Saturday, December 19, 2009

Ho-Hum

The office of the local election officer in Lianga recently released the list of candidates who filed their certificates of candidacy for local positions in the May 2010 general elections. All of them had managed to file their COC's before the deadline which expired at midnight last December 1 and will, unless disqualified by the Commission on Elections, be eligible to run in the coming local polls.

Except for one or two minor surprises, the public response to the names on the list was decidedly lukewarm and matter-0f-fact at best. The list was just as the local folks had expected it to be, nothing more and nothing less. Ho-hum.

Incumbent municipal mayor, Roy Hegino Sarmen will be slugging it out, one on one, with Felino Pantaleon Jr who is a veteran of Lianga politics. Pantaleon has been a fixture in local politics for decades and has served several terms as mayor of Lianga himself in the past. Sarmen, while considerably younger than his opponent, is no political neophyte either. He has been a barangay captain, a municipal councilor and has served one term as a provincial board member representing the federation of barangay captains all over the province.

Sarmen actually won election as vice-mayor in 2007 and only took over as the town's chief executive when Mayor Vicente "Belos" Predrozo passed away after a sudden illness last year. He will be heading the Lakas-Kampi-CMD municipal ticket while Pantaleon will be carrying the banner (or torch, if you will) of the Liberal Party.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Magkono

Mention the name Xanthostemon verdugonianus Naves to avid collectors of fine wood decorative pieces and top quality wooden furniture and you are certainly going to get more than your fair share of interest. The latter, of course, is simply the scientific name for the Magkono tree and the source of the extremely dense, heavy, dark-hued and now very rare species of Philippine hardwood that only a few places in the Philippines, Lianga included, is known to produce.

Wood from the Magkono tree is often called "ironwood" for its reputation as the hardest of the Philippine hardwoods. It is so hard that cutting down a mature tree of the species can take two or three days when a similar sized tree of another type can take just two to three hours. Most modern loggers use diamond-point saws to slice through Magkono trunks to speed up the process but copious amounts of water are often needed to aid lubrication and prevent excessive heat generation during the cutting.

In the past, this hardwood species was highly valued for its extreme durability and density. Old steamships used Magkono wood bushings for their propeller shafts. It was made into tool handles, rollers, shears, poles and piles for wharfs and bridges, and,not surprisngly, for bowling balls before the advent of modern plastics and resins.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Bogeyman

As midnight of last December 1 drew to a close together with the deadline for the filing of certificates of candidacy for next year's local and national elections, the person almost everybody who is anybody in Surigao del Sur politics was either anxiously dreading or eagerly anticipating would file his COC (depending on which side of the political divide one was) was most assuredly nowhere to be seen. As in the last two previous local polls, Dr. Primo Murillo was again a disappointing no-show.

Yet until the very last minute, there were those at the provincial offices of the Commission on Elections in Tandag who waited in trepidation for the man to suddenly and magically appear and then formally join the list of hopefuls eager to mix it up in the May 2010 race for provincial positions. This, of course, brings up the big question in my mind.

For someone who has been out of the political limelight for the past nine years or so, why is Primo Murillo still such a big issue especially for the current political powers in the province? Why are rumors of the possibility that he may again be re-entering politics capable of sending shivers of apprehension and causing sleepless nights among those who supposedly have already sewn up total control of the provincial government after almost a decade of being in power?

Primo Murillo's nine years as provincial governor of Surigao del Sur from the early 1990's to 2001 were both remarkable and yet undistinguished depending on how one looks at his political career. Capitalizing on the the popularity of his father, Gregorio Sr., another doctor who was assassinated in 1983 while also a serving provincial governor, he quickly built a personal following that saw him win the governorship and hold on to it for three consecutive terms with landslide victories every time.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Nothing New

With all the media hype and attention currently focused on the so called Maguindanao massacre, it is easy to forget that despite the fact that at least fifty-seven persons lost their lives in that one, single and tragic incident, the merciless slaughter was ordered and carried out not by madmen and deranged individuals who did it merely for the love of killing or for some unexplained or insane blood lust. It was, based on what has been uncovered so far, a political assassination that lead to the mass killing of innocent individuals (all possible and potential witnesses to the original crime) and clearly a rational, planned and calculated act done for the sole purpose of stopping and crushing with one stroke the Mangudadatu's challenge to the political dominance of the Ampatuan clan in that province.

In the dog-eat-dog world of warlord politics in most provinces in Mindanao, dominant political clans enforce their rule over their political fiefdoms by intimidation and force. They will try, of course, to threaten and intimidate would-be opponents but actual and real challenges to their supremacy are inevitably met with violence since that is the most expedient and effective response in a local culture that worships the power of the gun and where private armies maintain and project a political clan's control and dominance over a province or geographical area.

Thus the Manguindanao massacre is singularly significant only in the sense that more than fifty people lost their lives in it. In all other respects, where it not for the number of individuals killed, it would have been merely another bloody footnote in the turbulent political history of this southern part of the country.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

No Let Up

The killing of eight Army troopers and five others including one policeman last November 11 in the vicinity of Lanuza and San Miguel towns in Surigao del Sur has finally given the military and government the excuse to jack up the intensity of its counterinsurgency operations all over the province.

The thirteen causalities were lost in the aftermath of a carefully laid ambush executed by New People's Army guerrillas that saw a landmine explosion hitting a two vehicle convoy sent to reinforce a detachment of armed militiamen assigned to the Surigao Development Corporation (SUDECOR) near Barangay Pakwan also in Lanuza town which had earlier also been attacked by NPA insurgents.

The high cost exacted on the local military forces by the success of the "lure and ambush" tactics employed by the NPA, as evidenced by the recent ambuscade, has shaken the military leadership. As a consequence, reliable sources have revealed that the commanding officers of the 401st Brigade and the 58th Infantry Batallion of the Philippine Army which have operational jurisdiction over the province have been quietly relieved and replaced although nothing formal can be heard yet from the media or from the military high command.

Time and time again in the past, especially in the 1970's and 80's, the armed forces has lost many of their men to the classic NPA guerrilla stratagem whereby rebel forces harass an isolated military outpost and then launch the main attack on hapless troops trying to reinforce their beleaguered companions.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Rained In

In Lianga, local folks are trying to find ways to deal with one of the wettest weeks they had this year. Since last Monday, the weather suddenly turned cold and rainy which seemed for a day or two a welcome change after a short stretch of several hot, sweltering and sunny days. But when one wakes up to overcast skies and wet downpours that never seem to end and this happens day after day for a week or so, even the vaunted charms of long, dreamy, rainy days can wear off very quickly.

As in most small, towns in this part of the world, rainy weather has a damper effect on the tempo of community life. Work schedules are suddenly relaxed and an infectious lethargy descends upon all forms and aspects of human activity. Most people tend to stay at home and travel plans are shelved.

Those with houses along rivers, creeks and flood prone areas start to worry about rising water levels while others vainly try to plug holes in leaking roofs and walls while at the same time blaming themselves for procrastinating on not making essential house repairs and maintenance work during more sunnier and drier times. All worry about long brownouts which tend to be frequent during rainy and windy weather when power lines are most vulnerable to falling trees, flying debris and landslides.

