Sunday, January 28, 2007

Going Nuts

Together with rice, copra is one of Lianga's main agricultural products and the town is surrounded by hectares of land planted with the coconut trees from which it is produced.

In the past, these coconut farms used to belong to huge tracts belonging to a few wealthy landowners who, by virtue of their wealth and social standing, controlled the economy and politics of the area. But in many ways this is no longer true.

These once huge estates over time have been largely broken up and sold off to smaller landowners and farmers. The government's land reform program, although often halfhearted and slow, has also enabled a number of small farming families to own coconut land of their own. Many of them used to be merely tenants and virtual feudal serfs to absentee landlords but now they till these small parcels as their own.

But that is a fact that holds little, actual material value to these people. It may be their land but they are still chained and tied to it by what amounts to economic bondage or slavery. And their new masters are not the old landlords but the the economic interests that control the trading of copra and coconut oil in the national market. These are the entities that ensure that they are paid a mere pittance for their backbreaking work and who connive to keep them in perpetual debt and, therefore, under their economic control.

And the government is more than often the willing partner to this appalling exploitation. Billions of pesos accumulated as a result of the coconut levy imposed during the Marcos dictatorship have not been used to help the millions of coconut farmers whose toil and hard labor have merely served to lavishly line the pockets of those in the privileged few, both in government and outside it, who have used the money and proceeds from it to enrich themselves at the farmers' expense.

The government's neglect of the coconut industry is most glaring in the fact that even in the early years of the 21st century, small farmers in and around Lianga still grow coconut trees, harvest coconuts and make copra as their grandfathers did fifty or more years ago. Obsolete farming methods, the failure to introduce better and more disease resistant coconut tree varieties which produce more nuts per hectare than the traditional ones, and the lack of farmer education on modern and more efficient copra making technologies have all served to ensure that these farmers remain exploited and miserably poor.

Add to that the emergence of palm oil as a strong alternative to coconut oil in the world market and you have the ingredients for what may be looming disaster for those millions of families whose lives have been intertwined with the fate of the local coconut industry.

The coconut is often called the tree of life because its many components have a large number of important uses. It is indeed that for the many small coconut farmers who continue to depend on coconut trees for their livelihood and economic survival. But unless nothing changes, the future is going to be bleak for most of them.

Time for the country and this government to sit up and take notice. Before the coconut farmers get pissed off and go totally nuts.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Tiring Of The Game

The political front may be heating up in the other parts of the country particularly in Manila, the nation's capital, as the May national elections draw near, but in Lianga, watching the local political situation develop is becoming, more and more as the weeks and days pass, as exciting as pulling white hairs out of your grandfather's scalp.

It is an axiom in the nature and conduct of democratic governance that elections are held periodically not only for the purpose of renewing the mandate that political leaders must have in order to govern their constituents effectively and enforce public accountability but also to ensure that the political system remains revitalized and renewed by the periodic influx of new blood, new ideas and fresh perspectives.

In the case of Lianga, that is certainly not happening and, in fact, it has not been happening for many elections already. This may be a somewhat cynical and pessimistic observation but it is something that is certainly valid in many respects.

The same, old and tired faces are throwing their hats into the political cesspool, the same faces and personalities who have long dominated local politics and have contributed, in no small measure, to the poor and sorry state of the municipality today. The same faces that have encouraged in many ways the perpetration of the corruption that underlies the fragile state of our democracy because it works for them and promotes their own interests.

In the meantime, the "masa" or the ordinary common folk remain the both willing and unwilling participants in the parody of this most basic component of a supposedly breathing and living democracy. When entrenched political dynasties and established interests determine and control the rules, elections have become more of a farce, often merely a fraudulent ridden rigmarole that only serves to pay lip service to democratic ideals while really subverting and corrupting it.

And we, whether in Lianga or anywhere else in the country, who have the full knowledge and awareness of the situation, bear a large part of the responsibility for the mess we are all in. And when May does come and the elections do go on as scheduled (hopefully), our silence and inaction will make sure that the whole process of deceit and illusion will go on as it had done so in the past.

And whether we like it or not, we, with both eyes open, will have to join in the madness and then thereafter suffer with the rest of the people the bitter fruits of our cowardice and stupidity.

Saturday, January 20, 2007


The past two weeks have not been good for a lot of cellphone users and wireless broadband internet subscribers in Lianga.

Constantly plagued by poor signal coverage or no signal at all, many cellphone users are wondering if Smart Communications, Inc. is actually doing anything to address whatever technical or equipment problems their cell sites in our area are suffering from. And since the same wireless communications company is the sole provider of wireless broadband internet access to the computer users in town, SmartBro subscribers, angered by intermittent disruptions in their internet access, are also asking the same question.

At this time, some degree of normalcy has been restored to Smart's wireless services but the situation underscores how much wireless communications have become so part of the present day lives of Filipinos, even those living in a remote and rural town like Lianga.

