Friday, May 1, 2009

Goodbye Philippines hello again Belgium

Went out last Saturday. Kay despedida ni Piet. He’s been here for over a year charming everyone with his impeccable Bisaya and amusing us with his insightful observations about the paradoxes of Filipino culture. Last Saturday was time to bid Piet our farewell dance so to speak. Goodbye Philippines hello again Belgium. He said it’ll hit him when he’s gone. Enjoy the frietjes en apples and fresh milk and pretty spring Piet and see you in Brugge soon. Your diverse life experiences in Europe, Africa and Asia will now make you an anthropologist to contend with! ;-)

The highlight of the despedida night was probably the smug PBA players inside 183 bar. The giants were sitting on bar stools at the farthest end of the bar. Two men (attendants?) were shooing in sexy tipsy girls to talk to them. The most daring female fans approached the basketball players for autographs or to chat and slow dance with them. Our group was dancing three meters away rolling our eyes and shaking our heads at the exchanges between the players basking in the attentions of the heavily made up skimpily clad chicks. Rachel, Emery, Ria and I were incensed by their hip shaking, booty-grabbing, French kissing. What’s so likable about all muscles, no brains? Besides these men are married for chrissakes!

Come to think of it, a friend who’s the owner of the most popular sleazy/sexy bar in town says 90 percent of his male customers are married. Big shots in politics and business who every now and then come to enjoy ogling at the naked female dancers.

I remember asking one of my happily married female colleagues who’s always holding hands with her husband if she's sure he doesn't sometimes fool around. She shrugged and said males sometimes need to visit bars like that because they're males. So she lets him. But she’s quite sure he doesn’t have paid sex with them. (Aw. Just WATCH but don’t TOUCH diay.)

Frits thinks I’m a man-hater because of all my blogs on dishonest men. Understand though that it’s hard to ignore such a right-in-your-face problem that my female friends have to deal with every day (and vice versa; male friends too. Let’s be gender fair.)

Experts on relationships say humans are not built to be monogamous. (Polygamy is human nature. Monogamy is a new invention.) People fall in and out of love and only the most committed survive unscathed by the jealousy, adultery, boredom that plague other relationships. With the work I do, it’s not uncommon to meet males with more than one wife as is allowed by their religion. Probably nothing wrong with that but I wonder how can a man possibly equally love two women with the same intensity?

As soon as VIEWFINDER begins we’ll be sure to explore all the angles to polygamy – why it suits some but plenty not. Just like that Oprah show where she invited couples in all sorts of polygamous relationships to talk about what works and doesn’t work for them. Mind blowing discussions. Wish VIEWFINDER could be like that.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Was ambivalent about whether to go or not. But I did. The escapade last weekend had me tagging along with the crew of Sports Unlimited taking pictures, jotting notes and chatting up everyone. Dyan Castillejo Garcia and Marc Nelson were exactly how I expected them to be; rippling muscles and cool as a cucumber. She had brought along her husband and son and he had brought along his mom. Gene, the assistant producer, Jake, the head writer, and Joseph, Dong, and Bernard, the videographers, were already walking towards Maryknoll’s jetty and lugging along their video cameras, boom microphones, batteries, wires, and luggage.

I didn’t know the itinerary but was mighty glad to be cruising on a rib (i.e. a rigid inflatable boat) as our host, Sonny Dizon, showed the way on his jetski to the first stop: Maxima. It’s a beach house standing on heavy stilts smack in the sea beside one of the jetties along Samal City’s coastline. Perfect for beach bums who want some exclusivity. And perfect for scuba divers who can rent scuba tanks at Php 150 and explore San Jose Wall Cave further up.

