Friday, December 12, 2008

The warmth of Ragipon

At this time of the year, Lipa City is a city of happy disposition, brimming with hope and positive anticipation.

It is a cool city. Literally and figuratively. Come to Lipa and you will see—no, feel—what this means. Better come at night. The city is bathed in cool lights reflecting the mood of Christmas, and of the coming fiesta in the first week of January.

When I first arrived in Lipa fresh from high school—a promdi (street slang for “from the province”) on the prowl for a job—the very first thought I entertained was to make the city my second home, which I did for a few years while I was working my way through college. Lipa then was bucolic, where in the mornings you can still smell the delicate but strong flavor of barakong kape waft in the breeze.

The reason was obvious. Lipa is cooler than most Batangas towns and, therefore, conducive to ‘thinking’ and meditating, which are the things that I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Unfortunately, that dream was expropriated by time and circumstance, so I ended up as a Lipa visitor, the wish for an abode fulfilled by a subdivision house in Sto. Tomas on the foothills of enchanting Mt. Makiling. As the years go by, Lipa became more and more enticing and every visit is a journey back to that dream, an affirmation of an unrequited love.

But it’s not the weather that attracts me foremost to this city. It is the communal identification with the Asi tribe that keeps me a regular visitor.

You see, even before I came in 1980, Lipa has already a thriving community of Sibalenhons, Banto-anons, and Simaranhons—the island peoples comprising the Asi tribe.

I am a proud tribal member of the Asi and it is this tribal identity that keeps me sane amid the slow annihilation of people’s identities and the wanton destruction of ancient cultures and traditions all over the world, the Asi’s included.

The members of the Asi community in Lipa co-mingle with peoples from other provinces, and of course, with the majority Batanguenos. They live with them, eat with them, work with them, get married to one of them. They, in a correct sense, co-exist with others.

This co-existence—peaceful, yes—is the very first culture shock that the Asi experienced upon leaving their home-islands, the Tres Islas, in Romblon.

Why? It is because the Asi needed not co-exist with other tribes in their island. They lived—and those who are left in the island continue to live—in self-contained, self-sustaining isolation; alone with themselves, with their own unique and ancient culture and language, even with their own god.

To be thrust, suddenly, into an environment, in this case, into Lipa, where people live a different way of life, speak a different language, and worship a different material dream, could be shocking.

Yet, the Asi, despite of this cultural shock, thrived, survived. Over the years, they learned to cope with the challenges and changing currents of Lipa. They have claimed the city as their own home. It is in this home away from home that they have outlined their lives, reared their children, planned for the future, and even buried their dead.

They have adapted to the lifestyle of the Tagalog heartland because of the necessity of material survival. They have learned to accept the fact that it is in Lipa that their destinies are tied, for it is in acceptance that they are able to maintain their equanimity and sense of being—Asi.

On the realm, however, of culture and preservation of the tangible marks of identity, the Asi have not forgot. They remember. They remember who they are. They are aware of their past and preserve it in their memory because they have only one—the Asi past—the one that keeps them tied to their proud land and forebears.

Take the case of the Sibalenhons. There is already a veritable Sibalenhon community in Lipa whose members carry mostly surnames starting with the letter F, the same with most Banto-anons and Simaranhons, the two other members of the tribe who are considered “hali” or brothers. The Sibalenhons in Lipa left Sibale, their island, in pursuit of the Sibalenhon dream.That dream is part material comfort, part desire for social acceptance, part intellectual curiosity, which has brought them here and everywhere. There are Sibalenhons in the wadis of the Middle East; in the Indian pairies of Minnesota; and in the cold lands of Saskatchewan. They are in Chicago, the home of the first black US president, and in England where royals still rule. They are in Australia, Europe and New Zealand.

There are Sibalenhon seafarers on ships calling ports as faraway as Durban in South Africa. There is a Sibalenhon working in a kibutz in Israel, as well as a wife working as a hospital nurse in the boundary of Kuwait and Iraq. Counting the migrants and their families, Sibalenhons could number over ten thousand souls.

In Lipa, the Sibalenhons are ragipon.

Ragipon is Asi word for numerous. It also means innumerable, or infinite, but these English words do not truly capture the essence and significance of this tradition. Balagtas himself could use “napakarami” or “sanlaksa”, but still these words are cold and flat and fail to convey the meaning, color, and vibrancy that ragipon does.

I said ragipon is a tradition. This is true for the Sibalenhons in Lipa because every year, they gather in numbers—Sibalenhons from all walks of life—to celebrate not only their being alive, but also to renew ties with one another.

Ragipon is not just a social gathering. It is a communion of souls celebrating the day of the Immaculate Conception, the Sibalenhons’ religious feast. They can’t go home to Sibale on December 8, so they celebrate it in Lipa and wherever they are on this day. When they do it, it is ragipon.

Ragipon means getting together really close to project warmth and camaraderie and unity. It is a communion without the convulsion of differences and the clash of varied ideological views; a purposeful coming together with a sincere desire to tighten the ties that bind—and to share.

Last year, I wrote that ragipon is like the habit of the porcupines, which have been observed to inch toward each for the fulfillment of their reproductive needs, only to get away and to maintain a certain distance thereafter so they they could not hurt each other. Porcupines do this ritual regularly. When they do, the seabed blackens with their sheer number.

Ragipon has nothing to do, however, with the Sibalenhons’ need for self-propagation or the perpetuation of the breed, or of the tribe. Rather, it is an association of an identified race.

This Saturday and Sunday, Sibalenhons in Lipa City will ma-ragipon once again to fulfill a tradition. You can experience a true ragipon—and the familial warmth it exudes—if you come.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Provincial unity begins with language unity

The year 2008 is about to end. Romblon will be will be another year older and every one of us, without exception, will surely be drinking from a barrel called Hope to herald the coming of 2009.

I have many misgivings about 2008, mostly on the side of things that have not been done. Overall, however, 2008 was a good year, for me at least. The qualification is conservative. “Good” surely may have been “better”, but why complain? My plate this year was full, and I didn’t bite more than I could chew.

So, how does a year-ender for you take shape, or look like? Do you remember, like I do?
I remember that earlier this year, I promised to write about unity—provincial unity—and how it could be achieved, finally. Unity, like hope, is a topic most people shy away from because it is generic. It is boring, and most of all, it is just an ideal. It has nothing to do with our survival, or daily existence. Unity will not give us food. Politics will. Correct?

Dead wrong. We need to talk about unity as if our future depends on it. We need to discuss unity because we are divided as a people. For starters, we are disunited in the things we aspire for and so divided in doing the things that will lead us to that aspiration.

Let us begin with unity in language.

A few months ago, Ismael Fabicon, the culture warrior of the Romblon Discussion List-Cultural, Livelihood and Education Assistance for Romblon, or RDL-CLEAR, the group of US-based Romblomanons actively involved in Romblon socio-economic and cultural affairs, wrote Gov. Natalio Beltran III an e-mail taking him to task for an entry in the official provincial website,, that declares that “Tagalog or Filipino is extensively spoken and understood by the “locals”. “Locals” means you and me, the Romblomanons who toil daily and have axes to grind about our deteriorating condition.

This statement, harmless as it looks, got Manong Ish’s goat because he believed it was just short of saying that Tagalog or Filipino has become an official language of Romblon.

Well, those of you who strongly feel about your own language can flock to Manong Ish’s camp and join him in his crusade and thank him for his vigilance.

“We do speak and write fluently in Asi, Onhan, and Romblomanon languages. We are not just "locals." We know our culture and history and are very proud of it,” he wrote.

“It's sad that our "official provincial website" now admits that Tagalog is our national language”, he added.

I looked up the website and saw that the entry was still there. Let me assure Manong Ish, however, that it does not declare Tagalog our national language. A website, or any medium for that matter, does not make a language official. It’s the speakers of a language who do.

In the case of Filipino which is a “composite of Tagalog” and other regional languages, it is the Constitution that made it official and as such could not be declared invalid unless the Constitution is amended.

But going back to the issue of Tagalog as the Romblomanons’ new language, I cannot help but confirm the observation that we really have become the sons and daughters of Balagtas all to our disadvantage—politically, economically, socially. We have substituted our own languages with a borrowed medium, one which is a stranger to us and hence, incomplete.

This is one of the causes of our disunity, for our plodding along, because by speaking an unfamiliar language, we have forgotten that we have our own languages that express our collective aspirations and dreams as a people.

I know this as an Asi and as a writer. Sometime ago, I wrote that by not speaking Asi, Onhan, or Ini in our daily conversation, we are slowly losing our collective soul and identity. Now, I now make the heretical pronouncement that the Romblomanons, by expropriating Tagalog, have long ago abandoned any pretense that they speak a common language. Many Romblomanons, by not speaking their own languages, have become strangers to their own land. This abandonment of our language heritage is an unforgiveable sin and will cast us as cultural pariahs.

This is a provincial shame and we need to be redeemed. How? By closing down the province’s official website whose viewers and visitors have been as few as lightning in summer?

No. We can be redeemed by returning to our roots and speaking in our own languages.
As expected, Gov. Beltran, who prefers to speak Tagalog rather than Asi, did not bother to reply to Manong Ish’s letter. Maybe, he cannot defend the particular statement on the website. Or, maybe, he simply doesn’t care.

I care. Manong Ish cares. Many care, as Manuel Faelnar, director of the Defenders of the Indigenous Languages of the Archipelago Philippines Foundation, Inc., or DILA, does. He said that Asi, Onhan, and Romblomanon are distinct languages, not dialects, as many Romblomanons think.

Faelnar’s take on the so-called Filipino language was that it is an artificial language, and could not possibly have any native speakers. His defense of our own languages was vigorous, punctuated by three quotes which I reproduce below:

"Without our language, we have no culture, we have no identity, we are nothing."—Ornolfor Thorsson, adviser to the President of Iceland.

"When you lose a language you lose a culture, intellectual wealth, a work of art."—Kenneth Hale, teacher of linguistics, MIT.

"Words, if powerful enough, can transport people into a journey, real or imagined, that either creates a fantasy or confirms reality."—Rachelle Arlin Credo, poet and writer.

Mr. Faelnar needed not go far to buttress his point. We have our own Jose Rizal, who said that, “Ka waya gi papalangga sa sariling rila ay mas mayansa pa sa halpok nak isra.”

