happy thoughts and worthy causes

Archive for December, 2019

Halloween Stories 2019: Haunted Travels and Ghostly Journeys

Every year for Halloween, I collect scary stories for some serious re-telling. This time around, I have decided to share some places I have visited which felt really weird and where I had some strange experiences. No, I never go “ghost-hunting” or intentionally seek out haunted places. But there are some tourist spots, museums, hotels or lodging houses that really creeped me out. This is the reason why for some time I avoided travelling alone and managed to convinced Wifey to come with me on some of my work-related trips.
Long before the big 1990 earthquake, Baguio has had a “haunted” reputation. During one of our Leonin Clan vacations in my youth, I had the misfortune of falling sick with a very high fever. While the rest of the cousins toured Burnham, Mines View, and Wright Parks, I got left behind in our hotel. The old wood and stone cabin design of Inn Rocio was luxurious and grand, but felt like it held too many memories of the past. I was sleeping inside our family suite room, darkened by the heavy curtains and the gloomy weather, when I woke up with a start. I stared into the darkness, listening, aware that someone or something was with me in the room. I was drawn to a pitch black corner of the room as if someone was standing in the shadows. FortunateIy, my aunt, Tita Emma decided to stay behind too and she entered the room just as I was about to scream my head off.
Fast forward 25 years later, almost a decade after the big quake, and I was on one of my official travels in Baguio. I was doing a talk for the Cordillera senior citizens and was billeted at the same venue for the 2-day lecture. Right-smack in the middle of city, surrounded by the market, Burnham Park, and the shops, you would not think Hotel Veniz could ever be haunted. But one night during a power outage, my room suddenly felt very heavy – as if the room was so full of people standing around in the dark. I got so freaked, I opened my door and stood in the hallway until the lights came back on.
One time, I was sent to San Carlos, Pangasinan where we were doing a research on Social Pension for seniors. I asked my Toni to accompany me and we took a night trip on the bus, so we can start early with the interviews. Arriving close to midnight, we asked the tricycle driver to find us a 24-hour lodging house where we could sleep for the night and take a shower before the next day’s activities. The man took us to a nearby motel which was relatively cheap, but looked like it had seen better days. A small window near the bathroom which looks out unto a vacant lot outside kept giving me the creeps. My eyes kept drifting to that window as if someone outside was looking in from the darkness because there was a big tree right beside it. I was glad we only stayed for one night and left right after our interviews on another night trip.
In 2015, I returned to Davao for another round of lectures on senior citizens’ rights and privileges. Having tried out almost all the big hotels in the city proper, I was very happy that we were billeted away from the hustle and bustle of the city, at the posh Waterfront Insular, a once-popular hotel in its heyday. I was informed that new owners renovated and refurbished most of the facility, but some of the old accommodations remain. We were offered a suite-size room in the old wing, but just walking along its corridors felt weird. There was something “off” the minute you climb the stairs and turn the corner into that old hallway. It felt like “forever” walking that space to one’s room, as if that corridor “lengthens” with each step you make. So after checking it out, I declined the room and asked to remain in the original lodgings assigned to me.
But my worst experience was at the medium-range, Days Hotel in Tagaytay after an office training activity. Our rooms were fortunately triple-sharing, but located at a lower level near the doors leading to the pool and garden area. This place was admittedly “old” by our standards since it has been around for quite some time. But because of its rates, we figured it still gets a fair amount of business every so often. I felt strange passing by the side doors when I wanted to go see the gardens, and one of my roommates complained something seemed to brush pass her one night. My other roommate fell sick before me, but just as we were preparing to leave and packing our stuff, I began to feel sick and weak. I was stricken down by a slight fever and a bum tummy. I felt so crummy the whole trip back to Manila and then I remembered that the night before, as I went to the bathroom to pee, I felt a gust of wind seem to rush at me.
I usually make the most of my official trips, and as soon as my business is done, I try to take in the sites as well. I go around seeing the tourist spots and museums, and most of these old, historical places from before or during World War II.
Now, I know my previous experiences in Baguio were mine alone. But recently, during one of our visits to Camp John Hay, I was with my wifey and little girl. We went inside the Bell House, the former residence of the commanding general of the American Forces in the Philippines during the early part of the century. As we went around the museum, I noticed some parts felt “colder” than usual. Granting the front doors were open and the air outside was indeed chilly, I wondered why the living room area which was nearer the doors weren’t as cold as the inner bedrooms. I didn’t know that when my Wifey was herself checking out each of the rooms, she felt as if someone was behind her. She later said, she thought that it was me all the while, following her around, but I was at the fireplace near the dining room all that time.
This happened again when we were in Vigan a few years ago. No matter how many times I have gone around Ilocos in my youth, I make it a point to visit familiar places and show them around to first-timers like my Toni. It was late in the afternoon when we arrived in Vigan after a round of senior citizens-related media interviews in Ilocos Norte. We tried to catch the last open hours of the museums and last on our rounds was the Crisologo Museum. It was late and the regular tour guide, a distant relative of the family, wouldn’t accompany us upstairs anymore. She said to just go on ourselves since she knew it wasn’t my first time. As usual, after a few joint photos, Wifey and I started to go on separate Photo-Ops for selfies. Suddenly, Toni wanted to leave immediately, so we left even if the museum was still open for a few more minutes. She said she felt like someone was staring at her, following her around. I didn’t tell her that time felt different since we were alone and it was nearing twilight. Unlike my previous visits, it felt kind of eerie to me, as if someone was urging us to leave already because it was nearing dark.
