happy thoughts and worthy causes

UPLB Ghost Stories

UPLB Campus

Tinaguriang one of the most haunted places in the Phils ang UP Los Banos. Pero supernatural occurrences dun ay hindi lamang dahil sa mga alaala ng WW2, kundi dahil na rin sa kababalaghan mula sa kalikasan. Sa totoo lng, mas malaki ang campus ng UPLB sa UP Diliman dahil kasama dito ang lupain hanggang IRRI at at UPOU sa may Bay, at pati na rin sa bundok Makiling lagpas ng College of Forestry, Boy Scouts Jamboree, Natl HS for the Arts, tagos sa PCARRD na ngayon ay shortcut na papuntang highway at Los Banos Bayan.

On campus, naglipana pa ang nalalakihang puno ng acacia, kapok, mangga at iba pang hardwood. Napalilibutan din kami ng mga creeks na tagusan ng tubig mula sa bundok, kaya marami ring mga tulay na gawa pa bago ng gyera. Sa dami ng malalaking puno, hindi mo alam kng alin ang may naninirahan, kaya natuto kaming gumalang sa nature.

Nung minsan ginabi kami ng mga kaklase ko from a group study session. Wala na jeeps nuon so kadilakad na kami. Buti mga 3-4 kami pabalik ng dorms sa campus. Nung nandun na kami sa may Palma Bridge may sumitsit. Akala ko sa may kapok tree sa side ng PhySci bldg, pero may sumitsit uli sa may kanan ng tulay at nakatinginan na kami. Tumigil na sa pagkukwento yng maingay naming bading. ‘Narinig nyo yun?’, tanong ko. pero hindi na nila ako sinagot at medyo binikisan ag paglalakad. nung mas malapit na kami dun sa malaking puno sa may auditorium, mas malakas yng sitsit kaya pare-pareho kaming dun napatingin. Madilim yng audi, wlang ilaw, at makapal ang mga dahon ng puno. Wala ka makita kundi kadiliman. Bgla kaming sabay2x karipas ng takbo across Baker’s Field (version namin ng Sunken Garden) papuntang dorms. Swerte nung isa, sa Women’s dorm sya at pinakamalapit, 2 kaming diretso sa Men’s, at pinakamalas yng bading naming friend kasi sa Coop Housing pa sya.

Dyan din sa Baker’s Field, malapit sa Baker Hall, may experience yng mga Vanguard (officers ng ROTC) during their early AM jogging. Tuwing rainy season, malamig at nagiging foggy yng campus. Minsan daw na makulimlim at medyo umaambon, ambon na umaga, nagja-jogging yng mga Vanguards na hindi bababa sa 10 lalaking macho. Doing the usual greetings-chanting sila, ‘good morning ladies of Women’s Dorm,’ good morning, ladies of Men’s Dorm…’ tapos nung malapit sa Baker Hall mismo, may bgla silang nakitang kasabay nila na grupo…isang pulutong ng nagma-marchang mga sundalong Hapon! Kitang-kita nila lahat, halata sa lumang uniporme circa 1940s, yng sumbrerong Japanese cap na may takip sa tenga, yng baril na may bayoneta sa dulo! Karipas daw silang lhat ng takbo pauwi ng barracks nila sa may Grandstand.

Dahil nga ginawang concentration camp ang buong UPLB campus nung Japanese Occupation, hindi maiwasang may mga kakaiba dito. Sa mismong Baker Hall na dati naming gym/PE bldg, marami daw kinulong at tortured. Kaya sa basement kng saan storage ng mga sports equipment, super creepy daw talga. Dun nga sa 2nd flr, may malalaking open windows, minsan daw ay may nakikitang white lady na nakadungaw kht gabi na at wlang ilaw dun. Yng kapatid ko, gumimik ng inuman ksama ang friends sa Field isang gabi. Bgla silang inabot ng ulan, e ang pinakamalapit silungan yng Baker Hall. Nkatayo daw sila sa harap dun sa may sementong canopy, tuloy ang kwentuhan at tawanan. Bgla daw may umamoy na super baho..amoy organic na nabubulok. Ang sabi nga nung isa sa kanila, parang naaagnas na bangkay. Nangilabot na daw sila at nagsitakbuhan papuntang Student Union na malapit sa Auditorium.

They said there wasn’t much to see this side of Negros, the Cebuano-speaking side of Occidental which probably should’ve been part of Oriental already. San Carlos City is much like its Negros Occidental sister towns – planted to sugarcane and privileged to have access to coconut lands up Mt. Kanlaon. In the recent years, prawn farming had also become popular in these parts. But like the rest of Negros Oriental, they consider themselves the “poorer”, working class side of Negros Occidental.

My sister married a San Carlos native and ended up living there to start their family. Years later, after my Bar Exams, we decided to take a Negros island tour. With my then partner, who hails from Dumaguete, my Mom and stewardess sister tagged along for the trip. We flew in from Manila via Dumaguete, and drove up to San Carlos City where we were met by my older sister. My nephews and niece were excited to see us and wanted to show us around their town. But there really wasn’t much to do and with a single tricycle ride, one would’ve been able to see the whole city already. So my youngest nephew suggested a Sipaway Island Day Tour. The 15 year old was so eager that he arranged everything himself – from negotiating for a boat, to arranging for our picnic food, the whole itinerary.

Like all boat rides, it’s ideal to take sail in the early morning when the waters are calm and the tide is seemingly low. We got to the port area around 6AM where our boatman was already waiting. They said the trip would take only 15 minutes to the island itself, and a couple of more minutes to circle the whole island. Composed just 2 barangays, the 7-kilometer island from tip-to-tip can be traversed in less than a day. I hear the newly-paved roads are now perfect for some biking too.

At the time we visited, there was only one resort being developed – the Whispering Palms owned by a foreigner who married a local. It was meant to have all the usual amenities, even a mini-zoo and aviary for kids. Still under construction, it wasn’t ready for guests yet. Later on, I heard there were other more reasonably-priced resorts that got established, including ones perfect for some “glamping”. The local government also promised that electrification and a clean water source would follow, and I am glad that actually got accomplished.

Much like other “young and isolated” islands in these parts, Sipaway boasts of cream-colored sand. Though not powdery-soft like Boracay, the white sands still had that pristine charm. Full of seashells and crushed coral, it was proof that the waters around the island were teeming with life. True enough, when my niece and nephews went swimming, they confirmed the place was perfect for some snorkeling.

The blue-green waters were so clear you could see starfishes of various colors at the seabed. There was minimal seaweed you can get entangled with, but shells and corals were enough hiding places for the different marine creatures. Besides fish, there were stingrays, eels, an occasional octopus and crabs. Unfortunately, there were also sea urchins whose spines can be very painful if stepped on. But sitting on the beach, enjoying the sun and the gentle sea breeze while listening to the sound of the waves lapping at the shore is priceless enough.

