Sunday, December 28, 2008

Escalation

The name of my hometown, Lianga, has been in the news quite a lot in the past few weeks and usually in connection with news reports of violent clashes between government military forces and communist insurgents belonging to the New People's Army. My friends from other places are all asking the same question. "What the hell is exactly going on there?"

Of special significance are two recent news stories, one concerning the Dec. 2 ambush by NPA guerrillas of a truck carrying Army personnel in Sitio Bantolinao in Barangay Ganayon just five kilometers outside of Lianga which resulted in the death of five soldiers and the wounding of two others. Another news item came out about a week later about a fierce encounter between government forces and communist rebels in the hinterlands of Barangay Diatagon in the north of the town where both sides claimed to have inflicted heavy casualties on the other. This is despite the absence of confirmed reports on the actual casualty count.

And yet even before that, intermittent reports hinting at the intensification of military operations in many areas of Surigao del Sur and the Lianga area have filtered through the national news media together with an apparent increase in the number of news accounts of attacks and ambuscades executed by NPA forces against government military and police units in the field particularly in the neighboring provinces of Compostela Valley, Agusan del Sur and Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur. What the hell is going on, indeed?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Greetings

All week long I have been getting Christmas greetings from readers of this blog based outside the country and sent through this blog's comments section and via e-mail. Well, in truth, the greetings are not just for me but also for their family, relatives and friends in Lianga they have left behind and who they so dearly miss during this Yuletide season.

I know, because I belong to a family with some of its members now living abroad, how difficult it is to properly and meaningfully celebrate Christmas when your own home echoes with the memories of loved ones forced by circumstance and the vagaries of fate to live and work so far away from the family hearth. For us, as for many millions of other Filipino families, Christmas, nowadays, is never complete, the festivities never emotionally or sentimentally gratifying as it once was because of those whose accustomed places at the Noche Buena table must remain sadly and poignantly vacant.

If it is hard for us here who have been left behind, it must be harder still for those who have to celebrate this Christmas in cold, distant and faraway lands bereft of the emotional comfort and support of their families and friends. Theirs is the harsh and unforgiving loneliness, the crushing homesickness and desperate longing for the soothing familiarity of the familiar sights, sounds and smells of their own land, borne with extraordinary fortitude and perseverance by the victims of the Filipino diaspora that is the sad reality of our times.

In many ways, this blog was written for them and their kind.

So, in behalf of the people of Lianga, I wish all of her children scattered all over this country and elsewhere all over the world, a very Merry Christmas and the blessings of a more bountiful, prosperous New Year to come. I wish all of you good health, financial success and the fulfillment of all of those dreams for which you all have sacrificed so much for by going so far away.

I would also like to wish the best of this merry season to the many kindred souls who continue to blog and make noise about Lianga and its part of the world on the blogosphere and the Internet. You know who you are and you have done a wonderful job so far. Keep up the good work.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Dawn Mass

December 16 started out as a calm, clear morning yet the minute I got out of bed, still bleary eyed from sleep and opened the bedroom door, a merciless blast of frigid air gleefully caught and slammed me on my naked chest leaving me slight popeyed and breathless, instantly reminding me that I was not in Lianga but somewhere else. Early mornings in Lianga can be chilly but not this bitingly cold.

I was just outside of Metro Manila, on the outskirts of Antipolo City and that early morning was the start of the traditional Simbang Gabi. Originally known as the Misa de Gallo or Rooster's Mass, the series of nine day dawn masses culminating in the Christmas midnight mass on Christmas Eve is an important part of Filipino Yuletide tradition.

I have never been much of a Simbang Gabi devotee and even in Lianga I would still be huddled in bed and deep in the comforting arms of Hypnos, the Greek god of sleep, totally oblivious to the church bells calling the faithful to church and the insistent noises of the rest of the household hastily preparing and rushing about to answer their call. But this particular morning, the host of the house I was staying in had asked me to join him and his family go to church and it would have been churlish and ungracious of me to refuse his request.

The Antipolo Cathedral is, by day, already an imposing structure befitting one of the most important pilgrimage centers in the country for the Catholic faithful. As a national shrine housing the image of the Lady of Peace and Good Voyage or the Nuestra Señora de la Paz y Buen Viaje also known as the Virgin of Antipolo, it inspires awe and intense veneration especially among devotees of the Virgin Mary.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Getting Here

How does one get there? Where is it exactly? I have been recently getting a few e-mails and blog comments asking these two questions about Lianga. Perhaps it is time to make the effort to answer them.

Ordinarily, when I want to know where a specific place is in this country or anywhere else in the world, I would grab the nearest world atlas or, better still, go online and try to look the place up through such online services as Wikipedia or Google Earth. But for more specific information. nothing beats the details provided by someone who has been to that particular location or is already staying there.

For starters, Lianga is a 4th class municipality in the province of Surigao del Sur. It is located on the eastern or Pacific coast of the southern Philippine island of Mindanao and, according to the latest demographic data, has a population of some 26,000 people. Surigao del Sur together with the surrounding provinces of Surigao del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Agusan del Norte and Dinagat Island comprise Region XIII or the Caraga administrative region which is one of 17 such regions all over the country.

Travelling to Lianga from anywhere in the Philippines or elsewhere in the world starts with a trip either by land, sea or air to two cities in Mindanao which are nearest to it. One is Butuan City which is the capital of Agusan del Sur province and the regional center for the Caraga region. It has a domestic airport with regular passenger plane links to Cebu City in the Visayas and to Manila, the national capital in Luzon. It also has a seaport in Nasipit which services inter-island passenger and cargo ships from all over the country.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Reality Check

My niece, three nephews and I had a healthy and spirited discussion a week or so ago about.... well .... Santa Claus. Not that anyone among us had anything against that red suited, white-bearded, rolly-poly, globetrotting and sleigh-riding icon of the Yuletide season afflicted with the insatiable obsession with gift giving. It is just that, we could not agree among ourselves, God help us, whether he really exists or not.

To my niece and one nephew, both just about ready to enter into their teens, Santa remains an unquestionably real albeit unseen presence in their young lives every Christmas. They regularly write every November to the guy at the North Pole to tell him exactly what they want to receive as a present on Christmas Eve and, so far, they have not been really disappointed. Either both of them have been really well behaved the past few years or Santa has been extra generous with them for one reason or another.

The two older boys, both already growing wispy tufts of downy hair on their upper lips and thus already thinking of themselves as wiser in the ways of the world, have vehemently declared, to the tearful consternation of their younger companions, that Santa Claus is a myth. The gifts come from their own parents, they say, giggling all the while at the folly of all the deluded children who were still too young and foolishly naive to believe in the illusion and the lie.

As they all squabbled and bickered among themselves, I tried to remember when I exactly started not to believe in Santa and the Santa Claus myth myself. After a few minutes of pondering, I realized that, for the life of me, I never actually believed in the man and the myth even as a child.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Poor Us

One comment from a reader to one of the posts of the photoblog version of A Lianga Diary simply could not be ignored but had to merit a response from me. The reader, who did not wished to be identified, wrote, "Are all these pictures from the Philippines? It looks like a poor country. I'm just saying none intending to insult the country, all right?"

