Friday, October 31, 2008

Busy with Sheik Makhdum mosque anniversary preparations

For the past days I've been coming home from work at 10 p.m. All for the love of Simunul, Tawi-Tawi. That's where the Sheik Makhdum mosque anniversary celebration's going to be on Nov. 6-7. Sheik Makhdum mosque's  the oldest in the country. Built in the 14th century - out of logs. The four original wooden posts still remain but the rest of the mosque is new. Have already been to Sulu and Basilan. It's my first time to Tawi-Tawi. Exciting. This here below is my draft press release, Maya style. More stories and pics are coming. :)

Around 628 hundred years ago, in the small island of Simunul just across Bongao, the capital of Tawi-Tawi, the first Muslim mosque was built by Arabian missionary Sheik Karin UI Makhdum. According to the sarsila (local histories), Sheik Makhdum taught the Sama of Simunul about Islam and impressed them with his supernatural ability of carrying tree trunks from the jungle to the seashore as if they weighed no more than matchsticks.

Today, only four wooden pillars remain of the old mosque. They are displayed inside the Sheik Makhdum mosque that stands where the old mosque once stood, a testament that the spread of Islam in the Philippines started here. Every year on November 6, the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) celebrates the founding of the mosque.

For this year’s Sheik Makhdum mosque anniversary, the local government of Simunul has launched the Ziarah Simunul (Visit Simunul) campaign as a response to the renewed hostilities between the government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The Ziarah Simunul campaign advocates for the immediate resolution of the conflict through following the example of the Sheik Makhdum mosque where the community gathers to not only pray but also to consult with each other and plan courses of action to promote peace and development.

The two-day celebration on November 6 and 7 will start with a banug-banug pangalay or fluvial parade of Sama bancas or small boats and also feature a kinakan or food festival, and a cultural night of indigenous songs and dances participated by Simunul’s 16 barangays.

Another highlight of the celebration is the launching of development projects, some of which are the result of a participatory and consultative process undertaken to formulate Simunul’s Comprehensive Development Plan-Executive and Legislative Agenda (CDP-ELA) with the help of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) funded Local Governance Support Program in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (LGSPA).

Also included in the festivities is the restaging of the Community Big Book reading to highlight the innovative approach to promoting peace and preventing conflict in Simunul. Early this year, the Community Big Book project was supported by LGSPA’s community peace fund, which brought together elders and traditional storytellers to tell their stories. Teachers then documented the stories while schoolchildren made colorful drawings and artwork, which were all compiled into one book and read by the children during community gatherings.

Organized by the local Teachers’ Association, the story-telling sessions revealed the peaceful coexistence that characterized the community in the past and led residents of two disunited barangays in Simunul to rediscover and retrace their roots to the same group of ancestors who had built the foundation of the present-day communities. Through the Community Big Book, residents of Simunul were able to use their memories of past events to promote present day conflict resolution at the village level and strive for harmony in the community.

The Muslim Religious Leaders (MRLs), ‘power centers’ of Muslim society, also play a key role in advocating for peace and good governance in ARMM based on the teaching of Islam. A good example of how they have made a difference in popularizing Islamic values and virtues as core ingredients of good governance will be shown during the Sheik Makhdum mosque anniversary celebration’s community presentation of the Selected Khutba: A Guide to Social Development for the Muslim Communities in the Philippines.

With the help of LGSPA, 2,000 copies were published of the one-year set of Khutba guidelines to be used for the Friday mosque worship homily with the masjid preachers. The creation of these Khutba guidelines on good governance, social justice, peaceful conflict resolution in Islam, and the like, was spearheaded by the five principal muftis of ARMM and finalized after a series of workshops and meetings spanning more than a year. What makes the Selected Khutba such an inspiring endeavor is the fact that it is an expression of more strengthened and concerted efforts of ARMM’s five principal muftis who come from different ethno linguistic backgrounds, to undertake advocacy on the teachings of Islam that significantly promotes peace and good governance.

A highlight of the community presentation of the Selected Khutba is the symbolic turnover of several copies of the English version as well as copies of the 20 khutab of the Selected Khutba’s Sama version to be turned over by Mufti Abdulwahid Inju of Tawi-Tawi to Simunul’s local government officials and MRLS. What makes the community presentation of the Selected Khutba doubly significant is the participation not only of the LGU and the MRLs but also of Parhimpunan Raayat Ma Kasambuhan Tawi-Tawi, Inc. or PARMATA, Tawi-Tawi’s most active civil society organization (CSO).

Composed of 21 member organizations from cooperatives, non-government associations, people’s organizations, and a private sector organization, PARMATA has been actively involved in the development of an Environmental Code that provides the direction for coastal resource management and economic development in coastal areas of Tawi-Tawi. The members of PARMATA have also participated in the last three major elections as volunteers in ensuring clean and honest elections. Both these engagements are part of PARMATA’s three-year action plan for 2008-2010.