To my readers and why you should not hide

I am writing this piece on my youngest daughter Lilac’s eighth birthday, on a balmy Saturday morning when the mists bringing the cool December air were still riding on the crests of and hiding Mt. Makiling in Sto. Tomas.

I am seated on my foldable easy chair, near the window where I can see my black Labrador named Zorro and my one-year old Japanese chow-chow—baptized Mizuki by Lara, my eldest—caressing each other lazily.

As usual, they eye me as I write, perhaps wondering what the click-clack sound on the computer keyboard means. Their playful rumble punctuated my writing. Unlike humans, my dogs don’t suspect that it is during this period of sitting—alone and undisturbed—that I compose the stories and views that see print on the pages of the Romblon Sun. Dogs don’t know that writing is watching dogs carousing.

It is November 29, the eve of Andres Bonifacio’s birth anniversary, and my thoughts were meandering on the important observation that historian Ambeth Ocampo had about the Supremo.

In an article, ‘Remembering Bonifacio’, Ocampo wrote that “anyone who knows Philippine history will understand why Bonifacio is remembered on his birthday, Nov. 30, rather than the date of his death, May 10, 1897. Unlike Rizal who was executed by the enemy, and other heroes who died in battle, Bonifacio was executed by fellow Filipinos”.I could only imagine Bonifacio’s execution, which was the result of the bitterest of envy masked by the officiousness of an unfounded crime: treason. The circumstances behind Bonifacio’s death continue to be debated to this day, but what is certain is that his death, engineered by General Emilio Aguinaldo and his henchmen, remains a dark mark of Cain in the forehead of all Filipinos, a sign of our collective guilt.

Mt. Buntis in Cavite, where Bonifacio was shot like a dog, will forever remain in our history as the horrible situs of the downfall of a plebian who has, in our time, justifiably become the icon of mass struggle.

My daughters, our dogs, and Bonifacio seemed to be unusual starring characters in a column that is supposed to be about my readers.

The intention is deliberate. For my daughters read. My dogs, too, but not in the manner that you think. Zorro and Mizuki read the wind, not the printed pages, so that they know when food is coming, or when an askal—asong kalye—is about to pass by our house.

And Bonifacio? Well, we know that Bonifacio read Alexander Dumas, Jose Rizal, Victor Hugo, and Eugene Sue. He owned copies of ‘The French Revolution’, ‘Noli’ and ‘Fili’, ‘History of the French Revolution’, and five volumes of the Bible. He also read the books ‘Religion Within the Reach of All’, ‘Wandering Jew’, ‘International Law’, ‘Civil Code’, and the ‘Ruins of Palmyra’.

My readers also read, I’m happy to report. Hep hep, hooray! At the very least, they read this weekly column. I know, because since I started pushing pen in the Romblon Sun, I have been receiving numerous text messages commenting on my comments. What do you know? I have developed a fan base, and I am glad.

A few messages expressed praise that I am writing again. Others told me to shut up. Still others expressed disagreement with my views.

One ‘texter’, from Romblon, excoriated me for comparing Odiongan with the capital town, saying that Romblon is not parochial, as I have allegedly written. This was about my statement that Odiongan now is more cosmopolitan.

Well, this ‘reader-texter’ read me wrongly. I never said Romblon is parochial. I said that the air in Romblon is. But because the reader is king, OK. I apologize. Romblon is not parochial. But you are. Eat your heart out.

There was also this reader who urged me to write something about some anomalies in the Odiongan town hall, allegedly something about loans for the public market. I dismissed the ‘texter’ as a prankster because when I asked for proof or some documents, the reply was: “Baoy sa munisipyo.”

I can understand the ‘texter’s enthusiasm to get under the light of public scrutiny alleged misdeeds in government. But I cannot understand his or her laziness to supply the details or more concrete proof if he or she has the goods, or if he or she really cares about Odiongan. I am sure Mayor Boy Firmalo will do something about it if it is brought to his attention.

And then there are those message senders who asked if I am married. Readers will now understand why my daughters started off in this piece. No need to answer that query.

To ‘reader-texters’ who solicit money or jobs, I have a textbook answer. Please spare me the worry. I am a writer, not an employment agency or a bank. For financial or employment help, go to the governor or the congressman. They might have something left after buying votes in the last election. I am sure there’s plenty more from their fat commissions.

This is not to say I don’t love you, dear readers. Didn’t you know? You are king. Without readers, newspapers are dead, and writers would be left scratching their heads to kill lice, if not time.

What supremely irritate me, though, are readers—and they are numerous—who have something to say but could not lend their names and identities to their ideas. They hide in various covers and refuse to be quoted, using a lot of excuses in the book to remain anonymous. I am suspicious of people who have an excellent idea or something meaningful to say but refuse authorship for it. They might just have borrowed the idea, or they might be just extremely shy. I hate to say ‘cowards’ because the anagram of the word is ‘as crowd’ which could mean all of us. See?

Thank you, dear readers, for making Wilig-wilig, Liong-liong a weekly reading fare. I have just started to write, I promise, and will continue to try to deserve your company. If what I write provokes thought, fine. If it pokes the sensibilities of some public officials, there is surely a reason for it and I assure you I am a reasonable man. I just would like to let you know that I write because I cannot endure the injuries afflicting us.

Not to write about these injuries and oppression would be tantamount to perpetuating them myself, something which I shall be held accountable by the Maker who taught me how to write.

Leonie Firmalo: The wife also rises

Those of you who read my take on the role of the Romblon Sun in our provincial affairs may have noticed that I wrote two sentences about former congressman Lolong Firmalo, in connection with my observation that there is today no organized opposition in Romblon, thus, making it possible for those who are in power to run roughshod over us.

In that piece, I asked: “Where is Firmalo, by the way? After his bitter defeat, he hibernated, disappeared, hid, and so became a ghost of his old self.”

Now, this observation is not true after all. Dr. Lolong Firmalo, I was told, is not hibernating. He has not disappeared. And he is the same Dr. Lolong.

Who told me? His wife, Leonie, to whom I am sharing this space to prove that Dr. Lolong is still very much around. Or, should I say, still very much in contention, Madam?

I have not met Mrs. Firmalo in person. I very much wanted to, to tell her I have genuine affection for people who long for “the day honesty and integrity in government service in Romblon will come to light again”, as you will notice from Mrs. Firmalo’s letter below, which I edited only for clarity to do justice to a loving wife’s views:

Dear Nicon,

I am Dr. Leonie Firmalo, wife of former Congressman Lolong Firmalo. I came across your article in the October 20-26, 2008 issue of the Romblon Sun, and would like to respond to your query, “Where is Firmalo, by the way? After his bitter defeat, he hibernated, disappeared, hid and so became a ghost of his old self.”

I write this strictly as a personal note to you because I feel that it is unfair that he be pictured as such.

We were not bitter after his defeat; the best word would be “heart-broken” because in spite of all the sacrifices of the whole family, there was no appreciation of what true public service is. Even after he lost, he spent his last month in office coordinating with various government agencies in ensuring that the projects he started for Romblon would continue even after his tenure. At present, we still continue to extend medical help, even to those who did not vote for him.

Dr. Lolong did not disappear; you can find him three times a week at De los Santos Medical Center, attending to at least 150-200 Romblomanons a week not only for their medical needs, but also for their other concerns. He still retained his medical coordinator to continue helping patients with admissions in Manila hospitals, and even finds the time to visit them. I also see many Romblomanon children in my clinic at Fe del Mundo Medical Center, also without compensation.

As his birthday offering, we had a two-day medical mission last October, when we saw about 2,000 patients. Some medicines were donations, but a majority of it came from our personal funds. Lest this be construed as a political strategy, I can assure you that it is not. He served officially as Congressman from 2004-2007, but for a total of 32 years since he became a young doctor, he has already been extending unwavering service to Romblomanons.

He is very much alive as a Romblomanon in heart and mind. He’s a gentle and good person, not loud and not a politico; not looking for attention. Every time he hears corruption in Romblon, he bleeds a little. I should know, because I’ve been with him for the last 30 years. I see how he becomes depressed because he’s not in a position to do more, yet they continue to lambast him over radio and print without any basis.

For us, he will never be a ghost; he is the pride of our family, and I hope of Romblon, too.

More power to your column in the Romblon Sun. I know we are one in hoping for the day that honesty and integrity in government service in Romblon will come to light again.

Respectfully yours,

When I read this letter—sent over e-mail—I threw a prayer that may the Good Lord bless Leonie and curse our politicians who do not write rejoinders to opinion pieces published in the newspapers.

I expressed the hope that our politicians would be like Mrs. Firmalo, who will respond in defense of what they firmly believe is defensible. Mrs. Firmalo is very articulate for a politician’s wife, and this is a sincere compliment.

Alas, as I correctly observed in that column, many elected Romblomanon officials have become mute. They refuse to answer reports, even expressions of opinion, about their conduct. They think public criticisms of their official deeds will be reduced to a whimper when they remain silent? Think again. Newsmen and journalists eat paper and drink ink for breakfast.

And for the love of objectivity, I would like to tell Mrs. Firmalo that I did not write that Dr. Lolong was bitter in his defeat. I said his defeat was bitter, which meant differently. In fact, that I viewed his getting vanquished a bitter pill only correctly summed up the feeling of his supporters—that he should have won. That they could not believe a non-traditional politician will get swallowed whole by crocodiles clothed in the finest barong tagalog.

Well, one can “disappear” in many ways. Dr. Lolong has not been heard often expressing his views in public, although, as Mrs. Firmalo said, he is not loud, not a politico, and not looking for attention. That he continues to treat Romblomanons for free is a testament to his good heart. But he should speak more—in public, that is.

This is where Mrs. Firmalo, or even Dr. Lolong, and I differ greatly. Good governance does not mean only healing people’s physical defects. It also means healing the people’s political souls. You have Romblomanons ailing—and dying—precisely because of neglect and incompetence and you have a problem. The solution is not to only treat them medically, but to excise the tumor that makes them sick in the first place. That is, to remove, through the use of a scalpel, if that is necessary, the root cause of it all—the political neglect and the incompetence which those who replaced Dr. Lolong now publicly displays.

I admit that when Dr. Lolong was not yet a congressman, I offered him advice on political reform. He heard, but I am not sure he listened. That is another difference.

