Monday, July 31, 2017

The Semirara-San Jose energy connection


The island and the company

Semirara, a 5,118-hectare island is within the jurisdiction of Municipality of Caluya in Antique province, lies between mainland Mindoro and Panay. From San Jose (Occidental Mindoro), it would take about 4-5 hours by ferry boat.

The Semirara Mining and Power Corporation is the biggest producer of coal in the Philippines. Apart from coal, the once marine life-rich island has other mineral reserves that the company has the right to explore and mine. The whole Semirara island has about 824 thousand tons of silica, 1.2 billion tons of limestone, and 2.9 million tons of clay. The Municipality of Caluya’s poverty incidence in 2013 is pegged at 47% but on that same year, the mining company, in stark contrast, posted a P12.6 billion revenue for coal production.

With regards to the coal mining, the Department of Energy (DOE) granted the extension of the company’s Coal Operating Contract until July 14, 2027. The Semirara Mining and Power Corporation or simply Semirara, is part of the DMCI Holdings, Inc. Aside from coal mining, the group is operating power, property and nickel mining businesses. DMCI Holdings, Inc. has allotted P14.5 billion to Semirara for capital spending onwards. At present, the coal company is steadily increasing its capacity to a maximum of 16 million metric tons of coal to cope up with the approving prices and demand of the local market. This 2017 is also planned to be a year of updating the company’s operations and maintenance programs to improve efficiencies of its power plants. Therefore, there goes the proposed coal-fired power plant in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro.


Its reserve and power capacity

In November 2004, an independent technical review conducted by Minarco Asia Pty Ltd. It shows that in the Panian Pit is estimated to have 52 million MT of already available coal while there are still 210 MTs of in-situ (requiring an additional confirmatory drillings to show that the reserve is proven and recoverable) in the pit. Inside another pit, Himalian Pit, there is a potential 52 million MTs of in-situ coal inside it.

Two years later, in December 2006, consultants from Australia supervised the confirmatory drilling in Panian Pit and as per standards of Australia’s Joint Ore Reserve Committee or JORC, 62 million MTs and 6 million MTs of coal were categorized. The Panian Pit is the place where several workers died due to a landslide incident in July 2015.

On July 11, 1977, the Energy Development Board, precursor of the Department of Energy (DOE), awarded a 25- year Coal Operating Contract (COC) to a group of three private companies, incorporated as Semirara Coal Corporation or SCC and in 2004 it changed its name to Semirara Mining Corporation or SMA and later became the Semirara Mining and Power Corporation. The DOE is most likely to renew the coal extraction contract every time it expires, or at least that was the expectation of the mining firm.

Semirara is the only power producer in the Philippines that owns and mines its own fuel source which is coal. According to them, their whole operation can produce 8 million MTs of coal per annum. Reportedly, the expansion of the coal mining operations, which involves an estimated 10,000-hectare area, is already 5 to 7 KMs off the shore. The company boasted that it has an installed generating capacity of 600MW, with an additional 1,200MW in the pipeline. Occidental Mindoro to date has only a peak-hour demand of 19 MW of electricity.

Meeting the SP and the EC

The Provincial Board of Occidental Mindoro in its Facebook account reported that last June 16, 2017,  the so-called “unified leaders” (the Sato-Mendiola local political faction) had a meeting with some top brasses of the DMCI Power Corporation and the Semirara Mining and Power Corporation regarding the conglomerate’s proposed coal-fired power plant. Further, the provincial board stated that because of the 12.17% annual power growth demand of the province, the current power suppliers can no longer be enough for such a huge demand in the future.

The social media post which was quoted here in verbatim further states, “Three options for this proposal is presented. Option 1, to be constructed in mainland San Jose, Option 2 in Ilin Island while Option 3 is the Semirara Mine Mouth. Our leaders are taking into consideration the environmental impact and the like for this project. On the other hand, the geothermal plant being eyed in Naujan is not feasible and so the government is looking for other options to address the province’ current power situation.”  With the fragile island ecosystem of the island, the provincial board is bound to weighing matters in its legislative scales.

The members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) are aimed at increasing 20 MW diesel power plant of the Occidental Mindoro Consolidated Power Corporation (OMCPC) in the town of San Jose.

Weeks after the SP meeting top political leaders, according to sources, went to Semirara for an ocular inspection and reportedly fetched by the company’s private plane from San Jose to Semirara. No result was disclosed to public as of post time regarding the visit.

On July 8, 2017 on the other hand, same representatives from the DMCI Power Corporation oriented the Occidental Mindoro Electric Cooperative (OMECO) Board about their company and later expressed their willingness and intent to participate in the Competitive Selection Process (CSP) in due time. The electric cooperative (EC) just listened to them and no assurances or whatever was given by its Board. OMECO reportedly eyeing for another independent power producer to join the bidding. This IPP is projected to establish a diesel-fired power plant in Mamburao and the project is anchored on the EC’s energy development plant for the province.

But prior to the two presentations in two different bodies, Mindoro’s electricity requirement is being supplied by the National Power Corp. (Napocor) through its missionary electrification and DMCI Power Corporation which is an affiliate of Semirara. DMCI Power Corporation provided power rentals for Napocor for some time until the OMCPC came in.

By 2018, the 25-year Energy Conversion Agreement (ECA) entered into by OMECO and Island Power Corp. (IPC) will finally expire, finally allowing more investors to invest in Occidental Mindoro. The Semirara Mining and Power Corporation is one of the prospects.


Coal : Dirty and mean


Coal is considered by the environmentalists as the dirtiest fuel on earth. Many countries in the world considered coal as fuel for global warming that is why many of the coal mines are banned in many parts of the globe. Philippines is host to 10 coal-fired plants and majority of which are located in Mindanao.

