Philippine Ventures & Destinations

Read about business opportunities and interesting travel destinations in the Philippines. Learn from the experiences of seasoned Filipino entrepreneurs and business executives. Explore places where you can listen to music, watch cultural performances, and simply have hours of fun. Check out where and what to eat while in Metro Manila, on the road or in the provinces. The following essays contain personal insights on Philippine culture and life particularly in the provinces.

Location: Philippines

A statistics major, Leticia Subang spent the first 10 years of her professional career as an economic reporter covering for the Philippines' leading business paper. She later opted to become a free lance writer while working for her Masters Degree in Development Management. In the next ten years, she worked for a number of leading government agencies - the National Power Corporation, Public Estates Authority, Departments of Trade and Industry, Agriculture, Labor and Employment, and Energy.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Tinay and other honest Filipinos

The February issue of California-based Filipinas Magazine ( featured Cristina "Tinay" Bugayong, the 12- year old student who returned at least P 300,000 (US$6,000) worth of cash and checks accidentally dropped by a messenger. The celebrated case only disproves the common belief here in the Philippines is that once you lose something valuable, it is lost forever.

My own experiences show that ordinary Filipinos – in my case, a mechanic in a Caloocan machine shop, a waiter in a restaurant in Greenbelt, Makati and a taxi driver roaming around Metro Manila – would go out of their way to return valuables they unexpectedly find.

My first experience was in May 1985. It was raining and I was fumbling with my umbrella while my boyfriend (now husband) and I got off the bus at the corner of EDSA and Quezon Avenue. We boarded a jeep and in a few more minutes, we were in the University of the Philippines. Then I realized I lost my purse. Despite the rain, I went back to EDSA, desperately hoping to find it. I had a few hundred dollars in there, as I, then business reporter, was preparing for my first trip abroad.

A week later, an owner of a machine shop based in Caloocan called the office to inform me that one of his workers, who tried to call my attention when I dropped my purse, had turned it over to him. He assured me that his employee, who just went home to Quezon Province for the weekend, would drop by the office to return my purse.

Indeed, the mechanic had left my purse, my dollars intact, with the guard. He also left an assurance he would pay back the loose bills – amounting to P80 – which he used to pay his fare to Quezon. I called his boss and said the mechanic need not pay me back. I owe him more than that.

Sixteen years later, in April 2001, I met an honest waiter. We were having a despedida dinner for one of our officers. Since our office was just across the street, I left my bag and decided to just bring my wallet with me. The dinner at Jade Garden, a Chinese restaurant in Greenbelt, went well.

I realized I lost my wallet only the day after, when I needed to buy something for my children.

Our secretary called the restaurant to inquire if they had, by chance, found a brown wallet. After confirming some of my personal details, the cashier confirmed that one of their waiters found it. I was assured I could pick it up anytime. As she handed the wallet back to me, she asked me to inspect it. No need, I said. I was sure the P12,000 I had was intact.

Too bad, in these two separate occasions, I did not have the chance to personally meet and thank those honest people.

The third was my encounter with an honest taxi driver in 2003. I decided to take a taxi after the air conditioning unit of our van conked out. As I boarded the taxi, my cousin, who drives for the family, reminded me of the leather bag with a laptop that I was carrying.

I got off in front of the restaurant, just right across my office in Makati, for a quick lunch. As I entered my room, I realized I did not have the bag and the laptop – a top-of-the-line Toshiba Portege, a personal unit of my boss, then Trade and Industry Secretary Mar Roxas, who lent it to me. I remembered only the name of the taxi – Lulu – and nothing else. I called the taxi’s office but without the body number, they could not possibly identify the driver. Our media relations staff called the leading radio stations for a “panawagan.”

I was hopeful – Mr. Roxas’ name and contact details appear on the screen once the computer is turned on. A week later, as my hopes of getting back the laptop started fading, I got a call from Mr. Eddie Mayor, the pastor of Home Missionary Baptist Church in Mayamot, Antipolo. The driver, Ronald Diendo, sought his advice and requested him to contact our office. He said Ronald would bring the laptop to my office that same afternoon. I asked Mr. Mayor to come along.

The next passenger actually picked up the bag as she was getting off his taxi, Ronald later told me. But he remembered me, his passenger who boarded earlier in Katipunan. “Hindi sa inyo yan ah,” he confronted the woman who was then holding my bag. The woman immediately gave it back to him. His next passenger who claimed to be a computer technician offered to buy the computer but Ronald decided to seek the advice of Mr. Mayor instead.

After all these experiences, I am convinced that despite what we read in the newspapers, see on TV and hear on the radio everyday, the ordinary Filipino is basically an honest person. I hope our political leaders will follow their examples. May Ronald’s and Tinay’s tribe continue to multiply.

(Incidentally, I lost $4,000 sometime ago in Schipol Airport in Amsterdam to two young men who were pretending to help me in the left luggage section.)


Friday, February 24, 2006

Bohol Bee Farm: A Hidden Jewel

Do not be intimidated by the colorful gumamela and bougainvillea petals scattered on top of your salad. Vicky Wallace, a nurse-turned-farmer-entrepreneur will readily assure you they are organically grown just like the romaine lettuce she is serving. “If they are edible for the pollinators, then they are edible for us,” she would often explain to her customers.

Organic food and honey-based cooking are just a few of the attractions that lure visitors to Vicky’s Bohol Bee Farm in Barangay Dauis, Panglao Island in Bohol. The farm’s values statement sums it all: “Everything we do at Bohol Bee Farm is geared towards encouraging and inspiring our farmers to practice organic farming. They don’t need to spend for costly conventional fertilizers, nor use harmful pesticides in their farms. Basic composting and companion planting are alternatives we offer.”