We were later taken to a secluded area with much shallower waters. It was like a private beach where one can swim and sunbathe in peace. Since it was also near the marshes where the mangroves abound, I noticed a few jellyfish floating around. The boatmen said these small jellyfish were eaten as delicacies, soaked in vinegar and mixed with spices “kinilaw” style. It’s a good thing there weren’t any big ones, those box-type, Portuguese Man-of-War jellyfish, I commented warily. Just then, one of the boys assisting the boatman gestured into the water. I saw a white cellophane-like material floating about near the boat where we were swimming. Just then, the boys grabbed one of the poles and started poking at the white seeming “plastic” to raise it up from the waters. It turned out to be a gigantic jellyfish! My sisters screamed and all rushed to get in the boat lest there were others around. One sting from one these box jellyfish can inject enough toxins to kill you, especially if you have allergies like me.

That encounter pretty much ended our swimming fun and we decided to continue touring the rest of the island. The wetlands surrounding Sipaway was not only a haven for various crustaceans like shrimp and crabs, they served as a sanctuary for birds as well. I wondered if the island can be turned into something like Cebu’s Olango island to support migratory birds.

The foliage of the vegetation was so dense, mangroves interspersed with some Nipa, I once again remarked it’s a good thing no crocodiles lived there like in the Florida everglades and Louisiana bayous. The boatman laughed and said in Tagalog, “Ay meron din, ma’am…minsan meron kami nakakasalubong na mga buwaya dyan kapag nangingisda o nangunguha ng alimango.” I forgot the Philippines is known for its salt-water crocodiles seen in Palawan and the Visayas-Mindanao regions. And with that, our Sipaway island adventure concluded as my sisters insisted we sail back to port already.

Or so I thought…because even in the early afternoon, a distant rain shower ensued. You can’t imagine what a little wind can do to cause some waves. As our little motorized banca approached the pantalan, the waters became rather choppy and prevented our smooth return. Even as we were eventually able to dock safely, getting off the rocking boat was another thing. And I knew my sisters’ squeals were not of fun or excitement anymore.

When people hear about Ormoc, they think of 3 things – that devastating flood of yore, the recent earthquakes which plagued Leyte and their showbiz couple mayor and congresswoman. But I remember it mostly for an amazing mountain lake I visited once – Lake Danao.

I first visited Leyte in the 1990s for the wedding of my law school classmate and sorority sister who was a native of Ormoc. We took a Manila-Tacloban flight, then a 2-hour van trip to Ormoc City. At the time, the place was more or less developed, but not as urbanized as Tacloban. Nonetheless, it was a known fishing port, a travel hub for those enroute to Cebu, and a commercial center for this side of Leyte.

The highlight of our trip though was the pre-wedding picnic-party at the famed Lake Danao. It used to be called “Lake Imelda”, probably in honor of the former First Lady who is a Leyte native. By a Presidential decree in the 1970s, it became a nature reserve and subsequently put under the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) law.

With an elevation similar to Tagaytay, the mountain lake is usually covered in fog, even when it wasn’t raining. My friend said it reminded her of New Zealand. As we drove up the rough and unpaved “dirt” road, the temperatures slowly cooled and the vegetation gradually thickened. Endemic hardwood trees abound, those tropical mountain plants like wild ferns, jungle orchids, and even edibles like berries, mangoes, bananas, papayas, guavas, as well as root crops like cassava, ube, gabi, and kamote grow all-around in a natural hodge-podge. In the cool weather, I was willing to bet some vegetables would likewise grow abundantly here.

When we finally reached the top, it looked like a scene straight out of the Lord of the Rings trilogy – a virtual replica of the “misty mountains”. There was a great panoramic view of the lake, tranquil green waters surrounded by the lush verdant mountain range. Momentarily covered by thick mist, possibly because of the light showers, it soon cleared enough to show its great expanse.

Apparently, this is part of the Amandiwen range with a nearby dormant volcano Mt.Janagdan which also boasts of another mountain lake – Lake Janagdan. But while Mt. Janagdan is a genuine crater lake, Lake Danao is considered a “graben” or depression caused by the active Leyte Fault. It is also suspected that it is previously part of bigger crater lake caused by ancient volcanic eruptions. A fresh water source, Lake Danao supplies the adjoining towns and is essential for some nearby farmlands.

The lake waters were so eerily still, like glass mirroring its surroundings, hence its green color. They say Lake Danao is the deepest portion of a previous crater lake which got reduced through the centuries. This explains why there are some wetlands and marshes around Lake Danao still. Besides the usual forest creatures like deer and wild boar, there is a wide variety of birds that can be found here. There are hornbills, parakeets, owls and pigeons.

Although it appeared a bit neglected, the location had been developed as a tourist spot-park area. The facilities were still intact and useable by visitors for family picnics. A few years later, during the earthquakes, this place will suffer some damage when deep cracks appeared on the road up, and nearby areas had some landslides. Nowadays, I hear they have installed floating huts on the lake itself. 

From atop the viewing deck, we trekked down to the lake shore. The other wedding guests consisted of some German friends of the groom, and they braved the cold waters for a swim. They noted that the lake was pretty deep and when they dove down, they can’t see much despite its clear waters. We were told that its unknown depths is actually one of the big mysteries of this guitar-shaped mountain lake. Many have tried to measure it, but were unsuccessful to reach its bottom.

Locals say a possible awakening of the nearby dormant volcano or earthquakes caused by the active Leyte Fault is a danger for the adjoining areas. But like all awesome things, Lake Danao with its unique beauty comes an uncertainty that is difficulty to fathom, and people will always live with some degree of risk under it.


Dear Former Colleague,

You asked how we have been faring here in our part of the world. Not too well, if I can be honest with you.

With the continuing health and economic crisis brought about by the COVID19 pandemic, there has been regular and consistent support for our medical frontliners who are at the forefront of this battle. However, there are many other players who are not as recognized or appreciated for their valuable contributions such as our beloved social workers.

Early on, many of our brethren knew they would be one of those who will be called upon to continue rendering service in spite of the dangers of infection. Not only as part of the public service, but as genuine development workers tasked with uplifting the quality of life of others, the general welfare of our countrymen had to take precedence. Both regular and MOA social workers of the DSWD became part of the valuable Social Amelioration Program (SAP) distributions, while some welcomed returning OFWs and processed numerous Locally-Stranded Individuals (LSIs), and others continued to serve at our Crisis Intervention Units (CIUs) providing financial assistance to vulnerable clients

So while medical frontliners were being lauded for their sacrifice, and the police and the military manning our checkpoints garnered much sympathy of risking their lives, we did not hear much about our poor social workers going down into the communities with no or limited protective gear (initially some were compelled to buy their own masks and gloves), risking their health and of their families who they went home to after each dangerous exposure. COVID Testing then was not the norm, and some social workers and Special Disbursement Officers (SDOs) were forced to shell out from their own pockets thousands of hard-earned money to spend for their own swabtests.

Such insensitivity amounted to abuse when poor MOA/COS workers could not avail of the Alternative Work Arrangement (AWA) prescribed by the Civil Service Commission for regular employees in government. As such, it was the MOA/COS social workers who were time and again sent to the battlefront, without proper life insurance or healthcare, nor the benefit of tenure, with the threat of insubordination and not being renewed hanging over their heads.