During the Sheik Makhdum mosque anniversary celebration, PARMATA will have the significant role of responding to the Selected Khutba’s contents and to subsequently facilitate the drafting of a Call for Peace to be signed by the stakeholders of Simunul. 

At the heart of the Ziarah Simunul campaign is the grand gesture of both Muslim and non-Muslim residents and guests gathering in Sheik Makhdum mosque for the congregational prayer during which the Call for Peace will be reiterated. 

It is not every day that people of all walks of life gather together at the oldest Muslim mosque in a tiny island far south to celebrate peace. The hope is that this most meaningful expression of unity will inspire other similar acts of camaraderie across the country.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Debating about corporal punishment

Dropped by Ateneo de Davao yesterday to catch the Masters round of the National Debate Championships (NDC). It's the 'fun' round where senior debaters (mostly former college debaters) are tested for their wit and humor as well as their logic.

The mini-auditorium was packed with English and Tagalog speaking college debaters from all over the country. Girls in shorts, mini skirts, pants, heels, slippers, guys in shorts, slacks, long sleeves, tshirts, sneakers, and so on. Lots of gel and more cleavage than I'm usually used to. Plus lots of loooong legs, funky hairstyles and even one girl with dreadlocks. Nice mixed crowd. My jogging pants fit right in.

I sat a the back and waited for around 30 minutes before the debaters were called up and given their motion: whether or not corporal punishment against children should be disallowed. Four debaters on each side - 'the government' versus 'the opposition.' They were given some 15 minutes to prepare their arguments. Here are some of the things they said:

1. In a liberal democracy, parents bring their children into the world, feed their children, take care of their children, and therefore should also be allowed to decide how to discipline their children.
2. Slapping a child is done not without reason but because the child has done something wrong.
3. Of course, corporal punishment should be used as a last resort - after talking and reasoning
4. If all else fails, there's nothing wrong with spanking obnoxious brats. Slap them to get it over with.

1. Corporal punishment should never be an option because abused children become abusers later on.
2. There are other ways to discipline children like talking to them or letting someone else talk to them, corporal punishment should never be the last resort because it can blow out of proportion
3. Parents often spank children at the heat of the moment, to get rid of anger more than to teach a lesson.
4. Inflicting pain causes resentment which helps little in getting the message across.

What I found particularly amusing was how these debaters expertly used the right inflections to emphasize the validity of their arguments and downplay that of their opponents'.
Some debaters though talked really fast and I thought they'd be uh, 'lost in translation' but i was wrong because the audience laughed right on cue. I also noticed that the debaters used 'difficult' words not normally used in ordinary conversation. This might succeed in impressing the judges and intimidating opponents but if you ask me, KISS (keep it short and simple) is still the best way to communicate. Sounding intelligent is nice but the delivery could have been improved. This doesn't necessarily mean speaking slower. Just more relaxed ba. And more poised. (Like Obama. I hope he wins.) Of course with the time constraint, debaters are bound to rush, rush, rush. Their challenge was basically how to make efficient use of the time to say what they want to say in the best possible way.

Kinda like writing an essay. If you're given 1 page to write about corporal punishment and stand out, what points would you include and what would you leave out? What a dilemma this having to make every word count. Especially when you're only given 15 minutes to prepare. Working under that much pressure and coming out sounding the most convincing is something not everyone can do. So congratulations to all you debaters.

I would've loved to stay on and watch the NDC finals that night but I had to go shopping for the trip to Tawi-Tawi next week. Food, earrings, shoes. I'm set. I can't wait to find out who won the debate finals yesterday and what the motion was. Will let you know as soon as I know.

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Teachers disagree over sex

Last night Bel, Frithjof and I had a massage. Halfway through the session, I started interviewing my masseuse. She's 21, has two kids - 3 years old and 1 year old, and a husband who slaps her once in a while. Me: Is he drunk when he slaps you? She: No, that's just how he is. Whaaaat?! I told her to leave the jerk. She said she can't because she needs him to help out with the kids since she can't do it on her own. Me: Why did you have children so young? She just laughed sheepishly.  

When I got home Pa announced that some professors at the Ateneo de Manila University have stood up to the Catholic Church. You can read the story, "Ateneo profs buck bishops, back birth control bill" in PDI, page A11, Oct. 24,'08. This is basically what the teachers have to say: 

1. Women lack reproductive health care and information on and access to family planning methods of their choice.

2. The rich have few children who are desired and supported whereas the poor are left struggling to feed, educate and take care of their many children.

3. Sex education in the curriculum of public schools will help Filipino youths who engage in unprotected sex.

The dilemma: Church leaders have argued that sex education in schools will encourage young people to try premarital sex. 

The professors' retort: It would certainly be ideal for families and parents to inform their children on sex and sexuality, but this is hardly the case.

