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.

Name:
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.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Poverty-free zones in Southern Leyte

Creating other sources of income for farmers

MAASIN, SOUTHERN LEYTE – Like many other farmers in her neighborhood, Virgie Duenas, resident of the upland village of Hantag in Maasin, Southern Leyte, knew she cannot rely on a single crop. She must diversify her sources of income in order to shield her family from price fluctuations that normally characterize most agricultural products.

Thus, when Virgie and other Hantag residents were given the opportunity to develop abaca-based products, the Hantag farmers immediately took time out to learn the trade through the basic skills training and upgrading programs conducted by the Departments of Trade and Industry (DTI) and Labor and Employment (DOLE).

Today, more than 100 members of the Hantag Farmers Multi Purpose Cooperative Inc. (HAFAMCI) are earning additional income by producing tinagak (continuous spooled abaca fiber) and sinamay (hand woven cloth out of tinagak) which they now sell to an exporter based in Manila. Japanese International Cooperation Agency consultant Yasushi Fukushima, who was involved in the project, had twice ordered sinamay bags for souvenirs and promotional items in Japan.

In Laboon, a village adjacent to Hantag, Estrellita Ortega together with 25 others are earning additional income from yet another craft – pottery, which is now a thriving enterprise. Ortega is the production manager of the Laboon Farmers Multipurpose Cooperative Inc.

These two villages are among the 21 depressed communities in various regions of the country that have been identified as pilot areas for the Department of Labor and Employment’s Poverty-Free Zone (PFZ) program.

The residents were organized into cooperatives, guided in identifying viable livelihood projects, given skills training, and assisted in acquiring production equipment such as hand looms, in the case of the Hantag weavers and kneading machines, mechanical dryer, blunger, potters wheel, kiln and molders, in the case of the Laboon potters.

Various government agencies and private sector partners are helping the beneficiaries nurture their chosen enterprises – cassava and camote processing in the Cordillera Autonomous Region; soft broom and other tiger grass products in Burgos, La Union; seaweeds processing for the fishermen in Tibungco, Davao City; goat dairy production for the farmers in Malanang, Opol Misamis Oriental; bamboo furniture and other products for the craftsmen in Guimaras, Iloilo and Nasugbu, Batangas; and integrated fruit and vegetable processing in Morong, Bataan.

In Maasin, the two PFZ projects were implemented using the “convergence approach,” a one-day planning and pledging session with various social partners and stakeholders. “This ensured a wholistic and focused delivery of programs and services to Barangays Hantag and Laboon, thus, creating a significant impact on the lives to the beneficiaries and on the community,” said Fe Norma D. Valuis, supervising labor and employment officer and PFZ Program Manager of DOLE-Region 8.

The pledges were translated into a Memorandum of Agreement which was signed by the heads of DOLE-Region 8 and the different stakeholders. These include national agencies like DTI, Departments of Land Reform, Science and Techbology, and Education; Philippine Information Agency, Fiber Industry Development Authority (FIDA), TESDA, Philippine Coconut Authority. Local government units and agencies participated, among them the Provincial of Southern Leyte and City of Maasin; the Offices of City Agricultural Services, Provincial Agriculture, City Social Welfare and Development Office, City Health, and DILG-City Office; and PNP’s Maasin Police Station and Southern Leyte Provincial Office. Civic organizations and the media – like FOBI-World Vision, Diocesan Social Action Center of Maasin, Southern Leyte Chamber of Commerce, and DYDM-AM Radio Station – also pitched in.

In the case of Hantag and Laboon, productivity programs were introduced by the Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Board, one of DOLE’s attached agencies, and DTI’s Southern Leyte Provincial Office.

Abaca weavers of Hantag

To ensure a steady supply of raw materials and project sustainability, the FIDA and the Maasin City Agriculture Office taught the abaca farmers how to cultivate the suitable variety (locally called laylay).

Over 200 hectares in Hantag and nearby barangays like Malapoc Sur, Malapoc Norte, Bactul I and II and Matin-ao had been planted with laylay abaca as farmers learned to control diseases such as the bunchy top and abaca mosaic virus that threaten their crop. The provincial government of Southern Leyte and the city government of Maasin are currently underking some measures to protect the abaca industry by controlling these diseases.

