Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Tree

It has been reported in the American news media the past week or so that an elementary school in Frisco, Texas in the United States has banned the use of Christmas trees within its premises and has also forbidden students to use the colors red and green in its annual winter party.  The principal of the school explained that the the local Board of Education is enforcing the policy that "no religious belief or non-belief shall be promoted by the district and its employees" and that the school "didn't want to offend any families and since each family donates money (to the party), (it) feels that this is the best policy."

The ban surprisingly came just after Texas Governor Rick Perry signed recently into law the so called Merry Christmas Bill which essentially allows students and school staff to freely discuss and celebrate holidays as they please. Many parents and concerned Texas residents have been outraged and have angrily spoken up to condemn what they felt was political correctness carried to the extreme by the administrative staff of the Nichols Elementary School .

In Lianga like everywhere else in the Philippines and in most Christian nations all over the world, nothing else epitomizes and symbolizes the Yuletide season than the ubiquitous Christmas tree. In this town, it is even a more common component of the traditional Christmas dressing-up of homes than the more indigenous Filipino parol (Christmas star) or belen (nativity crèche or tableau), a fact that quickly is obvious to someone who takes the time to go around and visit the houses of relatives, friends and acquaintances here this Yuletide season.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Dying Beautifully

Seventeen years ago my father died peacefully in his sleep and in the manner he always said he wanted  to leave this world - without fuss, without unnecessary pain and without subjecting his family to the rigors and demands of a death coming only after a protracted and prolonged bout with some dreaded and debilitating disease.

He had lived a rich and full life, most of it lived in the service of others. He had been a physician and healer for most of his life, a rare artist with the surgeon's knife, a tool which he wielded with such consummate skill and panache that stories of the many medical miracles he had wrought in the operating room in his time are still being told and even embellished to this day among old-timers here in Lianga.

When he went to sleep on that night many many years ago and did not wake up at dawn as he normally did for the most of his life, he was already a much loved and respected man in this town. In death, lying serenely in bed with the bed covers unrumpled and with nary a trace of discomfort on his face, he was the picture of a man who had left life with no regrets and with no hint of bitterness or ambivalence. It was the way he always wanted to go, quietly and quickly.

It has often been taken as an article of the wisdom of the ancients that a man reaps what he sows.  Thus it is a sure consequence of divine justice for a man to pass on to the next world in a way that is commensurate with the manner in which he had lived his life. Bloodthirsty warmongers and merciless killers of men are believed to be fated to end their lives just as violently and in the same sickeningly bloody fashion with which they gleefully dispatched from life their helpless victims.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


A video of a recent news interview of Rodrigo Duterte, Davao City's maverick mayor, emotionally recounting his impressions of the chaotic situation in typhoon ravaged Tacloban City after he had led a group of Davao based rescue and aid workers who were among the first responders in Leyte is going viral on YouTube and Facebook. A single posting of that same video on Facebook (one of many posted and shared on that site) that I viewed yesterday evening had already garnered more than 8,000 likes and almost 2000 comments.

In that interview, a visibly emotionally wrought Duterte struggling to keep control of himself told reporters that in his view the state of national calamity declared by President Benigno Aquino III "was not enough" and that "there has to be a state of emergency because there is no local government functioning" in the stricken areas. "The people," he insisted, "have no electricity, no food, no water... all their dead are on the streets... the survivors are looking at the heavens.. Those that they depend on, the police, the army, and even the social workers of the government, all of them are victims, all of them are dead. Even the police and the army there are dead... God must have been somewhere else ... or that He forgot that there is a planet called Earth."

The short, grim monologue punctuated on a several instances by pungent swear words and curses in both Tagalog and Bisaya (which he was clearly trying in vain to suppress) ended with a fervent plea for help in any form or manner for all the victims of Typhoon Yolanda. "We have to help," he said. "No matter what, no matter how little."

Mayor Duterte is, of course, well known for his brash, unorthodox and iron-fisted management style as chief executive of the local government in Davao City particularly in his pet areas of crime prevention and control and the maintenance of local peace and order. He is widely credited and cited for making Davao, which used to be haven for criminals and lawlessness in the 1980's, one of the safest cities in Southeast Asia yet himself remains a favorite target for condemnations and criticisms from human rights groups like Amnesty International who have accused him of tacitly encouraging if not out-rightly supporting the extrajudicial killings of criminals and crime suspects within his jurisdiction.

