Saturday, October 20, 2007

A Festival Of Sorts

Several days ago, Lianga celebrated the 88th anniversary of its creation as a municipality which according to existing records took place on October 17, 1919. A most auspicious date to commemorate bearing in mind the supposedly extra lucky double 8 and the fact that few towns in this part of the country can boast of more than eight decades of existence.

In the brainstorming during the weeks that preceded the 17th of October, the idea of making the celebration of the foundation day more "meaningful" and "significant", by making it into a festival commemorating some special aspect of life related to or indigenous to the town gained support among the local leadership. Thus the concept of the first Pinipig Festival was born.

For the uninitiated, pinipig is newly harvested, immature, glutenous rice that is lightly toasted and pounded into flattened flakes that can be eaten as is or used as a main ingredient for many Filipino desserts and drinks.

I, like so many other Lianga residents, was a bit nonplussed at the choice of this delicacy as the star of a festival. Lianga is indeed an agricultural town and rice is one of its cash crops albeit it is known more for its lumber, copra and fishing industry. Pinipig is certainly not on top of anyone's list of agricultural products particularly associated with the place.

But in this age where festivals of all sorts are the rage then who am I to object to what obviously is an eager beaver attempt to promote an image of Lianga as a fun town with a cultural heritage and a place to visit for both local and foreign tourists. Pour enough effort, imagination and money into such an undertaking and some success is bound to be achieved.

But true festivals and celebrations, whether religious or secular, especially those which have endured through time, are often those deeply rooted in the historical and cultural sensibilities of a people. They are seldom artificially created but even if they were indeed created, they still spontaneously emerge and draw sustenance, purpose and energy from the popular consciousness and will. The Pinipig Festival is, most certainly, not one of them.

The festival was a nice try by the local government but, as a concept, was flawed from the moment it was conceived. A fitting and appropriate program of activities commemorating such an auspicious occasion as more than eighty years of being a town requires one that has more real substance rather than mere show, glitter and bombast. More meaning and relevance rather than the elaborate trimmings and loud noise of mere spectacle.

By the way, I do like pinipig and during my childhood days did help make it in Lianga once or twice. It was fun and magical doing it especially during the night and in the light of the rising moon and together with relatives and friends.

I was there during the Pinipig Festival several days ago. To my sorrow, there was little of the fun and magic I was looking for. Neither was there much relevance or substance. But then the heart of the town and its people were never in this celebration and it was foolish to expect more than what was there.

Nice try though and let's hope we do it better next year.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Note of Thanks

An acquaintance of mine tapped me on the shoulder yesterday and told me to check out a website ( He said the site administrator there had written something about this blog there.

In my occasional forays into the maze of the Web, I did come across links to that website but never had the opportunity to go there. An oversight that I now deeply regret.

I did finally browse the site last night and read Jun Abines's comments about A Lianga Diary and I am deeply grateful for all the kinds words he had for this blog. It warms my heart to know that there are people out there in the world who like me, share a passion for all things about Lianga and this small corner of the world and who are using the power of the internet to write about it and communicate such passion to others.

Diatagon is the name of Lianga's biggest and most populous barangay or component village. That someone has put up a website in its name is noteworthy since there are a precious few such sites dedicated to making sure that people from this part of Mindanao or have sentimental links to it can keep in touch with what is happening there no matter where they are in the world. In more ways than one, it is a labor of love and a praiseworthy one at that.

I wish the website and the people behind it well and I am proud to be with you.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


The term "pugad" is one of those rare words that mean the same thing in both the Bisaya and Tagalog languages. It actually refers to a nest, particularly those marvelous creations of grass, leaves and fiber ingenuously made by birds to shelter their eggs and eventually their young offspring.

In Lianga, just mention the name Pugad and it points to a small village or hamlet situated just over a kilometer to the west of the town and which also happens to be the location of a long stretch of white sand beach fronting the coastal sea that is a popular destination for weekenders from all over the surrounding towns and cities.

When I was just a young lad in the 1970's and early 1980's, Pugad was one of those special, hidden and isolated places one can only go to after a hard trek through a small trail through coconut trees and wild vegetation. There was already a rudimentary dirt road servicing that small coastal community but most of the choice areas in the wide expanse of beach could be more easily reached by foot.

My memories of those times were of dazzlingly white sand and crystal clear, blue-green waters peeping through the trunks of ancient coconut trees. And the seemingly endless curve of of the wide expanse of the sand that swerved like a long, elongated J into the what seemed like the far distant horizon.

There were no local tourists at that time yet, just local residents occasionally sampling the sand and surf amidst the rather decrepit and run-down houses that marked the small village that ran along the edge of the shoreline. Quiet and idyllic times that were apparently never intended to last.

The 1990's came and landlubbers from many of the towns around Lianga discovered the beaches of Pugad and the owners of the beach properties in that area rushed to accommodate the sudden influx of vacationers and visitors. Small sea cottages and eventually more elaborate structures began to appear along the entire length of the main beach.

But everything there has a rushed, unplanned and even haphazard air about it. As if the cottages and buildings were simply built overnight and with nary a thought for aesthetics or long ranged planning and development. There is a helter-skelter quality about all of it that depresses and disturbs the soul.

