Category Archives: travel

Travelogue: Bicol, Butuan and Oratio Imperata

Links: How is Singapore coping with the food and fuel price crisis? Big foot in Sarawak? How a casino became an entertainment center in Thailand? Human rights situation in Indonesia.

I was in Naga last February, Butuan and Surigao in March, and Albay early this month. Below are some of my travel notes and observations.

The Diocese of Legazpi has instructed the faithful to pray the Oratio Imperata for protection against calamities. Every 30 minutes the prayer is recited over Radyo Veritas. Through the power of prayer, two typhoons (Mina and Frank) changed directions sparing the province of Albay. A Catholic magazine reminds its readers: “The thanksgiving that we felt should strengthen our faith and confidence in God’s almighty and merciful hand.”

The Ilonggos should have prayed harder. They should have recited the Oratio Imperata every Mass like what the Bicolanos from Albay did. But they didn’t pray the Oratio Imperata so God punished them for their lack of belief.

God is merciful. God is powerful. The Spanish colonialists were able to subjugate local armed uprisings for 300 hundred years because God was on their side. Maybe the Catholic indios did not pray as often as the Spaniards. Or maybe God didn’t understand them because they didn’t pray in Spanish.


Again a reminder from a Catholic magazine: “If nature is ignored and contradicted man cannot do anything about the forces that might ensue from the resulting imbalance. The human being is also part of nature; if same sex unions are allowed, the hidden forces of evil may break down the moral pillars of the family and society.”

Same sex union is evil. Repro health is abortion, hence evil. But SHE who distributes cash donations to bishops is not evil?

Speaking of another evil, Albay recently passed the LGBT anti-discrimination ordinance. Albay is a pink province? Congratulations to Governor Joey Salceda. By the way, the governor’s trademark color is green.


There was a flashflood in Butuan last March. Strong rains battered the eastern part of the country, from Samar and Leyte down to the Caraga region. Strong rains during summer period? Flashfloods in Mindanao?

An interesting sign in front of Bombo Radyo – Butuan: “Notice to PNP, AFP, NPA, MILF, Abu Sayyaf – Please surrender your firearms before entering the station.”

Bombo Radyo is not heard in Manila. But it is popular in the provinces. The radio is known for using drums as a sound effect. Ofcourse in Butuan there was a drum inside the station. By the way, I’ve seen the original Bombo Radyo drum in Iloilo.

The Bayani Fernando virus is spreading. He is actually inspring other local leaders to be more aggressive and ruthless in implementing urban development plans. While in Cagayan de Oro City, I’ve learned that the mayor has been ordering the sweeping demolition of urban poor houses to make way for commercial development. And the MMDA-gestapo style of law enforcement was used as a model by the city government.


South Luzon buses are fast, efficient and comfortable. They have lazy boy seats. Again, they have lazy boy seats! Night trips are pleasant because you can relax and sleep on a lazy boy seat. There are few passengers, few stopovers and some buses have their own toilets. I prefer Isarog bus line.

By the way, my first trip to Albay was in 2001, during the Bayan Muna election campaign. According to elders, a virgin will be able to see the beauty of Mayon Volcano on his/her visit to Albay. Hmm, I remember admiring the grandeur of Mayon in 2001.

Finally, NAIA-III is now open. Cebu Pacific was right to transfer all its operations to the new terminal. Some suggestions: T3 should host all domestic flights, including the local operations of PAL. The Centennial airport should be used for all international flights. The old MIA should be converted into a cargo hub, or a museum, or a duty free mall.

Free shuttle buses should be available in T3, especially for passengers who need to transfer to T1 and T2. Commercial buses, taxis, perhaps jeepneys too should be allowed to fetch passengers at the arrival gate of T3. Commendable: shuttle buses from T3 to LRT-MRT Edsa.


Typhoon Reming devastated the Bicol region in 2006. Many towns have not yet recovered from the disaster. There are still evacuation centers housing hundreds of poor and homeless residents. The temporary shelter provided by the government is a 4×4 tent. Nasaan na ang Katas ng VAT?

Kawawang Jlo. Malacanang really planned well on how to undermine (or sabotage) Jun Lozada’s provincial and school sorties. The goal was to prevent Lozada from influencing more students and other middle classes. To cite an example, Lozada was scheduled to speak in a Bicol University forum. Another forum was immediately organized which had Speaker Nograles as speaker. On the day Lozada was supposed to hold a press conference in Legazpi, Mikey Arroyo arrived in the city and called for an emergency caucus of KAMPI officials. Lozada’s visit to the Bicol region was not widely reported by the media.

By the way, what is PGMA’s favorite vacation resort in Bicol: Misibis.


Agricuture education is declining. Enrolment is down. But don’t worry, nursing enrolment remains high. Even medical education is now a pre-nursing course.

Because of economic recession, fewer students enrolled this year. Even Bicol University, a state university which collects low tuition compared to private schools, has fewer students this semester.

The Episcopalian compound in E. Rodriguez, Quezon City consists of a hospital (St. Lukes), university (Trinity University of Asia), Cathedral Hall, and a seminary house. Soon there will be a Columbary. The community will soon offer complete services to its members: from birth to death.