It is a nation-wide call of environmental groups to continuously campaign in convincing the government to shut down all or most of the plants and replace them with facilities that tap renewable energy. They insist “green energy” like solar, geothermal and wind over “dirty energy” like coal. According to Owen Migraso, executive director of Center for Environmental Concers (CEC), “The government should not pursue coal to generate electricity for industrialization. Technology is available in developed countries. There are technology transfer laws. The important thing to consider is how renewable energy will benefit the people.” According to an EC insider, solar is the only feasible renewable energy in Occidental Mindoro. 

Passive populace

Though the people of Occidental Mindoro is yet to be informed on the details of the project, vigilance is deemed by some local environmentalists, both in the government and the public sector, as a future course of action.

Occidental Mindoro in general, San Jose in particular, is not known to such active and massive pro-environmental issue-projection and mass actions since time in memoriam. It is a reality that any aggressive anti-environment project can easily exploit. 

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(Photo: Business World)
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References and resources:
http://www.philstar.com/business/2017/02/27/1676013/semirara-supply-power-mindoro

Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Thunderous Boxing Night


Like what occurred in Brisbane, a boxing event can be a tourism knockout! Well, at least there’s something for us to look forward to.

Pacquiao and Ancajas

Oddly enough, the defeat of Manny Pacquiao against Jeff Horn overshadowed the victory of Jerwin Ancajas (27-1-1) over Teiru Kinoshita. Common people keep on talking about Pacquiao's loss but hardly talked about Ancajas' winning glory. Ancajas' first-rate performance against the Japanese to retain his IBF Super Flyweight championship belt at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, Australia was remarkable. Ancajas won via 7th round TKO pounding the challenger's body sending him to the canvass like a crumpled bonbori lantern.

The Ancajas-Kinoshita duel was the co-main event of the Horn-Pacquiao last July 2. With the effort of one of Ancajas’ corner men, the home-grown boxer himself, Drian Francisco (29-4-1), the IBF champ will be coming over to grace another professional boxing fest here. Francisco and Ancajas are stable mates in Pacquaio’s MP Promotions. The former is two-time chief spar mate of the latter.

The Main Event

Billed as “Dagundong!”, the slug festival is presented by Knuckleheads Pro Boxing Fraternity. It will be held at Sablayan Astrodome on July 22, 2017 featuring the ex-Olympian Mark Anthony Barriga versus Joel Taduran in the main event. In 2012 London Olympics, Barriga lost to Kazakh fighter Birzhan Zhakypov by just a hairline, 17-16, in their round-of-16 light flyweight match. The referee slapped the then 19-year-old Barriga with a one point deduction in the third round for ducking (which is illegal in amateur boxing) the Kasakh and lost it by points.

But as a pro, Barriga bounced back. In his debut in July last year, he won a UD competing with Melvin Manangquil in Cebu City. He has never fought outside of the Philippines as a professional. His latest fight was held only June 4 at Dipolog City winning a TKO versus Marlou Sandoval. With just more than a month after his last ring appearance, Barriga will be again crossing the ropes here in our province. 

How about his opponent Joel Taduran? Well, with a total of 15 fights across his name, Taduran slightly has the experience. He already boxed outside the Philippines- Japan, China and Indonesia. His first fight abroad was at the Korakuen Hall in Tokyo where he was frustrated by Toshiyuri Igarashi in May 7, 2016 via UD. In his last fight, he was TKOed by Junto Nakatani on April 16 this year at Messe Mie, Tsu, Mie, Japan.   

The province’s boxing capital

Boxing, even before the first two professional fights of Manny Pacquiao were held here in the mid-90s, is the most prominent sports among the youth in town. Promotion of boxing is embodied in Sablayan’s Executive-Legislative Agenda for 2016-2019. Sablayan is considered by officials from Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines (ABAP) and other international boxing personalities as the Boxing Mecca of Occidental Mindoro. Former Palawan governor Abraham Khalil “Baham” Mitra, the current chair of Games and Amusement Board (GAB), will also be coming over to supervise the event.

Sablayan Astrodome was the venue of the Drian Francisco- Pichitchai Twins Gym duel for the IBF Pacific Super Bantamweight championship. Francisco won via first round knockout over Thailand's Pichitchai Twins Gym to capture the interim title. Francisco, fighting in his hometown for the first time in his career, delivered a 3-punch combination that sent the Thai crushing to the canvas and was counted out at 33 seconds of the first round. The brawl took place in April 15, 2012.

The sensational fistfight between Jimmy Borbon and Jonard Postrano (2016-01-21) was also held at Sablayan Astrodome and hundreds of other events that cannot be accommodated here for lack of space. Sablayan too, is home to boxing trainers like Joe Francisco, a former Philippine #1 Philippine Junior Featherweight contender, and promoters like Cecilio Alvarez, Sr. of the JBoy Promotion.

Budding local pugilists

It is on record that the amateur boxers from Sablayan excel in many boxing tournaments like the Provincial Meet, the MIMAROPARAA, Palarong Pambansa, Batang Pinoy and those sponsored by DepEd, PSC and the LGU. The Municipal Government led by Mayor Eduardo B. Gadiano and SB Walter B. Marquez, a boxing promoter himself, also sponsored the event as they continue to support the town’s local boxers.

Aside from Drian Francisco, the current roster of professional boxers from Sablayan includes Rodynie Manzano Rafol and the two budding professional boxers in Darren Collamar and Lloyd Dulweras, to mention just three. The list should be long and the sport must not be neglected. The province’s boxing tradition must continue.

Sports tourism

Pacquiao’s nemesis Juan Manuel Marquez once said, “Boxing is always serious.” Promoting and developing sports tourism should be seriously looked into. Especially now that Boxing and other sports are considered attractions within the broader context of local tourism industry.

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(Photo: From Drian Francisco's FB account)



Monday, July 10, 2017

SaltPhil Remembered


These are visible remains of the Salt Industry of the Philippines or SaltPhil.- the nearly immortal logs gallantly standing there defying the stormy sea through the ages. Greek thinker Pythagoras (born at around 570 BC) said, “Salt is born of the purest of parents: the sun and the sea.”

