Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Magic

One of the saddest things about growing up as a child is coming to the age when one suddenly and disconcertingly realizes that much of what one has believed as wonderfully magical and enchantingly special about Christmas is actually mostly hype and largely sheer nonsense.

It is not only just about losing faith in Santa Claus, his elves, his reindeer and his flying sleigh and his squeezing of his corpulent bulk into tight chimneys on Christmas Eve.  It is not just about learning the hard way that Christmas is not really about pine trees with icicles, snow covered landscapes, white-capped mountains and Frosty the Snowman with his black top hat and all the other rubbish that seeks to implant in our Filipino culture and consciousness the ridiculous traditions and belief systems of cultures from far distant climes and locations.

It is not just even about having one's eyes being suddenly opened to the crass commercialization of the whole Christmas idea, the insidious propagation of the delusion that holiday happiness and festive cheer can be purchasable like most instant goodies prepackaged in a box and ready to be unleashed and used at one's choosing anytime and anywhere.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Still Lucky

Note:  This post was supposed to be published last December 5 but mobile communication and internet services were cut off in the wake of Typhoon Pablo.  It took Smart Communications fourteen days to fix everything and restore internet connectivity to all of Lianga.


On the early morning of December 4, Typhoon Pablo (International name: Bopha) made landfall near the many remote coastal communities that rim the borders of the provinces of Surigao del Sur, Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley provinces.  In the hours that followed it carved a wide swath of death and destruction inland which, in the frenzy of media reporting following the event, have seared the names of towns and villages like Cateel, Baganga and New Bataan into the national consciousness.

Lianga is only a little further north of the primary disaster zone and was spared the full brunt of Pablo's fury but even it got caught in the northern edge of the violent storm system and was still given a beating that locals will be remembering for many decades to come.

The southern and northern edges of the town where most of residential houses are built close to the seashore or are actually built on stilts over the high tide mark got the worst of it as gusting winds topping 170 kph caved in walls and ripped off roofs while huge waves made more savage by the double whammy of a storm surge on top of high tide seawater levels smashed the frail wooden structures into pieces forcing more than a hundred families to flee to safer ground, many of them escaping only with the clothes on their backs.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Biding Time

Vice-Mayor Robert "Jun" Lala is arguably, by what is considered the norm in Lianga politics, an unsettling aberration.  Firstly he is just barely forty years old and therefore unseemly and irresponsibly young for a seasoned politician and senior municipal official in a political culture where the prevalence and dominance of stodgy and grizzled politicos have always been seen as both sacrosanct and inevitable.

He is also considered as exceedingly brash, too impatient, excessively energetic and a tad too eager perhaps to prove himself in a political milieu which frowns upon anyone who rocks the boat too much and too fast, where extreme caution and the search for the broadest consensus (the illusive win-win option) has always been the key to political survival and where new ideas and new ways of doing things have always floundered in the face of the extreme conservatism that has always characterized the nature of governance in this part of the world.

To his credit, he is considered, even by his detractors, as a popular and even charismatic leader.  Ever since he first became a municipal councilor in 2007 and municipal vice-mayor a year later, he has managed to build up a substantial political following among the local electorate drawn to his populist image and rhetoric.  Gifted with an engaging and boisterously affable personality, his appeal is said to reach across socio-economic, political and religious divisions.

His admirers point to his go-get-something-done attitude as his biggest asset.  They say that he has helped rejuvenate, in many ways, the staid and somewhat moribund state of affairs at the LIanga municipal hall and has acquired, in just a span of just a few years, a reputation as one of this province's more visibly aggressive and proactive young leaders.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Revisiting Pugad

Of the more well known beaches in Lianga, Pugad is the one that always evokes in me the most nostalgic of memories.  In this sense, its very name which literally means nest in English is oddly appropriate.  Every time I go there, this stretch of coastline has always been able to conjure for me a veritable nest, a cornucopia if you will, of deeply buried yet unforgotten images and sounds, my recollections of Lianga's not so distant past.

I remember the beach as it was in the days of my childhood in the 1970's.  There was no clear access road then but just a dirt track that led from the highway that ran straight and true for a hundred meters or so and which quickly snaked right and then wandered its way through and in between coconut trees sheltering underneath their leafy fronds a straggly line of native huts, most of them facing, just a stone's throw away, the wide expanse of fine sand and the gently rolling sea..

There was no Pugad Beach then, the whole area was just known as Pugad.  The owners of the many beachfront lots then had still no idea of the tourism and commercial potential of their properties.  Many of them were simple farmers and fishermen eking an honest but hard living out of the bounty of the sea and the land adjacent to it.

My brothers and I would spend hours frolicking in the sea or just lying like beached whales on the pristine, grayish-white sand while the gentle surf would wash over us in wave after wave of white foam and greenish-blue water.  On the entire expanse of the gently curving beach, only sounds that can be heard except for the hiss of the sea were the occasional screeching of faraway birds and the gentle swish of the sea breeze on the foliage of the trees and coconut trees on the far shore.

Monday, November 12, 2012


In the staid, often predictable and conservative world of Lianga politics where the right to run for public office is traditionally reserved for the more senior and often elderly members of the town's established political clans, the one-on-one showdown between Roy Sarmen and Sammy Dollano in next year's local mayoralty elections should be garnering a high degree of local interest and anticipation.  After all, both are relatively young politicians with much of their political careers ahead of them and both are locking horns in an election where, for the first time, a new wave of younger leaders may be finally dominating the local political arena once the exclusive domain of what is clearly a fading and increasingly irrelevant generation of aging town fathers.

