Friday, March 13, 2009

Thoughts on an alumni homecoming

Less than a month from today, the Sibale Academy, Sibale’s only private high school, will be host to an alumni homecoming.

This event will go into the school’s history books as the first grand attempt to gather a disparate population whose only common characteristic was that they, once in their lives, went to the same high school and daydreamed in the same class.

No one can tell yet if this attempt will be successful in terms of the number of alumni attending the event. This writer feels this is the lone criteria that the organizers, of whom I am one, have set to gauge the success or failure of the April 11-14 gathering.

Which is unfortunate, if you consider past experiences of alumni homecomings elsewhere.
The fact is that alumni homecomings, regardless of how well-publicized and well-organized they are, are really only social events and, therefore, do not acquire the urgency of say, a job interview or a visit to the dentist, to be red-marked in an alumnus’ calendar.

One may debate the merits of this observation, but yes, the 2009 Sibale Academy Grand Alumni Homecoming which has been in the drawing board for over a year does not register in the radar of ALL alumni.

This seems to be the cause of exasperation of many of us in the Sibale Academy Alumni Association (SAAA) when we meet with empty stomachs last Friday at my office along Sen. Gil Puyat Avenue in Pasay City. To say that we were fretting was an understatement. Tess Felisilda, VP for Alumni Affairs, succinctly expressed for all of us our deathly worry—that very few alumni might attend, given the cold and pathetic response of many to our urgent call to participate, to contribute to the finances, to attend the meetings, and to comply with other “impositions”, such as responding to e-mails and text messages.

I can only empathize with Tess. It is really difficult to take a leading role in such an initiative. Boy Fabregas, the SAAA president, admitted to me after the meeting (it was already well past midnight) that we were really in a Catch 22 situation—damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

The question is: Why are we still at it? Why, even if only very few alumni hear our calls and pleas, are we still attending meetings after meetings and devoting precious time of our waking hours to organize the event?

No one seemed to have the answer. Or, yes, we have but are we so afraid to blurt it out? During the meeting, I suggested rather strongly that we postpone the event and went as far as saying that those who claim to not know any information about the homecoming, even if I suspect they already have an idea about what’s going on, should be expelled from the SAAA.

Of course, I was alone in this crazy idea and the suggestion was trashed. So we go. Forward, we go. The problem, it seems to me now, is communication. I am afraid we at the SAAA have not really sat down and crafted the message we ought to deliver. We haven’t even spent a single centavo on a stamp for a snail mail.

I think we are missing the big picture, spending the larger part of our meetings talking about the minute details of, say, for example, how to feed the attendees.

Well, it is correct that you cannot call a homecoming “grand” if the alumni are suffering from the pangs of hunger, but surely this misses the point of the event. The alumni homecoming is about alumni coming home, not alumni splurging on a sumptuous feast. If an alumni is bent on the latter, he or she can go to MacDonald’s, not to Sibale.

I am not saying this organizing strategy is wrong. I am saying it is very wrong.
After I say this, I may be left with only a few friends in the Association, but what the heck. Anyway, I only have very few true friends who can take a criticism or two from me from time to time, and I will say now, rather than later, that we ought to re-assess in the next three weeks where really are we headed even if it costs us a few friendships.

Make no mistake about it, though. I would very much like the homecoming to succeed, and even if it means spending personal time and money on the effort, which all of us at the SAAA have already been doing at the peril of losing our senses, I would still do so—participate and help—even if it means losing a good night’s sleep.

So, let’s talk about it and ask once again: Why so only very few alumni coming forward to help? It’s the economy, stupid. That’s a Clintonian answer to it.

We at the Association should accept the fact that these are hard times. The homecoming comes at a time when people everywhere are losing jobs; when the economy is in deep shit; and when there is not enough moving-around money on every alumnus’ pocket.

We should also look at the demographics of SA graduates. Not too many alumni are what you call financial success. Not many have secured jobs. Many of them live a hand-to-mouth existence. And not many are what you call “salivating” over the prospects of going home to Sibale.
Some of them may, in fact, no longer want to be associated with anything about their former school or even Sibale itself. This is what I really mean when I said earlier that SA alumni are disparate members of a group. Different tempers, different times.