I was nurtured by a salt maker just like all the children whose parents were pillars of early industrial salt-making in this part of Occidental Mindoro.  We are gypsum, a salt by-product, figuratively speaking.

Pillars for salt-making

SaltPhil was the biggest manufacturer of industrial salt in Southeast Asia and established on April 27, 1955 and was under the Compania General de Tabacos de Filipinas or Tabacalera. The company then rented an 800-hectare (some accounts says it is 1,200 has.) of coastal land from the Philippine Milling Company when Sugar Central closed down in the early 50s due to poor management. The vast land covered parts of Bubog and San Agustin, two seaside barrios of San Jose-Pandurucan. The method of salt production used by SaltPhil is the evaporation of salt brine by steam heat in large commercial evaporators called vacuum pans. This method, according to my current readings, yields a very high purity salt, fine in texture, and principally used in those applications requiring the highest quality grains.

But in the early-80s, the factory stopped its operation and many of its labourers, my father included, were laid off from work. I was told by my mother that the factory went bankrupt. The whole property was later purchased by Filipinas Aquaculture or AquaFil and turned it into big prawn hatchery. Only the main factory and parcels of land nearby were utilized by the new company while the other facilities or features elsewhere are now already abandoned including the well-founded poles shown in the picture above. The poles I used to stare from our window during an inclement weather while the angry Buslugan River is roaring from afar. We transferred from our former house near the seashore when it was nearly devastated by a storm surge way back in 1970.

What is the purpose of those poles, actually? Their main use is to hold cables where a machine-operated bucket is attached. The bucket, about two meters in width, is operated by a machinist at the elevated engine room in a place they call “Water Intake”. Its primary duty is to make sure that the opening of the saltwater to the pool is sustained. The Water Intake’s bucket pushes the volume of sands seaward thus keeping the mouth of the pool open. A bulldozer below the Water Intake operated by Antonio “Lagang” Aguilar complements the function of the bucket. The heavy volume of seawater is continuously pumped to dozens of giant salt ponds to the factory itself in Sitio Curanta, southern part of Barrio San Agustin.


The post- SaltPhil violence

By the time the new government of Corazon C. Aquino was installed by the EDSA People Power, the vast land owned by the AquaFil, the precursor of SaltPhil, was placed under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program or CARP by the new administration and the AquaFil years before it ended its operation.  The property was occupied later by the farmers from all over the place who joined the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) rallying for genuine agrarian reform. Group of former SaltPhil and AquaFil labourers also petitioned for land occupation but its individual members later joined the KMP. During the initial years of the Aquino presidency both insurgency-related and politically-motivated acts of violence in our province have increased. High profile cases of human rights violations have escalated especially in San Jose and Sablayan where militant farmer leaders were executed. CARP has polarized social groups in Occidental Mindoro costing many lives and limbs. Significant cases happened during massive military deployment at the AquaFil Estate where many of the farmer members of the KMP were detained and arrested. Law enforcers and security officers of the property were not spared and even targeted by Communist hit squads. Some of the farmer-leaders even joined the New Peoples’ Army (NPA) after being hunted by the police and Philippine Constabulary (PC) soldiers while the others struggled through peaceful means and critically engaged with the program implemented by the Department of Agrarian Reform or DAR. This was an offshoot of the infightings among the national democratic forces then.

Fishponds and saltbeds like those of SaltPhil and Aquafil are by law exempted from land reform but that time they are idle and should be covered by CARP. Without the vigilance and collaborative spirit of the people around AquaFil, the fishpond estate would have to be out of the program’s coverage.  Today, majority of the landholdings were agriculturally productive after being legally acquired by the petitioners. The days of violence, like the SaltPhil and the AquaFil, are now gone.


Glory days

It is very fascinating to watch the tug boats towing around 6 barges coming from Sitio Curanta crossing the calm South China Sea. Tons of salts are being transported from the company’s private seaport to other part of the country. In 1958, SaltPhil had produced and exported to Manila 19,000 metric tons of refined salt.

It is near the main factory where the tenement houses of the top executives and employees of the factory and their families reside. The office of the labour union and the cooperative store shared the same building. The store at one time was managed by Mr. Perfecto Paguia supplying basic commodities needed by the employees and labourers both on cash and credit basis. Spirits and cigarettes are also available.

The tributary canals going to the salt ponds and beds are abundant of shrimps, crabs, prawns and all other edible crustaceans aside from milkfish, tilapia, paetan and the rest of the fishes effortlessly caught in saline marshes within the property. Finding such a free or affordable viand is easy way back then. The present day “food of the rich” can definitely be devoured upon by the working class those days.

The Divine Word College of San Jose, San Jose Pilot Elementary School and the Saint Joseph School catered the educational needs of the children of the officials of the firm. The resident employees lived inside the compound of the company together with their families.

A family Christmas Party is annually sponsored by the management. Dressed as Santa Claus, the resident manager distributes gifts, mostly toys, for their employees’ children. There were parlour games for the kids and songs and dances for their parents. The ladies are wearing their floral designed Momo dress and the gentlemen in their Macomber and Bestman pants. It was the only time of the year when we, the children of the labourers, could taste chocolates, apples and ice cream.

In the 60s, there was still no electricity in Barrio Bubog and Barrio San Agustin and only the facilities of the SaltPhil have electricity such as Check Point Number 1 (which is actually a guard house), the entry point to the factory. It was located just a few steps away from our new place in the barrio proper.

Since the Check Point is the only electrically-lighted area in the barrio, children of my age used to play near it at night especially during weekends. Once a month, the SaltPhil management offered a free movie for the residents from a portable projector and makeshift screen nailed into the electric post. I remember that the last movie I saw there was Anthony Mann’s 1964 film “The Fall of the Roman Empire”. After less than a decade, the SaltPhil, due to the prevailing political and economic changes that time, fell like the Roman Empire. Like the so-called “Last of the Romans”, the SaltPhil employees and labourers scattered like grains of salt in the crockpot of changing social realities of the era. Some of them even worked abroad.

