Monthly Archives: February 2008

Wish me luck

The article below was written back in 2003. If I remember correctly, I wrote this on several pieces of crumpled paper while cooling my heels at the pier at Abra de Ilog, Occidental Mindoro. I was in for a five-hour wait for the next boat, it has been such a stressful trip so far, and my nerves were frazzled. It was the first time I traveled alone, the first (and only) time I got marooned by a typhoon, and the first (and only) time I bought cigarettes for myself and smoked two in a row out of sheer frustration.

One of the charms of traveling, even the most inconvenient trips, lie in the incidents you come across along the way; amusing little pictures, and melodramas, that somehow make it all worthwhile.

The place was Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro. The situation: raining for three days, rendering roads useless with landslides and flooded areas and canceling bus trips to the port. I could not go back to Manila and was subsisting on a diet of Cartoon Network shows avidly watched by the son of a co-worker I was staying with. On the third day I decided that I have had enough and took a chance that a bus might brave a journey, for the rains had eased down a bit.

I left Ate Minda’s house in Sablayan with a secret determination not to come back, as I was forced to do the day before when all bus trips were canceled. I had lunch at the bus station, and I have been waiting almost an hour when a bus mercifully arrived. My relief, however, was short-lived, as barely an hour into the trip we came to a cut portion of the road where we had to get off and walk across. The road was literally cut; you could see the cross-section of the layers of soil: asphalt, rock, brown mud. We walked the roughly 12-foot gangplank slapped across the gap, at the end of which stood a guy collecting a two-peso fee. We then hurriedly got onto a waiting bus at the other side, and prepared to continue the rest of the journey.

We were not so fortunate, however. Our driver was apparently not content with the number of his passengers and decided to wait for the next bus to unload another batch.

It was to be a nearly two-hour wait, and we were in the middle of nowhere, flanked by mountains at all sides, with not even a hint of a cellphone signal. There was just this motley crew of mini-buses, jeeps, some sort of motored carts, a makeshift stall selling candies and instant cup noodles, vendors selling peanuts, some guys standing around talking and waiting for who knew what. There was nothing to do but sit and wait. I was too restless to read my book. A whiff of smoke from another passenger somehow made me desperate for a cigarette and I don’t even smoke. I walked around and inspected the site and stretched my legs, but was driven back into the bus by a sudden downpour, the latest installment in the merciless series of rains that had been causing the entire mischief.

I marveled at the fortitude of my fellow passengers, who were just sitting around there taking it, definitely inconvenienced but basically accepting. There was a group traveling together or at least knew each other, and they led the conversation all around the bus. They talked about the road conditions, the rains, how much longer we would possibly wait.

At one point a bus did come, and added about ten passengers, but our bus still did not budge, and our driver was just one of the anonymous louts sitting by the makeshift stall. One of the newly embarked passengers claimed that there won’t be a bus coming for at least another couple of hours, but nobody thought of actually going up to the driver and yelling at him to haul ass. They did, however, talk about hiring the jeepney parked nearby. They figured that if we all got on the jeepney it would be good riddance for the bus driver and he would finally be forced to go. But talk about it is all they did for half an hour, until finally one guy who hasn’t said a word the entire time got up and said “All right let’s go” and we all started moving. I was thinking of remaining in my seat and waiting for them all to come back, for surely when the bus driver realized what was happening he would come to his senses and finally decide to go. But this, I figured, is a collective action, and in a gesture of solidarity I got up and joined the throng. We crammed into the jeepney as best as we could, some people sitting on their packages on the floor, but fortunately we did not have to stay that way for long. For come to his senses the bus driver definitely did, and was presently negotiating with us to come back to the bus for we would then get going. The passengers stayed put for a couple of minutes, muttering resentful remarks, but eventually we did get off and triumphantly got on board the bus once more. The little mutiny had been a success, it was another case of a peaceful revolution, and if the Oakwood standoff had ended the same way there may still be hope for this country after all.

I’m going back to that part of the world next weekend. Hoping for better roads, cooperative weather, and opportunity to experience the beach this time around. Pandan Island here I come!


In fairness

I don’t know why we even bother, but going to the UP Fair these days seems not so much as a way to have fun or even be nostalgic, but a way to be hit by several realizations on how old you’re getting. Alam mo yun, yung tipong you begin sentences with, “Nung panahon natin di yan ganyan di ba?” Then after a while you yearn to be sitting at a Starbucks somewhere instead of on the Sunken Garden grass peppered with litter and various non-student pankistas. I don’t mean to be a some sort of fascist about this but the nostalgia trip sort of gets ruined when you see that the UP students are probably a minority in the crowd. My friend Phoebe was going, “What happened to our fair?” and was seriously considering going up to the organizers to tell them than they should have a separate entrance for UP people. I would have been content with a separate entrance for alumni para siguradong maikli ang pila, he he. Seriously, I’ve never seen a line that long at a UP Fair. Nung panahon ko, ahem, you have a couple of lines stretching a few meters from the entrace. The line at between 9 and 10 PM last Monday, however, snaked around the base of the Sunken Garden for a while before going up to the sidewalk and then stretching from the area between the old Registrar building and Educ until Vinzons Hall. But then again, nung panahon ko hindi pa uso ang strict bag inspection bago ka papasukin.

