it in the Philippines, Catholicism has become so deeply imprinted in the Filipino soul and psyche that even non-Catholics are not immune from its influence.

That Lianga will remain predominantly Catholic in the near future is certain but times are changing and the challenges it has to face are enormous as well as daunting. But when one has the opportunity to visit the parish church in Lianga and go inside the white painted concrete walls with their long vertical windows of colored glass and stand before the high altar underneath the high ceiling, one becomes aware a feeling of comfort and reassurance, a dawning realization that this is a monument not only to a religion but to decades of history and a testament to a people linked by a common heritage and the shared hopes, dreams and prayers for a better, kinder and more comprehensible tomorrow.

If only in that sense, at least, one can gain a modicum of optimism for the future, as bleak as it may appear to be.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Hidden Treasures

One of the benefits of living in a rural and coastal community like Lianga is the opportunity to discover, without even intending to, hidden places where coincidence and the magic forces of nature bring forth spectacular vistas and sceneries.

One can simply be walking along a seldom used trail in a remote portion of the coast or traveling by car through the hot and dusty roads when like a flash, it strikes you out of the blue and you simply have to stop, stare and drink in scenes of such overpowering beauty that you can be lost in wonder as time seems to stand still and eternity looks at you in the eye.

I once had an uncle from the United States who was so mesmerized by these random bits of breathtaking beauty that it took us over three hours to travel 89 kilometers. He had to ask me many times to stop the car then he had to get out, revel in the scenery and then take souvenir pictures. The good thing about the whole experience was that I saw these places again through his eyes and gained a better perspective and appreciation for what I may have, over time, dismissed lightly and taken for granted.

The latter is the reason why the local people must remain conscious and appreciative of the beauty that surrounds them and the natural environment that not only sets the backdrop for such beauty but also protects and nurtures it. It is true that the best things in life are free but the fact that they have been given freely often leads to a cavalier and callous attitude in the face of the environmental damage and destruction brought about not only by nature itself but by the hand of man as well.

One must also remember that the struggle to protect the environment is not only a battle to preserve the aesthetic aspects of it but a broad struggle to protect cultures and cultural values, ways and patterns of living as well as the "soul" of the people whose lives revolve and depend upon the solid earth on which they walk, the mountains and valleys that define and delineate their world and the rivers and oceans that refresh and nurture it.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

A Sporting State Of Mind

He thrills to the fantasy of being LeBron James weaving skillfully past the opposition for the heartstopping basketball dunk or Kennevic Asuncion crushing foes on the badminton court.

That he can also play a mean game of both real life basketball and badminton is clear proof positive of a definitely sports oriented nature, one that sees life as a sporting event to be played and won, if possible, with the maximum application of will and skill and where losing can be like the bitter taste of ashes in the mouth and something to agonize and shed tears over.

I have seen him often playing basketball by himself and there is an obsessive quality to the manner in which he skillfully dribbles and with a deft, shooting touch sink shots into the hoop. That and the concentration and focus in the eyes reveal that all this is no mere game or practice workout but the playing and replaying, in his mind, of the game of his life.

Many sporting legends have made their mark in history by performing feats of astonishing skill and discipline in the sporting events that they have dedicated their lives to mastering. They had their golden moments, those slices in time where they so distinguished themselves that they have raised themselves to sporting heights far above their peers.

Josh may or may never be the sports superstar he dreams to be, but that is of little consequence really. You see, everytime he plays, he plays with gusto and total commitment, as if this is the defining game, the event that really matters, and the final test of his skill and dedication. That, in my mind, makes him, unquestionably, a star.

Friday, November 3, 2006

The Smell Of Christmas Coming

It's November in Lianga and it cannot be denied that there is indeed the smell of Christmas in the air.

One can smell it in the crispness of the chilly early morning air before the searing heat of the day comes and in the occasional breath of cool wind that flows down from the mountains in the late afternoon and early evenings.

These also a certain sense of urgency that one can pick up as one goes around the town. That sense of nostalgia that conjures up happy images and memories of Christmases past.

That the times now are difficult is clear and unequivocal but there is something in the coming holidays that conjures up the best and the most generous in the human heart. Perhaps as the year dies and the seasons grow cold, as they are supposed to do, man returns with a longing to the themes of family, home and hearth. And in the case of the Filipino, that means not only the immediate family but the members of the clan, close friends and acquaintances.

There is also a special remembrance for those family members gone and those in far away places, whose absence will greatly missed.

There are many who say that Christmas is only for kids and the young. That may be so but I still look forward to the Yuletide holidays with no small anticipation. One can disdain the shallow materialism and commercialization of the original Christmas spirit. But despite that, it is still really about family and friends. For that reason alone, I will continue to celebrate it.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Master Of The Game

The world of computer online games can be a dangerous and treacherous one, in a virtual reality sort of way. You can get blasted, vaporized, cut to pieces or smashed to oblivion among other things. And don't tell other serious gamers that it's all make believe. For them, it is real, well, almost real and when everything goes well, when luck and pure skill come together, the taste of victory can be as sweet and exhilarating as winning in real life.