My opinion: We need more TEACHERS OF CATHOLIC SCHOOLS who have no qualms about speaking out against the Church's irrational opposition to using contraceptives and teaching sex education in schools.

Bottomline: Let's face it, the Church thrives on the ignorance of women. 

To continue my commentary, I'd like to point out that we live in a country where Catholic schools have always kept mum about sex education because, based on experience, the schools don't "want to rock the boat." This is why I find the story of the Catholic teachers so refreshing which is why last night I started a uh, "text debate" about it with my former colleagues from Ateneo de Davao University. Here's what they said:

Theology titsr: Yu nid consensus 2 teach sex educ in ADDU. Some of us have our own personal stand. Wyl it may be ok 2 speak personaly, bringin d name of d grup, esp pipol wit dissenting opinions, s nt easy. The bill has some positiv n negativ implicatns.

Com Arts titsr: What are the negative implications?

Theology titsr: Depends on whos persepectiv. We hada sessn on that wit a Jesuit moral theologian frm Loyola School of Theology last week. My take is: follow the dictate of your conscience.

Com Arts titsr: What does conscience have to do with sex?! Pipol wil always hav sex. Birth control simply prevents unwantd births - unwanted kc the parents arent ready. They just want sex. Theyr human. Gosh, d church s so m0ralistic.

Psych titsr: Moralistic is an undrstatement. Ancient is a bettr term.

Theology titsr: The church s not agenst sex. its 4 d responsibl use of sex dat it wants 2 promote. Agen, pipol wit diff. view on dis cud always push der argumnt. Everybody s entitld 2 der own opinion man. D bishops hav ders. D others hav. Plurality of voices. Dats wat it shud be. Kaya nga its part of d public discourse.

Com Arts titsr: Hay cgeg discours. Hangtod ra sa discours. These priests and bishops are al talk, quick to condemn if its not NATURAL FAMILY PLANNING. So ur saying d church thinks birth control s iresponsible? Oh cm0n! My opinion is the church as a bunch of males who thnk theyr betr than women, who thnk they hav al d answrs, who nid lotsa money to be christlike. 

Psych titsr: Women shud hold half of d CHURCH's SACRED GROUNDS. Wat shud prevail at the end of d day shud b civil ethics and nt D CHURCH HEGEMONIC DECREES. Amen 2 dat.

Sociology titsr: Kulang ang studnts sa love educ. Akala to love is to open up one's self to be unprotected. Inviting disaster. 

Mass Com titsr: Kay walay maayong sex ed.

Sociology titsr: Meron baya. Pretty good sex ed my girls have. Sage is in grade 5. Lesson nila 2 days ago. Li was quizzing the smaller one at dinner. I cover that in pop and demography when i teach socio 111, pero 2 late by then. Alam na ng freshmen. In soc of d family i deconstruct d constelation pero 10 mil gid ang students ko, kalahati bading. Yati.

Mas Com titsr: LOL!

Sociology titsr:
Anyway, most schooled catholics pay lip svc to d church's stand. They'r likely 2 plan their families. Its the unschooled catholics we shd reach.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008


I get crazy sometimes. By the noise at work and at home. Am my ears getting more sensitive I often wonder? Or is it because the world is becoming more crowded? 

The days are getting shorter and the nights longer. I check the clock the moment the sun begins to sink. That's around 5 p.m. By 5:20 p.m. It's dark na and all the street lights are on. The next day, I'm awakened at 5:30 a.m. by loud music about God. Five-thirty! I grumble and try to go back to sleep but the lyrics penetrate my head. I can't listen to my own dreams. Covering my ears doesn't help either. The music is simply too loud - and my room is right next to the neighbors.For a while I tried sleeping early and waking up early to go to the gym. It worked. I felt invigorated. Exercise in the morning and i feel like superwoman. 

But you know, sometimes, a hardworking girl like me who stays in he office often till 8 p.m. or longer, likes to sleep in till 7:30 a.m. It doesn't help if the neighbors are early birds and want the whole neighborhood to wake up with them. Hay naku uy. 

So anyway, one day, when my eyebags were chin deep na, i decided enough is enough. I wrapped myself in a towel against the morning chill and with disheveled hair, went to the neighbors to plead with them not to play loud music until after 8 a.m. For a while, the music stopped. When the music started again, the volume was much softer than before. 

These past days, however, it seems the neighbors have forgotten our deal. So I think that soon, I'm going to send them a Christmas card, thanking them for trying to keep the music low. I'm still thinking about how to write it nicely yet concisely in order to achieve my desired results. Any other suggestions anyone? 

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Testimonies from halal consumers

Bai Raga Mustapha is 63 years old and has 11 children. She lives with her husband and youngest son, as well as her sister’s children and their children, in one house in Barangay Solon, Sultan Mastura municipality, Shariff Kabunsuan. The 150 families living in Barangay Solon are related to each other in one way or another; the result of Bai Raga’s father having married and divorced more than 10 times.