Aside from observing organic farming and bee culture, the farm’s showcases, visitors can also watch Bohol Bee farmer-artisans engage in raffia-based crafts and furniture making. Vicky explains her basic philosophy, which she believes is suitable for an agricultural economy like Bohol’s: “We also introduce and teach them different livelihood activities they can pursue in tandem with farming, and assist them in marketing their products to make such activities sustainable.”

Indeed, she practices what she preaches.

Vicky uses some of the decors and furniture they make to decorate the rooms where visitors can spend quiet nights. They can choose to stay in The Colony, a fully furnished two-bedroom villa on top of the cliff overlooking Mindanao Sea, or in any of the bamboo- or wood-inspired rooms in the Honeycomb and Beehive clusters. Her open-air function room is a mix-and-match of different furniture crafted by the farm’s artisans. A number of woven hammocks are tied under the trees and to some posts, silently enticing the diners to linger a little longer to savor the gentle sea breeze. Bumblebee lanterns are scattered over.

And many of those who are charmed by the rustic furniture and decors and developed the taste for Vicky’s honey-based food products can readily pick up these items from Vicky’s restaurant-cum-souvenir shop where they can also watch some women weave and sew.

For the more active, Vicky offers horseback riding and paddling. A flight of stairs behind the villa leads to the shallow water with rich colorful marine life right beneath the cliff.

Two decades ago, a Bohol-based enterprise was a remote possibility for Vicky although this nurse based in Hawaii already demonstrated her tendencies to veer away from well-trodden paths.

In the early 1980s, at 20, she married a 58-year old African-American Thomas Edward Wallace. Much of her energy was then devoted to raising her two children Melanie and Abdul Kareem. Thomas died in 1988.

Three years later, she decided to pack up and bring her children home to Bohol. By then, she had enough savings to buy a 4.8 hectare lot in Barangay Dauis in Panglao Island, where the white beaches comparable to that of Boracay’s had yet to be discovered by both local and foreign tourists. “You can’t imagine how cheap land in Panglao was back then,” Vicky recalls.

She buckled down to work. And while her property does not have a white-sand beachfront that Panglao is known for, she single-handedly transformed the farm bounded by a cliff overlooking Mindanao Sea into a quaint tourist destination.

Soon, Vicky was able to re-establish roots in the country. As her garden and bee culture activities grew, Vicky added a resthouse where close friends would periodically stay. The resthouse morphed into a compact 8-room lodging complex that offers spectacular and limitless view of the sea. She moved her bee culture operations to another property in Barangay Inabanga, 70 kilometers north of Bohol although Vicky still keeps a bee colony in her Dauis farm-resort for interested guests to see.

Those who are staying in Bohol Bee Farm should not fail to sample Vicky’s mango pancake and camote bread with honey spread. Those who prefer heavy meals in the morning can try her putomaya.

And instead the readily-available brewed coffee, one can opt for the Boholano’s standard breakfast fares – kape mais, a caffeine-free brew from roasted ground corn or Vicky's honey-laced version of the Visayan tsokolate, brewed from the dark brown tableya or tablets of ground roasted cocoa beans which, in Bohol Bee Farm’s case, are organically grown.

The more adventurous can try kinutil – honeyed tuba or coconut wine spiked with honeyed tableya. Some of those who wrote about their memorable experience at Bohol Bee Farm and The Buzz Cafe in Tagbilaran often suggest to try the kinutil as a cocktail drink.

But I, who grew up in one of the islands in this part of the country, still remembers the warm kinutil my grandfather would prepare for breakfast. His variation included milk and, when he was feeling more generous, a raw egg, newly-laid by our free-roaming pet chicken. Too bad, I did not get to try Vicky’s version and compare it with the kinutil of my childhood.

For lunch, our group of 10 had seafood soup (clams, shrimps and organic vegetables), organic garden salad, grilled marlin, honey-glazed chicken and seafood pasta. We also tried the squash muffins and cabcab with pesto and tomatoes. Uniquely Boholano, cabcab is taco-like crackers from dried cassava paste which Vicky spikes up with her organic version of the West’s pesto. And we washed down each of the memorable dishes with refreshing lemon grass (tanglad) iced tea.

A hands-on manager, Vicky, her hair covered with her trademark bandanna, was there to greet us, offer advice which items in the menu to try, and generously share the story of her own life.

She had remarried, she adds. Her husband, retired JAL pilot Neil Sandidge handles purchasing. Vicky simply keeps on moving on.


Bohol, the 10th largest island, is in the middle of the Philippine archipelago. It is accessible either by plane or by boat – an hour flight from Manila and an hour-and-a-have trip by fast boat from Cebu. Its capital city, Tagbilaran City is a four-hour trip by regular boat from Cebu.

Bohol offers some unique sights, among them the Chocolate Hills in Carmen. Watch the tiny and very shy tarsiers while waiting for your boat ride down Loboc River. Or inspect the bridge across Loboc River that remained unfinished because doing so would have required destroying the historic Loboc Church.

Those keen about Bohol’s history, culture and religion should visit the many churches in the island, starting with Baclayon Church, one of the country’s oldest. The environmentalists would appreciate the reforestation area between Loboc and Carmen.

Aside from the white beaches of Panglao, devote a day in Balicasag Island, reputed to be one of the country’s best diving spots. Indeed, Bohol offers a lot more, but then, that would be another story.


Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Geohazard mapping in the Philippines

The announcement of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo last Monday (February 20) that she has ordered the sale the 7-hectare property in Fort Bonifacio where the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (Namria) is located only underscores the half-hearted and unsustained efforts undertaken by the government to develop the country’s capability to deal with calamities and disasters.

Arroyo made the announcement at the Philippine Air Force Base Operation in Villamor Monday morning when she sent off three helicopters, with the Spanish K-9 team aboard, to Southern Leyte. According to Secretary Michael Defensor, who was environment secretary prior to his Malacanang appointment, the geo-hazard mapping would be outsourced to foreign countries, perhaps Singapore.