Related entries:

South Mindanao
North Luzon
Rough roads


“May the Sun cut my body in halves, and may disgrace befall me before the eyes of my wives that they might abhor me if at any time I had been friends to the Spaniards."Tarik Soliman, Pampanga warrior and freedom fighter

Southeast Asia: Series of unfortunate disasters, my roundup for Global Voices. Thanks Mau of Pinoy Weekly for writing about the Jun Lozada blog launch. I recently joined Plurk.

Among Ed is now blogging. Thank you PJ for endorsing Bloggers Kapihan to your friends in Pampanga.

Yesterday 20 Manila-based bloggers and about 30 youth leaders from Pampanga participated in launching the blog of Pampanga Governor Among Ed Panlilio. After the event at the provincial capitol, the group proceeded to the Juan D. Nepomuceno Center for Kapampangan Studies located at the Holy Angel University. Then we visited a quarrying site in Porac, Pampanga.

What are some of the interesting things I learned from the trip to Pampanga?

1. There is a rumor that an election recall will take place in Pampanga. Among Ed is in danger of losing his post. Only the city of San Fernando is supporting the embattled leader. Remember the infamous incident when the mayor of Candaba returned the funding assistance given by Governor Panlilio? Even the recent SK elections were used by Among Ed’s rivals to consolidate their hegemony in the province.

2. Among Ed talked about the need to develop a “critical mass” in order to promote good governance in the country. He mentioned about his regular communication with Isabela Governor Grace Padaca and Naga Mayor Jesse Robredo. This revelation is worthy of note. Are they also discussing the 2010 polls?

3. The number of Filipinos speaking the Kapampangan language is declining. There are fewer students who can understand and read Kapampangan. The reactionary elite’s response: Eh ano, basta marunong magsalita ng wikang Ingles, di ba?

4. Pampanga was the first province created by the Spaniards. In the past Pampanga’s territory included parts of Tarlac, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija and Nueva Vizcaya. This explains why there are barangays in these provinces where Kapampangan language is dominant.

5. Pampanga was the favorite province of the Spanish colonizers. Every time the colonial regime is under attack, the loyal Kapampangans will defend their Spanish masters. Remember the Macabebes?

6. Bacolor was once described as the Athens and Pompei of the Philippines. Residents of Bacolor were among the richest, artistic and sophisticated in Spanish Philippines. The town has produced pioneering professionals and high-ranking public servants. Bacolor was once named as the capital of the Philippines.

7. Pampanga’s freedom fighters include, among others, Kumander Bilog, Dante Buscayno, Luis Taruc, Felixberto Olalia and Satur Ocampo.

8. Tarlac was once named Nueva Cuenca. FPJ is a Kapampangan. There is a Poracay resort in Porac, Pampanga.

9. Agriculture and quarrying are the top sources of income of Pampanga. Pang-ilan kaya ang jueteng at smuggling? Porac hosts the biggest quarrying site in Pampanga. Everyday more one thousand trucks are entering and leaving the quarry site in Porac alone.

10. Before the term of Among Ed, a barangay in Porac was receiving five thousand pesos a month as its share from the quarrying fees. Now it is receiving a million pesos a month. Porac and Pampanga should draft a masterplan on how to efficiently use the quarrying income to develop the province and improve the lives of the people. The lahar deposit will not last forever.

11. Pinatubo erupted in 1991. But the lahar flow hit several parts of Porac only in 1994. Villages and farming communities were destroyed. Residents have started returning to their villages. My anthropology teacher is correct; the Kapampangans are very resilient.

By the way, I am a Kapampangan. My lola was born in Capas, Tarlac. We are part of the Mendoza clan. I think my family is originally from Concepcion, Tarlac. My father speaks fluent Kapampangan. My favorite kapampangan food: buro.

Related entries:

Burger, fries and Among Ed
Election questions
Southern Mindanao

Travel notes: Cebu and Pililla

Philippine Airlines requires its passengers to appear at the check-in terminal two hours before the flight. Cebu Pacific passengers are asked to arrive one hour before the flight. Passengers are disallowed to board the plane if they fail to appear before the check-in time. This seems reasonable for international flights but I hope domestic flights will allow the boarding of passengers who arrive at the airport 20-30 minutes before the time of departure. Local flights are always delayed (sometimes even more than one hour) yet passengers have no choice but to wait at the departure lounge.


It never rains when I have my umbrella with me. But every time I forgot to bring my umbrella, it always rains hard. When I’m early for a meeting, traffic is always light and there are no unnecessary delays in the journey. But when I’m already late for a meeting or an important activity, traffic is always heavy, drivers wait too long at bus stops, jeepney drivers will stop for a gas refill, Maynilad pipework is obstructing traffic, MMDA traffic enforcers apprehend erring drivers, MRT ticket queues are too damn long, MRT trains are too slow to arrive, taxi cabs are full, taxi drivers demand triple rates, and there are no available tricyles.