My nephew delves in and out of this virtual world with ease and like an amphibian comfortable both in air and water, he thrives both in this world and the digital realm. But I suspect that like all of the world's digital warriors, he prefers the virtual world where the fun and excitement is pure and where the nagging and stultifying distractions of the real world do not apply.

There are those who say that computer games are not good for developing minds of growing children and teenagers. They believe that these games are too violent and instill the wrong values. My view is more ambivalent.

That the online world is often violent is true and in many cases the random violence and bloodthirst can be disruptive to young minds. But there is a difference with obsession and fascination, between responsible gaming and extreme addiction to the virtual world. The solution is, therefore, to encourage the former and discourage the latter.

My nephew is one of those who have become a masters of the digital gaming world. The challenges, conflicts, topography and physics of the virtual realm are as familiar to him as those of the real world we live in. The question remains whether he will be as successful in slaying the dragons and monsters of the real world as those in the world of that exists only in the innards of the machines of the digital age.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Sentinel Revisited

Ever since I first wrote about the rocky islet or outcrop on the shallow tidal marshlands of Lianga with its light beacon on top of the white tower with the snaky winding staircase, my fascination with this amalgam of nature and human ingenuity has continued to deepen.

There is something about the purô, the name the locals have given it, that strikes the chords of that mystical element within all of us, a quality that gives it an aura of the supernatural, as if some hidden force of nature or nonhuman intelligence had shaped it and cause it to thrust itself out of the water and stand defiantly against the might of the sea and the wind.

When one views it up close, there is often an absurd thought that presses itself upon you especially when you run your hands against its rough and deeply fissured sides; the silly impression that the outcrop is somehow alive in some incomprehensible way. No wonder the old folk in the area tell stories of enchanted beings and mythical creatures that supposedly dwell there and who jealously guard this sanctuary from human trespassers and who have severely punished those who dared to violate their privacy without just cause.

That the purô is much a symbol of Lianga as well as a historical landmark is beyond doubt. That is why it pains me to see it so neglected and unappreciated even today. It is as if in the struggle to survive in the midst of increasingly difficult times, the local people have set aside all aesthetic and sentimental notions in favor of the practical and material. Something easy to understand and justify but what is also true is that the immaterial and the intangible are also as much a part of who we are as the immaterial. To forget that is to lose sight of our roots as individuals and as a people sharing a common history and heritage.

How long this symbol of Lianga will stand against the elements and the cruelty of nature remains to be seen but I have a nagging suspicion that its fate may be as uncertain and unclear as the town and the people it is so identified with.

Monday, October 23, 2006

When Evening Falls

In Lianga, the transition between the late afternoon and the early evening is usually be swift and dramatic.

First, the already soft light of the weakening afternoon sun starts to mellow even further and from the western sky a blaze of warm, yellow hues start to coat the tops of the roofs of the houses and shadows start to lengthen and merge in the streets beneath them.

People are suddenly outside their homes to savor the sudden coolness in the air after enduring the heat of sultry afternoons, their voices drifting up from the corners and alleyways as they chat and gossip with friends and neighbors. The town, is for the moment, suddenly full of life and activity.

Children play in the streets and sidewalks and the marketplace and stores quickly fill up with buyers and shoppers making last minute purchases for the day and trying to get the best bargains for the food items needed for the evening meal. A buzz of sudden activity that often bewilders visitors who just a few hours ago could have only seen what would pass for just another sleepy town on the edge of nowhere.

Then the last rays of the dying sun is suddenly cut off and the patch of yellow and fiery reds in the western sky swiftly fades to a pale glimmer and a sense of urgency seems to grip the town. There is a sudden rush to hurry home. The street lights come on and as the people hurry along the streets, final greetings and words are exchanged and the children reluctantly drag themselves away from their playmates and their unfinished games.

Suddenly it is night. No warning and no lingering twilight. It is as if a light switch was turned off. And as the church bells toll for the Angelus, a quiet descends upon the town. Some intrepid souls are still on the almost empty streets and byways but for all intents and purposes, the town is dead and sleeping.

Friday, October 20, 2006

El Nino

For some time now, the government has been warning residents of the provinces on the northeastern section of Mindanao that dry weather may be ahead because of the so called El Nino phenomenon.

That the incidence and amount of rainfall in the Lianga area has been reduced cannot be argued. Blisteringly hot days and soaring temperatures are the norm now in what is supposed to be the beginning of the yearly rainy season.

But Lianga does get the occasional rainfall, some of them quite heavy, particularly in the later part of certain days and this has, in many ways, taken the edge off the general apprehension concerning the grave economic and environmental consequences of a generalized drought in this part of the country.

The truth of the matter is that the area around the town has for decades been spared, on the most part, the dreaded effects of El Nino. By some quirk of nature and probably because of its close proximity to the Pacific Ocean, the Lianga area has always had the blessings of adequate rainfall. In most cases, particularly when tropical storms pass nearby, its problems lay more in the over abundance of rain rather than the lack of it.

But the weather patterns are changing and as the local population sweat it out from one hot day to the other, more and more of them are wondering if the worst of the dry weather is still to come and what effect that would have on the area's hard pressed agricultural economy.