This is not to disparage them, but this, Virginia, is a realistic take of the situation. That’s why we have keep on texting and calling our fellow alumni to go home to Sibale on April 10, not on April 11, because they will miss the opening ceremony and the singing of the national anthem right there on the Sibale Academy grounds where we used to poke fun at each other and send messages to our “first loves” by flying paper planes.

That's why we should advertise in the SAHA Gazette and buy a copy of it for P100.00, because that’s a record of our life stories that the New York Times will not care to publish. We can keep coming back to this record in our rocking-chair years. That’s why we should join the second-day parade and wear our P150.00-colored T-shirts, because it has been a long time since we joined one, and I suspect the only “parades” we have been joining after we left the Sibale Academy have been the funeral processions for friends, acquaintances and relatives who had been called by our Maker ahead of us.

That’s why we should also plant a tree, clean-up our seas, and dance during the nights when we are there, because 45 years ago when the Sibale Academy has not stood up yet, Sibale was still forested, its seas still pristine, and there was still no music videos that we can dance to other than the ukulele. That’s why we should also gather our classmates and try to come out with the P10,000.oo-per-class-contribution, because yes, there will be food! If money’s a problem, sanglaan anay nang libo-o!

You know, one of the main causes of my unhappiness in this world is to see an alumnus willing to join meetings and events, but is hesitant to do so because he or she doesn’t even have transportation money. I am not even thinking about educational attainment, for I know that many alumni who have not gone to the university have this suppressed feeling of inferiority towards those former classmates who have gone places. This, again, is a fact of life. Not all are created equal. Or, to put it another way, not all are equal, even if they were created.

And as creations, indeed, as human products of a school like no other, we should attend the homecoming because we may not be able to attend another one in the next 45 years. Who knows?

So, if you are a Sibale Academy alumni, be grand. Be generous to yourself. Be what you were before. Join us and we assure you, there will be food and fun.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Read . . . then go home and write

March 12, 2009

Sibale hosts 6th RDL-CLEAR Writing Workshop

From March 26 to 28, 2009, Romblon’s literary fever will notch a few degrees higher as the Concepcion National High School (CNHS) in Sibale hosts the 6th RDL-CLEAR Writing Workshop on the Three Romblon Languages—Asi, Unhan, and Ini.

The writing workshop is an annual pilgrimage for young Romblomanon writers.

RDL-CLEAR has tapped Kusog Sibalenhon, an association of Sibalenhons engaged in cultural, economic and welfare programs for the island of Sibale, to organize the workshop. Kusog, in turn, has joined hands with the Concepcion National High School (CNHS) to co-host the activity.

“Kusog is proud to organize this year’s RDL-CLEAR writing workshop, and prouder still to bring it to Sibale, Romblon’s remotest municipality,” said Nicon Fameronag, Kusog chair and who himself is an Asi writer.

For this year’s edition of the most anticipated date in Romblon’s literary calendar, Kusog Sibalenhon has invited Victor Emmanuel Carmelo D. Nadera, Jr., an award-winning poet, fictionist, playwright, and essayist as resource person, and Ryan Machado, a noted Unhan writer, as a critique-lecturer.

Ismael Fabicon, RDL-CLEAR chair emeritus and one of Romblon’s acknowledged cultural warriors, will be participating in the workshop. As in the past workshops, he will share his wisdom and experiences on writing in one’s own language and issue the challenge to the writers to utilize to the fullest their literary expression in their own tongues.

The writing workshop seeks to promote and preserve Asi, Unhan, and Ini and to re-awaken the Romblomanons’ consciousness about their rich language heritage. It also aims to develop Romblomanon writers in these languages.

Young writers from Romblon’s 17 municipalities have been invited to join the workshop. Selected fellows will be entitled to full reimbursement of the transportation expenses to and from the workshop venue and to free food and accommodation. They shall, likewise, be paid modest honoraria for the three-day workshop.