Years before, I had a stranger experience at another Vigan museum – the Burgos ancestral home, the original government-operated museum of Vigan and probably the oldest. Once more, I wasn’t going around alone, I was with a group of family and friends. Unfortunately, it was again late in the afternoon because it was cooler to be walking around in the summer weather. We were scattered, busy looking around, each of us taking photos. There was an open, veranda-like area at the side and from the corner of my eye I noticed a man sitting out there, smoking. He was in one those white or light-colored, pajama-like suits of yore, sitting with his cane in front of him as he smoked what looked like a cigar. All that wispy-white, smoky image merging in one scene before I turned to look directly at him and he wasn’t there anymore!
Recently, we went to see Tayabas which was on my bucketlist ever since because I wanted to see its ancient basilica and an old Spanish period bridge. I heard they transformed their old municipal building into a museum called Casa Comunidado and I remembered that this was already featured on GMA-7s “Misteryo”. I decided that this shouldn’t be scary because it was the middle of the day and there were government employees still working inside around that time. When we asked where the nearest restroom was, the guard kidded us to be careful of the “black lady”. While the CR was a bit creepy, it wasn’t as eerie as the old wooden staircase at the back. That part was not open yet since they were still renovating and refurbishing the space. As Toni and I took our photos, I wasn’t sure if the shadows there really were just a play of the lights.
But the scariest experience Wifey and I had was at Balay Negrense in Silay City. We just squeezed in a quick tour of the famous city of Silay for its famous ancestral houses. We covered most of them already when we were told at our last house that we shouldn’t miss Balay Negrense, so off we went. As we arrived at its gate, I knew it was worth the visit even if it was already late afternoon and we were going to catch an evening flight for Manila. The few guests were already leaving as we entered, but the tour guides seem to be prodding each other which of them should take us around. From the grand staircase, to the large rooms, and its opulent furnishings which we were informed were already greatly depleted from clan quarrels, we were clearly awed by the place. It truly captured the era when sugar was king and these rich families of the South lived like royalty of Europe. But as we headed to the back, where the servants quarters were and where the old carriages, bicycles or motorcycles were stored in an “extended” garage area, the lights began to flicker and the guides blurted out, “hayan na sila..” Exiting through a side door to the gardens, I noticed a large rubber tree facing two of the second floor bedrooms. Already appearing creepy, that tree particularly bothered me because it felt like something was actually living there.
Old Churches and Cemeteries
They say churches and hospitals are much scarier than cemeteries because that’s where the ghosts actually are. And as much as I loved going to see old churches, rarely did I feel anything weird in them. Except for that remaining bell tower of Taal basilica aka St. Martin de Tours, which my sister and I should never really have tried to climb in the first place, I haven’t felt anything strange in known “haunted” churches like Tuguegarao aka Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral. On the other hand, I would not know about old church ruins like the one in San Pablo in Isabela or Pindangan Ruins in San Fernando, La Union. And even if they were probably known to have ghost sightings in the past, I didn’t feel anything during my visits. Since the local parishes have decided to build new chapels or churches nearby to be used regularly, any dark forces would probably have been “exorcised” already.
Meanwhile, in old churches like that in Pan-Ay in Capiz, or Sta. Maria, Ilocos Sur, it’s their old, forgotten Spanish period cemeteries at the back, which are rumored to be “haunted”. Old folks in Capiz claim that even after the Spanish friars had people buried there, both Americans and Japanese soldiers used those areas as dumping grounds for dead bodies, with or without religious ceremony, which probably explains the “restless” souls.
However, my personal experience at Paco Park and Cemetery was of a different variety though. Coming from one of my weekend lectures in the Manila area, we passed by the historical site and I convinced my driver to stop for a while. It was nearing high noon, bright and sunny and all, but with few visitors since masses were held every Sunday. I was going around, and I decided to go up the stairs to the elevated portion rarely frequented by visitors except probably for lovers wanting some privacy. This walkway goes around the complex and always ends by the chapel itself. I was almost completely the whole way around already when I heard footsteps behind me. I thought these were just echoes of my own shoes on the cobblestones but echoes are impossible in an open air area like this where even the noise of passing vehicles outside could disrupt any sounds. I knew the guards and gardeners were at their respective posts, and I didn’t see any other visitors climb up with me. Then I suddenly felt the hairs on my arms and nape rise, and my back felt so cold under the heat of the midday sun. I hurried down from there and found my driver so we could leave.
Of course, part of Cape Bojeador’s popularity is its notoriety as the “haunted” lighthouse of Ilocos Norte. There have been many stories from locals and visitors alike, so it’s no wonder people still flock to see it. But of the few times I visited, I can honestly say that there is that particular inner room in the main building which feels strange to me. Whether it was dark and unopened, or when it was already well-lighted and refurbished as a museum, there is just something “unnerving” about it.
Cape Engano in Palaui Island, Sta.Ana, in Cagayan is of different category because while more and more people visit it, no one regularly stays there to maintain it unlike Cape Bojeador. When we visited it a few years ago, I was with wifey, my little girl, my sister and her boyfriend, our driver and our guides. I avoided the tower leading to the lighthouse itself because the darkness there seemed too spooky for me.
I didn’t feel anything at Cape Bolinao in Pangasinan because it is well-maintained and quite modernized already, although Cape Santiago in Calatagan looked sinister from outside the gates even. However, it is actually Malabrigo in Lobo, Batangas which is haunted by a “crying lady” or so they say. Again, this has been featured on GMA-7s “Misteryo” show. But this is still on my bucketlist though..
So there, that’s my list of haunted places which I had never really sought for their reputed “ghostly sightings”, but had the misfortune of having an “experience” as a visiting tourist. So much for “Dark Tourism” eh?CasaComunidado