That is, however, not the case and why that is so is a question that begs to be answered.

Roy Sarmen is only in his late forties but he is already a veteran politico who belongs to a big political clan in Lianga.  This can be a decisive plus factor in a culture where voting for political candidates on the basis of blood and family relations is commonplace. He is a former barangay captain of the poblacion barangay and a former municipal vice-mayor who in 2008 succeeded the late Vicente Pedrozo as mayor after the latter succumbed to a lingering illness before he could complete his term as mayor of Lianga.  In 2010, he was elected to his first full term as mayor. His father, the late Leonor Sarmen Sr., also served as town mayor for a couple of terms.

Sammy Dollano had been this town's municipal agricultural officer for some years and was formerly a municipal councilor prior to resigning that post to accept appointment to head Lianga's municipal agriculture office.  He also comes from a political family and his father, Meneleo Dollano, used to be active in local politics during his time.  He is also considered to be well connected politically and has familial links, through his wife, to both Rep. Philip Pichay (1st District of Surigao del Sur) and his brother, Prospero "Butch" Pichay who together with the Ty-Pimentel clan is the dominant political force in Surigao del Sur.

If there is something that is damping the enthusiasm of the local electorate for the upcoming contest between these two personalities, it is the widespread perception here that despite the fact that both men have already established careers in the field of public service, both have yet to really convince jaded voters here that either of them has the far-reaching vision, the iron will, the personal integrity and solid commitment to progress and prosperity that Lianga so desperately needs for the future.

Of course, the official campaign period for local candidates is still more than two months away and both contenders still have plenty of time to brainstorm and strategize and then ultimately sell their candidacies to the voting public.  But in the case of these two already experienced politicians whose personalities and public service track records are not exactly unfamiliar  to most of the people here, the noticeable lack of palpable excitement over what should be a landmark contest between two, young and up-and-coming political mavericks should be a cause for concern for them and their supporters.

One thing is crystal clear, though.  Lianga is fast coming up a crucial crossroads in its political history and it behooves us, its citizens, to make sure that the very people who seek our mandate to lead us for at least the next three years are the very best and most qualified people we have among us.  We also have the obligation to encourage the development of of a local political culture that encourages both full and open participation as well as accountability and excellence in public service, where candidates are elected to office because they are actually the best there is and not because, the choices being limited, the only bet possible must be those on who, in the final analysis, are the lesser evil.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


One of our family's worst kept secrets is the fact that our family home in Lianga is haunted.  When I use the term "haunted" I refer, of course, to the "infestation" of human dwellings by non-human and obviously otherworldly beings or those aptly termed tongue-in-cheek in local parlance as the "not like ours". Whatever is specifically haunting the house we in the immediate family circle, however, have never been able to determine with some degree of certainty.  Yet we are convinced that the hauntings themselves are real.

Those among our close relatives who do know about this (ehem!) skeleton in the family closet have ventured varying opinions as to what is causing what can be best described as inexplicable phenomena that have occurred at various times during the recent history of our fifty-year old home in this town.  Some have pinned their blame on dwarves or the little people who are so much part of the myths and legends of many peoples all over the world.

Others say that it can be any of the variety of spirits or invisible supernatural beings that inhabit this earth and this plane of existence and who, because of unknown or unfathomable reasons, have decided to co-inhabit this house with us. The beings, they say, can be benign or harmless although occasionally mischievous while others can be malignant and malevolent.

Monday, October 22, 2012


In a recent news interview, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile has made the suggestion that the establishment of the Bangsamoro political entity envisioned in the recently signed framework peace agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) can be seen as an experiment which will test if a parliamentary system of government will really work in this country.  He has also been quoted as saying that "there is in the psyche of this country, a desire to adopt the parliamentary system" and that this desire was already expressed and proposed for implementation in working versions of both the 1973 and 1987 constitutions only to be overtaken by fate and other events.

In the same interview, he even goes further to say that there are no provisions in the 1987 Constitution that prohibits a shift to a parliamentary structure of government since there already exists in the country a multi-party system.  That is why, he says, the Bangsamoro can be viewed as a "good experiment on how a parliamentary system of government will operate."

The venerable senator, whose five decades in politics and public service has oftentimes been tumultuous and controversial, may have national renown as someone possessing one of the country's most astute legal minds but this recent less than subtle pitch for the nation to shift from a presidential to a parliamentary form of government in the near future should be, in my view, examined more closely and not merely taken at face value.  There is more here than meets the eye.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Bridging the Divide

The signing recently in Malacañang Palace of the framework peace agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has brought many here in Mindanao new hope that true and lasting peace may not only be possible but realistically achievable in the near future.  But it is a hope and optimism that is tempered by decades of false promises, dashed expectations and missed opportunities.  After all, the savagery of war and its destructive effects on the many affected communities in the war-torn areas in Mindanao remains a disturbing reality of our times.