Meanwhile, DSWD Management just like the leadership of this poor nation, were late with their crucial decision-making. Knowing fully well of the health risks our DSWD social workers were being exposed to, they failed to institute the much-needed interventions early on. While testing was allegedly not allowed due to Department budgetary concerns, a well-coordinated referral system to institutions like Philippine Red Cross, Quezon City Health Department, the UP Health Service or even the Marikina LGU testing facility could have been undertaken. It took the DSWD employees union SWEAP to intervene and initiate initial rapid-testing of Central Office employees since there was no efficient contact tracing and health status reporting being conducted then at the workplace as fellow personnel began infecting each other. Without the support and sense of urgency of the DSWD officials, any proposed guidelines and concrete interventions took months before being implemented. By then, there were already five (5) COVID-related deaths amongst our colleagues – an asthmatic MOA who continued to do field work because AWA was not allowed, an exhausted SAP frontliner who succumbed to cardiac arrest, a driver who had comorbidities but was unknowingly exposed to an infected co-worker. At least two of these DSWD employees died of COVID possibly due to exposure in the field or in the office itself, while 2 others were due to the exhaustion and stress of SAP distribution.

I continue to lament the fate of my poor colleagues in the DSWD. Not only are the MOA/COS being subjected to these unnecessary COVID risks, they suffer in silence for non-renewal of contracts, late signing of their contracts resulting in unpaid rendered service, delayed salaries, and no hazard pay, not even the legally-mandated Magna Carta of Public Social Workers. And now with the Mandanas ruling and the impending threat of devolution, many of our social workers will be displaced when the budget of some social services and programs are transferred to the LGUs. At a time of great health and economic upheaval because of COVID, the DSWD Management will be contributing more numbers to the poor by adding its own employees to the sector. The Philippine government is technically throwing the very same people it tasked to raise marginalized sectors from the quagmire of poverty to the same quicksand of economic vulnerability.

Of late, a young social worker from NCR was murdered, and speculations point to his being a SDO tasked with handling money. The employees union SWEAP has unfortunately been linked to red-tagged organizations and SWEAP officers are now being harassed and charged administratively. Things are going from bad to worse. Perish the thought it gets even worst.

We ask that media turn its attention to the plight of our dear social workers and highlight their struggles too. We ask that professional associations of social workers, PASWI, ADSWI, and NASWEI, show their support and rally the troops for their common goals. Most of all, we ask the DSWD Management and the Philippine government to be accountable and to do their part, just as our social workers have been faithfully doing since Day 1 of this COVID pandemic.

Be well, stay safe where you are, dear Colleague. Please pray and remain hopeful for the Philippines.

Your Development Worker Friend

10 Pinoy Things You Will Miss Abroad

There are many things about the Philippines and fellow Filipinos we take for granted. And only when we are abroad in other countries do we realize the value of these things. Here are 10 very “Pinoy” things I really missed when I was travelling abroad.

  1. There are no “salubongs” or welcoming committee when you arrive in another country. – Unless you are in a Tour Group or organized conference there is no “welcoming committee” once you land at the airport. You are expected to get yourself to your own hotel or conference venue by your own efforts. If you are lucky, there might be a hotel shuttle to pick you up, but that’s it as far as friendly “salubongs” get. In Jakarta and New Delhi, taxis were available but we were warned about the notoriety of these drivers taking advantage of foreigners. Yet we had no choice but take taxis to the hotel anyway.
  2. The same goes for “hatids” or send-offs – Foreigners don’t usually take the time off work just so they can take you to the airport or train station to say goodbye. They are not big on send-offs as Filipinos, so be ready to take yourself to the airport. In the Philippines, it’s not just your immediate family but the whole barangay who is willing to take you to the airport or bus terminal.
  3. Don’t expect the same level of hospitality – Pinoys are naturally friendly and accommodating. When a foreigner gets lost and asks for help, we willingly assist and are genuinely polite. Abroad, if you get lost, it’s not very easy to ask for directions since not everyone speaks English or are just not as polite or helpful. Remember this when you see those “tambays at the kanto” back home who can give you clear directions while speaking English. I arrived on a Sunday in Geneva and the streets were actually deserted; the few people walking about on their way to their weekend jobs did not speak English.
  4. Kindness/Helpfulness Isn’t Automatically Extended to Strangers – On MRT and LRT trains here, if it gets too cramped and you get tossed about, fellow passengers would even hold you up and keep you steady by allowing you to hang on unto their arms. In other countries, especially in the West, don’t expect to even get help with your luggage because everyone just minds their own business. Landing in Schipol in Amsterdam and Changi airport in Singapore, I had to lug around my own baggage unto the trains for the necessary transfers. No one offered to help at all.
  5. Catholic Churches are not that Easy to Find – Since majority of the Filipino population are Catholics and very religious, in the Philippines every other block or barangay has a church or chapel. But religion is not really the norm in other countries especially in those modern, highly industrialized nations. They may be Christian, but there are so many other Protestant denominations, so don’t expect to easily find a Catholic church nearby. In Hong Kong, we had to leave the island to find one, while in Geneva, I had to cross the river to hear mass. Never thought an ordinary Sunday routine would become such a chore when a church is not so accessible.
  6. Various toiletries and beauty products are not available everywhere. – I was in Indonesia several times and one of the most troublesome aspects of my extended stays is my supplies running out. But when I go to groceries, pharmacies or even malls, there just aren’t enough choices or brands for some personal hygiene products. In Manila, whole racks are filled with various sanitary products. In Surabaya, there is just one small corner for alcohol, sanitizers, cotton balls, etc. but no or limited cologne, hand or body lotions, even scented talcum powders. My friend explained that there isn’t much market for beauty products because in the predominantly Muslim country with conservative practices, women are not encouraged to spend so much on personal toiletries.
  7. How Baths and Showers Are Important – Either because of the cold weather or difficult water supply, other countries don’t put a premium on regular baths or showers unlike Filipinos. Some foreigner friends often ask why PInoys take showers all the time. In Melbourne, my hotel’s staff complained that the Filipinos use up their stored water because we needed to take showers twice a day. Once in a Bali red light district I was doing research in, the working women there shared they loved Pinoy seamen because they are always so clean and smell good unlike their other foreign customers.
  8. Free drinking water isn’t available in all restaurants – Filipinorestaurants and food establishments usually offer free drinking water the minute you sit down and haven’t even ordered anything. If you order other beverages, this glass of water doesn’t usually get touched and simply go to waste. Abroad, tap water isn’t really offered and if you ask for water, they will give you something bottled and get charged for it. Since Hong Kong island has limited freshwater and must get it from the mainland, you don’t automatically get water at your table. If you ask for it, they give you bottled water which you have to pay for. Otherwise, what you get is the free and unlimited hot tea.
  9. Filipino food is What I Missed Most – Our standard condiments on the table like patis or bagoong are not readily available abroad. Restaurants just have the usual salt and pepper, or the occasional paprika. If you’re lucky enough to find an Asian establishment, you may get the rare soy sauce. But no amount of gravy can make up for the lack of the usual condiments and sawsawan in foreign cuisine. It’s just not the same if your grilled pork belly doesn’t have that calamansi and toyo dip. No matter how thick that steak is, somehow it’s just too bland without the Asian soy sauce that makes it more special.
  10. Pinoy takes on commercial fastfood are better – Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) in the Philippines has free-glowing gravy, but in Singapore there was none of that! At the Night time Safari, we were going to take an early dinner when we were served hot sauce to go with the chicken. Meanwhile, when we were in Jakarta, we went to eat at a local Wendy’s and ordered the usual burgers. However, these burgers tasted so different…as if the meat wasn’t properly sauted in onions and garlic. It just tasted too “beefy”. No wonder our Jollibee is such a hit abroad. Foreigners actually marvel at our Pinoy-styled sweet spaghetti. I guess they also don’t realize some Pinoys actually use tamis-anghang ketchup when cooking spaghetti instead of the sour tasting all-tomato based sauces.