New Visits to Old Places

I was still reeling from the changes of 2016, and I was mostly on coping mode when 2017 arrived. If not for the grand family vacation in Cebu for Katkat’s destination wedding, I would not have psychologically moved on and realized it’s a whole, brand-new year.
At our annual Leonin reunion, which we hosted at our house for the second straight year, all talk was about flight numbers and accommodation arrangements in Cebu. Besides the pre-wedding dinner and wedding reception itself, we thought about possible free time to go around and see the sites. The Cebu trip really began the year for us with a big bang and it felt like an extended family reunion.
For all the times I have been in Cebu, I thought there was nothing more to see. But there is always something new in a place like Cebu which is urban and cosmopolitan enough, while being close enough to nature’s best offerings. Although the family bonding moments and wedding preparations ate up almost all our time, we were able to squeeze in a visit to Fort San Pedro and the newly-minted tourist spot – “Temple of Leah” owned by actress Ellen Adarna’s family.
Temple of Leah was built as a memorial to a much-beloved deceased wife, much like a Taj Mahal. The spouses were avid travelers and brought home numerous souvenirs as remembrances of their trips to other countries. Temple of Leah was designed to look like Europe’s famous sites, with Roman and Greek pillars, beautiful sculptures and fountains, as well as a spacious courtyard with that Paris or Rome-feel.
On the other hand, my earliest memory of Bacolod when I was around 9 or 10, was also my first plane ride. We had come over to Negros upon the invitation of my soon-to-be brother-in-law who was a native of San Carlos City. Succeeding visits to Bacolod as an adult and DSWD staff only got me as far as the seeing their San Sebastian Cathedral and their famous grilled chicken restaurants. This time around in 2017, I finally got to see the very popular “The Ruins” in Talisay and Campuestuhan in the hills just outside Bacolod City. The Ruins was originally a family home of a wealthy sugar baron, dedicated to the memory of a deceased wife. Its design was very European, characterized by majestic arcs and portals, high pillars and walls. While only the restored concrete skeleton remains, it has been said the house had narra hardwood floors which took days to completely burn after the Americans burned the whole house down to prevent the Japanese from using it as a headquarters during World War II. But as much as I was impressed and awed by the Ruins, I could not resist going to see neighboring Silay City’s heritage site of ancestral houses. A true heritage site, Silay and its old Spanish-era houses did not disappoint. Unlike the Ruins which was just an empty shell, these ancestral houses were actually lived in and hence, preserved, by descendants of the original builders. Grandest of them all was the Balai Negrense, former home of the Gaston family, but now a museum since it was donated to the government.
Since I was also working with COSE on a manual for senior citizens that year, I got to visit some new places around the Philippines. The first time I was in Bukidnon, I only remembered Dahilayan Adventure Park which had the “longest” zipline at the time. My second time in Bukidnon allowed me to enjoy the cross-country travel from Cagayan de Oro. I viewed the coastline scenery of CDO until we reached the mountains and rivers of Bukidnon. From Manolo Fortich to Malaybalay to Valencia until Maramag, home of the world’s cleanest wet market. The land was rich and fertile, with water sources truly abundant, from rivers to waterfalls. It is difficult to comprehend why most of its populace remain poverty-stricken. But then again, it is a region known for some peace and security issues. That long bus ride was also punctuated by several check-points, requiring all passengers to alight and show IDs to the soldiers, plus there’s that occasional agricultural quarantine stops.
Meanwhile, my first time in Camarines Norte brought me to Daet and nearby Talisay. I got to see Bagasbas Beach known as a prime surfing spot for some avid wave riders. But since we visited late in the year, when the rains and the amihan weather was blowing, the waves were scary HUGE that there were tall billboards warning inexperienced beach-goers to avoid swimming in the rough surf. Still, some locals were crazy enough to go out there and brave the waves. Through the rolling, roiling surge, all I could see is “white” water as wave upon wave came and crashed.
So Wifey and I simply walked the beach, enjoying the salty breeze, as the strong tide came and went with the rain clouds hovering above us. Together, we mulled over the past year, its gifts of successes and accomplishments, but also some prayers and wishes which were not yet granted. In the midst of this meditation, only a feeling of gratefulness ultimately prevailed.bukidnon