Salts of the earth

My old man worked as a pump tender alternating with a fellow named Johnny Orozco in Pump House Number 1. The Pump House cloisters the six-cylinder Buda Engine made by the Buda Engine Company. It was founded in 1881 by George Chalender in Buda, Illinois, to make equipment for railways. The main bulk of my father’s job is to make sure that the engine is properly maintained adjusting the volume of the seawater to be conveyed to the ponds. Since his work does not require much mobility especially during graveyard shift, he has a lot of time to read pocketbooks. He is fond of Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason series. When the officials of the company moved out, my father brought home volumes of Reader’s Digest’s compilation of short stories and other pocket books handed to him as mementos from one of his bosses, the company accountant Mr. Pedro Nillo, a voracious reader like my old man.

My father’s eldest brother, Pantaleon S. Novio, Jr., was one of the company’s trusted mechanics. From their ancestral home in 132 Capt. Cooper St. in the town proper, my father Manuel and my Papa Addie brought their families in Barrio Bubog where my uncle served as barangay captain for more than 20 years. My father was one of the officers of the company’s labour union. Aside from the poles, the long cemented water canal from the former site of Pump House Number 1 stayed even to this day. Just like the lessons left behind to their children by the two Novio siblings of SaltPhil.

The overall boss was Engr. Alfredo Yleaña, the company’s resident manager, former mechanical engineer of the Central Azucarera de Bais in Dumaguete but was born in Jaro, Iloilo.  Yleaña first arrived at SaltPhil in 1958 and initially became its plant supervisor where his superiors are all pure Spaniards. He later promoted as SalPhil’s resident manager and took the helm from the foreigners. Engr. Yleaña was a heavily-built man, around 6’ 2” feet in height and wearing thick eyeglasses. With his Ilonggo accent in a baritone voice, the resident manager expresses authoritative but kind instructions and orders. He was a generous and caring and always accommodating to those in need. He was an active official of the Knights of Columbus in San Jose. Engr. Alfredo Yleaña at 59 died on January 17, 1980 leaving his wife Mafalda and their children behind. One of his children, Grizelda, is a long-time friend of my aunt, Helen.

I was in high school when chess great Bobby Fischer is at the height of his popularity and fame. I and my classmates, Danilo Solomon, Winifredo Oracion, Roberto Paulmanal and the late Joel Boongaling were into chess. I never did win a game against any of them. Knowing about my inept skill in the board game, my father told me once that he’s going to introduce me to the expert wood pusher of SaltPhil, Engr. Leto E. Nicanor. But that meeting did not happen for reasons I do not know. My friends continued to butcher me over a chess game until I gave up playing.

Leto E. Nicanor is an electrical engineer and an alumnus of Mapua Institute of Technology. He, as a young bachelor, first set foot on the shores of SaltPhil on February 1965 and served as its shift engineer. He first stayed in the compound but later rented a boarding house in the town proper which is more or less ten kilometres away from the factory. Engr. Nicanor tied knots with Milagros Espinas, a teacher at Pilot Elementary School, in November 1965. After 14 years in SaltPhil, Engr. Nicanor resigned and worked as power plant superintendent of Occidental Mindoro Electric Cooperative (OMECO) for a time. I don’t have a chance to introduce myself to him each time I watch him play chess in a barber shop of downtown San Jose or under the Talisay tree near the San Jose Water District Office. I have already lost my enthusiasm in playing chess, anyway.

Prospects of salt-making in Occidental Mindoro Today

Our province is bounded by saltwater making it one of the biggest salt-producing provinces in the country even today that the SaltPhil is long gone. At the height of the province’s production in 1990, Occidental Mindoro boasted of producing and supplying about 60,000MT of the 338,000MT or 18% of the country’s annual salt requirement. Today, while our province still provides salt in neighbouring provinces in Southern Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, only 12% national salt requirement or almost 75, 000 MT of 590,000 MT comes from Occidental Mindoro.

But today, Occidental Mindoro salt industry is already dwindling due to climatic factors and insufficient technology. The provincial government and the industry stakeholders should exert extra effort to keep it more vibrant and competitive by providing additional salt production technologies various programs that the local government failed to seriously look into. The industry needs to be revitalized though researches and innovations to re-boost the industry. Without it, the province’s salt industry will in the end drop its taste.  


A chemical practice

It is said that salt production is one of the oldest chemical practices performed by man and equally true, memoirs are brought about by chemical reaction processed by his aging brain.


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(Photo: Pipay Novio)
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 “Stories of 100 Families”, Rodolfo Meim Acebes




Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Singaporean star goes to Sablayan


Udaya Soundari, the actress-host from Singapore, is the latest celebrity guest who came to Sablayan and experienced the places and faces this trailblazing town in Occidental Mindoro has to offer. And who am I to refuse her begging to pose for a photo with me. I am just kidding, of course!

Seriously, Udaya and the rest of the television crew visited various places in town and mingled with the people and immersed in some of our tourist spots last June 4 to 5, 2017. Unknown to the local folks that she rubbed elbows with, she is a heck of a celebrity in Singapore’s Tamil TV history. Udaya is the first individual to win three-layered awards in just a year in an annual ceremony which bestows citation to artistes in a Singaporean Indian television called Pradhana Vizha. The team from Asia-Medicorp, Singapore and Verite Productions visited the Parola Park, the Apo Reef, Pandan Island and the Alangan Mangyan community of Calamansian for video shoots. They all experienced riding the longest island-to-island zip line in the world.

As I have said, Udaya made it to the local Tamil TV history for she is the first person to win three awards in one year in an annual ceremony which honours the best in local Indian television. Never in the past Pradhana Vizha awarded more than one winner since 2012 and our recent guest bagged three: Best Actress, Best Host (Info-Ed) and Most Popular Female Personality in 2014. In retrospect, Udaya got hit the magic pot in the TV industry in 2007 as a contestant on reality TV singing competition Vasantham Star, in which the beautiful lass shown in the picture above (with me) landed on the top 10.

