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


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


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.