That reader can be reassured on at least two points. First, all of the pictures published in this blog and its photoblog version are all from Lianga except in a few instances when it is clearly indicated in a specific blog post that the pictures contained therein are from somewhere else. Second, I, for one, am not in any way insulted by people, especially foreigners, who venture the opinion that there seems to be widespread poverty in this country.

In fact, in this blog in particular, I have discussed countless of times how the lack of economic opportunities in the Philippine countryside has shaped and continues to shape life not only in Lianga but in the many small and impoverished communities that surround it. And that reality is not true only to the Lianga area but to the majority of small, rural towns like it all over the country.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Bulletproof Vests Anyone?

In the wake of the news making the banner headlines of many national newspapers recently concerning the killing by suspected communist New People's Army guerrillas of five Army soldiers and the wounding of two others in an ambush attack in the Lianga area, a lot of people from other places in the country and elsewhere in the world who have been planning to visit their families and friends in that town and the many other communities around it for the Christmas holidays are already having second thoughts about making the trip. Of primary concern to them, of course, is their personal safety and that of their companions if they do choose to go ahead with their travel plans.

The standing joke now among the would-be Lianga vacationers is to make sure you have always extra space in your luggage for the bulletproof vest and Kevlar helmet. And, of course, to check that all life insurance policies are current and all last wills and testaments have been signed, notarized and filed properly.

I would laugh if I find that, in any way, funny.

In the many years I had lived in Lianga, I have never felt personally threatened by the insurgency war between the government and the communist New People's Army. In most cases, that war was always fought clandestinely, in the sparsely populated, mountainous and thickly forested areas of the rural countryside. The ordinary folks, except for those with relatives and friends among the combatants, are largely passive bystanders and curious non-participants.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

An Altogether Different Kind Of Fun

If I ever have the nerve to ask any one of my teenaged nephews or niece if they know how to make balls or whistles out of coconut leaflets, they would all probably impatiently thumb on the pause button on their PSP's or Nintendo DS's and then turn to me with that quizzical look in their eyes and the same unspoken question on their lips. "Why should we have to? Why bother?"

Why bother indeed?

When I was about twelve or so and on summer vacation from school in the city, I was playing with friends one hot afternoon in the backyard of the family house here in Lianga when we saw one of my mother's young house helpers sitting underneath one of the coconut trees in the yard with a bunch of coconut leaflets on her lap she had stripped off a whole frond which lay nearby. She was a fresh faced girl of about eighteen who had grown up in my grandfather's small village not far from town.

We watched her, mesmerized by the dexterity of her fingers as she meshed the leaf strips together, twisting one over and underneath one another until in what seemed like just a few seconds she had magically fashioned a small ball, actually a cube with rounded corners, which she then tossed over to us to play with. Entranced, I sat down beside her as she started coiling one long leaf strip like a snake into a cone, stuck small leaf cuttings into the narrow end, tied up the cone with string to prevent it from unraveling and, in a jiffy, presented me with a whistle horn which gave off a vibrating, high pitched squeal when I blew on it.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Bad Publicity

"It is a sad reality in this world," a Lianga oldtimer told me years ago, "that the only time the name of this town gets in the news is when something bad happens here." That prescient observation was made in 1999 when rebel forces belonging to the communist New People's Army released custody of captured Army soldier, S/Sgt. Alipio Lozada, to government negotiatiors led by Sen. Loren Legarda in the hinterlands of Barangay Diatagon north of the town.

At that time, Lianga residents were tickled pink to hear news anchors on national television struggling to pronounce the name of their town correctly (leeyang-ga and not leeya-nga) while video footage of the prisoner release was shown. It did not matter to the locals then at that time that that piece of news somehow unfairly painted their place as a hotbed of insurgency and, therefore, an unsafe place to live in and much less an ideal tourism destination to visit.

Last Tuesday afternoon, five Army soldiers were killed and two others wounded when a landmine exploded while their truck was passing by Sitio Bantolinao in Barangay Ganayon just five kilometers north of Lianga. The landmine attack was part of an ambush staged, according to military sources, by NPA rebels under the Sentro de Grabidad Platun 7 led by one Ka Ado and Ka Dodoy. The rebels then carted away five firearms, ammunition, a laptop, cellular phones and personal belongings of the soldiers.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Shooting The Messenger

“The church wants the people to be poor so that people constantly supplicate to them. We should not allow them to dictate to us. How will the anti-mining advocates solved unemployment? Everybody will have jobs because of mining.”

These words spoken just a few months ago by Surigao del Sur provincial governor, Vicente T. Pimentel Jr., in defense of mining operations in the northern part of his province which is being faced with strong opposition coming from Catholic religious leaders, local community heads and environmental protection organizations spells out clearly the dilemma being faced by many Surigao del Sur residents whose very communities have become affected by the recent influx of industrial mining activities in their part of Mindanao.

In truth, Pimentel's province is considered one of the country's poorest in terms of industrial development and, in theory, any capital investments pouring in, even those from the mining industry, should be welcomed because of the employment opportunities they bring to the local people, the tax revenues they generate for local governments and the needed stimulus they often bring to the largely tepid local economy.

But, in the Philippine context, large scale mining has always had a devastating impact on the natural environment. Responsible mining practices, mineral excavation methodologies and techniques that are the standard in many industrialized countries and which are designed to minimize damage to the environment are,as a matter of course, set aside and ignored in the haste to produce maximum profits quickly and with the minimum of fuss. Thus the result is the unmitigated rape of the environment and the resulting negative impact on the health and quality of life of affected communities.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Siren Call

A few friends have asked me what I think of the 10 PM to 6 AM curfew for minors recently enforced with much fanfare by the municipal government of Lianga. The curfew is very much in the mind of most Lianga residents because of the warning siren that now sounds off at the start of the curfew hours late every night and again at its end early in the morning of the next day. The wail of the same siren also goes off regularly each day to mark the passing of the hours particularly at high noon during working days and, as a general alarm, can be used to alert and mobilize the townspeople to the existence of a town emergency.

If I remember correctly, the ordinance which provides the legal basis for the youth curfew had already been passed and approved by the Sangguniang Bayan or municipal council during the previous political administration but its actual enforcement has been, to date, sporadic and halfhearted at best. It remains to be seen if the current political leadership at the municipal hall does actually have the political will and the gumption to oversee its full and sustained implementation.

I have been one among many in Lianga who have long advocated for some form of night curfew for minors at least as a temporary measure to help curb the alarming rise in cases of youth delinquency and criminality within the municipality. This increase in anti-social and criminal incidents involving minors is usually linked to drug and alcohol abuse which is fast becoming a major concern for town officials and local law enforcement agencies.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Conflict Of Interest

Ordinarily, I usually merely skim through the business news on the Web but the announcement, a week or so ago, made by Wellex Industries Inc, the investment company of plastics magnate William Gatchalian, that it was shifting its focus from manufacturing to mining and energy caught my interest because it also mentioned the fact that the company was already considering possible mining sites for chromite in the provinces of Surigao del Norte, Dinagat Island and in my own home province of Surigao del Sur.