Colds, coughing, asthma and other respiratory illnesses wreck their usual havoc on susceptible local residents who have to endure days of being cooped up together indoors behind closed doors and sealed windows. I, for one, should know. I have been battling a runny nose, clogged sinuses and the occasional fever the past few days.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Portents

It started out as a dull rumble in the distance much like the sound of large trucks zipping by on the nearby highway. Then it resolved itself into the whop-whop-whopping, rhythmic thumping made iconic in countless war movies on television and the movie screen.

The Vietnam War vintage Bell UH-1 Huey helicopter's distinctive rotor sounds may, in another setting, merely be a reason for idle bystanders to rush out of their homes in order to check what the heck in going on. In Lianga, however, the echoing thunder of this vintage aircraft is as familiar as it is foreboding. It is often a warning that war is afoot.

So five days ago, when I caught the sounds and made the sighting of at least two Hueys flying north at a low altitude over the north of the town, I immediately feared for the worst. The news, when it arrived, came in trickles.

A group of New People's Army guerrillas had raided a detachment of armed militiamen and security personnel in Barangay Pakwan near Lanuza town more than a hundred kilometers north of Lianga. The detachment is affiliated with the Surigao Development Corporation (SUDECOR) which is engaged in large-scale logging operations in the northern part of the province of Suurigao del Sur. In the aftermath of the attack, the rebels burned heavy machinery belonging to the firm and even took as temporary hostages some company employees and security personnel.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Luck Of The Draw

As the days passed and the toll in terms of lives lost and property damaged has risen as a result of the series of typhoons that has hit Metro Manila and much of northern Luzon, the residents of Lianga and its surrounding communities have tried to keep up with the latest news and developments in the unfolding tragedy of what is fast becoming one of the worst series of natural calamities to hit this country in recent memory. Taking in what many of them are saying about the disastrous events happening in the north has, inadvertently, become my avocation the past week or so.

"It's the wrath of God," asserts B., a senior member of the Catholic laity. "He has seen our wickedness and has sent in the waters to cleanse the world of evil." "Mark my words," he added with one finger wagging in the air. "It's the bitter lesson of Sodom and Gomorrah once again." His pronouncements, to my surprise, caused some listeners to nod their heads in agreement.

I wondered, knowing the man personally, if he would be brave enough to say the same words aloud in front of the hundreds of families in Metro Manila and Rizal, for example, who had lost not only their homes and valuables but more importantly many of their loved ones in the rampaging floods just a week or so ago. Perhaps it was the fact that he knows that his close relatives in the nation's capital are all safe and unaffected by the onslaught of Ondoy and Peping that has given him the courage and the temerity to be so callously judgmental about the suffering of a multitude of others.

B., a more compassionate colleague, is more circumspect. "We need to pray to the Lord more," he interjects. "We need to pray for faith and strength in these times of trials and challenges. Surely, God in his infinite mercy will come to our aid if we, His children, ask for His help and deliverance."

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Wind Struck

If there is one ailment that always gets the goat of anyone minding my mother's small drugstore in Lianga, the dreaded "panuhot" is definitely at the top of the list.

"Can you please recommend to me a medicine for panuhot?," asks one elderly woman just the other day. She had one of those tattered, wide-brimmed buli hats that marked her as coming from one of the town's more remote, farming villages.

The sales clerk shrugged, suppressed a sigh of exasperation and headed immediately for the section displaying painkillers and muscle relaxants. It's the only thing she can do and has, in fact, been instructed to do. For in the whole of modern Western pharmacopoeia, there is no specific drug cure for a disorder that, as far as modern medicine is concerned, does not officially exist.

The panuhot is considered, in the traditional belief systems of the rural folk, to be the primary cause of a wide variety of symptoms which may include muscular aches and pains, swelling of the affected areas and sometimes fever, general body weakness and malaise. It is explained by practitioners of folk medicine as the negative effects of the entrance of hangin or wind and cold temperatures or bugnaw into specific body tissues or nerves where it accumulates and causes pain and discomfort.

The concept of the panuhot is intrinsically connected to the idea of the piang which like the latter has been known to bedevil rural doctors who have tried to disabuse the rural folk of such persistent traditional beliefs in favor of modern advances in scientific and medical knowledge. The piang (as differentiated from actual bone and skeletal fractures) refers to a supposed "fracture or dislocation" (whatever that means) in body tissues or nerves particularly in the back and chest area and is often cited by rural mothers as the main cause of coughing and other respiratory ailments in their children.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Moths To The Flame

When national television began broadcasting news reports and videos of the massive floods Typhoon Ondoy was causing in Metro Manila and its neighboring provinces last Saturday afternoon and evening, Lianga residents, like their fellow countrymen in the Visayas and the other parts of Mindanao, were caught by surprise and simply aghast at the scenes of wanton destruction and human suffering depicted live and in full color on their television screens.

The genuine outpouring of local sympathy and empathy for the victims of Ondoy's wrath was a consequence not only of the obvious fact that fellow Filipinos were at peril and in harm's way in the north of the country. There is also a more selfish and practical reason.

Lianga, despite the often insular and provincial outlook of its residents, is in reality a rather "cosmopolitan" town. When I borrow that term I generously use it to refer to the fact that there is nary a house or home here that has no immediate member of the family or, at the very least, a close relative who is either studying, living or working elsewhere in the country or outside of it. Metro Manila and its environs happens to be where most of the town's diaspora initially go and where, in most cases, ultimately end up.

It is a town that sadly reflects the national reality, where the restless and productive young are driven, like the proverbial lemmings of Norway facing population and food supply pressures, to leave their homes en masse and seek social advancement or economic and financial security somewhere else. To them Lianga is a dead end, a tropical paradise maybe for the young and the elderly but a stultifying prison for those eager to break free and make their own mark on life.

Monday, September 28, 2009

In With The New

They tore down the old public market building several weeks ago. Local town officials have said that the old building was already too dilapidated and had become structurally unsafe. Not only was it an eyesore already, it had become a public hazard and a veritable firetrap. In truth, it had been all of that for years and it is only now that the town government had finally the means and the will to tear what used to be one of Lianga's iconic landmarks.

In its place will soon rise a modern, multimillion peso, two story concrete building complex that will house not only the new public market and a bus and jeepney terminal but also spaces for commercial and business establishments. Funded by a local government loan, it will be the first major public building project this municipality will have undertaken in almost a decade.

The old public market was constructed in the 1960's. Wood which was plentiful and cheap during the heyday of the local logging industry was chiefly used for most of the structure. The architecture was simple, intuitive and nondescript as was common in the public buildings and even the private homes of that time. More like wooden boxes with corrugated metal sheets for roofing stacked and stringed together in a single line. This was, after all, before ergonomics and modern practical building design had became the norm.

The long, rectangular building with the market in the middle and two adjacent wings on each side used to house a helter-skelter collection of sea food restaurants, general merchandise stores and shops selling fishing and agricultural supplies. It had already, even during its early days, a weathered and ancient look, as if the relentless tropical sun and the constant lashing of the salty sea breezes had scraped and stripped off quickly the original protective paint layers and had prematurely aged then darkened and wrinkled its exposed, delicate wooden skin.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Where Credit Is Due

I was more than a bit bemused by the lively exchange of comments this blog got from readers to the blog post titled "Tangible Progress" wherein I described the positive impact the on-going road modernization program being implemented by the national government in the Lianga area is having on the daily lives of the residents of that town.