Lianga had been spared the worst of the 1997 to 1998 El Nino drought and many locals are wondering if they will still be as lucky this time around.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Urban Interludes

There is no doubt that Lianga, despite its many problems, remains a good place to live in. It offers the stress-free and relaxed atmosphere of rural or country living but has easy access to the cities for those who may, from time to time, want to sample or re-acquaint themselves with the amenities and attractions of the urban lifestyle.

In my case, having the opportunity to visit the nearby cities especially with the rest of the family can be a special treat. One may, indeed, become used to and comfortable with life in the countryside but, having grown up in the city, I will not be the first to admit that life in the urban fast lane has its temptations and it is a fool who refuses the chance to indulge, at least, in some of them when he can.

The fast food joints and restaurants have to be visited and their latest offerings tasted, the shopping malls and specialty stores perused for sought after needs like clothes and accessories, the electronics and tech outlets canvassed for the latest gadgets, entertainment centers and popular gathering places examined and sampled.

Given enough money and time, a visit to the city can be an intoxicating experience but, for people like me, the countryside always beckons. Perhaps I have become acclimatized to the mood, pace and rhythm of the rustic life. I, who was once the city hare running the urban marathon, is now the country turtle sedately plodding along the country roads.

So I can go for the wiles, amenities and attractions of urban life anytime but in the end, the country buffoon is out of place in the city as a turtle running the rat race.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Time Out

One of the things visitors from the city have to get used to when in Lianga is the deliciously casual way the locals deal with such unimportant and trivial things such as time and dates.

Take the case of the poor guy at the local shoe repair shop. He knocks on the counter of the empty shop for several futile minutes until a woman, obviously the shop owner's wife, nonchalantly appears.

Customer: "Is the repairman in?"
Woman: "No. He's here only on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays."
Customer: "Today is a Wednesday."
Woman (surprised): "Wednesday ba! That idiot! He should be here!
Customer (impatiently): "I really need to have this shoe repaired."
Woman: "You can leave it here or come back tomorrow."
Customer: "Will he be here tomorrow."
Woman: "Maybe."

Or how about another guy waiting for the delivery of a set of custom furniture.

Customer: "You said Saturday. Today is Tuesday na!"
Carpenter: "Sorry. I said maybe I can deliver it last Saturday. I was busy harvesting rice."
Customer (after checking the delivery): "Hey, the set lacks one side table!"
Carpenter: "Yes, the varnish was still not dry on that one. I'll deliver it Friday."
Customer (exasperated already): "But I need it today. I have to ship the whole set to Cebu."
Carpenter: "I can't deliver it earlier than Friday."
Customer: "Why?'
Carpenter: "Its the fiesta in my barangay tomorrow and on Thursday I will be at the cockfight."

So when in Lianga, take it easy and do not be too obsessed with the time and the calendar. It will save you a lot of stress and aggravation.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Kansilad Revisited

I had written about the Kansilad Beach Resort in Lianga about a month ago and even included several pictures of the resort in that post entry. The response has been lively and some visitors to this blog have requested for more pictures.

My visits to the Kansilad have been less frequent recently but the few times I have been there since then have left me with the lingering and lasting impression that the many who have passed by Lianga without ever visiting the resort have lost a singular opportunity to see what human ingenuity in combination with breathtaking natural scenery can accomplish in tandem.

Like many relatively young resorts, Kansilad is a work in progress and a lot more must be done to enable it to achieve its greatest potential as a prime tourist draw. But the potential is there and given time and the proper condtitons, Lianga may soon see the resort as not only a mecca for local tourists but also for foreign visitors eager for the taste of not only sun-drenched fun and excitement but also relaxation and comfort amidst lush, tropical surroundings and exotic, natural scenery.

Need I say more? Another round of tequila please.

Monday, October 9, 2006

An Absurd Necessity

If somebody told me ten years ago that I, together with a large part of the population of Lianga, would be drinking solely purified water from a water refilling station I would have thought that somebody had a sudden attack of insanity or had too much to drink of tuba, the local coconut wine. After all, this coastal town does not exactly suffer from a shortage of sources for water and practically anywhere in town all you have to do is drive a pipe less than fifty feet and you can pump out sufficient quantities enough for household use. It is not the supply of water that is the problem but its potability.

Decades ago, nobody worried about chemical, mineral or bacterial contamination in the water. Water was water and whatever the source, all drank it without any fuss. That, of course, is no longer true today and there are internationally accepted standards for determining the suitability of water for drinking purposes that are promoted even in remote towns like Lianga.

The town has a utilities company that has responsibility for managing the local water supply system. But budget limitations and an outdated distribution infrastructure have not exactly been an assurance against contamination. In the past, salt water intrusion in the water supply was a serious problem and although that problem has been minimized, the purity and potability of the water coming out of local faucets have remained doubtful.

Purified water from commercial water refilling stations have provided the people of Lianga with access to safe drinking water and have no doubt contributed greatly to a reduction in cases of waterborne diseases. They have filled the gap in essential services that the government has not been able to provide. It is, however, an expensive alternative and an additional financial burden in times of economic hardship.