But not everything went smoothly in her career. She figured in a certain issue in 2015 and was side-lined for some time. But because she’s a big, big talent, figuratively speaking, she was able to come back and continue to inspire aspiring artiste of this generation. But that was already water under the bridge and now diluted in high seas of detachment and impertinence.

Many guests from all over the world considered Sablayan as the epicentre of economy and politics Occidental Mindoro and home of true champions of sustained ecotourism and participatory governance. Sablayan’s approach to tourism development is not only limited to promotion of tourism areas. Enterprise development is perceived as basic strategy towards empowering community members to earn supplemental income from the tourist traffic through various economic endeavours and income-generating approaches.

But of course media projection is important especially if it is shown in other part of the globe. That is the story the production is going to tell where Udaya Soundari, the artiste par excellence, acts as program host whom in her heart entertainment is a passion…

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(Photo : Pauline Licop Gilongos)

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References:



Monday, March 20, 2017

Of St. Blaise and Fishbone


A fishbone was stuck deep in my throat two weeks ago and believe me when the wound is infected, it’s so excruciatingly painful. After accidentally swallowed a bone of a fish locally called bugaong, I paid no attention to it believing that it was already dislodged by mouthful of bananas and marshmallows I swallowed hours after without chewing. I presume, like in the past, the wound would naturally take care of itself without me even trying.

But after three days my condition worsened. I cannot tolerate the pain anymore and there’s already a tint of blood in my spittle so I have to cut short the Gender Sensitivity Training I am attending that time at the Grand Creek Resort in Sta. Cruz and rushed to San Jose to see my EENT.

Dr. Alexander M. Rivera, MD examined my throat, assured me that the fishbone already been dislodged but left an infected internal wound surrounded with abscess. He prescribed me heavy dosage of antibiotics to be taken for 7 days. On the sixth day, my medical condition worsens, so I went back to his clinic. He changed his previously prescribed medicine, added a pain reliever and an oral antiseptic for my extended medical treatment.

I was writhing with pain and discomfort one Friday night and my youngest child related to me about the homily shared by a visiting priest during a Eucharistic celebration at school. Sophia is a Grade 7 student of Divine Word College of San Jose. The mass was held February 3 (I swallowed the fishbone February 17), Feast Day of St. Blaise, once bishop of Sebaste in Armenia.

St. Blaise’s biography revealed that science and faith are not on opposite poles. He was a physician before consecrated bishop. By the 6th century, St. Blaise’s intercession was invoked for diseases of the throat. He was a physician who treated by means of medical science but equally performing miraculous cures. While being imprisoned and tortured for his Christian faith, he phenomenally cured a little boy choking to death on a fishbone lodged in the kid’s throat.

My youngest daughter reminded me of Blaise and led me to start a prayer of intercession that very moment. Even I am away for work, she assured me that she will continue the novena before she goes to sleep. After three days or so, with the invincible combination of medication and meditation, I am back to my old self again!   

While we Catholics invoke Blaise for his protection against any physical ailment of the throat, we are reminded too that we should refrain from spreading the throat’s “spiritual sins” such as cursing, profanity, unkind remarks, detraction and gossip. While I cannot guarantee you me refraining from naughty remarks, take my word that the words coming from my mouth will always speak with comprehension and not intransigence, respect and not disparagement.

I am a believer so I trust that intercessory prayer can contribute to physical healing. But friends, I am in no way advising to say the same prayer to St. Blaise to those who do not believe that he is truly an intermediary to God. More so, I would not suggest to a wounded or ailing atheist to pray. Such a gesture or proposition is a further insult to his injury, much more his conviction!

I believe that the science of a present-day medical doctor and the act of faith in the memory of a martyr from the very distant past healed me.

This I believe deep to the bones…

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(Photo: www.baqgo.com)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Manny Pacquiao’s Swansong: A Philippine Tourism Attraction


Shortly after Bob Arum’s announcement of Manny Pacquiao’s world tour this year, the latter also disclosed his plan to fight his nemesis Juan Manuel Marquez here in the Philippines before the end of the year. In case Juan Manuel Marquez is agreeable to Pacquiao’s proposal, the fight would surely go down in boxing history like the Ali-Frazier’s Thrilla in Manila way back in 1975. Like that historic heavy weight title fight, the “final” match between old time rivals Pacquiao and Marquez if held in the country would have a tremendous impact on Philippine sports tourism.  

Here’s a short flashback on the Pacquiao-Marquez rivalry. The two boxing greats, Pacquiao and Marquez, fought in four meetings starting with a controversial draw in their first encounter in 2004. Pacquiao then escaped with close decisions in their 2008 and 2011 rematches. Their 4th fight was held on December 8, 2012, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada, where Márquez defeated Pacquiao by knockout with one second remaining in the sixth round. It was named Fight of the Year and Knockout of the Year by Ring Magazine.

But for the Pacquiao-Marquez to transpire, of course aside from a final nod from El Dinamita, Pacquiao needs Php2.5 billion to Php3.5 billion (or more or less $60 million) to bankroll the fight.  The SenaPac has asked Tourism Secretary Wanda Corazon Tulfo Teo for said amount. Tulfo Teo said the only thing that would make it possible for the Department of Tourism to shell out money is if Pacquiao faces a big name. If thing would fall into places, Pacquiao’s request will be granted and his only problem is Arum and the Top Rank supremo’s plan. That is if the Mexican could agree to the financial and other considerations that Pacquiao would offer. But let us remember, Arum said prior to Pacquaio’s 2015 mega-fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr that he wanted to stage the PacMan’s farewell fight in the Philippines someday.

In December last year, the House Committee on Tourism approved a proposal to designate SenaPac as spokesperson for the tourism department’s campaign to promote Philippine attractions here and abroad. I go for the Pacquiao-Marquez 5 in Manila and it would be a sure fire hit, tourism-wise. Marciano Ragaza, Vice-Chair of the Philippine Travel Agencies Associations (PTAA) said that the fight “would have a bigger impact than Miss Universe.” Pacquiao wants the fight and Philippine tourism needs further global promotion. The question is this: Can tourism department afford the amount without hurting its budget or its coffer, without sacrificing its other programs?