Just a couple of years ago, cellphones were, for the local people, exotic and highly advanced technology that had no relevance in their daily lives. Internet access for the then handful of computer users in the area was just a pipe dream.

The changes wrought about in the lifestyles of the town residents by the advent of wireless communications have simply been astonishing. Almost half of the local population have cell phones and even more than that have, at least, access to one. The number of computer users with internet access have also increased dramatically ever since Smart first offered the wireless broadband service locally just half a year ago.

Of course, the more advanced wireless devices like PDA's, BlackBerrys, palmtop computers and their counterparts could not yet be seen in the streets of the town but as the area's wireless communication services are upgraded, I have no doubt that some of these devices may yet soon be usable in Lianga in the near future. That is if indeed there may be any use for them at all in such a rural and remote setting.

This increasing reliance on new technology, however, means that when such technology malfunctions or delivers less than reliable service, the disruptions in the lives of those who have become dependent on the miracles and conveniences it provides can be frustrating if not, in many cases, costly. Especially those whose lives and livelihoods may have become reliant on the services provided by modern telecommunications.

Some days ago when the cell site signal died and my cell phone and computer became merely useless pieces of electronic hardware, I raved and ranted with with anger and frustration like many of the other affected and disgruntled souls in Lianga. But life does go on and as the hours passed I learned again to live, at least temporarily, without the bewitching attractions of the array of electronic wonders that are supposed to make life more fun and fulfilling as well as efficient in the 21st century.

I look a walk, spent time reading again my favorite books, enjoyed the warmth of the sunshine and the sea breeze in the backyard of the house. To my surprise, I enjoyed the brief respite. Being "unplugged" does have its own attractions. Perhaps the situation was just what the doctor would prescribe; a vacation away from the temptations of life in the midst of the digital web.

But suddenly, more than a day later after falling silent, like a devil out of Pandora's box, the sound of the cell phone ringing broke the peace as the once inert cell site sprung back to life and I, like the thousands of others in Lianga, were, once again, thrust back into the intoxicating clutches of the digital "matrix".

Downtime is over. Back to life in the 21st century. That is until the whole thing breaks down again and again and again.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Araw Ng Lianga

Lianga has its annual town fiesta on August 14 of every year. One may find that a bit strange since the feast day of the Sto. Nino or the Child Jesus, the town's patron saint, has always been celebrated in January, like in Cebu which has its Sinulog Festival. But I, like so many of the younger generation, attributed the fact to some local quirk or perverse tradition.

It was my parents many years ago who eventually told me the reason for this practice. It seems that the town fiesta had indeed originally been held in January in the old days but that month happens to be right smack in the middle of this region's rainy season when the town's coastal seas were usually rough and tropical storms were common occurrences. The convenience and safety of visiting guests who had to travel by sea during those times became a major concern together with the problems of hosting such an important event in the midst of rain and stormy weather.

August 15 then became the date of choice for the annual event and so it was even until now. Proposals to change the fiesta date back to January were made over the years but the idea never had much support. The local folks have simply become used to the idea of the August fiesta and also dreaded having to spend more money entertaining guests after the Christmas and New Year binges.

Then some years ago, the municipal government, in accordance with the quaint Pinoy predilection for finding new reasons to celebrate something for the flimsiest reasons, decided we will just have two fiestas to settle the matter. Have the second one every January 15 and call it the Araw Ng Lianga and give the people the chance to officially commemorate a traditionally Catholic religious observance with civic and social activities.

So yesterday, aside from the purely religious celebration, Lianga had a civic parade, an official program of activities complete with patriotic speeches by local government officials, sporting events and official visitors and guests. It has also been declared an official town holiday for the benefit of the working class and the school students in the poblacion or town proper. Why indeed go halfway? Let all the town folks join in the fun.

I have always been more than a bit ambivalent about the this Araw Ng Lianga thing. I, like any other Juan in Lianga, have nothing against the townspeople having a bit of fun and excitement once in a while. It helps all of us relax, unwind and forget, even for just a day, the many problems we are faced with in the daily course of our individual and collective lives.

But I just wish that we could focus the same dedication, initiative and ingenuity at finding ways to entertain ourselves and others to the vastly more important task of moving the town along the path of economic, social and political progress. And to harness these same qualities to make the needed hard decisions and choices; to make the concerted effort to pull ourselves out of this morass of apathy and blissful indifference and struggle to move forward for the chance at bettering our town's future.

Celebrations like this are only significant and useful if they help build civic pride and nurture social responsibility which can be then be tapped by effective local leadership to motivate the local population to unite and do their share in the task of rebuilding and improving their community.

It is sad to note that, as usual, nothing of that sort happened yesterday.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Too Much Water

I just came from Butuan City in Agusan del Norte and while there I witnessed first hand the not so pleasant effects of the constant rain the region has been been subject to in the past week or so.