Over-all these are the very Filipino stuff that really make you feel homesick for the Philippines. But if it’s any comfort, somehow, somewhere, you always seem to find a kababayan anywhere in the world. And that is good material for another day…


The CARAGA region is one place I haven’t been to very often. I made two short visits to Butuan before and both were for senior citizens activities. I haven’t been back there since then, but I was able to make the most of my earlier trips to discover Butuan’s historical significance.

I was warned that Butuan gets pretty flooded every rainy season, so I better time my visit during the dry months. This flooding is not surprising since the great Agusan River traverses a big portion of the densely populated area of Butuan City. There is a theory that the various criss-crossing tributaries like the Masao river and Agusan Pequeno river accumulated so much alluvium through the centuries that it became the land mass that is now Agusan and Butuan. The marshes and swamplands also became a perfect environment for a variety of animals, shells and crustaceans, birds, fishes, and of course – the famous Philippine crocodiles. This is after all the home province of Lolong, the largest captured crocodile.

Any real-life Philippine history lesson should include an actual visit to Butuan. The National Museum there is one of the first inter-active museums in the country and houses valuable relics from the past. These historical and cultural artifacts come from one of the Philippines’  richest archeological digs, stemming even from prehistoric times. There are actually ancient stone and metal implements, woodworks and potteries from the pre-colonial era. These proves that there really was a pretty sophisticated civilization even before the Spaniards came to our islands.

The other famous museum which is a must-see in Butuan is the Balangay Shrine. Several of these wooden boats have been found in the area of Libertad and are thought to be the major transports which took our ancestors from their homelands to the Philippine islands. Made of sturdy, water-resistant wooden planks, amazingly put together without any metal nails, these 15 meters long by 3 meter-wide boats are known as “Balangays”.  Imagine these boats travelling across high seas, withstanding storms, carrying a few good men and women with the most adventurous spirits with the hope of beginning new lives elsewhere into the unknown.

Near the Masao river is the Bood Promontory, a wooded area on top of a hill where Magellan was thought to have held the first mass. As such, there is a memorial of sorts, some metal and cement sculpture depicting that historical event. Now known as the Bood Promontory Ecopark, it serves as a nursery and tree park, with fishponds, a hanging bridge, and lots of natural, open space perfect for relaxing. Together with Magellan’s Landing, the Banza church ruins and other old churches, these are markers of how hard the Spanish tried to establish themselves here.

Butuan’s connection with the past is truly extra-ordinary. The latest tourist attraction is on a private property, the Bequibel Shell Midden, which the National Museum considers an unusual archeological dig –  the shell midden which goes down several meters into the ground. This site is in the middle of a large expanse of agricultural land, some distance from any waterway. Yet the existence of the shell midden is proof that once upon a time, the area was near a river or tributary. However, centuries of river flow has accumulated enough alluvium to form the landlocked farmland and for the waterway to disappear. Shell middens are actually pre-historic garbage dump-sites – while majority are the disposed shells of seashells eaten by our ancestors, these actually include remnants of other food eaten like animal bones, botanical material, human excrement, and various other refuse. These waste materials can be carbon-dated and can tell us much about the culture and way of life of our ancestors.

Being the marshland that it is, seafood abounds in the local menu. However, I am allergic to shrimps, crabs, or squid, and can only partake of the fresh fish. Butuan is where I tasted one of the best kinilaw na tangguigue served in the form of “sinuglaw” – combination of sinugba or grilled pork and kinilaw or fish ceviche. In these parts, I was also offered classic Mindanao fruits like marang, a type of breadfruit similar to langka, and durian, that stinky but tasty fruit grown only in Philippine, Thailand and Indonesian varieties. I also tasted a unique kind of suman – their sticky rice cake is cooked not just with coconut milk, but with a tinge of ginger. And as in Cebu and Davao, this suman is served with mangoes and hot tsokolate.

The place where I stayed called “Goat-To-Geder” hotel and restaurant was also quite popular for its chevon-based dishes. Sadly, even as the Ilocano that I am, I can only tolerate kalderetang kambing and nothing else. This preference for goat meat is something we share with our South East Asian neighbor, Indonesia, just like their various rice cakes and coconut milk-infused dishes. I remember from my travels that there is even a Malaysian version of our local halo-halo. But more than our similarity in cuisine, the Bahasa language has commonalities with our local dialects, particularly up north, in Ilocano and Kapampangan. So while evidence of the first landings and human settlements were in these parts of Mindanao, who is to say our ancestors did not venture as far up north and reached Luzon.

For anyone seeking true Philippine history through travel, Butuan should be your first stop. It is possible that this is where it all began, or better yet, it can give you a view into the past from where we are in the present. Butuan’s historical sites and museums can give you an idea how these islands first became populated, not by wild savages Spanish colonialists portrayed us to be, but as the civilized communities that lived in communion with nature. It is here in Butuan that shows our ancestors as a proud ancient people who were ever grateful for nature’s gifts like the alluvium from its rivers and springs, giving them living space for settlements, as well as rich, fertile lands for cultivation. But more than anything, these remnants of the past which continue to be discovered and dug up to this day, should remind us of our glorious pre-colonial cultural heritage. In fact, do drop by and take a look at the replica of the Golden Tara if you need more convincing.