But until the government can invest in the needed infrastructure and expertise that will ensure that small towns like Lianga can finally have access to truly potable water in their own homes, then water refilling stations will have to stay and people will have to pay dearly for something that is supposed to be theirs for little or no cost at all.

Friday, October 6, 2006

Children Of Strife

The more than 30 years of armed conflict between the government and Communist insurgency in the countryside and rural areas of the Philippines has exacted a heavy toll in terms of human casualties on both sides.

Small towns like Lianga, being located right within a so called rebel "area of influence", has been, on several occasions, touched by the fury of this protracted war and its people have greatly suffered for it. It is a great tragedy that this war goes on even today and that even as the years pass, the physical and emotional wounds never heal and new ones inflicted time and time again.

People like Jen are also victims of this conflict but of a different kind. But even so, their lives have been just as traumatized as those who, by choice or accident, lost their lives, saw loved ones lose theirs or whose lives were destroyed by a war that has become, in many ways, a senseless slaughter of innocents.

You see, the government, particularly the 1980's and even until the early 1990's, sought to contain the rapidly growing insurgency movement in the countryside by garrisoning combat troops in key towns and villages in rebel threatened provinces. Soldiers and other military personnel in these improvised military camps became a common sight in the countryside. Contact between these male guests and the local women became an inevitable consequence of this rural militarization.

The fact that many of these liaisons resulted in stable marriages and families is undeniable. But it is also true that just as many of these local women were abandoned and the children born of these unfortunate encounters cursed to live the rest of their lives not only condemned to bear the stigma of their illegitimacy but also to suffer an uncertain future bereft of financial and economic security.

The casualties of war are not only counted on the battlefields, they encompass many others far removed from it. The one great mistake is to forget that Jen and others like her are merely part of the "collateral damage" rather also actual and legitimate victims of a war that should have ended decades ago.

Tuesday, October 3, 2006


One of the things that Lianga is well known for is furniture and decorative items made of a local species of Philippine hardwood known as Magkono. The tree from where this durable, dark-colored and extremely dense wood comes from apparently grows only in the dense forests of the surrounding area and rarely anywhere else.

Magkono wood is so hard that it is also called "ironwood" and cutting down a mature tree even by modern methods is still a time consuming and laborious process. When I was a child, I once witnessed a man trying to cut down a bridge post of Magkono wood with an ax and I could still remember the sparks that flew everytime the ax head made contact and the speed with which its cutting edge became blunted after only a couple of blows.

Furniture made from it can last for generations and is impervious to termites and other wood-boring insects. If skillfully made and elegantly designed, such furniture items are heirloom pieces and can fetch really hefty prices in the furniture market.

The scarcity in the supply of Magkono lumber, however, and the banning of any commercial cutting of Magkono trees have made it difficult for furniture makers to supply the huge demand for Magkono furniture pieces and going around the government ban can be an expensive, risky and dangerous business if you consider the harsh legal penalties you might incur if caught red-handed by the law.

The supply for smaller decorative pieces and knicknacks made from the same wood is more readily available if you know where to look for them. Coffee tables with stools, table ornaments, fruit bowls and trays, and the smaller decorative items and souvenirs are always a hit with Lianga outsiders and are constantly in demand as gift items.

The Magkono tree and its wood has been used many times as a symbol for the toughness and resiliency of the people of Lianga. But it is fast disappearing and the illegal cutting of many of the few remaining trees found may soon spell its doom. It may be tough and hard as iron but that is no defense from avarice and greed of men who are supposed to be charged with its protection and conservation for the future.

Monday, October 2, 2006

To Be Young

I used to remember my grandfather grousing every time young children would come to play in the our house in Lianga. To him, the children meant a lot of noise and distractions, and he preferred his peace and quiet, just sitting quietly and reminiscing about the good old days.

Personally, I have always felt that most adults, in most cases, do not actually detest the idea of children playing around them or within their vicinity. They may proclaim vociferously that their work, if they are really doing any, is disturbed and hampered but the fact of the matter is deep inside we actually envy children and their infinite capacity to have fun.

A friend of mine who is in his sixties and who shares this view once told me that one of the reasons why he liked watching children play in and around his house is simply a sense of nostalgia, a deep longing for the innocent pleasures of his childhood. "Ah, to be young again!", he would exclaim with passion.

Sometimes I do get irked when I am doing some reading or actually working on something important and kids are running around, shouting and making a mess around me. But such occasions are rare. I usually just sigh with resignation and try to find a quieter spot for myself and let the children do their best in something they are the best at, being children.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Weather Talk

As Typhoon "Milenyo"” (international name: Xangsane) battered Luzon, Lianga sweltered through hot and humid days. It seemed like storm had sucked all of the heat and humidity over the Pacific Ocean and dumped it all over our part of the country while it wrecked its destruction up north.

The scenes of flooding and general devastation in the areas hit by the storm shown on national TV were appalling. But for us here, they highlighted one single fact: the area around where Lianga is located has relatively been spared by any form of really violent weather disturbances for more than at least a decade now and for this the local people have a lot to be thankful for.