What struck me as significant is that much of the discussion (or contention, if you will) in the comments section has focused not on the real or "tangible" effects the massive road infrastructure program will have on the communities that will benefit from it but on the question of who should get the credit for getting the program funded and started in the first place. One should be thinking that if the person (or persons) who are indeed responsible for convincing the national government to bankroll and implement this much needed and anticipated project really deserves recognition for his (or their) efforts, then he (or they) would have no need to crow about it or advertise the fact. The facts (and such facts are always difficult to hide nowadays) would always speak for themselves.

Does Congressman Philip Pichay deserve all the credit for the concrete roads and bridges that will soon connect many of the municipalities of Surigao del Sur, Lianga most of all, whose infamous dirt roads and rickety, wooden bridges used to bedevil and haunt would be travelers in the Caraga region until recently? It happened, after all, during his watch, didn't it?

By the way, the rehabilitation and concreting of the roads particularly around Lianga is part of a larger package of road and highway modernization projects covering much of what is referred to as the Surigao-Davao coastal road system. As such, it would have been impossible not to include Lianga in the program since the national highway does go through the town and, thus, to exclude Lianga for any reason would have essentially emasculated a vital transportation artery that services the entire province of Surigao del Sur and the Caraga region.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Lianga's Port To Nowhere

Some four kilometers southwest of Lianga and right smack in the middle of a long stretch of desolate yet scenic coastline lies a wide expanse of flat and compacted dirt totally enclosed by a perimeter concrete fence. From what was once a rocky seashore, a long, massive, L-shaped concrete pier reaches into deep water like a beckoning finger at the far horizon.

The whole thing, more than P30 million pesos worth of construction (if my figures are right), is what is supposed to be the much anticipated port of Lianga and one of the major infrastructure projects on which the town is hoping to anchor its bid to become one of the more economically progressive municipalities in eastern Mindanao. That is, if someone can figure out what to do with it now that its has been supposedly completed and ready for use.

Until almost the last quarter of the last century, Lianga had always been a major transportation and trading hub in this part of the country. It was a coastal town with excellent harbor facilities for the small, wooden ships of that time and in the absence of an existing road network (which only came into existence in the 1960's), the brisk trade in copra, abacca fiber and rice was done by sea. The intrepid ships and boats of that bygone era carried people and cargo all over eastern Mindanao to as far as the Visayas.

Despite the boom in the local logging industry during the 1950's and 60's, the inter-island shipping industry shifted their attention to the emerging seaport of Nasipit in Agusan del Norte, and the more modern harbors of the cities of Cagayan de Oro in the west, Surigao in the north and Panabo and Davao City in the south. The ships finally stopped coming to Lianga and its small port languished then fell apart from disrepair. By the time I was a small boy in the 1970's, the old pier on the north of the town where the ships used to dock was already a ghostly ruin, a mass of broken and rotting timber noted only for the good fishing that can be had there.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The SmarTalk Scam

It is a basic axiom in consumerism and in the field of consumer rights protection that if a consumer product or service is being offered to the public under terms "too good to be true" then it most probably is.

When I first heard, over a month ago, of the new unlimited calling service (for both pre-paid and post-paid subscriptions) being offered to its customers by Smart Communications Inc., the first thing that came to my mind was that Smart company executives have finally succumbed to a sudden collective fit of conscience after years of fleecing millions of Filipinos who like me who are virtual slaves to their cellphones and have decided to atone for their greed . At last, here was the chance to do away with onerous texting or SMS and finally get used to the luxury of just picking up your mobile phone and talk the hours away with your contacts (wherever they may be in the country) while avoiding penury and destitution at the same time.

The mechanics of the new calling promo was simple enough. Have your prepaid subscription registered by texting TALK100 (P100 for 5 days of unlimited calls) or TALK500 (P500 for 30 days) to 6400. The SmarTalk packages can also be purchased as special pre-paid loads from Smart load retailers. Post-paid subscribers can also register for the service and get the call package costs added to their monthly bills or buy them like pre-paid subscribers also from load retailers.

To make calls under the service, all one had to do was dial *6400 then add the 11 digit mobile Smart or Talk and Text number. The promo was supposed to last until the end of September next month.

When I first availed of the service in early July, I was initially pleasantly surprised with the ease with which one can register for the service and how quickly my calls got connected. Voice quality and clarity were much better than I expected and I felt then that Smart had finally done something good for its customers for a change instead of being constantly accused of stealing pre-paid load credits or overcharging its subscribers.

But as the days passed by I began to notice certain problems with the SmarTalk service. It became increasingly hard for those itching to register their phones to access the 6400 number. Load retailers began reporting similar difficulties registering customers even for the Talk500 package. Then connecting with one's calls using the service became a nightmare as dialed numbers immediately become disconnected or rejected with the ubiquitous "network busy" notification.

For the many Smart subscribers like me in Lianga who have become essentially addicted to unlimited calls, placing calls especially in the evening became a marathon of continuous dialing for long periods of time in the hope of getting lucky and being able to place a call. I also know of Smart mobile phone users who tried getting up in the wee hours of the morning in order to better their chances of being able to register for the promo and wasted a good night's sleep with nothing to show for it.

For Smart Communications Inc. to say that the unexpected and overwhelming response to the SmarTalk promo was the primary reason for the overloading of their systems and the cause of the resulting connection problems is simply bullshit of the highest degree. They knew the promo was going to be popular and should have anticipated the deluge of subscribers eager to use the service. The company could not have conceived and implemented SmarTalk without preliminary market studies and projections with regards to the capability of their systems to accommodate the anticipated increase in caller traffic.

What is crystal clear here is a blatantly devious attempt to lure additional new subscribers to the Smart brand by offering an overwhelmingly attractive new product and service that the company, with evident foreknowledge, could not, in reality and in the long term, continue to provide and support to their customers' satisfaction. In plain and simple terms, we were screwed by Smart once again. Mama mia!

Several days ago, I called up the company's customer service hot line to make a formal complaint regarding my connection problems with the SmarTalk service. The service representative, all oil and consolation, profusely apologized for my predicament and blamed the "overwhelming response" to the promo
(that phrase once again!) as the root of the flood of customer complaints like mine.

When I asked for advice on how to improve my chances of being able to connect with my calls while using SmarTalk, he did offer me one suggestion. "Try calling between 11 PM and 4 AM, " he said, "Your call should have more chances of getting through."

Talk about frustration and aggravation. If my blood pressure had not risen up by 10 points ( it still does every time I recall that specific conversation), I could have just simply thrown up my hands and laughed at the great absurdity of it all.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Lumad

News reports on the piteous situation of the more than 1000 displaced mountain villagers who have fled their homes in the hinterlands of the municipalities of Lianga and San Agustin in Surigao del Sur and who now call the Diocesan Pastoral Center in Tandag, the provincial capital, their temporary home continues to occupy space in the print media and in many Internet news sites. The "bakwits" (a derivation of the Bisayan word bakwit which literally means to evacuate or flee), as the evacuees like to call themselves, have accused government soldiers belonging to the 58th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army of forcibly occupying their villages and harassing local residents who the military suspects are supporters of the communist New People's Army.

I have written several posts already on this subject but the situation in Tandag does provide an opportunity to focus some much needed attention on the so called local "indigenous peoples" and their bitter history of being constantly caught in the crossfire of the decades old counterinsurgency war between the Philippine government and the revolutionary left.