If the fight is held in the Philippines there is also a big chance for Occidental Mindoro, specifically Sablayan town, to showcase its own tourism potentials. The respective tourism offices of said LGUs could find ways to find something attached to the event to attract sports tourists from around the globe who will be coming over. For sure, the DOT is open from proposals coming from local governments with regards to uplifting our tourism industry. Occidental Mindoro through Sablayan was host to first two professional fights of Manny Pacquiao which catapulted him to fame and to everything what he is now.

But between Top Rank and Philippine Tourism to be placed in extra advantageous gain, I go for the latter…

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(Photo: Fightsaga .com)


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

On Missing James Taylor and the War on Drugs


James Taylor and his songs were part of my adolescent years but I do not mind him cancelling his February 25 concert at Manila’s Mall of Asia. I am not used to live musical concerts for I cannot afford it. The five-time Grammy award winner and singer-composer of the classic “Fire and Rain” and rendered Carol King’s “You’ve Got a Friend”, cancelled the musical tour saying he finds reports of summary executions of suspected drug offenders in the Philippines without judicial proceedings “deeply concerning and unacceptable”. While acknowledging that drug addiction is a worldwide problem that seriously harms society, Taylor criticized the anti-drug campaign of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Well, Taylor, in his teens, was also hooked on heroine but he bounced back in his mid-30s. He once stated:  “A big part of my story is recovery from addiction. One thing that addiction does is, it freezes you. You don’t develop, you don’t learn the skills by trial and error of having experiences and learning from them, and finding out what it is you want, and how to go about getting it, by relating with other people.”  James Taylor will never forget his addicted past, “somehow I haven’t died,” he said once.

I have never heard of James Taylor for years until his recent cancellation of his scheduled musical performance here in the country. I am happy that the musician I adore is still alive at 67. I am happy the same way he stood against how the present Anti-Drug Campaign is waged. I am sad that many Filipino artists do not stood the same.

This government does not need James Taylor on the same manner that it does not need Agnes Callamard, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial summary or arbitrary executions, they may argue. This government cannot be moved by creative artists like James Taylor much more their craft. All they want is to eliminate the drug addicts using foul or fair means.

Barbarism is ignorant of what art could do. It would not understand that the goal of every musician it to connect with his fellow human being in ways that repeatedly surpass time or words. Music, as an art, helps us better understand our world and ourselves, and the eternal quest for knowledge and knowing. This brings us to “Do Not Die Young”, a sad but celebratory song from James Taylor. One of the song’s lines goes this way: “Oh, hold them up, hold them up, never do let them fall prey to the dust and the rust and the ruin that names us and claims us and shames us all.” Isn’t this a good reminder for the government what to do to its young people?

Music cannot tame monsters, movements do…

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(Photo: Associated Press)




Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Today’s Filipino Youth Amidst Impoverishment


The Speech I never gave.

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I am more than proud to be with you today on the occasion of the 3rd Expanded Students’ Grants-In-Aid Program for Poverty Alleviation (ESGP-PA) Regional Assembly with the student stakeholders or grantees (I refuse to call you “beneficiaries” for the word connotes, at least to me, a sort of mendicancy), together with their respective focal persons from all over MiMaRoPa Region, also with our guests from the Department of Social Welfare and Development or DSWD led by RD Wilma D. Naviamos, those from Commission on Higher Education or CHED and the Department of Education or DepEd representing their respective state colleges and universities or schools. To all of you, welcome to Occidental Mindoro!

Allow me to thank, too, the distinguished individuals from my alma mater, the Occidental Mindoro State College (OMSC) who with full trust and confidence invited me to be one the lecturers in this Regional Assembly. They are Marilyn Guilas Nielo, PhD, the Vice President for Academic Affairs, and Dr. Allan Paul F. Catena, Coordinator for the Student Affairs Services. My gratitude too is extended to Dr. Arnold N. Venturina, SUC President II. Let us give them a warm round of applause!

The topic assigned to me is, “Today’s Filipino Youth Amidst Impoverishment” and I pray that I could do justice to this very challenging topic I am about to discuss. Indeed, this is a very universal and broad topic. You guys really placed a heavy yoke upon my shoulders. I am an avid fan of boxing and in the sport we call “sweet science”, there is a strategy called “cutting the ring”. I will tell you about that later.

I am glad you used the word “impoverished” instead of “poor”. There is a big difference between the two. We use the word “poor” when talking about living status it means “people without material possessions or wealth”. While on the other hand, “impoverished” (adjective) according to my own understanding, is used to better describe the circumstances in which a person became poor. For instance, "Filipinos are impoverished by the unjust social structures we are in".

This lecture is a journey and like any other journey, we ought to have travel companions. Learning is a pilgrimage that is not overly concerned with the destination but more on the lessons we learn, re-lean and unlearn from the road and our co-pilgrims. As we go along with the subject, we will thread the gem of ideas and concepts shared to their respective generations and audiences by Gustavo Gutierrez, a theologian from Peru and a practitioner of Theology of Liberation and the late Jose “Ka Pepe” W. Diokno, a quintessential nationalist and a former Philippine senator. (Google would be of great help if you want to know further about them) Let us see what will happen when we put the ideas of a Third World theologian from Latin America and considered as founder of Liberation Theology; a Filipino senator, an anti-Martial Law crusader and founder of developmental legal aid, together.

As they say, there’s no harm in trying. I will “cut the ring” and focus only on the following two slices to share: (a) Spirituality and Human Rights as Essential Elements in Poverty Alleviation, and (b) The Philippine Economy and Social Realities: Why Are We Impoverished? I will only limit my topic on these two important concerns. Towards the end, I will be giving some challenges and call to action that hopefully would serve as guideposts towards your journey beyond this momentous gathering. My final challenge, by the way, is anchored on a basic biblical question. “Cutting the ring” in boxing, by the way, is never giving your opponent enough space. Say, pin him in a corner to deliver punches in bunches or unleash your most lethal blows.

