Sunday, February 22, 2009

Amantaw Greening gains ground: Two Famarins on board

After a classmate, Merwin Mosquerra, posted my piece on Amantaw Greening at the saha yahoogroups, I have received comments, mostly favorable, about this trailblazing project. Thank you.

I will be in the backseat now to give this space to the voices of two Sibalenhons—all alumni of the Sibale Academy, all Famarins—so that those who can hear (read) them will know that Amantaw Greening is, indeed, a worthwhile undertaking.

First off is Floserfino Famarin, Uncle Flos to many Sibalenhons, who writes from far-away Hufuf, Saudi Arabia. His comments are in Asi and English and I am proud to quote him verbatim:

“My sincerest congratulations to you for the success of the 1622: Unang Usbor concert! Pay bali kung na saha sa Sibale ano?

Salamat sa pagpapatanom it dapat ay indi ig lilikong mga kahoy sa kasapaan ag katunggan it Mt. Amantaw. Ibhan bagang gador kinaong Busay ag Hamtik, pagkatapos ay isunor ka Gubon, Gaylang, Ilada, ag iba pang lugar. Indi iy nako matan-raan it tama kag ngayan it mga lugar. “Ako ing mumungkahi sa Kusog Sibalenhon nak maghuman it programa nak ato pinakang proposal sa municipal LGU nak dapat sunron adong maramo uli ka katuyugan it mga yanggam ag mga magagandang kahoy sa bug-os nak isla.

“I also sincerely express here my warmest thanks to Mayor Cipriano for his action on water, roads and power as well. I propose to the SAAA leadership to arrange a special meeting with the mayor and his officials to discuss what we can do to help Sibale.

“I also suggest that Rogel Fornal, a civil engineer, make his own proposal about road improvement projects, and Joey Fradejas, an electrical engineer, to make a proposal on how to close the power supply in a loop network with another generating station in Bachawan.“On health, I think Boy Fabregas can lead a study on how to improve health services. However, we have to hear first inputs from the barangay level and the municipal health office. Other matters could be discussed in the said meeting, which I prefer to be hosted by the Office of the Mayor on April 12, if ever there is still time for them to book it and if the SAAA leadership is also available.

“Asi nak indi nato kali samantalahon ay kita rang tanan ay mapauli para magkita-kita kag tanang naging eskwela it Sibale Academy sio man sinra sa ngasing (miskan baga kami nak mga unang graduates ay mga lolo’y ag lola’y). Mahapros man ka baliw-ang ay mapasulit nak gador.“Kami bagang mga mahalin reli sa Middle East ay inggwa pa it maitatanom sa Mt. Amantaw agTinigban?”

Well, those suggestions are weighty and I leave it to the alumni named in the letter to consider them. As to the question if the Middle East-based alumni will still have tree seedlings to be planted in April, the answer is, “Plenty”.

Now, let’s hear it from Ramon Famarin, a member of Class 1972, the Martial Law Class of the Academy. He writes from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Long ago, Uncle Ramon, has offered to volunteer his expertise as an agriculturist to improve farm productivity in Sibale. It is unfortunate that past government administrations never took his offer, so a lot of time has been wasted and a talent in Mr. Famarin has remained unutilized.

He wrote not only to commend Amantaw Greening, but also to air his concerns about the project. Let me assure him that his comments and suggestions, valid as they are, will be taken into account as the project progresses.

Here, for your wisdom, are what he had to say:

“Whoever (are) the proponents of Amantaw Greening deserve to be commended for their valuable effort to initiate a project which will have a tremendous impact on the next generations of Sibalenhons, particularly those living at the town proper.

“Greening Amantaw, first of all, requires a draft, a blue print, or better yet a CAD layout of the watershed.

“Through this layout, we could at least estimate its size, know its varying topography, existing vegetation, etc., and (plan) the various activities that will be involved.

“It will not come overnight and it requires collective effort not only from the mayor and his officials, the SAAA alumni, but from all the people of Sibale.

“Since it will start by March 1, I only hope that there is already a program of work at hand. But wait, tree saplings maybe ready, but the timing may not be right.

“The dry season is coming and we might just waste our materials and efforts. How many trees (seedlings) are available for planting at the moment? How big is the watershed? What will be the distance of the seedlings? Which tree, which type? Fast growing or invasive, like San Pedro in nearby Agbatang? These are some of the many questions I'd like to raise.

“Amantaw's topography consists of stiff cliffs and rock beds—an unforgiving terrain. The eastern side (as I see it every time I visit our place) is a very steep slope covered mostly by cogon grass. Thus, during dry season, it oftentimes burns to the ground.