The term "lumad" has been used to describe the Tandag evacuees. Other news reports cite them as belonging to the Manobo tribe which is a major ethnic minority in the Caraga region and Surigao del Sur area. Lumad, of course, is a Bisayan term which means "native" or "indigenous" and, as used in the local terminology, encompasses or includes most if not all of the non-Muslim and non-Christian ethnic peoples native to Mindanao and descended from Austronesian stock. The Manobos are, therefore, lumads of the first order.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Kansilad Bound

Once again, for those interested or planning to go to Lianga and the Kansilad Beach Resort for the coming weekend or a few days of sun, sea and surf, here's the way to get there from Butuan City which is actually the closest urban center with port and air carrier facilities.

Using your own private vehicle would be the ideal since Lianga is over 120 kilometers east of that city. But public transportation is available and, in most cases, thoroughly reliable. Buses leave the Butuan bus terminal on an almost hourly basis but, if one is a first timer, making sure one does get eventually to Lianga means knowing where to go and how to get there.

By bus, the direct, no fuss route to Lianga means taking the buses bound for Tandag (the provincial capital of Surigao del Sur province). The two to three hour journey takes you through the western edge of Agusan del Norte into Agusan del Sur where the major stop is San Francisco town which is at the crossroads of the main highway going separately to Lianga and Davao City (some almost 200 kilometers away).

Those unable to get on the Tandag bus in Butuan can take the Davao bound trips, get off at San Francisco and take the smaller buses and jeepneys there which service the Lianga and San Francisco area. Tandag bound buses from Davao are also available if your timing is lucky.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Signs Of The Times

Even at this stage in time, with politicians and would be politicos eager to run for public office in the 2010 local and national elections eying the period for the submission of submission of certificates of candidacy in November of this year, there are still a lot of Filipinos who have the lingering fear that the elections may not push through as scheduled. This is, of course, in view of what they suspect as veiled attempts by the political allies of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to find ways to postpone or derail next year's elections so as to the extend GMA's term of office.

They also dread the political chaos and uncertainty that may result from the possibility that, through the much maligned and widely discredited charter change movement (whether of the Cha-Cha or Con-Ass variety), the same cohorts may be able to remove the constitutional prohibitions in the 1987 Constitution that would allow her to run again for reelection in May 2010 and possibly serve another six years as head of state.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Real Score

The transfer, last week, of some almost two thousand evacuees who have been occupying the Lianga municipal gymnasium to the Diocese Pastoral Center in Tandag, the provincial capital of Surigao del Sur, some 89 kilometers north of Lianga must have caused this town's officials to heave a huge sigh of relief. The evacuees, who were from several mountain villages in the hinterlands of Lianga and its sister municipality of San Agustin, have cited the unwelcome and destabilizing entry of government troops and armed paramilitary forces in their communities as the reason for leaving their homes.

In the more than three weeks that they have occupied the municipal gym, the Lianga town government has been in quandary as to how to feed, shelter and provide for the basic needs of the evacuees, most of them women and children. The move to Tandag has apparently taken care of that dilemma and, in view of the fast approaching annual commemoration of the town fiesta on August 15, a quick and timely solution to what was fast becoming a desperate humanitarian crisis far beyond the capability of this town to handle.

As the problem of taking care of the evacuees passed from the hands of Lianga's municipal officials to the Catholic diocese of Tandag (which operates the pastoral center), the propaganda war between local military forces and non-governmental organizations said to be speaking for the displaced mountain villagers has escalated. The Ecumenical Movement for Justice and Peace (EMJP) and Ecumenical Mission for Peace and Development (EMPD), both church based NGO's have called upon government troops belonging to the 58th Infantry Battalion under Lt. Col. Benjamin Pedralvez Jr. to leave the affected villages. Both organizations have claimed that the presence of soldiers in these villages has "disrupted the lives and livelihoods" of the indigenous peoples living in these remote settlements straddling the municipal boundaries of Lianga and San Agustin.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Carrying On

One cannot be emotionally moved and affected by the massive outpouring of sympathy and sorrow in this country and all over the world over the death of Corazon Aquino. As I watch the television coverage of the wake at La Salle Greenhills Gym in Mandaluyong and the procession that transferred her remains to the Manila Cathedral in preparation for the funeral mass on Wednesday, I was simply astounded at the massive crowds that braved the unpredictable weather in order to giver their last respects to the former president and icon of the EDSA people power movement of 1986.

There is no doubt that the death of Cory Aquino last August 1 from the complications of colon cancer had touched something deep within the psyche of many Filipinos, even those who did take part in EDSA 1 or were born after that historic event. It is that part within our collective consciousness that recognizes instinctively the singular greatness of a life virtuously and exceptionally lived through decades of often selfless dedication to the service of others and the country.

Cory had always described herself as an "ordinary housewife" forced by circumstance and the tragic 1983 assassination of her husband and opposition leader, Sen. Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, to become the symbol of the Filipino's dream and yearning for a return to democracy during the dark and turbulent years of the Marcos dictatorship. To the surprise of many, most especially Ferdinand Marcos, millions of Filipinos quickly felt an almost mystical, emotional resonance with her and began to identify themselves with her in the almost quixotic quest to topple down an authoritarian regime that had lasted already for almost two decades.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

A Category Of Her Own

This morning as I turned on the television set to watch the morning news, I was immediately hit by the report that former president, Cory Aquino, had passed away at 3:18 AM at the Makati Medical Center where she had been confined for some time now during the final stages of her long and courageous battle against colon cancer.

As I watch the video images of this unfolding news event, I thought that I would not be affected emotionally by the event of her death. In many ways I have become, over the many years, rather cynical, if not downright skeptical, about Philippine politics in general and Filipino politicians in particular.

But Cory, as a person and, yes, as a politician (how can she not be one when she had, in essence, led a bloodless revolution that toppled a totalitarian regime and then assumed the leadership of her country during one of the most tumultuous periods of its history) belongs to a category of her own. She was no ordinary political leader, she was, well, Cory Aquino and the unlikely bearer of the torch passed on to her by her martyred husband, the charismatic Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino who, for the many of us raised during the turmoil of the Marcos dictatorship, had come to symbolize the Filipino nation's desperate yearning for a return to democracy and political pluralism.

Others could have been crushed if not corrupted by the adulation, sympathy and respect millions bestowed upon her upon the assassination of her husband in 1983 but she remained as she had always been - strong, steadfast, deeply religious and humble. It was precisely these attributes that eventually made her a credible, effective symbol and icon of the non-violent, people power revolution that galvanized and electrified the whole world in 1986.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Defaced

Hermogenes "Jun" Ebdane, Jr., former Philippine National Police head honcho and presently Secretary of the Department of Public Works and Highways must have thought he had a good thing going with the idea of plastering his face and that of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on colorful billboards placed along many of Surigao del Sur's national roads. Ebdane, who is expected to make a run for the Philippine Senate in next year's scheduled local and national elections, could not be faulted for this rather disingenuous if certainly not uncommon way of generating a little publicity for himself and, of course, the President as a result of the massive, on-going road concreting program that is expected to modernize land travel in this province. Countless other politicians, gunning for both local and national elective positions, have done the same thing before and had certainly gotten away with it.

Some groups in the province, however, as these pictures show, were not overly impressed with Ebdane's tour de force. Some of the obviously well designed, generously funded billboards were recently discovered to have been defaced with red paint by still unknown parties. From the nature and intention of the graffiti, however, the finger can obviously and logically be pointed to the communist New People's Army or its supporters although no official confirmation of that fact can be had at present.