During a visit, Bai Raga talked about the difficulty of going to the market and buying food that is halal or permissible by the Holy Qur’an. Fortunately she is able to buy what she needs from the brother of her father’s former tenant who sells poultry and beef which he gets from a respectable Muslim man who has gone on a pilgrimage to Mecca. Bai Raga explains that such a religious man would never sell meat that is not slaughtered in the proper Islamic way.

When she is not at home cooking her food herself, Bai Raga is very careful about where to eat. She does not just eat in any restaurant because she is not sure that the food served is really halal. This is why traveling can be quite burdensome for Muslims like Bai Raga. At least when she is in Cotabato City on an errand, she knows where to go to eat. There is a carinderia or a small side-walk restaurant owned by a Muslim, who Bai Raga is assured, only cooks halal food.

Weddings are another problem because, although no pork is served, Bai Raga feels she cannot be 100% sure that the ingredients used in cooking do not have any pork by-products in them. So to be on the safe side, Bai Raga does not eat during weddings. There was even a period of two years when Bai Raga stopped eating bread because a visiting ustadz had informed her that the non-Muslim bakers in Manila bake cream bread pandesal using margarine or lard made of pork by-products. This made her suspicious of all bakeries and she has since then refused to eat any kind of bread.

Like Bai Raga, Ustadz Ebrahim Buisan, a faith healter and Islamic teacher, is not sure what to think of all the products available in the market. Are they halal or not? This has always been the dilemma of Muslims who look for halal food, but because most of the food has not been certified halal, they end up buying canned goods like beans and sardines, which they assume are halal simply because there is no pork in them.

Not surprisingly, when in 2007 Tam’s Bakery became the first business establishment to have its bread certified halal by the Muslim Mindanao Halal Certification Board, Inc. (MMHCBI), Bai Raga, Ustadz Ebrahim, and other Muslims, started patronizing the bakery for its halal bread and pastries. In those early months, the bread in Tam’s Bakery would be sold out by four o’clock in the afternoon. It apparently did not matter that the owner was a non-Muslim.

Soon, other entrepreneurs followed suit in applying for halal certification. They persevered for months in gathering all the requirements before finally being able to meet the standards set by MMHCBI. As of September 2008, around five (5) business establishments have been certified halal by MMHCBI and eight (8) others are on the waiting list.

Through word of mouth and with the help of DXMY’s popular weekly radio program, Suara na Talained (Voice of Mindanao), Muslim communities as far as Davao del Sur, Tawi-Tawi, Basilan, Jolo and Zamboanga are kept abreast about what business establishments have been certified halal by the MMHCBI. Apart from this, the show gives the public tips on how to set up their own halal business, and helps them distinguish between halal and haram.

For Akmad G. Donia, one of the anchors of Suara na Talained, Muslim consumers should question what they eat. He says, “We should aim for excellence and never be quick to say, ‘this is okay’ just because there is nothing else.” The Philippine Halal Consumer Watch (PhilHalal), which Akmad is the president of, is a group of concerned consumers who formed the organization to do just that. PhilHalal has already made inquiries with manufacturers of Clusivol and Ajinomoto about whether the ingredients used in the products are halal. It has been more than a month yet no response has been received which is why PhilHalal is not recommending the purchase of these products. “In case of doubt, avoid it,” Akmad reasons.

Aside from directly confronting manufacturers, another of PhilHalal’s major activities is visiting schools and other venues to inform Muslim audiences that halal is more than not eating pork. It also involves meeting the international hygiene and sanitation standards of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), Standard Sanitation Operating Procedures (SSOP), Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), and Organization for International Standardization (ISO). Akmad never fails to point out to consumers their important role in the development of the Philippine halal food industry. “You have to drive the demand for halal,” Akmad tells them.

As brand new as it is, PhilHalal has big plans like expanding membership to include non-government organizations (NGOs) in order to make PhilHalal a force to reckon with. Other priorities are to promote halal in socio-economic reconstruction development plan in conflict-affected areas, and to lobby for policy support. Needless to say, PhilHalal is very supportive of all halal certifying bodies but especially of MMHCBI because it is based in ARMM and therefore is the easiest to contact.

A day will come when Muslims in the Philippines will not anymore have to buy products from Thailand and Malaysia which have been certified halal there. Akmad points out, “This stop-gap solution to the halal demand in the Philippines only succeeds in making us Muslims more dependent on what foreign countries have to offer. Let’s instead patronize our own halal products!”

Article Continues...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Emerald Durian Palace

Note: Went to Cotabato City for 5 days and interviewed 10 people. Actually 12. One I interviewed in Davao and the other one I interviewed over the phone. This here below is a result of the interview I had over the phone.