HAFAMCI was organized in 1991 by 22 members who contributed P100 each, selling among themselves their own produce like camote and salabat extracted from ginger. Today, the cooperative has over P300,000 in share capital from its members.

HAFAMCI’s over 100 weavers can now produce a total of 2,800 meters of sinamay every month which the cooperative buys at P36 per meter. The weavers’ monthly aggregate output is valued at about P100,800, a substantial regular cash inflow into this rural community. Encouraged by the experience of the Hantag weavers, residents of the nearby barangay have also organized themselves in Malapok Sur Tinagak and Sinamay Workers Association.

It is a labor intensive activity and almost all of the family members are involved as the tasks – of connecting the abaca fiber into continuous spools (tagak) and weaving these into sinamay – can be done at home.

The 100 steel-framed handlooms were fabricated in Maasin and given to the weavers – 50 in Hantag, 30 in Malapoc Sur and 20 in Laboon – as a grant. “We monitor their output, otherwise the looms will be given to somebody else who could make productive use of it,” Valuis said.

Wala nay lakwatsa ang mga bata kay hasta sila naga-habol na para naa silay balon sa eskwelahan ug ipalit ug bag-ong sinina,” said Genera Pia, chairman of the newly organized Malapok Sur cooperative which has 30 weavers and 16 tinagak makers. (Even the children are weaving so they will have some money for their school allowance and even buy a new dress.)

Luis Grullo, HAFAMCI cooperative chairman, is responsible for sourcing the abaca fiber (or eskujedo) and tinagak the weavers need. Grullo’s wife does not weave because of poor eyesight but she makes tinagak which the cooperative buys at P280 a kilo.

Skilled weaver Anastasia Aquino, who weaves in between farm and household chores, produces at least 25 meters of sinamay out of 1.6 kilos of tinagak each week. With her additional income of P452 a week from weaving, Anastacia had been able to send her children to school, six of whom are in high school and one in college.

Meanwhile, less experienced weavers produce at least 50 meters a month. It is something that they can do anytime, especially at midday when it is too hot to work in the farm, the weavers added.

For barangay secretary Virginia Malasaga, weaving enables her to earn extra money to augment the earnings of her husband who drives a motorcycle (locally referred as habal-habal), the only mode of transport through the bumpy roads that connect their upland barangay with Maasin.

HAFAMCI treasurer Erlinda Calban, whose husband died late last year, has been able to cope with the loneliness by keeping herself busy. With the help of her only child, she weaves, operates a sari-sari store and raises hogs to augment the income derived from copra, the price of which is constantly fluctuating.

A widow like Erlina, Margarita Nacaytuna has also been able to augment her income through weaving and to support her family of 12 which now includes three grandchildren and her elderly mother. Two of her daughters help weave sinamay while her mother makes tinagak. Margarita has taken over Virgie Duenas work as the cooperative’s production manager.

Meanwhile, Virgie, who is now one of HAFAMCI’s board of directors, is glad her daughter, who graduated from St. Joseph College in Maasin has found a job in Manila. Her husband is sick and can no longer work in the farm, she said. The two looms at home are used alternately by her two daughters and her husband, who are among the fastest weavers in Hantag. And Virgie is often tapped by the Department of Trade and Industry to train weavers in the region. With the extra income she derives from weaving, she had been able to buy appliances on installment, Virgie said.

Potters of Laboon

When the farmers of Laboon decided to go into the pottery venture, various agencies pledged to assist the group: the barangay agreed to set aside a parcel of land to be the site for the production center which was built through contributions from the Maasin City government, DOLE and equity from the cooperative.

DTI conducted a 10-day skills training on decorative ceramic and artwares production including the basic hands-on training on how to build and operate a kiln, added Susana Capa, chairman of the Laboon Farmers Multi-Purpose Cooperative Inc.

“The cooperatives benefited a lot from technical assistance given by Nick Cinco of DTI-Maasin, thus ensuring the projects were going smoothly,” said Valuis. Mario Tictic, the DOLE Provicial Extension Officer for Southern, Leyte, assisted in linking the cooperatives with concerned agencies and institutions for support and assistance.