You see, for some time now, I, like many others in Lianga, have become perturbed by what seems to be a rather alarming trend towards the intensification of industrial mining investments in our part of the country. That is not to say that people like me are against the mining industry per se in all its forms, but one does wonder if the entry of such investments in our very own communities can be acceptable even when their well known deleterious and destructive effects on the local environment can far outweigh whatever benefits they may provide struggling local economies.

Everyone knows that Surigao del Sur, despite its reputation as one of the poorest provinces in the country, is blessed not only with untapped mineral resources like coal, nickle and gold but it also happens to be a fast developing tourism destination for both foreign and local visitors eager to sample its pristine, white sand beaches, scenic mountain panoramas and rich, diverse native flora and fauna. It also possesses one of the country's last remaining stretches of tropical virgin forests.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Backyard Angling

When I tell visitors coming to the family house in Lianga that my siblings and I used to throw fishing lines from the backyard of the house into the sea and actually catch small fish, they would glance at me with an air of incredulity and disbelief thinking that I must be either exaggerating the facts a bit or deliberately pulling their legs. The truth is, I am merely telling the absolute truth.

When we were home for summer vacation from school in the city in the 1970's and early 1980's, my brothers and I would spend hours in the backyard my father had fashioned from some land he had reclaimed from the sea at the back of his house. From behind a concrete seawall he had constructed to keep the sea out, we would throw makeshift fishing lines into the sea and try to bring in the small, multicolored tropical fish that roamed the rock strewn, sea grass covered bottom of the shallow waters at high tide.

An afternoon of fishing always started with a frenzied hunt for hermit crabs which could be found clustered underneath large rocks within the backyard itself or hiding in the grassy corners of the flower gardens my mother doted upon just behind the house. Using round, smooth rocks like hammers, we would pound the crabs (children can be mercilessly cruel), crack their shells and pinch off their soft, fleshy abdomens which, despite their awful, stinky odor, the fish seem to relish and, therefore, were our favorite choice for fish bait.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Not In The Mood Anymore To Dance

Bring up the subject of charter change among any of the groups of bystanders and would be political pundits that frequent the street corners of Lianga in the early mornings or late afternoons and you are more than likely to get snorts of exasperation, plenty of head shakes and other bodily signs and gestures of acute frustration. That is indeed one sore topic for discussion that almost everybody here in even in this remote and provincial town has gotten rather tired of talking about anymore.

Yet like the phoenix (apologies here to Mark Borders, no pun intended), that mythical bird of the ancients that supposedly resurrects itself from the flames of its own funeral pyre, charter or constitutional change is simply that kind of controversy that keeps on coming back. And it keeps on resurfacing in the news and the popular consciousness not because the people want or need it (like they need another hole in their heads) but because the government of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo keeps trying to find the darnedest, most silly excuse to bring that subject up again and again for consideration even after it has been, for countless times now, struck down and overwhelmingly rejected by popular consensus.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Slapped Down

What can I say? Even an "I told you so" might be inappropriate since it might be construed as unseemly gloating over what has been rather an embarrassing turn of events for many residents of Surigao del Sur.

I am, of course, referring here to the recent Supreme Court decision ruling that 16 newly declared cities all over the country revert back to their previous status as municipalities because they have essentially violated the provisions and intent of the Local Government Code regarding mandated income requirements for prospective cities.

Tandag, the provincial capital, happens to be on that list together with 6 other new cities in Mindanao including Bayugan in Agusan del Sur, Cabadbaran in Agusan del Norte, Lamitan in Basilan, El Salvador in Misamis Oriental, and Mati in Davao Oriental. Most of these new cities gain citihood status only in the past year or so.

Let us not gloss over the facts. The truth of the matter is, and many of the local folks in Tandag know this, the town was simply never ready for citihood when it became one by law last year. And sad to say, it may not be ready to be one for some time yet.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Other Voices

When I started blogging over two years ago, I had then the gall to feel rather special in the blogosphere thinking I was the only one from the Lianga area writing about life and living there on the Internet. I should have been slapped in the face for even entertaining such a presumptuous thought.

The truth is, there are many other voices in cyberspace speaking for and about Lianga and its environs. Many of them were even doing so already even before I even contemplated taking my first tentative and hesitant steps into the world of Internet blogging. They may not have been techno geeks or cyber-savvy in any way but they were nevertheless pioneers who took advantage of the fact that the World Wide Web had come to Lianga and just used it the best way they could.

Most of them use social networking sites like Friendster, Multiply and Facebook to meet new contacts, exchange pictures and information or simply to maintain a tangible link with friends and relatives living or working far from home. But they also tell stories of what is happening at home, the minutiae of what is going on in the community and in their lives.

Others even blog a bit on the same websites, sharing their problems and joys, posting pictures of themselves and the members of their families together with maybe a poem, song or two. But whatever they did,and what they posted on the Net was always touched and flavored by the Lianga that they all knew and which was so much a part of their lives.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

TeleMedicine

My father before his death in 1996 served almost all of his adult life as a physician and surgeon in the public health service. While many of his medical contemporaries chose to practice their profession in the cities where the monetary rewards were great and where professional advancement was assured, he decided to go home to Mindanao where health services in the rural countryside was either pitifully inadequate or actually non-existent.

There he would spend the rest of his life being a healer to the poorest of the poor and performing major surgeries in makeshift operating rooms with the most rudimentary of equipment. He eventually became a pivotal figure in the establishment of the first government district hospital in Lianga which he help ran until his retirement.

All his life he would lament at how woefully inadequate are the health and medical services available to Filipinos in the remote, provincial areas like Lianga. During his time and even more so today, local medical professionals had to contend with the lack of proper diagnostic and treatment facilities as well as the dearth of qualified medical workers needed to attend to the health problems of the rural folk. Thus the latter have higher morbidity and mortality rates for many diseases whose incidence in the more urban areas are lower and whose victims are more easily diagnosed and treated when they do occur.

To avail of more specialized medical care and treatment procedures not available in primary and secondary level hospitals, seriously ill patients in the rural areas have to be transported to the cities over long distances and often with great difficulty and expense. This fact alone accounts for majority of these patients' inability to secure the proper medical attention they desperately need.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

All In The Families

During the past week or so, friends have been constantly asking my views on what is happening on the political front in Lianga and its province of Surigao del Sur. It seems that the tumultuous events that played out in the world news media concerning the recently concluded presidential elections in the United States and the proximity of the scheduled 2010 local and national elections here in the Philippines have whetted the appetites of would-be political pundits and observers in Lianga who would like to get the jump on the latest local political developments.

The truth of the matter is that I have become somewhat jaded about the thought of becoming involved whether directly or even indirectly in the next elections. Almost all of my adult life I had, both by choice and circumstance, always been heavily involved in the game of politics. I studied it, breathed it and toyed with it while in college. I practiced it on the streets as a student activist during the years of the Marcos dictatorship. And when I got back to Lianga I had to get involved in it big time because I had relatives serving in local government.