Silt from the construction of a nearby shipping port and pier have imparted a slight, darkish tint to the once flawlessly white sand and instead of the quiet and serenity that one seeks to find in communion with the sun, the gentle breeze and sea, one has to contend with the blaring noise and thumping music of makeshift karaoke bars raging on throughout much of the day and often late into the night.

Nowadays the best time to visit the beach is in the middle of the work week and during the early morning hours of the day. It is during these times in the muted light of dawn when one catches glimpses of the magnificence and the echoes of the glory that Pugad once had. Then the dawning light of day suddenly comes and the harsh reality is suddenly laid bare for all to see.

Pugad still remains a popular weekend destination for a lot of people starved for a chance to frolic amidst the sun, wind, waves and surf of the fidgety sea. But I could not shake the deep seated feeling that it could have been something more.

Like the town of Lianga, with which it has always been identified with, one always gets the notion that a lot of pent up potential is there. Yet by the collective will or intransigence of its residents, it simply chose to take the easier and more convenient path to progress and development.

And thus settlling merely for the tempting yet paltry rewards of the fast and easy way rather than the harder and the more difficult road to becoming what it can truly be - a true haven and refuge from the vexations and frustrations of modern life, where the beach and sea are the really main attractions rather than merely the sideshows to a noisy carnival on the sand.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


I was in the city and a new acquaintance and I were idly chatting one long and lazy afternoon.

"So, your family has coconut farms. So what do you actually produce?", he asked me. "We produce copra", I replied as a matter of fact. As I already expected, he scratched his head in bewilderment and out came the inevitable question.

"What the hell is that?"

I had grown up with the sight, sound, feel and touch of coconuts and copra so I am often at a great loss when faced with the task of trying to explain and describe this cash crop to people whose only knowledge of coconuts is often restricted to the buko juice and meat they sample with great relish on rare occasions or to the tame, often fruitless and largely decorative coconut trees seen in many of the beach resorts the urban hordes flock to when they have the time and the money to burn.

Little do they know how many of the household products and food items they have on their homes either contain coconut oil or are produced with the use of such oil or a component or derivative of it. Together with palm trees and soybeans, the humble coconut is one of the world's primary sources of vegetable oil and without the country's coconut farmers, the nation and world would be in great trouble indeed.

Copra is one of the province of Surigao del Sur's primary agricultural cash crops and in most the communities and towns that dot its entire length, thousands of farming families are heavily dependent on the coconut industry for their livelihoods. It is their primary source of income and economic support.

The making of copra from the meat of mature coconuts is a long, tedious, dirty and labor intensive process. From the climbers who have to clamber up each tree and manually select the nuts suitable for harvesting to the laborers who have to clean and split the nuts open and then crape the meat off for curing in makeshift curing huts, the effort that goes into the production of the finished, salable product is extensive and costly.

Yet the money the average coconut farmer earns per hectare of coconut land is a mere pittance. Big businessmen and copra traders buy the finished copra at rock bottom prices and then trade or sell them at a huge profit thus leaving the unfortunate farmers always at the losing end of an unfair and obviously exploitative economic relationship.

Yet the men and their families who continue toil and struggle in the coconut plantations and farms all over the province and all over the country constitute a significant portion of the country's agriculture sector. Inspite of that however, they remain essentially voiceless, ruthlessly exploited and miserably ignored even by the government supposedly tasked with the responsibility to look after their welfare and well-being as an integral component of the country's agricultural industry.

So I tried to explain in detail to my new friend the copra making process and the state of the copra industry in my province and the country. To his credit, he did try to really listen and understand but in the end his interest wavered and flagged.

I do not blame him, of course, for his lack of interest. The true and real essence of the coconut industry is not in the finished products and items that copra is a part of. It is in the people in the far, distant and remote farms in the countryside who continue to live their lives and make a lving beneath the fronds of the tree they call the "tree of life".

It is their faces and bodies, stained with sweat colored by the dirt from the lumps of dark-brown, foul smelling and insect-infested coconut meat roasting in the curing huts that flash in my mind when I hear talk about the coconut industry. Call me sentimental but then I would not care less.

There are a lot of people apparently out there who would not be able to call a coconut nut just that......even if it hits them on the head.

Sunday, October 7, 2007


Some twenty dusty and rough kilometers north of Lianga is the small barangay or village of Salvacion. It is actually part of the municipality of San Agustin just six or so kilometers just a little further up the national highway.

It is a small, quiet and sleepy little village set amidst gently sloping hills mostly planted with coconut trees and surrounded by the yellow-green mosaic of rice fields broken here and there by the dark green of idle and uncultivated land thick with grass, wild shrubs and trees. A typical and little, rustic community in many ways like so many other similar small villages in this part of the Philippine countryside.

My father was born there more than seventy years ago and in many ways he was always tied to it by both sentimental and practical reasons. He did leave Salvacion first temporarily when he went to school in Cebu and Manila then permanently when he got married and transfered his family to Lianga in the early 1960's. But his emotional ties to his home village remained strong. That and the fact that his parents owned real properties around the area insured that he would always be a frequent if somewhat harried visitor always trying to manage the time between his duties as a physician in Lianga and his responsibilities as a gentleman farmer there.