A Triumphant 2017

Following my successfully passing the Career Executive Service (CES) Written Exam held in December 2016, I took my Assessment Center (AC) stage in February 2017. Known to be a grueling test of managerial and leadership capacities, quite a few DSWD officials have failed to hurdle this phase. It consisted of several practical application segments supposed to test reading comprehension, written and verbal communication skills, strategic planning, time-management, prioritization, decision-making, and social or inter-personal relations. I was very nervous waiting for the results given the previous horror stories from DSWD colleagues. But as soon as I was notified of my passing, I immediately signified for the next phase. My Validation stage was sometime in May or June and consisted of “secret” interviews of my superiors and staff by designated CESB validators.
While waiting for the results, I took the opportunity to continue attending various leadership trainings and management seminars to reinforce my qualifications. I was desperately trying to make up for the lost time. I joined the Supervisory Development Course Track 2 and 3 of the Civil Service Commission and HRMDS since my SDC Track 1 was way back in 2007. My then fellow SDC participants have gone on to become Directors and Division Chiefs way before me.
I also managed to enhance my procurement and contract management skills by attending the UP NEC Public Procurement Specialist Certification Course (PPSCC), a prestigious GPPB-sanctioned government procurement training. Conducted over a course of several weeks, it consisted of Friday and Saturday sessions with occasional written exams. At the end of the period, I surprised even myself for topping the class and getting exempted from the last test. That same month of June, some staff of mine, including myself, attended a rare seminar on Legal Aspects of Contract Management at the Ateneo Business Schools in Makati. With other government agencies as well as private corporation classmates, we got a unique learning experience never before experienced by my fellow DSWD-procurement staff.
When my notice from CESB arrived, I was immediately scheduled for my last phase, the mandatory but pro forma “Panel Interview” in Sept 2017. Chosen CESB members and validators comprising a panel of at least 3 persons asked very personal, almost embarrassing, questions, cross-referencing and fact-checking results from one’s Assessment and Validation results. For me, they indirectly asked about my sexuality, my finances, and the rather suspicious disparity of my supervisor’s and staff feedbacks.
My moment of triumph finally culminated in the CESB Annual Convention for Pinning and Oath-Taking as a CES Eligible in Bacolod. I asked my wifey Toni to attend with me and have the honor of pinning me herself. She was, after all, the wind beneath my wings who kept pushing me to strive for more because she believed I could achieve more.