A red X had been marked right over Ebdane's portrait in one billboard and the words "Oust GMA" have been hurriedly marked in the center. Similarly themed revolutionary slogans ("revolution is the solution to the crisis") have also been painted in bold red on the protective concrete side railings of some bridges in the San Agustin-Marihatag road section where most of the defaced billboards were also located.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Same Old Story

For the past 10 days or so, the Lianga municipal gymnasium (photographed above in more happier times) also more officially known as the Prospero B. Pichay Sr. Sports and Cultural Center ( in memory of the father of Surigao del Sur's erstwhile 1st district congressional representative and defeated senatorial candidate, Prospero "Butch" Pichay Jr.) has been the temporary home of more than 40 families from Purok 5 of Barangay San Isidro in the hinterlands of Lianga. These evacuees (shown in the pictures below with municipal Vice-Mayor Jun Lala), numbering more than a hundred individuals, mostly women and children, are fleeing what they say are intensified military operations being conducted in their community by elements of the Philippine Army's 58th Infantry Battalion and the Task Force Gantaugan against insurgent guerrilla forces belonging to the communist New People's Army.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Tangible Progress

There has always been a lot of cynicism among the folks in Lianga about the capability and, above all, the sincerity of the the national government to deliver on its promise, given so many times in the past, to address at the soonest possible time the urgent infrastructure needs of the local communities. At the top of the list, of course, is a modern road and highway system linking them to the rest of Mindanao and the nation.

Just over a year ago, I took a picture (with a cellphone camera) of a stretch of road just four kilometers southeast of Lianga that is part of the national highway linking Lianga to the municipality of Barobo and then on to the regional capital in Butuan City. It was at the height of the rainy season and the dirt road clearly shows the ravages of constant rain and recurrent flooding.

Two days ago I took another picture of the same stretch of road as it is actually now, at present, widened and bedecked in all of its paved and concreted glory. One can almost swear, unless one is in the know, that this clean, elevated and smooth ribbon of gray concrete is not the same narrow, muddy and gloomy dirt track depicted unflattering in the first picture.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Street Market

Fresh, still wriggling, scrumptious and exotic seafood. That is what Lianga, as a coastal town, has always been known for in this remote part of Mindanao.

Even nowadays when the local fish catch is dwindling due to overfishing and the persistent use of environmentally unsound fishing practices, the town is still a mecca for fish and seafood lovers from within and outside the Caraga region. Local beach resorts, for example, always make sure they have ample stocks of fresh fish, squid and lobsters for their out of town clientele.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Street Sports

Everywhere you go in Lianga it seems to be the trend nowadays. Street corners and side streets blocked off by nearby residents at certain times of the day and instantly converted to basketball and badminton courts. All it takes is a makeshift basketball hoop and backboard on a hastily erected wooden stand or crudely painted lines on the concrete pavement outlining the basic outlines of a badminton court and a droopy net hung like a clothesline across the street.

If you happen to be a motorist in a hurry, turning into a street and suddenly encountering one of these impromptu improvisations blocking your way can be an annoying if not frustrating experience. It usually means you have to back up for quite a distance and go around the next block to get to where you want to go.

Sometimes some of the more good-natured street athletes would obligingly let you get through by halting their game momentarily, lifting or dragging obstacles out of your way then blithely getting on with their games after the brief interruption but who would want to spoil things when it is crystal clear even to the casual observer that these amateur street sporting events are being played with the same intensity and dedication one sees in national badminton competitions or the storied courts of the Philippine Basketball Association.

And, of course, you in your killjoy of a vehicle will also have to contend with the usually raucous crowd of bystanders and sporting fans on the sidewalks eagerly watching the game and cheering for their favorites and who would not take too kindly to those who even inadvertently does anything to rudely interrupt the proceedings. I, for one, would rather meekly back off and go around the long way.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hospital Mess: Part 2

In a previous blog post, I reported on the details of cases of alleged financial misconduct committed by some officials of the Lianga District Hospital. The said fiscal anomalies are now the subject of separate official investigations by both the provincial government of Surigao del Sur which has direct authority over local district hospitals and the regional office of the Ombudsman in Davao City.

However, as a result of the formal investigations, Dr. Dionisio Tayko, LDH's erstwhile chief of hospital who has borne the brunt of the accusations of misappropriating hospital funds, has been relieved of his position and reassigned to Tandag, the provincial capital, pending the final outcome of the twin official inquiries. As to whether other currently serving hospital officials will follow in his footsteps remains to be seen at this point in time.

The unfortunate events at Lianga's local government hospital may seem to point out to the negative consequences to what can be considered the failure of local governments, particularly those at the provincial level, to exercise proper monitoring and supervision of the operations of government hospitals under their jurisdiction. There are, however, also many local observers who say that proper monitoring is not actually the problem but the "politicalization" of the rural health service in the provinces.

They say that the incident at the LDH would have been resolved earlier and prevented from blowing up into a scandal if local politicians have not interfered and muddied up the controversy for the purpose of protecting persons and personnel within the hospital with political links to them. The fact that the perpetrators of the supposed financial anomalies had been allowed to continue with their illicit work for some time already without being unmasked and punished by their superiors in the provincial government, they add, is ample proof of this.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

SOP

Mark, a frequent source of insightful comments to many of the posts to this blog, has just, in a comment to a recent blog post discussing alleged financial shenanigans at the local hospital here in Lianga, mentioned how corruption in government, whether local or national, has become institutionalized in what has been referred to simply as SOP.

Ordinarily, SOP (the acronym for Standard Operating Procedure and, as discussed here, has nothing to do with the popular GMA7 weekend noontime variety show on Philippine television ) is generally used to described standardized or universally accepted processes and steps in handling tasks and problems with the purpose of guaranteeing the best result possible under defined circumstances. In the case of corruption in government, it's meaning has become insidiously different.

When a Philippine congressmen or senator identifies a specific infrastructure project to be funded by funds from his pork barrel and receives in return from private contractors doing the project, an agreed amount of money as "kickback" or illegal commission, that is SOP. When an official of the national government uses his office or political influence to secure the release of funds for local government projects and "slices" off a percentage of the actual amount as a bribe, that is also SOP. And when a head of a government agency or department signs final approval of a purchase or acquisition of new equipment and receives a set portion of the total acquisition cost as commission, that also can be considered as SOP.

SOP also figures out in almost all government transactions and services. From applying for a government job or position to securing a business license or government certification, one can get what he wants or needs quickly and with the minimum of fuss and red tape if he avails of SOP. All that is required is to find out how much money is needed and who to give the money to.

Monday, June 8, 2009

A Different Pespective

My nephew, Iam, is about to turn fifteen years old. He suffers from a very mild form of autism which cause him to have some language comprehension and communication problems. Aside from that, however, he is functions almost normally and is personally appealing in his childlike innocence and manner.

But like many of the special children nowadays who share his particular disability, he is also possessed with that precious gift of being able to view the real world from a perspective that is uniquely his own. That gift and unique perspective can be a special blessing to the many of us in this jaded and cynical world who pride ourselves in being supposedly one hundred percent normal and, therefore, "superior" to those "burdened" with such mental handicaps.

Some time ago at the start of summer, I caught Iam surreptitiously putting what looked like a small stone into the pocket of his pants. Since he has the penchant for collecting what many "normal" people would consider the most strange and trivial of knickknacks, I have developed the habit of checking his pockets whenever I can.

