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


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


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


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?