All those years, despite the natural cynicism that tends to develop in those who get sullied and dirtied by the more unsavory aspects of the way politics is practiced here, I have managed to continue to hold on, unlike many of my contemporaries, to much of the idealism with which I had always viewed democracy and the democratic process.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Liquid Light

Ever since I was a child, I had always this sentimental fascination with sunrises. Part of the reason could be the fact that I spent so many years of my early life in the city where the beginning of the day and the flow of the hours is determined not by the rising or waning light of the sun but by the cold, impersonal and imperious cadence of clocks, watches and timepieces.

There the harsh yet constant glare of artificial lighting effectively masks the passing of the hours and one often only notices that the day has began by the sudden and jarring sound of the alarm clock and that it has ended by ringing of the school dismissal bell or the whirl and snap of the bundy clock at work.

It was only when I began living permanently in Lianga and acquired the habit of often waking up early that I learned to appreciate how beautiful sunrises can be and how uplifted one usually feels after being witness to a spectacularly colorful outbreak of the dawn. It is as if there is something within us that hungers for reassurance that the warm, life-giving light of the sun would return after the cold and darkness of the night and that the sight of the faint, ghostly glimmer of the new day in the eastern horizon is somehow is proof that the cycle of life continues with the hope of rebirth and renewal.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Coming Out

This past week I have been getting more than the usual number of e-mails asking for more pictures, information and posts about the scenic and tourist attractions in the Lianga area. Most of them have come from outside the country including a few sent by foreigners who are regular visitors to the Philippines but have never been to our part of Mindanao.

I am greatly encouraged and heartened by this development because it is positive proof that our efforts to highlight and promote the tourism potential of Lianga with its pristine, white sand beaches, emerald green islets, lush tropical mountains and natural scenic beauty on the Internet has finally been meeting with some success. There was a time when I thought, as the few others who were blogging about Lianga and Surigao del Sur did, that we were just voices shouting in the wilderness, laboriously casting words and pictures into cyberspace but in reality actually accomplishing nothing substantial or worthwhile.

In many ways, the World Wide Web has been the great equalizing force that has enabled remote, out of the way places like Lianga and out of touch, isolated individuals like me and the token few that blog from places like it to reach out to the world often hesitantly and tentatively and yet with a fast growing confidence and boldness. And the message is clear: we are here, we live in a tropical paradise and we want to share its abundance of natural beauty with outsiders.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Street Scum

"Look at them," muttered a friend one morning weeks ago as we sat chatting over coffee at a popular fast food joint in San Francisco town in Agusan del Sur just some 35 or so kilometers west of Lianga.

He jerked his head over to point to a young boy silently begging for loose change and food scraps, hands and face pressed against the restaurant's thick plate glass windows, while his companions, some even younger, coached him and shouted encouragement from behind a parked car in the parking lot. "Ten years ago," he added wistfully, "that was a sight I never used to see. Nowadays you can't walk the sidewalks without stumbling over them."

As a native and long time resident of Lianga, I have been, in many ways, become inured to the sights and signs of the grinding poverty that is the lot of many in this part of the world. One cannot live here for long and not see it mirrored in the ramshackle huts, the listless, sickly and malnourished children, the illiteracy and ignorance, and the bleak despair and fatalistic hopelessness of the rural poor.

But there is something profoundly and emotionally distressing about seeing with one's own eyes the sight of small children foraging for food scraps and handouts in the streets especially when such a scene is in sharp contrast with the backdrop of what essentially is fast becoming a city or urban environment.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Not Like Us

I did not know much about Halloween until I was about 10 years of age. When I was an elementary school student in the 1970's, All Hallows' Even (as it was originally known in Europe) was still a distinctly American event, something seen more on foreign T.V. programs and the Hollywood movies of that day rather than a real, honest to goodness festivity actually taking place all over the country.

Trick or treating, the practice of donning Halloween costumes, and the imagery and symbolism of the macabre, dark magic and mythical monsters that are all part of the Halloween experience were not yet a part of the cultural milieu then and even today I am bemused, if not a bit surprised, at the speed and openness with which we Filipinos, as a people, have accepted, assimilated and even capitalized on this piece of largely American pop culture.

In the Lianga of my childhood, both the young and the old did not need the Halloween myth to enliven the celebration of All Soul's Day and the festivities for the dead. The area's rich, rural and provincial culture abounded in stories and legends dealing with death and the supernatural. In fact, the blending of many old, animistic, pagan beliefs with traditional Roman Catholicism provided a rich fount of myth and folklore that conjured up worlds, including our own, peopled by spirits, monsters, dwarfs, enchanted beings and other otherworldly creatures far more scarier and believable than the classical and often "cartoonish" witches, ghosts, goblins and Frankenstein's monsters of the Halloween myth.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Britania Hullabaloo

When I wrote that post. over a week ago, on the Britania islands or islets (can someone please tell me which is it really?) of San Agustin town in Surigao del Sur, I did not expect to put an unwary foot forward into what may be an potential minefield of controversy. Sometimes, things just happen when we least expect it and in my case, it came with what first looked like an innocuous e-mail from outside the country.

The e-mail was from Dr. N. A. Orcullo, Jr. who now works for one of the universities in the south of Manila. He is an agricultural engineer with a PhD. in Business Management and is a consultant on renewable energy matters and a management professor. He was e-mailing me from Mexico City where he was invited to be a resource person at a workshop on energy efficiency sponsored by APEC and the Mexican government.

He had accidentally bumped into this blog while trawling the Web for hits on anything about Britania, Lianga and Surigao del Sur. The post on Britania prompted him to write me.

It turned out that our families know each other and after touching base, he immediately voiced his concerns about Britania, the community and resource development programs being implemented in that barangay and the much touted plan to turn it and its islands (or islets) into world class tourism destinations. The views he raised, in many ways, echoed many of the same issues raised by the more skeptical and discerning individuals in the Britania and Salvacion area regarding these much protracted developmental efforts but Jun Orcullo is simply more convincing and believable because he not only backs his views with the analytical skills and tools available to one trained in the academe but also because of his sentimental ties and long, detailed familiarity with Britania's people and community.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Compensations

When I am in Antipolo City in Rizal just outside Metro Manila, my friends there often ask me if I miss Lianga especially when I am there for extended periods. I often find the question superfluous if not totally irrelevant .

For I do miss my hometown, in many ways even when I am just away from it for a week or so. And the strange thing is, it is always the small things about Lianga that I miss the most.

I miss waking up in the darkness of early dawn to the clarion call of small boys shouting or singing, "Pan init!", as they peddle around the still gloomy streets and dimly lighted houses the freshly baked, piping hot bread of the town bakeries snugly tucked in corrugated paper boxes. I miss the loud, peremptory tones of the town church bells as they call the faithful to the daily, early morning mass while I try to snuggle deeper into the warm blankets of my bed to escape the biting chill of the new day.

