Thursday, August 31, 2006
Most of them are relatively young, unsophisticated and naive . They leave their homes hoping to better themselves, find a decent job, get an education and help themselves and their families find their way out of the grinding poverty that has been their lot in life. In many ways, they are a subculture in our society, a large but amorphous group whose presence is tolerated but largely ignored.
We call them by many names. But call them yayas, housemaids, helpers or, more generously, household companions, they all have one thing in common; the desire to escape from a world of not of their own making, a world of no opportunities and, therefore, no hope.
The luckier ones, if you can call them lucky, who are able to go abroad and serve foreigners are called modern day heroes by the government. But for those coming home in boxes or who end up physically and mentally maimed for life, the price of heroism can be very steep. And what about those who are here with us?
We may wonder what they really think about when they reflect on the drudgery and tedium of their lives. What do they really dream and long for? Or better yet, ask yourself the question; do they have the luxury to dream at all?
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
In the case of Lianga, rough wooden barriers and improvised metal fixtures have been placed on the two streets providing access to the town hall that houses the offices of the local officials and the municipal police station.
These structures are not examples of avant-garde modern art commissioned by the local government. They are, of course, barricades haphazardly designed to provide a defense perimeter just in case New People's Army rebels execute another of their daring attacks on town centers similar to what they did in San Agustin town some 26 kilometers north of Lianga last Aug 15.
Most of the local government buildings in the province of Surigao del Sur have taken similar defensive precautions and local police forces have been beefed up with more men and hopefully enough firepower to repulse further anticipated rebel attacks.
This is a sad commentary on the state of law and order not only in Lianga but also all over the country.
Town halls, in one sense, are not just public buildings. They are the most visible manifestations of the democratic ideal, the most tangible and concrete embodiment of the principle of representative government and our firm belief in the supremacy and the rule of law over anarchy and lawless violence.
They do not only provide essential services but they, more importantly, provide a venue for people to interact with their local officials and participate in the actual process of democratic governance. When they are garrisoned and fortified like besieged encampments then they are ludicrous reminders of the surreal conditions the people of Lianga (and many other towns all over the Philippines) are living under.
The tragedy of it all is that the local people have become used to living their lives in the midst of this absurdity. Not that they have any choice in that matter, of course. After all, when you are bombarded everyday with nonsense from a local and national government that is supposed to talk sense at least once in a while, what is one more absurdity after so many others.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
A nice stretch of white beach, a restaurant, chalet-type accommodations and beach cottages, jet ski facilities, a function hall by the sea and a swimming pool set in the midst of green grass and landscaping. There is even a karaoke room and a pool table.
This is the Kansilad Beach Resort and for many locals and a lot of outsiders in the know, this is the place to go to get away from the stress of modern day living in the urban fast lane. Fun and relaxation are the keywords here and what is more fun than frolicking in the beach or the pool on a hot and sunny weekend. Or you can just lie in the sun or the shade, if you like, and just laze the day away while enjoying nature in its unspoiled splendor.
If this is reading like a travel brochure then please accept my apologies. You see, the owner of the resort is giving me a free ten day vacation in Kansilad if I will feature the resort in my blog. And I am too much of a sucker to refuse him.
Monday, August 28, 2006
Download and upload speeds slowed to a crawl, browsers started to hang or freeze and many favorite websites simply refused to be accessed. Surprisingly, online gamers found out that their favorite games were still able to run even if slower and with occasional server lockouts. Yahoo Messenger addicts managed to stay online but had to deal with unstable connections. Truly a perplexing situation for many users who simply did not know how to deal with it except howl in frustration.
Even at the time this entry was posted, internet access has remained a little bit chancy. But the fact that the internet service has been gradually restored, even if not yet to full efficiency, is some indication that somebody out there, at least, must be doing something to resolve whatever has been plaguing the system and trying to make sure it will be again running smoothly as before.
In fairness to SmartBro, it is premature to assume that the problem or problems that did caused the internet downtime was their own fault or that it was something within their system that was amiss. Or if it was, they may have identified the problems already and were fixing them as fast as they could.
