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Posts tagged ‘Barili’

Beginnings and Endings: The Year that was my 2013

I usually do a recap of my last twelve months at the start of every year. I do it to psychologically “close” the past and look forward to the next few months. It gives me an idea of how much I accomplished for the year, and often, various trips and travels are part of its highlights. With 2011 and 2012 being so hectic, I did not expect my 2013 to be any different. I was prepared to embark on numerous travels and official trips as is my wont. However, I did not expect it to start so soon as in January.
Due to some leftover work before the year ended, and of some upcoming travels I was anticipating, I had to begin travelling by second or third week of the new year. Thus, I found myself contending with the Sinulog fever in Cebu which had me scrambling for accommodations and for plane seats on the few flights which weren’t fully booked already. While I was happy to experience this popular festival in honor of the Sto. Nino for the first time, I was quite wary of the big crowds. Besides the hotels, the restaurants and malls were all so full of people. Fortunately, my official business was taking me to the distant towns of Barili and Tuburan so I was able to leave the madness in the city.
I have been to Cebu numerous times already and it has always been a favorite destination of mine. It is “urbanized” enough to have the usual comforts of city-life – the malls for quick shopping sprees, the familiar fastfood restaurants for the unadventurous palate, and yet, it was near enough to the beaches and other tourist spots one can easily escape to for an enjoyable vacation. This time though I was excited about discovering Cebu province’s other areas. Although I knew both Barili and Tuburan were poor municipalities, I have heard of Cebu’s natural resources as one of its greatest secrets. And so, just as I was fortunate enough to see the town of Loon’s mangrove monkeys park in Bohol, I was able to see Barili’s four “mini” waterfalls and hydro-power plant at Mantayupan, as well as its local church which is one of the oldest parishes established by the Spanish friars. On the way back, we passed by the city of Carcar, famous for its chicharon and ampao delicacies. Accidental tourist that I am, I stumbled upon another treasure – it’s old church of St. Catherine’s and it’s perfectly preserved and renovated dispensary-periculture facility. Once a local pharmacy and mini hospital for mothers and young children during the American Occupation, it has now been turned into a local museum with an impressive display on Cebuano cultural heritage.
The next day, we headed out of Cebu City in the other direction for Tuburan. Traversing the mountainous side of the province, the scenery reminded me of Tagaytay -cool and foggy. Even the fruit stands by the roadside were reminiscent of the Sta-Rosa-Silang, Cavite route. Ironically, we chose this “shortcut” to quickly get to Tuburan which was actually a coastal town on the other side of the province. It faces Negros island and serves as a small port for travelers to and from Negros Occidental. Having finished with my official business interviewing social pensioners, I ventured into its small, fledgling museum in honor of its famous son, military General Arcadio Maxilom. At the mayor’s instructions, I was also taken to see their gigantic, centuries-old tree and the freshwater spring in Molo-Bolo which empties out into the sea.
I remember that these few remaining research locations were the last to conduct our social pension interviews in. They got left to me because no one else wanted them and everybody else had finished with their assignments already. So by default, the choice was made for me when I got assigned Cebu City, Barili and Tuburan. Had I not accepted, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to visit these amazing places. I understood then why we must be like the leaf sometimes – to blow with the wind and go wherever it takes us; because sometimes, when we suddenly wake up, we may find ourselves in a much better place.
Before the month of January ended, I had my first out-of-the country trip which was LGBT rights-related. I was invited by the Dutch Foreign Ministry and COC Netherlands to speak at a special seminar they organized for embassy and consular representatives of European Union member countries. I was the only Filipino and only Asian there to give them an idea on how their investments and funding policies can help protect and promote the human rights of sexual minorities. I never imagined myself to be speaking before consular officers and embassy representatives of big European nations; conducting a lecture on an area of human rights that was so unpopular and unknown to some government officials and legal professionals. And so I did the only thing I knew how, something I do best – I spoke from the heart.
It was a proud moment for me, but I never realized that all the SOGI rights advocacy work I was doing could have such an impact in the world, as months later the EU States accepted the European Commission designed LGBT rights “toolkit” into a full-blown, Gender and Development manual of sorts for use by European countries in their engagements with Third World nations.
In the month of February, it was back to local travels for me as I did the last leg of social pension program interviews in Negros. Having finished with Bacolod in December, I now headed for Cadiz City. Although this was declared a “city”, records showed economic disparities in the area qualified some senior citizens as social pension beneficiaries because they were considered “indigent”. Amidst an ocean of sugarcane plantations, black pepper and prawn farms, Cadiz was also known for its succulent seafood. This fact failed to impress me, however, because of my food allergies.
But as I headed back to Bacolod, I was able to meet up with some local LGBT friends and do a short talk for them on SOGI rights. This was quite significant because it was meant to inform them and assist in the anti-discrimination ordinance they were pushing for in the local council. It was also the last provincial lecture I would be doing for Rainbow Rights Project, that ground-breaking LGBT rights NGO I founded in 2005. While I promised to still do LGBT advocacy in my own way, I said goodbye to a “project” of mine that I never thought could influence LGBT rights advocacy in the Philippines – one that bridged the different LGBT groups across the country and truly empowered Pinoy LGBTs by educating them about their basic human rights, and familiarizing them with entitlements and protections under Philippine law.