My 2015 for Senior Citizens

Maybe I was subconsciously gearing for a grand goodbye to my beloved sector, the senior citizens, because I practically devoted my whole 2015 to elderly concerns, although every so often I entertained a SOGIE or Solo Parent event. Even my one and only out-of-the-country trip was for senior citizens when I attended the ASEAN-organized Active Ageing Conference in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Just like my trip to Nepal in 2011 that was unceremoniously disapproved by the powers that be, a two-week scholarship to a Social Pension training in Chiang Mai originally offered to me was given to someone else in 2014. I felt this travel to Chiang Mai in March 2015 was like something to make up for it.
In May 2015, the Regional Coordinating and Monitoring Board (RCMB) Conference/National Training –Workshop for Senior Citizens Focal Persons and RCMB-Regional Inter-Agency Senior Citizen Committee (RIASC) members was held. Conducted in 2 parts – Luzon Cluster and Visayas-Mindanao Cluster, it was a capability-building activity for the various SC point persons, including the representatives of member-government agencies to ensure the reactivation and functionality of RCMBs-RIASCs. These activities meant I was working on my birthday again.
In between, I still lectured for small groups on occasion…out-of-town visits to far off towns like Rosario in Batangas which allowed me a rare sidetrip to Taal, short talks for the community partners of Bantay-Matanda, an NGO devoted to preventing elder abuse, in the New Manila, QC area and even the different barangays in District 5 of Manila City. These opportunities brought me to close proximity to the senior citizens themselves, seeing for myself who really are our clients and checking to see if they really do know about their rights and privileges. I never begrudged them my expertise for I know this direct knowledge would surely be of benefit to them. I can always feel their pleasure, their pride, and even in that empowered state, a sense of gratefulness.
In June, there was also a Multi-Stakeholders’ Dialogue organized jointly by the DSWD-COSE-CHR-DFA-PHRC and NEDA. This inter-agency initiative was meant to be a venue for raising and discussing relevant issues and concerns currently plaguing the elderly sector. The activity also managed to validate many aspects of the draft Human Rights Situationer of Filipino Elderly as highlighted in the Philippine Country Report on Social, Economic, and Cultural Rights. While it was an opportunity to highlight the “rights-based” approach in dealing with the elderly sector, it was also meant to emphasize the need for an international instrument, particularly a specific treaty or convention on elderly rights. The proceedings were meant to feed into the Philippine participation at the next Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing (OEWGA) to be held in New York annually.
In October, as part of the Elderly Filipino Week/month celebrations, the DOH organized the 1st Public Health Convention on Health and Wellness of Senior Citizens. Invited were delegates from all over the Philippines who listened to researches and studies from the academe particularly UP Manila’s National Institutes of Health-Institute on Ageing, updates from concerned government agencies like the DOH and PhilHealth, as well as efforts and directives from relevant institutions like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Center of Geriatric Health (NCGH). Since the WHO began to look into Health and Ageing in 2013, it has consistently urged the DOH to have more initiatives towards addressing health issues of older persons and has supported activities such as this.
In November, the Workshop on Older Persons Policy and Legislative Agenda (OPPLA) was held in anticipation of the coming elections next year. Initiated by the COSE, it was co-sponsored by the CHR and NEDA, and participated in by DSWD and PHRC. After the enhancement done to the draft Human Rights Situationer of the Elderly from the feedback gathered at the June Multi-Stakeholders Dialogue, OPs were now being asked to look into their current situation and build on it for future policy and legislative directions. A draft Policy and Legislative Agenda was the expected output from this Workshop and which they will use to put forward their priorities to election candidates who will soon be campaigning for their votes. At the National Summit held on November 24th, this OPPLA was exactly what was presented to potential senators running for office in 2016 in the hope that these future legislators will remember to propose worthwhile bills which will address the needs of the senior citizens.
It was a very productive year and I am very proud of what we were able to accomplish. I was certain all these hard work would provide a solid foundation for future engagements and efforts. All we could hope for is that they can be sustained and maximized by both policy-makers and legislators alike.
I always considered that the greatest gift of my work for seniors is that while I had the honor of working for them from “the top”, I also had the privilege of interacting with them directly and on a personal level. I got to meet seniors from different walks of life and seeing their commonality, I knew my policy-making was always fed with first-hand information and fully grounded on realities.Talakayan2015

2016: A Year of Changes and Upheavals

My 2016 was another year without any international travels, but it was no way devoid of any trips locally. Like some years before, it was one of my busiest, adventure-packed, and change-filled 12 months.
The year began slow enough, as is usually the pattern. It is time to take stock of the year that was – accomplishments, failures, unfinished tasks. January and February are periods for rest and rejuvenation after the hectic holiday partying; and because your bank account took such a beating from all the holiday shopping and gift-giving, it’s time to let your pocket recover. Things only pick up after Chinese New Year is over and when the Catholic calendar signifies the beginning of the season of Lent.
As usual, my first three months were jam-packed with lectures on RA 9994 and attending meetings related to senior citizens concerns. I did the rounds of agencies like DTI, DOH, PDEA, UP Manila and NAPC. But significant as well were the ground-breaking SOGIE-related activities like the DSWD-NCR initiated FGD on Adoption by LGBTs because they have been receiving a significant number of applications from prospective parents who are openly-LGBT and have committed partnerships. This was closely followed by a talk at Miriam College for graduate students of the Gerontology and Family Studies Department under Dr. Vicky Apuan.
As expected, March which is Women’s month, came with invitations to serve as Resource Person on gender and development, particularly on SOGIE issues. I got a referral from STB’s Ms. Elma S. whose friend from the provincial government of Pampanga asked for several sessions on SOGIE-related laws to orient LGU social workers, day care workers, and police officers. I grabbed the opportunity since the target audience was new and it would be interesting to hear feedback from direct service providers like them. Since the Governor Pineda supported this activity, I was hopeful that there would be some impact given that Central Luzon once reported a high incidence of hate crimes. I was even interviewed by the local news channel.
Sadly, since region 3 was very near and my 2 visits were only day-trips, I didn’t get a chance to see Pampanga’s famous churches and old houses, or the hot air balloon festival. All I was able to manage was a drive-by the haunted “Casa Nicolasa” enroute to the Provincial Capitol.
Another provincial invitation came from the province of Isabela in region 2. Following a regional orientation for LSWDOs and OSCA Heads on the senior citizens law earlier, the PSWDO of Isabela convinced Governor Dy to sponsor a 1-day briefing for Isabela’s senior citizens Federation Officers. Once more, I got to speak before a big crowd at a provincial capitol and even got to stay at the Governor’s Mansion, a housing especially reserved for honoured, VIP guests.
These two provincial gigs allowed me to reach a wider audience in particular provinces, and covered a variety of topics applicable to and of interest to the participants. The last time I did a round of provincial lectures was for regions 4A and 4B, and a partial for region V.
After many months of waiting, my application for Chief Administrative Officer (CADOF) with the Procurement Service finally came through. I was a bit hesitant to assume the position immediately since we were still working on the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the recently passed Centenarians Act of 2016, a law which would recognize all 100 year old Filipinos and grant them a cash award from both the national and local government where they reside. I just had about enough time to attend the signing of the IRR in Malacanang Palace before I reported to my new work station at the Contract Monitoring Division.
While it was a bitter-sweet transition, as a Division Chief I was finally able to embark on my leadership and managerial journey. I capped the year by taking the Career Executive Service (CES) written examination for CES eligibility and successfully hurdled it to everyone’s surprise since some DSWD officials did not pass the test.
Like any good story, each chapter eventually ends and you must move on to a new book. Such was the culmination of my 9-year stint for the senior citizens and the beginning of my adventure as a Procurement Specialist.CentenariansIRR