In the past, Duterte has been portrayed as being not adverse or hesitant to using a tart tongue, or worse, a quick fistic blow or even a series of punches to chastise and discipline in public erring officials and constituents. He is so respected (or feared, depending on who you talk to) for his public image as a overzealous, trigger happy yet thoroughly effective crime fighter by many Filipinos in and outside of Davao that he has been given the sobriquet "The Punisher" in 2002 by Time magazine in reference to the fictional vigilante anti-hero character popularized in Marvel comic books.

It also seems that this rather pugnacious and pugilistic nature has been inherited by the members of the family political dynasty with which he has ruled Davao for decades. His daughter, Sarah Duterte-Carpio, who was mayor of the city from 2010 until 2013 was thrust into the national spotlight after punching in the head a regional trial court sheriff during an altercation in connection with the demolition of a shantytown in the city during her term.

In the case of the recent news interview, however, one cannot refrain from feeling sympathy (even empathy) and grudging admiration for the man. Here is a local government official from a city far away from Tacloban, obviously with his own local concerns and problems, who responded immediately, on his own initiative, to the unfolding tragedy happening in another distant city and who quickly managed to mobilize and get a rescue and assistance team into the disaster area even before other agencies and groups from the national government (who should have been there first) could get their act together.

Obviously he was among the first public officials to actually wade into the battered and ravaged ruins of what used to be eastern Leyte and among the first to personally see and evaluate, from a first person perspective, the true horror, the depth and extent of the tragedy of the massive destruction left by Yolanda. One can forgive him for becoming emotional while recalling what must have been an searingly agonizing experience. One can also forgive and ignore the curses and the swear words. He was clearly entitled to them being the man he is and in view of the raw honesty of the emotions one can clearly see in his face and demeanor as he was speaking out.

In truth, his voice in that interview was and remains among the only few from so many other official voices, mostly blurting out lame and inane excuses or trying finger-point blame, that made clear sense and which, with brutal honesty, has publicly highlighted the same unanswered questions which the Filipino nation and the rest of world have been asking since Typhoon Yolanda had come and gone. How could the national government of this country and its local officials in the Visayas region not been able to adequately and properly prepare for the onslaught of one of the strongest storms in history in spite of clear warnings and up to date forecasts from meteorologists many days before it made landfall? 

Why was the initial response of the Philippine government to the devastation in the critically hit areas been so spotty and slow? Didn't high officials of the Aquino administration, including the President himself, made public assurances and even boasted on the national news media in the days before Yolanda hit that its agencies and personnel were already prepared and its logistical assets properly positioned to deal with the impending calamity?

Focus back on "the Punisher" from Davao who dropped everything and immediately organized and sent a relief team to go quickly into the disaster zone, the same man who, in order to make sure that his group can arrive quickly and safely in the Tacloban area, had supposedly given instructions for his rescue team members to shoot down any looters and lawless elements who may seek to harass or rob the Davao contingent.  Duterte later however clarified that the order was to merely "shoot in the legs" and not to kill but only incapacitate would-be assailants or ambushers in self-defense.

The mayor also pointed out in the same interview to what may be a valid point and something even President Aquino in an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour has acknowledged. This is the fact that the local governments in the typhoon hit communities have been virtually decimated and therefore no longer exist and has ceased to function. This means that unless the national government steps in and immediately assume de facto emergency control on the ground (for the meantime at least), there can be no quick, efficient and organized rescue, relief and rehabilitation program that can properly take off no matter how much local and foreign aid and assistance is available.

Finally, Duterte also harped in the same interview on the need for a strong local government with the political will to enforce forced evacuations of its constituents living in critically vulnerable locations in the face of a looming natural disaster such as a super typhoon. He stressed that with a proper warning from the national government and if it would be necessary, he would personally manhandle and drag residents of his city who are unwilling to evacuate from their homes to safer locations. That requires, he emphasized, that a viable contingency plan for such scenarios must already exist for local disaster preparedness officials and that a major part of it must include designated avenues and easy routes for access to already prepared and clearly identified evacuation centers and refuge areas.

There is no doubt in my mind that Davao mayor, because of the interview which has been seen by countless Filipinos all over the country, is now being seen as an admirable if not heroic figure, an exemplary leader in the face of what is perceived as a government that on all levels is coming across as inept, indecisive and incompetent. After all, he is not only making sense, he has actually done something for the victims of Yolanda and did it fearlessly well to the limits of his capability and capacity.

