Monday, November 21, 2011

Left Behind

Only in recent years has it become obviously and painfully clear to many of the people here in Lianga that that if there was one industry that could help the town lift itself out of years of economic apathy and stagnation, it would have to be foreign and domestic tourism. I remember just a few years ago one foreigner friend gazing in wonder at the thundering surf at one of the local beaches, his bare feet half buried in the white sand. "My God!" he exclaimed. "You live in a tropical paradise yet you don't make money out of it.  How can you all be so blind?" He then shook his head in exasperation and disbelief.

For decades now, town leaders here have looked towards some form of industrialization as Lianga's ticket to economic progress.  Memories of the heyday of the logging industry in the 1960's when the Lianga Bay Logging Company was the engine powering the town's then rapid growth and economic expansion remained obstinately fixed in their collective minds.  There were grandiose plans to reactivate the logging franchise which had folded up in the 1970's.  The plans included proposals for a seaport (two were built but both remained unused to this very day) which would hopefully turn Lianga into a shipping and marketing hub for this part of Mindanao.

None of these proposals in the wake of present day economic realities, despite all the rhetoric, effort and money wasted on them, amounted to anything significant and it was only recently when the obvious became, well, glaringly apparent.  Build on the town's strengths.  Capitalize on what it already has.  And what it had, by the grace of Mother Nature, were plenty of was white sand beaches and spectacular seascapes that local and foreign tourists could not get enough of.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Vantage Point: Bretania Islands

If anyone wants an example of how the slow yet promising growth in local and foreign tourism is helping transform the landscape in the Lianga area, one can be found right beside the national highway some 16 or so kilometers north of Lianga and just before entering Barangay Gata of San Agustin town.  There on the side of a hill, the Department of Public Works and Highways has recently built a rest stop for motorists that offers, as a bonus, a view deck that allows visitors to enjoy a spectacular view of the Bretania Islands and the mangrove forests that line much of the coastal areas in this part of eastern Mindanao.

The islands, of course, have become in recent years a huge attraction for visitors drawn to its white sand beaches and pristine, blue waters.  The Barangay Gata rest stop just happens to be located right by a portion of the national highway that snakes up a hill and curves around a natural cliff the overlooks the islands.The small, compact building near the entrance with toilet facilities for both sexes would obviously be a welcome first destination for the weary traveler but this particular pit stop has an even better and more welcome attraction for tourists and visitors.

Before the rest stop was constructed, motorists zipping along could usually catch, through tangled grass and thick shrubs, tantalizing glimpses of the island group floating like priceless jade pieces on the blue-gray waters below them.  Nowadays they can gaze upon and relish the scenery without any obstruction hampering their view while parked on the view deck and safe from the constant road traffic or (better yet) by getting out to stretch their legs and standing just behind a protective yet decorative wooden barrier.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Mining In Caraga

Last Monday, New People's Army rebels made simultaneous raids on the compounds and facilities of three large mining firms located in Claver, Surigao del Norte. The targeted mining companies, Taganito Mining Corporation (TMC), Taganito HPAL Corporation and Platinum Group Metals Corporation (PGMC), are among the country's largest nickel ore exporters to Japan, China and Australia.

Before retreating, the rebels held some mining employees as hostages (released later in the same day) then burned down valuable mining equipment, dozens of dump trucks and even warehouse and office facilities.  They also carted away a sizable cache of firearms and radio equipment belonging to the three companies and their security forces.

Jorge Madlos also known as Ka Oris, spokesman for the National Democratic Front in Mindanao, has justified the twin attacks as part of the revolutionary movement's goal to penalize "environmentally exploitative and destructive large-scale mining companies in the Caraga region".  The Caraga region, which comprises the provinces of Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur, Agusan del Norte and Agusan del Sur, has been seeing in the past few years a dramatic increase in the number of investments in both large-scale and small scale mining activities.

The government in Manila, on the other hand, as well as the military and police forces, have condemned the rebel raids as merely a form of economic sabotage and a ploy by the rebels to extort money from vulnerable mining firms under the guise of "revolutionary taxes".  There is talk of investigating "security and intelligence lapses" that led to the local military and police forces being caught unaware by the attacks and promises of "improving future security" for mining firms operating in the affected area.  Blah blah blah. And so on and so forth.  We have all heard it before.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Whenever I travel far away from Lianga these days, it is always a pleasant surprise for me to suddenly catch by ear, even from a distance and in the midst of the babble of languages and dialects that are spoken in the many crowded places all over this country, that peculiar yet familiar cadence of spoken words, that specific pattern and style of vocalization that immediately tells me that someone in the vicinity is speaking Kamayo.

Kamayo, of course, is the the language spoken by the residents of a clearly defined geographical area in eastern Mindanao which includes parts of the provinces of Surigao del Sur, Davao del Norte, Davao Oriental and the Agusan provinces.  Only about one and a half million people are said to use it but even this number is misleading since the language has its variations in the way it is spoken depending on the specific location within this general area.

The Kamayo used in in Lianga, for example, has marked differences in vocabulary, accentuation and intonation from the version used farther south in Lingig and the Davao provinces.  But both clearly belong to the same language classification and share the same linguistic roots.

Language experts usually classify Kamayo as belonging to the Malayan-Polynesian sub-group of languages and the Austronesian language family to which most Malay languages are grouped.  It is closely linked to Surigaonon and Butuanon as well as Cebuano and has been heavily influenced by these other languages as well as Tagalog and even English in more contemporary times.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Mail Call

It has been some time since I posted on this blog and for that lapse I must apologize. I have been having trouble with my internet connection for some time now and trying desperately to remain regularly online while your network connectivity is constantly giving up on you can wreck havoc on one's appetite for blogging.