The framework agreement should be seen for what it is - a starting point for the hard negotiations that will have to hammer out the final peace agreement that will ultimately lead to the establishment of the new Bangsamoro political entity that it envisions.  Already it has been challenged and rejected not only by other rival Muslim revolutionary movements like the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) who see it as a betrayal of the Moro or Muslim cause but also by non-Muslim and mainstream groups, legal experts and prominent politicians who see the accord as violative of the spirit and intent of the 1987 Constitution and thus problematic to justify both legally and morally.

There are also more than a few, even in Mindanao, who fear that the agreement may become a catalyst for the formation of more extremist and radical, Islamic breakaway groups like Ameril Umbra Kato's Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) who have branded the moderate MILF as the vilest of traitors to the struggle of the Moro peoples and who continue to advocate armed struggle with total secession as the final goal rather than just settling for enhanced local autonomy under the Philippine state.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Who's Bullying Who

The Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 or Republic Act No 10175 which was just recently signed into law by President Noynoy Aquino is now causing a growing storm of controversy both on cyberspace and outside it, the breadth and ferocity of which certainly caught the government by surprise.  The fact that Malacañang had been forced to speak up in response to the multiple legal challenges already filed against the new law in the Supreme Court and  the rising clamor from many sectors of Philippine society for certain portions of that particular law (specifically those dealing with criminal penalties for online libel) to be either removed or amended only proves, in my view, how cavalier and hasty if not capricious it had been in allowing this new edict to become law without really thoroughly studying its legal and moral ramifications beforehand.

Senator Francis Escudero, in a recent media interview, made the staggering admission that he and many of his colleagues in the Senate had failed to take notice that the provisions on online libel contained in the then proposed bill may be legally, if not also morally, questionable when they approved it.  He has promised to look for ways to amend or "tweak" the new law specifically to decriminalize the libel aspect of it although the civil liability portion may be retained.  Senator Alan Peter Cayetano also plans to file a similar bill in the Senate that would address the same issue.

How such presumably astute legal minds could not have seen the defects in this law when it was reported out by the congressional committee that studied it and when the same was discussed in the bicameral conference committee that hammered the final version of the bill that became the law is a fact that simply strikes me as beyond belief.  It appears now that only Senator Teofisto Guingona, who filed the only dissenting vote in the final voting for the bill in the Senate and who now is one of the parties formally questioning provisions of the new law in the Supreme Court, may have been the only prescient one who was able to recognize the then proposed law as legally objectionable at that time.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Twisting History

I was just barely nine years old in 1972 when Ferdinand Marcos placed the entire country under military rule and ushered in more than a decade of authoritarian rule.  I remember playing with other kids on the street outside our rented apartment in Cebu City late in the afternoon of September 23 of that year and being admonished by a frantic grownup neighbor to all go back home because "martial law" had been declared.  As the sirens wailed that night to announce the nightly curfew that was to become a daily fixture of the lives of all Filipinos of those times, I laid awake in bed wondering what in the hell was "martial law" and why was such a fuss being made about it.

On vacation in Lianga some months after, I not only noticed but felt the heavy military and police presence everywhere. Piles and mounds of old, rusted firearms, shotguns and rifles, all surrendered or confiscated (many of them of World War II vintage), dotted the front yards of police stations and military camps.  Every night, as curfew hour approached, policemen or constables of the Philippine Constabulary then would man checkpoints at strategic areas all over Lianga.  The sight of an elderly police officer in uniform sitting on a wooden chair with only the light of a kerosene lamp to drive away the darkness and dozing off, one hand on the butt of his holstered revolver, while manning a lonely street corner post near our house in Lianga would always be one of my enduring images of the early martial law years in this town.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Main Street

In Lianga even today, we have little use for street names even if they do exist.  Directions for finding a particular house or any other location are always given in terms of the nearest prominent landmark or simply by diagramming through words, gestures and hand signs the general direction that had to be taken and the twists and turns that have to be made in order that one can get to where one is supposed to go.  It's a small town anyway where everyone virtually knows everybody.  Even strangers and outsiders are not expected to get really and hopelessly lost unless, by sheer stupidity or the lack of even any modicum of common sense, they deserve to.

That is why it was only when I was in my late teens when I learned by an accidental glance at a street map (yes, Lianga did have a street map even then) mounted on the wall of one of the offices at the municipal hall that the main street of the town, on which southern leg our family house was located, was named Rizal after the national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal.

It actually stretches straight and true the entire length of Lianga from south to north and runs parallel to the national highway just a short town block to its left.  On the opposite side lies a narrow strip of land mostly reclaimed over the decades from the sea and now cluttered tightly with residential houses except for the middle part right across the town's parish church which has always been set aside for the major structures and buildings that constitute Lianga's business and commercial center.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Look Back

My average day in Lianga nowadays starts with a routine so familiar that I often go through it it with nary a conscious thought as if I am on autopilot or cruise control.

As I get out of bed at about six in the morning, one hand immediately reaches out to flick on a switch on a power strip fixed to the wall on the right side of the headboard of my bed.  This turns on an internet modem and a WiFi router.  Then I grab my trusty Samsung tablet on a side table and, while still in pajamas, is quickly out of the bedroom and off to the kitchen to brew a cup of  hot coffee (sugar free but most certainly not decaf).