Today, the 25 workers involved in the project are producing a wide range of pottery items – from simple clay dishes that poultry raisers use as feed containers to large decorative jars.

They have worked out a detailed costing for each stage of the production process – clay is bought at P1 per sack, laborers gathering the clay are paid P3 per sack for digging and P2 per sack for hauling. The potters are paid per piece, the rate of which depends on the intricacy of the item – P1 for the clay dish and P15 for a decorative jar.

Milagros Capistrano, the cooperative’s business manager, estimated that their two potters, who alternately work on potter’s wheeled jars and other ceramic items earn between P1,000 to P2,000 a month. The women handle the slip casting, where earthenwares are produced using molds made of plaster of Paris.

The clay pots, dishes and jars are then placed in the kiln for firing for about eight hours. For fuel, they use dried coconut fronds (locally called palwa) for pre-heating, which takes about five hours and coconut shell and firewood for the succeeding three-hour rapid firing. These are left to cool off for several hours before the items are taken out of the kiln.

The decorative jars are sanded for which the laborers are paid P3 a piece and another P2 for varnishing. A worker could earn P10 a piece for sanding large decorative jars and varnishing them with antique finish.

At this point, the products are ready to be brought to nearby trading towns like Sogod, Baybay and Hilongos where the decorative jars could be sold at P120 a piece. Recently, DOLE donated to the cooperative a vehicle to enable them to transport their products to these trading centers. The cooperative sets aside 20% of their gross sales to compensate the 4-woman team in charge of the daily production and business operations.

Depending on the orders they get, the cooperative earns between P6,000 to P9,000 a month, said sales clerk Liza Ortega. Aside from the potter business, many of the members are also engaged in tinagak and sinamay weaving just like their Hantag neighbors.

For the past several years, the two cooperatives were occupying a small space in their respective barangay halls as their temporary offices. Recently, HAFAMCI acquired a lot and built a new office, funded partly by donations from Governor Rosette Lerias, Mayor Damian Mercado and members’ contributions. It was inaugurated last December 2004. Beside its office is a rice mill has been in operation since February 2005, a support project undertaken through a P100,000.00 funding assistance from DOLE’s PRESEED program.

On the other hand, LAFAMCI has also transferred to a new location where they now hold office and operate a commodity store.

Encouraged by the two successful projects in Maasin, DOLE-Region 8 is now identifying other livelihood projects in Samar where the poverty incidence is also high, said Valuis of DOLE-Region 8.

(Note: A shortened version of this piece was published in the July 31, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Business Section B-10)

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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Showing off the Philippines

I was at a loss where to bring my new French-Canadian brother-in-law when he first visited the Philippines in 1995. He and my sister, Rebecca, got married in the early 1990s. On his first trip to the country, he and my sister decided to travel separately. My sister arrived ahead of him and went immediately to Davao City where my parents were living. So I was given the task of meeting her husband, Guy, at the airport and showing him around.

I started with a quick city tour – San Agustin Church and other historic churches in Manila, Fort Santiago and the University of Sto. Tomas. He had been taking Spanish lessons in Montreal and our 300 years under Spanish rule was of special interest for him.

His immediate reaction was: "Wow, you already had churches and schools, and Quebec did not even exist then!" I guess he ended up with higher respect for the Filipinos as a people and managed to see beyond the shortcomings he had seen or read about.

The following day, I brought him to Pampanga, where he saw the desolation and devastation caused by the lahar. An engineer by profession, he works at Rolls Royce where he analyzes the causes behind breakdowns of aircraft engines and spare parts. As he was closely examining the lahar, he talked about the high incidence of engine problems they encountered immediately after the Mt. Pinatubo eruption.

After his brief stay in Manila, he went to Davao, trekked to Mt. Apo, swam in the clear waters of Samal Island. And shortly before leaving the country, he and my sister went north to see Sagada.

Guy returned to Davao the following year. He watched my husband, Joy, slaughter one of the native chickens my Dad raised in our backyard. Joy took the effort to clean it thoroughly by plucking out the tiniest feathers. But Guy ended up eating Jolibee’s Chickenjoy which, incidentally, he loves up to now.