Every year, RDL-CLEAR sponsors the workshop in the hope of mining the rich literary talents in the province.

There will be at least 20 writing fellows in this year’s workshop. Some of them are third- and fourth-year high school students; some enrolled in colleges and universities. Some have written either a poem, or a short story, or a play, or an essay, or a news feature in a newspaper or campus publication, while still others are members of a cultural group and are engaged in a cultural activity in their respective communities. Most have shown an inclination to write or pursue a writing career.

Fameronag said there is much to be gained from the writing workshop.

“For one, it will once again bring to the surface the heretofore undiscovered literary talents of the Romblomanons. For another, it will expose the young writers to the crude tools of the writing craft and they will be better for it,” he said.

For more information about the workshop, call Nicon F. Fameronag at 0917 623 8842 or email him at

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

From Saudi to Simara, Amantaw Greening spreads

I am agog.

I didn’t foresee that Amantaw Greening, the joint reforestation project of the Municipality of Concepcion, Sibale Academy Alumni Association, and Kusog Sibalenhon, which I have featured thrice in this column and in my blog, will spread like wildfire and gain adherents from as far as the United Arab Emirates to as near as, well, my backyard, where my dogs, Zorro and Mizuki, cavort during daytime.

I think Amantaw Greening has struck a raw nerve. It should, for it is life itself which is at stake.

To reforest a bald—well, not exactly—forest is a sacred cause, I told my colleagues and audience during the project’s launching in Sibale last March 1. It transcends politics and political differences. Planting a tree is an act of communion with nature and who can quarrel with that? It is a life-preserving act to plant a tree; to cut one, a murder in the third degree.

Amantaw Greening has taken off. As I cleared my desk at the office last week for my brief Sibale trip, Ish Fabicon of RDL-CLEAR called to say he appreciates the project and said very seriously they might adopt the scheme in Banton. Way to go!

The project has taken off. Also last week, I received two emails expressing favorable endorsement of Amantaw Greening.

I will, thus, feature the project for the nth time, against an inner warning that my readers might abandon me if it’s natural conservation and forest protection that they will all read in this corner.
Knowing that the reader is king, I apologize. But not for writing about Amantaw Greening in installments; but for not writing enough about it. Now, quarrel with me.

Amantaw Greening has taken off. It has now a supporter in Simara and his name is Ambring Fruelda, who regularly corresponds with this author. The project has also magnetized Merwin Mosquerra, a classmate who works in Saudi Arabia, and whom I have not thanked enough for his monumental help to disparate causes in Sibale. There will be a proper time for that, I am sure.

From Simara to Saudi, Amantaw Greening has arrived.

Let’s call on Merwin first. He says:

“As I understand, Mayor Boyet Cipriano has planned this project almost two years ago after he assumed office as local chief executive. He intended the area to be developed for eco-tourism.”

Mr. Mosquerra said that the mayor invited him to see to see Tinigban Falls in May 2007 and he found the place to be “exquisite, stunning and picturesque”.

“It deserves to be restored to its natural beauty and protected forever as everlasting abode of wildlife and plants”, he said.

Amen to that.

Merwin added that President Gloria Macapagal had directed all heads of departments and top government officials to participate in the project, “Green Philippine Highways”, envisioned to strengthen public concern towards environmental protection and to restore air quality within acceptable standards in the next five years.”

I scoff at this Gloria antic and do so most strongly.

Officials only? How about the people? And why should we believe Gloria when she has cronies all over engaged in illegal logging?

Actually, I would like to say that I don’t need a president of this Republic, or anyone for that matter, to tell me to plant a tree. It’s the heart and the conscience that should push us to action.

Amantaw Greening, if I were to understand Mayor Boyet and the SAAA, is a project borne out of the Sibalenhon’s desire and effort to hold on to what is dear—and valuable—to us, which are water and good air and green trees.

No, Gloria has nothing to do with Amantaw Greening, which has no room for political publicity.