Meteorologists have been blaming the ITCZ (Intertropical Convergence Zone) for the wet weather in the the southern Philippines. With the almost non-stop rain, many areas in the Caraga Region, which include the two Agusan and the two Surigao provinces, have began to experience flash floods and landslides while road conditions have rapidly deteriorated with many areas isolated as road sections become impassable and bridges damaged or washed out.

As usual, it is the remote and far flung towns and barangays that get the worst of it particularly those that are located near the banks of rivers and their tributaries. Communities, for example, along the banks of the mighty Agusan River are especially vulnerable and the residents of a number of them have been evacuated for their own safety.

On the way home from Butuan, I passed by many of the flooded areas and had to maneuver slowly and carefully through damaged dirt roads scoured by the rushing flood waters. Not exactly the best time to travel in this part of the country but then who said that we who live here have any choice in the matter. We have to take what nature gives us and do the best to survive.

Inevitably one ponders the question of how much of man's negligence and abuse of the environment is responsible for the lives lost and the hardships and difficulties local residents have to endure during periods of heavy rainfall. For sure the denudation of the once lush forests of the Caraga region is a big factor in the incidence of flash floods and landslides. So too are the lack of adequate preventive measures on the part of the local governments and also their inability to prepare adequately for the negatives effects of the yearly rainy season or any period of unreasonably rainy weather conditions for that matter.

Like the yearly floods in many city streets of Metro Manila, this problematic situation is an often regular thing and in any ways the locals have relied far more on their own ingenuity and resilience than from the feeble efforts of their government leaders to find ways and means to mitigate and alleviate their suffering.

In the meantime as the rain continues to pour down from the heavens, the people in the region resign themselves to the rigors, inconveniences and tragedies of life in a wet, cold and flooded world. They all long for respite from the constant rain and and dream of the coming of hot sunshine and clear skies knowing that the same time next year, the probability is high that they would have to go through the whole thing again.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Dreaming Of Sun And Blue Skies

Many weeks ago, I made an post entry here about the El Nino phenomenon and how that has been causing Lianga to swelter in the midst of hot, humid days and nights.

Well, I now take back what I said then, most of it anyway, because Lianga, because of the onset of a long delayed rainy season and what meteorologists mysteriously call the ITCZ or the Intertropical Convergence Zone (something I know nothing about), is now awash with rain and shivering from days of cold weather.

Instead of worrying about dust and high temperatures on the roads, we now worry about mud holes, landslides and flash floods; of blocked, impassable routes and road sections. Trips are postponed, business activity slackens and as people are forced to stay indoors most of the time, the incidence of colds, respiratory infections and fevers of various kinds increases dramatically.

The only positive outcome of this wet and cold weather, if you can really consider it in that light, is a sudden upsurge in the local birthrate which, if you consider the not so encouraging local economic indicators, may not be that positive a development after all.

As we huddle indoors and stuff ourselves into sweaters and jackets, we dream of hot weather, clear and sunny skies, and the freedom to go outdoors and go about the daily business of life. And we bitch and complain about the wet weather, the same weather conditions we had hoped and prayed for during the hot spell we had only two months or so ago. Laughable if not ironic, isn't it?

But I do miss being able to go outside in the sunshine, feel the sea breeze on the face and taste the salty tang of it on my tongue. I also miss seeing clear blue skies, the perfect blueness marred only by a few slender wisps of white and translucent clouds in the far horizon. And the smell of sun warmed grass and earth on warm afternoons and clear, cloudless nights when one can go out and walk about town in the soft light of the almost full moon.

Ahhh, how fickle man can be.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Joining In The Fun

There is always something about the Christmas and New Year celebrations that brings out the child in all of us.

One can try his best to be cynical and matter-of-fact about it all, but the pull of sentimental tradition and the nostalgic memories of idealized Christmases of the past are difficult to resist and one usually ends up, although at first a bit shamefaced and self-conscious, eventually joining enthusiastically in the general revelry and boisterous merrymaking.

This proves that while there is indeed rampant commercialization and a lot of artificiality about the Christmas and New Year festivities, it is also true that these festivals fulfill a subconscious need among us to find a reason for gaiety and celebration during these dark, somber and dying months of the year and find the occasion to renew ourselves, mentally and spiritually, for the challenges of the year to come.

So this year I did what the children did. I watch and listened with appreciation to the carolers sing their Christmas carols. I attacked with wild abandon the Christmas midnight feast with no thought about cholesterol or the massive surplus of deadly calories. I lit firecrackers, shrieked and shouted with glee at the thunder of exploding lights and sounds during New Year's Eve. I oohed and aahed at the presents as they were unwrapped. All in all, I had, as they say, a really rollicking good time.

Perhaps that is how these holidays and the Yuletide season must be celebrated. With the innocent sensibilities and carefree perspective of the hidden child within all of us.

Then maybe, only by giving ourselves the time to have real fun and a much needed break from the demands of a cruel and demanding world, can we face with new vigor and renewed strength and determination the challenges of the new year ahead.