The prime property, located in the vicinity of Forbes Park and Dasmarinas Village, could fetch as much as P2.3 billion, at a price of P33,000 per square meter which Metro Pacific paid when in won the bidding in 1995. President Arroyo said the money will be used to finance the “speedy geo-hazard mapping operations” to prevent another disaster similar to the ones in Southern Leyte.

But long before the Southern Leyte tragedies, DENR initiated efforts to initiate geohazard studies.

Then Secretary Fulgencio Factoran initiated a series of studies by environmental and social scientists after the devastating Luzon earthquake in 1990 and the Pinatubo eruption in 1991.

“To have learned nothing from the tragic events (referring to the July 1990 earthquake) would be callousness of the highest degree. To have done nothing to develop strategies to prevent injury and damage should another earthquake occur would be irresponsibility of the most serious proportions,” Factoran wrote in the early 1990s.

At that time, an inter-agency committee chaired by DENR and the Department of Science and Technology was organized to undertake a “unified, systematic and scientific documentation of information on earthquakes, particularly the July 16 killer quake for future planning and research.” One of the outputs was a series of technical monographs published by DENR. Since then a more detailed monitoring by Philvocs, including dispatch of a quick reaction team, is being done by Philvocs each time a tremor is reported.

An aftermath of the Cherry Hills tragedy, DENR created the Urban Geology Units of MGB in March 2000,to assess the geologic hazards in urban areas. An engineering, geological and geohazard assessment (EGGA) system was institutionalized, thereby requiring developers to submit EGGA reports as additional requirement to their environmental compliance certificate applications. A geohazard map of the site of a specific project must be produced.

In early 2003, then environment secretary Gozun reminded residents of Metro Manila and other development and urbanizing areas to use geoharzard maps as references “so they can better prepare for floods and landslides during the rainy season.”

“Geohazard maps provide information on potential areas of floodings, landslides, liquefaction, subsidence and other ground instabilities. Due to its geologic setting and geographixal location, the Philippines ranks among the most vulnerable to natural disasters,” Gozun once said.

Anticipating resistance from land developers, she added: “The geohazard maps are not meant to scare residents and property developers, but instead to warn them of natural risks, if any exist that their areas are faced with. It is expected that with adequate information, safety precautions can be done to minimize accidents and the unnecessary loss of lives and property.”

At that time, DENR had completed the geohazard maps of key urban centers, namely the cities of Baguio, Cagayan de Oro, Zamboanga, Butuan, Subic and Olongapo, Davao, and Surigao. Portions of Oriental Mindoro, which was once hit by a deadly tsunami, as well as Cavite City and San Pedro, Laguna had also been mapped while information on Cebu City and Tuguegarao Cagayan was then being processed.

With the grim images from the deadly landslides in Panaon were still fresh, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and its Mines and Geosciences Bureau said in a statement issued on February 14, 2004, that it would need over P100 million in funding to map geologically hazardous and high risk areas throughout the country.

DENR-MGB said it submitted a project proposal, entitled “Geohazard Mapping for the Philippines” to the National Disaster Coordinating Council with the hope that the government could find a foreign donor to help complete the project, which was envisioned to be a three-year program.

Then 2005, as government started relocation efforts in Quezon province, the whole national was shaken by the unimaginable extent of devastation brought about by the Asian Tsunami.

On its part, the DENR said it was distributing 3,000 VCDs designed to “inform and educate local government units and the public in general on how to address common geological hazards and possibly avoid loss of lives and properties in times of disaster.”

DENR-MGB, in its press statement, announced that these will be distributed to 96 municipalities and 2,249 barangays that have been identified at risk of geohazards like landslides, earthquakes and floods.

Then environment secretary Michael Defensor said the project is in line with the Arroyo administration’s thrust to improve the disaster preparedness skills of LGUs and the communities vulnerable to disasters.

The VCD, a joint project of MGB and JICA Net Philippines, contains visual presentations in three parts – introduction to geohazards, understanding geohazard maps, and risk management and disaster response. The project was also to produce nine more geohazard maps in 1:50,000 scale and seven more detailed maps in 1:10,000 scale covering priority areas in the country.

Why then, is the President stressing on the urgency of completing the geohazard mapping, to the point of selling a prime property with estimated values that are way over the cost estimates needed to complete the geohazard mapping project?


List of Philippine Disasters

Due to its geographical location, the Philippines will always be prone to natural disasters. Destructive typhoons, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, landslides and, from time to time, tsunamis will always be part of the Filipino’s life, and as such, everybody should always be prepared to cope with such emergencies.

Here is a quick survey of past tragedies culled from different websites, among them the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (DENR-MGB), Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Philvocs), the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA).

1968 collapse of Ruby Tower. In August 1968, a 7.3 magnitude earthquake rocked Manila, leaving 270 people dead when the 6-story Ruby Tower collapsed. With the epicenter in Casiguran, Aurora, the earthquake was felt from Quezon Province all the way to Ilocos.

1976 Moro Gulf tsunami. In August 1976, a 7.9 magnitude earthquake rocked the Moro Gulf leaving the cities and provinces of Cotabato in ruins and creating a tsunami that left more than 6,000 dead. Many more were rendered homeless or missing and millions of pesos was lost due to the extensive damages in properties and loss of livelihood. The tsunami destroyed villages that dotted the 700 kilometers of coastline in Pagadian City.

1990 Bohol earthquake. The year 1990 was characterized by as series of strong earthquakes, starting in Bohol, which was rocked by a 6.8 tremor in Feburary 8. Ground fissures, landslides, and rockfalls were observed particularly in the towns of Jagna, Valencia, Duero, Guindulman and Garcia Hernandez. Two historical churches built centuries ago and close to 200 houses collapsed while another 3,000 homes, buildings and churches were partially damaged. Six died, 200 others were injured and 7,000 were rendered homeless. The tremor caused damages to property estimated at P154 million.