Surprises of 2014: When Problematic Transports Lead to Amazing Trips

Every year as the holiday season comes in, and both Christmas and New Year celebrations come bearing down, our moods change drastically, and we somehow turn introspective. As a matter of practicality, we are also forced to assess how the past twelve months turned out for us. For me, writing about my past year helps me plan out my coming months as well. I always revel at my so-called annual “accomplishments”, my new and exciting trips, and my ever-transforming relationships. And so it goes that I manage to cross off some more things from my personal bucket-list.
2014 started out slow and boring for me. I have been awaiting the resolution of an issue at the office, and it had dragged on for months. This unresolved issue would eventually get settled against my favor, and I would once again lose faith in the so-called “justice system” at our office. Things had apparently gone from bad to worst since my days with the Legal Service. Later in the year, another injustice would be dealt me. A training scholarship which had originally been intended for me was offered to another colleague without even giving me the courtesy of being informed. I had all but given this up to the Lord. I keep faith that one day I will be vindicated somehow.
But my 2014 was not without its surprises and exciting adventures. While there weren’t any trips outside the country I got to enjoy my fair share of local travels. While sometimes the schedule got too hectic, I never minded this as long as I know I am doing meaningful work and my time and effort are worth it.
There are still a lot in my bucketlist of places to visit, and I was fortunate to have crossed off some of them in 2014. Foremost of this was Sta.Ana in Cagayan Valley and Coron in Palawan. However, I still appreciated some “return” visits to the likes of Cebu, Puerto Princesa and Oriental Mindoro.
Sta.Ana and Coron proved to be the highlights of my year. They were prime tourist destinations, but because of their distance, not many are able to visit these beautiful islands-paradise. Awesome, majestic limestone cliffs and powder-fine white sands are reasons why the Philippines is best known for its beaches. Island-hopping via boat-rides, snorkeling in abundant reefs teeming with life, sunbathing and swimming are simple pleasures that bring us so close to nature and its beauty. I took the chance and visited these two places during the second half of the year, known as the rainy season in the Philippines. Fortunately, my travel companions and I were blessed with sunny weather on both occasions.
Our Sta. Ana visit was part of a great Northern Luzon adventure, an inter-region cross-over trip that began because three out of four buslines to Cagayan Valley were suspended by LTFRB. Since Victory was jampacked with passengers, I got it into my head to try our luck with Partas in Cubao to catch a Laoag trip, and from there, we’d catch another bus for Cagayan. It took all of 9 hours from Manila to Laoag, another 4-5 hours to Sta.Ana crossing over from Ilocos Norte. From that difficulty came one of my best travels with my sister, Giselle, eventually leading us to a cross-country Cagayan Valley adventure and even taking us as far as Palaui island in Sta. Ana, a place not really frequented by tourists for its great distance. In the end, the time and the effort was well worth for the rare sites we saw – like the amazing Crocodile Island, which proved to be a lesson in geology, and the famous Spanish-period lighthouse, Cape Engano.
The Coron trip was also marred with bad luck. Our PAL flight was cancelled due to the plane’s technical problems. By the time it was fixed, it was late in the afternoon and the Busuanga airport in Palawan didn’t have facilities for nighttime air traffic. Fortunately, PAL takes care of its clients (unlike that other airline which lets you fend for yourself) and put us up for the night at no less than Century Park (Sheraton) Hotel. They provided a shuttle to and from the hotel, assured us of buffet dinner and breakfast, and even let us get individual rooms depending on availability/vacancy. We later found out that as we enjoyed the hotel food in spite of the inconvenience of our delay, the first batch of our colleagues had to spend personal funds for their initial meals upon their arrival in Coron.
While the trip to Coron was official and was for an annual year-end evaluation activity, we didn’t mind the work much because we were assured of some Rest and Relaxation (R&R) as well as some bonding time with our officemates. The sun, the sand, and the sea air was worth it…the change of scenery lifted our spirits somewhat after a busy and tiring few months. The island-hopping allowed us to see the various must-see tourist spots like Kayangan Lake, a freshwater lake high atop limestone cliffs and the Twin Lakes which is a unique island with saltwater on one side, and freshwater on the inner portion which you cross into through an underwater cave. One can swim through it if low tide, but once high tide and the cave fills up with water, you must climb the wooden ladder to the other side instead. There are white sand beaches to be enjoyed as well as old WWII shipwrecks one can see while snorkeling. I vowed to return to Coron some day with my loved ones.
The culmination of 2014 was the main event itself. It ended as well as it did, and not so bad as I expected it to be. Still had lots to be thankful for in spite of some disappointments, but things always have a way of turning out as they should.Sta.Ana