Why not elect this man and make him President? This is what majority of the almost two thousand comments I read to the Facebook post showing the interview video said or implied. Even those who were not so slavish in their praise had only favorable words for the man.

Why not indeed. In one sense, we do need men like Rodrigo Duterte who are strong, decisive and fearless leaders of men, leaders who are not afraid to do what must be done even if the weak-hearted and timid among us may shout caution and restraint or quibble with legalities and procedural technicalities.

In that same view, we do need charismatic and paternalistic leaders who will really lead this country and, if need be, pull us painfully by our very ears in the path and direction of the peace, progress and prosperity he envisions for us even if there are those, rightly or wrongly, who may want to go somewhere else or through a different route altogether. We need another Lee Kuan Yew (or heaven forbid, for those who are rabid Marcos apologists, another less corrupt yet no less resolute Ferdinand Marcos), a strong man with a heart of gold, a will of iron, nerves of steel and brass balls. Filipinos do still dream and fervently pray for a political savior, a Messiah, to take this country out of the clutches of the corrupt, the mediocre and the incompetent who have been misleading the nation for so long while enriching themselves and their cronies at its expense.

Rodrigo Duterte could be that man. For many he does certainly fit the bill. That is why I believe today, in my heart and mind, that the Punisher from Davao City is a very dangerous man.

Sunday, November 10, 2013


I spent most of Nov. 9 watching television. I started with CNN and later moved on to the local Filipino channels. All were, as expected, trying to outdo each other in airing the most gruesome and shocking pictures and videos of the devastation wrought by Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) in the central Philippines and the Visayas region particularly in the now beat-up and battered city of Tacloban on the island of Leyte.

I immediately realized how news worthy the emerging disaster in the Visayas was when I began seeing and hearing on-site reportage by noted CNN journalists Paula Hancocks and Andrew Stevens. Hancocks, in particular, was repeatedly cited by the news network in its initial breaking news bulletins as the first foreign correspondent to fly in to Tacloban and report live from there.

By early afternoon, more and more news updates have slowly began painting an emerging picture of the unprecedented extent of the horrendous destruction visited in many of the affected areas.  In my mind, as well as in the minds of the millions of other Filipinos all over the country who were monitoring the news media, it gradually became clear that in almost all of the lovely, tropical islands comprising the central Philippines, a calamity of unimaginable proportions caused by what has been described by meteorologists as one of the strongest typhoons in recorded history, was become more and more apparent.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

40 Days

Yesterday, the 25th day of September marked the end of the traditional forty day mourning period following the death of Lianga Vice-Mayor Robert "Jun" Lala Jr who passed away last August 17. His family, relatives, supporters and friends commemorated the event with a morning mass at the Sto. Niño Parish Church after which everyone proceeded to the Lianga public cemetery to visit and pray at his grave. The Lala family later hosted lunch for all of the mourners and guests at the Lala residence.

Casual research on my part reveals that the significance of the forty day mourning period for deceased individuals especially for Catholics in the Philippines is rooted more in custom and tradition rather than in actual religious or church doctrine. The number 40 is important in biblical numerology and is mentioned often in the Bible. The great flood of Noah, for example, lasted for 40 days and nights. The people of Israel led by Moses wandered for 40 years in the wilderness after leaving Egypt after the Exodus. Jesus was said to have fasted for 40 days after he was baptized by John the Baptist and tradition holds that he ascended to heaven only after 40 days had passed after his resurrection.

Many Filipinos whether they are Catholics or not believe that a person's soul after death wanders the world and may visit the various places that have significance in its previous life.  Only after forty days will it be called to judgement and thereafter be allowed to ascend to heaven, descend to hell or be incarcerated in purgatory. This belief in so called "lingering souls" has been hotly debated in many religious circles and there are many priests and theologians to this day who still cannot agree whether it has any real basis in Christian doctrine.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Minding The Legacy

When Surigao del Sur Governor Johnny Pimentel appointed and swore into office Marie Gene Lala as the newest member of Lianga's municipal council last September 9, he may have been largely motivated by the need to pay tribute to her recently deceased husband, Robert "Jun" Lala Jr, who was the town's vice-mayor when he passed away last August 17. But the governor may have wittingly done the people of Lianga a great service.

When Jun Lala died in office after just over a month of serving his second full term as head of Lianga's Sangguniang Bayan or municipal council, Dot Tejero who was the highest ranking council member automatically succeeded him to that office thus opening up a vacancy in the eight man legislative body. The law empowers the provincial governor to appoint a person to fill up the vacant position for the remaining portion of the unexpired term which ends in 2016.