In January 1999, when my parents were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, we treated them to a 2-night stay in Boracay. We rented a house (owned by the Tirol family) by the beach that was big enough to accommodate our party of eight – me and Joy, Rebecca and Guy, our parents, and my aunt Linda and her husband who came all the way from Delaware to be with us for the occasion. Joy and I did the marketing and prepared our meals.

They walked on Boracay’s immaculate sand, swam in its clear waters, and danced with the Ati-atihan in Kalibo. They ate oysters, shrimps and crabs which abound in Balate (Joy’s hometown) and watched the flying shuttles of skilled weavers making pina cloth out of the fine fibers of the native pineapple leaves.

Guy, who was once amazed at the lizards that crawl on our window screens, was so startled when he heard the gecko (tu…ko!) that frequented the room where he and Rebecca were staying.

The next stop was Leyte and our route was quite circuitous. From Aklan, we went by car to Iloilo then took the ferry for Bacolod where we would catch our flight for Cebu. Along the way, Guy took note of Iloilo’s white Victorian houses and tasted La Paz bachoy. We stayed overnight in Cebu, where my three children, who skipped class for a few days, would join us.

Guy barely had enough time to see downtown Cebu (Magellan’s cross, Sto. Nino Church, etc.). We took the early ferry bound for Maasin, Southern Leyte the following day. San Francisco, my parents’ hometown, in the island of Panaon, is four hours away by car from Maasin.

In San Francisco, Guy ate kinilaw, uni (he learned to clean the spiny sea urchins by himself), various types of sea weeds and sea shells -- by the sea. He even tasted the eggs of an octopus that one of my cousins picked from the sea floor -- it looked like a bunch of filled condoms and the locals claimed it is an aphrodisiac! He got himself acquainted on the bounties from the sea that sustain many families in our village.

In the next two years, he learned scuba diving in Canada, in preparation for our scheduled Palawan trip in 2000. (I earlier posted a separate account on our Palawan trip).

From Palawan, we again trooped to Leyte for our clan reunion. This time, Guy watched and took pictures while my cousins slaughtered a pig and heartily ate the lechon and dinuguan they prepared. We explored the corals in the nearby village of Napantao. We trekked the 425 steps leading to Magellan’s Cross and snorkeled in the clear waters of Limasawa, the historic island right across Panaon.

As our parents grew older, Guy and my sister were visiting them more frequently. In 2001, after a two-week stay in Leyte, we went to Bohol. He missed Bohol’s typical sites – the tarsiers, the Chocolate Hills, and the country’s oldest Catholic church in Baclayon. We also skipped the Loboc river ride as we gave priority to the two-night stay in the island of Balicasag, one of the best diving sites in the country. Joy, the children and I spent hours snorkeling over Balicasag’s fascinating corals while Guy went scuba diving. The Philippine Tourism Authority, an attached agency of the Department of Tourism, maintains decent facilities in Balicasag.

No doubt we will go back to Bohol so he can spend more time in Panglao, where the white sand can rival that of Boracay’s. He should try out the charming Bohol Bee Farm, a compact resort overlooking the sea that serves honey-based cooking. The owners raise bees for their supply of honey just as they grow their own organic vegetables.

Guy requested to go back to Aklan. We skipped Boracay and instead we spent more time in Balete, Joy’s hometown. We had an unusual two-hour boat ride along the river that brought us to Tinagong Dagat (Hidden Sea), the bay where Aklan’s oysters come from. We dropped by Jawili Falls, a series of cascading natural pools, where my children really had fun during their previous visit.

In 2003, my sister and I decided to spend Christmas with our parents. After shaking off their jetlags, they immediately left for Leyte. My three children would follow them a week later, immediately after their classes ended for the Christmas break. Two days before my children were to leave Manila, my sister called asking if we should cancel the children’s trip because the heavy rains had made the 12-kilometer road between our town and Liloan impassable.

But I could not bear the thought of disappointing our parents who were looking forward to spending their Christmas with the grandchildren in Leyte for the first time. She agreed to pick them up in Liloan, a one hour-and-a-half ride by pump boat around the island. Just a few minutes after they arrived in San Francisco – all of them soaking wet because of the heavy rains – tragedy struck the family. A series of landslides buried Punta – the fishing village where many of our relatives live, the place where we hold our periodic reunions, and where we spent countless memorable hours snorkeling and fishing. (I had posted several accounts about the tragedy, too.)