Old timers here tell us that decades ago, tropical storms used to make regular and periodic visits to our area particularly during the latter part of every year but it seems that the weather patterns have changed over time and the storm track has moved up farther north. I am no weatherman but in the ten years or so I have been in Lianga, I could remember only of one occasion where a typhoon did pass by near Lianga and did some damage to the local infrastructure but certainly, in no way, on the same scale as the devastation Milenyo left behind.Call it luck or merely the consquences of climate change but we have been spared this time the unfortunate fate of our unlucky countrymen up in the north.

A typhoon like Milenyo hitting our part of Mindanao would probably cause a disaster of major proportions and because of the remoteness of our area, disaster response and aid from the government would be surely slow and greatly inadequate. Thousands will probably be killed or injured and the damage to infrastructure and agriculture will be catastrophic.

So as we here watch the pictures and videos of the storm damage in Manila and its surrounding areas, one thing is in our minds. Spare us the bad weather, please. Heat and high humidity? Bring it on!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Taking Chances

"Please, kuya, find me a chat friend, a foreigner," she pleaded as I just sat there amused while at the same time bemused by the request.

I was helping out a relative whose computer had a minor software problem and was testing it by going online and chatting with somebody from Indonesia when a young house helper saw what I was doing and then she popped the question.

The rationale for the request was obvious. She wanted to get to know a foreigner, preferably rich, at least by local standards, marry him and escape the poverty that is condemning her and the rest of her family to a life of drudgery and hopelessness. She has seen others of her kind do the same thing and have done well indeed. But it is also true that many others who also tried the same path ended up broken physically and mentally, poor as ever, and worst of all in many cases, dead.

I did not have the heart to talk ker out of it. After all, what alternatives are there for her to take? One often has to play the cards life has dealt him the best way he can and winning or losing the game of life is all about taking risks. Some of the choices may riskier than others but as in gambling, the higher the risks the higher the rewards.

I felt like a bastard then but I promised the young helper I would help her find her chat friend. And when I said so, I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Hoping Against Hope

Just less than a year before the scheduled local and national elections, the news on national TV, radio and the print media has, for the past weeks, expectedly been dominated by reportage on the developments in political arena. A quick review of these reports indicate two major aspects of the coming elections which, predictably, will define the nature and texture of Philippine politics in the future as it had in the recent past.

Firstly, the political dynasties that have dominate the political landscape will remain the forces to contend with in the coming elections and they will be very difficult if not impossible to defeat and overthrow. Not with the wealth and political influence they control both on the local and national level.

Secondly, show business personalities will again be gunning for both local and national positions and this time with a vengeance. I was flabbergasted when I saw the long list of this new breed of politicians. Ever since Joseph Estrada swaggered his way to the presidency and after Fernando Poe, Jr. gave Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo a scare in the last presidential elections, every one else in the entertainment industry seems to be salivating at the prospect of banking on their popularity and launching a new career in politics.

In Lianga, the situation is very much less dramatic or colorful. It is in fact boring as hell. But then political contests in this town have always been, to a larger extent in recent years, cut and dried affairs where elections are decided more on other mundane things such as blood and clan relationships, money and logistics or the lack of it and political patronage rather than the candidate's actual character, track record and party or political ideology.

Like in most things, the town seems to be caught in some time warp. The same faces and names are going to be in the ballots, the same tired slogans and empty political promises will again be made and the charade will be played out to its inevitable and pointless end.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Communication Failure

Of the major technological innovations introduced in Lianga, none has had a greater impact on the day to day lives of its people than the advent of modern mobile phone communications. The ubiquitous cell phone has become so much a fixture in our daily lives that to imagine ourselves without it is to think the unthinkable. Many people, who had managed to go for decades before without ever seeing a cell site tower much less imagine a phone that can fit in the palm your hand, which you can carry around you wherever you go and yet call to anywhere in the world, now feel naked and helpless without it.

It all boils down to the need for people to be able to freely communicate with other people and not be limited by actual physical contact or proximity. Filipinos, probably more than most other nationalities, are great communicators and will try anything that will keep them in contact with their loved ones and the cell phone has become the technological miracle that makes this possible.

And, by golly, you cannot only call but also sent text and multimedia messages, surf the Web, play electronic games, pay your bills, access banking services, do shopping and a lot more. In the future, we are told that the cell phone will be the all-purpose electronic genie that redefine the way man will live, work and play.

That may be what will happen indeed but one wonders whether in the rush to immerse ourselves in the wonders of the wireless, digital world we may be missing out something more tangible and more real.

I have seen families in Lianga gathered together in the living room after dinner watching TV or just hanging out in each other's company. A seemingly cozy picture of family togetherness until you look closely and see each of them furiously fiddling with their cell phones; each lost in their own electronic universe and totally ignoring each other's presence.

And what about families and friends who communicate more through their phones rather than spend time to actually and physically touch base and renew relationships by actually communicating in the real, non-virtual and old fashioned, traditional sense?