Another variation of this theme: Everytime I look good, feel well, and confident of my bearing, nobody is present. But everytime I look tired, haggard, old, and stressed, everybody seems to be around: childhood friends, relatives, and fault-finding colleagues.


The Pililla campus of the University of Rizal is located in a very idyllic district. Nestled at the foot of the Tanay highlands, the campus provides a perfect view of the tranquil (though dying) Laguna Lake. Students and teachers enjoy the cool and soothing breeze from the mountains which boosts the learning condition in the campus. Pililla is a perfect place for scholars who want to pursue serious academic work without being distracted by the noise and dirt of the metropolis.

I think that UP Diliman used to have the same relaxing atmosphere in the 1950s-1960s. Veteran journalist Luis Teodoro recalls that students of their generation used to wear jackets in Diliman because it was very cold in the campus. They could clearly see the hills of Rizal from the north side of the campus.

UP was called the Diliman Republic not only because of the unique brand of activism espoused by members of the academic community, but also because Diliman was literally a distant campus from the city proper. Buses used to transport students from Quiapo to Diliman. Former Chief Justice Art Panganiban was granted a scholarship to study in UP but he preferred to enrol in FEU because Diliman, according to him, was very far from Sampaloc, Manila.

Now UP is no longer perceived as distant from Manila. There are still green fields in Diliman, towering acacia trees, and a man-made jungle near its Commonwealth Avenue property. But noise, dirt (and academic pimps) have polluted the learning environment of Diliman.


I read somewhere that marvellous geographical locations evolved very violently in the past. Their stunning beauty hides the dynamic and ferocious transformations they went through millions of years ago. The same can be said of quiet towns and nature spots in the world. Their simplicity and heavenly aura conceal the contradictions, conflicts and bitter struggles of the people living in these places.

Writer Lazaro Francisco highlighted this point in the opening pages of his novel, Ama:

“Para sa mga diwang palahanga sa kagandahan at mga balani ng sangkalikasan, ang _________ ay ipagkakamali sa kahili-hiling ‘paraiso’ ng ‘Genesis’. Subalit sa mga nakatatalos na ang nayong iyon ay isang tunay na pugad ng kasakiman at ng panlulupig, ang tulo ng hamog sa mga halaman na tila ibinutsay na mga butil ng perlas na nagsisikislap sa tama ng sinag ng bukang-liwayway ay tatawagin namang mga patak ng luhang naloy sa magdamag, at ang dagundong ng tagastas sa palanas ay mga piping himutok na samasamang ipinupulas ng mga dibdib na dagi na sa malaong pagkabusabos.”


There are many education centers in the country. Sometimes schools are famous tourist attractions in provinces. Metro Manila hosts more than 100 colleges and universities. Intramuros was the cultural capital during the Spanish era. During the American occupation, schools transferred to Sampaloc, Recto and Mendiola. After the war, the district was referred to as the university belt. Now major schools are to be found in Katipunan, Aurora, Taft, Monumento and Alabang.

In Luzon, school centers are located mainly in Baguio, Dagupan, Malolos, Lipa, Lucena, Naga and Legazpi. Laguna is now a popular site for special economic zones and university centers. As residential villages continue to sprout south of Metro Manila, Laguna is now an ideal place to establish satellite campuses of big universities.

In Visayas, school centers are located mainly in Tacloban, Cebu, Dumaguete, Bacolod, and Iloilo. In Mindanao, schools proliferate in Davao, Cagayan de Oro, General Santos, Surigao and Butuan.


In many parts of the country, students go to schools to feed their families. Their motivation to attend classes is to receive the one kilo of rice which is distributed in schools everyday. This is the feeding program of the government which was conceptualized to improve school attendance and solve hunger at the same time. This program is appreciated by poor families. Sometimes parents are queuing in schools to receive the kilo of rice if their children are unable to attend classes. This reflects the extent of poverty and hunger in the country. At the same time it further endorses the belief that schooling is effective in improving the lives of people. However, the rice distribution program is prone to corruption. Combine the NFA, DepEd and intrusive local politicians and you have a recipe for corruption. Besides, the main goal of a feeding program is to make sure that students, not their parents, are well-nourished inside schools. Students can’t eat a kilo of bigas, unless it is cooked.

Related entries:

Travelogue: South Mindanao
Up, up and away
Tagged: Mongster moments
Dumaguete delights

Travelogue: Southern Mindanao

It’s time to promote my photoblog: check out the new pictures

I was in south Mindanao for one week. I am grateful to my hosts for making the trip very memorable and pleasant. Kailan kaya ulit ako makakabalik? Meanwhile, below are some of my travel notes during the one-week tour.


I wanted to view ARMM with fresh eyes by forgetting the stereotype that it is a war zone. Somehow, it didn’t help that an armoured carrier stopped in front of me at the arrival terminal of the Cotabato City airport. Later, I found out that the airport is located inside the compound of the biggest military camp in Central Mindanao.

Perhaps I am allergic to the presence of military personnel roaming the streets and other public spaces with full battle gear. Residents of Cotabato (and even General Santos City) seem oblivious that soldiers are seen almost everywhere: parks, jeepneys, schools, markets, national highways and government buildings.