Sonny Dizon explained Maxima’s named after the pearl oyster, Pinctada Maxima. Formerly a family vacation house, Maxima has been renovated to accommodate 10 guests at a time who can make use of its four bedrooms, three bathrooms, showers, toilets, and kitchen for an overnight stay at Php 10,500 during weekdays and Php 12,500 during weekends. Additional guests pay Php 300 each and can stay at the cozy dorm attic along the coast with a kitchen and toilet bath that are still being constructed. Definitely the most relaxing nooks in Maxima are the lounge chairs on the deck overlooking Davao Gulf and Mt. Apo. [Bookings can be made through contact numbers (082) 271-2626 / 0921-8520251 / 0922-8569792.] Passers by who can’t spend the night can enjoy Maxima’s aqua-fun things to do like kayaking, zipline-to-the-sea, and the ingenious slide-to-the-abyss. All will be fully functional on May 1. A canopy walk is also in the works.

The second stop: Kalinawan. As soon as the Sports Unlimited crew finished securing their bags in Maxima’s rooms, Sonny Dizon made us jump aboard the rib again and head towards Peneplata wharf where vehicles were lined up to take us over rough winding roads to the opposite end of Samal facing Compostella Valley (Maco and Pantucan) and Davao Oriental (Banaybanay and Lupon). After the umpteenth uphill stretch that dangerously swerved our vehicle, there lay Kalinawan, one of the most charmingly rustic beach resorts I’ve ever been to. The bamboo, wood, nipa, rocks, stones, shells that decorate the toilets, chairs and huts on the two-hectare property have been designed to blend with the contours of the land to keep the place as au naturelle as possible.

Kalinawan’s owners, Vip and Mylene, worked in America for 20 years when they decided to pack up and come home. Visiting Philippine beaches was the first thing they did. Kalinawan, the couple tells me, is their beach paradise dream where people can either relax by the beach or do extreme sports like snorkeling, kayaking, diving, zip lining, and the biggest hit: rock climbing. Kalinawan’s 80 ft high and 100 ft wide natural limestone rock formation by the seaside is a favorite of adrenaline junkies who want to have a go at the real thing.

According to Vip, the best way to get to Kalinawan is to moutainbike from Peneplata. Another option is to take the two-hour boat cruise from Sta. Ana wharf. Since renovation is still on going, Kalinawan is open only for day tours of up to a minimum of 20 persons at a time at the price of Php 1,950 per person. [Reservations can be made through contact numbers (082) 298-5298 or 0918-6420082 and through the website]

While Dyan and Marc hammed it up for the cameras, I had a quick chat with Rey Sumagaysay, the owner of EDGE outdoor shop along Bajada, Davao City. Rey and his team of extreme sports professionals set up Kalinawan’s zip lining and rock climbing and now assist the resort’s guests who want to conquer the rocks or speed down the ropes. I learned that over the years, individuals, schools and companies like Nestea, Coca Cola, and San Miguel, have tapped EDGE to organize outdoor events, guide them on climbs up Mt. Apo or rent EDGE’s mobile wall climbing contraption. [Avail of EDGE’s services through contact numbers (802) 300-0384 / 0919-8172298 or email]

The third stop: Blue Jaz beach resort. To get there, we drove back to the opposite end of Samal facing Davao City. Our vehicle entered a compound with a huge blue slide - the longest swimming pool slide for miles around and its conveniently located right beside the beach so visitors have a choice of sea or pool. Blue Jaz is beside Paradise Island Resort and can be reached through taking the boat from Maryknoll jetty.

As I’m not used to the limelight, our Blue Jaz trip was quite memorable. Never had I seen such a deluge of thrilled fans who showed their adoration for Dyan and Marc by unabashedly taking pictures with their camera phones. I couldn’t help asking Dyan’s husband how he felt. He joked: okay lang as long as the fans don’t start kissing Dyan! Somebody else from the Sports Unlimited crew informed me fame’s not that bad; its perks exceed its inconveniences. Before everything got too crazy, we quickly walked to the waiting ribs and sped to our fourth and last stop for the day: Kembali.