It was quite a shock for my brother-in-law just as it was a traumatizing experience for my children. But families are together not only to share happy moments – but more importantly, to support each other during times of crisis. Upon his return to Canada, Guy sent some financial help for our relatives.

And last April 2005, he was back to Leyte again, roaming around the new village where our relatives have relocated. And he promised to be back later this year. Indeed, he is one of us now.

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Saturday, July 16, 2005

Remembering Puerto Princesa

July 16, 2005

(I just arrived from Panglao Island, Bohol and all of the sudden I could not help comparing Panglao with Puerto Princesa and Boracay.)

One of the most memorable family vacations we had was made about five years ago, when the we visited Puerto Princesa City in Palawan.

You can't go to Palawan without seeing the underground river. It is a MUST.

It was a real sight. My father was exclaiming "marvelous!", "fantastic!" as we were paddling into the cave. And I was glad we brought him there, a few months after he celebrated his 76th birthday. (He had a stroke in November 2001, a few days after he celebrated his 77th birthday, and while is remains strong to this day, we realized we could not tag him along in our family travels the way we used to in the past.)

I must admit that planning for the trip was quite difficult – our group was composed of members from three generations (including in-laws and a French Canadian brother-in-law) with different needs and expectations

Puerto Princesa is one of the most tourist-friendly (it does not matter if you are a foreign or domestic tourist) places in this country. People are very accommodating in giving directions and extending assistance; prices are more or less standardized you would not feel that you, a stranger in the area, had just been ripped off by the boatman or the driver of the vehicle you just hired.

From Puerto Princesa, we traveled by car for about two hours then took a motor boat to the mouth of the cave. But before I got into the boat, I asked one of the restaurants (more of turo-turo really) in the area to cook our food while we were in the cave so lunch would be ready when we came back. After a short boat ride, we walked for a few minutes -- saw monkeys and even a huge bayawak (monitor lizard) along the way -- to a pool right at the mouth of the cave where another banca was waiting for us.The boat man -- who also acted as a guide, pointing to us interesting rock formations, stalactites and stalagmites -- paddled for about an hour. They allowed us to go into the cave by as much as 1.5 kilometers although the underground river is almost eight kilometers long, more than three kilometers of which is said to be navigable.

The day before, immediately after arriving in Puerto Princesa and checking in the hotel, we went straight to see the live butterfly and crocodile farms.

Our third day in Puerto Princesa started with a quick trip to the market to buy fish, rice, fruits, water and other things we need for our island-hopping trip. The market itself is a sight – you will get to see fishes not usually seen in Metro Manila public markets.

Having secured the needed provisions, we were ready to go to Honda Bay. The maximum allowable number of passengers per boat was six, and since there were ten of us, we had to hire two boats. The boatmen are organized, prices are fixed, everything was orderly. You don't have to haggle and tourists don't feel harassed. And all of us had to wear life jackets provided by the boatmen.

Honda Bay is a good area for snorkeling. Bring along some bread and you would have schools of fishes eating right from your hands. My sister and her husband brought along some waterproof disposable cameras from Canada and the children had fun taking pictures underwater.

Our first stop was Pandan Island were the caretakers cooked the food we brought along. After having our lunch, we transferred to Snake Island, which is an excellent place for snorkeling. This is where we fed the fishes with bread and you could feel them nibble your finger tips.Then we went to Luli Island (actually a short cut for “Lulubog-Lilitaw” or sinking-reappearing ). Since it was already low tide, the island reappeared and we had a chance to walk along the shore where mangroves abound. The shoreline is a lot different from the beaches we are more familiar with.

On our fourth day, we went around the city, dropped by Jolibee to buy hamburgers and went to Iwahig, the open prison where we also shopped for some souvenirs. The following day was a Sunday and we heard mass. We decided to give the oldies – my father, mother, and mother-in-law – a rest day. The kids were contented to spend the whole afternoon in the hotel’s swimming pool.