In downtown Cotabato, there is a gun store located beside a drug store. The former sells products that kill people; while the latter offers goods which can save lives. How’s that for irony?


The best place to study the impact of foreign aid on impoverished communities is the ARMM region. Because of its extraordinary poverty, ARMM has attracted the most number of foreign donors in the country. Offices of international monitoring agencies and even UN cars are commonly seen in Cotabato City. Unlike in other parts of the country where vain local politicians are claiming credit for public projects, most of the billboard and streamer promotion materials in ARMM are owned by foreign donors. Some of these infrastructure projects include waiting sheds, markets, the Gensan airport, roads and even water wells. The recent State of the Region Address by the ARMM governor turned out to be an accomplishment report in behalf of funding agencies. US ambassadors are also well-known in the region.

In Carmen, North Cotabato, the municipal hall building is one of the magnificent local government structures in the country. It even has an escalator. Where did the small municipality acquire the funds? Carmen used to host the Balikatas exercises between Philippine and US military forces. Connect the dots.

Foreign aid is not bad if it contains no preconditions and does not compromise the political and economic independence of small states. Its time to assess the impact of foreign aid in ARMM.


Passenger power. In Cotabato (and I think even in Bacolod too), the minimum jeepney fare is P6.50. But passengers are only paying P6. The student fare is P6 but students are only paying P5.50. Drivers are not protesting since they know the people could barely afford the minimum transportation cost. So far, nobody has been arrested for violating the law on minimum jeepney fare. Can we do that here in Manila?


Bus bombings are changing the perceptions of people on public transportation. My Cotabato friends insist that L-300 vans are safer than buses if I want to travel to Davao City. On the other hand, my Davao friends believe that buses are safer than L-300 vans if I want to go to General Santos City.

Usually, bus bombings are linked to terrorism. But there is a theory that certain individuals only want to extort money from bus companies. There is also an allegation that the rivalry between bus owners and van operators provoked the bomb activities. After the bus bombings, more people opted to ride the L-300 vans.

Speaking of bombings, there is a bomb awareness campaign in Kidapawan. While other regions have anti-drugs, anti-gambling, anti-insurgency and anti-prostitution campaigns, it is interesting that bomb awareness campaigns are being initiated in south Mindanao.

A bomb exploded in a Kidapawan mall more than a month ago. This was not given prominent attention by mainstream media. In Gensan, a friend led me to a mall which was bombed about a year ago. By the way, I stayed in an NGO office where a hand grenade exploded some years ago.


There are localities which are famous because they host big and reputable schools. Dumaguete has Silliman; Diliman has UP; Katipunan has Miriam and Ateneo; Dasmarinas has De La Salle. The town of Kabacan is famous because of the University of Southern Mindanao. Cotabato friends claim USM is producing better agriculture graduates than UP Los Banos. Recently, students protested the militarization of the campus.


To improve Christian-Muslim relations, we should begin with schools. Is it right to open a program with a Christian prayer even though there are Moro students in the audience? Is it advisable for public schools to promote a particular religious practice? Should Muslim students be required to take religion classes or join recollection seminars in Catholic schools? Should non-Muslim female students studying in Moro-dominated schools be mandated to wear traditional Muslim clothing? Can the French practice of banning religious symbols in secular schools work in the Philippines?


The Vice Mayor of Davao City is bewildered over the inefficiency of local offices. To improve efficiency, she issued an interesting order: Remove all TV sets in the city hall. There is another wonderful Davao City ordinance: Videoke sessions are allowed only until 10pm.

Davao City politics is heating up. The feud of Mayor Duterte and Congressman Nograles continues to this day. Nograles is preparing to dominate the local polls in 2010. His face in promotional streamers is visible everywhere.

While in Davao, I read about the death of a politician who was recognized for his peace advocacy in ARMM. It is peculiar that politicians are recognized for championing issues which they have failed to solve in their areas. A politician in a gambling paradise is known as anti-gambling crusader. Cities with pervasive drug trade have many anti-illegal drugs politicians. Provinces with astonishing poverty rates have anti-poverty leaders. Not surprisingly, the leader of a country with high number of human rights violations was recently awarded for her human rights advocacy.


Activists are still boycotting Nestle. Maxwell is my preferred 3-in-1 coffee. My parents like Folgers. Friends endorse Figaro for being Filipino-owned but they hang out in Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf which offers the best tasting coffee and tea brew. Kapeng barako of Batangas is my usual breakfast drink. My wife prefers Benguet or Kalinga coffee. In North Cotabato, I was offered a native coffee of Pikit and I instantly liked it. No doubt, Pikit has one of the best coffee beans in the country. I already stopped associating Pikit with local violence by recognizing its superior coffee product.


Funny names: There is a Palparan Advertising agency in Kidapawan. A chicken restaurant in Gensan is named BJ. A friend said a Cebu hotel offers Blowjob drinks. A school newspaper headline caught my attention: ND students attend a convention. ND stands for Nutrition and Dietary students; not national democrats.