1990 Panay earthquake. Four months later, in June 14, Panay was hit by another earthquake, killing eight and injuring 41 people. A number of bridges collapsed, commercial buildings and churches, mostly in Aklan and Antique, were also damaged. Landslides along the slopes of the Madja-as mountains were noted.

1990 Baguio devastation. The strongest and most destructive earthquake came in July 16, 1990, rocking the whole island of Luzon, and leaving behind a devastation that then Environment Secretary Fulgencio S. Factoran Jr. described as one that “is so far unequalled in deaths, property damage and psychological shock.” Damage caused by the earthquake was estimated at P12.2 billion, leaving close to 1,300 people dead and another 2,800 injured.

Over 25,000 houses were totally damaged and another 77,300 partially damaged, displacing close to 1,300,000 people in the process. The killer earthquake, which also triggered 13 major and eight minor landslides along the 40-kilometer Maharlika Highway, also left Baguio, where a number major structures collapsed, as one of the most devastated areas.

But the country has yet to see the extent of nature’s wrath. As the U.S. Geological Survey reported, the July 1990 killer earthquake, which it said was comparable to the great 1906 San Francisco, California earthquake, stirred the otherwise dormant Mt. Pinatubo from its 500-year slumber. “Shaking and squeezing the Earth’s crust beneath the volcano… this major earthquake caused a landslide, some local earthquakes, and a short-lived increase in steam emissions from a pre-existing geothermal area.”

The USGS further reported that by early 1991 thousands of small earthquakes occurred beneath Pinatubo, which also started to emit noxious sulphur dioxide gas while molten rock or magma started to rise toward the surface.

1991 Pinatubo eruption. And by June 12, 1991, as the country was celebrating Independence Day, Pinatubo ejected an ash cloud that rose 35 kilometers into the air, eerily resembling the deathly clouds formed by the atomic bombs dropped over Nagasaki and Hiroshima in World War II. USGS described the eruption as “Cataclysmic” and the “second largest volcanic eruption on Earth” in the 20th century.

Damage to property was estimated at P10.6 billion as 108,000 houses were damaged. About 20 million tons of sulphur dioxide were injected into the earth’s stratosphere, causing global temperatures to drop in the next two years.

But Pinatubo caused greater damage and suffering years after its spectacular eruption. The more than 5 cubic kilometres of volcanic ash and rock fragments it deposited on its slopes would be lossened by the annual monsoon rains. AS a result, huge, mudflows or lahar, moving as fast as 65 kilometers per hour, would bury villages, destroy bridges and everything else that stand along the way. These mudflows would reach as far as 80 kilometers. The destruction caused by the lahar in the lowlands was even more than the eruption itself.

Damage to property, according to data from the National Disaster Coordinating Council, ran to tens of billions of pesos, as the lives of millions of Filipinos continue to be disrupted in the next ten years.

1993 Mayon eruption. Two years after Pinatubo’s eruption, the ever-active Mayon Volcano in Bicol also displayed its temper, disrupting the lives of about 18,000 people. Damage was estimated at about P73 million.

1994 Mindoro earthquake and tsunami. The following year, Mindoro took brunt of nature’s wrath after it was hit by a 7.1 earthquake in November 15, 1994, leaving 78 people dead, 41 of whom, mostly elderly and children, were drowned by the tsunami that followed about 5 minutes after the tremor. Many houses along the coast were destroyed and a power barge which was originally anchored at the mouth of the river was pushed upstream for about two kilometers. The earthquake also caused a 35-kilometer rupture on the ground. Damage was estimated at about P515 million.

1999 Cherry Hills landslide. A total of 379 houses were destroyed and 125 families were displaced when the slope where Cherry Hills Subdivision in San Luis, Antipolo collapsed in the evening of August 2, 1999. Metro Manila was then battered by heavy rains for two consecutive days. PAGASA’s team which surveyed the area after the tragedy noted that Cherry Hills has an average slope of about 20%, steep enough to trigger landslides.

“The team was inclined to believe that an error in judgment was made by those who approved of such construction and development to take place in an area such as Cherry Hills,” PAGASA reported. Furthermore, PAGASA noted that several months before the disaster, signs that indicated ground movements were repeatedly observed, which if heeded, would have enabled the community to take precautionary measures and minimize the loss of lives and damages to property.

July 10, 2000 Payatas tragedy. Like Cherry Hills, this tragedy is man-made. More than 100 people died when the mountain of garbage in Payatas Quezon City, loosened by the torrents of rain, collapsed in July 10, 2000. The homes in the community that sprouted around the dumpsite were buried.

2000 and 2001 Mayon Eruptions. Mayon again displayed its fury for two consecutive years displacing 60,000 to 70,000 people and leaving behind damages estimated at about P90 million for the 2000 eruption and close to P50 million in 2001.

2003 Panaon Island landslides. This pre-Christmas landslides in the remote island in Southern Leyte left about 160 dead. Then environment secretary Gozun stressed that in this particular case, illegal logging was not the main cause. DENR took note of the fact that the island is traversed by some branches of the Philippine Fault. Rocks underneath are broken and fractured, geological conditions that allow water to seep in and once over-saturated, could trigger a landslide.

“The loss of forest cover in Panaon Island has been due largely to the legal cutting of trees as a result of the reclassification of the land from forest lands to alienable and disposable lands and the subsequent change in the use of the same land to agriculture, mostly to coconut plantation,” Gozun wrote immediately after government geologists surveyed the island in early 2004 not only to map areas that are considered geozards but also to help the victims identify suitable relocation sites.