As a writer, I make it my official calling to listen to people’s woes. I, myself, have woes of my own, but I subsume personal feelings under the greater weight of public interest. That should be the official credo of elected officials.

Honestly, did Dr. Lolong make this his creed when he was congressman? I did not hear from him since, but I suppose Mrs. Firmalo was right: that Dr. Lolong “bleeds a little” every time he hears official corruption in Romblon.

If it’s comfort enough, Leonie, Dr. Lolong is not alone. I, myself, bleed profusely every time I hear of the inanity of our public officials. The bad news is that our officials also bleed. They bleed our coffers dry. This is the kind of bleeding that Dr. Firmalo—and all meaningful Romblomanons—should now try to stanch.

On the issue of family pride, I can tell you without “bleeding” that this is one trait we all can unite in. You are proud of Dr. Lolong as every Romblomanon is proud of their husbands and wives and children.

At least, we stand on common ground. I just don’t know if family pride can lead Romblon to prosperity. The last time it surfaced, we saw a husband and wife team drawing our dreams and it led us to Bakhawan in San Agustin, where Congressman Budoy Madrona redraw Romblon’s political map.

If you are to ask me, I will go one step further. I am proud that Romblon has Dr. Firmalo as one of its sons. If I were you, I will ask him to run again for public office, so that your hope “for the day that honesty and integrity in government service in Romblon will come to light again” will be actualized. You, too, could consider running.

If that happens, then the title of this column will be justified.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Another loan, this time to replace an SP-condemed hospital

I have a copy of a document, the contents of which could determine whether our mga kasimanwa will die in penury or in ill-health in the next two years. Whether it’s the former or the latter, there is no choice, really, but to die for reasons I shall shortly explain.

This document is Sangguniang Panlalawigan Resolution No. 07-2008-66 dated July 8, 2008 granting authority to Governor Natalio Beltran III (God help us if there would be a Beltran IV) “to secure and negotiate a loan agreement with any private or government financing and/or banking institution for the construction of a new provincial hospital, including the purchase of hospital/medical equipment and supplies”.

Earlier, the Romblon Sun has headlined a story about this, but I am not sure if the paper’s reporters covered all the details. I will comment on it, though, by reading the fine print of the resolution.

It can be recalled that on February 22 this year, Gov. Beltran sought from the SP authority “to enter into a loan agreement, and to further negotiate the terms and conditions of the same, with any private or government financing and/or banking institution purposely for the construction of a new provincial hospital”.

The SP may not have acted on this first request and Gov. Beltran, for reasons known only to his sacred heart, wrote again on April 22 to “request for the revision of the earlier request” for authority. Notice the intention of the letter?

In his April 22 letter, Beltran said: “After a brief assessment of the foregoing request, the undersigned finds the need for the revision of the requested authority and to read: authorizing the undersigned to secure and negotiate for a loan agreement with any private or government financing and/or banking institution for the construction of a new provincial hospital, and to include the purchase of hospital/medical equipment and other supplies, and if an whenever a loan agreement has been reached, the same shall be subject to ratification by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan”.

On this basis, Gov. Beltran got the authority, and even as I write, he may already be on his way to the bank, laughing at the gullibility of his SP.

There is no news from the capitol as to what Gov. Beltran is doing with the authority now. Is he securing and negotiating for a loan agreement? If yes, with which private or public government bank? I don’t know. We all don’t know.

Going back to the SP, whose members could be so afraid not to give in to Beltran’s remonstration, we can safely narrate what they did to the governor’s letter when they received it.

First, they referred the letter to three SP committees—Legal Affairs, Ways and Means, and Health. This is to say they referred it to themselves. Got that?

Next, they issued a joint committee report. After that, they debated and finally, approved a resolution giving Gov. Beltran the authority.

It would be interesting to know what the SP members debated about. I’ll tell you.

They debated about Romblon’s existing debt with the Land Bank of the Philippines; on Romblon’s capacity to pay; on the site of the proposed new hospital; the possibility that doctors and other hospital personnel may not be available once a new hospital is erected; and on the new hospital’s sustainability.

These five issues were touched in the joint committee report, but only very mildly. There was no exhaustive study, scientific or voodoo, that could justify another loan. There was no persistent evaluation, no public consultation, and no deliberate attempt to obtain all facts before the decision.

I was told by a source that members of the committees never even visited the provincial hospital in Odiongan, yet, the joint committee report contained definitive conclusion that “the repairs of the existing hospital . . . is no longer structurally and economically feasible. The electrical wiring are dilapidated, the sewerage system, drainage, water faucets, plumbing, pipings (sic) and connections, roofing and others are rotten and dysfunctional due to wear and tear”.

And since when did the members of the committees become engineers and building experts to condemn a hospital? Was there a study or inspection that would merit such a sorry description of the province’s health facility?

Tuyar yaki nak masyaro’y it yuho ka provincial hospital, asing waya pa kina nakandadohi? Asing kina’y abrido pa?

If the hospital is really as described by our honorable SP members, aren’t we endangering the lives of the doctors and the patients in the medical facility? What are Gov. Beltran and the SP doing about it?

By all means, let us evacuate the patients now before the hospital’s roof caves in, or before its wiring electrocutes the nurses and patients, or even before its leaking faucets inundate the hospital rooms. Let us condemn the building if we have to, but let’s do it properly. Let the DPWH do the structural evaluation if it really is crumbling.

Let us not write about the dilapidated condition of the hospital in official government documents, such as an SP resolution, just to form a basis for a haphazard, ill-advised and misinformed decision of a governor.

(Next issue: A new hospital is hazardous to health, it will increase our debt)

A new hospital is hazardous to health, it will increase our debt

I do not question the motive of Gov. Natalio Beltran III for wanting to have a new hospital in the province. Neither do I begrudge the members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan for easily surrendering itself to the wish of the governor without thorough study or debate. They are just being true to their nature as political mercenaries.

Resolution No. 07-2008-66 is a debt trap. It is consigning the future of the province into the hands of the banks which will collect, no matter what.

When the three SP committees—Health, Ways and Means, and Legal Affairs acquired jurisdiction of Gov. Beltran’s letter, the proper thing they should have done was to summon the governor to explain and justify his request.

They didn’t. Instead, the members of the SP, bless them for their laziness, read it to the letter and acted on it as if the end of days will come if they didn’t.

Perhaps, Fred Dorado, Health Committee chair, Gil Moreno, Ways and Means Committee chair, and Geminiano Galicia Jr., Legal Affairs Committee chair, were so afraid of the governor or they have so much faith in his wisdom that they treated his letter as biblical fiat.

Well, the letter was just a letter. It was short and did not contain any earth-shaking justification that a new loan is needed to build a new hospital.

The worst—and Romblomanons should rise in indignation over this—was that the SP resolution authorizes the governor to do not just ONE but TWO acts.

The first is to secure and/or negotiate a loan “FROM ANY BANKING AND/OR FINANCIAL INSTITUTION”, and the second is to “PURCHASE HOSPITAL/MEDICAL EQUIPMENT AND SUPPLIES.”

See how clearly the SP granted Beltran a blank check? Any bank means any bank. If and when he gets the money, he will torn down the old provincial hospital and erect a new one, and then buy the hospital equipment and supplies. All these in the hands of one elected public official whose management experience is razor thin!

Question: Why does Beltran want to become a loan negotiator as well as purchasing officer, instead of just remaining a governor for which he was elected to? I leave your imagination to answer this quiz. Include in the calculation the commission that will be paid by the contractors and the suppliers. To whom? Guess.

Waya purchasing officer ka kapitolyo? Asi riin gi tuyaghot kag budget officer, health officer ag provincial accountant it probinsiya? They are the proper persons to do the above tasks.

Oh, yes, I forgot. There is a provincial accountant who, incidentally, certified that as of December 31, 2007, the province has still an outstanding loan of P103.551 million, consisting of the principal of P73.551 million and interest of P56.587 million. This loan was contracted when? Four years ago? By whom? By then Governor Budoy Madrona?

Now, if the members of the SP were sane, they would not have granted the authority the moment they see our provincial debt. It’s gargantuan. Can we pay?

The SP said it doesn’t know. Look, here is a legislative body, being asked of an authority to contract a loan, but doesn’t know—because it refuses to know—if the province can afford to pay it. Why do I know that the SP doesn’t know?

Here, from the excerpts of the minutes of the regular session when this issue was taken up. Read:

“With this (sic) figures given (Note: The SP was referring to the outstanding loan and interest), the committee members were unanimous in saying that insofar as the CAPACITY of the province to secure for (sic) another loan is concerned, it is solely the BANK which can certify as to whether or not the province can still afford to secure another loan.”

Omigosh. This is one of the dumbest arguments I have ever heard. Mautang ka pero buko nimo sador kung kaya nimong magbadar? Ni-oy rang!

For two years now (and thank God we only have one more year to suffer this idiocy in our provincial legislative body), the SP has been deliberating on the provincial budget so that it should know the province’s financial health. But it doesn’t.

Read further: “It was agreed that in case the Governor is given the authority, he should first secure a certification from Land Bank whether the province can still secure for (sic) a loan and can pay it without sacrificing its development thrust.”

Well, the governor was granted authority. Well, SP member Benjamin Irao, could you please ask the governor if he had secured this certification?

Of course, honorable members of the SP, you can’t borrow money without sacrificing something—in this case, the province’s development thrust. Why? Because the loan—big or small—will eat up something from the budget in the form of principal and interest payments.

We don’t need the Land Bank to tell us this. A good father knows that when he has just enough money and has a debt to pay, he has to forego something, some necessities maybe, or even a few luxury, just to make both ends meet. That’s fiscal responsibility. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand this. But you can’t understand this, even if it’s so simple, if you are a member of the SP because of your blind obedience, like a dog's, to your master at the capitol.

Is there a remedy to this stupidity of another loan?

Yes, there is. What SP members Manuel Madrid and Benjamin Irao could do is to move for the recall of the authority in the next SP session.

I know. You are clearly outnumbered, but just try. By trying, you will not only expose the callous manners of your fellow legislators who voted for the authority, but you will also demonstrate to the Romblomanons that there is hope, however remote, in restoring decency in your exalted positions.

Comments, even criticisms, are welcome. Text them to 0917 623 8842 or email them at, or .

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Romblon Sun as opposition

I cannot understand the vehemence by which some public officials react to the Romblon Sun’s reports about their alleged misdeeds while in position of power.