In the past, the choice of who to appoint has always been subject to the pressures and requirements of political expediency and provincial governors have always used the rather discretionary nature of this particular appointing authority as an integral part of the much entrenched system of patronage politics that is a bitter and undesirable reality of the dysfunctional political system of this country.  I have written a previous blog post some time ago about this which can be seen here.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


It used to be that in Lianga a bout with fever unless it was determined to be really a high grade one where one's body temperature rises to at least 39 degrees centigrade or higher, it was considered more of a nuisance rather than anything really serious. Nothing that regular doses of paracetamol or any of the other antipyretic drugs that help reduce fever cannot remedy in conjunction with rest and increased fluid or water intake.

The exception, of course, was made for children (especially the very young), the elderly and those already in poor health who even  in the more remote and far flung barangays or villages are immediately rushed to the local health center or hospital.  That is, if their families have the financial resources and the capability to do so. Otherwise, it may be up to the local mananambal (the local folk healer or practitioner of traditional medicine) to come up with some cure hopefully by using the appropriate herbal remedies and not some form of arcane yet useless sorcery.

Nowadays, any instance of elevated body temperature in both adults and children can now be a cause for panic. This is because there has been, for the past few months, an outbreak of dengue fever in this town and this health scourge has claimed several lives including that of the municipal vice-mayor of Lianga, Robert "Jun" Lala Jr., who passed away last August 17.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Gone Too Soon

As Christians we are taught as an article of faith that the ways of God are often mysterious and far beyond our limited and mortal comprehension, that there are many painful hurtful things and events that transpire in our everyday lives that may prove difficult for us to accept as part and parcel of the divine plan that we believe determines the direction and course of our existence in this world.

One such event was the passing away of Lianga Vice-Mayor Robert Lala Jr. (known affectionately to his relatives, friends and constituents as Jun or Junjun) last August 17, 2013 as a result of complications arising from a short but deadly bout with dengue fever.  His death was a sobering shock to all those who knew him because there were few men like him who lived life to the fullest and who found joy and laughter in everything he did.

I knew Jun intimately not only because he was a first cousin but because we virtually grew up together.  In Lianga and later on in Cebu City, I saw him grow up from being a lovable, tousled-haired and pint-sized kid with no hint of the seeds of greatness laying dormant inside him to the much beloved and much esteemed public servant that he eventually would became.  In the course of the long and difficult process that characterized the period between these two different stages in his life, Jun never lost the innate optimism, the unquestioning and limitless zest for life and the yen to help others that so distinguished him from his contemporaries and for which, in my view, he will always be remembered.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Too Fast And Gone Awry

If you are a visitor or tourist planning to visit Surigao del Sur, then it would be fair to assume, if you have done your research or have asked those in the know about the places and locations worth visiting here, that you would come up with a list at the top of which would be the names of the province's top three tourist destinations. That would be the Tinuy-an Falls of Bislig, the Enchanted River of Hinatuan and the Bretania Islands of San Agustin.

The first two on the list have their own unique allure and particular points of interest but I have always felt a more sentimental attachment to the islands (or more accurately islets) of Bretania for the simple reason that the jump-off point for reaching the islets is just a half-hour's drive from Lianga where I live and because my paternal grandparents were actually from the small barangay or village of Salvacion which is just thee kilometers away from Barangay Bretania which happens to be the coastal village on whose coastal waters the now fabled islets lay scattered like a loose spray of emerald green jewels floating on a blue-green sea.

In the past few years, Bretania has seen tumultuous changes brought about by the sudden influx of visitors drawn initially by word of mouth to the pristine and unspoiled beauty of its islets, their white sand beaches and crystal clear waters.  Nowadays, of course, news about Bretania on the internet and aggressive advertising on the part of local tourism agencies had seen a dramatic increase in the volume of tourist arrivals.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Remembering Dick and Jane

Surprisingly, I still can clearly picture them to this very day in my mind's eye.  Worn, a bit dog-eared, musty smelling yet well cared for.  Thin, paper-bound readers based on the Dick and Jane series of reading books some versions of which were then popularly used by Catholic private schools in the late 1960's and the early 1970's.