Guy, my sister’s husband, went scuba diving. It was his first dive in tropical waters and he had many stories about what he saw. He was scheduled to take his qualification dive upon his return to Canada and he felt that all the succeeding dives he would have in his country would be boring after what he saw in Palawan. He was lucky to see a giant turtle, a ray and many other fishes which his instructor dutifully wrote on his notebook after they got back to the yacht.

The following day, we went to a hot spring where the old folks were able to immerse themselves and ease their body pains. After barely an hour, most of us felt sleepy – our nerves and muscles must have really been so relaxed. My eldest son, Tonton described the feeling as something similar to what he feels after being massaged.

We decided to have lunch in a river resort in Iwahig. It is actually a dam for the irrigation of the ricefields in the penal colony. The inmates sell barbecued native chicken and I bought some to augment our packed lunch. We stayed there the whole afternoon and swam for a while. The cool water was really refreshing.

That the evening we were invited to a dinner hosted by Mayor Hagedorn for the midwives who had a conference in Puerto Princesa. He gave a briefing about Puerto Princesa and the progress they had achieved and a cultural show followed after the dinner. It was a nice evening. The kids had fun posing with him for souvenir photos and the oldies felt deeply honored when the Mayor kissed their hands when I introduced him to them.

There were other places which we could have visited -- such as the Tabon Cave, which is about four hours away from Puerto Princesa. But then again, another visit to Puerto Princesa is always a welcome possibility.

Palawan is one of the few cities here in the Philippines that had consciously been trying to manage its environment. Along Honda Bay, for example, the people have been organized into Bantay Dagat (Sea Watchers) teams. They have successfully controlled cyanide (and other destructive methods of) fishing. This is part of their Bantay Puerto program. Our guide is a Bantay Dagat volunteer. In the past, the city's garbage dump was right beside the airport, a few meters away from the school. That has been removed and the city is now hailed as the cleanest in the country.

Its environmental and development programs have been awarded national and international recognition and I just hope that other local governments will follow its example.When we went to the underground river, we saw a team of scientists, apparently doing some ocular inspections or surveys. They have actually increased their forest cover during the past ten years and stopped the highly damaging open pit mining in the area.

To a certain extent, the local government and the community are also conscious that they have to manage the inflow of tourists as this would exert undue pressure on the island.The consciousness has seeped down to the grassroots level. The boatmen, for example, have realized that they have been and will be able to earn a steady income by organizing, enforcing uniform rates and rules and by protecting the islands that dot Honda Bay and which are frequented by local and foreign tourists.

Restaurant and hotel owners are also aware this is what is sustaining them. I just hope that other areas will learn from the Puerto Princesa experience. The civic groups are quite active in the area and the city government had been successful in harnessing the talents and energies of these organizations.

With a husband hailing from Aklan, we have been going regularly to Boracay. The island, famous for its immaculate white sand beach that stretches for over two kilometers, reached its maximum carrying capacity (for tourists) without the benefit of an organized effort in planning for a sustainable development.

I hope they will start doing some area planning exercises for Panglao in Bohol (which I visited a few days ago), where the immaculate beaches could compete with that of Boracay and the many other places in the country that could be developed as viable tourist destinations.

(I will soon be writing about Boracay, Panglao and some not so popular but equally charming places in the Philippines.)

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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

‘Istiv’ helps improve SME productivity

Philippine Daily Inquirer
Business Monday, B3-1
March 28, 2005

The program name stands for the five ideal attributes of a productive person – industrious, systematic, time conscious, innovative and strong value for work. In short Istiv.

The National Wages and Productivity Commission (NWPC), an agency of the Department of Labor and Employment tied up with 19 big corporations to assist 50 viable small and medium-scale suppliers that could benefit from its Istiv productivity improvement program.

The participants of the Big Enterprise, Small Enterprise program implemented with the Employers Confederation of the Philippines (Ecop) and the Technology Application and Promotion Institute (Tapi) of the Department of Science and Technology include Toyota Motor Philippines Corp., Ford Motor Philippines, Yazaki-Torres Manufacturing, Philippine Auto Component, Philippine Batteries Inc. and Yutaka Manufacturing Philippines, Inc.

