Sunday, August 3, 2014

Dwarves in the Island of the Giants

Restless feet syndrome, I don't need any cure. 

Isla de Gigantes. Literally the Island of the Giants. It consists of  about ten islands; with the two largest are Gigantes Norte (North Gigantes) and Gigantes Sur (South Gigantes).

The agenda of the trip to this hidden paradise is the  team assessment of the TFM- HEKS Shelter Project and I (together with Ken) just joined. But since we're also Ilonggos, it's very easy mingling with the group. Our two-hour boat ride to the Isla from Estancia Port was full of laughter. We are all first timers and we can't wait for the adventure.
These cute puppy and its aggressive mom who doesn't want to be photographed
Entrance of Bakwitan/ Pawikan Cave
Longon: wooden coffin
Tugkay. It is a chicken or a maya? :p 
The next itinenary is to Bakwitan Cave. Mambubulong (shamans) go here to collect balinsasayaw eggs to mix in their medicine concoctions. In olden times people believed that engkantos dwell in the cave and you can request and borrow any material thing. But this was lost when humans broke their promises with the engkanto such as the time of returning the borrowed items. 
Some said it was called as Pawikan Cave because of the egg-shaped rock formation at the end of the chamber. Our guide said that it was also believed that these marker resembling giant turtle eggs was used by the Japanese for the treasures.  Today, this egg-shape marker disappeared when a lot of treasure hunters for the infamous Yamashita Treasure came. It left several digging inside the cave. There are also  a lot vandals made by some tourists and locals whose sense of "achievement" is to see their name on the walls. Such vanity and idiocy.
If you would like to explore the island and try a different adventure, you can stay at Gigantes Dwelling Place and Contact these very hospitable and knowledgeable people: Rene (based in Bacolod)- 0939. 893. 0248/ 0917.463.9470 or Margie: 0946.2850.457 or Neknek (0998.164.2588).

Urban legend says there was a giant called Tay-og who fell in love with a beautiful maiden but this maiden was abducted and killed by the pirates. In grief, Tay-og threw all the things he saw forming the islets. Another version is there was a couple of giants who lived there and the islets were there children (or the place where their children lived). The other version is, two giants a couple, fell out of love then started throwing rocks to each other forming the islets. This version is quite violent but it made me laugh so hard. They don't have divorce yet at that time. :p

A mountain of scallops

However, this cave is now called as Bakwitan Cave as this also served as an evacuation site during World War II and last Typhoon Yolanda. There were three families who sought refuge in the wide spacious chambers of the cave during the onslaught of the strong winds. .

Considered the Scallop Capital of Visayas, you will not be surprised with the high pile (a mountain) of scallop shells in different colors and sizes at the shoreline.  During  the 80s, when the scallop industry boomed, thousands of tonnes are delivered every day to Iloilo and Cebu. Now, after several typhoons and with not much other livelihood alternative, the harvest dwindled. Scallops are just sold for P140 per kilo here. Since you don't get it cheap most of the time, try the different ways it is cooked- fried (scallop omelette), grilled or steamed. 

Electricity is just from 6PM up to 5AM the next day. So expect the wailing from the neighborhood videoke from sundown to midnight. There is no cellphone signal so for those who are regularly monitored by their partners, you've been warned. 

We arrived late so we spent the night drinking and telling stories and some music swapping with Marcus, the Dutch supervisor of HEKS. The next day is our trip to the parola (lighthouse). But Ken and I was too busy talking to Miss Margie of Dwelling Place, a homestay type inn on the other side who shared to us stories and tourism mishap in the area. She shared how the supposedly tourism  budget  was misdirected by a former tourism officer and spent on the private resort he owns now, which ironically where we're booked. In the spirit of fairness, I wanted to interview the owner of Hideaway Inn but he's not around at that time.