“As early as 1928, much of this area had already been converted to alienable and disposable lands, long before the passage of the Forestry Code in 1975,” Gozun added. “Unfortunately, the coconut palm has shallower roots and is less efficient in holding the soil and water compared to a forest tree. In addition, the number of coconut palms per hectare in old coconut plantation is significantly much lower than the total number of forest trees per hectare in virgin forests.”

2004 floods and landslides. For three weeks in November and December 2004, Luzon was battered by four consecutive typhoons – Unding, Violeta, Winnie and Yoyong – triggering landslides and flash floods, causing extensive damage to crops, infrastructure and property. The government reported over 1,000 dead and another 1,000 injured and close to 600 missing.

In response, the United Nations issued a flash appeal to raise funds to meet the relief and emergency rehabilitation needs of those affected. The hardest hit were the Quezon municipalities located at the foothills of Sierra Madre range, namely General Nakar, Infanta and Real. Significant damages were also experienced in Aurora, Neuva Ecija, Mindoro Oriental, Camarines Sur, Catanduanes, Nueva Viscaya, Quirino, Isabela, Cagayan and Kalinga.

The government estimated at 38,000 houses were destroyed and 130,000 others were damaged. Close to 900,000 were displaced. The UN estimated the damage to crops, fisheries, livestock and infrastructure at $78 million or over P4 billion.

Recent international disasters. Geohazards do not have national boundaries. While nobody has made any scientific connections between the series of domestic disasters and those that transpired in other countries, it would be interesting to note that the December 26, 2003 earthquake that devasted the city of Bam in southern Iran occurred exactly a week after the Panaon landslide. The old Bam citadel – described as the biggest adobe structure of the world – was levelled to the ground. The exact death toll was difficult to determine but estimates ranged from a low oaf 26,271 to as high as 80,000 in addition to the tens of thousands who were reported missing.

And three weeks after the landslides at the foothills of Sierra Madre wrought havoc to three Quezon municipalities, the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake rocked the floor of the Indian Ocean on December 26, 2004 and triggered what is now referred as the Asian Tsunami. More than 283,000 people died, making it one of the deadliest disasters in modern history. Waves of up to 30 meters high slammed the shores of many countries – among them Indonesia, Sri Lanka, South India, and Thailand. It reached as far as South Africa, 8,000 kilometers away from the epicenter.

February 2006 Guinsaugon Landslide. Another devastating landslide hit Southern Leyte on February 17, where it had been raining continuously for about two weeks. Guinsaugon is about an hour away from Panaon Island, where six days earlier, close to 1,000 families had been forced to leave their homes as the rivers had become swollen and landslides in remote areas had been reported. For several days, rescuers, including teams sent by several foreign governments, were franctically searching for survivors. A week later, the rescuers gave the search for the school building where hundreds of children and their teachers were believed to be trapped by the mudslides.


Monday, February 13, 2006

Southern Leyte residents abandon villages for fear of landslides

A total of 924 families or 3,558 people from 14 barangays of San Francisco, in Panaon Island, Southern Leyte have been forced to leave their homes after continuous heavy rains for over a week caused the rivers to swell and trigger numerous landslides.

The evacuees are now staying in the town’s gym, parish center and schools. Last Saturday morning, the municipal government led by town mayor Lorraine Asares and vice mayor Diego Yuboc went around the barangays and dispatched dump trucks to convince the residents to move to safer grounds.

Traumatized by the December 2003 landslides where about 120 people died in Punta, a fishing village in San Francisco, the residents heeded the appeal of local officials who have been vigilant every time continuous rains are experienced.

The small dam for Habay’s irrigation system was damaged as Habay River was swollen, forcing over 250 families in the adjoining barangays of Habay, Gabi, and Bungawisan to leave their homes. Over 100 families have also left Marayag due to flooding.

Close to 100 families have also left their homes in the mountain village of Kangkasto. Meanwhile, over 50 families have also left their homes in Barangay Sta. Paz where a fracture along the mountain was found by government geologists who surveyed the island immediately after the December 2003 tragedy.

No casualties have been reported in San Francisco although eight have been reported to have died in Kahupi-an, Sogod, in mainland Southern Leyte.

San Francisco residents said relief goods from nongovernment organizations, led by Plan International, have started arriving. Plan International is among the numerous nongovernment organizations that helped in the relocation of Punta residents displaced by the December 2003 landslides.

According to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Southern Leyte is characterized by steep slopes with highly fractured rocks underlying the area due to the numerous geological structures related to the Philippine Fault that transverse the whole island of Leyte. Extended heavy rains could easily trigger landslides. The southernmost island in Leyte, Panaon Island is facing the Mindanao Sea where the Philippine Deep is located. It is barely two hours away by motorized boats from Surigao in Mindanao.

According to DENR, the 2003 disaster, as similar ones in the past, was a result of the confluence of many factors: weather perturbations, lack of appreciation of the dangers posed by human settlements located in geo-hazardous areas and the permanent conversion of forest lands into non-forest lands. As early as 1928, Panaon Island had been converted into coconut lands and agricultural areas.

According to the DENR, December 2003 tragedy only underscored the importance of preserving the forests and the urgent need to rehabilitate the denuded mountains through massive reforestation or tree planting. But more important is the need to impress on everyone the urgency of rationalizing land uses and human settlements.


Friday, January 13, 2006

Malaysian foundation supports CGMA

Some CGMA funds came from unexpected sources.

People in Profit Systems (PIPS) and Isabellamina Foundation, based in Malaysia and headed by Bryan Marsden, contributed $100,000. These groups are linked with the World Council of People for the United Nations, says Leo van Vogel, vice president for Asian operations.