To me, such attitude indicates two things. One, either these officials are guilty or innocent, and two, they were not called or asked to give their side about the reports that appear on the paper.

I said this because two weeks ago, on a short trip to Odiongan, Manong Julius Fortuna, who hosted my visit, again reminded the Romblon Sun to always present both sides of a story for the sake of objectivity and fairness.

This reminder was timely because there are observations that the Romblon Sun is perceived as an opposition paper; that it is thought to be a tool to “malign” and “destroy” Romblon’s political leaders.

This, of course, is farthest from the truth, and I strongly disagree with those who say the Romblon Sun is politically destructive. I mean, can the Romblon Sun single-handedly bring down the capitol? Can it force our politicians to admit to and mend their corrupt ways? I doubt.

First, there is no organized political opposition in Romblon, so how could the Romblon Sun be an opposition mouthpiece? Does the erratic and unsteady as the subasko Dr. Joey Cabrera, who is covered by the paper from time to time, own a share in the paper? Is Romblon Sun former representative Lolong Firmalo’s? Are the writers of the paper paid hacks of those salivating over Rep. Budoy Madrona’s or Gov. Jojo Beltran’s posts? I doubt.

Where is Firmalo, by the way? After his bitter defeat, he hibernated, disappeared, hid, and so became a ghost of his old self.

And Romblon? It was left to its own devices under the baton of the current political overlord, Rep. Madrona and his orchestra, led by the likes of Beltran who, disappointingly for a governor, doesn’t seem to understand a bit what civil service meant. To Beltran, to be a civil servant seemed to be a servile servant, but these two are different animals. Amelie Mallen, kudos to her, is more informed than the governor.

Second, the Romblon Sun, if it is a paper of the political opposition, should not be begging for money to buy its weekly supply of paper and ink. Because of budget constraints, it has a limited circulation, so magnifying the harm it could inflict on the political status quo is more of a compliment rather than a disparaging attack.

I can’t imagine the Romblon Sun to be solely responsible for the low regard that many Romblomanons nowadays have for their leaders. The Romblon Sun is only a newspaper whose editors and writers happen to disagree with the views of the establishment. And its reportage on what it sees as the pestilences plaguing Romblon is rightly a function of a newspaper. It is, while struggling, only performing its responsibility to serve as watchdog of the people, without being asked to be rewarded.

I know. I have read some of the text messages received by the paper, commending it for its courageous reporting on the burning issues of the day. The text messages don’t come from politicians belonging to the opposition. They come from readers, the ordinary Romblomanons, with whom the Romblon Sun has come to identify itself with. That means the paper is credible and, therefore, trusted.

Now, compare this to the deafening silence of those who are making it to the news like, for example, Gov. Beltran or Engr. Rolindo Perez, two officials who are often flagellated because of their conduct. If I were they, I will write back to dispute every untruthful or malicious item that comes out in the paper, if there are any, and request that it be published for the sake of fairness and objective reporting.

Alas, and unfortunately, the reports in the Romblon Sun about alleged anomalies, malfeasance, omission, or corruption are not challenged by the subjects of the reports, even if, as Tony Macalisang told me, he exerts every effort to get their side on a story.

Again, this indicates either of two things: that the reports are true or the person subject of the report is plain lazy or doesn’t know how to write. What do you say, Messrs. Beltran and Perez?

And what if the Romblon Sun stopped reporting on the issues that affect Romblon? What if, for example, instead of reporting the Ombudsman’s dismissal of Engr. Perez, it reported that he was ordered promoted as DPWH secretary?

What if the Romblon Sun, instead of writing about SP Benjamin Irao’s refusal to accept the P66, 959.00 in cash incentives given to all provincial officials and employees—even if the money came from the calamity fund!—wrote that Irao is suing the provincial government for not tripling the amount?

Or, what if the Romblon Sun, instead of reporting that Gov. Beltran was rebuffed by the Civil Service Commission for illegally dismissing Ms. Mallen, reported that the CSC encouraged the governor to dismiss some more employees who don’t agree with his views?

If these things happen, then I can bet my daily gin budget that the readers of Romblon Sun, instead of reading the paper, will turn to reading road and store signs, or the clouds, or gumamela leaves. At least, these are truthful. Then, Romblon Sun can rename itself the Romblon Moon for peddling dark lies.

My point? Don’t hate the newspapers. Save your contempt for the newsmakers. Comments are welcome. Text them in to 0917-623-8842 or send to

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Dodoy Perez’s dilemma: where to work if dismissed

There is this public perception, which is wrong, that corruption is perpetuated only by people in the public sector; by officials in government who occupy high positions of power.

There is also this public perception, which is untrue, that lower-level government officials—the backbone of the bureaucracy—are not capable of any wrong doing.

And then, there is this public belief, which is absurd, that there is no corruption in the interstices of the private sector, in business; that private citizens are incapable of evil deeds and misconduct.

The fact is, corruption, as a crime, does not choose its terrain. It is committed in the name of selfish personal interest, in low and high places, public or private. Corruption is a disease and it does not distinguish those whom it infects. It has even succeeded in tempting Judas, who betrayed Jesus for a bribe of thirty pieces of silver.

Why is it, therefore, that only incidents of corruption in public office often get in the news? Are we as a people selective in our treatment of the corrupt, or do we employ double standards when judging criminal behavior? Aided by a vigilant media which always highlights corruption in the public terrain, this seems to be so.

OK. Wrong-doing in government is fodder for the media because the perpetrators are in public service, which is a public trust.

The standards of behavior applied to public officials are much more different and stricter than the standards applied to people in the private sector precisely because public officials must be accountable to the people who pay their salaries through their taxes.

Thus, public officials who are criticized for their conduct should not be onion-skinned. It’s part of the territory.

The news last week, that the Ombudsman has ordered the dismissal of DPWH district engineer Rolindo “Dodoy” Perez, along with 15 other officials, demonstrates in vivid color the cancer of corruption that has been gnawing at our system for years.

Perez, along with Vicente Vargas, also an OIC district engineer; Engrs. Mayo Pelagio and Dennis Geduspan; Bernardo Yparosa, an accountant; Jose Javier, Jr., a property custodian; and Pio Gareza, Jr., a supply officer—all of the DPWH’s 4thth sub-engineering office in Bago, Negros Occidental—were dismissed for grave misconduct in connection with irregularities in two projects involving the improvement of the Camingawan-Pandan Road in Pontevedra.

The Ombudsman said a special audit of the two projects revealed a discrepancy of P8.12 million representing cost of materials and labor paid but not delivered or accomplished. The special audit also found out a discrepancy of P2.97 million representing cost of materials and labor which were utilized or applied in the projects, but which were not included among the paid items.
Overall Deputy Ombudsman Orlando Casimiro wrote the dismissal order, asking DPWH Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane, Perez’s boss, to immediately implement the dismissal and to submit a report of compliance on the same.

The guessing game is on whether or not Ebdane will quickly act. It can be recalled it was only last August 8, 2007 that Ebdane re-assigned Perez from the Masbate 2nd District Engineering Office to Romblon. It could be that he had not yet warmed up his seat in the province.

The news of Perez’s dismissal circulated like wildfire, with public opinion divided between those who are not Perez’s fans and those who are barking up in defense of the beleaguered engineer.

One of his staunchest defenders, I was told, was Raffy Molino, a member of the Romblon media community, who was said to have belittled the order because the case that caused Perez’s removal did not happen in Romblon.

In short, Molino was implying the Romblomanons did not suffer from Perez’s official conduct. “Don’t worry, be happy”.

It is exactly this kind of tolerance, this response to official sanction—such as the Ombudsman’s order—that perpetuates our culture of corruption. This shallow justification—that we were not harmed anyway—would lead to the thinking that one can commit wrongdoing without fear of censure or penalty. Shall we wait for Romblon to suffer before we complain?

Molino, according to the source, has warned Perez’s critics over the radio not to “provoke” the engineer because he might run for a political office in 2010. Molino allegedly have said that if this happens, “walang kalaban-laban ang kalaban” or words to that effect.

So, the cat is out of the bag. Perez’s has dreams of becoming a political animal in 2010.

That’s his right. The question is: Will Perez’s dismissal be good for the province? I don’t know. Ask Engr. Nicanor Marcelo, Perez’s assistant.

I myself don’t know Perez, but according to an informant, the Masbatenos allegedly heaved a sigh of relief when he was re-assigned to Romblon. That only meant one thing. Perez’s must have been a very unlikeable person in Masbate.

The political grapevine has this in relation to what Molino had said: Perez would like to run for governor in 2010 under lawyer Bernie Fondevilla, an undersecretary in the department of agriculture. Watch out, Rep. Budoy! Watch out, Gov. Jojo. You have now willing opponents.

What these politicians don’t know is that there may not be a 2010. In the meantime, I have a question which many Romblomanons may have after the news came out: What is Rep. Budoy’s comment about the dismissal of his erstwhile ally?

And before I forget, let me ask, too: What will be Perez’s next job if he is dismissed? Call in your answers at 0927-911-6280. You can also email me at

Ka katapusan it imahinasyon

Nakabalik ako sa Odiongan it kag usang dominggo matapos ka kuyang-kuyang nak pitong tuig na waya ako nabisita.

Kag pagbabag-o it gi-udahan it kapitolyong komersyal it Romblon ay marako ag masyado’t halata. Sa ako pangmuyat, nag-uswag ka Odiongan. Kag lugar it dating merkado ay naglimpyo.
It has turned into a public space.

Nagrasig ag nagtigson ka ekonomiya. Karamo iy ka nagtitinra ag nagni-negosyo. Halos kumpletoy ka pasilidad it pagbabangko, telekomunikasyon, ag edukasyon. Nagramo ka tawo, nak ka mga balati-on ay pay nagkapag-asa.

Mahabang panahon ka pitong tuig. Kung mas marasig, siguro ay mas mayado pa ka naabot it Odiongan. Reli gi susuyor ka ‘intervention’ it gobyerno sa pag-uswag it usang banwa. Ka pag-uswag ay ging aanak it matadlong nak pagpapanguyo ag matibay nak gobyerno.

Kada kung moderno’y ka Odiongan, siguradong ka gobyerno ay inggwa it nahuman.