This Asian Balinese leisure residential resort spreads over 50 hectares and is being developed by Filinvest. Kembali’s smallest lot for sale is 750 sq. m., which I must say, is gigantic compared to the usual 140 sq. m.; big enough to not be bothered by noisy next door neighbors who play loud music the moment they wake up. How I’d love to snap up one of these lots and live in blissful s-i-l-e-n-c-e. Pinky, the sales team head, told me Kembali’s a favorite of balikbayans who want to retire in peace and quiet. (Right on.) Sure fits the resort’s name – Kembali – Indonesian for “I welcome you” or “I return my love to you.” Additional perks that homeowners can enjoy are Kembali’s aqua sports facilities and rent out one of the three overnight casitas at Php 3,000 for six persons. [Those interested in checking out the lots at Kembali may call (028) 227-0946.]

I befriended Sylvia le Bot, one of Kembali’s guests who lives in Europe but has dived all over the Philippines: Apo Reef in Mindoro, Anilao in Batangas, Donsol in Sorsogon, Apo Island in Negros Oriental, and so on. Sylvia gushed with typical French passion about her fascination with the Philippines, a country she visits every year. Case in point was several days ago, while working on her inventory of the biodiversity along Kembali’s coast, Sylvia chanced upon a butanding (whale shark)! “Every day,” she said, “there’s something new to see. Kembali’s location at the junction where Davao Gulf meets Talikud Strait is perfect for sighting migrating big fish.” At the same time, Sylvia continues to be amazed by the richness of Kembali’s resident underwater creatures that she has not found in other diving sites she’s been to. For several weeks now, her routine has been walking along the coast of Kembali to scrutinize the shells so that she knows what she’ll meet alive when she goes in the water.

Sylvia mused that it will be a real pity to have them disappear because of development and careless and irresponsible divers who do more than just take pictures. (Davao Coast Guard please take note and regulate diving already so that we won’t anymore be hearing horror stories of divers wreaking havoc on Davao City’s marine life with their blatant disrespect.) This is one of the reasons Sylvia, with the approval of Kembali’s management, has made it her personal mission to finish her photo documentation, and use these to have Kembali’s waters declared a protected natural park with guided tourism and controlled fishing to ensure the place remains a marine life sanctuary.

The next day’s escapade had us going off to Hagimit Falls where we were shooed in at the entrance without paying the obligatory five pesos entrance fee (which on second thought we should have done). On our way down the stairs we met a local, Alex Angcos, who was lugging two sacks of debris. Alex’s in charge of picking up trash and patrolling the area every Saturday and Sunday; a job for which he gets paid Php 200 each week. Filming began as soon as we reached the water where Marc, his mom, Dyan and her son, tried out most of the little and big waterfalls that make up the stretch that’s Hagimit Falls. “It’s like massage,” Marc’s mom kept telling me.

Later in the day after some more kayaking and slide-to-the-abyss runs – first, chest down, and then butt down – we packed up and cruised back to the mainland where we headed to the newly developed commercial area located inside Davao Riverfront Corporate City, along Ma-a Diversion Highway. Our first stop was Crocodile Park where 600 Philippine Freshwater Crocodile (Crocodylus mendorensis) are kept. According to the website, this species of crocodiles are the smallest in the world and were once found in the entire archipelago but are now endangered because of commercial exploitation and its habitat being converted for agricultural purposes to satisfy a rapidly expanding human population. 

Crocodile Park, a privately owned rescue unit of wildlife animals, aims to protect and conserve the critically endangered Philippine Freshwater Crocodile through educating the public about them. Shows like Wildlife Encounter, Crocodile Dancing, Crocodile Frenzy, Crocodile Encounter, and Tightrope Walking let audiences see, among other things, how the crocodiles use their strong tails to propel themselves up to get at the meat. It’s clear that the message of these shows is for us to take these gentle giants’ imminent extinction as a sign that we need to act now to help save what’s left of Philippine biodiversity – including the raptors, monkeys, bearcats, snakes, birds, and other reptiles kept at Crocodile Park.