Halloween Stories 2020

Sunday at the Park: Paco Cemetery

Besides old churches and ancestral houses, mahilig din ako bumisita ng mga heritage sites like historical cemeteries. One time I was coming back from Malate, dumaan yng driver sa may Sta. Ana area pauwi. Napansin ko yng Paco Park which was a field trip destination nung bata pa kami.Sinabihan ko yng driver ko na dumaan muna kami at papasyalan ko itong lumang sementeryo na itinayo pa nung panahon ng Kastila. In fact, nilibing dun ang 3 pari ng GOMBURZA at pati si Rizal nung bagong execute pa lng. Nung nagkaroon ng cholera epidemic sa Manila, marami ring nilibing dun dahil hindi na kasya sa mga sementeryong mas malapit sa Intramuros.Katatapos lng ng last morning mass, so nag-alisan na ang mga nagsimba. Sinarado na rin yng chapel kng saan nagmimisa. Kaunting tao lng ang nasa loob ng Paco Park, yng bantay sa entrance fee booth, yng gwardiya na nasa may gate, at yng isa o dalwang hardinero o tiga-linis. Dalawa kaming pumasok ng driver ko, umikot sa ground area, sa mga lumang libingan na nadikit sa pader, picture 2x.Maganda ang view sa taas ng walls, mala-Intramuros, at Instagramable din. Naiwan na sa baba yng driver ko habang umakyat ako at sinundan yng paikot na walls. Naka-3/4 nako ng ikot, pabalik na sa may simbahan kng saan yng babaan nang may narinig akong footsteps sa likod ko. Tuloy ang lakad ko, pero parang may sumusunod sa akin, yng yabag ng paa e parang nage-echo na sapatos dun s cobblestones. Weird kasi paano mageecho Kung open air nga yng taas ng walls ng sementeryo.Tanghaling tapat yun, tirik din ang araw, nang bglang naramdaman ko ang malamig na ihip ng hangin sa likod ko. Tumayo ang buhok sa batok ko at balahibo sa arms. Binilisan ko ang lakad ko kasi parang may something sa likuran ko. Di ko kinayang tumingin, pero nagsalita ako sa isip ko at sinabi ng, ‘pasensya na po sa istorbo… Aalis nako.’ so Dali-Dali akong bumaba, pero nasa likod yung hagdan, so malayo-layo pa yng lalakarin papuntang gate palabas. This time wla ako naririnig na echo ng footsteps na sumusunod, pero parang may mga nakatingin mula sa taas, sa ibabaw ng walls. Hindi ko rin tiningnan, nakayuko na lng ako habang naglalakad.Pagdating ko s gate, nandun lahat ng tauhan ng park – yng teller ng tickets, yng guard, at yng 2 hardinero/tiga-linis. Nasilip ko din na naghihintay na sa may sasakyan yng driver ko. Ako lng talga ang galing sa loob ng Paco Park…walang ibang Tao sa loob.

Manila Hauntings

Besides London sa UK, isa yata kilala worldwide na most haunted cities ang Maynila. Kung tutuusin, understandable naman kasi nga sobra ang sinapit ng Pinas, Lalo na ang capital, nung panahon ng WW2. Kwento ng Daddy ko nuon, sumakay daw pamilya nya ng tren mula sa Tutuban, siksikan na mga tao, makatakas lng bago gawing “open city” ang Maynila. Meaning kasi baka maging “free-for-All” ang labanan ng Hapon at mga Amerikano, bahala na madamay ang civilians. At ganun na nga nangyari; kawawa ang mga naiwan sa siyudad. Kahit yng mga mayayaman na ayaw daw iwan mga malalaking Bahay nila sa Malate area. Pagkatapos kunin at patayin mga kalalakihan ng mga pamilya, gahasain mga kababaihan, susunugin pa daw mga Bahay. Meron pa daw iipunin silang lahat sa mga simbahan tapos, sisilaban yng simbahan pagkatapos silang ikulong dun. Pagpasok ng mga Amerikano, tuloy ang labanan at ayaw din talga sumuko ng mga Hapon. May mga naipit sa barilan at tinamaan ng sniper fire (isa nga dyan yng pamilya ng dating Pres. Quirino). Naging desperado ang mga Amerikano kaya wla na rin silang pakundangan sa pagbagsak ng mga bomba sa Maynila. Ubos ang mga gusali at kabahayan. Sabi nila, mula daw sa Quiapo church, across Pasig river, naging tanaw mo daw all the way to Manila Bay kasi “flattened” daw talga. Kung napunta kayo dun sa Intramuros dun sa may Memorial ng massacre of Manila, makikita nyo gaano karami talga ang mga namatay, including mga bata at sanggol.Kaya siguro hindi rin nakagugulat kng may mga kwento2x ang mga nakatira sa Maynila kht na mga bagong tayong Bahay na, at mataas na rin ang populasyon. Sabi nga ng Mama ko, kht nung nagaaral pa sila sa kolehiyo nung 50s, yng tinirhan nilang magpipinsan na apartment sa Sampaloc e may nagpaparamdam..May mga naririnig silang yabag at ingay kht wlang ibang tao sa Bahay na kasama nila. Itong pinsan ni Wifey, may Bahay din sa Balic-Balic…kwento ng katiwalang tiga-bantay, may nakikitang anino minsan sa hagdan. Minsan parang may naglalakad sa taas kahit wlang tao sa mga kwarto. Buti matapang si Manang kasi hindi madalas lumuwas sa Maynila ang mag-anak mula sa Cagayan.Eto naman friend ko, nakatira sa may Blumentritt malapit sa Espana. Luma na yng hilera ng mga kabahayan nila kasi mga early settlers after the war. May makikipot na daan at eskinita sa lugar nila. Kwento ng mga tiga-Brgy nila, sa dulo ng isang eskinita may nagpapakita daw na pari na pugot ang ulo. Kahit nailawan na ng bagong poste at hindi na gaanong madilim, may mga naglalarong bata daw na nakikita yng paring wlang ulo.Eto naman mga bagong dorms na paupahan lagpas ng UST malapit na sa Recto, may mga kwento din. May Kwento itong bunso namin nung nagre-review sila for the Board Exams. syempre puyatan blues.. lagi daw silang may naririnig sa kusina tuwing disoras ng gabi. Kalansing ng mga pinggan o baso. Minsan narinig nilang parang tunog ng kutsarita tumatama sa tasa at naglakas-loob ang isa sa kanilang silipin kng ano ba talga yun. Nakita daw nya isang tasa sa dining table at may isang kutsarita na parang naghahalo ng kape…umiikot itong magisa.

Manila Hauntings 2 (Kwento ni May)

Nkwento ko sa friend kong si May tungkol dito sa THSG na ito at yng latest kong entry abt Manila. Naalala nya tuloy yng experience nya nung tumira daw sila sa may Balic2x.Nangupahan daw sila dun ng partner nya nung nagbubuntis pa sya. So same description ng mga lumang bahay sa lugar, medyo malalaki kaya may space parentahan na extra rooms. Minsan daw gabi, nakaupo sya sa may lumang hagdanan nila. Tanaw daw nya yng bakuran ng tapat nilang bahay. May nakita syang malaking puting aso na akala nya alaga lng ng kapit-bahay nila. Nagulat daw sya nung bgla itong nagtransform at naging matandang babae, yng kapitbahay nila!Isang gabi naman, galing sa inuman itong anak na lalaki ng landlady nila. Isa syang malaking mama at medyo may katabaan pa. Medyo lasing at dun na sana matutulog sa sala, kaya binuksan nya yng bintana para may hangin. Eto yng mga malalaking capiz windows na sinauna, tapos may outer metal grills lng. Bgla daw tumambad sa kanya yng matandang babae n kalahati lng yng katawan, at may malalaking pakpak! Tumatama daw yng mga pakpak sa bintana, na parang sinasadyang gambalain sila kasi ang lakas ng tunog. Nagising nga sila lhat at nagsilabasan s kwarto. Nasalubong nilang patakbo sa loob papuntang mga kwarto yng anak ng landlady…nahimasmasan daw sa pagkalasing.

