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


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.