“The cycle is a clue that greening the area is a nightmare. We should consider also domestic animals present in the area. They might just feast on our newly-planted trees if they are left unattended.

“When the watershed has been totally reforested, is there a guarantee that Amantaw spring will not run dry? Of course, there is none. Here, another integral work should be considered: the renovation of the reservoir and the piping system downstream. It was constructed almost half a century ago, with the idea of bringing tap water right into the doorstep of households in the town proper. Today, it is still in use, but cannot bear the required volume of the present population.

“Greening Amantaw needs to be extended a little bit upstream, thereby including the Hamtik watershed. It needs fewer trees since most of the area is covered with coconuts.

“I would volunteer myself as a member to green the area as I was raised and grew up there. Two years back, I was surprised to see a concrete tank just a few meters down the two concrete Hamtik wells. The project, Sibale Spring Development, was funded by the German Embassy in Manila. This was supposed to be a backup of the present water system which Mayor Boyet initiated a year ago. I would be pleased to hear if it is functioning as intended. Or we could bring it to full use by also greening the watershed this coming homecoming.”

What more can I say? These two well-educated Sibalenhons, whose hearts are in the right place when it comes to social responsibility, deserve a round of applause.

Tagayi, Polly, it inaga pag-abot. Ag pamukmukon it sumsumang lambiyong.

Seriously, with Flos and Mon staking their reputation for Amantaw Greening, there is no reason why we shouldn’t all follow the track.

Salamat it sambangkat sa inrong ruha.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Amantaw Greening

In Sibale, just slightly above a valley where a stream used to be vigorous, is a mountain place called Amantaw.

No one in present-day Sibale could tell exactly the genesis of the name, but I guess Amantaw is old—as old as memory could remember and, therefore, older than the Spanish conquistador who built a house on the valley below and carved in a vanity mirror on a solid rock. In this rock falls the waters of Amantaw down below the vigorous stream.

The year was 1570 or thereabouts, and the conquistador was most probably a member of the probing party that Miguel Lopez de Legazpi organized to investigate things at Maynila.

That probing party, we now know, was led by Legazpi’s Master of Camp-designate, Martin de Goiti, and Juan de Salcedo, Legaspi’s grandson who was then a lieutenant. They left Iloilo on the rainy month of May—the height of the nordiste, the northeasterly wind whose treacherous waves were bane to many biray or other sea-going vessels, including de Goiti’s flotilla of a junk, a frigate and a paraw.

We also now know that de Goiti anchored in Si Buyan (now Sibuyan), Banto-on, and most likely Si Mira (now Simara) and Si Bale.

In Si Bale, the Spaniards anchored inside the U-shaped bay watered by the clear and vigorous stream from Amantaw and by many other streams from the surrounding hills and mountains.

It is here, in this valley guarded by Mt. Amantaw, that our conquistador settled. The valley was called Suyor, literally “inside” for indeed, Suyor is a cul de sac, hemmed in by the mountains of Amantaw, Amulawin, and Agbatang.

He chose a place well. Then, the Amantaw was forested, so water was freely, abundantly flowing. Then, the natural state of things was undisturbed. Only very few people lived in the island and they had enough fresh air, food, fuel, and water. Amantaw was paradise.

The verdant Mt. Amantaw of old is now gone. Centuries of use, misuse and abuse have exhausted Sibale’s water source. The endemic trees that used to hide her dark, loamy
underbelly of a soil are now gone, replaced by coconuts, cogon grass, and shrubs and bushes that consume—rather than store—precious water.

Still, because Mt. Amantaw was richly endowed by the Creator, it remains and continues to provide Sibale with water.

The very delicate ecological balance of Mt. Amantaw necessitates that it be nourished—to restore its forest cover, allow the birds and other forest animals to return and breed, and to regenerate its water-production capacity. There is a need to leave Mt. Amantaw alone for years so that it can rejuvenate and become more “vigorous” again. The first step is to “green” it.

The municipal mayor of Sibale, Boyet Cipriano, is an environment advocate and has become one of Amantaw’s many friends and protectors. Mayor Boyet is Sibale’s fair-haired water boy, not in the pejorative sense of the word, but rightly the island’s benefactor for he is the one who increased access to water to about 90 percent of the population. And he is yet on his second year as mayor!

The Sibale Academy Alumni Association, of which Mayor Boyet is a member, has recognized the need to “green” Amantaw. It has embarked on a project to reforest the watershed and has partnered with Mayor Boyet to realize “Amantaw Greening.” “Amantaw Greening” is one of the SAAA’s flagship activities in its general homecoming in April this year.

“Amantaw Greening is a laudable initiative and I encourage every Sibalenhon to support it,” Boy Fabregas, SAAA President, had said.