"What is that?", I asked him. "Show me."

He opened his fingers and I saw that he was not keeping stone but a small fruit nut from one of the palm trees that grew in the backyard of the house in Lianga. "They are seeds," he said, talking to slowly and patiently me as if I needed the time understand him. "They need to be planted in the earth and watered regularly in order to grow."

Friday, June 5, 2009

Hospital Mess

If there is a public institution in Lianga that I truly feel sentimental about it is the Lianga District Hospital. Much of my adult life in this town has been intertwined and caught up in the saga of this health institution that has been serving the health care needs of the town and the surrounding communities for more than two decades.

From the time it was first created in the 1970's as the Lianga National Emergency Hospital until it became the LDH in the 1980's, my father, the late Dr. Jose Y. Otagan, was the hospital's driving force. By dint of hard work, creative resourcefulness and plain and simple, pigheaded determination, he managed to nurse the hospital from its humble beginnings to its status today as a primary health facility on the front lines of the government's health care system in this part of the country.

When he retired passed away in 1996, my father left behind a hospital known for the quality and compassion of its medical care. It drew patients even far beyond its catchment area and despite the fact that it was only, at that time, designed and budgeted only as a 25 bed capacity hospital, it was common for it to handle, on an average day, more than twice that patient load, a fact that always amazed outsiders and visiting government health personnel.

That is why I am specially saddened by the news that I recently received regarding a crisis developing among the medical staff and employees of the LDH.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Who's To Blame

The comment made by an anonymous reader to the blog post titled "Through the Needle's Eye" is the kind of comment I am always gratified to get for this blog. It is raw, passionate, insightful and truly spoken from the heart of someone who has more than just a passing knowledge of Lianga and its people. As such it deserves a reply.

Why indeed can't Lianga be handled like the municipal corporation that it really is? One that can be progressively run like a corporate business with the emphasis on using assets to borrow funds for investments in community projects and programs that would spell sure profits and economic growth in the long run.

Why can't the local government stop depending on the IRA or the internal revenue allotment coming from the national government for its own operating expenses and allotments for development programs? And why is it unable to free itself from myopically dreaming of economic recovery based on a resurgence in the presently moribund logging and mining industry that had once fueled its growth and prosperity in the not so distant past?

Why can't the municipal leadership break free of that kind of outdated mentality and find new directions for economic expansion specifically in the field of eco-tourism which a coastal town like Lianga with magnificent beaches and pristine mountain scenery can truly excel in? Why is this town seemingly stuck in a rut, not certainly sliding backward economically but also not moving forward fast enough to provide a healthy, growing and competitive economic environment for its people?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Lost Forever

My Uncle Diony passed away recently after a prolonged bout with the effects of a devastating stroke that laid him low several years ago. Dionisio Salon was married to my Auntie Feling who happens to be my mother's youngest sister. Both have lived for a long time in Pensacola in Florida in the United States where my auntie works as a nurse.

I only had the chance to meet Uncle Diony two times in the past when he and my auntie visited the Philippines. The last time we saw each other, he was still basically a vigorous man despite the fact that he was already in his eighties and retired from work as a chemical engineer for a well known American chemical company.

We did not have the time to get particularly close but I personally liked him. He was mentally active and intellectually inquisitive for a man of his advanced years. He and I had many productive conversations in the backyard of the house in Lianga about many topics ranging from politics and current events to philosophy and history. And it was during one of such discourses during his last visit to this country many years ago when he finally broached to me his desire to leave a written record, a memoir of some sort, which would chronicle what he felt were the many events of his long, interesting and productive life.

At first, I must confess that I thought it rather presumptuous of him to even contemplate the idea that his written autobiography would have interest, historical or otherwise, for people other than the members of his family, his friends and relations. He even asked me to help him out on on the project, a request that I initially had reservations granting not just because I had doubts about its viability and usefulness but more so because I personally felt I did not have the proper skills and experience to do justice to such an endeavor.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Through The Needle's Eye

Traveling by road around the Lianga area nowadays, particularly on the Lianga to San Agustin road section can be hazardous to one's health and well-being. There might be some local people here who might say that I may be exaggerating a bit on that point but for the many who do regularly ply that same route on a daily or weekly basis the truth is plain for them to see and experience.

In a past blog post I have mentioned the fact that the concreting of the road and highway system around Lianga has been going on for some time now. In some areas like the southern Lianga to Barobo road section, the rehabilitation and concreting work has been going at breakneck speed. One can almost see the progress on a daily basis and people like me who travel around regularly can almost see the paved portions of the national highway from both Barobo and Lianga creep inexorably towards each other, finally meet in the middle and become one unbroken, gray ribbon of concrete spanning 14 or so kilometers.

The road from Lianga to San Agustin to the north is another story. For some reason, the rehabilitation and concreting work has been plagued by unexplained delays and a failure on the part of the private contractors undertaking the massive project to keep portions of that road section conveniently accessible and passable to motorists at the same time.

Some sections, particularly along that 20 or so kilometer stretch are virtual quagmires of sticky mud on rainy days simply waiting like treacherous quicksand traps ready to ensnare vehicles of all kinds of sizes from private vehicles to commuter buses and cargo trucks. On hot, muggy and sunny days they become long sections of furrowed, undulating and hardened mud tracks that can wreck a car's suspension system or tear off portions of its under chassis when you least expect it.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Legacy

In the waning decades of the 19th century, a young man trading his dried and salted fish for rice and other goods made his way to the rice-growing town of Tago in the northern part of what is present day Surigao del Sur. He was also a skilled fisherman, like his father who was said to have come from the Visayan province of Bohol. He was born and raised in Hinatuan, a town on the southern tip of the Surigao provinces where his father had met and married a local girl.

In the course of his trading visits to Tago, he met and fell in love with Ignacia Morse Pacheco of the local Pacheco clan. They eventually got married around 1880. Ignacia prevailed upon Manuel to make Awasan, a small village near Tago, his home and the couple soon became the nucleus of a growing family. They would have a total of 9 children, 5 sons and 4 daughters.

The couple, by dint of hard work and a sound business sense, soon prospered in their new home. Manuel, in recognition of his growing status in his community, was appointed cabeza de barangay or village head and was said to have traveled often farther north to Surigao, the capital of the then undivided Surigao province, to deliver to the provincial governor sums of money collected as tribute to the then Spanish colonial government.

To provide for his expanding family, Manuel together with a few other hardy pioneers moved to the south of Tago to a coastal area then locally known as Punta Langbay and founded a new village which became known as Sitio Bayabas. The term "bayabas" is the local name for the guava tree, a large and stout specimen of which was said to have stood near the Murillo house.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Flashback

I recently got a comment from Maricor Castrence-Urbiztondo to a recent blog post and when I saw her name on my computer monitor, I was immediately hurled back in time more than 20 years to the Cebu City of the early 1980's.

It was a dark, turbulent time for the country. The dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos was in its waning years but the pivotal events that led to the eventual ouster of the regime of the strongman from Ilocos were still to happen. Marcos' grip on the country's political and social institutions remained strong despite his fading health and a worsening political and economic outlook for the nation.

Legal and non-violent opposition to the Marcos regime was finding its voice in the college and university campuses all over the country and as a young political science student I too was caught up in the fervor of the times. Match the idealism of the youth with their innate optimism and unshakable belief in their own invincibility and you have an engine for change that is tireless as it is resilient and implacable.