Tips and Tactics for Effective Contract Implementation

TechSpecs as Contract Provisions
1. End-User/OBSUs must be conscientious in doing their own market research for their procurement requirements, carefully scanning for products actually available in the Philippine market, and coming up with Purchase Requests based on standard technical specifications in the industry. It must be emphasized that Branding is strictly prohibited, just like “custom-fitting”; but specific requirements based on reputed quality/service standard and known compatibility to existing equipment currently in use, including considerations of “long-term acquisition costs” for maintenance, repair or replacement of parts, may be allowed.
2. While suppliers themselves indicate specific “brands” of items in their bids/quotations, they are not strictly bound by them and “substitution” is possible if the replacements/substitute goods are still compliant with the original technical specifications (weight in grams, expiration date reqts) in the PR/TOR and there would be no change in price/cost. In the same manner, the maximum content/grams requirement may be complied with in various packaging (combination of bottles or sachets) if there is no specific or strict instruction. All these must be with End-User approval and consent.
3. For goods requiring approval or prior editing/proofing of sample designs as indicated in the Terms of Reference or PO/contract, End-User should be realistic about timelines and provide allowance in the contract term/periods. As such, instead of exact dates for delivery, we suggest the use of reference dates Ex. 7 days from approval.
4. For supply of goods/equipment with installation, besides ensuring that the technical specifications are accurate, compatibility with other parts must likewise be duly considered. Moreover, it is highly recommended that ocular inspections/site visits be conducted by the supplier/service provider whether they requested or not. It is expected that in such cases, the End-User/OBSU has properly coordinated and requested for technical assistance from the AS-BGMS or ICTMS for matters like electrical connection or wirings.
On Rush/Urgent Procurements
5. Especially for rush/urgent procurements, the End-User should take responsibility for getting all relevant documents duly signed by their HOPE and ensuring that the PO/contract gets funded through the FMS-Budget Division. Otherwise, this is a major source of delay.
6. No delivery shall be received without a duly signed contract/PO. In the same manner, all deliveries shall initially be received by the Supply Unit staff, and even if the End-User has an urgent need for immediate issuance, it must be duly coordinated with the Supply Unit and the Inspection Unit. Note that in such cases, the receiving End-User will be responsible for acknowledging delivery/receipt of goods, waiving prior inspection and/or opportunity for rejection and immediate replacement. Nonetheless, proper documentation shall still be required as basis for payment.
Of Delivery Schedules and Timelines
7. Sometimes suppliers/service providers Request for Extension due to unavailability/out-of-stock items, End-Users are duly informed of this and must respond immediately if they approve or not, and if they are waiving liquidated damages for the delay. Suppliers/service providers are allowed at least 1 extension for valid reasons and if the delay is not too long.
8. For delays not of the supplier/service provider’s fault, such as the unreadiness or unavailability of the place where the item is to be installed/stored, End-User must issue a Suspension of Work/Deliveries and coordinate with PMS-CMD to duly inform supplier/service provider when work can be resumed. End-User/OBSUs are discouraged from coordinating directly with suppliers without notifying the PMS-CMD.
Said orders/notice of suspension of deliveries as well as resumption of deliveries must be properly accounted for, dates and durations recorded accordingly for proper accounting of any delays. Said periods shall also be the basis for excusing the delays and waiving the imposition of liquidated damages. Note that anything undocumented and outside said authorized suspended delivery periods will be liable for penalties.
Extensions vs Amendments
9. For Consulting Services, the End-User must ensure that the Terms of Reference (TOR) includes all necessary arrangements with the service provider since these should be the clear agreements reflected in the consultancy contract. Hence, for pending deliverables or unfinished work due to delays, extensions may be requested and granted if there is no additional cost and change in the deliverables except for the extra time. However, for substantial changes in the original terms and conditions affecting the deliverables itself, payment tranches, source of fund, etc., a new/revised TOR is needed which will also be the basis for an Amended Contract. In such cases, the amended contract may entail another round of legal review from the Legal Service as well as a BAC Resolution allowing the extension. Note that extensions are allowed only prior expiration and not for lapsed contracts. Other than these technical aspects handled by PMS, actual contract administration and monitoring of the consultancy is done by the End-User.