“I wonder why we could not get seedlings from the responsible government agency, DENR, so that at least we could take advantage of the government’s environmental protection program. If only we started it last year, at least Mayor Boyet’s reforestation project should have been in place,” Merwin writes.

Another good point, but let me cut you off, Merwin, because you have made some other interesting suggestions which I will have to write about in the future.

Let’s give the floor to Ambring.

“As far as "greening project" is concerned, its importance needs no lengthy discussion; it is an obvious need of many places,” Mr. Fruelda begun.“For Simara, I read a news item about a "clean and green" project launched by Vice Governor Alice Fetalvero. I hope that tree—fruit and non-fruit bearing—planting is a major component of said project. Brooks, creeks and other available areas are waiting—have been waiting—for this badly needed efforts. “Do we need to wait for Arbor Day, anniversary, and other occasions to do so? “Sometimes, the irony is it takes decades or more for nature to nurture a tree to be of great value, but it only takes minutes for humans to cut it down!

“Aggravating the situation is when no rational replanting activity is being done, or existing laws are not being observed in this regard.

“How gratifying it is to know that all levels of the government, from the national down to the barangay, consider "greening" as a major agenda of public service; more gratifying is when the people themselves genuinely care,”
Ambring finally wrote.

What can I say? These two supporters have eloquently outlined the case I have been trying to elucidate in three previous columns. I guess it is time to leave to other lovers of the environment the pitching for Amantaw Greening.

Next time, I will write about something else. Promise.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Amantaw Greening: The launching

To come home to Sibale after two straight years of forced absence is eternal bliss.

No kidding. I think my life would be short if I don’t set foot—return to—once in a while on the soil of my forebears; where I was born, and where I hope to turn back into soil when the Maker calls me in. A Sibale trip recharges my emotional, mental and physical batteries, drained by running in the rat race of city life.

And so on March 1, fellow officials of the Sibale Academy Alumni Association (SAAA)—Tess Felisilda, VP for Alumni Affairs; Olga Fornal, Treasurer; Annie Lambio, AVP for Ways and Means; Chito Fabellon, Information Officer for Ways and Means and President of Kusog Sibalenhon; and myself—happily cast aside every concern and worry, tugged at our backpacks; and went home to Sibale.

The whirlwind trip—I keep telling Tess it was so because we left on the day after we arrived—was a rich harvest of accomplishment and rich experiences. Did you notice the breast-beating? Only an Asi can do that.

For, indeed, we went home to Sibale on a dual mission: to synchronize the plans and programs of the SAAA for the April 11-14 general alumni homecoming and to launch a project that you readers have already been reading about in the past three installments of this column—the program called Amantaw Greening, a joint reforestation initiative of the Municipality of Concepcion, SAAA, and Kusog Sibalenhon.

From a distance, in the mouth of Sibale Bay, Amantaw looms like a lady in green. Actually, my description of the watershed that centuries ago fed the bay by its sparkling mountain waters is it is a shy maiden, with its back, another watershed called Binaroto, turned from the poblado, the town center of the island. Amantaw faces the northwest, Binaroto, the southeast.

On the Saturday afternoon we arrived, Amantaw was still verdant. The searing hot summer sun has not ravaged it yet. But don’t let this fool you. It still needs trees. Plenty of those living things that Joyce Kilmer talked about in her poem entitled, well, “Trees”.

The launching of Amantaw Greening was on the Sunday following our arrival, but on Saturday night, the municipal town hall buzzed with a long meeting—our first mission—with the Sibale officers of the SAAA.

The meeting was productive. Both sides presented their versions of the preparations for the homecoming and at the end, at about 9:30 P.M. (the activity started at 6:00P.M.), we agreed to a final plan, vowed to strengthen our coordination, and pledged to meet again, what else? All this to ensure the success of the April event. We adjourned for dinner. It’s hard to remain sober in Sibale when you are a returnee. Mike and Cecille Faderogao, gracious host as they are and always will be, served the freshest meat and fish. I chose the beer and later retired in cousin Bob’s abode with gin and some Asi songs. What a night!