2020 and COVID: Buhay DSWD

Since I joined the DSWD Procurement Service in 2016, I had become used to not having a decent holiday season to celebrate with family. For the past four years or so, at least three (3) massive typhoons hit before the year ends. Plus, there was the occasional earthquake and volcanic eruption, not to mention internal conflicts like the Marawi Siege. I usually spend Xmas parties and New Year family reunions intermittently on the cellphone or online on my laptop.

I accepted this as part of the job. We at DSWD are most needed when disaster and calamities strike. I consider it a worthwhile sacrifice to work over extended hours, even during rest-days and weekends, to coordinate the supply and delivery of relief goods and other necessary equipment needed by our frontline workers. While I may not be directly dealing with client-beneficiaries like my social worker friends, my function as an essential administrative and support service allows them to perform theirs seamlessly.

This 2020, Mt. Taal’s surprise eruption was the opening salvo for the year. While the local government units scrambled to cope, our regional office was on stand-by, and it was incumbent upon us to likewise be ready to extend additional assistance. Besides the relief goods for the evacuees, there were new and additional requirements of face masks to address the thick ashfall and the need to expedite the procurement of official vehicles to help with the evacuations and rescues.

And while we heard about the new flu-like sickness going on in China, no one expected the impact of COVID19 as it quickly spread around the world. By the time it reached the Philippines and drastic measures had to be imposed, once again we knew DSWD would be called upon to be at the forefront. The Social Amelioration Program (SAP) as financial assistance and the distribution of food packs to all those economically displaced by the temporary closure of business establishments was to be our assignment. But while the risk exposure of medical frontliners were constantly being discussed on media, there were no concrete and effective precautions put in place for the social workers being asked to go down to the communities.


Sometime before this COVID Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) period, I was somehow elected into the DSWD Central Office employees union as part of the new Executive Board, eventually becoming the CO Chapter President. It was now also my responsibility to look out for the welfare of my colleagues and fellow union members. The “new normal” of working in the government service compelled us to continue performing our official functions under varying environments. While some of us can afford to “Work-from-Home”, most of us still had to do field work and go down to the communities. Personal protective equipment (PPEs) were not yet the norm except for the medical frontliners, and most of us had to bring our own alcohols and sanitizers.

Good public servants that they were, my fellow DSWD personnel never complained and simply waited for what can be provided for them. They continued to go down and distribute the SAP, have Social Pension pay-outs for senior citizens, and validate Pantawid Pamilya beneficiaries. Some social workers welcomed Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) at the airports and provided psycho-social assistance as these OFWs returned despondent with uncertainty. Still other DSWD staff processed Locally-Stranded Individuals (LSIs) who could not travel or go home to their respective provinces.

Meanwhile, as Union Chapter President, I had to mediate for some work arrangements like ensuring those with identified chronic diseases and co-morbidities to be allowed to Work-from-Home and not be required to physically report to work to serve as skeletal force. My officers and I also appealed for the timely release of salaries for many of our non-regular co-workers because they needed resources for their families during the ECQ lockdowns. Finally, when it was becoming evident that many of our fellow employees were getting infected with COVID19 and were unknowingly spreading it to others at the workplace, the Social Welfare Employees Association of the Philippines (SWEAP) Central Office Chapter initiated the first and only rapid testing to be conducted at our office. True enough, it was validated that many of us were only asymptomatic, but are actually COVID carriers. Through it all, we constantly wrote the DSWD Management to come up with a comprehensive COVID intervention protocol for the employees. Soon, with the alarming increase in the number of COVID positive personnel, the impact of our efforts was eventually a wake-up call for the DSWD Management, and they began to take COVID interventions seriously.

Today, we still don’t have the resources to have our own regular COVID testing, but only rely on networking with the Philippine National Red Cross, the UP Diliman Health Service, and local government units like Marikina and Quezon City who have agreed to accommodate our referrals. We are also fortunate that some private entities have made donations of some PPEs and vitamins for our staff. Sadly, one of our friendliest and most helpful drivers contracted COVID and after developing complications from pneumonia, he died a few weeks ago.


We, at DSWD, continue to rally and trudge on. We know that as public servants, we must render service for the benefit of the Filipino people, even at great risk to our health and our lives. The sacrifice we make is shared by our own families who are similarly exposed to the dangers of COVID as we perform our everyday duties. We can only hope that these efforts are being appreciated too.


So while I have been writing much about my childhood memories of Ilocos, a big portion of my youth I have been meaning to write about were my college years in UP Los Banos.

I was only 15 years old when I went to the “distant” campus of UP Los Banos in College, Laguna. When I applied for the UPCAT, we only put Los Banos as an alternative campus upon the advise of my older brother, Manong Snokum, himself a graduate of BS Architecture from UP Diliman. He said at least we had a good back-up plan should I not get accepted for my first choice of Diliman campus. In fact, it was only our eldest brother Manong Butch who was able to get in immediately because he was an NSDB (now NSTA) scholar in BS Mathematics. Manong Snokum had to transfer from UST on his second semester, while both Ate Marie and Ate Annette ended up trying out and qualifying for UP Baguio and UP Manila, respectively.

Like the rest of NCR students, majority of my batchmates in high school tried out for UP. But when the UPCAT results came out, only 12 of us qualified or were wait-listed. I remember my classmates saying, “May isang Leonin na nakapasa e…d lang namin sure which one”, referring to me and my cousin, Edlyn. Meanwhile, like the rest of them, I also covered my bases and applied for other universities and colleges. By that time, I had already passed the entrance tests for CEU, Miriam College, UST, Ateneo and was in the process of applying for St. Paul. But of course, UP IS UP, and I quickly jumped at the chance to go the State University be it in a “faraway” campus.

Fortunately, my Mom soon realized that a second cousin of hers was married to a UPLB professor and was living in Los Banos. She reconnected with Tita Cora Pe Benito and made arrangements for me to stay with them. Later would I find out that Tita Cora’s husband, Tito Ruben Villareal was actually the Dean of the College of Agriculture and was pretty well-known and respected in the UPLB community. My affiliation with them would eventually influence my future in UP Los Banos.

* * * *

Our first visit to Los Banos became one of many regular treks to Laguna. Once I began studying in UP Los Banos, this routine became a cherished day trip for my parents and younger siblings, and a sort of bonding activity too. They would drive me over for the next schooldays after I spent the weekend with them in Manila.

Back then, it would be an easy 2 hour drive from Quezon City, traversing EDSA and SLEX to Los Banos. Still not much heavy traffic after Magallanes through Taguig-Bicutan-Paranaque area. As you leave Alabang, the long stretch of SLEX would still be lined by rice fields, and after some time, Maria Makiling’s outline would already be visible. That Southern Tagalog mountain range really looked like a giantess lying in repose; from the soft curve of her breasts to her forehead sloping into her long hair. Mt. Makiling with her accompanying Mt. Banahaw and Cristobal was truly majestic.