Then in the lanai of the house facing the sea and the slowly brightening horizon beyond the expanse of Lianga Bay and the blue-green waters of the Pacific Ocean, I would sit hunched over an old wooden table that used to belong to my paternal grandfather, steaming mug within easy reach, and leisurely checking my email inbox plus the day's latest news online while the sunrise of the new day breaks out in front of me.  A video call or two may occasionally interrupt my web trolling then it's on to Facebook for messages and updates from friends.

I am sure, the breathtaking sunrise vista taken aside, this routine is not exactly uncommon for a lot of people even here in the Philippines and more so elsewhere in the civilized world.  What makes it notable in my case in Lianga is that just six years ago, it could have been only not possible but the kind of stuff a local tech junkie of that time could have only dreamed about.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Shaken Again

It started with the faintest hint of shudder.  I remember I was sitting in front of my computer, eyes on the monitor, and trolling through Google News, since I was not able to watch television the whole day.  I looked up instinctively and as I turned around to check what was wrong, the shaking suddenly grew stronger.

Earthquake! The tremors became more violent, certainly the strongest I had ever felt in my entire life and as the walls vibrated and the windows panels of my room in the first floor of our house in Lianga started to jiggle in earnest, my eyes involuntarily turned to the time display on the task bar of the computer monitor.  It was about 10 minutes to nine in the evening of the last day of August just a week ago and, in those harrowing seconds that seemed to drag on endlessly, I had a mental image of myself still frozen in a sitting position, fingers still on the computer keyboard and seemingly waiting for the house to fall down on me.

The shaking went on for more than a minute, ebbing and gaining strength in a cycle as if a series of underground sea waves were pounding and crashing through the bedrock underneath Lianga and still I sat there still immobile and still.  Then it finally subsided and as everything grew still. It was only then when I managed to shake myself loose and despite a sudden queasy feeling in my stomach as if I just came off a roller coaster ride, I jumped up to check on everyone else in the house.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

De Pugon

I first heard about this baked treat from my younger sister, Adette, a year or so ago.  When going to Tandag City, the capital of the province of Surigao del Sur which is some 90 kilometers north of Lianga, be sure to stop by the town of Marihatag, she suggested, to buy and try some of the local pan de pugon.  I, of course, had no idea what she was talking about.  For me, bread is bread yet on my next trip north I did exactly as she advised me to do and since then that is exactly what I have been doing every time I get the chance.

Pan de pugon, for the uninitiated, can be loosely translated from the original Spanish as "bread of the hearth oven" and refers originally to home-baked bread using the old fashioned brick oven but now is often used to lump together many types of home-style bread products using all or some of the traditional dough making and baking techniques dating back to the Spanish colonial period until the early years of the last century.

I had lived much of my pre-school years in Lianga but even in the 1970's, bread was something you bought from the neighborhood bakery which happened to be just located conveniently beside our house..  I never had the opportunity to sample  homemade bread although my mother was fond of baking cakes and other pastries.  Bread was mostly thought to be too ordinary, too time consuming and uneconomical to produce in any quantity at home.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Let Down

The term fiesta, I am told, is the Spanish derivative of the Latin word festa which is the plural for festum which means festival or feast.  In many Spanish speaking countries and those like the Philippines which had once been Spanish colonies, it usually refers to a religious festival commemorating a particular Catholic saint who is revered to be the protector or patron of a particular town or city.

Yet even in the Philippine setting, a fiesta is more than a just a religious holiday. It has also cultural and socio-economic overtones and is often connected in the past to the culmination of the local harvest season for rice, corn and other vital agricultural crops.  It is also a celebration of community solidarity and in the more mundane sense, an occasion for people to get together, to feast on good food for a change and an opportunity take a break from the hard work and humdrum that often defines the ordinary in the day to day business of living.

In the truest sense, a fiesta comes out and evolves from the shared cultural and often historical experiences of a paticular people.  It draws its reason for being from a community's desire to highlight that which unifies and binds it together, the collective qualities that makes it unique among its neighbors and peers.  It seeks to recall and glorify the struggles and achievements of the past yet also expresses the hope and prayers for a more bountiful, more prosperous future.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Best Efforts

Renato Miranda, Executive Director for the Anti-Illegal Logging Task Force (AILTF), said it exactly right when he was asked to comment in a recent news interview on the difficulties inherent in the government's campaign against illegal loggers specifically in Region XIII or the Caraga region.  The task force's "best efforts", he said, must be directed not only on confiscating illegally cut timber and other forest products but on coming up with a strategic concept or strategy that insures that these forest resources "remain standing right there on the mountain."  "Every time we confiscated logs and timbers," he points out, "it merely shows that we failed in stopping these illegal loggers from cutting down trees."

His comments were made in the wake of an extensive aerial survey Miranda and members of his task force recently conducted on the so called "timber corridor" of the country which essentially comprises a large bulk of the Caraga and Davao provinces.  The survey has resulted in clear cut eyewitness and photographic evidence of the continued rampant illegal logging activities in many remote areas of these provinces in defiance of the total log ban imposed by President Noynoy Aquino more than a year ago.

While evidence of illegal timber cutting can be found all over these two regions, one area of major concern appears to be what remains of the once extensive forest concession area of the now moribund Paper Industries Corporation of the Philippines (PICOP) based in Bislig City which used to be Asia's largest paper mill. This area stretches the boundaries of  the provinces of Surigao del Sur, Agusan del Sur and the Davao provinces.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

To Die For

It caters probably to the basest, most primitive and animalistic of of our appetites and hearkens back to the time when man before he learned to cultivate and harvest plants, when he was first and foremost a hunter and predator.  I am, of course, alluding to here to our craving and taste for roasted or broiled meat and in the case of most people in this country, our predilection for that requisite centerpiece of Pinoy party fare and the epitome of Filipino gastronomic delights - the lechon de leche or the roasted suckling pig.

