Friday, March 23, 2007

Creeping Along

Travelling on the rough, dirt roads of Surigao del Sur can be a mind numbing and physically battering experience but not everything about it is negative.

Since you have to go slow or risk ripping the wheels off your vehicle as you negotiate your way part through potholes, deep ruts, mud holes (when it's raining) and eroded roadbeds, you have actually the time, if you are so inclined, to take a look around and enjoy the local scenery which can be quite spectacular.

There is none of the quick, efficient and high speed zipping through concrete or asphalt paved highways where all you see virtually nothing except the view in front of you and the blur of what passes for scenery including billboards, concrete railings and kilometers of depressing urban development.

Instead one sees greenery of all kinds and shapes. The rich golden green of lush grass covering the flatlands and the gently sloping hills, the dark green of coconut trees that dot the landscape and the lighter green of the thick bushes and shrubs that grow in clumps like verdant oases in deserts of green.

Then there are the quaint houses that haphazardly line both sides of the road as it passes through the small villages. Often small, ramshackle affairs reflecting the extreme poverty of the rural countryside but occasionally some deviant souls often come up with eye-catching structures that defy the norm and whose existence proclaim the Filipino's native ingenuity, resourcefulness and boundless optimism for the future.

And there are the animals that still thrive in areas where the roads pass through. Exotic and colorful birds that can dart through the air as you pass by, lizards and snakes that try to slither swiftly across the road but unfortunately are sometimes caught by vehicle tires before they could rush to safety and whose carcasses are left to the merciless heat of the sun to rot and decompose.

This is travelling at the extreme lower end of the speed limit, not that speed limits exist here. The often dilapidated nature of the roads impose their own limits on how fast you can move along. And for those who are used to speeding along the highways and expressways of the more developed areas of the country, the change can be jarring to say the least.

The trick to surviving this kind of road trip and get to your destination in a better mood is to just consider the whole thing as a unique experience in itself; to immerse yourself in the sights, smells and sounds of travelling in a land seemingly lost and stuck in time and to find joy and experience wonder at both the mundane and the exotic.

And learn to laugh and find humor in the midst of the physical discomfort and stress of being jolted and thrown about about as you rattle over the bumpy roads. If you can't do that then the inevitable usually happens. You get to your destination mentally and physically battered and vowing never to repeat the experience again.

But for the hardy and adventurous souls who crave the unusual and the unique, road trips in our province can be eye openers and memorable experiences. It all depends on how one looks at the whole thing.

As with all things, it can just be a matter of perspective.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Cancer Within

Almost a week ago ago, two local policemen on a drinking session inside one of the local restaurants were shot and killed by suspected New People's Army guerrillas in what can be seen as a brazen display by the communist rebel army of its capability to launch lightning attacks on government police and military personnel.

Rumors are flying around that the killings were a result of the implementation of what has been referred as "revolutionary justice", the execution of individuals in the police and military service who have been accused and found guilty by revolutionary courts of "crimes against the people".

Be that as it may, the ease and precision with which the whole assassination operation was conducted throws the spotlight more on the failure of the government machinery dealing with the insurgency movement and having the responsibility to prevent or stop such rebel attacks rather than on whatever alleged crimes the slain policemen had committed in the past.

What is clear is that the situation in Lianga, as well as in many other towns in this rebel infested province, is not normal in spite of government claims to the contrary. There is a flourishing and assertive communist insurgency that holds sway over many remote areas of the province and this has been the case for decades. And while the strength of this insurgency movement has not been constant and may have waned a little over the years, it remains and will probably continue to be a potent threat to the stability of the local peace and order situation.

It is also true that what exercises control in a number of barangays or villages in the area is not the same government that reigns supreme in the cities and municipalities but a revolutionary government that adheres to communist doctrine and socialist thought, both of which have been largely repudiated elsewhere in the world. That the communist insurgency continues to exist and survive in the hinterlands of Lianga and elsewhere all over the province in spite of decades of counterinsurgency efforts by the government is proof positive of how deeply rooted the revolutionary movement is in the countryside and how many of the rural folk continue to support and assist the communist guerrillas in the face of what they perceive to be a corrupt, uncaring and remote government.

What is really keeping the peace in Lianga or what passes for "peace" is merely an prolonged, uneasy truce between government forces and the communist rebels each with its zones of influence and strongholds. The government forces have the bigger territory and the towns and cities but have to contend with the problems of dispersing enough units to defend its territory from rebel attacks. The rebels on the other hand have the classic advantage of the guerrilla. They can choose the time and the type of attack then disappear after their operations by simply blending into the local population or seeking refuge in their mountain and forest lairs.

What is there is a stalemate of sorts, the government unable to stamp out a resilient insurgency movement while the communists themselves cannot muster the strength both politically and militarily to oust the legitimate government.