The next stop after breakfast is the Cabugao Gamay Island. You can climb the rocks to have a vantage point of the island and neighboring islets. The combination of wide emerald green and dark to light blue seawater will surely make you say, "Ahhhh this is paradise's lost!' :D

Then we went to Antonia Beach for a game of volleyball, snorkeling, eating of wasay-wasay (another kind of shellfish you can eat soaked in vinegar) and drinking! Here in Antonia Beach, you can see rocks formed and balanced in unlikely ways, and suspended and looking like an installation art. 

But there is nothing much to see underwater for snorkeling. The corals are dead for the relentless dynamite fishing. There is another group of filthy rich tourists who came with their speedboats and arrogance. Sad but the sea and its fishes are bound to dwindle with the dynamite fishing.  And with tourism as possible alternative livelihood, you have to offer a better seascape. And farming (whether container or other parts of the island with agricultural potential) should be considered as an additional source of income. There is not much vegetables in the area so don't expect much greens for your fish tinola or scallop soup. 

As much as we would like to stay for another night but we have to go back Jaro. Another companion has a flight back to Manila and Jan-jan, one of the student interns was stung by the jellyfish. Also heavy rain started and we have to get back to the Hideaway Inn for our things. 

The end of this trip is even more adventurous. Heavy rain and strong winds made us all wet,  (mga basang sisiw) and quiet. No one wanted to sit in front of the boat, except Marissa and I. And we have to contend with all of the waves spilling inside the boat. This whole affair with the (un)predictable weather made us call on the Almighty for safety and protection.  Our saving grace? Prayers, our skilled boatmen and the large cellophane bag to keep all of our things dry.

Isla de Gigantes is full of potential in terms of research and archaeological find. And if I only have a lot of resources at my disposal, I wanted to stay longer here. Well, another island out of 1,707 islands in this blessed archipelago that we're able to explore. And we're blessed to set our foot here and return in Iloilo unscathed. 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Capiz: Shelter and Rebuilding Lives after Typhoon Yolanda

New day. New beginning. 

Our boatman to another barangay. 

Today's catch.

Typhoons Ondoy. Sendong. Pablo. Yolanda. Glenda. 

These are the names of the most destructive typhoons out of the regular 19 tropical cyclones/ storms that enter the Philippine Area of Responsibility annually. 

And every year, we lament on the impact of disasters saying we are ill-prepared. And worse? We will be hearing stories of rotting rice in the warehouses  and corruption in the construction of new homes. Time and again, we know that fraud and corruption are high in an emergency phase as the urgency and rapid inflows of aid can weaken the institution (and more so if it is already weak).  Also, this will challenge coordination work between agencies to ensure all affected areas are covered- not too many relief in one area while those outside of the center are forgotten.  

Take Typhoon Yolanda. For its magnitude of destruction last year, we received a lot of foreign aid (in cash and pledges). The government made a website  of FAiTh, or the Foreign Aid Transparency Hub where foreign countries, multilateral organizations, NGOs, private individuals and anonymous donors are posted. Great initiative I think but here's the catch: You can't download the reports per aid. You can download the full report but you can't open it! 

Remember the scandal hounding Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Region XI through its Kapit Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan-Comprehensive Integrated Delivery of

Social Services (Kalahi-CIDSS) report of forging of signatures and other anomalies on 

construction of houses for Typhoon Pablo survivors? Do we need another disaster before we 

get our acts together? Or how many more disasters do we need to be able to strengthen our 

coordination work?  

Creation of shelters is the first priority of families. because shelter is anchored on rootedness and sense of normalcy. Building new homes then should be durable (can withstand Signal #3 typhoon), comfortable and provide privacy for the family. It is not just about distributing money
 like P5,000 or GI sheets. It will entail a different community reorganizing wherein skilled labor and distribution of materials and other logistics have to be considered. We have a lot of indigenous materials like amakan and bamboo for rebuilding homes. In fact George Bankoff on his book, Cultures of Disaster in the Philippines, argued that  our construction of nipa houses are a part of our adaptation for the disasters that we face annually. 