Over the years, my father's focus shifted to his medical practice and his family in Lianga. But Salvacion was still in his mind often. He was there regularly although his life was no longer intrinsically intertwined with that of the village. He had, in many ways, moved on. When he died in 1996, he was buried, like his deceased parents, in his adopted town and not in the village of his birth.

Our family still has a house in Salvacion and although it's a bit decrepit from being unused, it remains a testament to our strong sentimental links to the village. I am usually there at least once a week and when I do go there there is always a sense of getting in touch with the roots of the family, the familiar feeling and sense of coming home.

But there is also a sense of alienation, some inner realization that this may be home but the truth is one does not really belong to the place anymore. The person that is inside has grown and changed so much over so many years of exile and sojourn in far and distant places thus the feeling of separation and estrangement. One feels the need to belong once more but also understands that that is, in many ways, no longer possible and might be even impossible to achieve even though the desire and the effort is there.

But still one goes back time and time again because duty and obligation demands it. One sees the old and familiar places, greets old friends and forgotten relatives. One strolls through the quiet, shadowy and dusty streets and breathes in once again the sweet and unspoiled air redolent with the scent of tree leaves and verdant grass. In the distance, one hears as always the distant rumble of the surf and waves of the nearby sea.

Too many memories of times past, some bitter and others sweet. And yet when one goes home there is always a sense of things left undone and uncompleted.

So one returns to visit time and time again to this village by the sea and hills. Not only because he has to but because not to do so is to deny the fact that he is, in a sense, incomplete and this place, whether he likes it or not, is a large piece of that part of him that remains missing.

So like the salmon who swim upstream, risking life and injury, to return to their place of spawning, so does one go back to the place where, for him, everything began. Hoping as always that life will finally come full circle.

And then, by the grace of God, he will be finally and fully complete.

Friday, October 5, 2007


The time was in the early 1990's and in Lianga the people were becoming engulfed in the emerging sense of optimism that was sweeping across the country. There was a sense of things moving finally in the right direction after so many decades of economic hardship and armed conflict between a stubborn Communist insurgency and the armed forces of a distant and often unfelt national and local government.

Cellphones and mobile telecommunications were still science fiction as far as local residents were concerned but the potentials and possibilities of two-way amateur radio communication suddenly made a sudden and explosive impact in this part of the country. It was mobile and portable electronic communications at the most basic and "primitive" level but radio communications, particularly between private persons and entities reached unparalleled levels and the 1990's was, in a sense, its golden age as far as Lianga was concerned.

It was the time of the amateur radio organizations with their base stations and civic radio assistance programs. Their members roamed the town in their uniform vests, their VHF transceivers slung low on their belts and helped the local police and military personnel keep the peace and keep an alert eye out for unsavory, criminal elements.

The roofs of private homes became festooned with radio antennas and aerials as radio enthusiasts began competing with each other in installing the latest and most powerful base radio transceivers. Chatting on the airwaves became the craze as people and communities, at least in the surrounding areas, became connected by voice and sound signals.

The military and police forces gained most from the radio communication craze. They suddenly had access to a readily available and wildly enthusiastic intelligence gathering network to assist them in their efforts to control crime and fight the on-going insurgency. An additional benefit was the improved relations between the law enforcement organizations and the civilian populace - something the government had always wanted to achieve previously but had been largely unable to do so in the wake of the less than savory human rights record these organizations had acquired during the years of the Marcos dictatorship.

The end of the 1990's also saw the sudden decline in the popularity of amateur radio communications in the Lianga area. Many local pundits would point to the introduction of modern mobile phone technology and the emergence of computers and the Internet as the primary reason for the end of Lianga's golden era for radio communications. There is obviously a lot of truth in that observation.

But the fact is it is clear from hindsight that Lianga's love affair with the radio transceiver was destined to be short lived. That technology was just too limited to have long term applications and was, in the final, sense not really cost effective if we view its rather narrow capabilities in comparison to the wide ranging reach of today's telecommunication marvels.

But the era of the "walkie-talkies" despite the fact that it lasted for just under a decade provided a shining opportunity for many of Lianga's residents to really involve themselves in community affairs and marked a period of close cooperation and rapport between the local government and its agencies with non-governmental organizations and ordinary private citizens. It is a sad thing thing to note here that that high degree of closeness and trust may be exceptionally difficult to reestablish once again today.

I was among many who were there more than a decade ago in Lianga when for a short period of time the air over the town hummed and throbbed to the energy of radio signals zipping back and forth over the hills, over the houses and across the coastal sea. There was a vibrant energy and vitality there as the nearby communities swapped messages and greetings openly through the ether. There was a sense of solidarity and community that is notably absent today.

Sometimes nowadays I still have the rare opportunity to use the radio transceivers that I still have in the house. When I press the switch to transmit I still often feel the excitement and the romance of those early days of wireless communications.

And despite the futility of the effort, I always try to listen once again for the faint echoes of the past. A past and a time when the radio transceiver was king and we held its power in our hands.