As we turn into Calamba, the only other slightly “urbanized” area besides Los Banos, we pass by a few fast food restaurants before the hot spring resorts begin to sprout from all sides. Since Mt. Makiling is a dormant volcano, they say those hot springs served as useful vents to let her steam out. Without those hot springs, some scientists claim Makiling could just wake up and become an active volcano again.

Entering Pansol before Los Banos Bayan area, all you can see are hot and cold spring resorts, and that ubiquitous red-brown quarry at the distance. Through the years, I would observe that natural tower-like feature get eroded both by man and by nature’s forces. We pass Camp Eldridge and PCARRD, which now has that shortcut mountain pass into the UPLB campus, I wonder if this is the same shortcut used by incarcerated Los Banos townsfolk when they were evacuating in World War II and needed to cross over to the other side of Laguna de Bay.

Before long, you reach Brgy. Anos where most buko pie, fresh milk and other pasalubong outlets are, and then comes the famous “Crossing”, that landmark intersection which passes as UP Los Banos’ commercial area. Turning right at the corner Mercury Drug at Crossing, you enter into College and the gateway to UP Los Banos.

Unlike the wide, awe-inspiring University Avenue at Diliman, UPLB’s main gate is narrow and simple. The first thing you see upon entering is not the statue commonly known as the “UP Oblation”, but the carabao heads, the symbol of the UP College of Agriculture first established here prior to World War II. Oh, we do have our own Oblation, albeit much smaller in stature, and it’s located at the center of the campus, in front of our Humanities building. But like Diliman, it would please you to know that scattered around the UPLB campus are some artful sculptures too – like the Mariang Makiling which now stands at the bottom of the road going to Forestry, or the “flying” carabao at the Main Library, the Pinay lass with her banga at the Palma bridge pavilion, or the notorious “the Graduate” at the Social Garden (these last two having some weird tales surrounding them, but that’s another story.)

Tito Ruben and Tita Cora’s house was actually off-campus, in a subdivision near the International Rice Research Institute (IRR). Getting to their place, you can take either the long route via Ipil Drive and IRRI, or the steep hill at the back of the Animal Husbandry side which takes you directly to their village after coming downhill. Due to the distance, we had to coordinate rides to and from campus. But with two of my cousins still in high school and my other cousin busy with his fraternity activities, it was quite difficult scheduling rides, especially since I started having my own extra-curricular activities. A few times I had to get rides from friends – the very popular Luistro brothers, Kim and Gianni, of the UPLB soccer fame, or my sweet and very kind kabatch, Noel Cuyno ‘86.

There were days I caught the free shuttle to IRRI then took that wooden trolley contraption locals ride along the train tracks, and walked the rest of the way to Pleasantville. You go from the long line of trees along Ipil Drive to IRRI, then get a very good panoramic view of the experimental rice fields backdropped by the mountains of Mt. Makiling and Mt. Banahaw, and even Mt. Cristobal. The trolley ride was truly an experience – novel and innovative as it is, it was quite fun to have the wind in your hair. That is, until a train comes along and you all have to get off the tracks to let it pass since the train does have the right-of-way. The real challenge is managing not to get sucked in by the train rushing by. You have to cling to the tall grasses at the sides for dear life until then.

Either way, whether I take the Animal Science route or the long IRRI road, those walks usually treated me to the wonder of flying exotic birds, a rabbit crossing the road, or an occasional snake during rainy season. It was also there I learned to navigate by the weather…watching out for the dark clouds hovering above to decide which route I would be taking so I won’t be soaked by the sudden rain. Until now, I still watch out for cloudy days and time my trips accordingly because I hate getting caught in the rains.

Those days you could still hitch a ride from the vehicles going to and from IRRI, when we used hand-signals to indicate to jeepneys where we want to go, when UPLB was a close-knit community where most people are connected and know each other from somewhere, somehow. We were safe and secure, and the worst that could happen was getting recruited to become NPA rebels…that, or experiencing those notorious paranormal incidents UPLB is so famous for. Yes, those were the times when there wasn’t any Mayor Sanchez and his goons, or drug-related rape cases.

After my first year, deciding that I had adjusted well enough, I opted to move to an on-campus dormitory. I managed to get a slot at the foremost Co-Ed dorm, then-called “Men’s Dorm” because it used to be solely for male students. Of course, there were all-girls dorms on campus, like the neighboring Women’s Dorm and St. Therese dorm run by the local parish nuns. But I really wanted to experience the whole Hollywood teeny-bopper college campus life for real and luckily when a sorority sister graduated, I got her token space in the so-called Sigma Deltan room at Men’s.

When I was at my relatives, all I had to worry about was budgeting my weekly allowance and getting home after classes. But at the dorm, I had to budget my allowance for food, my transportation back to Manila, getting to my classes on time, and managing my extra-curricular hours responsibly. I was really on my own, and had to act like a mature adult. During the 1987 and 1989 coup d’etats, we got stranded in UPLB because Metro Manila was in chaos. We had to do our own laundry, scrounge enough extra cash to feed ourselves, and manage to home to Quezon City.

Prior to UP Los Banos, I didn’t know how to commute using public transport. Now, I had to learn to take the bus to and from Laguna. Back then, the premier busline was BLTB (Batangas, Laguna, Tayabas Buslines) of the Potenciano family. Eventually the company folded, and my alternatives were Kapalaran and Superlines plying the whole Laguna and Quezon route. While there were a few aircon buses, mostly it was ordinary, open-window commuters that you catch from Crossing. In summer, it was either you suffocate in the heat inside the bus or keep the windows open and let your face take all the G-Force of SLEX.

If not for the BLTB Pasay route, I sometimes had to take the Lawton trip and get off at the Metropolitan Theater in Manila for a Project 2-3 jeepney. Otherwise, I get off at Alabang for an EDSA bus transfer to Quezon City, usually a Monumento or Fairview-bound trip. Once in QC, I either get off in Cubao or at the corner of Kamias-EDSA. I had to learn these routes and transfers the hard way, because I made a few wrong rides too.

But I remember the Dairy Training and Research Institute (DTRI) milk I used to drink on those long bus trips. The shing-a-ling (local fried noodles) being peddled by vendors hopping on and off the buses, along with an assortment of commercial buko pies, espasol, banana or kamote fritters, etc. My sister, Giselle soon learned about kwek-kwek, those orange-covered eggs that you dip into vinegar, deep-friend day-old chicks, and pansit habhab at those bus terminals too.

Getting around the CALABARZON area with our friends, my sister, Giselle and I were soon introduced to the tradition of fiestas in these parts. Besides parish-led activities, most towns have other festivities that include feeding majority of visitors to their place. As s guest, you are invited to most homes even if they don’t know you and you are obliged to sample their dishes. One thing we noticed during these “culinary rounds” was that most houses served the classic pansit bihon, menudong Tagalog, and fruit salad.

These local delicacies and simple fare soon grew on me, and without the fast food cuisine we got so used to in the city, these were welcome changes. I learned to exchange my favorite Coca-cola for fresh milk, began to like buko pie and local breads from the bakery instead of burgers and pizza, and those long, necessary walks actually did wonders for my legs and gluteus maximus.