I always ride the jeepneys, but not at the topload. To my horror, I was forced to climb the top of a small overcrowded jeepney in Carmen, North Cotabato which offered little protection for passengers. I enjoyed that quiet, cool, and exhilarating trip. It has been some years since I was able to travel in the countryside and marvellously enjoy the glittering skylight and refreshing air while conscious of the fact that a slight bump or wrong twist in the road could dangerously send me into the pavement.

There seems to be no right word or gesture to bid farewell to friends, especially if there is no certainty as to when will you meet again. Even if you want to fully express your gratitude or affection, it always ends up in awkward moments. A pat in the shoulder or back, a guarded hug, a handshake, some inappropriate remarks or teasing, then it is finished. Later, a long and sentimental text or email message is sent. What is odd is that kind of affectionate message could have been directly expressed earlier. It’s funny, sad, sweet yet so impersonal.

Related entries:

Travelogue: North Luzon
Rough roads
Up, up and away
Dumaguete delights
Inside ARMM

Balikbayan box

New pictures in my photoblog: click here and here.

Is there a global survey on what people usually load in their travel bags? If there is one, I’m certain Filipino ‘stuff’ will be among the most curious items. We may not be notorious for smuggling shabu, wild animals and guns but our pasalubong can sometimes be a source of little embarrassment.

The balikbayan box can explain so many of our cultural traits. It contains not just travel accessories but also various native items which may confound foreigners. Tourists may not appreciate bulky balikbayan boxes but for most OFWs, returning or leaving the country is impossible without them.

What are some of the intriguing content of a balikbayan box of a returning OFW? Numerous bathroom towels, soap, shampoo, shaving cream, razor, toothpaste, tissue, chocolate, coffee, milk, cereal, corned beef, spam, sausages, instant noodles, alcohol, cigarettes, lotion, perfume, airline magazines and utensils, picture frames, electronic equipments, home appliances, toys, jewelleries, underwear, shoes, socks, T-shirts, blouses, jackets, denim pants, leather belts, umbrella. What else?

A friend of mine is puzzled over this practice of squeezing imported grocery items in balikbayan boxes. OFWs can buy cheaper and better tasting food items in local supermarkets but they still bring home imported goods. We have an abundant supply of home appliances and consumer equipments but OFWs will risk paying for excess baggage just to transport imported electronic gadgets to the Philippines.

Perhaps the tendency of many Filipinos to worship everything foreign (and to denigrate locally made products) may be blamed for this practice. But I have another view. OFWs may find it easy to buy these items while in another country but once they return home, these items are no longer a priority for OFWs and their families. Why buy chocolates at local stores when rice and cooking oil are more important? Why purchase bathroom towels when the old towels are still usable? Why buy a playstation when tuition must be paid immediately? Perhaps it’s the guilt of buying luxurious items when there is widespread poverty in the community. Perhaps the fatalistic fear that money will be scarcer in the near future prevents OFWs and their families to buy the contents of balikbayan boxes in local malls.

OFWs bring home so much imported goods because they are not meant for themselves alone. These goods will be given to immediate families, distant relatives, friends, neighbours and sometimes even to strangers. The balikbayan box also contains carefully wrapped small packages from fellow OFWs who could not return home for the moment but need to give something to their loved ones in the Philippines. It’s the famous padala system. The government is clueless on the total monetary value of these mini mini balikbayan boxes which indirectly contribute to Philippine economy.

For departing OFWs, what are some of the intriguing content of their balikayan boxes? I believe native delicacies are the favourite items. Tinapa, tuyo, tulingan, relyenong isda, chicharon, ensaymada, daing na bangus, buro, dried mango, boy bawang, crab meat, shrimp, laing, mani, butong pakwan, tupig, fruit candies. OFWs also love to bring likas papaya soap, magic cream, virgin coco oil, imitation bags, kitchen utensils, cigarettes. What else?

The balikbayan box is like a mini sari sari store. It’s a miniature repository of Philippine products. We can’t blame OFWs. They will be away for many years. They will definitely miss Filipino delicacies.

Airport personnel should learn to be more understanding why their OFW kababayan love to bring assorted native goods and items to other countries. They must refrain from confiscating bagoong from local travellers. They must also realize that we have little need for anti-terror squad and bomb sniffing dogs at the airport. Balikbayan boxes are safe. They may contain tawas and nata de coco but they are not dangerous items.

Related entries:

Arrival/departure gates
Nannies in HK
Puwera usog
Eating and E-vat
Towers of desolation

From Laoag to Laoang

Around the country in 90 days: island tours, public markets and mansions in the ricefields.

Two islands of great interest: Masbate and Laoang. The province of Masbate is the rodeo capital of the Philippines. But people seem more aware of the violence which gripped the island in the recent elections. It was identified by the Comelec as an election hotspot. Two families are vying for complete dominance in the island: The Espinonas and Khos. The former is the principal and old dynasty in the island while the latter is a rising power bloc whose political fortunes seem destined to take over Masbate. The feud between these two families will not contribute in maintaining peace and order in the island.

Masbate is officially part of the Bicol region but it’s also very close to Iloilo, Cebu and Samar. Its geographical location explains its cultural affinity with some of the Visayas islands. Residents on the western part of Masbate speak Ilonggo; those on the south speak Cebuano; those on the north speak Bicolano; and those on the east speak Waray. I believe the combination of these languages is called Masbateño.