For most Filipinos the term lechon may be the colloquial and generic term for all manner of roasted pig irregardless of the size and I have seen them come in all sizes from small piglets barely half a dozen kilos in weight to real heavyweights that would put a baby carabao or water buffalo to shame.  But the word is actually derived from leche which is Spanish for milk. Thus the term lechon de leche is actually a redundancy yet, in local parlance, it is used to distinguish piglets prepared for roasting which should be ideally between two to six weeks of age from their larger or older kin.

Real lechon, to be the culinary delight it is meant to be, must cooked to perfection, its skin dark and crisp, the meat tenderly moist and juicy.  This is something that is actually easier to do with the real suckling pig than with the full grown variety of the same animal since a young piglet has plenty of collagen in its meat which makes it juicily tender and it has still to develop the robust muscle fibers that, in an adult pig, can toughen the flesh.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


A wise and grizzled farmhand watching over a piece of coconut land belonging to our family came by to see me not long ago and sought my permission to cut down half a dozen coconut trees which he said had been struck by lightning.  The land is on the outskirts of the small, rural village of Salvacion in San Agustin town which is just north of Lianga.

"All six trees were hit by lightning?" I had asked.  "Not all of them," he replied.  "Only one was hit but the others were singed by the lightning bolt.  They all have to be cut down or many other trees will be affected."  "Which trees?" I asked naively.  "All of them. It's like a curse," he said, his tone that of a man explaining simple reality to a retarded child. "It can spread and many others might be struck again in the future."

Now, I have been brought up and educated to be a clear-headed and rational man.  Lightning, I have been taught, is merely the massive discharge of electricity between the ground and the atmosphere (or between clouds) that occurs when there is an imbalance in the build-up of atmospheric electrical charges.  It is a purely random natural event can be explained rationally and scientifically.

Certainly, it is not some supernatural or mystical force possessed of some degree of malignant intelligence that can suddenly and arbitrarily decide to cleave down from the heavens like a swift blade of mystic light to cut and burn down its victims whether man, plant or beast.  It does not leave behind the deadly, poisonous scorch marks of its passing on those it did not outright kill or destroy, marks that doom all those that have survive its path with the threat of a final finishing stroke, an inevitable coup de grâce if you will, in the near future.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Not Good Enough

Last July 1 while at breakfast, a trio of related new reports caught my attention the way a steaming cup of extra strong black coffee can deliver a rousing, wake up jolt to the heart and brain after a bleary, listless morning.  It appears that Sec. Ramon Paje of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources had just announced the sacking from their posts of a total of 31 DENR officials in Region XIII (Caraga Region) and Region XI (Davao Region) for their failure to control illegal logging activities in their respective areas.

Removed from their posts were Leonardo Sibbaluca ( Region XI Executive Director), Jim Sampulna (Region XIII Executive Director), Musa Saruang (Regional Technical Director for Forestry for Region XIII), Hardinado Patnugo (RTD for Forestry for Region XI) and Claudio Jumao-as ( Forest Resources Conservation Division OIC for Region XI. The provincial environment and national resources officers (PENRO) of Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Sur, Davao del Norte, Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley were also relieved of their duties together with at least 20 community environment and national resources officers (CENRO) including those heading DENR offices in Bislig City, Tandag City, Cantilan and Lianga in the province of Surigao del Sur.

Sec. Paje had pointed out that it has been over a year since President Noynoy Aquino had issued Executive Order No. 23 which effectively imposed a total logging ban covering all natural and secondary forests all over the country and yet the the anti-illegal logging task force also created under the same executive order has been able to receive and confirm reports of rampant illegal timber cutting operations in many forest areas supposedly under the monitoring of the relieved DENR officials.  The sacking of the 31 DENR officials, according to Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte, has the support of Malacanang and  is a move aimed to prove the sincerity and seriousness of the government's commitment to transparency and public accountability in government.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Trying Hard And Not Trying At All

I was in Tandag City more than a week ago and got caught up in the slew of activities and events with which the provincial capital marked the 2nd day of the almost week long  commemoration of the 52nd Araw ng Surigao del Sur.  In particular, I witnessed in the morning of that day the formal opening by top provincial officials of an agro-trade fair where agricultural produce, handicrafts, food items and a host of other products from all over the province were being displayed and marketed.

As I watched the group of Gov. Johnny Pimentel, Vice-Governor Manuel Alameda and Tandag Mayor Alexander Pimentel make their obligatory rounds of the fair booths and stalls, I was suddenly reminded of a news item I had read online several days before wherein the League of Cities of the Philippines (LCP) was reported to be considering a plan to mount another challenge to the controversial decision made by the Supreme Court in February of last year which declared constitutional the reclassification in 2007 of 16 municipalities (Tandag included) as new cities.  I immediately wondered how Surigao del Sur provincial officials and the top honchos at the Tandag city hall are dealing with this development.