Real human relationships may need more than easy access to instant digital communication in order to survive and flourish. And time spent to get actually in touch with others may not be precious time wasted but time wisely spent.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Sea People

Lianga, like many coastal communities, has a love-hate relationship with the sea. The local people know that it feeds them and provides livelihoods for many. But somewhere deep within their common psyche is also an irrational fear of the sea as a fundamental force of nature, fickle and unpredictable as a woman, and capable of unleashing the awesome power of wind and water that can wreck havoc and destruction upon their homes and communities and indiscriminately take their lives and the lives of their loved ones. This deep and primeval fear finds manifestations in many different forms but none fascinates me more than the enduring legends of the sea people.

The local lore is replete with stories and tales of the mythical residents of the underwater world, who depending upon the perspective of the storyteller, can be gentle and benevolent creatures aiding fortunate local residents in times of distress in the sea or vengeful and malevolent monsters who demand yearly tributes and sacrifices in the form of human lives. Old timers also talk of local residents kidnapped by the "ukoy", a particularly nasty, humanoid sea monster, who then condemns these unfortunates to eternal slavery underneath the blue-green waters of the deep.

Interestingly, the mermaid, classically depicted in many cultures as a woman with fish fins instead of legs, also abound in the shallow coastal waters if the stories of old fishermen and the grizzled mariners in their motorized boats are to be believed. Many of them even offer food and incantations to these fishy humans in the hope of a safe journey or a bountiful catch.

Without a doubt, there is no scientific evidence to support the existence of the sea people. They exist only in the realm of the imagination and, perhaps, in the collective subconscious of a people needing to understand, in their own limited way, the mystery, complexity and the massive power of the sea and the ocean.

But I have traveled by boat along Lianga's coast many times and I can understand how easily one can be seduced by these old legends. The flash of a white topped wave or the rolling dance of a rogue dolphin or the flitting shadow of a fast traveling fish can be taken for a mermaid from a distance. Or perhaps one can think that the rough brushing against your leg by a clump of seaweed or some harmless sea creature while you are swimming in deep water is the touch of the dreaded ukoy.

Either way, the myth can suddenly and terrifyingly take on reality and for a heartstopping moment there, you are almost certain that the sea people have come for you.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Digital Dinosaur

In the late 1990's when I began to get seriously interested in computers and information technology, I tried to get all of the relevant reading and instructional materials available on the market and started to get down to some serious reading.

After a day or so of really intense study, I managed to borrow the use of a computer with a dial-up internet connection boasting the then dizzying access speed of 56 Kbps and attempted to do some internet surfing. The results were predictably catastrophic.

I did not only get lost somewhere in the midst of the Web's labyrinth of digital paths and highways but I even managed, to the horror of the computer's owner, to screw up so many of his internet browser's settings that he had to spend many futile hours trying to repair the damage and ended up having to reinstall the whole thing. Thereafter, he banned me from even getting near his computer and capped his indignation at what I had done by refusing to talk to me or receive my calls for weeks.

I eventually did, however, through the long and bitter process of trial and error, become adequately proficient in the use of computers and IT technology but I still cringe in embarrassment when I recall the many instances in the past when, inspite of my vast ignorance about such things, my tendency to foolishly forge ahead and tinker with the new technology led to swift, certain and inevitable disaster.

That is why I envy kids today and how they seem to be naturally bred to accept, interact and live their lives in conjunction with the personal computer and all the other spin-offs of the digital age. They are naturals. I, on the other hand, and like so many others, can only struggle to keep up.

So when you are forty something and not in any way an overaged computer geek and you are desperately trying to make sense of the flood of gibberish on your computer screen in an internet cafe, never be ashamed turn to the snotty kid playing online games next to you. Ten to one, he can solve your problem in a jiffy.

And take note of the patronizing look in his eyes when he helps you out. He's thinking, "Dude, how can somebody as old as that be so useless!"

Saturday, September 16, 2006

When Love Is Not Enough

But how could I.....

Change the feelings imbibed within
Erase the scars that caused pain

When I could never see you again
If only I could...then I would
L. A.

It sits there on the computer table, a small and pinkish stuffed teddy bear. It is cute in some generic way but is not unlike many other stuffed animal toys that you would find in an ordinary gift shop or novelty store; the kind you would send as a gift with flowers or a greeting card.

But ordinary it is not, as I learned recently. Because the bear has a story. A tale of unrequited love.

The story is of an intelligent, young man who met an even younger girl some years ago. The man fell desperately and hopelessly for the girl. The girl, of just 16 years, overwhelmed by his passion and ardor, returned his affection. The affair blossomed for a while but in time the girl realized that her affection for the young man fell short of love. She tried to break up the relationship but the man fought back with frenzied wooing complete with flowers, gifts and passionate poems expressing undying love.

The girl relented and the love affair stumbled on for while until the she finally and with great honesty ended it much to the despair and sorrow of our young man. Heartbroken, he has learned to accept the breakup and struggles to live on with the memory of his lost love.

I never have much use for love stories especially those of the fictional kind. But real stories of love have a compelling allure of their own. They speak to the heart and that basic and deepest core within us that rejects the cynical viewpoint of those who deride the idea of romance or the emotion of love as a human delusion or invention.