Smart Bro, the wireless broadband service affiliated with Smart Communications, has been the only ISP in Lianga since it introduced the brand some 5 years ago. As expected, this virtual monopoly and the lack of any competition has led to such a deterioration in the quality of its online service that it has earned it the unflattering moniker of "Smart Broken" among frustrated local customers and subscribers.

It had come to the point when I was practically on the phone talking to their customer service representatives almost on a daily basis complaining about intermittent connectivity, cripplingly slow connections and network disruptions. Yet for all the company CSR's profuse apologies and promises of "network upgrades" and faster service, nothing really changed.

In the end, I had the service disconnected for a while and only recently have I decided to try using it again. Hope does spring eternal in the human breast and I am hoping against hope that, by a miracle of miracles, Smart Bro does finally manage to do justice to my newly restored optimism, misguided and naive though it may be.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


It did, at first, seemed, when you think logically about it, a rather extravagant purchase made by my mother but when the matched set of two chairs and a coffee table was delivered to our family home here in Lianga, I had to admit to myself that there is indeed something about the mysterious, dark mystique and aura of precious, durable beauty attached to Magkono wood products that can mark any one excessively engaged in hardfisted haggling about how much they should or really cost as downright cheap and insufferably stingy.

Even when still rough and unfinished, the table and chairs already exude a sense of primitive yet subdued strength and toughness, as if the patina of weathered and roughened skin covering the robust, metal-hard wood beneath it can somehow bear witness to countless years of stubborn and defiant resistance to the destructive effects of time and the unfriendly elements. There are, in fact, more than a few furniture fanciers who prefer to get their Magkono items unsanded and unpolished since much of this very quality and the unique beauty and symmetry of the hardwood's natural grain patterns are often lost in the final cleaning and varnishing process.

Most, however, prefer them completely smoothened all over and polished to a glossy sheen, the flat surfaces gleaming like dark mirrors. The color of Magkono wood in its natural state varies from a darkish cream to almost black with the younger wood often lighter in hue. When cut down and buried in the ground, it generally darkens with time. Old, time-seasoned wood is best for making top quality furniture and is so tough and hard that it is impervious to termites and other wood-boring pests.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Discrepancy Of Sorts

In the aftermath of the failed April 28, 2011 assault by New People's Army rebels on the Lianga police station, there were more than a few residents here in Lianga (myself included) who were having quite a difficulty getting a direct and categorical answer to one important question. How many policemen and soldiers were actually inside the station when the attack occurred in the early dawn of that fateful Thursday morning?

I was there shortly after guns had ceased firing and the insurgents, numbering at least 30 or so, had already withdrawn and fled back up the hilly terrain at the back of the municipal hall beside the police station. In minutes they were nowhere to be seen but had left behind one of their comrades (later identified by the military authorities as a ranking vice-commander of the local guerrilla front unit)who was eventually captured by government troops.

What was clear from insider reports in the aftermath of the botched dawn raid was that only eight policemen and two army troopers were involved in the actual defense of the police station. Eleven if we include the utility worker, Rodel Aquilam, who became an instant local celebrity because his decision to remain at his post and help the policemen and soldiers repulse the NPA attackers.

Yet a few days later, fifteen policemen plus the two soldiers and the utility worker were all awarded medals for bravery and gallantry by no less than Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo and Philippine National Police Director General Raul Bacalso. The award included cash awards and the promise of eventual spot promotions.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


There is probably nothing more disconcerting to an ordinary person than waking up suddenly in the darkness of early dawn to the thunder of gunfire and the loud explosions of what can only be an honest to goodness, full fledged war going on just a short distance from his home. But that is what exactly happened to me early Thursday morning.

As I tried to shake off then the lingering effects of an interrupted sleep, it became immediately clear to me that Lianga was again being attacked by New People Army rebel forces and that for the fourth time in its long and colorful history, the police station beside the town hall in the center of the poblacion was once more bearing the brunt of what could only be a determined assault by guerrilla insurgents.

I quickly joined many of the townspeople who were anxiously peering out of their windows and even huddled with the more fearless folk who had the guts to go out into the streets and peer around street corners in order to find out what was really going on. The din of the fierce fighting lasted for at least an hour. It has just past 5 o' clock when the first shots were fired and by 6 AM the town center was still echoing from the rhythmic thumping and loud cracking of rifle and machine gun fire as a small group of some nine policemen and army soldiers fought off some thirty rebels who had launched their attack from the hills on the western side of Lianga.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Dodging The Bullet

In the Lianga area, the period covering the Christmas week until the first week of January has always been historically characterized by cloudy and rainy weather. As far as I can remember during my childhood days in this town and even to this very day, wet and cold weather has always accompanied the local Yuletide and New Year celebrations.

Not that the people here ever felt unduly oppressed or gravely inconvenienced by the frequent showers and the often bitterly cold mornings that seem to always herald the dying of the old year and the birth of the new. Instead, the local folk, as a consequence perhaps of the town's deep rural and agricultural roots, have always looked upon the year-ender rains as perennial proof of Mother Nature's benevolence, a watery benediction or blessing of sorts which, as part of the regular and cyclical passing of the seasons, ushers in the start of the coming year and, more importantly, the next rice planting season.

Occasionally however, the rains can get out of hand as they did more than a week ago. New Year's Day had been only a little damp and mildly wet but on the day after the celebrations ended, the rain started pouring down in torrents for hours on end. The heavy downpour continued throughout the night and much of next day. When January 3 dawned, many areas of Lianga were already threatened by rising water levels.