It is undeniable that many all over the country who have been trying to understand the long, tangled and convoluted history of this particular legal controversy have become more than a bit fed up (disgusted would be the more appropriate emotion) with the way the Supreme Court while still under the leadership of the unlamented Renato C. Corona  had been flip-flopping in deciding the matter.  By reversing itself several times and favoring one party then the other then back again in a series of judicial decisions which if taken together merely served to demonstrate the adroitness with which the law can be easily interpreted (or misinterpreted) to favor one point of view then, just as easily, a diametrically opposing argument, the highest court of the land lost a lot of its credibility with the people and, upon hindsight, helped bring about the sequence of events that made possible the Corona impeachment trial and its aftermath.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


The announcement via a live, phoned- in address by Dr. Primo Murillo to the delegates of the 8th Murillo Family Congress in Cagwait town last April 14 of his plan to ran in next year's local polls after more than a decade of absence from local politics may have raised a few eyebrows but the news did not really come as a surprise to many political observers here.  It was, in more ways than one, an announcement much anticipated and predicted as result of the changes and shifts in the local political power structure brought about by the rise of the Liberal Party under of the new administration of President Noynoy Aquino together with the exit from power of the Lakas Party associated with Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

With Prospero "Butch" Pichay, the Lakas stalwart and former Arroyo confidant, supposedly out of government and facing possible legal prosecution for corruption and other anomalous acts allegedly committed during his tenure as chairman of the Local Water Utilities Administration during the Arroyo administration, there are many here who feel that the Pimentel-Pichay alliance that has ruled the province for the past decade may have now been substantially weakened and that the Surigao del Sur provincial capitol in the capital city of Tandag may be ripe for the taking next year.

Of course, Governor Johnny Pimentel and Rep. Philip Pichay would probably laugh off such speculations as sheer nonsense.  The Pimentels and Pichays have been consolidating their hold on power over the province since 2001 and have successfully fended off all challenges to their supremacy since then.  Dr. Greg Murillo, the younger brother of Primo and himself formerly a three term mayor of Tago town, banking on the residual populist appeal of the Murillo name, had sought, in three local elections since then, to restore his family's political fortunes only be thwarted every time by the ruling powers' almost total dominance of the province.

Monday, April 30, 2012


The power crisis in Mindanao which has been hugging the headlines in the national news media the past few months has not had (at least not yet) a really major impact on life in Lianga.  Despite the horror stories of daily 4 to 8 hour power outages in other parts of the southern Philippines particularly in Western Mindanao, the only discernible effects in this town of what is being described in the news as an emerging major national crisis has been brownouts lasting at most less than hour which occur almost every day mostly in the early evening hours.

The fact that electric power is often restored relatively quickly after the outages is causing a degree of bewilderment among customers of the local electric cooperatives here who still shudder at dark memories of the Mindanao power shortages during the previous administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo where Lianga had to really endure up to 8 hours of darkness and no electricity every day and even in the evenings.

On cannot really blame them for the inability to shake off the sneaking suspicion that, in their particular case, the current "power crisis" may be more sham than reality and that powerful economic interests are simply using the threat of such a crisis to muscle their way into the extremely lucrative power generation industry in Mindanao.  If there is really a shortage in the supply of electric power in this part of the country then why is the crisis not so apparent as it should be (in Lianga at least)?

To me, it is clear that all the heated arguments about whether or not there is an actual power crisis in Mindanao have, in more ways than one, become largely superfluous if not confusing.  The facts are clear.  In the past 30 years or so, this island's economy and, therefore, its power needs have been growing faster than anywhere else in the country yet little or nothing has been done by the government during this time to plan and implement programs and projects designed to insure that it continues to get all the affordable electric power it needs to maintain its economic growth and development.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Natural High

There is something basic and primeval to mountains that appeal to the spiritual in man.  Mystics, seekers of inner wisdom and pilgrims searching for enlightenment have throughout human history made their way up the high places of the world where in the rarified air and the splendid isolation of mountain summits they sought the often elusive answers to the most vexing questions of life.

Of course, my family's brief Holy Week sojourn in the foothills of Mt. Kitanglad in Bukidnon province was more of a weekend vacation rather than a pilgrimage or spiritual journey.  But in between the thrills and squeals of the vaunted zip-lines and the zorbit rides, the high adrenaline rush of the buggy and ATV trails and the muscle aching challenges of the nature trails of Dahilayan in Manolo Fortich town, one does have plenty of down time to ponder, reflect upon and essentially "soak in" the unique ambiance of this mountainous hideaway.

Dahilayan is actually the home of a group of tourist resorts capitalizing on the cool climate, unique flora and fauna plus the spectacular scenery that can be found some 4,700 feet above sea level.  These resorts also promote eco-tourism and facilities geared towards the more extreme recreational activities like the already aforementioned zip-lines, ATV and zorbit rides.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Lianga In My Mind

In the past, when life had me spending time away from Lianga for extended periods and life in the city or elsewhere became exceedingly oppressive, I would almost always find some degree of comfort in daydreaming about Lianga.  In these needed breaks from reality, I would instantly be magically transported across the sea, the land and over the mountains and back to this place I have always considered home.

Strangely enough, the images, sights and sounds of the Lianga in my fantasies would always be one and the same every time.