Coordinating with Labor Attache Ma. Brenda L. Villafuerte, PIPS/Isabellamina financed 25 classrooms for 15 schools in different regions. They are:

* Jose P. Laurel St. High School in Quezon City.
* Sta. Maria, Eliseo Belen and Tagulod Elementary Schools and San Roque National High Schools in Pampanga.
* Mapalacsiao and Victoria East Central Elementary Schools in Tarlac.
* Lamao Elementary School in Bataan.
* Baquilan Resettlement Elementary School in Zambales.
* Dasmarinas Bagong Bayan Elementary School in Cavite.
* Lanatan-M Elementary School and Paharang National High School in Batangas.
* Infanta Central and Dinahican Elementary Schools in Quezon and
* Pili West Central School in Camarines Sur.

“We, the Sta. Maria Elementary School teachers, pupils, PTCA officers, homeroom officers and parents, have considered ourselves lucky for our prayers have been answered. Our dreams to have classrooms came true,” says principal Constancia M. Lagazon. “Our people were so happy when our donors, Leo van Vogel, Bryan Marsden and his wife, came for the groundbreaking. We will treasure and take good care of our CGMA building. We will always remember your good deeds.”

Sta. Maria barangay captain Florentino Infante adds: “The children are more inspired and interested in attending their classes, they feel more at ease and comfortable, they are no longer crowded in their rooms.”

Mercedita B. Panes, principal of Baquilan Resettlement Elementary School says the new rooms have made the school environment more comfortable and conducive for learning. “The 18 personnel, the 664 pupils and the whole community are very grateful,” she says.

“Education is the surest path to success and progress and I have great respect for the emphasis you are all placing on this issue,” says van Vogel, protector of Isabellamina Foundation, in his letter to Secretary Sto. Tomas. Van Vogel’s foundation is CGMA’s second biggest donor next to AMOSUP, having sponsored 25 classrooms.

“Your organization is by far the most professional entity with which I have worked since coming to Asia in 1992,” adds van Vogel.


Some Christmas gifts from Saipan

It was one of the easiest decisions to make.

“When we learned about the CGMA project and the alarming classroom shortage in the Philippines, the group unanimously decided it was the most worthwhile project to support,” says Nicolas B. Loste, president of the Filipino Community Foundation Inc.-Saipan.

The group’s 2003-2004 Simbang Gabi Committee, chaired by Eduardo C. Caranzo, immediately initiated the fund raising. “Last August 2005, the Committee’s two-classroom building donation was inaugurated and is now being used by students of Lalawigan Central Elementary School in Borongan, Eastern Samar,” says Caranzo.

The group’s treasurer, Alicia E. Abueme recalls: “Through the efforts of various coordinators and support from CNMI Archibishop Tomas Camacho, Filipino clergy and attendees of the Filipino Simbang Gabi at Mount Carmel Cathedral, we were able to accumulate sufficient amount for the construction of the classrooms.” Saipan is part of the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands or CNMI.

Danilo L. Domingo, chairman of the Simbang Gabi Committee 2005-2006, adds: “With the completion of the classrooms and seeing their benefits to the Filipino children, our group is even more encouraged to work for another classroom building donation in the near future.”

“We laud the CGMA project and its implementers for giving us Filipinos abroad a concrete and vital medium with which to share our blessings with Filipino children back home and to ensure for them a better future through better education,” they add.

The fundraising efforts in Saipan are coordinated by Consul General Wilfredo Maximo and POLO representative Joan Lourdes D. Lavilla.

The CNMI chapter of the University of the Philippines Alumni Association (UPAA) also funded a school building for Calamba National High School in Laguna. “The UPAA is an academic nonprofit organization that aims to invest in education,” says chapter president Janet Villagomez.

After raising funds to construct one classroom, UPAA-CNMI tied up with Saipan businessman Glicerio Arago and the Marianas Filipino Women’s Association to be able to complete CGMA’s standard two-classroom module, which was inaugurated last July 2005.

“Education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty. Through CGMA, UPAA was given the opportunity to share the gift of education to the children of Calamba, Laguna. UPAA will continue to support education-oriented causes and welcomes opportunities to make a difference in the educational development of the Filipino youth,” Villagomez adds.

When Labor Attache Araceli A. Maraya, who used to be posted in Saipan, introduced the CGMA project to Saipan-bsed businessman, Jerry Tan, he did not hesitate to support the project. Maraya is now based in Milan.

“From a very young age, my father encouraged everyone in our family to have an appreciation for education and social responsibility – two things that can make a great difference in the quality of life where we live, work and do business,” says Tan. “Today, the company that we started many years ago has grown to be a global business, and we are indeed very fortunate to be able to give some back to the community.”

His company, Tan Holdings, donated two classrooms to Dau Central Elementary School in Mabalacat South, Pampanga, which was inaugurated in January 2004. In addition, Tan made a separate personal donation for another classroom. Together with the donation from Al Ahliya Labor Supply based in the United Arab Emirates, a new CGMA school building was inaugurated in Capas National High School in Tarlac in March 2004.

“This makes it especially meaningful for us to have an opportunity to be part of this project. We hope that many more young people will benefit and lead happier and more productive lives because of the improvement in the education system that this project brings,” Tan says.


A 50-cent contribution goes a long way

Seamen donate 30 classrooms to 11 schools

The example set by seamen affiliated with the Association of Marine Officers and Seamen’s Union of the Philippines (AMOSUP) shows how small contributions, when systematically pooled, could help in nation building.

Organized in 1960 by the Oca brothers Roberto and Gregorio, the seamen’s union started with 500 members. The steady demand for Filipino seamen from international shipping companies encouraged AMOSUP president Captain Gregorio S. Oca to put up the Maritime Institute of Asia and the Pacific in 1998.

“Then I realized from the applicants we were getting that our basic education has deteriorated,” Captain Oca says. So when Labor Secretary Sto. Tomas broached the idea of AMOSUP as CGMA’s first donor, Captain Oca did not hesitate to extend his support.

“Our association, as the biggest labor organization of Filipino seafarers, is fully aware of the importance of education and training as tools for national development,” says Captain Oca. “We are able to maintain our leadership in the global seafaring labor force because of better education and training.”