So whenever I look that stuffed bear, I see not the toy but something else. I see the remains of what was once a man's obsession with love and the tragic story of that love that was freely and passionately given but, unfortunately, was never returned in kind.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


Some good things and blessings, if you can call it that, can come to you in the most unexpected times and in the most unexpected places.

Several days ago while driving over the hot, dusty and potholed road that connects Lianga with its neighboring town of Barobo, I was miserable as hell.

The midafternoon sun was gleefully baking the outside of the car, the air conditioning was not working and I was perspiring like a pig inside the stifling interior while the car lurched and jolted slowly from one maddening deep hole to another. Cursing out loud is something I seldom do but that time I was doing it with gusto and no small amount of heartfelt fervor.

I had drank my fill of more than half a dozen cups of coffee while visiting a friend in Barobo so by the time I reached the outskirts of Lianga, my bladder was itching to explode. I found a nice shady spot by the side of the highway where I could relive myself and suddenly, in front of me and where I had least expected it, unfolded a scenery of serene and haunting beauty. In my mind I still can see it clearly.

Green ricefields stretching out in front of me, blue skies peeping through a fine haze of white, layered clouds and below, the outline of thinly forested hills tinted blue by the distance and framed by stretches of stately coconut trees. The car engine was off, no other vehicles were passing through and only the murmur of babbling water from a nearby creek and the chirping of distant birds could be heard. And, as if on cue, a cool, refreshing breeze heavy with the scent of fresh, green grass swept away the lingering heat of the fading sun.

My God! I had passed this spot countless of times before but I never saw the magnificence before me. How could I be so blind?

I simply stood there and drank it all with my senses. How long I remained there transfixed I do not remember but I finally somehow managed to shake myself loose, walk away and resume my journey quietly home.

Moments like these are pleasant interludes in our lives. They are of great value, leave lasting impressions and lingering memories. They are reminders that while life can be shitty most of the time, thankfully, there can be moments of great beauty that do help break the monotony and the drudgery of it all.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A Wake Up Call

The Catholic Church continues to be the dominant religious force to reckon with in Lianga but it is clear that it has lost a lot of the strength, vigor and vitality it used to have in the past. In fact some local pundits are saying that where it not for the hundreds of babies the Church baptizes every year into the faith, Lianga would probably now be lost to the Protestant churches or the other non-Catholic evangelical faiths that are slowly but firmly gaining a foothold in the town and which are making their presence felt more and more over the years.

Since, in the Philippine setting, religious authority translates into social, political and cultural influence over the community, what is seen as a gradual but constant erosion of the Church's once supreme authority over local religious life is beginning to worry a lot of its leaders in the clergy and the layman community who see the Church as the sole guardian of the moral and spiritual life of the nation.

In the case of Lianga, many politicians and community leaders now regularly and actively court the political support of these other religious groups who have become aware of their emerging influence and who have began to play more assertive roles in the community. This is something the Church leaders worry a lot about but worry is all they can do at this point. Theirs is no longer the only show in town and in truth, they have only themselves to blame for it.

The main reason for the decline in Church power and influence can be traced to the degree it has become divorced from the day to day lives of the people and the community. The inability of the institution and its teachings to adjust to the changing times and, therefore, remain relevant in the context of modern life has led to its being sidelined by many Catholics, particularly the young, who see their faith merely as an anachronism and, thus, a hindrance or nuisance rather than as a source of spiritual strength and inspiration in their lives.

Yet the institutional Church together with the clergy have remained largely complacent and unheeding to the call to address the issues of reform and modernization. And it has failed miserably in many ways to reach out and makes its presence felt in the daily lives of the faithful. It has, instead, chosen to become a largely impersonal and aloof entity perceived by many to be separated and out of touch with the community of believers.

Catholicism in Lianga is indeed alive but certainly not kicking as it should be. It has become a religion of rote and habit, of ceremony and pageantry and but sadly lacking the fire, warmth and the vibrant fervor of an energized, growing and living faith.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

A Filipino Diaspora

There is something gravely unsettling about the on-going flood of Filipino nurses going abroad in search of higher pay and better economic opportunities. The migration is not, in itself, something new. Over the decades, our nurses have always been in great demand overseas but the sheer volume of them on their way out of the country now and the resulting negative impact this has over the nation's public health care services is becoming alarming.

The Philippines may be running out of experienced nursing personnel but worse than that, it may be also running out of doctors. Many in the medical profession have opted to take the previously unthinkable step of studying nursing in order to escape what many of them see as a bleak economic future for them here. After all, when many doctors, particularly the thousands in the government service, earn only as much as an ordinary, middle-level civil servant, the prospect of a dollar paycheck even as a "lowly" nurse abroad can be temptingly attractive in these times of great economic hardship.

My father, who spent many years as a physician in the public health service, would have been appalled by the present state of the profession he had served so well. When he was still alive, he had always fought and lobbied for better pay and better working conditions not only for doctors but also for nurses, pharmacists, nursing aides and all others working in the local health service. In a time when no doctor would want to work in a rural, backwater town like Lianga, he buttonholed local government officials to subsidize salaries, improve local hospital facilities and even personally recruited physicians to participate in the government's rural health programs. The local district hospital serving Lianga today is a testament to the success of his unceasing crusade to bring the benefits of modern health care to the rural countryside.