The reforestation project will be launched on March 1 and will run until the Amantaw watershed is fully-restored to its former status as a first-rate forest. The mayor has intimated to me that one of his plans it to develop it into an eco-tourism site. I think this is a long-term proposition and will require a steady hand.

To promote the project and enlist wider participation, the SAAA and Mayor Cipriano’s LGU have also partnered with Kusog Sibalenhon. Kusog has been slowly developing a reputation of being the most active non-government organization of Sibalenhons. It is based in Lipa City and headed by its president, Chito Fabellon.

To jumpstart Amantaw Greening, the three proponents have signed a memorandum of agreement three weeks ago in Manila during an extra-ordinary meeting of the SAAA executive committee and the presidents and representatives of the alumni classes.

I was at the meeting and took photos of the occasion. As I look at the faces of the attendees, with no less than Mayor Boyet staying until the meeting was adjourned (oh! SAAA meetings are eternal—they take so long), I cannot help but pin my hope Amantaw Greening will finally unite all Sibalenhons in the cause of environment protection.

Never mind if they bicker perennially over politics. That is of no moment. What is important is to still have a world to live in after our politicians have cut each other’s throats. Or poisoned each other to death. How I love that to happen.

Environment protection is a cause so dear to me, for I have, in many places of Romblon, witnessed the devastation wrought by the enemies of the seas and forests. They are so few, but very powerful. They are the illegal miners, the illegal loggers and the illegal fishers.

Some, if not many, of them are politicians, and they are using their offices as cover to justify their vile deeds. “Vile”, if you notice is also the anagram of “evil”. See what I mean when I say politicians are of no moment to me?

But Amantaw Greening is different. Oh, it’s a project worth writing a column for.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Buy a shirt and get a feel of 1622:Unang Usbor

Readers who were not able to make it at the concert of the 1622: Unang Usbor at the CAP auditorium in Lipa City last 15 February can still savor the fresh cultural air of the event by wearing limited edition tees.

The shirts are now on sale and costs P300.00. The cotton T-shirts bear the imprint in silhouette of the 1622:Unang Usbor band members, with a small islet off Banton as backdrop and the title of the concert itself, "Higugmaang Rayab-Rayab: An Evening of Asi Music with the 1622: Unang Usbor".

For orders, email this author at or SMS at 0917 623 8842.

Send us complete information where to ship it. For buyers in the Philippines, add P100 for freight. Outside the country, add P200.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Guess who came to the 1622: Unang Usbor concert

What do Romblon Congressman Eleandro Jesus “Budoy” F. Madrona, Governor Natalio “Jojo” Beltran III, Sibale Mayor Lemuel “Boyet” Cipriano, Simara Mayor Eddie Mazo, Cajidiocan Mayor Nicasio “Borong’ Ramos, Sibale SB Member Disodado “Diosing” Atillano, and Banton SB member Loi Fegalan have in common?

Apart from being true-blue politicians, they were for a night lovers of Asi music. They attended the concert of the 1622: Unang Usbor in Lipa City last February 15, and what can one say? I thank the heavens for their presence. At least, they took the time out—and spent gasoline money—to watch a unique cultural event.

I will make this piece one for the books. I will compose an honor roll of Romblomanons who were very supportive of the concert—because they came.

Of course, on top of the roll is the 1622: Unang Usbor. What a band! What a performance. Their music that night made me truly proud as an Asi. I will not mention here the titles of their repertoire, but I’d like to tell you, their songs sent the eclectic crowd of over 600 rolling and gyrating in fun and enjoyment.

I have to thank Ludgie Faigao, the lead guitarist/vocalist; Tupi Fedelin, the keyboardist/vocalist; Butz Faz, who played rhythms; Ronron Favillar, the bass guitarist; Archie Faigao, the band's prolific drummer; and Nica Grandia, the lone lady vocalist, for pouring their hearts out to entertain the Asi crowd. They are superb.

As the night wore on, I noticed that many in the audience stayed glued to their seats. I sincerely believe they loved the band.

Boy Fabregas, the amiable president of the Sibale Academy Alumni Association, a major supporter of the concert, told me smilingly that the crowd was beyond his expectations. He was agog.

Later that night, Tess Felisilda, SAAA vice president for alumni affairs, commented the concert was good. It was, of course, and understatement, knowing Tess to be so tasteful and sincere with her praise.

Olga F. Fornal, Rose Fornal, and Amelyn Miranda said that, too. So did Algerico Abainza, Harold Feudo, Rogel Fornal, Samuel Famarin, Nona Fabreag, and wife-and-husband team Angel and Annie Lambio and their classmates, Nomie Fallarme, Boy Fabroa, Daisy Ferrancullo, and Marichou Senorin, whose sister Jinky’s daughters sang intermission numbers a capella.