In Tagum City, there are about 1,032 hectares planted with durian trees. Famers are motivated to grow durian through a city government scheme that offers them seeds, fertilizers and trainings in how to start their own durian farms. Only during the fourth year when the first durian fruits are harvested, does the government collect 30% of the costs of the inputs which the farmer availed of.

Alma Uy, whose family has been cultivating durian in some 50 hectares of land in Tagum City since 1995, does not regard these other durian farmers as competition. In fact, Alma has always been eager to help out and buy the surplus of others in order to use as main ingredient for her growing business: Emerald Durian Palace. In this 40 feet wide and 64 feet long durian processing plant, some 10 workers create more than 20 different kinds of durian-filled delicacies such as durian buns, durian loafs, Brazo de Mercedes with durian filling, durian cake, durian blondies, durian cashew bars, etc.

The durian jam, in particular, has become one of Emerald Durian Palace’s most sought-after products especially during the month of Ramadan because the carbohydrate-rich durian is an excellent source of energy for fasting Muslims. Alma proudly explains that Emerald Durian Palace’s brand of durian jam contains no extenders such as flour; only durian, sugar and milk are used which give the jam its authentic durian taste.

How Alma managed to build this small durian empire over time is an interesting story. In those early years when the Uy family’s durian farm was still new, its 7,000 hybrid durian trees from Malaysia and Thailand produced more durian than could be sold in time. Faced with low market prices because supply exceeded consumer demand, Alma decided to venture into durian processing – beginning with durian pastillas.

In her search for the perfect recipe, she found someone to teach her and eventually bought the recipe for 20,000 pesos while continuing to experiment with other concoctions. Today, Alma has expanded her durian delicacies from pastillas to cookies, tarts, polvoron, pies, hopia, and so on. These are now being sold in department stores and outlets in Tagum City, Davao City, Cebu City, Zamboanga City, and Cotabato City.

Business has been so good that Alma has set her sights on franchising and exporting. The much-needed boost arrived in November 2007 when the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) invited her to join a seminar on how to get halal accreditation for her products. Realizing that this was a chance to possibly export her successful durian jam to Muslims living abroad, Alma did what the Muslim Mindanao Halal Certification Board, Inc. asked her to do. She hired two Muslim employees, provided all employees with uniforms, bought better food processing equipment, covered all the wooden rolling pins with stainless sheets, put a screen over the oven, renovated the restrooms, and bought ingredients from suppliers which had been certified halal.

Several months later, on July 1, 2008, the durian jam of Emerald Durian Palace was certified halal by the MMHCBI who also offered to help distribute the product to other Muslim-dominated areas in Mindanao. In no time, sales doubled, especially in Cotabato City area where the armed conflict has not managed to halt transportation. Alma, nevertheless, remains invigorated by the MMHCBI’s support and is bent on having one product certified halal every two months.

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Tam's Bakery

Note: This story I wrote based on the interview with Tony Chi, the owner of Tam's Bakery. It's interesting how his family stayed in Cotabato City and persevered in their business even when many other Chinese gave up and left. As a result, Tam's Bakery is Cotabato City's oldest bakery today. 

The late Chi Tham was born in Guangzhow, China but moved to the Philippines to work as an apprentice with Victoria Biskit Company. The stint with the cookie factory eventually motivated him to put up his own bakery in Cotabato City on October 6, 1946. He aptly named it Tam’s Bakery, after himself.

Sixty-two years have passed since then. Son Tony Chi, a Christian, continues running the family business in a predominantly Muslim community. Understandably his Muslim clients, Tony says, prefer that the pastries and bread they buy do not contain any pork fat. This is why when the Muslim Mindanao Halal Certification Board, Inc. (MMHCBI) sent a letter in 2007 inviting Tam’s Bakery to get certified halal, Tony immediately complied. This was his chance to erase the doubts of his Muslim customers that the ingredients used by Tam’s Bakery are halal and permissible by the Holy Qu’ran and by food technologists.

Tony wasted no time giving MMHCBI all the government permits that it asked for as well as a list of all the ingredients used by Tam’s Bakery. This was how Tony discovered that the halal dough improver, the dough conditioner and the dough emulsifier – products of Malaysia – were already certified halal. Other ingredients which were not halal because they contained alcohol, for instance, were either removed or replaced with non-alcoholic ingredients. Upon the recommendation of the MMHCBI, a new stainless steel bakery table was made to replace the plastic bakery table. Another major improvement was the hiring of Muslim employees. Several months later, on September 12, 2007 Tam’s Bakery became the first business establishment to be certified halal by MMHCBI.

A direct result of being certified halal by the MMHCBI is today’s 15% increase in sales. Tony says that Muslim clients, who before did not buy at the bakery due to doubts that a non-Muslim is able to bake halal bread, have had a change of heart. Because of this renewed demand for bread and pastries by Muslim clients, some 15 bags of flour each weighing 25 kilos are used up daily by Tam’s Bakery. Business is so good that Tony did not have second thoughts about applying for another year of halal certification. He explains that it would be a pity if he would not renew halal certification now that Tam’s Bakery has painstakingly met all of MMHCBI’s requirements.