March found me taking advantage of my annual bonding time with my Mom and special leaves. As part of my continuing LGBT rights advocacy, I was called upon to go to Nepal for a regional conference on human rights and Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. I was one of only a handful of representatives from South East Asia, and this time, I spoke about the unique strategies for engaging our national governments in the promotion and protection of LGBT rights. Looking back now, I never thought I could bring my advocacy work to such international levels. While I only sought to make things better for myself and fellow LGBTs in the Philippines, I didn’t think other countries would follow suit and take the cue from Filipino LGBT advocates.
2013 was also an election year, and our LGBT party, LADLAD made another bid for a congressional seat as a partylist representation. Honored as I was to again be elected as a nominee, I had to withdraw because of the new COMELEC ruling on government employees running for public office. My changing priorities in my personal life drove me to make this very difficult decision late in 2012 although I continued to “campaign” for LADLAD in my own way. Thankful as we are for the increasing support from other sectors and partylists, I still believed it was a great opportunity for any marginalized community to have its own voice in the legislature. If only the LGBT sector finally realizes this and manages to unite for a common goal like my beloved senior citizens, instead of “sabotaging” each other with such pettiness.
The middle of 2013 found me slowing down, not even taking advantage of the Holy Week and summer months exodus to the provinces. Somehow, the Fates threw me a bone and I got the chance to finally see Roxas City in Capiz and Boracay in late May. Albeit I was working and on official business, it was still a treat for my 43rd birthday. Indeed, the white sand beaches and spectacular sunsets was quite a sight. But after having been to Patar beach in Bolinao, Pangasinan and Alona beach of Panglao island in Bohol, I was no longer that impressed. On vacations, I usually turn “anti-social”, and I especially despised the crowds in Boracay. The sheer number of people seemed to shatter the essence and idea of a holiday escape. Thus, the “lazy pace” and the reasonable prices of “tourist traps” in Roxas City and Pan-ay in Capiz held more appeal for me.
In June, I went back to Tuguegarao with my partner, Toni and our little Venice. It was the first time in eleven months that she had been home to see most of her family members. I was there also to meet them officially and ask their permission before we had our commitment ceremony. A true daughter of Cagayan Valley, Toni toured me in the city, showed me some local haunts, and as I requested, went with me to visit Our Lady of Piat. I have cultivated a devotion for this pilgrimage site since I noticed it keeps on answering my prayers – and Toni was one such answered prayer. When I asked Apo Baket of Piat for a new love in 2012, I didn’t expect her to play favorites and gift me with her fellow Cagayana.
The next few weeks passed by uneventfully until September when I finally got to visit our Field Offices for some technical assistance and monitoring for senior citizens concerns. The very efficient senior citizens Focal Persons for regions X, XI and V were resourceful enough to provide a venue and occasion for some RA 9994 updates. The other regions had to wait for another month or so to get some technical assistance. But once I began, it started to get hectic for me all over again.
October started off with the whirlwind that was the annual Elderly Filipino Week celebrations. After a special forum for DSWD Central Office retirees and consultative conference on elderly concerns at PWU, DSWD-NCR had me giving the first RA9994 training for OSCA Heads of Metro Manila – a co-sponsored activity with Makati City. This was followed by a week-long appearance in Baguio City for DSWD-CAR and Field Office I whose senior citizens Focal Persons were fortunately able to coordinate their events with my schedule. This trip was extra special since I was travelling with my sister Giselle and it was Venice’s first time in Baguio. Reliving our childhood memories, we made sure Venice also enjoyed Baguio like we once did as kids. In between, I also did talks for government offices like the Bureau of Customs and some LGUs like Muntinlupa City.
Meanwhile, November was coming up and I always had to work on Toni’s birthday. So this time, I managed to time it with an official visit to Field Office II. While I did my lectures, she at least had time to visit her grandmothers and other cousins. I guess it sort of made up for the past two years, but this is really no surprise since I do official DSWD work even on MY birthday.
Upon our return, I dashed off to a few more regions – namely, Davao, CARAGA and region III. Like Cebu and Cagayan de Oro, Davao City is another one of my favorite destinations. “Citi-fied” enough yet the usual tourist spots just within your grasp for some rest and relaxation. It was also a delight to travel to CDO and Davao because I had some local LGBT friends I liked to reconnect with every so often. That November, I also got the chance to do another first – see Butuan City for the first time.
Before year ended, I was able to squeeze in quick visits to the Ilocos region, Cagayan de Oro, Legaspi City in Albay, and Dipolog City in region IX. Those first few days of December was a tour of all four provinces of Ilocandia – Pangasinan, La Union and Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte. What made it tolerable was that I was able to meet up with my Mom in Vigan and Toni finally got to see my hometown for a change. Somehow on official trips like these, my fatigue quickly diminishes when I begin enjoying myself in the company of loved ones. My fourth “firsts” for the year was finally reaching Zamboanga del Norte and seeing Dipolog and Dapitan. While the area is famous for its seafood as well, what I truly cherished was experiencing Rizal’s Dapitan as he lovingly wrote about it. Dakak resort was also a sight for sore eyes and really impressed me.
With the Christmas travel rush slowly bearing down, I noticed the airport become more crowded and frenetic than usual. Utterly exhausted, I refused to do any more travelling and made my Bicol run the last for the 2013. While I caught part of its local food festival, I was in too much of a hurry to get back to Manila already to begin my own holiday preparations.
2013 was year for “ending” some relationships and beginning better partnerships. It also meant being confident enough to strike out on my own, being patient and relying on my own abilities. Some people tested my mettle and showed me who I really was. Some friends also showed me the value of their friendships and I realized the importance of spending time with family and loved ones. 2013 taught me what a Life is truly made of – and those are each and every significant little moments that comprise our everyday.