To many of us, it was, in many ways and despite the risks to our liberty and physical well-being, an intellectual game played in real time. As students, we felt privileged to have drank deeply from the fountain of knowledge and we felt we had the obligation, by virtue of our superior knowledge, to help lead the country from the darkness of authoritarian rule to the light of democratic change. Quixotic and extreme intellectual arrogance it may have been from hindsight now but at that time it was something that seemed not only logical to us but also imminently achievable and doable as well.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Relevance

Yesterday, I read in one of the nation's leading newspapers an editorial written by one noted opinion columnist lamenting the fact that Filipinos no longer commemorate the Holy Week with the fervor and devotion they had in the past. He called most of Filipino Catholics nowadays "paper" Catholics who, instead of observing the culmination of the Lenten season with the proper attitudes of penitence and repentance as befitting a Christian nation giving due reverence and proper remembrance to the passion and crucifixion of Jesus Christ, now merely look upon the Holy Week as holidays to be spent in relaxation and enjoyment in the company of family and friends and largely devoid of any religious or spiritual significance.

I can personally sympathize with many of his views on the matter.

When I was a young child growing up in the Lianga of the 1960's, the Holy Week rituals dominated the early summer months of every year. It was true then as it is still largely true now that in this town, being predominantly Catholic, the rhythm and cadence of community life remains, in many ways, heavily influenced by the feast, solemnities and celebrations enshrined in the Christian liturgical calendar. That is simply the way things are, even today, in this part of the world.

Palm Sunday which starts off the whole thing was always a festive affair with the town church suddenly going yellow-green with the coconut leaflets and fronds churchgoers bring in abundance.. This is in commemoration of the palm leaves with which the residents of Jerusalem supposedly greeted Jesus of Nazareth over 2000 years ago upon his triumphant entry into that city.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Cyber Hooked

While in Manila last month, I had the opportunity to help friends set up an internet cafe business of their own. It was a new business venture and a specially stressful process for them since none in the family, except for a son who is an IT graduate, was in any way familiar with the cafe business or particularly computer savvy.

I, myself, am no computer geek but I have a basic working knowledge of computer hardware and software which came in handy when I found myself immersed, for the first time, in the onerous task of getting a bunch of newly assembled PC's loaded with the proper software and making sure that they were ready to hum and communicate faultlessly together as a network. The work became a unique learning process for me.

The whole experience also taught me a lot of the minutiae and details that go into putting up a new computer rental and internet cafe business and has made me appreciate the difficulties and obstacles inherent in starting a enterprise of that nature. I emphasize this point because the internet cafe is a hideously complex undertaking for someone who may not be knowledgeable or familiar with the workings of modern information technology.

Woe, therefore, to the unfortunate individual who jumps into that kind of business undertaking without doing the proper research or getting the necessary necessary advice from experts. Such an ill-advised move can quickly end up a very costly mistake.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Holding On To Hope

It's the graduation season in Lianga nowadays and, in the case of this town which is host to a public elementary school, two public high schools and the Lianga campus of the Surigao del Sur Polytechnic State College, the excitement can be exceedingly contagious especially if someone in the immediate family or neighborhood is actually graduating from any of the above mentioned educational institutions.

Local folks like most Filipinos, place a high value on education for their children and diplomas, particularly those conferring college degrees, are often viewed as tickets to social advancement and financial success in life for their offspring. Thus graduation ceremonies are important milestones in the yearly calendar of activities for the whole community and occasions for conspicuous celebration for those families with graduates of their own from whatever level in the academic ladder.

In the family house in Lianga in particular, two of my mother's house helpers are getting ready to receive college degrees of their own and all of us there have been feeling more than some of the heat from the graduation fever that has most of the town within its insidious grip.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Mark's Travails

One of the unfortunate consequences of my being temporarily thrown out of touch with cyberspace almost the whole of the last month was my inability to keep in touch with what has been happening with the few other fellow cyber-warriors who have been doing their best to write about and bring the world's attention to communities like Lianga and its part of the world.

One of these is Mark Borders who has been writing about his life and community work in the small village or barangay of St. Christine just less than 9 kilometers north of Lianga.

Mark, an American who is married to a local girl, has been trying his best to contribute his share in improving the economic conditions and, thus, the quality of life in his locality. To this end, he has been in the process of setting up several business ventures aimed to stimulate the local economy and provide much needed employment for local residents. This include a gas station and mini-sawmill which are both in various stages of completion and and several others which are in the planning stages.

In his blog (http://stchristine.blogspot.com), Mark tells of the many problems and obstacles he had to overcome in order to get his projects from the drawing board to actual reality. But far more than the usual financial and logistical hurdles, he found fighting local prejudice and the avarice and narrow mindedness of some local political and community leaders an even more daunting challenge.

I also learned that last month he had also been unfortunate enough to be involved in a vehicular accident while on his way to San Francisco in Agusan del Sur. He came out of that one battered and injured but thankfully still defiant and focused on the realization of his dreams for St. Christine and his adopted community.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Serious And Emerging Problem

One of the problems some local government officials in Lianga are eying with concern nowadays is the slow yet persistent proliferation of youth gangs not only among the town's out-of-school minors but now even more alarmingly among young students in the various schools in the municipality. This is an issue I had already discussed in a previous blog post but even then I did not, at that time, had a clear picture of the extent and scope of the situation.

Lianga is host to several government and private high schools as well as the Lianga campus of the Surigao del Sur Polytechnic State College. All provide student populations essentially vulnerable to the entry and recruitment of youth gangs and similar organizations.

Lianga has always been proud to consider itself a deeply conservative town with a population steeped in the culture and traditions of its predominantly Catholic Christian faith. Thus it has always been an accepted article of faith even nowadays that its youth, Catholic or otherwise, growing up and schooled in the many local schools are being reared in an atmosphere emphasizing the deep adherence to the traditions of filial obedience and subservience as well as the "good manners and right conduct" expected of well-bred up Filipino children.

But Lianga is also a town and community, once isolated and insulated from the outside world, but now being caught up in the vast sea of change brought about by modernization and progress. Inevitably, under such a situation, all manner of influences, both desirable and undesirable find their way in. Finding out which is which and deciding what to do about them is a job many local town and community leaders are finding close to impossible to do.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Hot Welcome

I came home last Sunday to a Lianga that was hot and muggy despite the slightly overcast skies. The temperature hovered only slightly above 30 degrees centigrade in the shade but the high humidity was an absolute killer. I was reminded once again that in Manila, the blazing summer heat may be the major cause of concern but in my hometown which faces the western reaches of the Pacific, it is the wet, energy-sapping and soul-crushing moisture in the atmosphere that gets you.

As I sat near the open doorway near the back of the family house trying desperately to catch some cooling relief from the sea breezes that occasionally ruffled the foliage of the fruit trees in the backyard, I got my first installment of the local news, happenings and goings-on from the girls that live with us in the house and help my mother keep it in a reasonably livable state.