I was at that time just barely five years old and they were my first introduction to the world of reading.  The books belonged to my older brother and sister who were already in the first and second grades of elementary school but when the sudden mood would strike me, I would clumsily leaf through them, look at the brightly colored illustrations and slowly trace one finger over the large printed text below them while trying to silently mouth out the words.

Look at Dick and Jane.  See them play.  See Spot run.  Dick and Jane were, of course, brother and sister.  Spot was their dog.  Puff was their cat.  Sally was their baby sister.  Together with their parents and friends they lived happy and fun lives in a neighborhood that was reminiscent of my childish understanding of what was the best of post-World War II, white and middle-class, suburban Middle America.

Friday, May 24, 2013


As many here expected, May 13 which was the day Filipinos here in Lianga and all over the Philippines trooped to the polling places to vote for their favored candidates in this year's general elections would not be allowed to dawn without the local leadership of the CPP-NDF (Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front) and its armed wing, the NPA (New People's Army), taking the opportunity to come out with a formal statement outlining their common stand and viewpoint on the then approaching electoral exercise.

Just a day or so before election day and in the darkness of the early dawn, printed leaflets were scattered on the streets at certain strategic points in Lianga by unknown persons.  The leaflets upon examination contained a two page missive purported coming from the hand of Maria Malaya who is said to be the spokesperson for the NDF Northeast Mindanao Chapter.  Malaya is said to be the partner of Jorge "Ka Oris" Madlos who is better known for his role as the designated spokesman for the NDF in Mindanao.

In Bisaya and couched in the rigidly formalistic style favored by the revolutionary left and peppered here and there with the familiar catchwords alluding, as always, to the "reaksyunaryong eleksyon" and the "dagkung burgesyang komprador", the message expressed the deep skepticism with which the revolutionary movement sees the last elections and all elections for that matter conducted under the present "madaugdaugong sistema" (oppressive system) as a means for transforming Philippine society for the better.  Yet Malaya stressed that the CPP-NDF-NPA supports the right of the Filipino people to democratically choose their leaders and has called upon progressive minded voters to come out and vote for those who they believe can represent their interests in the government, reactionary and corrupt it may be.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


The local slate of municipal candidates under the Liberal Party, as expected, dominated the local elections in Lianga in the May 13 general elections.  Mayor Roy Sarmen and Vice-Mayor Jun Lala convincingly trounced their opponents and won their re-election bids.  At the time of the writing of this post, at least five of their candidates for the municipal council are set to win new three year terms.

There was some speculation here before and during the official campaign that Sammy Dollano, Sarmen's lone rival for the mayor's seat would be able to mount a strong challenge to the incumbent chief executive (see previous blog post here).  Rumors had flown thick and fast that Dollano was stockpiling a sizable war chest and was on the verge of forming a well organized political machine that was capable of unseating Sarmen.  In the end, nothing of that sort happened and Team Sarmen which is allied with the provincial slate of the Liberal Party under Governor Johnny Pimentel largely ruled the day.

In the race for the eight seats in the municipal council, the LP also managed to get a fresh mandate for at least five of its candidates, all  of them serving incumbents.  Two independents and one from the LAKAS party (allied with former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and incumbent Rep. Philip Pichay of Surigao del Sur's first district who incidentally is leading the vote count against his main opponent, Abet Ty-Delgado) who made it to the winners' circle, however, all made a strong showing and ended up grabbing three of the top four slots.  For an updated list of the winning candidates here in Lianga in the May 2013 local polls you can go here.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Voting Day

May 13 dawned sweltering and sultry and as I, my siblings and our mother together with the rest of our family rushed through the minutiae of the early day in order to to be at the polling centers to vote right after breakfast, it became immediately clear to us as we good-naturedly jostled and knocked elbows with other voters within the quickly lengthening queue outside our clustered voting precinct at the Lianga Central Elementary School that we should have made the extra effort to have come earlier.

It may be true that the the 2013 general elections here in Lianga and all over the country have become largely automated and that the old-style manual balloting and canvassing have gone the way of the dinosaurs yet it did not, of course, automatically mean that the actual voting process would immediately become (at least at this time) fast and free of the irritating errors, delays and glitches that everyone hoped by now would be mostly eliminated by modern technology and months of thorough planning and preparation by election officials.  In fact, we had to stand and sweat in line for almost two hours for our chance to vote but thankfully in the end the whole thing went smoothly.  This was fortunate for us in view of the many problems regarding voting procedures and malfunctioning PCOS (Precinct Count Optical Scan) machines in many other areas all over the country being reported in the national news media.

