Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Vice-Mayor Jun Lala recently voiced his concern about the negative consequences of a recent order from higher police headquarters directing Lianga policemen to return to government custody their issued M-16 automatic rifles and prohibiting them from using such type of firearms in the near future. The understanding is that the weaponry of local police forces shall, henceforth, be restricted to pistol sidearms and, in some cases, shotguns like many of their counterparts in other countries like the United States.

Automatic rifles and other high-powered weapons shall eventually be reserved for the use of special police and the military units only.

If I remember correctly, this government policy has already been in place for some time now but for some reason, the actual implementation has been somehow rather halfhearted and inconsistent. Perhaps many police personnel in the field feel rather naked and vulnerable without their trusty Armalite rifles have been resisting full implementation of the directive until now.

Such feelings are maybe understandable in the case of towns like Lianga which is located in the heart of an area where the Communist insurgency is alive and kicking and where police forces are often at the mercy of well-armed guerrilla insurgents who occasionally ambush them when they are on the move or conduct raids and attacks on municipal halls and other government installations.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


One day they are nowhere and the next day they are there, quickly appearing like mushrooms and toadstools abruptly and jarringly after the coolness of a single night. Lianga's town fiesta on August 15 may still be weeks away but their sudden yet ubiquitous presence is a clear and accepted harbinger of the festivities to come, a necessary and expected prelude to the celebrations that mark the high point of the town's annual calendar.

I refer here, of course, to the itinerant or wandering traders and vendors whose makeshift stalls and stores are an integral part of the festival scenery of town and barrio fiestas anywhere in the Philippines.

In Lianga, these wandering merchants have been allowed to put up their stalls along the sides of the public market plaza, the reclamation area behind the public market, and certain sections of main town streets. There under canvas awnings, they set up shop and display a dazzling array of goods ranging from garden and hardware tools, kitchenware, mobile phone accessories, children's toys and knickknacks, men's and women's accessories, and all other manner of items and curios that might catch anyone's and everyone's fancy.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A Real Joe

Mark is an American national who happens to be married to Merejen, a local girl from Barangay St. Christine just 9 kilometers north of Lianga. For regular readers of this blog, he is a familiar name because of the well-written, thought provoking and often impassioned comments he has managed to append to many of its published posts.

In the 15 or so years I have lived in Lianga, I have had the opportunity to meet more than a few foreigners who have made the choice to live in, or at least visit for an extended period, this rather remote and secluded part of the world. Some of them have become friends and acquaintances over the years.

But few of them are of Mark's breed and share his outlook lin life. Most foreigners with Filipino wives have been content to settle in the Lianga area for the simple reason that it makes sound economic sense to live in a part of the world where a depressed local economy can enable a foreign visitor or retiree living on a pension of dollars or euros to live a life of comfort and moderate luxury in what amounts to a tropical paradise. Exactly the kind of life they probably could not afford or even dream of back home.

But Mark, and a few others like him, have made it a point or even a fetish, if you will, of making positive changes in the communities they have become a part of by undertaking programs and projects (often at their own expense) designed to uplift the living conditions and economic welfare of local residents. It is this desire and unselfish commitment to help the local people help themselves that distinguishes these special Joes from the rest who often belong to the scum and flotsam of foreign cultures and who have managed to our great misfortune, make their way to these shores.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Wading In

Lianga is a coastal town directly facing the Pacific Ocean on the eastern edge of the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines. But when it's low tide and you are standing on the seawall that now marks the boundary between the town land and the coastal sea, you do not see the blue-green waters of the ocean but the wide expanse of the tidal marshland uncovered by the receding tide.

Except for a single, relatively deep channel used by motorized boats to gain access to their docks on the town's shoreline, much of Lianga's coast is a wide expanse of rocky and marshy flat lands at low tide that extend almost uniformly a kilometer seaward. It ends in a sudden break like a cliff that falls suddenly into the depths of turbulent waters and frothing surf forming a shallow, reef-like barrier that shields much of the town from the thundering waves of the ocean sea.

When I was young boy, much of the summer days I spent in Lianga was used up exploring this fascinating transition zone between land and water. My siblings and I together with friends and playmates would spend hours skinny-dipping amidst the sea grass, rock flats and tidal pools underneath the blazing heat of the afternoon sun, searching for exotic sea creatures to load into plastic pails we lugged with us. Edible or not, animal or plant, it did not matter. It was just a fun, exciting way to spend much of the day.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Incident At Ganayon

Yesterday morning, several armed men stopped and robbed two delivery trucks loaded with a variety of consumer goods in Barangay Ganayon just less than four kilometers north of Lianga. According to preliminary reports, the highwaymen made off with at least P30,000 and several cellular phones taken from the truck drivers and delivery men.

Highway robberies in the Lianga area are not exactly commonplace, so when they do happen they are front page news and do cause a lot of anxiety especially for local businesses and travelers who have become used to and largely dependent on the safe and unhampered access to transportation on the local roads and highways.

I have lived continuously in this town for over a decade now and have traveled regularly and extensively both on private vehicles and public transport throughout the Lianga area. In most cases I have done all that with relative peace of mind and with little fear of being accosted by nefarious criminals with armed robbery in mind. In the past, one might fear more the possibility of being caught suddenly in the middle of a violent encounter between government soldiers and communist insurgents than becoming a victim of a highway holdup. But that was only during the heyday of the Maoist insurgency more than a decade ago and certainly no major cause of concern today.