Other participants are Nestle Philippines Inc., Unilever Foods Philippines and San Miguel Packaging Products, exporters of semiconductors and electronic components like Integrated Microelectronics Inc., SCG Philippines Inc., Fujitsu Ten Corp. of the Philippines, and Takanichi Philippines Cor., Smart Communications Co., Inc., Jolibee Foods Corp., YKK Philippines, Inc. Philippine Carpet and Express Commissary Inc.

The Istiv productivity improvement program has three modules – orientation for owners, a three-day training session for managers and a one-day training program for workers.

The participating companies will be required to formulate their productivity improvement programs, the implementation of which will be closely monitored by NWPC in the next six months.

“Our experience shows that the commitment of the owner is crucial in the success of any productivity improvement program,” said Ciriaco A. Lagunzad III, NWPC executive director. “We have had encouraging experiences all over the country.”

Below are the experiences of five beneficiaries of Istiv:

Machine shop in Cebu

Philip Tan owns Wellmade Motors and Development Corp.

His machine shop in Tipolo, Mandaue City re-manufactures metal component parts and provides specialized services such as on-site machining and hot or cold fusion welding. His main problem, common among SMEs, was frequent tardiness of his workers.

After both owner and workers have gone through NWPC’s Istiv sessions, Tan computed the lost annual earnings due to tardiness of each employee. He also quantified the business lost by the company because of their ability to deliver on time.

To solve the problem, he and his workers devised a “punctuality tracking system” where they computed the tardiness of each employee at the end of each week, month and year.

The workers contributed an agreed amount for every minute of tardiness to their Employees Welfare Fund while the management would put in an equivalent of 50 percent of the workers contribution as its counterpart.

The results were encouraging – the total tardiness of the company’s 60 workers dropped from 24,205 minutes in 1999 to 2,954 minutes in 2000 and to a negligible level by 2001.

Aside from meeting their worker schedules, the company reduced overtime by 50 percent and increased sales revenues by 14 percent.

They eventually agreed to get rid of the bundy clock and instead, each worker now fills up a daily time record based on honesty.

Last year, Wellmade Motors opened a branch in Cebu City, obtained an IS-9001 certification and was awarded by the Department of Trade and Industry as the Best and the Best Outstanding Consumer Welfare Company.

Furniture maker in Zambales

Walch Furniture and Home Furnishing Company, a leading furniture maker in San Antonio, Zambales owned by Walmin Chen Sr. used to supply furniture to the families of servicemen in the US bases.

During its heydays, Walch employed as many as 200 workers.

Walch’s market and factory disintegrated with the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo followed by the pull out of the US military bases in the early 1990s.

But that did not stop the enterprising businessman to start anew and attract the attention of families living in Metro Manila’s posh subdivisions.

Orders kept on coming. Eventually Chen felt the need to improve his operations and availed of NWPC’s Istiv services in 2003 to help him redesign his plant layout, improve his work processes, install a management control system and instill among his workers the importance of productivity.

The improved plant layout facilitated greater efficiency and minimized unnecessary movement of workers and materials in the process.

The big white board where Walch used to track job orders, deliveries and receivables and the stick-on notes containing instructions were eliminated.

Appropriate recording and reporting forms, including stock cards and item tags for the company’s products were designed. With the implementation of its 5S on housekeeping program, Walch production area became cleaner and a more pleasant place to work in.

The positive impact was immediately seen in the workers output. The 30-day production time for a cabinet- which was done by two carpenters, one carver, one sander and two varnishers – was reduced to 20-25 days.

The company, now managed by Walmin Chen’s son, is a consistent best seller in the various furniture trade fairs in Metro Manila. The company is also starting to export some of its products to the Untied States.

Food processor in Cagayan de Oro

SLERS Industries, Inc., a food processor based in Cagayan de Oro produces one of Mindanao’s leading local brands, Jamon de Cagayan.

When its owner, Mercedes Pelaez-Mejia availed of the Istiv program in 2000, her operations were saddled with poor equipment maintenance, inadequate cold storage facilities and high product wastage. To encourage better understanding on the concept of productivity among her 29 workers, the company adopted the program they called “Advance with People, Advance with Attitude.”