In our own clustered polling precinct, the delays have less to do with the machine itself but the fact that many voters especially the elderly and first-timers have yet to familiarize themselves and become adept at using the new specialized ballots and the new voting procedures.  This is after all only the second time since 2010 that the automated voting system was used.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


In just a couple of days it will be election day and as that fateful day draws near, the question of who to vote for is uppermost in the minds of most Filipinos particularly those including myself who remain unsure of their final choices for the more than 30 national and local elective positions that need to be filled in.  That is, of course, if one is not already contemplating of selling out to the highest bidder or happens to be already committed for whatever reason or reasons to particular candidates or political parties.

I know that there are many conscientious voters here in Lianga, in particular, who like me are making and finalizing their list of chosen candidates from the senatorial level down to the members of the local municipal council.  In my occasional forays around town I usually try to talk to as many of them as I can in order to get a sense of the not only the various criteria they commonly use in making their choices but also to discover if there are similar thought processes they all employ in making them.

On more than a few instances, I had been asked to reveal my own list of favored politicians, a request, of course, that in most cases I try to skillfully and gracefully sidestep and evade knowing by hindsight and past experience how deeply the typical Filipino voter, especially in the rural and provincial areas, can become emotionally and intellectually involved in the political debate during elections.  One does not want a purely intellectual discussion deteriorate from mere reasonable albeit impassioned debate and just a contest of minds to real and actual combat of the more physical and deadly kind.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Hard Choice

The so called "ambush" attack last April 20 on a vehicle convoy in Barangay Binakalan, Gingoog City in Misamis Oriental by New People's Army rebels which resulted in the wounding of Mayor Ruthie Guingona of Gingoog City and the killing of her driver and one of the mayor's security escorts, has focused the nation's attention once more on the issue of how should political candidates during elections conduct themselves when doing campaign sorties and similar activities within areas claim by communist insurgents as part of their "territory".

Guingona, the 78 year old wife of former Vice President Teofisto Guingona, who will be stepping down after the May 2013 general elections suffered "shrapnel wounds in her arms and legs" as well as fractured bones in her hips and arms" according to her son, Senator Teofisto "TG" Guingona III. The mayor is presently still recovering after surgery in a Cagayan de Oro City hospital but is considered in a stable condition.

Jorge "Ka Oris" Madlos, the spokesman for the National Democratic Front of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP-NDF) in Mindanao, has in a public statement apologized to the mayor and her family and has said that the attack on the mayor's convoy was unintentional.  Madlos said that Guingona's security forces fired first on NPA forces manning a makeshift checkpoint and that the insurgents only returned fire in self-defense.  He further alleged  the NPA had only wanted to stop the mayor's vehicles, disarm her bodyguards and admonish her about "bringing armed escorts" into "NPA influenced areas."

Madlos has also tried to downplay the allegations from the government and the country's military leadership that the attack on Guingona is connected to the practice of NPA units extorting so called "permit to campaign fees" from politicians during election periods.  He has insisted that the incident was actually a consequence of the CPP-NPA's policy of conducting checkpoints in order to enforce their prohibition of the bringing of armed escorts by political candidates into their strongholds.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Where Oh Where?

Where oh where should the new Lianga police station building be located?  This question is at the heart of a a minor storm of controversy that has placed this town's current town officials on edge, in the spotlight and in defensive mode.

But first, it is best to have a brief review of the salient facts.

For decades, the local police station has always been part of the local town hall building complex.  After all, the town hall is the visible and tangible projection of the power and authority of the municipal government and its officials.  The local police force is the hammer that the town government uses to enforce law and order so it would only seem logical that it should be headquartered where the municipal government offices are.

But with the slow and gradual growth of the town and the expanding scope of the responsibilities being assigned to local law enforcers, they began clamoring for bigger and more modern facilities.  The continued existence of a strong and active Communist insurgency in the region also mandated that, for tactical and security reasons, the Lianga police force be preferably housed in a separate location from that of the municipal hall.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Jingle All The Way

I have to say this.  If those running for public office in the May 2013 general elections would put the same degree of effort, creativity and ingenuity into the creation of their campaign jingles that they would pour into finding permanent solutions to the problems of their constituents when and if they do get elected into office then perhaps this country would finally be able to get back on the long, hard road to lasting peace, progress and prosperity.