Yes, but only partly. The history of modernity is a history of a people coming together to promote and act for the common good. The government may claim credit for uplifting people’s lives, but only partly. In the end, it is still the common people who should get credit for moving forward.

Kaling kaisipong kali ay nagyutaw it kag magbisita ako sa Odiongan. Nakaabot ako sa Brgy. Tabing Dagat. Reli ay nakahilera ka mga konkretong posteng sa kahahadag ka iwag; nak sa sobrang hadag ay siguradong masabo ka isra pag taob ag maruyom ka buyan. Ugaling ay siguradong pagsabo it isra ay kaibahan ka sayabay, dahil ka hadag ay waya it ging pipiling a-iwagan. Basaha kag istorya it nanay ni Jose Rizal sa “The Lamp and the Moth”.

What’s the point I am driving at? That a lighted public place both repels and attracts. It repels criminals who shun the light. It attracts visitors and encourages leisurely activities. The only problem when I visited the “baywalk” along Brgy. Tabing Dagat was that there was not a single promenader. The place was silent as a tomb.

Nagsawa-iy sa hadag ka taga-Odiongan?

No. They might have just other important things to do than killing time under the bright lights of the “baywalk”, such as, perhaps, working to earn a living, or taking a rest after a hard day’s work.

This is not to disparage the Tabing Dagat lampposts. They are beautiful and serve a purpose. This is, however, to question the priorities of those who put it up. Whoever did it lacked imagination.

I was told the lampposts, 100 pieces in all, cost P3.5 million. That is P35,000 per. I was also told there are similar lampposts in Calatrava, put up by Mayor Bong Fabella, and they cost only P17,000 per. What mathematical corruption was committed in erecting the Tabing Dagat promenade lights? Ask Gov. Natalio Beltran, Jr. Most probably, he will say, “None”.

But that’s exactly my point. The P3.5 million is not peanuts. And nobody might have benefited financially from the lampposts’ construction. Yet, it is taxpayers’ money and should have been wisely spent.

I have not seen P3.5 million in my whole life and—argue with me on this—so have 95 percent of all Romblomanons. We are a poor province pretending to be rich. We are dark, but the pockets of bright spots, whether they are in Tabing Dagat or somewhere else, do not shine equally on all of us. Get that?

In other words, if you are the governor, why would you prioritize spending P3.5 million on lampposts if P3.5 million can build 12 concrete classrooms, or buy 5,384 fifty-kilo sacks of NFA rice, or used to dig up 20 deep wells in areas where there is no safe water for residents? I calculated that the P3.5 million can also be used to buy 583,000 Neozep tablets, more than enough to prevent all Romblomanons from contracting common colds.

Come on, I am not being simplistic. In these times when a ganta of rice in Sibale is about P80, there is no time to kid each other how we could possibly survive the economic crunch that majority of Romblomanons is suffering from. We all have to be practical and to do it is to call on our leaders to set aright their priorities.

Alas, Gov. Beltran’s priority—which is the beautification of Romblon (go to Romblon’s website to see this)—clashes with reality. Beautify Romblon when Romblomanons are hungry? You must be joking. Why should we install bright lights in streets with less traffic—human and vehicular—when there are families in the mountains who don’t have electricity connection? Pray, tell, where is the sense of practicality and commonsense in this?

Another thing. Romblon is pristinely, naturally beautiful as it already is. There is no need to “beautify” it some more, if the governor’s beautification projects are aimed at papering over Romblon’s face with cosmetics to attract tourists.

We are sick—our provincial government is sick—with incrementalism. The solution that we think and implement for our monumental problems are always incremental and superficial. Small and short-term and cyclical. We plod. We muddle from one election to another. A paved road here, an artesian well there, a lamppost over there, a basketball court here, a waiting shed there, etc. In doing so, we try to please a small number and leave the majority hanging high and dry. Result? Problem unsolved.

We do not appreciate the big picture and we do not do the practical, incredibly big things for the long-term benefit of our people. Government is not rocket science. It requires only commonsense and a good heart. It also requires honesty and hard work.

I call this incremental attitude, this distorted sense of priority, the end of imagination, a quote from Nadine Gordimer, one of my favorite writers. Many elected government officials have reached this end.

You need not have proof. Just go to Tabing Dagat and see the lights. After that, visit Sibuyan where the poor are pressing their empty stomachs with their calloused hands and staring blankly into nowhere.

Who pays for the electric bills, anyway, Gov. Beltran? The barangay? Nakakahilak si kapitan. Nabawasan kag ida internal revenue allotment.

Sometime ago, I wrote that MMDA chair Bayani Fernando had reached the end of his imagination because he painted the EDSA toilets pink.

Now, it’s Gov. Beltran’s turn to reach that end. But I am not even sure that he has the imagination, so we ask: How could he reach its end?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Under the Romblon Sun, a writer returns

In a province where opinion is as opinionated as the street-corner opinion-maker, opinion columns, unread though they may be, come cheap.

So why write another? Indeed, why suffer another opinion writer?

This question popped up as I lay on a rubber bank of a bed of M/V Princess Annavell while it navigated blindly the dark seas of the Tablas Strait on its way to Batangas last week.

To this quiz, the answer is easy.

Salman Rushdie, the famous British author of the ‘Satanic Verses’, the book that sent him into hiding and seclusion because the head of the Revolutionary Council of the Islamic Republic of Iran declared a ‘fatwah’ or death decree on him for alleged blasphemy against Allah, once said that the duty of the writer “is to say the unsayable, speak the unspeakable”.

I am not a Rushdie fan, but I have faith in his defense of the writer. Writers, whether they are writing fiction or writing opinion pieces, are civilization’s last defense against tyranny in all its ugly forms.

I consider myself a writer and proudly wear a badge with a large “W” mark on it. However, I don’t distinguish myself according to what I write, because writing—including opinion writing—should not be burdened by labels. Writers are writers, that’s all there is to it.

I refer, of course, to the serious ones, those who consider their craft as a moral duty to society—to their readers, if you may. Serious writers are those who write because they felt it an obligation “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”, as the writer Conrado de Quiros so succinctly put it.

I have very low regard for writers who consider writing as a source of power with which they can injure or inflict moral harm to declared and perceived enemies; those who engage in the use of the word to pursue personal agendas.

Alas, the writing profession, including some newspapers, is inhabited by creatures who use the pen to settle scores and ain personal advantage; by writers who smear personalities with gutter paint. Such are not serious writers. They are demagogues who should be exposed as such.

Let’s go back to the genesis of this piece. I said, “Why write an opinion column?”

Fair comment (that’s what opinion pieces should be) reinforces public perception that views expressed in a newspaper is a mirror of society—and reality. And the reality—at least that which newspapers report and commented on by opinion writers—is harsh. Very harsh.

That reality, as well as the injustices in society and the meanness of man to his fellow man, comes under the minute scrutiny of opinion writers.

The news reporter may be the writer of history in a hurry; he may report which public persona is dipping his fingers into the public coffers, or write about who is bedding whom, but it is the opinion writer who interprets that history. It is he who delves into the motivation of men and who pries open the doors of the power corridors and brings to light the darker side of the news. A columnist does not write calumny. He expresses his views and comment on the news.

And so, I write another opinion column. Thank you, Tony Macalisang. You are courageous to admit into the pages of the Romblon Sun a writer whose views are often recalcitrant, if not downright “blasphemous” against officialdom’s. But Romblon Sun readers, I suppose, would be curious, interested, in reading the views of one who has grown up whistling in the dark and battling odds as a ‘struggling’ writer.

By ‘struggling’, I meant I have always been trying to figure out why we continue to wallow in poverty despite our rich natural resources; why despite our people’s high literacy, ignorance in governance continues to permeate the Romblon air; and why an elected official, SP member Benjamin Irao, Jr., could blurt out in Odiongan’s public plaza a blanket accusation that “lahat sila corrupt, ako lang ang hindi”.

As a writer, I struggle to answer questions that affect our debilitating provincial existence. I am trying, for example, to fathom Irao’s pontification, as if all of us, except him, should be admitted to hell. Are we that desperate as a people to fry ourselves in our own lard?

It is this, and the larger questions in society, that I, as a writer, will address in this column. I will fail in my duty if I do not do so. Not writing about the demons that torment our province would mean that we will, as a people, continue to suffocate the ‘struggling’—there, that word again—Romblomanon whose only dream is to live a decent life. Not writing about Irao’s accusation would mean we permit him to occupy a bigger plaza and, without proof, smear again with gutter paint his fellow elected officials.

Of course, Irao has a point. It is a reality that on our streets—paved or rough—prowls the corrupt and the vile, mostly politicians garbed in fine clothing, preening in official arrogance, but hatching dark schemes of abuse and misdeeds and crimes so nauseating they would make Al Capone’s evading tax payment a gentle stroll in the park.

And they are who the writers must write about. I shall do that. I shall strive to prick the conscience of the readers, to incite them to think, and to clarify their doubts.

A writer has no choice but to present, through his own prism, the view which the readers may not see. He should be true to this role, to his calling which only he as an observer of events and as a writer could see and hear. This is true if he is to raise the shutters that blind the people. Otherwise, he will only contribute to human ignorance if he fails to do so.

The acid test of a serious writer is his loyalty to the truth and his fidelity to the facts. An opinion writer, indeed, any writer worth his salt, should remain under the dictates of his conscience, within the ambit of public interest. An opinion writer, indeed, any writer for that matter, who considers public interest secondary to his many other interests, is not a serious writer. He is a dealer in cheap talk.

The elected public official who is corrupt is kicked out by disgruntled voters in an election. That is democracy. The writer who dispenses opinion wildly without regard for the truth and the public interest is not read, and his newspaper is bought to be used as fish wrap. That, too, is democracy. That is also an insult to the writer.

I welcome you to this corner of the Romblon Sun. Space permitting and with the above as self-imposed guidelines, I will, once a week, offer you a menu of crisp views on the events as they unfold and comment on the news, even on the weather.

I will be generous with praise to public officials who, under tremendous constraints, succeed in serving the people, but I will be unremitting in excoriating misdeeds and injustices whenever and wherever they are committed. I will write about the dispossessed, the powerful and the powerless, the afflicted and the comfortable. In short, I will write about Romblon and the Romblomanons.

What do I do after I write?

Na-wilig-wilig ako. Na-liong-liong. That is not an opinion. That is a gesture of telling myself I have fulfilled my duty as a writer.