The seamen’s union collects $0.50-donations from each member when they renew their licenses. CGMA’s first and biggest donor started with a P2-million donation to build 10 classrooms in Tala High School in Caloocan. One of the most crowded schools, Tala has 6,199 students and 39 classrooms – or a student-to-classroom ratio of 159. Each classroom in Tala has to be shared by three classes.

A touching comment made by one of Tala’s student when the ten classrooms were inaugurated in December 2003 remains vivid for Labor Undersecretary Manuel Imson. Mustering his courage, the student approached Undersecretary Imson to express his gratitude that with their new classrooms, he will no longer have to attend night classes. “Children should be at home in the evenings doing their homework. This is the time when their parents are home from work,” says Imson.

AMOSUP also donated two classrooms to Victorias National High School in Negros Occidental, which was also inaugurated in December 2003.

AMOSUP, which has 75,000 members, has been able to pool a total of P6.04 million, enough to build 30 classrooms in 11 public schools. The fundraising is a continuing endeavour of the association. “We committed 50 classrooms to Secretary Sto. Tomas. We still lack 20,” says Captain Oca.

When rehabilitation activities were started in Quezon province, which was devastated by typhoons and landslides last December 2004, AMOSUP donated eight classrooms to four public schools – Infanta Central and Alitas Elementary Schools, both in Infanta, General Nakar Elementary School and Llavas High School in Real. These were inaugurated August 2005.

Ten more classrooms are now being built in five schools in Camarines Sur – Burabod, Hanawan, Don Tomas Garchitorena, and Nonito Paz Arroyo Elementary Schools and Rangas-Ramos National High School.

“Filipino seafarers are high qualified, reliable, experienced, competent, and loyal workers who can effectively communicate in the English language,” he adds. “We would like to continue supporting the CGMA project to ensure that our people would have access to better public education facilities that would help produce world-class human resources.”


Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Philippine public schools need 45,000 classrooms, to cost P17 billion

The right of Filipino citizens to quality education at all levels is guaranteed under the 1987 Philippine Constitution. It provides that the state shall take appropriate steps to make education accessible to all and to establish and maintain a system of free public education in the elementary and high school levels.

This mandate carries with it the responsibility of providing the different components of education such as school buildings, textbooks, armchairs, and teachers. Nationwide, in School Year 2002-2003, a total of 16,435,529 students was enrolled in 36,301 and 5,394 elementary and secondary schools, respectively.

In the historical inventory of classrooms prepared by the Department of Education (DepEd), the classroom shortage for SY 2001-2002 for elementary and secondary education was 8,040 and 27,946, respectively or a total of 35,986. This was projected to increase to 44,716 by SY 2003-2004.

The shortage of classrooms is a long-standing issue raised every enrolment period. To ensure that substantial number of classrooms is built, the government is appropriating P2.0 billion annually for the School Building Program (SBP). For this purpose, the government has devised an allocation system that is intended to address equitable and fair allocation of resources. Under Section 4 of R.A. 7880, otherwise known as the “Fair and Equitable Access to Education Act,” 50% of the annual budget is allocated based on the student population, 40% based on classroom shortage and the remaining 10% left to the discretion of the DepEd Secretary.

Under the Act, 90% of the annual appropriation will be released to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) for the implementation of the program while the 10% will be administered by the DepEd.

The budgets for CYs 2002 and 2003 were meant to build 6,154 and 5,330 classrooms, respectively, for elementary and secondary schools considering an average cost of P325,000/classroom in CY 2002 and P375,000/classroom in CY 2003. These units were distributed to the 210 Legislative Districts in accordance with RA 7880 allocations.

These allocations are not sufficient to eliminate the classroom shortage. The National Government is, however, not alone in these endeavour. Local government units (LGUs) and a number of government and private entities are also constructing schools buildings.

Source: Sectoral Performance Audit Report on the School Building Program for Elementary Education of the Department of Education (Cys 2002-2003)
Commission on Audit, August 2004.


OFWs help solve classroom shortage

For the past three years, overseas Filipino workers have been helping raise funds to build classrooms in public schools under the Classroom Galing sa Mamayang Pilipino Abroad (CGMA), a project managed by the Department of Labor and Employment.

A total of P74.1 million has been donated as of November 30,2005and more pledges are coming in. The amount pooled is being used to build 376 classrooms, of which 296 have been completed. A total of 172 elementary and high schools all over the country is now benefiting from the program.

To cope with the acute classroom shortage, many public schools have adopted multi-shift schedules to be able to hold more classes. In many instances, several grade levels are being handled simultaneously by teachers in each classroom while thousands of public school students are holding classes under the trees or in makeshift structures.

The CGMA program is gaining headway, particularly in the rural areas where an additional classroom could mean a lot for both the pupils and the teachers.

DOLE’s team of labor attaches are actively soliciting donations from overseas Filipino workers. The project is a collaborative effort of the DOLE, Departments of Education and of Foreign Affairs and the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, manages the actual construction of the buildings.

“We have barely scratched the surface but we have made a good start and must be able to sustain the momentum,” says Labor and Employment Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas.

Assuming that a room is used by a class of 50, at least 19,000 public school students are now benefiting from CGMA efforts.

“The response from our donors, both here and abroad, has been encouraging,” says Labor Undersecretary Danilo Cruz, the program’s executive director. “This is a further validation of the long-established value given to education by most Filipinos. We believe that giving our youth better access to education would help solve our unemployment and underemployment problem.”

“In addition to the support from our OFWs, we are starting to attract the attention of local donors, particularly corporations who have identified education as one of the areas for their corporate responsibility projects,” Sto. Tomas says. “We are pleased to note that all regions have benefited from the CGMA program. WE owe our ability to expand the coverage of CGMA to the continued generosity of our local and foreign donors.”