Off the Beaten Path Series: Cross-Country Cebu

When people talk about going to Cebu, it’s usually about going around Cebu City proper and its nearby beaches in Mactan Island. It’s rare that people get to know the rest of Cebu as a province.

Early this year, we were rushing to finish a research on the implementation of the Social Pension Program for seniors. I got assigned some far-flung municipalities in Cebu as well as Bohol. While I once did a “cross-country” trip of Negros island, I had never done so in Cebu.

Touching down in Cebu, I quickly headed off to our Field Office to discuss our itinerary with the Focal Person for Senior Citizens, Ms.Temie. She said the towns of Tuburan and Barili were in opposite directions and we have to allot one day each for said visits. Travel time from Cebu city proper would average two hours each, so we had to leave at around 6:30 or 7:00 AM each morning.

I guess I am one of the lucky ones who manage to do official work and still have time to appreciate the places I visit. Maybe it’s the adventurer in me, or the smart traveller, that makes it a point to make each trip worthwhile by seeing something new all the time.

So we left early the next day, and headed south in the direction of Carcar City, a name synonymous with tasty Cebu chicharon. We took the coastal road that sent us across the port areas and gave a view of the channel as well as the open sea.  We traversed Talisay City to San Fernando for a view of the rest of Cebu before we cut across to Carcar City. Always with an eye for old, turn-of-the century houses and colonial Churches, I observed how the rest of Cebu was touched by the Spanish occupation.

Bucolic and Peaceful Barili

Arriving at the inconspicuous municipality of Barili, the local social welfare officer had made all necessary preparations and our elderly interviewees were patiently waiting already. After a brief introduction, we immediately proceeded to conduct our interviews which was made quicker because my partner, Toni was helping me out.