That is also the title of this column.

(First article under the column, "Liong-Liong, Wilig-Wilig", that appears weekly in the Romblon Sun).

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Letters and notices

It was Amelyn Labora-Miranda, Kusog Sibalenhon, Inc. business manager, who patiently sent out the notices that last week’s “Kayog nak Pabuta: Usang Dominggong Bingo” will push through, as it did push through, on the 29th of June. KSI officials helped by utilizing the so-called "text" brigade to spread the word about the fund-raising pa-bingo.

You see, the original date, June 22, was rained out when Typhoon Frank lashed out at the country without prior notice, and Kusog officials had to decide right on the ground, at the height of the typhoon, about the postponement.

The problem was that the 29th was a red-numbered date on the calendar. It was the day the “Lethal Combination” title fight between Manny Pacquiao and David Diaz was to take place. We were deathly worried Sibalenhons will watch the fight instead of going to the bingo.

“Dahil sa bagyong Frank, uya rabuno nadayon kag "Kayog nak Pabuta" it Kusog Sibalenhon Inc. sa Lipa it kag nagrayang Domingo. Insulip, 29 June 2008, alas dos sa hapon sa Lion's Club Social Hall ay masyadong dayoniy. Imbitado ka tanan. Maliy kita mapaagto, pagkaramong papremyo!”

So went Amelyn’s terse notice. I don’t know how many ever read it because it was issued at the last minute, but as the turnout at the bingo turned-out, the notice might have spread like wildfire. So many came that I was wondering if any Sibalenhon watched the Pacquiao fight at all.

Of course, the “Kayog nak Pabuta” would have not been successful without the help of some kindred souls who were the very first to come forward and believe in the good cause.

By “the very first to come forward” I refer to the Sibalenhons who, without much of an explanation, opened up their hearts—and their checkbooks—to KSI’s fund-raiser. They need special mention.

“Nicon, napagkasunduan namo ni Rico Fesalbon Rafols nak magturno reli sa imo patigayon. Split kami sa 5,000 pesos via door to door shipment on Saturday, June 14. Mababaton kali nimo it Tuesday/Wednesday. Please send the address kung saan napatugpaa. Kamusta kang Manang Aling ag Manong Doding,” wrote Danilo Fadera from the US.

I was heartily gratified upon reading this letter. Why? Because even with his lengthy absence in the Philippines, Manong Danny's heart remains strongly moored in Sibale. I could only faintly remember his face, although his name is pretty well-known among Sibalenhons as that of Rico Rafols’, who I very well know because we were neighbors in the Poblacion where I grew up as a kid.

Then there was Merwin Mosquera and Uncle Flosie Famarin who, like Cocoy and Manong Danny, split up between themselves a P5,000 donation to Kusog.

Hungor nakong magrawat sa inro paghikwat nak mapatigson ka inro inibhanang KSI para sa pagtabang sa mga kubos nak kasimanwa raha sa Lipa. Nakakamoot nak marunggan kaling binuhatong maado para sa kahingwayan it lisod, lalo-ey kung nag-uusbong ka bugkos nak pagkaka-usa it bawat usa. Imaw kali’t klarong kusog! Salamat sa imo pag-kuyag ag pag-kayog sa amo – basi pang maramong magbulhot. Pauno yaki namo iparaya ka bulig o riing bangko kali namo na suhotan?” wrote Merwin.

Well, Merwin was a classmate of mine from elementary to high school, and he is a convert when it comes to the use of the Asi language, although sometimes, I guess some of the phrases he uses are not Asi but . . . his charity knows no bounds.

He is also the ardent proponent of the writing of an Asi dictionary. What happened, Merwin, about the project? Can Kusog help you out? Raise the roof, err, the funds so the dictionary could take shape.

Uncle Flos, who like Merwin is in Saudi Arabia, also was the first to write a note promising his support.

Ako'y taos pusong marawat sa imo pahinungor. Ugaling yang ay imo iparaya sa ako kung riing tabungos nako nasudlanan kinang imo ing aagrang pahinungor. Malipayong adlaw sa inrong tanan,” he said.

Then there was Job Atillano. "Manong Nicon, ako ay mabulig gihapon reli sa inro proyekto. Riin nako pwedeng iparaya? Nawa'y patuloy nak magbunga kaling imo magandang pananom sa ato mga kasimanwa. Kaibahan ako nimo sa tanang imo adhikaon,” Job writes from Jeddah, K. S. A.

There are many others who helped, of course. Once again, KSI thanks all of you. Ambubong nak salamat. We intend to use part of the money we raised in sponsoring a conference on disaster preparedness in Sibale this coming August. We will inform you about it soon.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Kusog savors small victory with successful fund raiser

What do Danilo ‘Danny’ Fadera, Rico Rafols, Floserfino ‘Flos’ Famarin and daughter Monette, Mary Jane Figurasin-Fajardo, Sibale’s No. 1 Cuncilor Vidal ‘Veding’ Ferrancullo, Annie Fabreag-Lambio and husband Dr. Angel Lambio, Sen. Mar Roxas, Michael ‘Mike’ Faderogao, Sen. Antonio ‘Sonny’ Trillanes, Merwin Mosquera, Job Atillano, Asincrito ‘Cris’ Fababair, Lipa City Councilor Merlo Silva, Mataas na Lupa Brgy. Captain Antonio ‘Tony’ Lumbera, Eduardo T. Mahiya, Basilio ‘Jun’ Mendoza, Eustiquio Famatigan, Leodegario ‘Oding’ Fedejas, Lemuel ‘Sino’ Fanoga, Daniel ‘Danggal’ Fortis, Teddy ‘Pololoy’ Macagaling, Georgio ‘Kamandag’ Fabella, Bienvenido ‘Utan’ Rodelas, Cynthia Rodelas, Bernard Comia, Gil Quiambao, Victoria Maningas, Ressy Lachica, Brgy. Captain Robert ‘Boret’ Magsino, and Raul de Vera, Jr. have in common?

They are all Good Samaritans in the truest sense of the biblical account of the charitable journeyman who came into the aid of a dying stranger mugged and robbed by highwaymen.

Since ancient times, the story about the Good Samaritan has come to symbolize not only the act of helping victims of mugging, robbery, or rape, but all voluntary, unselfish acts of generosity of a person to his fellow man. It is often cited to describe the innate goodness of the heart that gives.

It is also always cited to express the gratitude and thanks of the heart—or the hand—that receives, in this case by Kusog Sibalenhon, Inc., which is the beneficiary of the Good Samaritan gesture of the above-named individuals.

There. In three paragraphs, I’ve gotten off at last with my prefatory statement before I say thank you.

Thank you very sincerely to all of you for your gifts of charity and money contribution to the fund-raiser of the Kusog. That fund-raiser has behind it an exciting story you might care to hear.

We called it “Kayog nak Pabuta: Usang Dominggong Bingo” which we should have conducted last June 22 to bring cheer to and help our fellow Sibalenhons in Lipa City cope with the economic crisis ravaging the country through the distribution of rice and grocery items.

But “Kayog” was rained out by Typhoon Frank, that’s why we had to postpone it for June 29. So yesterday, even while it was drizzling and most Filipino souls were glued to their TV sets watching Manny Pacquiao demolish David Diaz, we finally pushed through with the bingo at the Social Hall of the Lipa City Lion’s Club.

The event was more than we expected. Over a hundred Sibalenhons turned out to play the game, mostly mothers with their kids in tow. This social hall has always been the Mecca of Sibalenhons in Lipa and yesterday the social hall was again full. The gathering turned out to be another reunion and the atmosphere was festive. Very Sibalenhon.

The officials and members of Kusog were there. So were the members. So were those who have heard of the Kusog phenomenon and are aspiring to join. And some Kusog supporters, of course, were there. Seen milling around was former San Pedro barangay captain Antonietto Fabella, who played even with just one bingo card. Macnes Federico, a successful industry owner from Dalajican, was there; so was Jun Mendoza, the incoming hermano mayor of the Sibale Fiesta in Lipa, who was accompanied by wife Victoria.

Most, it seemed, were exhausted after the game, which promptly started at 2:00 P.M. and ended at 7:00 P.M. But the exhaustion was not the main story. It was that 60 percent of the players went home as happy winners, hauling off with them sacks of rice, sardines, sugar, coffee, noodles, some home appliances and kitchen utensils, detergent bars, carpentry tools, and many other items all contributed by the Good Samaritans I mentioned above. Again, thank you to all of you, Good Samaritans. We hoped you were there so you would have seen for yourself the faces of our fellow Sibalenhons that you cheered up with your gifts.

But there was a more heart-rending footnote to “Kayog” which I personally witnessed. This was the poor mother—not a Sibalenhon—who apparently bought five bingo cards (at P10 per card) from a Sibalenhon (whose name I shall not mention), but who did not remit the money to the Kusog treasurer.

Per our rules, an unpaid card will not be allowed to be played and Mariz Fabellon-Federico, Kusog treasurer, politely turned the woman away, who was with her child, explaining to her very patiently the rules. The woman insisted that she had paid for her cards to the Sibalenhon (who I silently cursed for disappearing with the P50 payment). True enough, the cards when examined was genuinely Kusog’s, but it lacked a signature (which meant payment has not been received or remitted).

The teary-eyed woman, sighing heavily, turned back, walking away more heavily. But at the gate, she made a sudden about-face, fished out a crisp 50-peso bill from her pocket, walked towards Mariz and handed her the money. Mariz quickly ushered her to a nearby table where she laid out her five cards. Just after a few minutes, on the second roll of the “tambiolo”, the woman won a sack of rice! What luck! An angel, I suppose, guided the woman, even as I can say that a devil laid siege on the heart of the Sibalenhon who ran away with the woman’s card money.

Because of the huge success of the fund-raiser, we plan to hold a second “Kayog nak Pabuta” this September, and we hope you can join us this time, either as sponsor or game participant. But please help me track down this fellow who is giving the Sibalenhons a bad name. Tell him/her, if you see him/her, that the woman he/she conned of P50 had won in “Kayog nak Pabuta” and that she was very happy.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

1622-Unang Usbor: Now the Asi is singing

Readers, I urge you to visit the Internet website,, where Lyndon Fadri, one of Banton’s most articulate intellectuals, is a resident blogger. His site, Lyndon, contains mostly his musings on Banton arts and culture and his many active engagements in Banton affairs.