It would always be just past noon after the midday meal and the town would be basking in the midst of a glorious summer afternoon.  The sky above the rooftops of the old houses would be, except for some stray wisps of misty clouds on the far horizon, an almost perfect blue and the streets practically deserted,  The local people would be huddled indoors seeking escape and relief from the scorching heat of the noonday sun while trying, at the same time, to steal an hour or two of siesta sleep.

Outside the windows of our family house, I could, in my mind's eye, see the heat haze shimmering as it rose in waves from the baked concrete of the town's main street, the sultry air forcing its way indoors only to be enlivened occasionally by the sudden cool breeze vaguely smelling of salt and drying seaweed coming from the nearby sea. The only ones foolish enough to brave the heat outside would be the neighborhood dogs who would squabble from time to time for control of their favorite spots of shady ground, the occasional explosion of angry yips and barks punctuating the sound of muted music from a radio set coming from one of the many open windows down the street.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Imposing Or Imposition

If the Holy Child Parish Church is the traditional center of religious worship for the majority of Lianga's residents who are Roman Catholics, the new Lianga Market Mall, which is just a stone's throw from that church's main portals, is its new temple to local business and commerce. This recently completed two-story edifice of concrete, glass and steel stands near the center of the poblacion in a tight group together with the church and the public park and alongside the sea on the space previously occupied by the old town market complex.

The old market building, before it was torn down two years ago, was a long and rectangular structure of drab and weathered wood topped by a roof of rust stained corrugated metal sheets which had for decades been so much a part of the Lianga landscape that even many local old-timers could have been forgiven for entertaining the fanciful notion that the whole building had always been there since time immemorial. That it was already rundown, decrepit and long overdue for either replacement or, at the very least, some form of renovation or rehabilitation, was painfully obvious to everyone here even if for many long time residents of the town like me, it retained that sad, sentimental and nostalgic charm common to many old public buildings long past their prime yet gallantly putting up a brave front despite the threat of imminent collapse or actual demolition, whichever, of course, would come first.

The new market mall, on the other hand, has a youthful, brash and arrogant air about it as it proclaims its new dominance of the Lianga skyline, its clean, symmetrical and robust lines setting it apart from the old wooden houses and the far more modest structures that surround it.  It may be a minute fraction of the size of any of the giant commercial malls in the cities but, by Lianga's more modest standards, it is not only the "in" location for the town's more serious retailers and would-be merchants with the capital to set up shop and hustle up some serious business but also the place for the local population especially the younger crowd to go, meet up and do some local "malling".

Saturday, March 3, 2012


The Bretania Islands of San Agustin are best seen and photographed in their sun drenched glory.  When the sun is high and the sky is mostly clear and solid blue, the islands are in their picture postcard loveliest.  You can ask the increasing number of visitors who have been coming and returning to the islands for what they consider to be the ultimate experience in tropical island hopping and the chance to sinfully indulge in pristine white sand beaches, crystal clear seas and breathtaking seascapes.

But I have been to Bretania on less sunnier days and yet even under overcast skies and the mild drizzle of rain, the islands, as seen from the mainland, are still a wonder to behold. The mood though is markedly different.  Instead of the sharp contrasts and the warmly vivid colors brought about by bright and sunny summer days, the islands float eerily like ghostly wraiths or illusions on pastel colored waters under gloomy, menacing clouds.  Everything seems pale and insubstantial, the whole dreamlike panorama of sea and sky framed by the misty haze of faraway rain. (Click here for more pictures...)

Friday, March 2, 2012

Gold Fever

There was a basic rhythm to what may seem, at first glance, a madness of motion. One man stood waist deep in a trench he had dug out of the wet earth, his upper body flashing up and down as he flung to the side on the ground above him spadefuls of what looked like wet gravel.  His partner, a short distance away, was sluicing pails of muddy water on an improvised water trough made of wood and sheet metal, essentially washing the gravel clean of sediment and dirt.

A third man squatted by a small stream, a small plastic basin on hand, both hands alternately dipping and lifting the basin with its sample of the same gravel in and out of the water while occasionally pouring excess water out to flush away impurities.  A small lad kept rushing back and forth carrying pails of exhumed earth, his bare legs sinking almost up to his knees as he trudged through mud and muck.

They were just one group among many scattered all over the ruined landscape which to my eyes seemed to be more greenish-yellow muddy water than actual land.  Clumps of scraggly coconut trees and low scrubs complete the whole scene but water dominated everything whether pooled in stagnant mud holes or rushing about in swiftly flowing discolored streams.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Tectonic Blues

The recent magnitude 6.9 earthquake that hit Negros and Cebu islands in the Visayas and which caused several dozen deaths and extensive infrastructure damage has forced many people here in Lianga to rethink and reevaluate their community's vulnerability to a calamity of a similar nature happening here.

Lianga, in living memory, has not been the victim of a major earthquake or any of its attendant destructive effects like tsunamis and landslides.  Yet it is no stranger to smaller earth tremors and nary does a month go by here without at least one or two noticeable quakes being felt by the local population.  In the latter part of last year, a series of quakes, one of them measuring at least a magnitude 5, did shake up much of the province of Surigao del Sur and the Caraga region.  No major damage was, however, reported.