Be that as it may, for many of us who had to live away from our keyboards for two full days, it was still hell.
Saturday, August 26, 2006
There is something timeless about old towns like Lianga. It is not that change has passed it by. It has tried to keep up with the world but there is a feel about it that has remained constant.
Perhaps it is the old houses in many parts of the town that still stand defying time or the same familiar landmarks that seem to have always been there. Or perhaps it is the seeming slow pace with which life in the town is lived and the air of predictability and constancy with which events seem to unfold and happen. Maybe it is the langour and the sense of listlessness that permeates the streets. Or maybe it is the combination of all these and something more.
Some say that Lianga is blessed and that it is this timelessness that makes Lianga special. I happen to agree with that observation. But it is also true that while it is indeed a blessing, it also happens to be a curse.
Friday, August 25, 2006
Locals refer to it as just the "purô" which can be loosely translated as a islet or small island. Yet no landmark in Lianga is more closely identified with the town and its people. And none more less appreciated and protected.
Many years ago a group of us was able to climb its nearly vertical sides and reach the summit. Amidst the tangled vines and moss, the old light tower with its hollow shaft and circular staircase winding around it like some monstrous snake still stood strong even after decades of neglect.
We climbed to the top of the tower and from the dizzying heights gazed with wonder at the sea and the town beyond and below us. It was a sight few have been privileged to see but one I wished everyone here would be given a chance to.
The tower has stood there for decades and a light beacon from its top guided ships passing through the shoals and reefs of town's coastal sea. Fishermen and intrepid mariners in their motorized boats have set and adjusted their course day and night by it.
Of course, the purô with its tower still stands to day but it's future, like the future of Lianga is uncertain. There is now a pathetic quality to its grandeur and time like the relentlessly pounding waves have wrought havoc upon this old sentinel of the sea.
But the damage has not been limited to human neglect or the ravages of of time and nature. Some years ago, a group of deluded souls dreaming of hidden gold treasure blew up portions of the islet. They never found anything but that wanton destructive act is again proof of one simple fact - that man always finds it easy to disregard, abandon and even destroy the heritage of his past. He is more concerned with the present and fixated on his future but forgets that he is a product and a child of the past. He is what he is because of what he once was.
Inevitably the tower with its beacon of light and base of stone will one day stand no more. When that happens, that will be a sad day for Lianga and the townspeople will losing something priceless and of inestimable value
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Among my mother's grandchildren, she is probably the most assertive, the most vocal, as well as the most temperamental. A volatile brew indeed but in sharp contrast, she can also be extremely affectionate, funny, endearing, a ray of sunshine on a rainy and cloudy day.
Perhaps like others of her gender, she is fickle like the wind and unpredictable as the weather. That is perhaps one of the reasons why living with her can be an adventure in itself. One often feels like he is grappling with an untamed force of nature; yet there is a great exhilaration in the struggle when one knows, as the storm passes, all is sweetness and light again.
There was a little girl Who had a little curl
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
In the news, I hear about torrential rains and floods in Vietnam and lately China but in this small part of the world the sun reigns supreme now and for the past week or so, one oppressively hot day has followed another. And the warm nights have not offered much solace either.
During the day, if you have the time and the opportunity to do so, one may find some relief in the cool breezes that the sea brings in this coastal community and sitting by the seashore in the shade while trying to cool off can be a pleasant interlude in an otherwise hideously hot day.
The gentle sea breeze, redolent of the scent of the salty sea and seaweed, brings refreshing cool relief. Lassitude overcomes you and a sense of timelessness beguiles as you relax and unwind, even for just a moment, while surrounded by nature in her most subdued beauty.
Then reality harshly and cruelly intrudes, the moment passes and it is back to the harsh reality of another hot and humid day in Lianga.
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Upon reflection later on, I made the realization that the answer I made seemed a little trite.
The fact is, I blog because not only is it a fun thing to do but also because it fulfills some basic need in me - the need to clarify, simplify, crystallize and record on paper or whatever medium, my thoughts and feelings on that bewildering complexity that is life and the experiences that makes living such a drag and a pain in the neck at one time and such a joyful, sublime and incandescent thing at another. That does, not even include the boring and better-forgotten points in between.