My dear friend Mel was assigned to undertake the supervision of the Shelter Project in Capiz  in partnership with HEKS (Hilfswerk der Evangelischen Kirchen Schweiz, the aid organization of the Protestant Churches of Switzerland). Task Force Mapalad, the local NGO conduit made an assessment and found out that Capiz Province specifically coastal towns in Capiz Province have not received any aid nor much media attention. Focus was 
in Tacloban, Leyte and Samar. So they started the work and after five months, they have now built 1, 817 houses in Panay (Brgy. Butacal, and Brgy. Bantigue), President Roxas (Brgy.Dulungan, Brgy. Binaobawan and Brgy. Rosario), Dao (Brgy. Manhoy, Brgy. Quinayoya, Doyuc and Matagnop), and Pontevedra (Brgy. Manapao). 

Old and new braces. Rebuilding homes. 
The shelter project made use of amakan (woven bamboo walls) and GI sheets but with additional braces (diagonal braces) for the roof and strengthened the posts by putting cement and iron braces. Workers are from the community and labor is a counterpart from each family. And the house including labor only costs P25,000 each. A far cry with the P550,00 bunkhouse made in Cateel by DSWD. Though Sec. Soliman said it was due to bigger floor area and more materials needed. Let's suspend judgement then until COA report will be released (when? We do not know exactly!). All I can say is, it's very appalling when the government agency and institutions you expect to help in bringing back the communities better will even victimize twice the victims.

For the turn-over ceremony, we went to Brgy. Binaobawan and stayed there for the night. We were greeted by laughing kids and smiling mothers. The program the next day started with a boat ride going to another barangay and sharing of food among different sitios and neighboring barangays, dancing and games. And boy, I never wanted to leave. The crabs, shrimps, sasing (seaworm) and tikhan (seashells) will always leave you wanting for more. 

The people here know they will never be truly safe from more disasters coming. Relocation is not just about leaving and going to another place. Livelihood, memories and a familiar place are part of living. And in their case, they have started in-site relocation and rebuilt their homes to locations that are still near their livelihood, ready to face whatever the next day's challenge will be. 

The mothers think I am crazy. :)
Orange is the new black.  Bounty from Brgy. Bantigue. 
Women taking charge. 
Contrary to popular belief, Ricky Martin lives and now serves as Board Member in Capiz. O_0
Fried sasing (seaworm)
Tikhan (seashell), another seashell you can eat. 
Dance and movement is a therapy for young and old alike.
Sexual allusions.
Eggplant and box of matchsticks (egg is impractical) race. 

Bohol: Charm between the Rubble

It took me some time to write about our adventure in Bohol. Got all tangled up in the busy world of work and I lost my notebook. When I travel I always have a small notebook for doodles, thoughts and what-nots. And this is the first time I lost one for a long time. Darn!

So what can I say with Bohol?

As the whole world knows, Bohol suffered the 7.2 magnitude earthquake. I and Liezl, my perennial travel buddy and together with the new recruit Boni went there during the Holy Week. Liezl's elder sister, Ate Leah worked in Tagbiliran City (Bohol's capital) for Save the Children. After the earthquake disaster, there were a lot of international organizations that came in for reconstruction work.

There were volunteer works for rebuilding the houses and several strategic public infrastructure. What is most heartbreaking? The lives and livelihoods lost. And the community's soul in century-old churches. Churches split in half and turned into rubble. The Baclayon Church, known to many for the place where the Baclayon Childrens Choir made its debut and home of several historical activities split in half. Based on the final report, 7 churches totally destroyed and 21 were damaged. Ten churches of the island's churches have been declared as national cultural heritage, now reduced into rubble: 