Occasionally, like a couple of years ago, a spate of highway robberies did occur not only in Lianga but in some of the other nearby towns like San Agustin which is only 26 or so kilometers farther north. The culprits were usually local criminals who have ran out of more safer and lucrative means of raising money and have turned to armed robbery in desperation. In some cases, more experienced criminal gangs from the cities, hiding from police pursuit in the countryside, have engaged occasionally in a highway heist or two but such incidents are more the exception than the general rule.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Neither Here Nor There

I have noticed that the recent appointment of Raymundo Moreno to fill the vacant seat in the Lianga municipal council has become a rather controversial topic among the circles of the town's political elite.

To recall, the unfortunate demise of Vicente Pedrozo, who until several months ago was municipal mayor of Lianga, has elevated then Vice-Mayor Roy Sarmen to the position of mayor while Jun Lala, who was the top ranking member of the muncipal council, assumed the vice-mayoralty and leadership of that august body. This operation of the rules of succession has left one seat on the council open which by law has to be filled through appointment by Gov. Vicente Pimentel in his capacity as the provincial governor of Surigao del Sur.

The members of the council had recommended the appointment of one of the daughters of the deceased mayor to that body. Apparently, there is historical precedence in the practice of allowing an immediate family member to essentially inherit the position of a local legislator who dies while serving in office. The reason usually cited is one of humanitarian compassion where the family of the deceased politician will, at least, be able to continually receive the benefits and privileges of the office to which their departed member had been elected to.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


While I was finishing up my last addition to this blog, I suddenly realized that I was about to publish my 200th post. Two hundred posts! What do you know? Has it really been that many already?

When I first published the first post to this blog on August 8, 2006, it was meant to be an experiment, a tentative foray into the world of internet blogging. I never thought that anybody would be interested in a blog about what life was like in a remote and presumably insignificant town in one forgotten corner of the Philippines.

As I added more and more posts in the almost two years since, the blog has, however, taken a life of its own. I began getting e-mails, comments and queries. That is something I never expected and in many ways I am humbled but also flattered and heartened by the feedback from readers all over.

I guess Lianga is both a place and an idea that has a variety of connotations to different people, even those who have actually visited it or have lived there.

For those who are attuned to the fast, hectic and cosmopolitan urban lifestyle, it is simply a place on the edge of nowhere where nothing really happens. A dull, dull place (except for the beaches and the sea food!), lacking malls, movie houses and even the semblance of a night life. A limbo where life is steeped in the constricting, cultural traditions of a bygone and obsolete era.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Fish Hungry

If there is one thing even outsiders associate with Lianga, it is fish of all kinds, including all manner of seafood like crabs, shrimp and lobsters - the fresh and still wriggling varieties of tasty bounty from the sea that is imbued with that delicate flavor unique to edible marine life harvested from its coastal seas. Ask any seafood connoisseur who has sampled the town's sea fare and he will tell you that its seafood is superior in taste and quality to that harvested from other parts of Mindanao.

Even today when I visit friends in other places, they always tell me that they envy the fact that I live in Lianga. Imagine all that lovely, fresh fish and fat crabs, they would exclaim. And the scrumptious shrimps too.

Well, they would be surprised to know that getting first class fish to one's table in Lianga nowadays is not exactly as easy as they think it is. Getting the chance or opportunity to feast on premium crab, lobster and shrimp is even harder still.

Lianga, as a coastal community, is lucky to be located just right at the heart of the bay that bears its name. This bay is an extremely diverse marine ecosystem that has provided, for countless decades, more than ample food and livelihoods for fishermen in the coastal communities that line its shores. Many of these communities, in fact, came to be because of the rich fishing grounds that abound in the area.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Crunch Time

If there are two people in the rough and tumble world of Lianga politics who, because of recent and unforeseen developments, have much to think about, it is Roy Sarmen and Jun Lala. When both were swept to power under the ticket of then Mayor Vicente Pedrozo in the aftermath of the May, 2007 local polls, it was as vice-mayor and first councilor respectively and both were prepared to bide their time, learn the ropes, and essentially sit by the sidelines as Pedrozo assumed the leadership and control of the town government.

But just over a year after they assumed office, illness has tragically struck down Lianga's chief executive and just a month ago, by virtue of succession under the law, both were suddenly thrust into the local political limelight and now occupy the two top positions in the municipal government. The question, of course, in every one's mind here is if both of these young politicians are up to the heavy responsibilities that fate has fortunately or unfortunately (depending on one's perspective) dropped prematurely on their unsuspecting laps.

Roy Sarmen, fortunately, is no political neophyte. Although only in his forties, he not only comes from a family with a lineage steeped in politics (his father served Lianga as municpal mayor for several terms) but he himself has been in public service for some time already. A former barangay captain, municipal councilor and provincial board member, he certainly is not new to government service and does not suffer from any lack of political experience or savvy.

If there is one thing that counts against him, it is not the lack of experience but the perception, perhaps unfairly, that he does not possess the strong leadership skills, strategic vision and firm decisiveness needed to survive and do well in the challenging position of mayor of Lianga. This is an image problem that he needs to overcome as he struggles to find his place in a political administration seeking direction while caught in the midst of a critical transition in leadership.