I miss the deliberate and measured pace of life in Lianga, where the exact day, date and hour is often less significant than the actual accomplishment of the tasks you have set out for yourself in the course of the day and where one does not have to feel guilty about taking the time to enjoy the sea breeze, the occasional nap during hot, muggy afternoons or stroll around and watch the play of colors in the western mountains as the day ends.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Paradise In Waiting

Of the location's pristine, scenic allure, there can be no argument or contention. It is simply one of those special places where God on those early days when He fashioned the universe out of nothing, must have felt extra generous and, thereafter, artfully crafted ocean water, rock and sand into a panorama of such natural and scenic beauty that many nature lovers who have been there swear it is the nearest thing to being in tropical paradise.

The Bretania islets is a distinct grouping of some 24 small islands located just off the shoreline of Barangay Britania, a small village belonging to the municipality of San Agustin located some 26 or so kilometers north of Lianga. For decades now, local residents and visitors from nearby municipalities have wondered and marveled at the islets' crystal blue waters, their dazzlingly white and powdery sand beaches, the fantastic undersea coral and reef formations and the area's one of a kind tropical scenery.

And the question foremost in their minds remains why until now has there been no sustained, coherent effort on the part of both the local government of San Agustin and the provincial government of Surigao del Sur to develop the tourism potential of the islets while at the same time protect and preserve their pristine and natural beauty.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Time Warp

"Why, nothing has changed! It is still the same as it was the day I left it!"

This is a common observation made by many balikbayans originally from Lianga but who have lived somewhere else for years, even decades, and have come back to visit the town after their long absence. And every time I hear the words I always wonder how much of that impression is actually true and how much is due to a sudden and understandable excess of nostalgic sentimentalism.

You see, I have lived in Lianga for many years, almost two decades now, and to say off hand that the place has not changed over those years cannot obviously be true. The changes may have come at a slow and gradual pace but they are there and are, mostly and fairly obvious.

The fact that I can blog and surf on the Internet, casually use a cellular phone, watch cable or satellite television and do all these while staying in Lianga is ample proof that this is not the same town I knew eighteen years ago. Much has indeed changed since then.

But it is also true that if much has changed in Lianga, the change has also come like layers of thin icing on a cake, superficial and largely trivial. As a long time resident here, I often get the feeling that if one can shake or peel off the thin veneer of what passes for modernity and 21st century progress in this town, the real Lianga that has remained stolidly the same underneath for ages will emerge unaltered and unadulterated.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Pindang

During each of the many sojourns I had in many places outside of Mindanao, I am always caught by surprise not so much by the many obvious differences but more so often by the subtle similarities between the lifestyles and culinary tastes of the people elsewhere in this country and those of Lianga where I have lived most of my life.

In one recent instance, one resident of Antipolo City in Rizal province just outside of Metro Manila dragged me to his kitchen and and made me watch as he started tossing what looked like large chunks of dark, dried meat into a pan of hot oil. As the oil hissed, popped and splattered unto the sides of his gas range, he told me that he was treating me to a dinner of Kapampangan-style pindang damulag or cured carabao meat. "A new taste treat for you," he promised me.

I did not have the heart to tell him that I was not only familiar with pindang in Lianga but also the fact that pork or carabao meat prepared pindang or tapa style happens to be one of my perennial, favorite food treats.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Playing At War

I kept hearing the whirling, snapping sound most of that afternoon several months ago as I sat in the living room of the house in Lianga watching the National Geographic channel on cable television. To me it sounded like a souped up electric motor plagued with a bad case of the hiccups.

Then a next door neighbor came rushing into the house, pulled me outside and with a flourish handed me what looked like a Colt M4A1 assault rifle. The feel, weight and detailing closely approximated the real thing but in this case what I had in my hands was an Airsoft version of the real McCoy crafted in metal and hard plastic and which relies on an electric motor powering plastic or metal "gearboxes" that dispel air to propel plastic pellets out of the muzzle in both semi-automatic and rapid fire modes.

The whirling, popping sounds I had been hearing was the sound of the rifle punishing a light metal can which lay dented and battered about twenty-five feet away across the road. My neighbor invited me to fire a few shots and even a short burst of pellets at the makeshift target. I assumed the firing position, peered through the sights and squeezed the trigger.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Fool's Errand

The frequent government drives to discourage the proliferation of so called "loose" firearms in Mindanao and all over the country are always more about talk and sloganeering rather than accomplishing anything else more substantial. One such program implemented in Lianga not too long ago amply illustrates this point.

Some time ago, the police chief of Lianga came by the house as part of a series of police operations designed to encourage town residents to legalize their ownership of unlicensed firearms. Those not interested to do so were asked to surrender to police custody any unregistered guns and ammunition under an amnesty program that supposedly provided for immunity from legal prosecution for the illegal possession of such contraband items.

He might as well have tried pissing against the wind or banging his head on a brick wall. No one in town in his right mind would even consider surrendering a loose or unlicensed firearm even if he had one. And chances are, almost everyone there has one or even several tucked away somewhere.

For most Lianga residents, the male of the species in particular, as it is for most Filipinos, the mystical allure of the gun is strong and is deeply rooted in the cultural machismo which lies at the heart of how he basically views his status in his society and community. The man with the gun is not only a man to be feared, he is also a man of respect and prestige, someone who can thus adequately protect his family and possessions from all manner of aggression and attack.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Senseless War

The recent violent encounters between government soldiers and New People's Army rebels in Lingig town, south of Lianga and near the southern tip of Surigao del Sur is another harsh reminder of how serious a threat to national security and the local peace and order situation the communist insurgency remains. The clashes have intensified despite reassurances from the government and the Philippine armed forces that the more than three decade old revolutionary movement is a spent force and is now supposedly on the wane.

I have lived in Lianga continuously for more than a decade now and today the reality of the situation on the ground there is as clear as it is emphatic. The Maoist insurgency there today may not be as strong and potent as it was in the 1980's and early 1990's when it was on the verge of virtually challenging the duly constituted government for control of many major barangays or villages in the countryside but it remains a clear and constant security threat for the local government and, consequently, all local police and military forces.

This resiliency can be attributed to several factors.

First, the numerous offensive operations conducted by government forces against rebel strongholds over the years have not only been halfhearted and sporadic in nature but they have not been able to address the social, economic and political roots and causes of the insurgency itself. The so called "clearing" operations have done little except to cause untold hardships and grave losses in terms of the lives and properties of the very people in the so called "rebel-influenced" areas that were supposed to be the target of liberation from communist control. Thus such operations only serve to fuel the very insurgency it is seeking so desperately to suppress.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Prayers On Beads

My parents tried their very best to raise me to be a devout Catholic especially my mother who inherited much of her staunch Catholicism from her own parents. My Lola Dingding, my mother's mother, was a diminutive woman, seemingly frail and delicate yet had a personality as strong and as dominant as the insurmountable religious faith that was the bedrock of her very existence.

When I was a young boy, my siblings and I treasured her visits to Lianga where, after dispensing generous rations of hugs and kisses, she would quickly make sure that all of us young ones where up to date on our religious obligations while at the same time dispensing timely and homey nuggets of spiritual advice to those she felt was lagging behind in their religious and spiritual growth. That was a task she took very seriously and something we all accepted with alacrity because we loved her dearly.

To think of even arguing or debating with her was not only absurd but simply out of the question. One simply does not quibble in the face of a personal faith that seemed capable of not only moving mountains but, more worriedly, seemingly able to bring down the wrath of the Almighty upon those who would dare disbelieve or worse, mock such a faith.

