happy thoughts and worthy causes

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.

SablayanMangyans

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.

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