1. San Pedro Church, Loboc (built in 17th C. by the Jesuits; paintings added in 20th c; Bohol's 2nd oldest Church.)

Baclayon Church

2. Immaculada Concepcion de la Virgen Maria, Baclayon (oldest church in the island, built in coral stnes and cemented by egg whites. It houses a museum with large collection of historic artifacts)
3. Nuestra Señora de la Luz, Loon, Bohol (locally known as BIrhen ng Kasilak Church; the biggest in the island, built by the Augustinian- Recollects in Corinthian style) 
4. Loay, Bohol (established in the 19th century, built from coral stones)
5. Church of Our Lady of the Assumption, Dauis, Bohol (built by the Jesuits in various style; believed to have a well inside used by the residents during the war; water is viewed as miraculous). 
6. Parroquia de la Santa Cruz, Maribojoc, Bohol (another church built by the Jesuits in 19th century)

Right after the quake, there was an abuzz of disbelief that these churches were damaged, with nothing left to restore as all of it was pulverized As the National Historical Commission chief Maria Serena Diokno said churches form "part of the soul of the community."  There were a lot also who lamented that churches are structures, what is important are the lives of the people.  

There is an ongoing Help Rebuild Bohol Churches by the Diocese of Tagbilaran and the National Historical Institute (NHI). You can donate or be a volunteer, just click the link. 

When we were there, we're advised not to drink the water from local sources. Boil it first before drinking as water has been found out of e-coli. Water table moved. The shoreline of the beach in the municipality of Clarin for instance moved back with a width comparable to a football field. Reports also said that there was yellowish water that sprouted after immediately after the quake in October 15, 2013.

The waves used to be reach the rocks here
We stayed in Bohol for 5 days- quite a long time to relax, discern and also rekindle our faith. The procession during Good Friday was the longest and biggest I have ever seen in my entire life! People from all walks, including chidlren holding the rosary and singing the hymns. And after the procession, as we went back to the Church, there was a beeline to see the body of the dead Christ. What was nerve wracking was when the line broke out in haste to go to the carriage and get the flowers surrounding the body of Christ during the procession. There was crying, shouting, pushing and shoving. It was a frenzy..a show of devotion I never saw in real life. I only saw this kind in TV during the Black Nazarene. Was it desperation? Fanaticism? 

Procession from Dauis Church 

Procession at Tagbilaran Cathedral

Bohol is an island with lots of things to offer- not just the white sand beaches in Panglao, the Chocolate Hills, or the tarsiers. More so, it houses a lot historical memories, of deep-seated religion as well as revolution. I am interested with how revolutions started and how it ended. An uprising,led by Francisco Sendrijas alias Dagohoy was considered as the longest revolt, taking around 85 years (1744-1829) for the Spaniards to quell. Revolt was due to the forced labor (polo y sevicios). But it was triggered when the Jesuit priest Fr. Gaspar Morales, the Jesuit curate of Inabanga refused to give burial to Dagohoys brother (a constable who was ordered to capture one parishioner who left the church, and was killed in the process). Even after Dagohoy's death, his followers continued the fight. 

Tamblot on one hand, is one of the babaylans  who refused to follow Catholicism.Fr. Murillo Velarde recounted their attempts to quell the revolt in Historia de Filipinas and translated by Blair and Robertson, Vol. 38 (pp. 87-91). 

Sadly, the name Dagohoy is only relegated to a municipality and Tamblot, a small narrow street. It was never a part of the official, mainstream tours. And it is indeed a challenge for historians and tourism office to go beyond the usual tour sites. For rebuilding is not only structures as well as our memories of the past. 

What lingers with Bohol? The people's resilience and beautiful sunset. I was moved by the lola who dressed up the Crucifix. They continue the masses either in gyms or makeshift churches, rising to the so called "alternative Churches."  On the hindsight, aren't churches before are not big structures but anywhere we worship and commune together to celebrate the Word? 

As one lola said, "Ang among pagtuo dili gyud maguba (Our faith will never be destroyed)." 

For during typhoon or any disaster, our faith will help us survive.
Colorful banca at Loboc River

To have an undying burning passion of hundred Suns. :)

Thank you Ate Leah Bugtay for being a gracious host.
Good health for you always to continue your service. 


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