But it was when she took out her rosary beads and novena booklets when she was at her most formidable. I, like all of her grandchildren, always dreaded the moments when she would call all of us out to join her in praying the rosary. It did not matter whether it was early morning, late afternoon or before bedtime. Praying the rosary with Lola Dingding was more than an act or test of faith, it was, in our rather limited view then, refined torture of the most subtle, insidious kind.

Monday, September 29, 2008

House Of Dreams

In the 1950's, Jose, an up and coming landowner in Barangay Salvacion near the town of San Agustin just 20 or so kilometers north of Lianga began plans to build his dream house. It was not just going to be any other house. It was going to be a flamboyant statement, a visible declaration of his growing wealth and status in the small community. It was going to be, by local standards, a feudal castle, a monumental structure although crafted not of stone and mortar but of fine wood and concrete yet imposingly grand and immensely pretentious just the same.

The structure that emerged can be described as eclectic at best, a hodgepodge of styles and designs. Hemmed in and squeezed into a small lot, the landowner had decided to build upwards, aiming to create an illusion of space and bulk. The house was to tower over all over not only all the surrounding dwellings but will be the tallest in the whole barrio. To ensure this, a third story tower-like structure was constructed and from its windows one could survey much of the whole village as a lord would from his manor.

There were those who said that Jose was merely giving form and substance to an ego that was as ruthless, ambitious and monumental as the house he was building. But the landowner was not fazed by such negative comments which he dismissed as merely motivated by envy and jealousy at man who was already making his mark in their small society.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Lianga's Street Kings

When tricycads first appeared in Lianga almost a decade ago, they were simply bicycles strapped to sidecars that could seat two persons. They were the town's first form of public conveyance and quickly caught on with the local folks. The sight of local residents riding sedately along the streets on three-wheeled vehicles powered by the frantically pedaling legs of tricycad drivers became a familiar part of the local scenery.

In the local parlance, the term "tricycad" is a combination of two words, the "tri-" from the English word "tricycle" and "cycad" from the Bisaya word "sikad" meaning to kick or pedal.

Creative and enterprising souls soon began experimenting with putting small, lightweight, two-stroke, gasoline engines in the back of the sidecars and connecting them by drive belts and wheel pulleys to the rear wheel of the bicycle. Presto! The motorized tricycad was born and soon replaced their smaller and slower, human powered predecessors.

Bigger and more powerful versions with improvised gearbox transmissions soon came out and it became commonplace to see these souped up models rattling along the dusty roads of the Lianga countryside and transporting people and light cargo between the barrios and the town center. Some tricycads have even evolved into multi-seater models that can accommodate six or more people with ease and could be mistaken for a small jeepney from the distance where it not for the basic tricycle configuration.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Faded Glory

It was billed as a one day training seminar for paralegals. I was then a young and impressionable 18 year old political science student thinking of a career in the legal profession so the invitation to attend the seminar for no expense whatsoever seemed too good to be true. It was.

So a couple of days later, on one hot day in the middle of July in 1982, in a residential house in one of the suburbs of Cebu City, I and a couple of other university students got our first glimpse into the secretive, shadowy world of the Philippine's revolutionary left. When we left for home a few hours later, I felt like Alice stepping through the looking glass. Familiar things were suddenly different, once cherished beliefs now questioned. It was the beginning of my "re-education."

In the years that followed I flirted with the underground left and was intensely involved in the fervent student activism seething in the university and college campuses all over the country while the nation almost ripped itself apart in its struggle to rid itself of almost two decades of the Marcos dictatorship. The voice and ideology of the left was at the vanguard of the protest movement and I was one among thousands who "believed" and who were not afraid or hesitant to shout and advertise the fact.

Even those among us who were uncomfortable with the idea and reality of armed revolution saw and accepted it as an inevitable consequence of a society groping for quick answers and solutions to decades, if not centuries, of repression and oppression. It was viewed then as a distasteful yet necessary part of the overall strategy to achieve progressive change.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

On Top

From the time I was very young I always knew that I had an innate fear of heights. It was, however, acrophobia of the moderate kind. I did not have the paralyzing panic of true acrophobics but put me on top of a tall building and make me peer over the side and I do tend get a bit weak-kneed and rather dizzy.

It was the same with climbing trees but only on a smaller scale. As a young lad I climbed trees with my brothers and childhood friends but I did not have the true agility and daredevil recklessness that separated the true climbers from the earthbound types like me who were more comfortable with both feet on solid ground instead of desperately scrambling for a foothold on a slippery tree trunk.

So when on one bright summer day many years ago the whole family decided to go out on an impromptu expedition to climb the old light tower on a small isolated and rocky outcrop just beyond the Lianga shoreline, I had second thoughts about going along. But youthful bravado knows no limits and go along I eventually did.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Winging It

Recently I got the chance to travel to Manila again and did so by air via Butuan City in Agusan del Norte. Butuan is some 120 kilometers west of Lianga and is the regional center for Region XIII or the Caraga Region to which the town of Lianga and its province of Surigao del Sur belong. Going to Butuan from my hometown takes over just 2 hours using major sections of the so called Pan-Philippine Highway which stretches from Davao City in the southeastern Mindanao to the northern cities of Butuan and Surigao.

While sitting in the pre-departure lounge of the Butuan Domestic Airport almost a week ago, I had the chance to reflect once more on how the open skies policy, competing airline companies and the resulting competitive airline fares have changed the way Filipinos particularly in Mindanao travel long distances across the length and breadth of this country.

When I was a young man, the abilty to hop on a plane and be in Cebu or Manila in just an hour or so was synonymous with a fat wallet and and equally loaded bank account. While walking across the tarmac to board the waiting planes, one touched elbows with the relatively affluent members of Philippine society, those who can afford to write off the then prohibitive air fares on a regular basis.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Feedback

Some readers of this blog have been sending queries through their comments to various blog posts and also via e-mail. I thought it might be only a good time to try to address and answer at least some of their questions.

A. V. asks, "Since you posted a while back the dire state of Lianga's roads, has there been any improvement made under Cong. Philip's one-year in the office?

Obviously, A. V. here is referring to Rep. Philip Pichay who replaced his brother, former congressman and defeated senatorial candidate Prospero "Butch' Pichay as the congressional representative for the first district of Surigao del Sur. Lianga, with its famous (or infamous) dirt roads is part of the congressman's domain, the same roads incidentally which Pichay critics superciliously cite as one of the campaign side issues that help derail the lavishly funded Pichay campaign to wrest a seat in the Philippine Senate in the 2007 national elections.

In fairness, the first year of Philip Pichay's term has seen the first concrete proof (pardon the pun!) of a serious government effort to modernize the highway and road system in the Lianga area. As we speak, the road sections along the Lianga-San Agustin area are being paved with concrete as part of the overall Surigao-Davao coastal road improvement program. And if rumors are to be believed, the concreting of the Lianga-Barobo road section will soon follow as promised by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo during her recent visit to this province.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Lianga In My Mind

A reader of this blog recently sent me an e-mail that had me thinking. He wrote, "I too come from a small town in Mindanao just like Lianga but live and work now in the United States. I often get desperately homesick and start making plans to return home and visit my hometown. But the pressures of work and the need to provide financial security for my family keep getting in the way of that homecoming. I keep postponing the trip year after year and now wonder if I can really get home before my hometown has changed so much that I will not recognize it anymore."

