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.

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