Already Tony is eyeing to move Tam’s Bakery to a bigger building where production volume can easily be increased to 100 bags of flour a day. The possibilities seem so promising that Tony aims to put up similar bakeries in other areas of Mindanao when the time is right.

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Aljijiyah Poultry Farm

Note: I speak 6 languages: Dutch, English, Ilonggo, Kiniray-a, Cebuano, and Tagalog. But because I've always felt that I don't really need Tagalog, I've never put much effort in learning how to speak and write well in Tagalog. (Living in Davao City where everybody speaks horrific ungrammatical Tagalog hasn't helped much either.) This explains why my Tagalog is very Bisaya. On the other hand, Ustadz Saguir, the person I interviewed for this story below, doesn't speak English very well. I could've just spoken to him in Bisaya yet for some reason I always shifted to Tagalog and probably looked a bit foolish trying to cope with the language gap by at times, speaking in a mixture of English and Bisaya and then translating this into Tagalog. Such is the hassle of communicating in a language that's not my best. But then I always think of Roberto, my friend from Peru who came to the Philippines speaking only Spanish and 10 words of English, and 20 words of Bisaya. For 3 years he and his wife Sabine stayed in a remote barrio some 6 hours away from Davao City. Roberto and I communicated mostly in Spanish (which he spoke) and English and Bisaya (which I spoke). But what really made us understand each other were the face and body gestures that accompanied what we said. Madrama kami, in short. Quite tiring to have to repeat ourselves several times until the contextual clues are crystal clear to the other party but sige nalang; I got to learn about what's it like in Peru from a Peruvian! Bottomline is that a language gap will only be a burden if you make it. Don't be shy to dramatize what you mean! So anyway, here's the story:

Ustadz Saguir Salendar, a Muslim, has always had to buy native chickens and slaughter them himself just to be sure that they would be halal or permissible by the Holy Qur’an. For years, this was how he erased any doubts that the chickens he ate did not contain any harmful antibiotics and were totally bled to death and blessed with the words Bismillah Allaho Akbar (In the name of Allah the greatest).

Jaafar Ali, a member of Darul Ifta, explains that after killing an animal, blood needs to be let out of the carcass. Not only is the drinking of blood repugnant to human decency, it may also be injurious to health. As such, halal food not only means no pork and pork by-products, but also no blood and blood by-products, or food containing alcohol and intoxicants.

What many probably do not know is that in Islam, all land and aquatic animals and plants are lawful except boars, dogs, monkeys, foxes, donkeys, cats, tigers, lions, and elephants, snakes and some reptiles. Yet it is not enough for an animal to be halal; the way it is slaughtered should also be halal. This, for instance, means there should be no killing through strangulation, beating, and goring. Instead, the animal should be rendered unconscious prior to slaughtering in order to avoid wild movement of its body.

As a rule, slaughtering of an animal should be fully separated from those that are considered haram or not permissible like dogs and pigs. And every time, slaughtering must be performed by a mature Muslim of sound mind and body who fully understands the fundamentals, rules, and conditions related to the Islamic way of slaughtering animals. A Muslim who knowingly or unknowingly eats food that is haram will invalidate all his or her prayers for the next 40 days.

In the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), however, there are very few halal poultry farms that cater to Muslims’ need for halal chickens. This was what motivated Ustadz Saguir to find a way to start his own halal poultry farm which he would name Aljijiyah, one of the 99 names of Allah, meaning, “The most high.” In June 2008, opportunity came knocking when the Department of Agriculture (DA) of ARMM let Ustadz Saguir and about 30 of his companions undergo a two-week seminar on how to start a poultry farm. Facilitated by members of the Muslim Mindanao Halal Certification Board, Inc. (MMHCBI), the seminar taught them everything they needed to know.

Start-up capital was taken from profits of Ustadz Saguir’s junk shop in Cotabato City. Through buying and selling all sorts of scrap materials, he had saved up 600,000 pesos. He also sold two of his cars for 800,000 pesos. With the money, Ustadz Saguir bought a 2,500 square-meter piece of land in Biniruan. On it he built a 150 feet long and 31 feet wide structure to house his chickens. Two months later, the second poultry farm was built on a one-hectare piece of land in Simuay. Purchasing the plots of land cost more than half a million pesos while the poultry farm structures cost almost a million pesos.

Despite these initial high costs, business is booming. The poultry farms have been divided into several 10 square foot compartments, each containing some eight hundred chicks. The sizes of these compartments are increased as the chicks grow bigger. Every time one gets sick, the problem is solved through a quick call to the vet of MMHCBI who advises what medicines to buy. Ustadz Saguir has also followed MMHCBI’s recommendations about how much food to give his chickens each week, what vaccines to use, as well as letting his employees wear masks, boots, coats, and veils, and using stainless steel materials instead of wood.