My classmates came in full force to the concert. Led by Adrian Feudo, sisters Vilma and Nemia Famarin—all cousins of mine. Yolly Fabregas, Ato Morris, Moret Fornal, Divine Famarin, Carol Ferrancullo, Ric de Mesa and his wife Ailyn, and Asincrito Fababair and his wife. I did not see Mike Ferrera, but I think he was in the crowd. Thank you, classmates!

I salute Ish Fabicon, the RDL-CLEAR chair emeritus, who came all the way from Chicago to help Kusog Sibalenhon organize the concert. And of course, Not F. Magno, who tirelessly documented the band while on rehearsal and during its performance. These two workhorses I would not have succeeded without.

As I ran to and fro on the floor making sure there was no hitches in the event, I met a lot of people whose names I forgot now, nodding and smiling while listening to 1622: Unang Usbor belt out one hit tune after another.

My brothers, Richard and Manny and a sister, Donna, plus my relatives—uncles, aunts, cousins, and nieces trooped to the concert—to validate my boast that the band was cool. It was, they said later. Yamusang nak salamat, mga hali ko.

The largest crowd that watched the band was not the Banto-anons, but the Sibalenhons, mostly the members of the alumni classes of the Sibale Academy. Thank you, fellow alumnus!

Demonstrating his strongest support yet, Joseph Fadri and his wife were at the concert. So was his son Lyndon, one of Banton’s articulate cultural warriors, and her amiable better-half. Lyndon helped with his notebook computer and projector—flashing all through the night some of the music videos of the band which he produced. Thanks, Lyndon.

My thanks also go to the ASCCA officers who came: Vice President Abe Fabicon, Auntie Ping and her husband Antolin, and ASCCA’s auditor whose name escapes me at the moment.

Then there was Uncle Teks Famatigan, the KABALI adviser who stayed throughout the concert. Yamusang nak salamat, Uncle Teks, for herding the Kabali members to the CAP auditorium.

Another kasimanwa I need to mention is Larry Pagkarangalan, station manager of GB-FM in Lipa City. Larry helped promote the concert and towed representatives from the city mayor’s office.

My kumadre, Che Fabregas, was outstanding in her hosting job. She helped me steer the program smoothly. Thanks, kumadre.

I need to mention in the honor roll my staff, Ace, Bel, Mailyn and Eden. They were tired, but were very helpful in manning the gates of the auditorium.

What would have happened if my fellow Kusog officers and members were not around?

My gratitude goes to our president, Chito Fabellon, who tirelessly helped me organize the event, even up to the wee hours of the morning. Many did not know that Chito was feverish the day before the concert, but he soldiered on, mindful that Kusog’s image and reputation was at stake. Thank you, Panguyo.

My fellow officers, Nilo Fojas, Cocoy Fadera, husband-and-wife Mariz and Onyoy, stayed with me through thick and thin. So did Jamos Fadera, my side-kick; Balat, Tawel, James, Jeff, and Tiyo Ludy and his wife Tiya Inday.

Some of the sponsors who helped need to be thanked. Tow of them are George Famadico and Gen. Orville Gabuna. The latter was even calling during the concert asking if its going on smoothly.

And what do I say about those who promised to come but did not? I will not mention them by name. They might get famous, but to you guys, here I say: “Thanks, anyway. Hope you can sleep tight.”

1622: Unang Subor went home to Banton the day after the concert. I felt a tinge of sadness, but happy at the thought that the memories of their invasion of Lipa will forever make a mark in the Asi’s cultural calendar.

Go on singing, 1622: Unang Usbor, even if others will not.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The poverty of artists

Unlike accountants, doctors, engineers, politicians, and business people, many artists in our country are far, far down below the economic totem pole. In other words, many Filipino artists—writers, journalists, musicians, painters and poets—are genuinely poor.

It is not for lack of trying to be rich. On the contrary, most Filipino artists—or whoever consider their calling “art”—try to make the most of their artistic or creative calling, but our society in general, or a majority of those who belong to it, reject artists as a different breed, hence, not to be given the chance to go one step ahead. At the worst, they relegate artists and their work to the fringes of society—if not to some cold museums. Sometimes, they don’t even pay them.

Filipino artists are poor because unlike kitchen utensils and bed sheets, poems, paintings, musical compositions, essays, and other works of art rarely make it to the bestsellers’ list, if the Philippines ever has one.