But even he would have been helpless in finding ways to help staunch the hemorrhage of medical talent going abroad today. One cannot promote patriotism on an empty stomach and the chance to make real the dreams of a better life and greater financial security cannot compete against selfless and noble altruism.

But to blind ourselves to what is happening is to ignore the gradual destruction of the very soul of this nation. I know many of those who are now in far away lands in search of a better future for themselves and their families. They are family, relatives, friends and acquaintances. They are the among the best, the most productive, the most highly educated of our people and would have been a vital and essential component in our struggle to build a brighter future for the Filipino nation.

The physician, including all those in the allied medical professions, have always occupied a very honored position in Filipino society. They are looked upon as healers and respected for their important role in fighting disease and promoting health in the community. It is sad to see that even they have been reduced to become like us, mere ordinary mortals struggling to survive on meager paychecks and even meager hopes for a way out of crushing financial hardship.

A doctor friend, who once had a private practice and who later served in the government as well, summed it up for me recently. "My more than ten years of university education," he said, " has entitled me to an income that my small family can barely survive on. Don't talk to me about the dignity of the medical profession and the nobility of public service. I have been there. There is no nobility in poverty." A year ago he graduated from nursing school and eight months later he was in the United Kingdom working as a nurse.

Argue about that.

Thursday, September 7, 2006

The Chinese In My Life

I cannot run away from them. They are there in everything that I do. When I pick the foods I eat, when I choose what I wear, when I select what I read, when I decide which movies to see or TV channels to view and they even have a hand in the way I think about and perceive the world I live in. They, in no small measure, even determined, from birth, how I would look like. Without a doubt, they are my single greatest influence. Who are they? They are the Chinese in the my life.

My paternal grandmother's father was a pure blooded Chinaman who started it all, not that I blame him or anything. That made my grandmother a Chinese mestiza who did not even have the decency to learn how to speak Chinese; a most unfortunate circumstance which led to many embarassing situations decades later when, in many instances, Chinese individuals, thinking I am one of them, hurled gibberish in my direction while I just stood there stupefied and uncomprehending.

My father also looked distinctly Chinese and even had to live with a Chinese nickname. He too, like me, unfortunately never learned the language except for some choice words which he used only when making fun at Chinese speaking relatives and which are extremely difficult to translate accurately into spoken English, and only out of the hearing of curious children.

Then came the horror of horrors. Both of my father's daughters married into families of Chinese descent, one of them even a pure blooded Chinoy or Chinese pinoy at that. A case of like blood attracting each other? Who knows, but the end result is a series of offspring from both families sporting the undeniable physical features of their distinctive lineage. And, lo, the circle was complete. I was trapped like a cricket in a Chinese cricket box.

Over the years, however, I have learned to come to terms with the Chinese influence in my life. It even has real advantages which I often exploit shamelessly. Like getting discounts at some Chinese owned stores or basking in the misleading impression of others that I, although only partly Chinese and not the full-blooded, genuine article, must be also filthy rich like so many of that race.

I have even learned to brag to others about it. When one is the inheritor of one of the world's oldest existing civilizations which is also today's emerging world superpower, one must be proud of one's blood ancestry. Let the others grow green with envy at us. Compared to us Chinese, they are only barbarians, after all.

Monday, September 4, 2006

Paradise Lost

When I was a student for many years in the city, whenever I thought about Lianga, it was always the sea and its beaches that come to my mind.

In those days, the beaches around the town were not yet popular weekend destinations and most of them were still pristine and unspoiled, little slices of tropical paradise for those who chose to venture there.

No seaside cottages marred the landscapes, no feet breaking the perfect smoothness of the sand, no weekenders choking the water's edge and no loud electronic music polluting the air. Nothing except the blue sky, the stretches of white sand, the brooding coconut trees hidden in shadows , the gentle breeze and the silence broken only by the hissing of the surf of the restless sea.

These are fond memories of things past, of places that time have changed. They exist now only as images and impressions in the mind.

Nowadays I seldom visit these places of my youth. When I do, I do not recognize them anymore. They are new to me. I do still remember how they use to be. That to me is enough.

Sunday, September 3, 2006

Good, Clean Fun

One of the things I like about children is their ability to let themselves go and find fun in the most unlikely times and places. That could mean anything from frolicking in the rain on the first heavy downpour after a hot summer season, to playing house in the backyard with the oddest and weirdest assortment of scavenged materials pilfered from who knows where, to betting against each other in games of chance using a tattered and incomplete deck of cards or just dressing up after raiding an dusty closet or storage box of discarded clothes and accessories.

There is a single-mindedness about this pursuit of fun that always amazes me and transports me back in time to those days when I too was just as obsessed with the joy and exuberance of just being alive; when the world was so inviting, so freshly beckoning and magical.

Kids today may have their computer online games, their portable gaming consoles and mp3 players, cell phones and cable TV, but it is still heartwarming to see them, at least once in a while, have fun the old fashioned way, as these pictures will show.

It is always good to know that even today, when growing up can be so complicated, children can still be children at heart.