But before that, let us look at the larger picture.  Record shows that the country is unable to meet international and national goals for education. And still is. Poverty is one of the main causes of the country’s poor education record and has affected participation in education in more ways than one, according to “Education Watch Preliminary Report: Education Deprivation in the Philippines," a study done by five advocacy groups including E-Net Philippines, Asian South Pacific Bureau of Adult Education, Action for Economic Reforms, Popular Education for People’s Empowerment, and Oxfam in 2003.

Years later, the ESGP-PA came into existence. As we all know, ESGP-PA found its legal basis through the CHED’s Memorandum Order No. 09, Series of 2012. It is an initiative taken by the government to provide access to the poor but capable students to higher education. The objective of the program is to increase the number of higher education graduates among poor households by directly providing financing for their education in selected SUCs. I will not dwell much on the details of ESGP-PA for our next speaker from DSWD is more competent on discussing it to you in the most extensive and more credible manner.

From here, let us now seek the help of our first travel companion.

To “fathom impoverishment” as what Dr. Catena put in his invitation letter to me, we need first to ask what is the aspiration of the Filipino youth amidst impoverishment. Gustavo Gutierrez, a Catholic priest and a Latin American theologian used a very symbolic material: the drinking well. “Everyone one has to drink from his own well,” wrote Gutierrez in his book, “We Drink from our Own Wells: The Spiritual Journey of a People”. And to contextualize this in the Philippine setting today, this question is imperative to pose: “From what well can the impoverished youth of the Philippines drink?”

Allow me to emphasize that my supposed “esteemed knowledge in the field of community development”, (again, these are words of Dr. Catena’s taken from his letter to me) is anchored on my 20 years of working with the Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) of our Local Church, the Apostolic Vicariate of San Jose, initially, allow me to spiritualize a little bit about the topic. The impoverishing social situation in our midst, from my spectacles of faith, needs to be rooted from the main source of the living water: our spirituality. Spirituality was often equated with religious aspects like prayer, sacraments, rituals, penance or even fasting and bible-reading. Yes, they are part of it but those are not enough. Spirituality, no matter what religious belief you are practicing or denominations you are into, it is a lived faith in response to the Spirit. Therefore, it involves a way of viewing and experiencing God, others, self and the world. “Spirituality,” Gutierrez writes, “is like living water that springs up in the very depths of the (historical) experience of faith.” Truth to tell, aside from the Spirit of Jesus, to drink from our own well is to live our own life, individually and collectively, rooted in our individual freedom, our basic human rights.

Today is December 10, 2016 and the whole world commemorates the 68th year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and it is but opportune time to reflect on how we encounter basic issues of human rights and human dignity in the concrete historical reality and context unfolding in our midst. This is a real experience that can be a foundation of our life project as stakeholders and implementers of ESGP-PA. Poverty caused by inattention, violation, distortion to and of the very essence of human rights brings about gradual and, in case of extra judicial killings, instant deaths. The death caused by impoverishment is not only physical but mental and cultural as well.

According to Gutierrez, “It [death] refers to the destruction of individual persons, peoples, cultures and tradition.”  In sum, Spirituality and Human Rights are main themes and dimensions to loosen the chains of impoverishment among our youth. Human rights are the well where we must drink from. Our human rights are our wells and we much fetch water from it with buckets of responsibility and obligations. How? I cannot offer an answer. I might as well reserve that on your organizational and individual undertakings as well as in the competence of your respective focal persons. Your dynamism and creativity will flow like a thirst quenching well, I am sure. Just remember that strategy without ideal is a menace and ideal without strategy is a mess. Take it from a Gustavo Gutierrez reader.

Let us now go to our economy and social realities and our travel companion this time is the late Senator Jose W. Diokno. Though this talk was delivered in September 6, 1980 before Inter-School Business Association at PICC, Diokno’s message titled “Economic and Social Consciousness” is still relevant today. From Diokno’s time up to the present, though I do not have the statistics to back this up like the situations of educational system and national poverty that I have mentioned a while ago, just looking from the realities around us today, beyond any possible doubt, the life of the Filipino poor is one of hunger and exploitation, inadequate health care and lack of suitable housing, difficulty in obtaining an education, inadequate wages and unemployment, struggles for their rights, and repression. Diokno asked: “What has gone wrong with our economy?” Why is our economy still undeveloped? Well, our economy was run by politicians and businessmen and we, the impoverished, learned to regret it. It is the biggest bane in this equally impoverished country of ours.

I can only cite two major reasons for such a sorry state from said speech of Ka Pepe. First, our economic policy makers have given too much importance to the problem of economic growth and not enough to the problem of economic development; that efforts are concentrated on increasing production to the neglect of improving distribution and equalizing consumption. Second, our economy is export oriented, import dependent. Instead of organizing our resources, our capital and our manpower to the needs of the people, especially the impoverished, the past and present administrations geared them toward the demands of multi-national corporations and capital-greedy businessmen. This economic policy resulted, then and today, to privatization, contractualization and liberalization. Diokno taught us that “economics is more than an exchange of goods; it is also an exercise of power. And just as concentrated power is politics, so politics is concentrated economics.” Our economic and educational policymakers must realize that we need a Filipino economy and education where their goal should meet the needs of the impoverished Filipino people, it should make our workers enjoy just wages to buy the goods the economy produces and the key to economic progress is not on how much foreign loans we get or foreign investments we can attract, or exports we can ship. We need an educational system that would boost a nationalist economy. Regardless of what profession you will be involved in the future, you are all economists and educators, in one way or another, in the privacy of your homes and in your respective spheres of influence.