Facilitation of Payments
10. Be mindful of the mandated documentary requirements as supporting documents for disbursement vouchers during payment. For Board and Lodging/accommodations, as well as for meals/catering, required to be submitted are the a) complete Attendance Sheet with original signatures of participants/attendees, and b) Certification of Services Rendered. For bus rentals, no separate “Passengers’ List” shall be required where the Attendance Sheet or Special Order of participants for the related activity is available.
End-Users are advised to also submit a feedback/incident report for any unsatisfactory service by the supplier/service provider for appropriate action by the Procurement Mgt Service.
11. In cases of B & L, or meals/catering services, with Additional pax, PS-CMD will only process the original contract/Purchase Order for immediate payment. Additional pax may require a Supplemental Proposal for fund source purposes and/or new PO. Hence, the payment for said extra/additional pax shall be facilitated by the End-User themselves such as receiving directly the new, separate billing statement from the service provider, as well as the preparation of a new PO. Said documents may be transmitted to the FMS afterwards together with the necessary Supplemental Proposal, and accompanying Justifications and Certifications.
Note: To avoid complications from “extras/additional pax”, we recommend that the End-User stick to the maximum number of pax as duly stated in the activity proposal for the PO/quotation, and just arrange with the hotel for a “guaranteed” # of pax only, so we pay for the actual number of pax served/fed, or at best, the “guaranteed” number of pax only. Common mistake is pegging the # of pax to the minimum “guaranteed” for the quotation/PO, when the attached budget proposal clearly covers more. When the number of pax eventually “balloons”, this is difficult to explain in the required supporting Justifications and Certifications.
Documentary Requirements
12. For advocacy Tshirts, training kits, etc. Distribution Lists are required, and even for undistributed items like IEC materials, DSWD vests, laptops, etc. “one-time” Inventory Custodian Slips (ICS) or Property Accountability Receipts (PAR) under a Director’s name may be required to facilitate payment. The ICS shall be subsequently be cancelled and/or transferred once there are named individuals already. (Proc. Advisory #19-002)
13. For equipment like Desktop computers, laptops, notebooks, vehicles, etc., delivered/downloaded to the regions/field offices, these also require Property Transfer Reports (PTRs) in addition to Final Acceptance and Inspection Reports. For NFA rice deliveries, submission of Statement of Acct/actual billing, duly acknowledged/signed Delivery Receipts, warehouse sales invoice (WSI) is required in addition to the PO and/or MOA.
14. Deliveries of goods must be reflected in their actual delivered quantities in the Delivery Receipts (DRs). Said amounts or quantities must be consistent in the Purchase Order delivery terms/schedule, Delivery Receipts, Sales Invoice, Acknowledgement Receipts and Inspection Report. Should the supplier deliver extra quantities/amounts in case of defective items for immediate replacement, said extra amounts should be properly documented in a SEPARATE Delivery Receipt. And in case said extra items are not utilized as replacement for defective goods, and supplier manifests their willingness to “donate” said items instead, DSWD should likewise document such as an official donation through the NRLMB’s Donation facilitation unit.
15. Defective goods requested for replacement must be made within the allowable 3-month warranty period counted from the last date of delivery. As such, we enjoin the relevant offices and bodies, such as the NRLMB’s Quality Assurance Unit and the DSWD Inspection Committee to endeavour to report such defective items as soon as possible to the PMS-CMD for proper coordination with the supplier. Note also that only those defects and damages which were inherent to the delivered goods such as dents, cracks, rusted cans, etc. may be covered by replacement. Other damages caused by subsequent re-packing activities, ie., torn or cut sachets, may not be covered by the warranty.
16. To facilitate processing of requests for repairs of malfunctioning equipment such as laptops, printers, scanners, still covered/under warranty, kindly attach or provide us copies of the necessary supporting documents, such as the following:

a) Pre-Repair Inspection Report from OBSU with expertise
b) Technical Assistance Report from the OBSU with relevant expertise
c) Inventory Custodian Slip (ICS)
d) Property Accountability Receipt (PAR). (Proc. Advisory #18-010)