For people with roots in small, rural towns like Lianga, the need to occasionally to go back home and reconnect with the past is strong. It is is a deep, emotional need that goes far beyond mere nostalgia but has more to do with one's search for one's place and identity in the world.

As life goes on and people grow, change and mature, they begin to realize that for change to be comprehensible, it must be traced to its clear beginnings. The need, therefore, to "rediscover" one's "roots" is simply part of the process of self-discovery. To know, understand and accept the person one has become, one has first to know where it all began.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Primeval

Of all the resort beaches in Lianga, the stretch of white sand and thundering surf in Sitio Lawis near Barangay Banahao just a kilometer or so north of Lianga is probably the least known to outsiders and, in fact, has been opened to the use of the public only recently. But for many natives of Lianga like myself, it has been a favorite haunt for decades and has its own particular allure.

Pugad Beach on the other side of town is the best known weekend destination for holidaymakers and beach lovers from all over this part of Mindanao. It has has been that for more than a decade now and it shows when you go there.

Pugad's beaches have already a cowed, subdued air about them, the once dazzlingly white expanse of fine sand seemingly stained now a light grey by the churning of countless feet over the years, the helter-skelter outlines of the profusion of beach cottages along the entire shoreline masking the once tranquil and languorous quality of the same beaches I used to walk and play on as a young lad.

Nowadays it's our own version of Boracay except it is not, in any way or by any stretch of imagination, as grand or as expensive. But the crush of people on weekends, the din of loud music and unrestrained merriment, the sense of constant and frenetic movement are the same albeit on a much smaller scale.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Eyesore

I thought I had seen the last of political billboards and advertisements months ago. After all, it has been a year since the 2007 local and national polls and it is still almost two years to the next elections.

Surely even our own local politicians have the grace and the delicadeza to give the politicking a rest and concentrate instead, at least for the next year or so, on doing the work they are supposed to be doing for the electorate that had put them in office.

Well, it appears that I have given our politicos here too much credit. For as these pictures will show, they apparently have no qualms at finding any opportunity, even if it is in obvious bad taste, to engage in vacuous political grandstanding and propaganda even if under the guise of public information and education.

One wonders why the people of the province have to regularly endure the sight of the larger than life images of their provincial officials, perfectly coiffed and with arms joined, raised and linked in victory when I am sure they would rather be happier to see them working behind their desks or going about the province and attending to the needs of their constituents. That would be the best political advertisement of them all, wouldn't it?

Sunday, August 31, 2008

No Water Boy Is He

Friends called me up yesterday to give me the heads up. Our common friend, Prospero "Butch" Pichay Jr., the former Surigao del Sur congressman, apparently was in the news again after almost a year in hibernation for balking at a presidential appointment to head the board of the Local Water Utilities Administration. The LWUA is the government lending institution created to promote and oversee the development of waterworks systems in the provinces all over the country.

The appointment is actually part of the country's political spoils system where supporters of the current political party in power are given cushy and lucrative government positions as rewards for service and loyalty to the party and the President. In the case of Pichay, it was also, in one sense, a consolation prize for being one of the more than a few administration stalwarts who ran for the Senate in the 2007 national elections and dismally lost despite being reputedly one of the biggest spenders for political advertisements in that election's senate race.

Pichay was supposedly set to join fellow losing senatorial candidates Vicente Sotto who was recently tapped to head the Dangerous Drugs Board, Michael Defensor who got appointed chairman of the Presidential Task Force on the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 3 and Ralph Recto who is now director-general of the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA). All had to wait for the lapse of the one year prohibition on the appointment of losing candidates to government positions before they could reenter public service.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Signs Of The Times

It is, in many ways, an encouraging sight and clear proof that Lianga residents are finally waking up and taking advantage of the still relatively untapped economic possibilities of ecotourism in their area. It is a small beginning but, as they say, big trees grow from small acorns and this is one development, properly encouraged and directed, that could have enormous potential for becoming something really economically significant for Lianga.

Ever since Lianga tasted prosperity and progress by riding on the coattails of the local logging industry in the 1950's and 60's, it has always seen itself as an emerging industrial town and urban trading center in its part of the province of Surigao del Sur. The last two decades of the last century made the town see the folly of such ambitions as the Lianga Bay Logging Company gradually ceased operations and Lianga began facing economic decline and hardship.

With its fishing industry also in the doldrums because of rampant overfishing and abuse of the local marine ecosystem, it became clear that the town had to reinvent itself and find new ways to stimulate the local economy and bring in revenue from the outside. Only then did many local folks begin to realize that the natural beauty of Lianga's coastal beaches and shores could be a major key to that goal.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Déjà Vu

There is nothing more distressing to my mother and those belonging to her generation than the sight on the television screen of scenes of whole families, men, women and children burdened by personal belongings and fleeing their homes because of war and violent conflict. To others, the pictures and video images may just be ordinary news footage and nothing more. For her and many of the folks here in Lianga, they are painful reminders of similar experiences that have happened to them in the past, like memories seared into their collective consciousness.

Lianga is an old town that happens to be located in an area with a contemporary history replete with episodes of war and violent confrontations between armed groups. As such its streets and public places have been, in the past, battlegrounds where opposing forces fought bloody battles for dominance while the town's hapless citizens cowered behind locked, barricaded doors and windows while the sound of gunfire echoed all over. During such times in its history, many local residents also had recourse to take refuge in the countryside with relatives and friends willing to take them in until it was safe to return to their abandoned homes.

During the early 1970's, for example, two well-armed, politically well-connected local warlords fought for control of wharf and stevedore operations in Barangay Diatagon just 9 kilometers north of Lianga during the height of logging operations in the Lianga area. The dispute erupted into a full-blown war for political and economic dominance as armed goons from both groups fought pitched battles in the town streets and open spaces. The war extended to the coastal sea when gunmen partial to both sides shot at each other while on board small motorized boats and small ships.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Final Solution

It was late afternoonn and Lianga's parliament of the streets was again in session. The hot topic was the recent attacks on some towns and villages made by the Moro National Liberation Front (MILF) in North Cotabato and the on-going military operations being conducted by government forces against them.

"There is only one solution to the Muslim problem in Mindanao," a would-be people's representative declared firmly, feeling his oats. "They must be taught a lesson they will understand. Total war against them is the answer. Enough is enough." A murmur of assent came from all around.

"Muslims cannot be trusted," added another regular pseudo-parliamentarian, forefinger up in the air to make his point. "You may think you are negotiating with them for peace but all they want is time to build up their forces to finish all of us off. It's either them or us. Enough talking and negotiating with them. War is what they can only understand so let's give it to them."