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The Tears of Sierra Madre

(Originally posted in

Just saw this story in, which immediately transported me into a state of nostalgia and melancholy:

Help save Sierra Madre, tribe leader urges media
By Delfin Mallari Jr.
Southern Luzon Bureau

LUCENA CITY, Philippines — Using a borrowed mobile phone, a tribal leader in Sierra Madre in northern Quezon asked for media’s help to stop the renewed illegal logging operation in the mountain ranges.

On Monday evening, Eric Avellaneda, vice chairman of mountain tribe association called “Adhikain ng mga Grupong Taong Katutubo na Nagtatanggol” (Agta), sent a text message to the Philippine Daily Inquirer and reported that more than 30 chainsaws were sneaked into the mountain and were now being used by unidentified groups in their renewed unlawful cutting of trees.

In a follow-up phone interview, Avellaneda said he just borrowed the mobile phone from a lowlander to contact the media to ask for help to stop the illegal activities.

“The media is our only hope to stop and prevent the further destruction of Sierra Madre. Illegal logging stops every time it was reported in the media,” he said in Filipino.

Full story here

I guess there’s a bright side to this. That a tribal leader is actively engaged in protecting his ancestral domain, that the ubiquitous mobile phone has given him access to media, that the reporter who got the message actually wrote about it, that the government initiated action on the complaint. It shows the power of the individual, the power of the media, the power of, well, texting.

Just what the extent of that power is, I don’t know.

Illegal logging has been systematically wiping out the Sierra Madre for years, even decades. It’s one of those situations where the problem seems so big that one is tempted to just despair and give up hope that it’s ever going to go away. The loggers are rich, powerful, and armed. The government officials are on the take. A lot of upland residents are too poor to have much livelihood options other than the destructive slash-and-burn farming. And the felled logs continue to float down the river, continue to breeze through the checkpoints.

Three years ago, the Sierra Madre was the scene of heartbreaking tragedy as the denuded mountain slopes broke loose after days of heavy rains, triggering landslides and flashfloods. The disaster killed more than a thousand people, destroyed property and infrastructure, and rendered farmlands useless.

I had the opportunity to listen to some of the victims during a forum we organized at the Haribon Foundation about half a year after the tragedy. I wrote about their story for the Haribon website, where I now go back to go over it once again.

The article was one of the most difficult I’ve ever had to write. I remember sitting in front of the computer listening to the tape from the forum, trying to hold back tears as I listened to the speakers.

“Hanggang ngayon maluwag sila sa pagbibigay ng permit para mailabas ang kahoy na dapat sana’y tulong na sa amin. Masakit para sa aming tanggapin na yung mga kahoy na yon ang pumatay sa mga mahal namin sa buhay samantalang kami walang maipag-pagawa ng bahay… Tone-toneladang kahoy ang lumalabas, sabi nila total log ban daw, sabi nila ibibigay daw sa aming nasalanta, pero marami sa amin ang walang bahay.”

“Sa totoo lang po gustong-gusto naming hukayin yung bangkay ng mga mahal namin sa buhay pero wala kaming magawa. Syempre po yung mga natitirang nabubuhay may mga pangangailangan naman na dapat tingnan,”

“Ang mga ganitong pagsasalita ay mahirap para sa amin…sa bawat pagkakataong nagsasalita kami ng ganito ay para naming hinahalukay ang aming mga namatay na anak. Pero kung hindi po ako magsasalita ngayon sa harapan ninyo, para ko ng kinalimutan yung pagkamatay ng pamilya ko, ng anak ko.”

Two of the speakers very understandably broke down and cried in the middle of their talk, and it was all I could do not to burst into tears as well. But they very bravely told their stories, because they knew that the world needs to know what happened, what is still happening, in Sierra Madre.

“Huwag nilang ibaon sa limot ang trahedyang ito …kung dadaain natin sa limot ang mga bagay na ito, ilan pang bayan at ilan pang Sierra Madre ang luluha?”

It’s a sad story, it’s one that’s been going on for years, so much so that even the media entities do not put it among the big headlines. Still, Agta leader Eric Avellaneda had enough faith and determination to send in that text message, to do every little bit within his capacity, in search of solutions. It’s a sad story, but I don’t want to think, not yet, that it’s not going to have a happy ending.

Photos by Don De Alban