I don’t know what Tess and Olga did, but I am sure they immensely enjoyed the trip as I did, save for a minor disappointment. We failed in our earlier plan to walk the town during the night under the moonless sky. Tired.

The following day, Mayor Boyet Cipriano, Vice Mayor Pepe Ferriol, SB Members Rey Feudo, Diosing Atillano, Luz Fabunan, and Jazz Familaran, together with other municipal officials trooped to the municipal hall grounds for the Amantaw Greening launching.

In his message, Vice Mayor Pepe Ferriol warned about climate change. Berjoe Ferrera, the PTCA prexy of the Sibale Academy and Isagani Abainza, the municipal revenue officer, talked about cooperation and voluntary work. I, myself, spoke a bit about Amantaw and Sibale history and the long-term impact of the reforestation project.

On his part, Mayor Boyet spoke about his vision of a water-abundant Sibale and the need to set aside political differences to achieve the Sibalenhon dream. He encouraged us, his audience, to help in making Sibale a progressive community.

Listening to the mayor, I cannot help but wonder where the other members of the Sangguniang Bayan were on that day. They don’t know about Amantaw Greening? They were invited, but CHOSE not to come on account of their differences with the local chief executive.

Come on, guys, be politically mature and civil. The reforestation is not about election. It’s about our children’s future.

Then came the ceremony. Tess, Olga, Chito, Bob Fanoga, a cousin and the town’s municipal budget officer, Isagani Abainza, Berjoe, Ningning Fallarme, the principal of the Concepcion Central Elementary School, and myself, turned over to the municipal officials some 340 narra, mahogany, Palawan cherry, nym, and acacia seedlings for the project.

The seedlings themselves form part of an exciting story. They were donated by an alumnus, Yolly Fronda of Class 1973, and her Pangasinense husband, Crispin. They brought the seedlings all the way from Pasi, Naujan, Oriental Mindoro.

Yolly is Annie Lambio’s sister. She and her husband are environmentalists, working at the Naujan Lake National Park, a 22,000-hectare forest, mangrove, wildlife and water reservation in Oriental Mindoro.

Yolly and Annie did not go with us to Sibale because of a prior engagement. But when the sisters turned over to us the seedlings for Amantaw in Pinalamayan, Yolly whispered to me about the need to minimize plastic garbage in Sibale’s shores. She had noticed, that, too, as I did. Mayor Boyet, take note.

There are friends and relatives I need to mention during our one-day trip because they form the core adherents of the environment project.

Ching Fradejas, mom of my classmate Olive, who now lives in the US, surprised me with her presence and therefore, deserves a special mention.

From memory, I remember Benjie Ferrolino , Cecille Invento, Mimi Ferriol, Hesther Fanoga, Mary Grace Fabella, Luciano Fallarme, Rufo Famarin, my pare, Mike Faderogao, Nick Famarin, Julius Fabreag, another pare, Nerio Faderogao, also a classmate, and her wife, Percy; Mariquit Ferrancullo, Dr. Esting Fornal, Nel Yap, Vicente Fadri, Ric Ferranco, Millet Faigmani, Gaudencio Fadera, Grace Magbatas, Gladys Ferrera, Joseph Ferranco, and many more familiar faces whose names have been temporarily blurred by years of absence. All, if not most, are Sibale Academy alumni. Sambangkat nak salamat sa inro pagdangat.

To reforest a bald—well, not exactly—forest is a sacred cause and so, Amantaw Greening is as serious an effort as that of a “magyuyokyok’s” in trying to catch a fish or two under the noonday sun. The difference is that in Amantaw Greening, we’d like to catch and preserve water and air instead of fish, although the ecological equation tells us that if we fell a tree, a fish will die. That’s how close the inter-relationship is.

The project has taken off. In April, we will plant trees in Amantaw as part of our homecoming program. Then we will plant more trees in the succeeding months. Then plant some more. And more. Until Amantaw is restored to its former beauty.

So if you want to be a part of Sibale’s green revolution, reserve your trees now. As in, ngasingey dodong.