Data from the Department of Education show that at the elementary level, the shortage is most acute in Metro Manila, which needs close to 9,000 additional classrooms, followed by Region 4-A or Southern Tagalog (close to 3,000 classrooms) and the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (with a little over 1,000 rooms). These three regions have the highest enrolments at the elementary levels.

More is needed for the public high schools where total enrolment now stands at 3,202,757. The country’s public high school system has 41,039 classrooms, while the ideal, at 50 students per class, should be a little over 64,000 classrooms.

The enrolment pattern for high school students is different. The highest is in Region 4-A, followed by Metro Manila and Region 3 (Central Luzon) and Region 7 (Central Visayas). Many elementary graduates from the rural areas are sent to live with their relatives and friends in the urban centers, often working as house helps, to be able to finish their high school education.

With the country’s high population growth, the classroom shortage is increasing every year. According to the COA report, the entire public school system now needs close to 45,000 more classrooms. Given CGMA’s ballpark cost of $4,000 per classroom, at least $180 million will be needed to meet this shortage.

“The amount may sound staggering but that represents about 2% of the total remittances of our overseas workers,” Sto. Tomas says.

If every Filipino working abroad could give a one-time donation of $22.50 each, then the acute classroom shortage would be solved. About seven to eight million Filipinos are working abroad remitting over $8.6 billion in 2004. The Bangko Sentral estimates that OFW remittances reached $12 billion in 2005.

Even if just a third of the 12,000 Filipino community associations abroad would donate a classroom, then 4,000 could be built in public schools that are in need.

“We should invest in the education of our youth so our country could be assured of highly-skilled entrants into our labor force. We do not only solve our unemployment problem, we will also be able to increase our national productivity,” Sto. Tomas adds.

Total CGMA Donations (as of November 30, 2005)

Personal - 86 donors - P12,683,184.60

Filipino community associations, non-government and civic organizations - 78 donors - P30,059,778.28

Corporations and foundations - 63 donors - P24,092,584.49

Diplomatic community - 8 donors - P 2,418,972.55

Local government units - 4 donors - P 1,460,000.00

Cash pool - P 1,352,959.26

Total - 225 donors - P74,067,479.18


Monday, September 26, 2005

When two husbands meet

Crusaldo La Puebla, husband of murdered Filipina maid, Jane, and Edwin Aguilar, husband of Guen, the prime suspect in Jane’s gruesome murder, had an emotional meeting last week in Singapore, shortly before the September 23 court mentioning or preliminary investigation was held.

“It was Eddie (as Cruzaldo is called by relatives and friends) who requested the meeting,” one of La Puebla’s companions said after a brief press conference held immediately after the court proceedings. Subordinate Court Judge Carolyn Wee ordered a postponement until October 14. Guen will have to go through psychiatric evaluation.

The two came to court in separate cars, were seated apart, and barely had any eye contact during the proceedings that lasted barely 10 minutes. They also left the courthouse separately.

But when they faced the Filipino reporters at the Philippine Embassy later that morning, La Puebla and Aguilar, both dressed in white, were seated side by side. Both politely refused to answer questions and instead requested Philippine ambassador to Singapore Belen Anota to speak on their behalf.

Aside from the support extended by the Philippine government, the two families also have counsellors and religious support groups, Anota said as she pleaded members of the media to be more sensitive to the emotional turmoil the two husbands and their relatives are currently going through.

Later that evening, La Puebla and Aguilar along with Jane’s aunt, Sally Parangan, were treated by two staffmembers of the Philippine Embassy to a trip to the Midnight Safari, one of Singapore’s leading tourist destinations. Jane’s mother, Paulina, did not attended the court proceedings or joined the press conference or the night out.

The following day, September 24, a tearful memorial service for Jane, which Edwin also attended, was held. About 90,000 Filipinos work in Singapore, mostly as domestic helpers. Now in a wooden coffin, Jane’s body was retrieved after the completion of an autopsy that was observed by a representative from the Philippines’ National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

Eddie La Puebla arrived in the Philippines at about 9pm Sunday together with the remains of Jane. Edwin Aguilar took the earlier Singapore Airlines flight which arrived in Manila 5pm.

But the case is expected to take some time to resolve. The court gave an extension upon the request of police authorities to give them more time to evaluate the results of their investigation and available evidences.

The counsel for the defense, Shashi Nathan, on the other hand, also requested the court for an independent psychiatric evaluation of Aguilar and for her husband, Edwin, to see her before returning toManila.

Aguilar, wearing a white t-shirt, appeared only for a few minutes and was immediately whisked back to a special room. With the postponement, Aguilar would be brought back to the Changi Women’s Prison, where she would remain until her case will have been resolved.

Nathan said the results of the psychiatric test would be very important as it could have a bearing on the outcome of the case. Just like in the Philippines, Aguilar’s case, which is a capital offense is unbailable. But under Singapore law, insanity or having an unstable mind is not a ground for acquittal but could help lighten the penalty.

The defense team is focusing on the chronology and sequence of events before and after the murder, Nathan said. After meeting with Guen for about four hours, Nathan said he needed more information to fill in a lot of gaps.

“I need to get a bigger picture of what happened,” Nathan said as he evaded touchy questions such as the possible love triangle earlier reported. Aguilar, a mother of two, hails from Baguio City,while La Puebla, who is also working as a maid, is from Nueva Ecija.

La Puebla was allegedly murdered by Aguilar for still unknown reasons. La Puebla's dismembered bodies were found in different areas in Singapore. If found guilty, Aguilar will be meted out the penalty of death by hanging.

The grisly murder case was reminiscent of the 1995 Flor Contemplacion's story, who was hanged at Singapore's Changi Prison for the death of compatriot Delia Maga and her 4-year-old Singaporean ward.

(Note: The author was in Singapore to attend the court proceedings last Friday, September 23.)