I do not have the illusion that my writings have literary merit. I am too much a realist for that. They are largely for my own benefit, a journal or diary of sorts. So if somebody else who reads them tells me that he or she finds them relevant, useful or, heaven forbid, fun, then I consider that a bonus.
Some write to entertain or inform others. Others write to convince or persuade. I write for myself - mostly, anyway.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
When I was a child, however, it was not the bell tower that fascinated and intrigued me. It was the old church bell who, from its lofty mount high on the tower, held sway over the town and its people.
From my earliest memories, the bell was the majestic voice from the heavens calling the Catholic faithful to church for mass and religious festivals. It joyfully announced weddings, mourned at funerals, and by its very presence and tone marked the relentless passing of the seasons and the cycles of life in Lianga. And at dusk, when darkness was falling, the bell with low, measured and resonant tones would bring all activity to a screeching halt for the Angelus or the evening prayer. People would stop whatever they were doing, vehicles would park and a silence descend until the crescendo from the bell would signal the end of the prayer and life could resume again.
When the that old bell rang, the sound would travel great distances, crossing the the length and breadth of the town, then the tidal marshlands, the hills and beyond the coastal waters. There was comfort and reassurance in it, the fond memories of good things, the sense that all was right with the world.
Some years ago the old bell lost it majestic voice. It had cracked and was never the same again. Then they built the giant steel towers of the town's two cell phone sites which now dominate the local skyline. Change had come to the town.
In the bell tower nowadays, a bell still calls the people to the evening prayer. But its tone is harsh, dull, metallic and without character or authority. I listen to that bell and I mourn the passing of an old dear friend.
Like many before me, I still pause for the evening prayer but deep inside I always feel cheated.
The reasons for the resurgence may provide fertile grounds for discussion but inevitably the question of what the government is doing to address the immediate matter of improving the local security situation remains uppermost in the minds of the local population. The failure of the NPA action in San Agustin may have been a tactical victory but the fact that the rebels were able to launch the attack with impunity and continue to conduct extensive recruitment and support base building activities relatively unhampered in the countryside shows that the government may be, or has been since, unable to take the initiative in the counter-insurgency war.
In Lianga, the people are trying to live their lives under this shadow of uncertainty and fear. It is a most distressing of state of affairs. A friend of mine jokingly told me recently that he was thinking of building a foxhole in the back of his house just in case the town gets attacked and bullets start flying.
We both laughed about it, of course. But come to think of it - he may be right.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
When you come to think about it, the fact that you love or hate some or all of your blood relations is less relevant than the simple truth that these people, with their good qualities as well as human failings, are a necessary part of who and what you are. They, from the moment of your birth, are the forces that have helped shape and define you as a person. They provided the reference points, the guideposts that enabled us to navigate through the bewildering complexity that is life.
I have relatives that I wish that God, in his infinite mercy, had not caused to be in this world. But, in the same manner, there also those whose very existence have given me joy, hope and optimism for life.
I have learned to give thanks for both. They are us and we are them.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
In Lianga, fiesta revilers from San Agustin and farther on were unable to return home after filling their bellies as well as their plastic bags from the abundant fiesta banquets and had to impose upon their hosts for additional board and lodging for the night. Rebels had unfairly blocked the national highway in several areas leading to San Agustin in order to prevent government troops from spoiling their excursion there and land mines were reportedly buried in some spots to provide an explosive reception to those troopers stubborn enough to try to intervene.
The peace and order situation by the morning of the 16th had already stabilized and the highways have been reported clear of any offending barricades and explosive obstacles. The local PNP authorities have declared a major tactical victory and announced that government troops are conducting the usual hot pursuit operations against the fleeing uninvited rebellious guests.
If you are smiling as you read this then shame on you! I'm not.
Monday, August 14, 2006
The dead of Lianga have come to rest here as far back as I can remember and the graves scattered helter-skelter throughout the old section of the cemetery are mute witnesses to the generations of local inhabitants who have lived, died and were buried on this ground.