I thought the day would pass uneventfully until the staff shared a story about a recently deceased senior citizen who claimed his social pension. I laughed, thinking it was a joke, until I saw they were actually serious. Apparently, we were discussing a supernatural encounter that still gives them goosebumps until now.

They explained that the sick senior citizen wasn’t able to claim his pension during the previous pay-out and a week before the next quarterly pay-out, his family already informed the LGU staff about his passing. However, on the day itself, they were too busy to remember his death that the social welfare aide didn’t think any of it when she guided him to a chair and the municipal treasurer handed him his 1,500 cash. Only when they were finishing up did the old man’s daughter approach them and complain that she hadn’t been called to receive her father’s pension. It dawned on them that all of them actually saw the old man and lo and behold, even their attendance sheet contained an actual signature. However, counting their cash again, they discovered they still had the 1,500 that his daughter was entitled to. Weird you say, but the old man’s family is rumoured to be involved in some supernatural practices, including keeping a unusual animal as a familiar. Ah, the folklore in these parts!

Before leaving though, I asked to see some sites their locality is proud of. Immediately, the MSWDO brought us to their old church. The parish used to be a district head, a “cabeza del partido” which had jurisdiction over other churches in southwestern Cebu and was only one of two secular parishes outside the city. It was smallish and the interior clearly had been remodelled already. It retained some of its original limestone foundation and walls though, some capiz shell windows and I suspect, the original bronze bell cherished by most churches as much as their statuettes and other relics. Dedicated to St. Anne, the original parish was built near the river but natural calamities kept destroying it. The present church was built around 1889 on a donated lot in its current location. Here we bought some candles to light from a few old ladies. Peddling their wares near the church, these female senior citizens find efficient use for their time finding a source of income for their families, at the same time being able to socialize with their fellow elderly.

Next was their Mantayupan Falls, an easily accessible nature preserve and possible source of hydro power. It consists of three “miniature” waterfalls and a medium-size falls, but with the amount of water flowing, one can guess the power it can generate. There are also basic facilities for those who want to swim, reminiscent of Hinulugang Taktak in Rizal, but the real beauty of the site is to enjoy nature in its most raw form. I particularly appreciated Mantayupan Falls not just for its waterfalls, but for how close it can bring you to nature.  

On the way back, I convinced Ms.Temie to drop by Carcar if we had the time. Our driver graciously acquiesced to my request and I learned Carcar had more than just tasty pork rinds to be proud of.

Quaint and Historic Carcar

Carcar City is a perfect example of how socio-political and religious life were so intermingled during the Spanish era. In the olden times, the municipal center is where the parish, its convent or rectory, the plaza, and a school usually converge. The nearer your residence is to the church, the higher is your family’s status in the community. So one should always be mindful of where you ancestral home is located.

Today, the heart of Carcar City is the area where their old church, St.Catherine’s parish, the St. Catherine Catholic school, the public elementary school, and the city museum are situated. The old church alone is a sight to see and is comparable to the churches of Ilocos, Iloilo, and Bohol. St. Catherine’s has the same elaborate artwork on its ceiling, its interior lined with numerous images of saints, and its pillars marked by names of illustrious members of the community long –deceased. The traditional pulpit from where Sunday sermons are given still stand, perfectly preserved. And while the new pews have been commissioned to serve the parishioners, a few classically-designed pews made from solid Narra wood are still around.

After gazing in amazement at the wondrous surroundings, I made my token three wishes for being a first time visitor at the church. At this point, I found Toni buying some candles from a little girl in a student’s uniform. After a short chat, I saw Toni pay her and give her a little extra cash. Later, Toni would tell me the little girl just came out of her classes but regularly sells candles by the church to help out with family expenses. Being a working student herself at one point, I understood why Toni sympathized with the child.

Our next must-see stop was the new city museum. Known as the Old Carcar Dispensary, it was a puericulture center once, a small nursing hospital which had a dispensary for giving out medication for women and children. Its very purpose and unique architecture speaks of the American influence on the township. It boasts of ornately-decorated balconies, mini-canopy- roofings and latticework straight out of the movie “Somewhere in Time”. It’s immaculate white paint completes the picture of a circa-1920s infrastructure, but inside are artifacts and antiques that go as far back as the 1800s. Depicted inside is the history and evolution of Cebu province, its indigenous culture, the Spanish and American influence that resulted in its unique Cebuano heritage.