Just recently, he posted a record of what I consider a watershed event in Asi culture: the coming of age of a Banton musical group, the 1622-Unang Usbor.

To the ignoramuses in Banton history and Asi language, here’s a little education about 1622 and Unang Usbor.

1622 is the year the pueblo—township—of Banton was founded and established by the Spaniards, specifically the Recollect friars. This was exactly one year over a full century after Fernando Magallanes landed in the Philippines, in 1521, and whose coming changed the course of Iberian civilization.

But don’t be misled. This doesn’t mean that Banton was inhabited only in 1622, or that a Banton community did not exist before that date. Archaeological proof is available that tells us Banton is more ancient than we could imagine; and so 1622 is a period only for reckoning recorded Banton history, not its pre-Spanish existence.

Unang Usbor, on the other hand, is literally the first fresh outgrowth or bud of a plant in the Asi language. Usbor means the first sign of a plant’s life and, taken in the context of life itself, it means hope—hope of survival and of growth.

Thus, 1622-Unang Usbor—as band members Jake Faigao, Bong Faigao, Cecille Fetalvero, Tupi Fedelin, Archie Faigao, and Andres Fababeir, Jr. call themselves as a group—is not only original. It is also historical and pregnant with symbolisms, as well as reflective of the inherent creativity among members of the Asi tribe. Whoever thought of the band’s name had an acute sense of drama and historical perspective. He/she deserves praise.

Which also goes true with the music of 1622-Unang Usbor.

When I first saw Lyndon’s post of the band’s performance of Bantoon, Banwang Pinalangga, a Filamer Fegalan composition (2003), my mind raced to fathom the depths of the Bantoanon soul’s pathos. Having Bantoanon blood in my veins myself, it was not difficult for me, a Sibalenhon, to conclude that 1622-Unang Usbor races, too, like the Fegalan piece, to claim through their craft a unique identity—the Asi identity.

And now the Asi is singing, and singing heartily. Lend them our ears, for their music, like the poetry of Ish Fabicon and Lyndon Fadri, is no longer theirs alone. It is ours as Asi people. It is an additional identikit, a badge of honor we can carry wherever we go. No, wherever we roam, for the Asi is a roaming people.

Now, no amount of criticism, if any will come 1622-Unang Usbor’s way, can diminish the dreaming that ASCCA President Abner Faminiano, Manong Ish, and Jake Faigao, the band’s leader, invested in 1622-Unang Usbor’s coming into being.

According to Lyndon, it was Abner and Manong Ish who facilitated the acquisition of the band’s instruments from the Ugat-Faigao clan in the United States early this year, which enabled the band to rehearse their repertoire in time for the band’s launching last May 6, a date that Lyndon described as the “unveiling of fresh Bantoanon musical talent and a reawakening of Bantoanon consciousness of its culture and history”.

I have not met the band members, but have heard Jake (lead guitar/lead vocals), Bong (bass guitar), Cecille (lead vocals), Tupi (rhythm guitar/keyboard), Archie (drums), and Andres (rhythm guitar and also sound technician) perform.

What can I say, in addition to my raw observation that the Asi is now singing?

Listen to them. Or, better, as an Asi, sing their songs with them. That’s what I should say. Invite them. Celebrate your birthdays and other special occasions with the 1622-Unang Usbor as your front act performers, instead of the ubiquitous karaoke that emits noise rather than music, and which invites mayhem and murder, if news stories are to be believed about people getting knifed to death because they sang My Way out of key.

Lyndon says the band also plays popular English songs and Asi adaptations of both English and Tagalog songs. “The band aims to encourage the flourishing of the Asi language and Bantoanon artistic expression through music by playing mostly Asi songs and adaptations,” he said.

He reported that among the songs presented during the band’s launch were Tamboy Tamboy Agong, Pamintana, Usang Pananamgo, Ako'y Usang Pispis and Ciribiribin. “They also played Sinakugan, their adaptation of the English song Never on a Sunday (which itself is an adaptation from the original Greek song by Manos Hadjidakis) and Pagbalik, their adaptation of Pagbabalik, the song by Lolita Carbon and Pendong Aban, Jr., popularly known as the folk music band, Asin,” Lyndon writes.

“1622 also performed some of their original compositions that night, including Unang Buscar, a somber song about unrequited love; Kuto't Baylehan, an upbeat song inspired by the baylehan, one of Romblon's much-loved social activities; and my instant favorite, Martir,” he added.

I myself have listened to the band’s performance of Pamintana, also at Lyndon’s U-tube post at the Sanrokan website, and I was so moved by its haunting melody that I resolved to sit down with the band soon and do an interview.

Now, go and visit the Sanrokan website.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Kayog nak Pabuta: Usang dominggong bingo

Sa usang dominggo, sa ika-22 it Hunyo, maragipon ka mga miyembro it Kusog Sibalenhon, Inc. (KSI o Kusog) sa Lipa para sa usang okasyong pangkasadyahan nak inggwa it pagserbisyong higako.

Kag okasyon ay sugay nak ging mana it mga Pilipino sa Kastila, pero naging dibersyon o palipasan it oras it mga tawo. Sa Sibale, nak popular kali, ay mga kabade ka karam-ang nag-iidamo it bingo. Ing ka Dominggo pagkatapos it simba, ka ginda ninra ay sa bingohan.

Sa Luzon ay naging sugay nak ragkuan ka bingo. Ag naging adlaw-adlaw wiy; maghapon; ag pabuta ka taya.

Kag pabingo it Kusog ay tunga sa adlaw yang, ag naghihigako nak makatipon it pondo para sa
capability building program it ka organisasyon.

Sa mga waya nakakasador, ka Kusog ay usang non-profit non-government membership organization nak ging patulay it mga Sibalenhon para magbulig sa inra ikakaando ay ikakauswag. Inggwa it mga nakalinyang programang pang pangabuhi ka Kusog ngasing nak 2008, kada nag-iiskusar nak mapakusog ka kapabilidad nak mag implementar it mga proyekto.

Kag huling magpulong kag Board of Trustees it Kusog, napagkasugtanan nak kag pa-bingo ay ata-onon nak Dominggo agor maramong Sibalenhon ka makaka-atendir. Mas maramo, mas masadya. Kada kag “blurb” it paidamo ay ging ayaba namong “Usang Dominggong Pabingo”. “Kayog nak Pabuta” ka ang naisipan nak titulo it kaling fund-raising event.

For many years, Sibalenhon organizations, civic and otherwise, have sprouted on the ground purportedly to serve as formal mechanisms for socio-economic, cultural, and educational activities and as vehicles for the expressions of the members’ longing and aspirations. Initially, these organizations were so enthusiastic and fired up, but in the long run, they lose steam, sputter, and die as if they didn’t exist.

This phenomenon, common not only to Sibalenhon but almost to all Filipino organizations here and abroad, had been a kind of warning that when we established Kusog, we were very careful to define who we are, what we wanted to become, and how we would get to where we would like to go. We were also conscious to not to suffer the same fates of those failed organizations whose skeletons of shattered dreams litter the countryside.

This meant organizing with a vision. And Kusog has one. We also have a mission that every member takes to heart. This is the source of KSI strength and the fuel of its desire to move quickly forward.

As I write this, we had just finalized the process of admitting a new members to Kusog. We would like to make sure that every Sibalenhon admitted to the organization undergoes the same immersion process that the founding members underwent—a one-day study-orientation about the culture of Sibale and the values that identify the Asi. The orientation is also a walk-through the process of imbibing the traits that makes for successful organization members.

Kusog is a small but lean organization. It is new. It still has very few resources. But it already has a track record, however brief. It also has an abundance of talented and hardworking members. Kusog also has a viable platform of action that is geared towards helping Sibalenhons help themselves.

Kada sa adlaw it “Kayog nak Pabuta” sa Hunyo 22, magkita-kita kita sa bingohan sa Lipa. Inggwa ruto it papag nak de tawong matao it mga impormasyon kung pauno maging miyembro it Kusog ag kung ni-o ka mga programa ag serbisyo it kag ato organisasyon.

Sa mga inggwa it sarang nak magbulig, nagbabaton pa ka Kusog it donasyong material ag kas nak ipremyo sa bingo. Pareho it kag pabayle namo it kag Pebrero, ka inro donasyon ay a-resibuhan ag i-anunsyo agor masasaduran it karam-an ka inro tagipusoong maatag. Sang-bakitang salamat.

Kung maado-ado ka resulta it kaling fund-raising event, naggagayak ka Kusog nak magka-inggwa it outreach program sa Sibale ngasing nak Setyembre. Abangi ka mga programa it Kusog ag numunot tiy.

Yabot pa sa miyembro, nagbabaton pa gihapon ka Kusog it maneho ag mga suhestyon kung papauno pa mapapakusog nato ka ato pagkakabugkos bilang namamanwang Sibalenhon sa liwas it Sibale.

Ag habang ging pupoor pa ninro kinang mga maneho ag suhestyon nak ging hahagar sa inro, ako ay maunay sa bingohan. Yanat yang agor makaka-iba kamo gihapon sa “Kayog nak Pabuta.”

Hay, panimati. . . Sa letrang “B” . . . Bin-og. Ay, Bingo!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Tiral ag iba pang terminong Asi para sa panahon

"Pag nasagahay ka tiral sa yadag, nainot-inot ka pasahe payawor sa mahabang biyahe pa-Mindoro."

Kali ay usoy sa ako ni Tatay Meming it kag sida ay buhi pa, ag pag ako narurumruman ay naparada nak pay eksena sa sine ka memorya it kag mga panahong buko kinahangyan, tuyar ngasing, ka diesel ag jet fuel para umandar ag makaraginot ka tawo sa panahon it Space Age.

Ka mga terminong Asi nak pampanahon ay lengguwaheng ka balor sa ato kultura ay indi madinigaran, dahil reli gi lilibor ka adlaw-adlaw nak pagpapangabuhi it ka-tribuhang Asi, ka mga Sibalenhon lalo ey.

Ka pagmasir ag pagkanuynoy sa panahon o klima ay usa sa ato cultural pastimes. Imaw kali it basehan it desisyon kung sauno na pugas, na kopras, na paragat, na biyahe, na pamalaye, napuyor it kuwadan, na lilik, na ganot, ag iba pang kasablagang Asi.