The Diokno Challenge from my lenses is this: What we need are educators and economists who are socially conscious and politically aware, educators and economists who can distinguish structural problems from personal problems, who for example, seek the solution to poverty, not in foreign aids but in structural change, because they see poverty is caused, not by defects in the character or training of the impoverished, but by the injustice of our social system. A sound policy on poverty reduction best serves the appropriate educational system and vice-versa.

At this point, allow me to share that impoverishment or being poor is also a way of feeling, knowing, reasoning, making friends, loving believing, sufferings, celebrating and praying. We, the impoverished, constitute a world of our own. But life is larger than what we have and what we are. This situation must be remedied and struggled through legal and moral bounds, without resorting to violent means. We may get angry with the situation, but please, do not hate life!

For Gustavo Gutierrez and Ka Pepe Diokno, spirituality and economy are community enterprises and a communal quest. And from the apparently different and sometimes diverse dimensions of spirituality and economy, we draw the promise and hope of reducing, if not dismantling poverty through higher education.

Let me conclude my topic citing my favorite biblical question. After The Fall God came to the garden seeking Adam and Eve asked, “Where are you?” (cf. Gen. 3:8-9) If God is all knowing, why God would ask such a silly question? Philosopher Martin Buber offers a rationally good answer. Buber says God asked that question not to learn something new or to know a certain truth or predicament of things. Rather, God asked that question in order to make Adam and Eve confront their current state in life. It was a question of challenge. If we believe that God also suffers with us in our impoverishment and our co-deliverer from injustice and poverty, our answer to this question must be: “With you, Lord. With You!”

Thank you very much for such a brief but meaningful journey. My congratulations to all who made this pilgrimage a fruitful reality.

Good morning everyone....

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(This speech is supposed to be delivered on the 3rd Expanded Students’ Grants-In-Aid Program for Poverty Alleviation (ESGP-PA) Regional Assembly on December 10, 2016 at Hillside Farm and Resort, Magsaysay, Occidental Mindoro but due to the Regional Committee’s last minute alteration of the topics and speakers, I was not able to deliver this. Photo: Don Sevilla of webpages at SCU)




Monday, November 21, 2016

Bishop Francisco Claver and Martial Law


The Philippine Catholic Church indeed suffered under Martial Law. Priests and nuns were arrested, jailed and tortured by the Marcos’ military and even convents and seminaries administered by religious congregations were raided and ransacked. The Church greatly suffered from harsh government repression and harassment, though many priests and bishops at the time were not bothered by these occurrences.

President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law on September 21, 1972 and its principal goal was to preserve the old order and consequently, the oligarch’s throttlehold of the economy and to perpetuate himself to political power. This resulted to massive violation of civil and political rights of the people especially the basic masses, the anawim or God’s people. As the oppressive regime blatantly suppress the people, some priests and nuns opted to join the Communist movements, both open and clandestine, and resorted to or sponsored armed struggle.

As the horror of PD 1081 unfolds, most bishops did not speak against Marcos and the injustices suffered by the people under martial law that is why the 17 bishops who signed the document “Ut Omnes Unum Sint”, the “silent” bishops, who are composed of the majority, were criticized with these words: “Any criticism of government is then, perforce, criticism of President Marcos, something most bishops are loathe to do. Cultural Reasons could be adduced – deeply personal reasons too of friendship for and indebtedness to the First Family.”  Not only the First Family, the bishops and priests then dined with the oligarchs and the elite. Not unlike today.

A certain bishop bravely stood against Marcos dictatorship truly internalizing the prophetic role of the Church and her social teachings. His name is Bishop Francisco F. Claver, SJ of then Prelature of Malaybalay. Through his writings and pastoral works, he exemplary showed his being champion for the cause of human rights. His voice rang loud against all abuses happening under his diocese and the whole country. In his Pastoral Letter in 1976, 4 years after the declaration of Martial Law, titled “A Prophet to the Nations”, the bishop from Bontoc and an indigenous people himself, affirmed that all must preach the Gospel in words and in deeds and as a community and the Church must be genuinely critical, whether in support of or in opposition to the martial law government of Marcos. 

Bishop Francisco F. Claver is long gone and all we can do is to wonder what if he is still young and alive today under the same circumstances?

In the midst of the recent killings brought about by the government’s supposed War on Drug where innocent lives were lost and the victims denied of due process, where Catholics are killing fellow Catholics, this excerpt from Bishop Claver’s “The Blessing and the Curse” remains thunderously relevant: “I would especially invoke God’s wrath on those who inflict actual physical harm on defenseless people in the name of “government security”. People flagrantly and publicly guilty of this sin against our common humanity and dignity have their own cut themselves off from the Church.”  Tough words, aren’t they? Bishop Claver believes that change must be built on God-given dignity and not on force and armed might, that the Church has the right and the obligation to speak out, even in so-called political matters, when and insofar as they have moral implications, when they violate the laws of morality. To me, Marcos’ Martial Law is not to be forgotten so the faithful must declare in unison, “Never Again!”

Last Sunday, during the celebration of the Solemnity of Christ the King at the Sain Joseph the Worker Cathedral, Bishop Antonio P. Palang, SVD, DD of Occidental Mindoro stressed in his homily that we should forgive Marcos. Well, I took the good prelate’s words as an expression of fatherly concern but I am certain, and the good bishop knows for sure, that he could not make a decision for his flock. Those who oppose the burial could not abandon their judgment in this present historical issue more so since what was at stake is the carefulness of their actions as actors of history.

Now that we are told to “move on” by some quarters and personalities even inside the Church and forget all the injustices and horror of Martial Law but many of us won’t heed to the call. I wish that in the future, if same declaration is imposed by whoever president, may the pastoral actions and writings of Bishop Francisco F. Claver challenge our priests and bishops in the whole Philippines to stand against state repression and not be gratified with the comfort of their air-conditioned room in the company of their altar boys and counting their millions from the donating thieves in barong tagalog

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(Photo: Catholic News Asia

Reference : Pasquale T. Giordano, SJ, “Awakening to Mission: The Philippine Catholic Church 1965-1981”, New Day Publishers, January 1987, p. 155-159.)