Near the province of Masbate is North Samar. Aside from Catarman, which is the provincial capital, another important big town is the island of Laoang, located on the northeastern part of the province. Politicians, including the senatoriables, need to campaign in Laoang since it has the second highest number of registered voters in the province. The small island of Laoang used to be the major trading center of North Samar. Before the construction of national roads in Samar, Laoang was a thriving economic boom town. Its port was one of the busiest in the region. It was one of the first towns to be christianized during the Spanish times. Chinese merchants used to flourish in the island. Today, Laoang retains its political import but it is no longer a key economic link in the province. There is still no bridge which connects Laoang to the Samar mainland. But a dark hope lurks since politicians are flaunting the mining prospects of a nearby island.

Aside from island tours, campaign caravans would be incomplete without visiting public markets. Metro Manila’s dirty and chaotic public markets should be embarrassed since provincial public markets are cleaner, accommodating to small producers and safe. Laoag’s market has three floors, including a basement. Batac’s seem to be the most organized. I was lost at the Bangkerohan market in Davao City. We need to catalog and promote our public markets. We need to inform local and foreign tourists on the native delicacies offered in public markets. We have to discourage the construction of supermalls in areas where thriving public markets exist. If Malacañang gets its kickback from selling our virgin forests and mineral resources, small-time executive officials use public markets for personal enrichment. They either privatize public markets or undertake an expansion or beautification of existing ones. There are numerous complaints on local corrupt practices governing public markets: deficient structures, overpriced projects, inaccessible markets, unreasonable stall rent, etc. Pati palengke pinagkakaperahan ng mga walanghiya.

I have my favorite list of public markets: I buy hopia in Quiapo, cheap christmas gifts in Divisoria, suman in Baclaran, tatsulok in Antipolo, bagoong in Dagupan, longganisa in Vigan, broccoli in Baguio, strawberry in La Trinidad and pili nut in Naga. For dinner parties, I save money by buying food items in Balintawak or Blumentritt. In recent years, SM supermarket began offering cheaper frozen pork, chicken, beef and fresh vegetables.

Aside from palengke tours, motorcades are common election events. A motorcade is an efficient campaign activity in densely populated towns and cities. It should not be encouraged in the rural areas. Aside from encountering rough roads, there are fewer people on the side of the streets. Most of the bystanders are trees, wandering chickens, inhospitable dogs, wide-eyed carabaos and very amused children. But a motorcade is a very enlightening activity. It always confirms the lopsidedness of city, town and rural planning. There is no planning at all. It shows the great disparity of wealth in christian Philippines. One moment you are enjoying the beauty of vast green fields then the next moment an imposing, gated mansion offends your eyes. Standing close to the big mansion is a row of humble nipa huts made even humbler by the presence of an opulent manor. It’s the same story everywhere, from Luzon to Mindanao. Big houses seem out of place and lose their appeal when they fail to ignore the poverty which engulfs their surroundings. But many rich people, including the middle class and the few lucky returning OFWs, are oblivious of this arrogance. They will erect a big gated structure while their neighbors have deteriorating shanties.

But this confirmation on the insensitivity of so many of our countrymen is not my most disappointing encounter in the recent elections. Since I was a candidate, people expect I was like other politicians. Community youth leaders demanding sponsorship for a concert, an elderly asking for financial assistance, a mother showing medical bills for her child, tricycle drivers looking for merienda. Many of our people have been reared in the practice of “gift-giving” during elections. Many of our people expect all candidates to distribute cash rewards to those who seek them. Many of our people share this low regard for politicians and the political system we have. I was a partylist candidate and they were asking for T-shirt, beer and pulutan. What more if I’m a senatoriable, or a presidentiable?

Related entries:

National roads.
Tell me your neighbors.

On the (rough) road

Around the country in 90 days: road trip in Islands Philippines.

I was one of the very few partylist nominees who used public transport to campaign in the provinces, even in Metro Manila. I had no choice. I don’t have a car. Our group doesn’t have a car. We have no money. After all, I belong to a genuine marginalized group.

I prefer Partas and Victory Liner everytime I travel to northern Luzon. Partas has a new fleet of bigger, cleaner and more comfortable buses. I feel safe when I’m aboard a Victory bus. The fastest way to travel to Laguna (Calamba, Pansol, Los Banos, Sta. Cruz) is through HM Transport. I recommend CUL for those who plan to go to Bicol region.

Small country buses are curious cultural mobile artifacts patronized by the masses in the remotest parts of the land. They dare traverse rough roads and dangerous highways transporting people, produce and pipedreams to central towns and cities. They are indispensable in sustaining rural livelihoods. Compared to Manila-bound buses, I feel more at home in riding the cramped and dingy country buses. The best way to enjoy karaoke music is through a country bus ride in rural Philippines. If the countryside scenery outside the bus is not enough pleasure, then the loud, snoring passengers plus their crying babies, pets and even wild animals will be a definite amusement.