Ka hitsura ag korte it buyan, halimbawa, ay marako ka impluwensiya sa mga desisyong pang-trabaho it Asi. Pag primerong ruyom o pag sayor nak pay baroto ka korte it buyan ay maisra, makuli pag kabilugan. Pag mababa ka rampog ay mayungot ka uyan, mayado pag limpiyo ka kalalawran it karampugan. Pag siniling nak kiwit ka adlaw ay sa kaiinit.

It is these terms for the various seasons that remind me of the current crisis on global climate change. Climate change has become quirky, and so does the Asi’s take on the daily weather. Before, we seemed to be so accurate at forecasting the changing seasons. Today, we are baffled.

Filipinos have since the coming of the Americans dreamed of white Christmases. Which brings me to ask if there is such a thing as a red or blue Christmas or are these just conjured up or perceived by the colonial and colonized mind?

Nio ka kolor it Paskwa? And what exactly is tiral?

White Christmas is the color of snow, which occur in winter and which we do not have in Romblon. We only have the dry and the wet seasons. Rainy and sunny. Hot and cold. We don’t have hail here, so we don’t have freezing weather. Neither have we spring nor fall. What we have are kuwaresma ag mauyanon. El Nino and La Nina are late climate phenomena, courtesy of the abuse by mankind of the environment.

So we have tiral, the sudden gust of wind—call it breeze—coming from the mountains that slowly and gracefully descends upon the sea. Our ancestors had observed—seen—the tiral in the sway of the bamboo and in the dance of the cogon grass. For years, they relied on the tiral to push, push, the single-masted pasaje to distant destinations—distant being Mindoro when motorized travel—air and sea—had not yet given birth to sleek airports and containerized ports. The absence or weakness of tiral forces the pasaje passengers to gaor and bugsay, strenuous manual steering activities that can sap the strength of the uninitiated. If there is strong tiral, travel to Mindoro was a breeze.

My grandfather, Tatay Meming, had traded tobacco, mano-manoso and ali-alikir, and chickens stuffed in a tigad, with Mindorenos. He knew when to launch the pasaje and this was the time when the tiral is strong and aplenty, usually in the months of April through June.
July to September is habagat season. Habagat is Tagalog and its Asi equivalent, though mild, is ma-it.

Ma-it itself has an interesting historical reference. It is also called ma-yi and exists as a place-name in Chinese historical texts. Filipino historians to this day debate what ma-yi is or where ma-yi lies. Some point it to Pinamalayan, Oriental Mindoro. Some say it refers to the whole country. The debate, or rather, the confusion, lies in ma-yi being referred to by the ancient Chinese as the place where they traded their porcelain and silk for spices and gold.

To me, an Asi, however, ma-yi or ma-it is simply the eastern wind. Chinese vessels during the early 14th to 16th century were, indeed, already trading with the Philippines, long before Magellan came only to die in a honasan—low tide. They sailed only during the monsoon season, when the tiral had progressed into the habagat or ma-it.

They sail back to China when the season of the nordiste commences, usually in November and December. Nordiste is the corrupted Asi for the northeast wind. The ocean waves during this season races north-eastward, gale force strong, and very dangerous. Nagpapamuti ka nordiste is Asi metaphor for the rolling waves of the northeast wind that poses danger to small vessels.

What if you hear an Asi say, "Nagpupusa-pusa ka habagat."? It simply means the waves are breaking in a crazy, unpredictable pattern—sideward, forward or backward—that makes the sea even more difficult to navigate.

My late writer friend, Manuel Festin Martinez, himself a keen observer of the seasons, used to tell me that he didn’t travel by sea pag nagririlam-rilam ka ragat. That’s Asi description for the waves produced by another wind, the solang, which is an extreme wind pattern coming from the south. Its opposite is kanaway, which comes from the northwest and is also very dangerous. The solang and kanaway closely follow each other after the habagat and the nordiste.

In between these seasons is the subasko, an anomalous weather that develops in short notice as a result of a thunderstorm and could occur even during summer. A subasko can give birth to a hurricane, similar but smaller in magnitude to the ones that perennially pay destructive visits to the US Midwest. Only a year ago, Sibale was devastated unbelievably by a hurricane and its effects are still felt today. The seasons are quick to destroy while we are slow to rebuild.

After a subasko is a perfect calm. The sea returns to normal as if nothing happened. The only proof that it occurred is the destruction that it may wrought upon its victims, perhaps a wayward boat sunk, a boya or bouy uprooted, or a bobo (bamboo fish trap) lost.

Underwater current, the suyog, is severely affected by any of these weather patterns. The drift and strength of the suyog follows the direction of the wind. This is why Asi fishermen always watch for tell-tale signs of the weather before they launch their boats or even before they cast their fishing nets. Any miscalculation or rash forecast of the weather could have a dire impact on their livelihood.

One cannot go fishing or enjoy swimming in a harsh weather. It is wise to wait for calm, or better still, wait for honas—low tide—to pick shells or to sikop it palata sa tubog.

So the next time you travel to Sibale, observe the weather. You may discover in the wind some hidden aspect of the Asi culture, wafting in the fresh air, or floating sa bayor nak tuwasan.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Kusog goes team building

On 25 May 2007, Kusog Sibalenhon Inc. (KSI) went to Asi Ville Resort, a private hot spring pool in Bucal, Calamba, Laguna for its much-delayed teambuilding program. Over 50 members of KSI, including their children and other family members, joined the overnight relaxation bonding. A special board meeting of the Association was held during the occasion.

KSI is the non-government organization I helped establish in December 2007 to provide Sibalenhons an institutional vehicle for their cultural expression and promote unity, as well as to harness their skills and strength for socio-economic improvement. KSI was started out as a basketball team—two teams, actually, the Batlaw sa Lim-aw and the Ragipon—which I both manage during the celebration of Sibale’s town fiesta in Lipa.

Batlaw sa Lim-aw emerged as champion at the fiesta tournament, while Ragipon was at the bottom, highlighting the contrasting fortunes that could be achieved in any sport, be it in street basketball or in professional boxing. The point is that the victory came not without a price: my players needed to exhibit unity, discipline, self-confidence, and perseverance.

These values gave birth to KSI, conceived as it was with the underlying philosophy that if we can harness these values to claim victory in a sport, there is no reason why it can’t be done in the socio-economic and cultural sphere.

Sibalenhons everywhere will attest that one reason why they leave Sibale and migrate elsewhere is to find remunerative employment and to seek a better life. Jobs are hard to come by in Sibale because of its small and limited economy and without jobs, parents are hard up in putting food on the table and sending children to school. In short, better economic opportunity is the single, most-important determinant of the Sibalenhon’s attitude to leave his or her island home.

Sibalenhons in Lipa City and elsewhere in Luzon are much better off than most of their counterparts in Sibale simply because they have access to economic opportunities. However, their economic situation still has a lot to be desired, in terms, for example, of owning a home, having a stable, well-paying job, and getting access to better economic prospects. The reason is obvious. Many of them have not obtained technical vocational or college education which could qualify them in the labor market.

In Lipa City, for example, many of them hold temporary wage jobs in construction, farm work, or in the retail sector which pay low rates and do not provide social insurance benefits or protection. Some others engage in small occupation or businesses which also do not guarantee sufficient income.

As one of the founders of the KSI, I recognized this cyclical economic situation of the Sibalenhons, particularly most of the KSI’s members. Therefore, I resolved that KSI would do something about helping our kasimanwas overcome their present dire economic situation.

Getting this done is easier said than done. As a community development specialist and communicator, I only knew too well that any attempt at a successful socio-economic intervention will only succeed if the objects—meaning the people themselves—of the intervention are active participants and not mere bystanders in the process; are imbued with a sense of vision-mission; and imbibe the cultural and social values that are the hallmarks of success.

This is the difference of the KSI which I again emphasized among the KSI members during the teambuilding activity. I said that KSI, however slow at first, should develop a keen sense of purpose as to what it would like to become as a group. It is the members principally who should internalize this vision-mission process. We agreed, to be very determined and to work very hard to achieve our mission and realize our mission.

Vice President Ludy Fabrero himself was very emphatic when he challenged the members to remain strongly united. He said we already have come this far—getting the KSI registered at the Securities and Exchange Commission as an NGO—that there is no reason to falter, get disheartened and fail.

In February, the KSI had a successful Valentine’s party fund-raiser as its initial business activity. For the remaining part of 2008, the KSI has lined up a series of other fund-raising activities that will strengthen the capability of the association to implement its core programs. Towards the end of June, we plan to hold a bingo bonanza, with school supplies for children as major prizes. KSI also continues to attract new members. Membership in the KSI is a little bit stringent, for we require prospective joiners to undergo a one-day membership orientation and value formation session. All the original KSI members had undergone this training in December.

The overnight teambuilding and socializing activity in Calamba was a spectacular success. I think all the members enjoyed the food and the swimming. Most of them did not even sleep until the wee hours of the morning. As Sibalenhons go, there was much gin drinking and singing.

All the officers of the KSI were in attendance, led by President Chito Fabellon, Vice President Ludy Fabrero, Treasurer Ma. Lisa Federico and Secretary Aileen de Mesa. I thank the other members of the Board of Trustees, namely Geoffrey Senorin, Nilo Fojas and Randy Senorin for their huge presence.

My sincere thanks also go to Leodegario Fojas, chairman of the committee on membership; Ricardo de Mesa, chairman of the committee on business development; Enrico Fadera, chairman of the committee on training and education; Gerardo Fabellon, chairman of the committee on finance; and Noel Fabellon, chairman of the committee on social affairs. It was Noel who cooked the sumptuous adobo, while Gerardo, as KSI resident singer, regaled us with his songs. Incorporator John Patrick Faigmani and member James Aquino were also present and very helpful. I would make special mention of Benjamin Fadera for his excellent coordination of the transportation and for his all-around errand jobs, as well as the wife of VP Ludy Fabrero, Evelinda, my aunt, whose kapeng barako drove away the drunkenness of some of the members.

A surprise guest was Amelyn Labora and her daughter Anna Pilar who also brought her two sons. Amelyn was the team manager of the Ragipon team and her presence at the teambuilding was a big boost to the KSI members.

I quipped, when it was time to go home, that next year we should hold our teambuilding in Baguio City, when Kusog Sibalenhon Inc. will already have sufficient resources.