Before exiting Carcar, we just had to drop by for its famous chicharon. At the roadside pasalubong cum reststop, you can choose from pork rinds that have been perfectly “puffed”, salty, spicy, and sour chicharon, with or without “laman” or some vestige of meat attached to the skin, pork “cracklets” as  well as the traditional rice puffs or “ampao”. So much for my midnight snack that evening.

Secrets of Secluded Tuburan

The next day, we left early again. This time, it was in the opposite direction as we travelled to Tuburan, a coastal municipality on the other side of Cebu province. To cut our travel time, we were to cross over a central mountain range in the middle of the island. But we had to time our trip carefully so as to avoid the dangerous fog that made visibility difficult on the tortuous path. As we zig-zagged through the roads, the altitude likewise changed and we encountered some expected fog along the way. It made for some cool, even extra chilly, weather that reminded me so much of Tagaytay and Baguio during the rainy season.

Tuburan is a small municipality which served as a port area for those travelling from Cebu to the neighboring island of Negros. Facing Tanon Strait, its pier is primarily for fishing-related activities and small vessels crossing over to Negros Oriental to ferry passengers.

We proceeded to conduct our interviews at the office of the local social welfare officer. At least the seniors of Barili had their own building although they shared it with Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) and the kids of Day Care. Tuburan’s elderly had no such facility and we were all cramped in the Social Welfare Office, within hearing distance from each other.

I saw one of the Lolas take my partner, Toni’s hand and volunteered to go first. As with our experience in Barili, we needed a Cebuano translator for our questions. Fortunately, I understood a little Bisaya and some of the seniors can understand English, but Tagalog is a language not quite useful in these parts.

Like Barili, Tuburan is a “poorest of the poor” municipality and its populace are not of the “educated” sort. Most of these elderly only reached elementary education. Consider also the generation of these seniors whose parents put them to work in the fields and fishports as soon as they could to help with their family’s subsistence. Besides workforce considerations, I assume “early marriages” also contributed to the numerous children of these elderly. Most of them have an average of 8 to 9 kids, believe it or not. Yet we also found a possible candidate for the Centenarian Act gratuity award – an elderly woman who was past a 100 years old.

As is my wont, after the interviews, I asked to be shown what Tuburan was all about. Fortunately, nearby was their “mini-museum” of sorts.  Being the hometown of Gen. Arcadio Maxilom, a known Cebuano revolutionary who fought the Spaniards, a library and mini-museum is housed in a portion of the Tuburan municipal hall. With just a handful of artifacts and antiques that barely filled the room because most of the donors decided to bring home their family heirlooms, the townspeople clearly recognize the importance of their Cebuano heritage. Even the municipal hall itself with its original hardwood stairs and flooring could very well be a part of the historical displays.

Afterwards, the municipal tourism officer went with us to guide us to their tourist nature sites. In Tuburan, it is not only human beings who can last long and grow to a ripe old age. They boast of a century-old tree that is so big, it is also known to be the palace of creatures from another world. Even the dry riverbed beside this giant tree is known for many supernatural stories such as the shining, golden ship that traverses it whenever waters flood this old waterway. Walking on this old riverbed with rocks that ranged from baseball size to basketballs, and a thick vegetation of deep forest trees all around, the scene can come straight from the pages of the “Lord of the Rings”, I tell you.

Tuburan got its name from the numerous springs that abound in the area. One famous freshwater mountain spring is Molobolo which appears as a natural swimming pool beside a hill still planted to its original forest trees. This “bukal. is found so close to the coastline, its waters empty into the nearby beach and its saltwater sea. While there are a few huts and a canteen for food and beverages for visitors, the place can still do with a lot of improvements for its facilities to attract tourists. A cool dip in these waters – freshwater spring or the nearby beach would be so inviting to anyone in the summer heat I am sure.

On the way back to Metro Cebu, we couldn’t resist the fresh fruit and vegetables for sale along the road. We got some very sweet bananas and yellow corn for our meryenda. After all the chicharon the previous day, this was a welcome diet, of course.

Reflecting on our interviews the past two days, everything I heard from the seniors, and all I saw of the Cebu countryside, I felt very fortunate once again to have met new people and to have seen places not many visitors to Cebu get to see. What started as an unwelcome assignment became another experience to be cherished in my memory.