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


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


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, 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.