This is the "peace" we have, a stalemate or a delicate balance that might explode anytime into war and violence. And everybody knows that in the time of war and conflict, the stalemate is the most costly in terms of human lives, most of them unwary and unwilling victims of an obsolete yet never ending war.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Forced Leave

In case anybody noticed, I have not been able to publish a post the past few days. This is not to sheer laziness on my part or because of some pressing matter that I had to devote my attention to.

The fact is I got sick and it was no vacation.

On Friday evening last week, I felt hot and found that I was having a 39 degree centigrade fever. For the next two days I had regularly occurring fevers some of which reached the 40 degrees centigrade mark on the mercury thermometer. That plus a hard, dry cough that rattled my insides every time I did it.

When Saturday turned to Sunday and still found me either shivering with chills or burning hot from high fever, the decision was made. Last Monday I was brought to Butuan City and admitted as a patient at the Butuan Doctor's Hospital. The usual rounds of diagnostic tests were conducted and eventually the culprit was nailed down, a moderately severe pneumonia that somehow had sneaked in when my immune system was down and impaired.

Being tied down to a hospital bed for almost four days and stuck with an I.V. line the whole time is, if you asked those who have experienced hospitalization, not exactly what most would refer to as "rest and recreation". It is, to say the least, an uncomfortable and psychologically distressing situation.

One does the normal routines of life with the unaccustomed sense of being helpless and totally dependent upon the physical assistance of your family and hospital personnel. Mundane tasks such as brushing your teeth, going to the toilet, bathing or changing clothes become laborious undertakings that require the assistance of other persons and one is always haunted by the ignominious assaults on one's personal dignity and pride that happens when an individual is being clinically and dispassionately examined like a specimen on the laboratory table even if the purpose is totally benevolent and benign.

Still I came through the crisis and is now recuperating. The malevolent microbes that nearly overwhelmed my body are in retreat. For that I am grateful for the expert care of the hospital doctors and staff of the hospital. And I am back to writing for this blog.

I would say that I am happy to emerge from the clutches of disease to some semblance of health. To be alive is to savor the gifts of life in this world and for that one must be thankful and grateful for.

But the financial cost of regaining that health is exorbitant and not all can have the privilege to get the appropriate medical assistance they will desperately need when the specter of disease strikes. For that fact also I am sad.

Life may be freely given by the Creator but keeping it and living a healthy life can be hard and the cost ruinous.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The Scent Of Summer

In the past week or so, the days came hot and dusty with suddenly cloudy skies followed by cloudbursts of fat, heavy rain.

It may not yet be typical summer weather but one can sense a certain dryness in the air and a familiar warmth in the sea breezes sweeping through Lianga. Summer is definitely coming.

Personally I did not realize how imminent summer was until I took a glance at the calendar and saw February slide into March and immediately realized what was happening. The seasons are changing and I found myself looking forward to it.

The summer months have always had a special place in my heart. As a young boy, it meant at least two whole months of freedom from the drudgery of schoolwork as the summer vacation break leaves the city schools empty and deserted. In my case it meant leaving the dust, heat and bustle of the city and going home to Lianga for weeks of freedom from the stultifying pressures of living and studying in a hectic and harried environment and immerse oneself in the joys and rustic attractions of the coastal paradise that was my hometown.

The sights, feel, sounds and scents of those summers are vividly imprinted in my memories of my childhood. Long, hot days relieved only by the wandering yet cool breezes sweeping in from the Pacific Ocean whose blue-green waters beckoned from the thin, grey line of the horizon beyond the shallow coastal reefs guarding the shores of the town

I remember days with skies of vivid blue unmarred by stray wisps of clouds, the glare and searing heat of a sun gone wild, and the exquisite relief one felt while taking shelter in the occasional shade offered by the number of huge trees that lined some of the streets or in the dark shadows cast by some of the houses and buildings as the afternoons faded into early evening.

I remember also the burning whiplash of the midday sun on my bare back as I jumped into the sea with my brothers and friends to escape the sultry heat and seek comfort in the dark and cool depths of the coastal waters. And the sharp yet clean smell of damp seaweed and briny water that permeates through the houses, streets and alleyways.

Then there are the occasional summer rainstorms which rush in without warning like malevolent phantoms bringing with them very dark, terrifying rainclouds that roll in like a dark carpet over the once clear skies and the fat and heavy rain that falls like there is no tomorrow. Into this deluge we would run screaming with joy and childish exuberance while thunder roared and twisted streaks of lightning flash like beacons across the angry clouds.

The as quickly as it came the storm would pass and suddenly one would be overwhelmed by the perception of a world reborn, a world freshened and cleaned. There is a sense of life on the rebound, a feeling of oneness and unity with existence and the conviction, quickly felt, that all is right again with the world.

This afternoon as I glanced out of the window and watched the outlines of the neighboring houses shimmer and ripple through the haze of the heat of the noonday sun, I smiled to myself and wondered. It may be hot as hell but I know that this precursor of the summer season that is to come can be a harbinger of good things.

There is a lot of magic left in the summer months. All you have to do is find it.