During our visit, Jimbo the caretaker, was feeding Karlo, the five-year-old orangutan, a bottle of Gatorade. Somebody warned that if I’d touch Jimbo, Karlo would freak out because he’s a very jealous orangutan who thinks Jimbo is his lover. I didn’t dare disturb them. Sheba, the five-month-old tiger, was let out of the cage and just wouldn’t sit still. Like a giant kitten, she was always jumping and rolling around and almost bit off Marc Nelson’s leg in her playfulness! Also awesome to watch were the Philippine Sailfin Dragons which are so called because of the high crest of skin on the base of the male's tail, which is supported by bony projections of the tail vertebrae. I was holding the umbrella for Dong as he tried to film them up close. But when one of the Dragons came running straight at me, I shrieked and bolted.

Davao Riverfront Corporate City features the Riverwalk Grill (tel. no. (082) 303-2387), the Butterfly House (tel. no. (082) 301-5465), and is the briefing area and start off point of the Davao Wildwater Adventure. Beside the river, hundreds of bamboo are spread around Tribu K’ Mindanawan, a cultural village featuring different houses of lumad tribes. A sign at the entrance announces cultural presentations and a fire show every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 5:45 to 6:30 p.m. A package of Php 3,000 per head is available for a day tour of all the facilities in Davao Riverfront Corporate City. Pick-up / drop-off transfers are also available on separate bookings. A group can get a discount depending on the number of persons. (For more information visit

Just before the sun set and we were ready to call it a day, Sonny Dizon took us to Zip City at Hilltop, Barangay Langub overlooking Davao Gulf and Mount Apo. There we got a taste of Zip City’s first zip line which is going to be open to the public on April 18. When the other phases follow suit, it’s going to be a whole new ball game for ziplining aficionados who can fly, so to speak, from one hill to the other in circles.

For sure, the two jampacked days left me dead tired. Yet we hadn't even made a dent. Jake mused that there are more than 7,000 islands in the Philippines so Sports Unlimited never runs out of fun things to do. Especially in Mindanao, the extreme sports paradise. I totally agree.

(The Sports Unlimited visits to Samal City and to Davao City will be shown on ABS-CBN’s TV Patrol from April 15 to April 17 and again on Sports Unlimited on April 18. Thanks to Vitto and Sylvia for sharing their pictures.)

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Thursday, April 9, 2009

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Saturday, March 28, 2009


...given the increasing diversity of America's population, the dangers of sectarianism have never been greater. Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers. And even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools? 

Would we go with James Dobson's, or Al Sharpton's? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is ok and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount - a passage that is so radical that it's doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application? 
So before we get carried away, let's read our bibles. Folks haven't been reading their bibles,       - BARACK OBAMA

"We are here because one odd group of fishes had a peculiar fin anatomy that could transform into legs for terrestrial creatures; because the earth never froze entirely during an ice age; because a small and tenuous species, arising in Africa a quarter of a million years ago, has managed, so far, to survive by hook and by crook. We may yearn for a "higher" answer - but none exists. 

"Some people think of God as an outsized, light-skinned male with a long white beard, sitting on a throne somewhere up there in the sky, busily tallying the fall of very sparrow. Others - for example, Baruch Spinoza and Albert Einstein - considered God to be essentially the sum total of the physical laws which describe the universe. I do not know of any compelling evidence for anthropomorphic patriarchs controlling human destiny from some hidden celestial vantage point, but it would be madness to deny the existence of physical laws."        - CARL SAGAN

"The continually progressive change to which the meaning of words is subject, the want of a universal language which renders translation necessary, the errors to which translations are again subject, the mistakes of copyists and printers, together with the possibility of willful alterations, are of themselves evidences that human language, whether in speech or in print, cannot be the vehicle of the Word of God." - THOMAS PAINE

In science it often happens that scientists say, "You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken," and they actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that has happened in politics or religion. - CARL SAGAN