Except in Metro Manila where trains are available, the fastest way to travel within urban cities is through taxi cabs. Cebu drivers will insist on giving a change. Cagayan de Oro taxi cabs seem to be the most modern in the country. Baguio’s FX taxi cabs operate as real taxi cabs, minus the aircon. Metro Manila has the most arrogant, fussy and demanding taxi drivers. They always demand extra charge, their meters run so fast and they will find a reason to complain about your destination – it’s far, traffic, unsafe alleys, small roads, etc. However, they do know how to entertain passengers and many of them have acute political perceptions.

More than a decade ago, Toyota initiated a revolution in Philippine public transport when its Tamaraw FX model, which can squeeze in ten passengers, was used as a taxi cab plying a specific route where people pay fixed rates rather than meter charging. It’s like a jeepney, but faster and cooler. Today, another revolution is brewing. More and more taxi cabs are switching to LPG machines. It’s cheaper but is it healthy? Will it encourage other public utility vehicles to use LPG as well?

Another interesting, but underrated mode of transport, is the ubiquitous Philippine tricycle. Somebody has to research, write and document the beginnings and rise of the tricycle as a means of transportation in the country. There are variations in the structural designs and creative adornments of the tricycle which can accommodate seven and maybe even more people. Tricycles from the provinces look more spacious, stronger and safer over tricycles in Manila. The tricycle should be identified with the jeepney as testaments to Filipino ingenuity.

However, I believe we should begin contemplating a future without the shrieking engines of tricycles. It’s not just global warming and the worsening traffic in Metro Manila. We have to encourage people to walk and bike. I’m a quiet but reluctant supporter of MMDA’s bike lanes. We need more walkable towns and cities. We need good roads, lighted and safe highways and efficient mass transport system to persuade more people to walk and bike. Without these elements, tricycles are bound to stay to transport people to their destinations.

Another glaring feature of land travel in the Philippines is the absence of clean toilets in almost all places. I cannot just pee in the ricefields and ‘commune’ with nature all the time. Why is it very hard to access clean bathrooms in gas stations, restaurants, schools, government offices and bus terminals? Why do public toilets stink all the time? Aside from sunburn, unforgettable memories and more names in my phonebook, three months of campaigning on the road gave me, well, constipation.

Related entries:

Imperial Manila.
Dumaguete delights.
Iloilo impressions.
Save Tudaya falls.
National roads.
Paalam Pantranco.

Up, up and away

Interesting election results, my blog entry for Global Voices.

Around the country in 90 days: planes, airlines and airport experience….

Cebu Pacific has the newest and most comfortable fleet of planes. It deserves to be recognized for bringing down air fares in the country which encouraged more people to travel by air. However, it doesn’t offer free drinks, even water, to its passengers. Compared to its local competitors, Philippine Airlines gives the most satisfying free food and drinks. Air Philippines provides the best reading materials, for example, The Economist. Fly Asian Spirit and it’s like reenacting your first bus ride in the zigzag roads going to Baguio. No airline flies on time. They are always delayed, sometimes even for hours.

Flight departure is most convenient at the Centennial Terminal. Shorter queues at the check-in counter and less stressful experience at the security check-up. From MRT Taft, one bus ride can bring you directly in front of the Terminal. Flight departure at the old domestic terminal is always a horrible experience. Very long queues at the check-in counter, disorganized procedure for managing the flow of passengers, overcrowded building and very stressful experience at the security check-up.

If ever there is a solidarity group for bomb jokers, I will quietly support it. Everytime I am forced to undergo unnecessary security measures, there is always the urge to shout “bomb bomb bomb” just to ridicule arrogant airport personnel. But I have always maintained my composure by trying to understand that these people are only doing their jobs imposed by paranoid executives. I also become more at ease by thinking that the terrible mess at the domestic terminal is President Gloria Arroyo’s fault. If she was less greedy, she would have agreed to open the new airport terminal owned by Piatco and this would have decongested the other airport terminals.

Flight arrival is most recommended at the old domestic terminal. A taxi stand is accessible for passengers. Taxi cabs are not allowed to enter the arrival wing of Centennial Terminal.

Manila cannot justify the expensive terminal fees it collects from local and foreign passengers. Mabuhay Bacolod since it doesn’t collect terminal fees. Cebu and Davao have the best airport facilities in the country. Hopefully, the new and bigger Iloilo airport will not suffer the fate of NAIA-Terminal 3. Pres. Arroyo wants to shut down Baguio’s airport and transform it into an ecozone.

For me, a few minutes before landing at the Tacloban airport gives the most picturesque view of the natural wonders of Islands Philippines. The scenery is fantastic: sparkling green seas, adorable verdant hills, quaint coastal towns. Cagayan de Oro’s airport has the most unique location: on top of a hill. Calbayog’s airport is sandwiched by farmlands.

How to improve air travel in the country? First, please offer free wi-fi in airport terminals. Offer shuttle service for departing and arriving passengers. Make security measures more humane, less exaggerated. Build a railway link to Manila airport. In the future, if we run out of military camps to convert into business centers, make NAIA a modern commercial and residential complex. We should start looking for new airport grounds; perhaps we can reclaim again a portion of Manila Bay. Or make Clark the main airport in the country.