On September 18, 2008, Aljijiyah Poultry Farm was finally certified halal by MMHCBI and soon after, three hotels in Cotabato City – Centerpoint, Las Hermanas, and Casablanca – expressed interest in ordering 500 dressed chickens a week. This is a demand, Ustadz Saguir says, that his poultry farms are unable to meet as of now because although they can house a combined number of 6,300 chickens at one time, the weekly production output is still only 1,000 dressed chickens. In addition, Ustadz Saguir is only able to afford 10 Muslim employees for each of the poultry farms; two are regular caretakers and the rest work on an on-call basis when extra hands are needed during times when the chickens are ready for slaughtering and dressing.

In the first poultry farm, there is no running water in the vicinity. Ustadz Saguir’s employees have to collect water from neighboring houses where one drum of 200 liters of water costs 50 pesos. These drums are then transported back to the poultry farm where it takes 35 to 42 days to breed one halal chicken. Strictly no antibiotics are used in Aljijiyah Poultry Farm to artificially speed up the process. However, because there are no halal feeds yet on the market, Ustadz Saguir has to contend with giving his chickens GMO feeds and then, five days before slaughtering, switch them to a diet of rice and mais to get rid of any GMO traces. The good news is that soon, in December 2008, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) in ARMM will finish perfecting its formula for halal feeds and then stadz Saguir will not have to worry anymore about what to feed his chickens.

Another temporary inconvenience is having to slaughter the chickens in the poultry farms and then having to transport them to his house where they are processed. In December 2008, however, all slaughtering and processing of chickens will be done in the Integrated Halal Poultry and Livestock Slaughter House when it is completed. The facility constructed by the DAF-ARMM contains electric hoists, bleeding pails, and a defeathering machine that can service 600 poultry an hour. When it opens, five to ten pesos will be charged for every chicken that is processed.

Ustadz Saguir muses that right now, a delivery van with a built-in refrigerator would be very convenient to have. His next big project as soon as Aljijiyah Poultry Farm is able to meet Cotabato City’s demand for halal poultry, is to set up set up more stores and more poultry farms in the neighboring areas of Kabacan, Matalam, General Santos City, Datu Odin Sinsuat, and Tacurong. Inshallah (God willing) he will.

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Swimming pools on an unforgettable rainy Thursday

I want to put this experience on paper before it becomes a vague memory.

Last Thursday I was inside the 7th floor of Landco building office interviewing Sir Boy, the Muslim Mindanao Halal Certifying Board, Inc.'s (MMHCBI) adviser. Outside it was raining. Hard. So hard that when Sir Boy and I got down the ground floor of the building, we found some 50 people stranded. The whole street in front of Landco and Jollibee had turned into a swimming pool. Further up ahead going towards Victoria Plaza, vehicles were moving at snail's pace and others not at all because of another giant swimming pool.

It was about 5:30 p.m. I'm not going to be like these people and wait till the rain stops and the flood has subsided I decided. In this kind of situation, only the fittest (and the most impatient) get home earliest. Besides, Bel was waiting for me at the massage place near Copylandia and Sir Boy had to be in GrandMenseng Hotel (GMH) for a meeting.

I took out my umbrella and convinced Sir Boy to leave Landco building via the back road connecting to Torres St. But some 300 meters away was another swimming pool. Crossing it without getting our shoes wet would be impossible. I was about to roll up my pants when an empty yellow jeepney going towards Torres St. was just about to make-singit in the traffic. I convinced the driver to let us in and take us across where I promised we would get off again.

But when we got across the traffic and the rain and the flooded streets were so bad that I made a deal with Sir Boy and the jeepney driver that I would go off and walk to Copylandia while Sir Boy would remain in the jeepney till further up ahead where he could find a connecting jeepney or tricycle to Bankerohan and there take a jeepney to GMH.

I got off, rolled up my pants, and with umbrella in one hand, I walked, or rather, waded through all the swimming pools till I reached Gaisano Mall. The sights I passed were freaky: all the streets had been transformed into canals (like in Venice) and every time a vehicle passed, waves would ripple! To make matters worse, all the jeepneys were full leaving people stranded everywhere. I passed some students in their uniforms who were walking in the rain, some even had removed their shoes. But I kept mine on. This is crazy I thought and called Bell to cancel our massage date.

Plan B was to walk all the way to Bankerohan where I would get a connecting jeepney to Ma-a. But never did i get that far. When I got to The Venue, Quirino had become impassable due to another giant swimming pool. I remember thinking I'm not going to wade knee deep in THAT water if I can avoid it so I headed back towards Torres, determined to walk all the way home to Ma-a via Marfori (Plan C). Heck, I was walking faster than any of the cars I passed so I would definitely get home before any of them.