In the two decades I have resided in Lianga, I have personally experienced more than a couple of strong tremors at one time or the other.  Most involve just a sudden, unexpected shaking of the ground lasting a few seconds  or more.  A few were really strong quakes which rattled walls or toppled books and other knickknacks on shelves especially on the second floor of the house.  One or two of these, I could clearly recall, were preceded by a loud rushing, screeching sound like a runaway train locomotive passing by.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Corona's Travails

By some misguided sense of intellectual disdain and arrogance, I had automatically assumed that our household would be one among the few in Lianga who would spare the time (when they can) to tune in their television sets on most afternoons to the live coverage of the impeachment trial of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona which happens to be on its 14th day today.  Just by asking around, I learned, to my shame, that there are many individuals and even families, much more than few I had thought, who were interested enough to watch portions, if not the entirety, of the proceedings on an almost daily basis.

Of course, the reasons why people here are willing to spend hours watching legal experts argue legal questions and technicalities in what amounts to a quasi-judicial proceeding varies from person to person. The lawyers, would-be lawyers, and self-proclaimed legal pundits see the impeachment trial as a chance to observe the best legal minds in the country strut their stuff live on national television.  They revel in the legal posturing and maneuvering, the arcane technical language and procedures, and, most of all, in the thrusting and parrying of what can be seen as gladiatorial combat albeit on a more mental and logical level yet no less as fierce and deadly or as physically demanding as the original life and death contests of the ancient Roman arena.

The less legally attuned minds here are more fascinated by the high drama and spectacle of this event cut into daily episodes served piecemeal everyday like their favorite prime time telenovelas or television soap operas.  There is constant discussion and commentary on what can be seen and heard by the cameras - both inside and outside the Senate building,  All and everything are fertile subjects for discussion and criticism.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Flood Waters

If there ever was a clear, consistent memory I have of my childhood days in Lianga, it would have to be of how predictably rainy and stormy were the months of December and January. I can easily recall many instances when my siblings and I would be huddled together most of the time for days on end in the living room of the family house, shivering from the delicious cold despite having thick blankets wrapped around us while outside the tightly closed window shutters the winds howled madly and the rain poured down in vicious and seemingly never ending torrents.

During those days in the early 1970's and until just a couple of years ago, the primitive gravel roads and the wooden timber bridges that were the norm in this part of the country were extremely vulnerable to harsh weather conditions and floods.  That meant that travelling around the province and the region was not only hazardous but prone to long delays as excessive rainfall turned gravel roads to viscous mud traps and flash floods washed away bridges or caused landslides that would block critical road sections for days.

Going back to school in Cebu after the Christmas holidays at that time was, more often than not, a logistically troublesome and dicey proposition as well as mind-numbing, physically challenging ordeal.  Not only has one have to deal with flooded roads and washed out bridges but also with cancelled airplane flights and, if one really had no choice but to endure it, a wave tossed and stormy night at sea on-board any of the small inter-island ferry ships brave enough to make the sea crossing to the Visayas.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

No Dingy, Little Town

A dingy, little town.  That was exactly, word for word, how a foreigner acquaintance of mine who was on a whirlwind tour of the Caraga region called Lianga when he passed by my town recently.  I stared at the e-mail on the computer screen and had almost made up my mind to reply with a blistering defense of my hometown when I decided to hold off for a moment and reflect for a moment if this visitor's description had any merit at all.

I have always considered Lianga to be quaintly beautiful in its own way, if not exactly picturesque (although many locals will certainly disagree with me on this point).  Like many truly old, coastal towns all over the country, its real charms are not patently or immediately obvious.  Its old houses and narrow streets do not come out well in most photographs.  "Just like another tired, third world, ramshackle town," wrote a reader of this blog from Europe not long ago after looking over some of my pictures of this town.

Lianga has to be experienced in order to be fully appreciated.  One has to walk its streets and alleyways, amble through its marketplace and public places, seek refuge in the blessed coolness of its lovely, old church, loiter in the rickety yet historied corridors of its schools or walk barefoot on its lovely beaches before the real magic sets in.  It is definitely not one of those touristy show towns where one glance is enough to convince a visitor to kick off his shoes, rush into sandals and shorts then start running for the nearest hotel resort.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Stormy Endings

December has always been traditionally considered a month for wet and stormy weather by the local people here in Lianga.  But as as 2011 drew to a close barely two weeks ago, we here had to admit that we did not expect the last month to be more stormy, in more ways than one, than we had bargained for.

First, Typhoon Sendong (international name Washii) caught us by surprise when it made landfall late afternoon on Dec. 16 near Hinatuan town on Surigao del Sur's southern tip. Hinatuan is just over an hour's drive from Lianga and the typhoon, packing winds of at least 60 kph near its center, struck our area hard just as dusk was gathering.  Power lines snapped and electric posts toppled over plunging much of the whole province into darkness.

Many coastal houses especially those built with light materials sustained damage and at least one motorized boat was reported missing at sea.  Last minute voluntary evacuation, however, by many local people living in coastal areas vulnerable to storm surges and heavy seas did prevent the great toll in human lives and massive damage to properties that the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan would suffer later in that night.

Most Lianga residents were spared the worst of the gale force winds and flooding that ravaged many areas in Mindanao along the typhoon's track that veered north and west of Surigao del Sur.  For most of the local folks, the storm only inflicted the inconvenience of going through almost a day and a half without electricity, clean water and mobile telecommunications as all mobile cellphone service were cut off almost immediately during the initial onslaught of the storm.