But the thing I really loved the most about my Laguna days, was the clean, fresh air, the amazing greenery surrounding you, a closeness to nature that I will always have an affinity for. Nowadays, I take the opportunity to drop by UP Diliman for a regular dose of nature. Sometimes, I get lucky enough to have the time to visit La Mesa Ecopark or the Parks and Wildlife Park of QC.

Every so often, I still trek to Los Banos to reconnect with my past, commune with nature, and to simply ground myself. For it was there I did a lot of growing up. It was there I found, and keep finding myself, when I feel lost and in need of some peace. Most of all, in that valley by Mt. Makiling, I keep finding focus and direction.

I am usually stressed out by long, drawn-out travel times with tedious transfers before reaching your destination. But there was a point in my life when my sense of adventure, (or was it my dedication to my advocacies) that made me throw caution to the wind and allow myself to endure the experience.

Region IV-B has always been problematic when it comes to rendering technical assistance because it is composed of several “island” provinces. But bringing all participants to one place like Manila is very costly and oftentimes results in limited representation. Thus, it is admittedly much cheaper if the Resource Person/Speaker is the one to go visit them instead. As it is, even if my invitation is usually via our DSWD regional offices, I always oblige if the respective provincial governments manage to find a budget and organize a training/seminar for their local social welfare officers, regional Federation of Senior Citizens of the Philippines (FSCAP) officers and appointed Office of Senior Citizens Affairs (OSCA) Heads.

Sometime in 2012, I was contacted by the Senior Citizens Focal Person of MIMAROPA because of an invitation from the Provincial Social Welfare Officer of Occidental Mindoro. I had been to Oriental Mindoro before, particularly in Calapan and Naujan, but this was the other side. So apparently, while we flew in from Manila to San Jose where their airport is located, we needed to travel by land to Sablayan which is our venue. Fortunately, our satellite office there managed to provide a vehicle to transport us over rough dirt roads as dust flew all around us. I noticed that there was a clear road network but they were neither paved nor properly asphalted for vehicles. We passed by wide river areas where much quarrying was being done, and I half expected it would partly be for their roadwork at least. Later on I would find out that roadwork and other infrastructure hardly gets finished in these parts because of the harassment from NPA rebels. It was a long ride and by the time we reached the place, we were hungry as hell.

I thought the problematic travel arrangement issues ended with the long bumpy ride, but I was wrong. The lodgings provided us did not even give me a solo room, or at the very least, a double-sharing room with my fellow speaker. I was to share with at least 2 other staff. Then again, the only available accommodation was a small pensionne house which I believe used to be a motel (read: short-time). To make matters worse, the PSWDO did not even speak to the hotel to prepare our noon meal. We had to wait for another two hours before it was served and it wasn’t even tasty at all.

But I remained optimistic, and decided to give our hosts the benefit of the doubt. In the afternoon, I decided to go around and check out the plaza. Mindoro is known for its local indigenous tribe, the Mangyans. They were the original settlers there who thrived in the mountains as well as by the coastlines. But the Tagalogs came over from Batangas and started farming the plains, and they were relegated to the fringes of society.


By sheer luck, there was a small sari-sari store there which sold softdrinks and a bit of ihaw-ihaw. I quickly jumped at the chance of buying myself a good merienda at least. So over grilled hotdogs and Coke, my colleague and “trainee-Resource Speaker”, Weng, planned for our session the next day. Midway through her second hotdog, she barfed it out saying it tasted spoiled. The lady selling the hotdogs offered to replace it, but we had both lost our appetite.

That evening, we were told that we would have to return to Manila via another route, and the MIMAROPA staff would not be accompanying us anymore. They had to stay and do other recognizance work with the satellite office. Weng and I were to travel to Abra de Ilog by bus and from there catch a Ro-Ro for Batangas port. I was already busy computing the hours in my head..it was around two hours from Sablayan to Abra de Ilog, passing by the towns of Sta.Cruz and Mamburao, then another 2 hours at least crossing over water to Batangas port, and finally, another two hours bus ride for Manila.

I honestly felt offended for not having been treated better since I already made the effort to come visit them. The least the organizers could do, both from the PSWDO and Field Office was to take better care of us. But I felt they were acting like it was I who owed them a favor for making this trip. I was already making so many mental notes at this point because several other provinces requested for similar training-seminars during the last regional assembly in Manila (That time, I went to the DSWD MIMAROPA office at Kansas, but they failed to inform me that the real venue was at SWADCAP in Taguig, so that’s another story.) I could only hope that they would treat us better.

So the 4-hour seminar was held at the Senior Citizens Center renovated through the help of then Vice-President Jejomar Binay. To the credit of the senior citizens of the place, it had an office for the OSCA Head, a spacious room for short-term accommodation in case of evacuation, a pantry and another office space for medical missions. The outdoor covered space had a small stage for programs and trainings like ours. The talk went well, mostly clarification on the appointment of OSCA Heads and the real role of FSCAP officers. But the usual controversies dealt with the implementation of the Social Pension program.

Later that day, we had enough time to go around and see their old lighthouse at Presing Park. Dating back when it was used as a look-out for Spanish and Americans alike, the lighthouse has since been refurbished and modernized to continue its vital function. The “parola park” still has some old Spanish cannons from long ago, overlooking the South China Sea and the famous Apo Reef, the so-called center of biodiversity. This is the reason scuba divers flock to Sablayan – it has one of the best diving destinations because of the abundance of marine life. We could have done a glass-bottom boat ride, but once again our hosts failed to arrange for it. I was expecting a decent tour at least, but they couldn’t offer us anything more after seeing that alleged miniature version of the Golden Gate suspension bridge. Later research showed me they actually had an old Spanish church in town and a Sablayan Museum. Oh well…so much for so-called “hosts”.

With nothing else to hope for, Weng and I opted to leave at the earliest possible time. We were told there was a night trip for Abra de Ilog so we could reach Batangas port by dawn. Personally, I would not have risked a nighttime sea-crossing, but we were desperate to get home. Afterwards, sharing my story with a veteran community organizer-friend, he informed me that my greater risk then was travelling at night when NPA rebels could have stopped us. But I didn’t know that fact then. So we grabbed the chance and they sent over some pansit to serve as our baon. Truth be told, that pansit turned out to be spoiled again, but thankfully, we had some drinks to tide us over.

We slept through the bumpy ride to Abra de Ilog, awoke to disembark for the RoRo to Batangas, then slept some more until we reached Manila. It was the best we can do so as not to get hungry. By the time we reached Alabang, we were starving and we scrounged around for the quickest bite so early in the morning. Fortunately, bus terminals always offer something for bus drivers, conductors and travelers alike. There was 3 in 1 coffee, instant noodles, crackers or biscuits, and chips. Before Weng and I went our separate ways (she was going South-bound, home to Cavite), I bought some food to munch on and a drink for the other hour or so to Quezon City. On the North-bound bus home, I heaved a sigh of relief that our misadventure ended the minute we left Sablayan. I just wish I had more pleasant memories of the place.