Right across the street, Elgie Layno, our neighbor who happens to be a longtime member of the town's municipal council, is in the midst of a frenzy of preparations for a celebration. His son, Earl, has been accepted for admission to the elite Philippine Military Academy in Baguio City, a distinct honor for any young man eager for a successful career in the military service. In a day or so, in fact, after the celebration, the whole family will be accompanying him to Baguio where he will be reporting for duty.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Progress

The first car my father owned was a white painted jeep of an indeterminate vintage with which he, in the course of his medical practice, traversed the bumpy and potholed dirt tracks which passed for roads in the Lianga area in the 1960’s. Vehicles of that type, modified from the legendary American military jeep of the immediate post-World War II era were the first automobiles to make their appearance in the very early days of the infant road system in the eastern part of Mindanao.

That jeep, despite having a quirky four-wheel drive system (it occasionally refused to engage when it was desperately needed) and an unforgiving, bone-jarring, rock-hard suspension which was hard on both the body and spirit of the queasy, neophyte traveler, managed to always get him where he wanted to go with the minimum of fuss. It was dependable, sturdy as a tank and simple enough to maintain even for somebody with just the passing acquaintance with the car mechanic’s art.

In 1972, my father finally and reluctantly parted with his much beloved jeep and formed an immediate and affectionate bond with a German Volkswagen beetle sedan which was to last for more than two decades. That car matched his personality to a T. It was unpretentious, totally unglamorous and, for many, an ugly excuse for a car. Yet it was built with consummate engineering skill like a Swiss watch and was just as reliable. It carried him and his growing family safely and reliably for hundreds of kilometers all around the Lianga area and beyond through the worst of road conditions and in all kinds of weather.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Gang-banged

It was the kind of news that sudden gets you by surprise, the kind that seems so incongruous with the setting that is Lianga that it certainly got my full attention when I first heard of it.

One community leader from Anibongan, one of the town’s outlying barangays or villages, during an impromptu consultative meeting with municipal officials held in one of Lianga’s seaside restaurants just a few weeks ago had voiced his concern about the emergence of youth gangs in the small community high school in his area. He described the gangs as vicious and extremely violence oriented and with a membership base recruited not only from out of school youngsters from the poverty stricken rural areas but from high school students as well.

It turned out that that particular piece of news was not exactly new to many of the participants in the meeting. Almost all of them were aware of the problem but were unsure of how to deal with and approach the situation.

According to information I had pieced later from various sources, youth gangs are a relatively new phenomenon in the campuses of Lianga’s schools. In the past, student fraternities and sororities have always been the norm as far as student groups and organizations were concerned. Violence as a result of fraternity wars or conflicts have been very rare and for the most part these student organizations have been positive influences in the lives of local students.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

LEAN

LEAN, the acronym for Lianga Emergency Assistance Network, is one volunteer civic assistance organization that is currently making waves in this town. Despite the fact that it is a relatively young group (just a few months old, in truth), it has, to this date, notched a more than creditable record of accomplishments.

LEAN was the brainchild of Jun Lala, the young political neophyte member of the Lianga municipal council who inherited the vice-mayorship last year when former Vice-Mayor Roy Sarmen became town mayor upon the untimely demise of then Mayor Vicente “Belos” Pedrozo. The idea, as Lala put it then, was to “mobilize volunteer citizens and harness their energies in assisting the municipal government in the maintenance of peace and order and in addressing the multiple problems brought about by unexpected emergencies and natural disasters.”

The organization’s core is composed of a small coterie of volunteers picked from all walks of life who shared the vice-mayor’s vision and this small tight and highly mobile group who with their operational links to law enforcement agencies and access to a small fleet of personally owned motorcycles and cars has been largely responsible for much of LEAN’s recent operational successes.

The capability of the group’s members to respond quickly and proceed promptly to the scene of a developing crime or emergency situation has become timely in view of the current difficulties faced by Lianga’s own local police force which has been largely handicapped by lack of personnel and proper equipment.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Senseless Crime

The call I got on my cell phone one early morning some weeks ago in Lianga was urgent as it was emphatic. Jun Lala, the town’s young Vice-Mayor was on the line. He told me to get myself and a digital camera as quickly as possible to a government owned research fishpond on the southern outskirts of the town. He wanted to show me something that was both rare and unusual.

Intrigued, I hustled over and got to the site in five minutes. I got out of the car, got to the side of the main building in front of the fishpond complex where a group of people were huddled around something big lying on a wet wooden plank on the ground.

It was a huge sea turtle, obviously more than 100 kilos in weight and it was dead.

The Vice-Mayor told me it had been discovered in the shallow coastal waters of Barangay Diatagon, some 9 kilometers north of Lianga the day before and was clearly already very weak and in obvious distress when found by local residents. Rescuers soon detected a small but deep puncture wound on the back of the turtle’s neck which could have come from a fishing spear or harpoon of some sort.

Volunteers with the help of the Vice-Mayor decided to transport the marine animal to the fishpond complex in Lianga for observation and treatment but it eventually expired most probably as a result of the wound inflicted on it. The local official had already asked local fisheries experts about the possibility of preserving the rare sea turtle for educational purposes.

The same experts have tentatively identified the animal as a variety of the seldom seen and obviously endangered leatherback sea turtle. They pointed to the much narrower, dark colored, tough and rubber textured shell on the animal’s back which was in contrast to the usually wider and multi-colored back covering of the more common species of sea turtle.

Monday, March 9, 2009

New Hope

Over a month ago, I found myself in the small coastal village of Bretania which belongs to the municipality of San Agustin. This tiny fishing community is just some 23 kilometers north of Lianga and happens to be located almost right in the middle of the eastern edge of the province of Surigao del Sur facing the vast breadth of the Pacific Ocean.

In the past I had written about this village’s fabled islets, those green clumps of rock, wild vegetation and pristine, white sand that lay scattered like emeralds amidst the tropical blue of its clear coastal waters. I had also written about their matchless beauty and enormous tourism potential.

But I also noted then the somewhat confused and timid, halfhearted attempts by the area’s local government to take advantage of the islets' natural beauty and magnetic attraction for both local and foreign visitors and how these efforts have not really amounted to anything significant so far. I have also written about how the local community remains to this day largely impoverished and undeveloped despite the magnificent beauty of the natural treasures it alone possesses.

Last January 31, Manuel Alameda, the municipal mayor of San Agustin, called a meeting of the many individuals and families that have ownership claims and titles to the residential and agricultural lots that comprise the major part of the land area of the village of Bretania that is the subject of infrastructure development as part of the much delayed and protracted effort to turn the area into a major tourism destination in that part of Mindanao.

Forced Hiatus

I would like to heartily and sincerely apologize to the regular readers and followers of this blog who were disappointed and a bit surprised at my sudden absence from my regular haunts on the Web starting over a month ago.

That absence and my resulting failure to regularly update this blog did not stem from a sudden bout of laziness or a developing aversion to blogging (that is the farthest from the real truth) but a series of circumstances that forced me to forgo, for a while at least, the pleasures (both tangible and intangible) of surfing the digital alleys and byways of the Internet.

In the course of transferring residences temporarily between two extreme ends of the country and moving equipment back and forth between those locations, I ended up with a multitude of logistical problems which finally ended up last month with me in Lianga and my computer equipment left behind in Manila.

For someone who has become so used to quick, instant and efficient access to the Web anytime of the day, the situation can be akin to a drug addict suddenly deprived of his daily fix. Excruciating and lingeringly painful it indeed can be.

I am still in the process of getting all my stuff together and in a week or two I expect to get back to blogging with a definite vengeance. There has been an accumulation of wonderful stories about Lianga to tell and I cannot wait to get down to the task of dealing with them.

Just wait and see.