Most of the graves are simple concrete boxes distinguishable from the others only by marble or stone markers or, at the very least, the names of the deceased scratched on the wet cement of the tomb then allowed to dry.
The northern section of the cemetery is, however, markedly different. Here the more affluent and socially prominent families of Lianga have their elaborate burial plots and mausoleums enclosed in ironwork fences or shaped concrete walls. There is less clutter and more space. Apparently, even in death, the social classes are divided as ever and the haves still have it better than the have-nots.
Perhaps, like the ancient Egyptians who built the great pyramids, the Lianguenos, like most Filipinos, believe that the more monumental and elaborate the resting places of their dead, the greater are their chances to achieve some form of immortality in this life or the next. And what better way is there to proclaim your status and social prominence than by flaunting the best burial money can buy?
When my father passed away ten years ago, we buried him in the same way he buried his parents - in a closed concrete box buried in the earth and above him we planted green grass and flowers. Only a marble plaque marks his grave. It was what he would have wanted - simple, functional and cleanly elegant.
My father, I realized it now, had already his own claim to immortality. Somerset Maugham, the noted English writer, once wrote that the only reason why we cannot regard this imperfect world with disgust is the beauty which now and then men create out of chaos; the pictures they paint, the music they compose, the books they write and the lives they lead.
Of these, he writes, the richest beauty is a life well lived. That, he affirms, is the greatest and most perfect work of art.
Sunday, August 13, 2006
While a proper investigation about the actual transaction should be done at the earliest opportunity, it is clear here that any new charges of financial anomaly or irregularity that concerns the municipal government becomes always highly credible in view of what is generally perceived as a "culture of corruption" that pervades the municipal hall. After all, this is hardly the first time the town elders have been accused of dipping their hands in the town coffers, near empty it may be.
If that is so, then why are not the Lianguenos crying out in protest and demanding accountability and reforms? Why is there no public sense of anger and outrage? No demands for public accountability?
The fact remains that in a true democracy, public accountability is the result of a concerned and actively involved citizenry. An actively involved citizenry is informed and has access to the information he needs to make reasonable decisions concerning his government. An active and concerned citizenry manifests its power through the ballot and the right of suffrage - to elect government officials who will serve well and, in like manner, refuse to elect or remove from public office those who betray the public trust.
The truth is Lianga is not, at present, a democracy in the true sense of the word. Its local officials, despite the facade of regular elections, are not truly accountable to the public. There is no public opinion to fear. The townspeople know this in their hearts even if they don't like it or refuse to admit it. And that is why they remain silent.
Saturday, August 12, 2006
He has since birth been struggling with a very mild form of autism - a handicap that he has managed to overcome with great success. He, does, however, have a few more learning and language comprehension skills to develop but on the whole he is a normal, happy and well-rounded kid.
It is his friendliness, his fresh innocence and affable nature that completely enthralls me. Unlike many of us, he gives and receives love and affection with no hint of hesitation or embarrassment. He never responds with anger except when provoked and forgives trespasses with the patience and fortitude of the saints. There is no hint of malice and ill will in him and the wide-eyed innocence with which he views the world can be touching as well as inspiring.
Imagine then a world populated by people like him - a world where selfishness, greed, violence and conflict would be aberrations rather than the norm. Where love, friendship and selfless empathy for others determine all human relations and interactions. Where cynics and pessimists have no place or reason for being.
Maybe but everytime my nephew comes to Lianga to visit, I look at him with envy in my heart. Then I asked myself the question - who is handicapped now?
Friday, August 11, 2006
The recent series of rebel actions and activities in towns like Lianga and Barobo seems to be part of some cyclical upsurge after some months of relative calm. The seriousness of the danger in being caught up in these "encounters" was personally made plain to me a week or so ago when I almost got caught in the middle of the an incident where a group of NPA guerrillas seized control of a vital section of the Barobo-San Francisco road section and held it for a couple of hours.