In Lianga nowadays, there is nary an hour that passes by when everyone's ears and sentiments are not assaulted by the loud and intrusive beat of campaign songs and jingles being blasted out of passing cars or tricycles sporting loudspeakers mounted on their roofs or strapped to their sides.  A quick listen to the town's new FM radio station, Heart FM, also forces the listener to suffer and endure minutes of the same thing.  With a total of at least nineteen candidates vying for local office and with each one of them compelled to come out with a catchy jingle for himself or herself (many have more than one version playing somewhere), the incurious listener is often left with no choice but live with the jarring cacophony of what amounts to political advertising on a musical albeit more visceral level.

The typical campaign jingle, of course, most often borrows the melody of some durable or contemporary chart-busting pop music song.  "Gangnam Style", the K-pop sensational hit by Psy, remains the most used or, to be blithely jocular about it, abused tune as far as local politics is concerned.  Another is "Call Me Maybe" by Canadian singer and songwriter Carly Rae Jepson.  Jun Lala, Lianga's current vice-mayor, who is setting his sights on a second full term, uses a jaunty campaign ditty based on the latter to get his message across in his barangay sorties.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

On Political Dynasties

The devious double-talk and evasive gibberish  with which many political candidates running in the May 13, 2013 general elections try to escape or sidestep the hot and controversial issue of political dynasties never cease to amaze and fascinate me.  This is particularly true of the many of them who are the direct or indirect beneficiaries of this rather unsavory aspect of local politics and who are therefore the most adverse to having the topic come up for discussion because they themselves have the most to explain to the electorate.

Take the case of Vice-President Jejomar Binay who recently endorsed the candidacies of three of his children ( Jejomar Erwin who is running for another term as mayor of Makati City, Mar-Len Abigail who is a reelectionist congresswoman for that city's 2nd district and Nancy who is a senatorial candidate of the UNA or the United Nationalist Alliance).  "It is not enough that one's sibling, parent or relative will win," he told a crowd of UNA supporters recently.  "What's important is, you're the one who's going to vote."

And then there is former President Joseph Estrada, the erstwhile "convicted plunderer" according to his bitter rival, Manila Mayor Fred Lim, who echoed the same tired message in a campaign sortie for the UNA in San Juan City.  "In a monarchy, " he pompously declared, "power is inherited.  Here, it is the people who decide, isn't it?"  Besides, he gamely pointed out that one of the advantages of political dynasties is that there is continuity of programs and projects. Estrada's son, Jinggoy, is an incumbent senator and another son, JV, is vying for a Senate seat under the UNA.  A former mistress and the mother of JV, Guia Gomez, is angling for another term as mayor of San Juan which has been an Estrada stronghold for decades.

In the province of Surigao del Sur (of which Lianga is part of) like in at least 90 percent of the country's 80 provinces, the problem of political dynasties is no less a persistent and grim reality.  For over a decade now, the Pimentel-Ty clan has been the dominant and controlling force to reckon with in the province. Before them  it was other political clans like the Castillos and the Murillos.

Sunday, March 24, 2013


It is customary for the majority of Filipinos who are Catholics to bring with them coconut palm leaves and fronds to church today in celebration of Palm Sunday which itself commemorates Jesus Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem and marks the beginning of the celebration of the Holy Week.  This custom is so ingrained in Filipino religious tradition that no self-respecting Catholic would dare to appear in church today empty handed especially in the more rural and provincial areas like here in Lianga where religious conservatism is the always the norm.

The fronds are blessed with holy water during the Mass and them brought back home for safekeeping.  Many Filipinos believe that lukay that have been consecrated are sacred objects which if pinned to doors, windows and walls have the ability to protect homes from evil spirits, fire and lightning.

Early this morning I saw a clump of young coconut leaf fronds on the wooden table in the lanai at the back of the house which someone had thoughtfully provided for my mother and the rest of our household to make use of.  I immediately asked if any of the household help knew anything about making the often elaborately woven palm branches that churchgoers bring to Mass and was surprised to receive negative replies to my inquiry.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Here We Go Again

Every right thinking resident of Mindanao knew when the electric power crisis in the island first made itself felt in 2010 (see blog posts here and here) that it was a serious problem that would take some time, a lot of serious consultation and, of course, costly investments in new power generation and transmission infrastructure before it can be remedied.  After enduring, at that time, rotating brownouts that lasted for as long as 8 hours daily in some areas, the people here were more than willing to bite the bullet and put up with whatever short term and long term measures (including higher electricity bills) the government was cooking up in order to swiftly and permanently solve the then emerging power shortage.