I get letters constantly from people saying, "Oh, God will look after it." But He never has in the past, I don't know why they think He will in the future. - BERTRAND RUSSEL

I find the whole business of religion profoundly interesting. But it does mystify me that otherwise intelligent people take it seriously. - DOUGLAS ADAMS

An atheist... is a man who destroys chimeras harmful to the human race, in order to lead men back to nature, to experience, and to reason. - BARON D' HOLBACH

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Counting Kids

Ateneo de Manila 4 years ago. Would wake up at 5:30 a.m. to walk to school and be there at 6 a.m. and walk home again before midnight just to sleep and then be off again the next day same time. 

My boarding house was in Dela Costa Homes, Marikina City some 15 to 30 minutes of walking through the 'woods' in Ateneo and past all the buildings, where people say, the ghosts of the dead still lurk. My female classmates admired my guts alright. (Mga talawan. Haha.) 

The whole day I'd be glued to the laptop and taking cat naps on the floor on a mat I'd brought along for the purpose. Every week I'd change my location - Rizal library, dorm, English faculty lounge, pantry, ISO, canteen, etc. Good thing everyone was so accommodating - from the librarian to the janitors and security guards and the Humanities office staff and Graduate office staff. I became famous for being the first one in Dela Costa and the last one out. 

But silently I was suffering from painful strained and tired eyes and a throbbing head caused by my zombie-like state as every sleep and nap was filled with thoughts of how to start or end the next paragraph. Nothing else mattered. Except food. Pizza Hut, Shakeys, Jollibee, Mcdo, and my favorite Japanese and Mongolian restaurants along Katipunan Ave. whose names escape me now. Plus the occasional run around campus and badminton match with BJ and the gang. That was my life. 

Everything paid off nicely when I finished my thesis 3 months ahead of schedule. I was even allowed by my thesis adviser to go to Thailand for a week and to Belgium for 2 months before my thesis defense. (Salamat!) 

But back to those days of intensity I remember most the long talks with my friend, M, who was working hard too on finishing all her paper work. Since I was teaching research paper writing while doing my own, I had in a sense, unlimited access to faculty rooms, and so I graciously offered M to join me there for late night writing sessions. (We each had two long tables. Heaven.) It was during one of those nights when M started to tell me the story of her life. Something, she said, she doesn't tell everyone. 

Cautiously at first she told me she lives in a squatter's area with her family. Eight kids. Her husband is a drunkard and has no job. Yet she can't leave him because she needs him to take care of the babies while she works. Her eldest boy, just 17, doesn't go to school anymore and her eldest girl, 16 is also problematic. Even her younger children. M says it's probably because they lack nutritious food. If only she could afford better and more regular food, her children would be doing well in school. To make ends meet, M has resorted to borrowing money from whomever will lend her. That's how she scrapes together their food for the week, the tuition of the kids, and milk for the babies. 

What a life. 

Me: Why in the first place do you have so many kids if you can't take care of them all?

M: I tried!

What M told me next made me so angry.

When he's drunk, M's husband gets really horny and forces her to have sex with him despite her protestations that she's ovulating and it's not the right time. M said that she had made several attempts to get a ligation despite her husband's and parents-in-law's apprehension about the side effects. When M was about to have her fourth child, she was adamant about getting it done with or without everyone else's blessing. So there she was lying in a hospital ward full of other women about to get birth. Her legs wide open still after giving birth and her pubic hair shaved off. Then the doctor comes and tells her they can't push through with the ligation unless her husband signs the approval letter.

What the f---?!

The jerk doesn't sign the letter of course and eight kids later M's still working her ass off to keep the whole family afloat while her husband continues drinking himself into a horny stupor. 

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Please don't marry me YET!

How would you feel if you had to get married at 14 to somebody just because your parents made a deal and "promised" you to him for a dowry of lets say 100,000 pesos? 