But then just as I turned the corner of one street, up ahead was another giant swimming pool and there was no judging how deep it was. No way out of this one except if I retraced my steps and no way was i going to do THAT. Kapoy magbalik-balik. And what if further up ahead was another swimming pool? I can't keep retracing my steps till forever. Mabuang ko. So I hitched.

Maayo nalang the driver stopped and made room for me in the front seat. He was going home to GSIS and lucky me he'd decided to go via Marfori which was my way. That's how i ended up sitting with a complete stranger for more than two hours talking about everything under the moon, so to speak, while his car inched its way forward. Katawanan. I pretty much told him more than i should have told a stranger but the streets were so wet and I didn't want to get any wetter. And his English and his diction were excellent. Bottomline: I'm a sucker for good conversation. Haha! Really now. :)

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Sunday, October 5, 2008

Financial Crisis: The difference between Americans and Filipinos

It's crazy this Troubled Asset Rescue Plan of America. Some $700 billion is going to be used by the American government "to buy up mortage-backed securities whose values are so down that they've become impossible to sell." 

Checkout New York Times for the complete story, or rather, stories. For Filipinos not quite in the loop of this piece of news, checkout opinion columnist Randy David's "Public Lives" in yesterday's (October 4) Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) on page A10.

One of the many things that Randy points out is the difference between American and Filipino spending. "Credit," he says, "is the lifeblood of the US economy. It is the only way Americans do business." He further writes that in everyday transactions, "hardly anyone pays with cash, except for the smallest purchases." I thought buying coffee is a small purchase but in America, according to Randy, even THAT is paid with a credit card. Filipinos, or any foreign tourist paying a $ US 100 bill for coffee will get stared at.

Randy writes that the difference between us (Filipinos) and them (Amercians) is that here we measure a person's worth by his/her family background, educational attainment, profession, connections, and visible wealth. But there, where there's less heirarchy, a person's worth is roughly equivalent to what s/he can borrow from a bank, or how much s/he can buy on credit. (Randy's US-based sisters and their husbands live in America.)

The point is, I'm getting there: credit cards and housing loans are the average American's great equalizer. So to speak. 

Before, somebody in America could only own a house if s/he had a steady and adequate income. But until recently, anyone in America could own a house - even those who earned too little to normally qualify for such loans. That's because banks had plenty of money that needed to make more money and so the banks gave out loans to almost anyone who wanted them as long as they paid interest later on. That was the agreement between the banks and the borrowers.

Since there was such a big demand for housing, everyone paying for a bank loan was reassured that what they were paying out was more than offset by the rising market value of their homes. The problem was that people were seduced with offers to borrow more money against the equity they already paid - in order to upgrade to a bigger home, buy a new car, or go on vacation. 

These offers were hard to pass by so many took it. They probably thought, so much debt accumulated and so much interest to be paid but so what? We can pay back in time! 

Now look at the mess they got themselves into. People can't pay back! The interest rates have increased, people have been laid off, etcetera. Understandably, these circumstances have made it extremely hard for people to pay back their housing loans. So people have to give up their "loaned" houses. Not just a couple of houses but too many than the banks can handle. 

This, my friends, is the reason why I shall never, ever get a credit card. On several occasions while walking in the malls, I have been offered a credit card but always I say no. Even two friends on separate occasions tried to give me a credit card. No thanks I always say. I have enough money, I don't need credit. Besides, I can see through the banks' motive of issuing unsolicited credit cards in order to spur credit spending. Count me out of this consumeristic culture driven by credit because I just don't like the feeling of having to pay utang for something i don't really need to buy in the first place. Live within your means. Pay in cash. Work hard then save harder in order to buy what you need. 

I realize that's easy for me to say because of the circumstances I'm in - still living at home with ma and pa. There will probably come a time when I do need credit to buy something I need. As for now, I will continue relishing my financial uh, freedom, for as long as I can and continue a lifestyle that's uh, doable. I'm talking of ukay-ukay, mt biking and gymming, no car, no pork, and beef and junkfoods, no unnecessary things like clothes and bags and shoes I don't really wear anyway.

I've put everything in writing so that I won't eat my words.

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Discovering FACEBOOK

Last night i chatted

with Kristine (my friend in Canada), 

Bruno (my uncle in Belgium),

Freija (my cousin in Belgium), 

Anneke (my childhood playmate and neighbor in Holland), 

and just a while ago, Cheryl (my college classmate who's in America). 

I was able to get in touch with people of my long ago past - Vanessa (my college classmate pa rin who's in Germany), 

Kim (my classmate and childhood best friend in Holland), Rose (my classmate in Holland pa rin) as well as former colleagues from Ateneo de Manila. 

Facebook's terrific.

If you know me, and I know you, add me up.


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