What sell in our country, because that’s what the people patronize (not necessarily need), are Korean telenovelas and ring tones. At the worst, it’s the politicians who sell. So they accumulate wealth. Rarely do we see Filipinos lining up at the National Bookstore to buy a new title by a fictionist, say Butch Dalisay, who is from Looc.

This is not to say that there are no rich Filipino painters, writers, or poets. Well, there are, but they are few and their rise to the top is through a combination of copious talent, persistence and hard work, and tough luck. They deserve their reward and poor writers, like myself, do not envy, but emulate, them.

There is another reason for this reality, the poverty of artists. This has to do with our cultural literacy.

To many Filipinos, to be culturally literate means to talk in riddles and high-sounding rhetoric, or to be able to interpret hidden texts in lines of poems and songs. Others equate culture literacy with going to the theaters to watch a ballet or a classical play. Still to some, particularly in Romblon, to be culturally literate is to be seen in the company of corrupt politicians.

If this measure is to persist, then we are doomed. We will continue to wallow in cultural illiteracy, if not ignorance.

Artists, to begin with, do not speak or think in these terms. While they are as common tao as the taho vendor on our streets, they talk sense. While they breathe the same polluted air as the port stevedore or jeepney driver and worry about their next meal as much as the factory worker, they also inhale the fumes of human existence and perennially are obsessed about the enlightenment and liberation of the spirit.

The one big difference between ordinary mortals and artists is that the latter think seriously about the human condition and utilize their creative powers to express that condition, so that they themselves and the people whose condition they express about could be rendered with meaning. The former are afraid that death may overcome their wretched condition, hence they are obsessed with "getting ahead".

This is what artists are. Or must be. Their calling is to examine the general condition of humanity and explore and express the truths and falsehoods that animate human existence. The artist who fails this requisite could not be called a true artist.

Why do I write about the poverty of artists?

I do because their poverty is a human condition. I do because there are self-evident truths behind their poverty.

One such truth is that they are kept poor by society that does not appreciate nor understand their calling.

Take, for example, the case of 1622: Unang Usbor, the Banto-anon band which recently performed in Lipa City. The band is a labor of love. Established to promote Asi music, it has already in its repertoire over thirty five original Asi compositions that expresses the longings and aspirations of the Asi soul and examining today’s contemporary Asi society. If you listen to a performance of 1622: Unang Usbor, you would know why I am a fanatic of the band.

But despite of the band’s genuine contribution to the preservation of Asi and its rich musical heritage, I was told that the band is being shoved unnecessarily and unfortunately into the middle of political intrigues in Banton itself.

A few prominent Banto-anons, I was told, have been saying bad things about the band; that membership to it allegedly does not amount to anything, etc. I was also told that one of the band’s members is allegedly being enticed to leave the band for economic reasons. But this is not the worst of it. I had it on good word that the band members treated so cavalierly in one of their local performances when it came to their professional fees.

If the reports to me were incredible, I would have dismissed them outright as malicious, envious, or politics-driven. However, I am a writer first and foremost and any news offensive to artists I consider as an affront to our calling, a challenge that needed immediate response; to be faced, never to run away from.

Well, I know for a fact that the members of 1622: Unang Usbor are struggling to make both ends meet. They have families to feed. In short, they are poor, like me. But their material poverty, like mine, is no reason to denigrate their person. There is no moral justification whatsoever in badmouthing the band, and whoever did this to 1622: Unang Usbor ought to have his or her head examined, to see if it contains anything other than bad thoughts for a struggling, but noble, musical group.

And for 1622: Unang Usbor’s members’ material poverty, I know perfectly well that they abundantly make up for it with genuine talent, creativity and love for the Asi culture, something which its critics I now suspect have none of. Eat your heart out, you culture-poor.

And so I come to the other reason why artists are poor.

We are poor because we choose to be poor and refuse to worship the false god of society—the mental dishonesty that had led to man’s unmitigated greed for material wealth, even gluttony for power.

We are poor because we refuse to be dragged into the mainstream of the rat race, knowing that if we become one of the “rats”, we will in due time lose our artistic voices and get swallowed by the pretensions of the mob—the very likes of the Banto-anons who are bad-mouthing 1622: Unang Usbor.

There is a certain kind of dignity in our poverty, that’s why we choose to be poor—and this is our remaining true to our calling as artists; in staying constant in speaking out against all forms of oppression and abuse in the most creative and beautiful way—through our writings, our poems, our songs.

Poor artists, like 1622: Unang Usbor, countless others, and myself, are not asking for any advance or advantage from society, neither are we pleading for understanding.

We are only saying that you hear, listen, or see how we see the world, and that’s enough.

And when this happens, we are already richer than you can imagine.