Miss B, one of my colleagues who has to confront this problem in the communities she works with in Lanao del Norte has a ready answer. She says that if this is the tradition of your community then perhaps you wouldn't really mind. 

Yesterday I was so intrigued that after our Local Resource Person (LRP) meeting on the Integrated Area Community Public Safety Plans (IACPSPs) of Kapatagan, Calanogas and Marogong I sat down with Miss B and grilled her some more about early marriages. (Early - as in 14 years old - early ha. Like the girl in the pic.) 

Here's Miss B's story (all in one breath): 

"It's not uncommon to have 5 girls in 3rd year high school and 3 girls in 4th year high school married to men twice, thrice their age. One 29 year old woman  has 8 kids and 1 grandchild (from her 14 year old daughter who married last year). For many teenage girls, getting married is a way out of having to cook and clean and take care of younger siblings. Besides, If somebody wants to marry you, it's a good thing: you're valued. Like a badge of honor. In contrast, for men, getting married is like a business transaction. A young "fresh" high school-aged bride will cost them a dowry of 100,000 pesos. Older, professional women cost much more. Easily a million pesos. So understandably, men prefer them young and obedient and gullible. You see, Maya, young girls don't say 'no' and men like that. Puro lang yes, yes, yes sa husband nila. That's what men like. But as soon as the girls have had 8 kids or so and lose their appeal, the husbands look for a second, younger wife. Until she too has become just a babymaking machine and loses appeal. And so the cycle goes on..."

People, I'm not exaggerating my language ha. Tried to capture Miss B's story the way she told me as best as I could. 


So am I. 

Shocked and bewildered that something like this still exists. In the Philippines! What's really mind boggling to me is how women - who've experienced the uncertainty of early marriages and  soon after the pain of abandonment -  still end up letting their young daughters be married off to complete strangers. It's tradition Miss B explains. While we from the cities feel this is unthinkable, for people who have seen their mothers and their mothers' mothers get married this way, it's no biggie. Still, the 8 cases of elopement this year in one municipality show that some young girls would rather marry their sweethearts and not someone of their parents' picking. 

Hay kalisod sa ilang kinabuhi!  (Gosh, their lives are so hard!)

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Pearl Rosaries

I'm helping one of my pilates buddies sell her multicolored pearl rosaries which she makes herself. This, she tells me, has been her source of income ever since she graduated from college last year. Sheryl (not her real name) is a nursing graduate waiting for the right time to work as a nurse in New Zealand. 

Meanwhile, she's killing time attending nursing trainings and seminars since she doesn't want to volunteer in hospitals and compete with other nursing students and nursing graduates all jostling to acquire the necessary experience for abroad. Making pearl rosaries doesn't earn too much though so Sheryl's mom and dad still give her an allowance. Even then, Sheryl's doing her best to make as many pearl rosaries and keychains as she can because she doesn't want to burden mom and dad. Last Friday, i tried to peddle 5 of Sheryl's pearl rosaries to my colleagues.

Colleagues: Himala you're selling rosaries May. Nagtuo diay ka kay Jesus?

I couldn't help reply: Nagtuo ko nga si Jesus tinuod na tao pero di ko sure kung siya ba jud si Lord.

(Head shaking laughter.)

But seriously, do I believe in God? - people always want to know. 

I believe in the universe is my ready answer. 

If the person who asked the God-question remains calm, I go on with: "Seriously, I find it hard to think of God as a Father. Or a Mother for that matter."

(Raised eyebrows and eyeballs rolling.)

I've never really told anybody what I think but Gaia seems to me the most reasonable explanation of how everything in the universe fits together. Not some humanlike supernatural being people pray to for blessings. (Everyone's free to disagree.)

You see, everything that happens, happens. Whether God, (whoever he or she or it may be), had anything to do with it, is something that never crosses my mind. Karma, reincarnation, the power of brainwaves and living purposely - now these are things I think about a lot. Not God. Surprisingly.

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