A bystander with a a balding crew cut was even more forthright. "The government is pussyfooting again with the MILF," he said. "That is why they despise us. The government is weak. Unleash the army and let the air force bomb all Muslims until they either submit or are totally destroyed. That is the only way."

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Remembering Ninoy

In 1983, I was a young university student in Cebu dabbling in student activism in a time when being "radical" was fashionable and being labeled "leftist" was a badge of honor. Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos were still desperately clinging to power after almost 20 years of a conjugal dictatorship and as unrest and discontent spread across the land, the youth in the universities and colleges in the cities became the vanguard of a growing, increasingly strident clamor for democratic change.

I had already been in more than a few rallies and demonstrations in Cebu City and had gotten my name in a few student watch lists. But like so many of the confused young men and women of that turbulent time, my idealism was raw, my political ideology unsure and I was in the protest movement because it was the exciting and adventurous "in" thing to be associated with. To play at revolution and flirt a bit with the radical left was heady wine for many in the academe who saw the leftist forces as offering the only viable alternative to a political system crushed, corrupted and stagnated by almost two decades of authoritarian rule.

That we were aware that the things we were engaged in was dangerous for us was clear. The Marcos dictatorship's deplorable record in the field of human rights was public fact. But the irrepressible idealism of the youth is often accompanied by a false sense of invincibility. It was just, in many ways, a game we played, a pesky David trying to get the measure of Goliath. There was no way we could possibly win but there was glamor and excitement in the act of trying.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Walking Away

He would have been 78 years old last August 14 and few ever doubted that he would live that long. After all he came from hardy, peasant stock, men and women hardened and toughened by the rich soil that they tilled all their lives. His father lived to be 93 and his mother to the ripe age of 84, so who would have thought that he would die at the relatively young age of 66?

If there was one thing my father feared, and he was essentially a man of few fears and doubts, it was the possibility of being struck down by any illness that would lay him low and helpless, a veritable vegetable who would have to be taken cared of - a financial, emotional and physical burden for his his family to carry and endure. He would recoil at the very thought and time and time again he would aver that he would die a quick, peaceful death and that everyone he loved would be spared the agony of seeing him leave this world.

He was also a man capable of quick decisions. He believed in doing what he believed to be right quickly, wholeheartedly and with the minimum of fuss. As such, he was always on the go, a man seemingly always in a hurry and moving as if the normal pace of life was too slow for him.

As a physician he worked quickly and briskly, his diagnoses as intuitive as they are based on common sense and a keen, observant eye. As a surgeon, he wielded the scalpel with speed and precision, often pulling off surgical miracles where lesser doctors have given up all hope.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Fiesta Day

August 15 started out cloudy and drizzly but ended up hot and muggy like the previous days. It was not perfect but it was a good day to have a town fiesta and Lianga, true to form, went through the proper motions of doing justice to this annual celebration.

I was up early to survey the festivities and as the day progressed instead of getting caught up in the fiesta spirit, I ended up wondering, as I am sure many other residents did, what the hype and hullabaloo was really all about. Or was I just merely being overly cynical about the whole thing.

Of course, the 15th was essentially just the culmination of several days of cultural and religious activities and programs. The previous day, the traditional parade had already taken place complete with marching bands and street dances. The night before, there had been a musical concert at the municipal park and a live band was scheduled to do a gig at the municipal gymnasium that night. The local folk had also done their best, despite the uncertain economic times and leaner pantries, to prepare their homes and banquet tables for the anticipated horde of guests and hangers-on on fiesta day.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Surfeit Of Faiths

Because the Catholic parish church in Lianga is one of its largest, most imposing public structures and just because the majority of the the local folk are Roman Catholics, many visitors to this town often have the wrong impression that it is a one religion town and that other Christian denominations and other religious faiths have no place here. On the contrary, Lianga society is a hodgepodge of religions and nowadays other faiths, Christian or otherwise, have made significant inroads into what its residents would like to think was, just a decade or so ago, fiercely Catholic country.

On the southwestern edge of the town, the visibly grandiose chapel building of the Iglesia Ni Cristo with its trademarked, narrow-pointed spires proclaims this religious organization's presence and growing religious, political influence. The INC has a significant number of followers in the Lianga area and their willingness to parlay and use that influence by voting as a solid block during elections makes them one of those religious institutions whose approval and support can make a difference in the fortunes of local political candidates making a run for public office.

The more mainstream Protestant Christian faiths as well as the so called "born-again" non-denominational Christian groups may not be as showy or militantly evangelical but their adherents constitute a large part of Lianga's non-Catholic population. Baptists, Lutherans, Adventists, Pentecostals, Jehovah's Witnesses and their like are all well represented in Lianga society and many of their members belong to the town's more prominent families. Most of them also have chapels and places of worship within the town proper.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

In Memoriam

When I first met him in the 1980's I did not know what to expect. At that time my contact with Americans was largely limited to either gruff, academic types such as exchange students and professors in Cebu City's universities or the occasional rowdy, ebullient serviceman going around that city's tourist destinations. He turned out, to my eternal surprise and delight, to be, well, more Pinoy than most Filipinos I know.

My Auntie Meming, who was my father's favorite first cousin, was part of the wave of Filipino nurses who left this country for the United States in the early 1960's. There she met and married Richard Sowney. They settled down in Philadelphia and eventually had two daughters. Auntie Meming is a vivacious, fast-talking, outspoken, spirited lady while Uncle Dick was, as I knew him, more restrained and deliberate yet a thoroughly affable, mild mannered and likable guy. How they meshed together and managed to keep their marriage solid inspite of the differences in their personalities through the decades has always intrigued me.

Perhaps it was Uncle Dick's deep Irish roots that made the difference. Like most Filipinos, he was a devout Catholic with a deep and abiding respect and devotion for the family. He did not have any difficulty understanding the strong, sentimental ties that bind extended families and their relatives in the Philippines together. It was, in many ways, also an integral part of his own similar cultural milieu.

So after he came here in the 1980's for the first of several visits, I gradually got to know and like him. How can one not develop affection and deep respect for someone who although of a different race and nationality, was so thoroughly comfortable and at ease with a culture not his own; one who accepted new experiences with grace and humility, and who genuinely like people and liked people to like him.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Gearing Up

Near the municipal park, a man is sawing lengths of wooden sticks and hammering them into supports for the canvas awning of his temporary market stall. Nearby, another vendor is laying out his merchandise (kitchenware and household goods) on low tables while his companions unloaded sacks and bundles of more display goods from a small truck.

In the park itself, the concrete benches, iron railings and community stage all look spiffy and sport brand new coats of paint. Even Jose Rizal on his pedestal had a makeover although upon closer examination, I get the notion that he may be a bit nonplussed and uncomfortable to see his coat painted the same shade of brown as the concrete support for the benches around and below him. Poor guy. Obviously someone at the municipal hall was, as usual, trying to cut paint costs at his expense.

On the national highway just beyond the park, a group of municipal employees atop a ladder propped on a truck is fixing a broken streetlight while farther up the road, other workers complete their work on one of the two traditional decorative arches that greet visitors as they enter the town. The other arch on the other side of town remains incomplete, its two unconnected pillars looking forlorn and abandoned on the sides of the road.