Reports of sightings of armed rebel groups in areas near the two towns have lead to a series of so called "red alerts" which have reduced once bustling town halls and offices to barricaded and fortified camps guarded by fully armed police and military personnel constantly preparing for a feared rebel attack.
And in the midst of the real danger of being caught in the crossfire of an insurgency war, life must go on for the local people who have carry on with their lives and and survive the best they can. It is not easy to live on the edge if not in the middle of a protracted war whose end is not in sight.
The government says that the armed forces is winning the war against both the communist and the Muslim insurgencies. On television I look at the faces of the refugees fleeing the madness of confict and war all over the world and then wonder - will our turn be coming?
If I ever did wake up early during those years, I did so to a rough shove from someone else or the shrill and merciless ringing of an alarm clock. Then it was a quick glance at the watch, a quick shower, an even quicker breakfast and the start of another mundane day.
In Lianga, I do not have the habit of waking with the sun. But when I am able to do so and the conditions are perfect, watching the start of the new day can be an experience in itself.
I agree that there is a sense of quiet joy as one sees the soft shimmer of light on the dark horizon grow into the soft yellow light of dawn. Time does seem to move a little bit slower as the pastel colors hardened into the harsh brightness of the new day. But there is angst there too - a touch of foreboding and a sense of loss.
What will the new day bring, one asks oneself? Who knows?
Some say that time is an illusion and it really does not exist. Maybe and maybe not. But for me as I watch every dawning day, a sunrise is time itself staring at me cold in the face.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
I am always intrigued at the devotion Filipinos in general and Lianguenos in particular have for the Child Jesus. Some might say that the patron saint's child-like qualities appeal to Filipinos because they, as a people, love children, and the idea of a child patron saint is attractive to them. After all a child, even for a patron saint, has to be more tolerant and forgiving of sins as well as more generous in the granting of favors and petitions.
But one thing is definitely clear, religious sensibilities aside, the fiesta, despite the economic difficulties, does provide an excuse for celebration - a time for excess in a time of want and a chance to simply have fun and indulge in the good things while setting aside for the moment the specter of a world going mad.
About two-thirds up the eastern coast of Mindanao is a bay which shelters in its bosom a town with which it shares the same name.
It is an old town but like many places like it in this part of the country, very few existing historical records exist that detail its origins. There is, however, general agreement that it was already a significant population center in the area even by the dawn of the 20th century. Because of this many of the surrounding towns had Lianga as their mother municipality and the local townfolk take great pride over this fact. That is however one of the few things they can really be properly proud of about the town.
You see, Lianga is like an old heiress, an dignified old lady of quality living on the glories of a colorful past while contemplating an increasingly difficult present and facing what may be a dismal future. But the lady limps on, desperate to keep up appearances. But deep inside she wonders when the pretending will have to stop.
The collapse of a profitable logging industry, a lukewarm local economy, corrupt local politics - all these aggravated by a resurgent Communist insurgency have wrought havoc on the town and the collective energy of its people. There is a desperate need to get out of the present rut but they either don't know how to do it nor do they have the unity and common push to heave themselves out of the mess.
If I sound cynical about the present and future of Lianga,I do not mean to be completely so. The town, after all, has some things going for it.
The town land area encompasses many beautiful beaches and coastal areas perfect for a vibrant eco-tourism industry. The local beaches, in fact, are quite well known over a wide area of the region. The local small fishing industry, now moribund, does have some potential for development and can be a money earner if properly regulated and assisted. Small and medium scale enterprises and industries can take root in Lianga given the proper atmosphere and local government support.
But first, I believe, that the people of the town must take a long, hard and critical self-examination of their present situation. Only by accepting that the fault for all the present mess rests squarely on their shoulders can they start climbing out of the hole they have dug for themselves.
Wednesday, August 9, 2006
This blog is my response to that. It is my reality pill, a hard knock on the head and a way of organizing my thoughts and feelings about everything and anything while possibly sharing these with whoever is able to read and access what I have written in these pages.
I am no sage or wise man and not even a skilled writer. Just another guy trying to make sense of the world and life.................