There was talk I remember back then by government energy officials at that time of quickly implementing rehabilitation plans for the aging Agus and Pulangui hydroelectric power plants in Western Mindanao on which the entire island depends for 64 percent of its total energy needs and the fast track programming and construction of coal powered electricity generation plants in key areas all over Mindanao in order to help close the energy supply gap.  President Benigno Aquino III when he first assumed office made assurances to industry and civic leaders in the southern Philippines that the government had the crisis well in hand and was working hard to solve it at the soonest possible time.

Yet more than two years since then, the lights are again going out all over Mindanao and as the whole country enters the hot summer months when electricity needs are often at their yearly peak, Mindanaoans are once again forced to consider living with the depressing inevitability of the fact that they may have again to suffer through the nightmare of the long brownouts and power outages that they thought they have consigned to memory in 2010.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Blogging 101

I was both surprised and more than a bit nonplussed to receive in the past few weeks more than a few e-mails from readers of this blog asking for some advice and pointers on how to start their own blogs or improve the blogs they have already started.  These requests while flattering to say the least have also forced me to reexamine and reflect once more on the reason or reasons why I continue to blog after more than six years and almost 360 published posts.

If someone wants to start a blog and has dreams of finding the right mix of design, subject matter and content that would boost readership and page views, a magic combination that would make that blog immensely popular online for the ultimate purpose, say, of eventually monetizing it then I am probably the last person to seek advice from.  There are plenty of examples of such well known and commercially successful blogs to be found in the blogosphere that a neophyte blogger can seek and get guidance and inspiration from.

The truth is I blog for the plain and selfish reason that I find personal fulfillment in doing it.  My blog posts all trace their origins from events and situations in my daily life that provoke in me a great emotional response or some degree of intellectual interest and fascination. The motivation for this particular blog remains the same as when I started it in 2006 - to chronicle to the best of my abilities the unique qualities, peculiarities and eccentricities of life here in Lianga and what life, at least in my own personal view, is really like in this little corner of the world.

Monday, February 4, 2013

No Homecoming

I had not visited Cebu City for more than half a decade so it was with no small degree of trepidation and lots of excited anticipation that I flew into that city last January 18 from Butuan in order to join in the celebration of the 2013 Sinulog festivities.  It was meant to be a short visit only - just two whole days not including what little remained of the extra two days that would be spent travelling to Cebu and back to Lianga.

I first laid eyes on the Queen City of the South in 1970 when I was first sent there by my parents as a raw, provincial, seven year old boy in order to start my elementary school education with the rest of my siblings.  Except for a two year absence during my high school years, I would spend more than two decades of my life that would constitute the totality of the years of my formal education in that city.

In many ways, Cebu City became my second home and because most of my formative years was spent there, I was for most of the early part of my life more Cebuano than Kamayo and it was only the periodic vacations to Lianga during the summer and Christmas breaks that essentially kept alive the familial and emotional bonds that tied me to Surigao and Mindanao as surely as fish are bound to water and birds to the air.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Hard Times

In many areas all over the Philippines and particularly so in the Lianga area, it used to be that the coconut tree was the poor farmer's reliable cash cow.  With the minimum of maintenance and care, even a small coconut farm of a hectare or so harvested every two or three months can produce enough copra which if sold could provide for, at the very least, the basic needs of a farmer and his average-sized family and tide them over until the next harvest.  When copra prices are high, enough cash can even be earned which can be used to buy a few luxury items or be set aside as savings for the family's future needs.

Copra, for the uninitiated, is, of course, the dried or desiccated meat of the coconut which is a rich source of coconut oil. The oil has many industrial uses and also happens to be a vital ingredient in many food and medicinal products.  The Philippines is one of the world's top copra producers with more than a quarter of its available agriculture land planted to coconuts.  It is said that more than a third of the country's total population is dependent, either directly or indirectly, on the copra industry.

Nowadays with copra prices spiraling to their lowest in years which many are blaming on a worldwide glut in palm oil stocks, many local coconut farmers in Lianga are wondering if it would be worth their while even to think about harvesting their trees,   Most of them are already grappling with the depressing thought that if they do go on to schedule a harvest, the high production cost of their copra may far outstrip whatever little prospective income they may eventually earn.  This leads to the specter of being forced to borrow more money in order to survive and go deeper into debt after already seeing their incomes steadily shrink in previous harvests as copra prices continue to fall.