Related entries:

Imperial Manila.
Silang mga nasa komunidad.
North Triangle.

dumaguete delights

Download Kabataan Partylist songs from our website. Thank you Datu’s Tribe for composing our main election jingle. Vote for Datu’s Tribe in the NU 107 Rock Awards. New pictures in my photoblog.

Election campaigning provides opportunity and excuse for travel. For this reason alone, I have no regrets in being a candidate.

How I envy other bloggers who could find time and energy to write everyday. How I wish I could also narrate my everyday angst and observations of this funny world inhabited by interesting creatures. There are various times I want to blog about the places I visited, the best food shops, peculiar road signs and petty street quarrels. But its always difficult to write about these things. Blogs could not always ‘capture the moment’ in a way I experienced these events. Let them be archived in my mind so that when I become a senior citizen, I will have something new to say about this world of ours.

But I could always give a glimpse of my travel diaries. Today, I will share some of my discoveries of Dumaguete, a small but enchanting university town in Negros Oriental.

1. I first visited Dumaguete in 2004. A friend of mine joked that the name Dumaguete came from the word ‘dumagit’ or a rough translation would be ‘to steal’ since pirates and foreign invaders have been stealing beautiful women from this town for many centuries. Hence, there are no longer beautiful women left. (How untrue, I saw beautiful women in Dumaguete).

2. Dumaguete has four major universities. The most famous and prestigious is Silliman University. Preetam, a colleague from Global Voices, thinks the name Silliman is funny for a school. I asked why. He said it could be understood as ‘silly – man’. Sometimes, an outsider viewpoint can make us see the things we often overlooked. Like the PERC survey result which confirms our status as the most corrupt nation in Asia from the perception of foreign business executives.

3. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo once described Dumaguete as the most peaceful town in the Philippines. This statement was quoted in travel magazines. Now, foreigners are flocking towards Dumaguete. Foreigners are buying lands and retirement homes. Many restaurants are charging dollars not pesos. Business is booming, so is, sadly, prostitution.

4. Dumaguete is five hours away from Bacolod by bus. It is four hours away from Cebu City, also by bus. Tricycles are spacious. A proposal to create a super port was shelved since it was vigorously protested by the Silliman community. The plan will require the removal of historic buildings of Silliman University.

5. Boulevard, the baywalk of Dumaguete. But its cleaner, more peaceful, no traffic, no foul odor from the sea and definitely a major tourist hang-out. Food is expensive by the way.

6. There is no PLDT DSL in Dumaguete. The market is monopolized by Globe’s broadband service. There are no classy cafes –which is good.

7. Airport personnel greeted Korean tourists in Korean language. But they forgot to greet me or other locals, not even in our native language.

8. In 2004, I did ask about the Dumaguete scandal, the infamous mother of all sex videos. I learned some information about this spicy subject. But it cannot be written here. Perhaps, some other time.

Related entries:

Iloilo impressions.

Iloilo impressions

1. I saw a streamer in front of University of San Agustin honoring its most esteemed alumni. In the field of government service, I saw the names of Resureccion Borra and Jocelyn Bolante. How ironic that both are accused, to put it mildly, of being not-so-good public officials.

2. It seems Iloilo is divided between whether to love or hate Gloria Arroyo. On one hand, Raul Gonzales, the lesser (since the son is more reasonable) has the support of the Mayor and barangay captains of Iloilo City. On the other hand, ex-Senate President Franklin Drilon enjoys the support of the Iloilo governor.

3. There is speculation that church people are reluctant to support the ‘Resign Arroyo’ movement since they owe the Tuason-Arroyo family who donated huge tracts of land to many religious congregations. Near the provincial Capitol, I saw a fountain named after Senator Jose Arroyo – a vestige of the Arroyo influence in the past.

4. The offices of the city councilors are located at the second floor of the public market. Even council sessions are held there. Hmm, so does this symbolize that city welfare can also be bought for a bargain? Still, Batasan Complex in Quezon City is the runaway winner in the most ‘strategically’ placed government offices – just a few kilometers away from the Payatas dump.

5. Wandering carabaos in the runway can halt airport operation. A pedicab brought me to the airport terminal. By the way, I think Iloilo airport is better than the Manila domestic airport which charges P200 terminal fee per passenger!

6. In 1999, the first time I visited Iloilo, I described UP Miag-ao as the most beautiful UP campus. Today, the scenery is still great, I saw new buildings, but facilities need proper maintenance.

7. In Ilocos Sur, there is a school which sanctions students who step on the grass. I heard there is a school in Iloilo which requires students to ask permit before taking a lunch break. Paging CHR….

8. Another impact of nursing becoming a popular course in the country is the growing influence of the college of nursing in each school. In one of the four schools I visited in Iloilo, the university student council fund amounts to half a million pesos. But the College of Nursing student council fund is more than a million bucks.

Related entries:

Tell me who your neighbors are. Kakaibang kapit-bahay.
Silang mga nasa komunidad. Community schools.