One of the measures introduced under Istiv was regular monthly meetings between management and workers.

Istiv resource persons conducted briefings on the concept of 5S, Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) that set the quality standards on food handling and safety particularly among exporters.

The company eventually got rid of its old chest freezers and invested in walk-in cold storage facilities that had bigger capacities and better controls in setting appropriate temperatures to assure the best quality for its meat products.

SLERS benchmarked its packaging with foreign food products and invested in a vacuum packaging machine, which enabled the food processor to produce processed meats with quality comparable to expensive imported products.

From 200 kilos per man-day, SLERS’ productivity went up 50 percent to 300 kilos per man-day and its gross sales increased by 21 percent.

Boneless bangus exporter in Pangasinan

Another food processor that benefited from Istiv program is Anjo Farms, an exporter of boneless bangus operating in San Fabian, Pangasinan.

When its general manager, Jose Enrique Tanjangco, agreed to work with NWPC’s team, they identified three main areas of improvement – management control system, compliance to GMP and HACCP, and instill the Istiv attributes to its workers.

To improve its management control system, the management conducted regular meetings with the company’s 69 workers. Work control forms were introduced to generate information needed for decision-making and process and product control standards were strictly enforced.

Anjo Farms also improved its facilities and was able to obtain an HACCP certification from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and Halal certification from the Office of Muslim Affairs.

With workers who can debone a bangus in one minute and 28 seconds, Anjo Farms production increased from 2,000 to 4,000 pieces per day without adding a new production line and with minimal increase in the number of workers.

Machine utilization improved from 75 to 100 percent while power consumption was reduced significantly. With better planning and coordination, raw material shortages were minimized.

The workers now operate their own canteen. Management provided them with individual lockers and a staff house where they can rest particularly on rainy days or when production is running on two shifts.

Average take home pay increased from P4,800 a month in 2002 to P7,200 in 2004. Tanjangco is confident his workers will continue to reap additional benefits from sustained productivity improvements.

Anjo Farms was awarded the Excellence in Export Golden Shell Award in 2002, Most Outstanding SME in Aqua Culture Industry and the Gawad Kapatid award by Ecop in 2003. It is exporting to US, Japan, Hong Kong, Macau, Australia, Canada and Sweden.

Coconut coir processor in Bicol

Dr. Bo or Justino R. Arboleda used to be a dean in one of Bicol’s engineering colleges until he decided to pursue the commercialization of his research on coconut by-products. Leaving the academe to venture into business, Dr. Bo organized Juboken Enterprises – derived from the names of his wife, Julie, Dr. Bo and their son, Ken – which incidentally, according to Dr. Bo, is also a Japanese word meaning “important adventure.”

Coconut husks, which were often left by farmers to rot, were decorticated. Dr. Bo developed out of the coconut fiber various products – coco-pots for seedlings, poles for orchids, liners on wire baskets to hold the soil for hanging plants, roles and car upholstery.

The sawdust is compacted to become cocopeat bricks that are now used to improve the quality of the garden soil. Its main product is a biodegradable geotextile, a mat made from coconut husk fiber that is used as anti-soil erosion material. The geotextile has promising market potentials in China.

When he started Juboken, Dr. Bo was the president-salesman-supervisor-driver rolled into one while Julie was the treasurer. Six skilled undergraduates were hired and as Dr. Bo’s business grew, they were promoted and are now supervisors and managers.

What started as a family adventure is now a community enterprise. Juboken now has 49 employees and its production is augmented by the output of 900 families in Albay who were doing piece work for the company. Aside from big companies like the Philippine National Oil Corp. (PNOC), Miescor and Coctech, Juboken also suppliers SM and exports to Germany, Japan and Switzerland.

By this time, Dr. Bo is spending more time in Manila marketing his products while his managers handle the day-to-day operations in Albay.

As his business grew, he started experiencing the usual problems in the plant site – inadequate skills of the workers, high raw material losses, poor employee attitude towards work and strong market competition.

Faced with mounting production problems, Juboken employees as well as Dr. Bo went through Istiv sessions in October 2002.

The improvements were immediately felt. Sales for the second semester of 2002 was 75 percent higher than the first semester’s while Juboken was able to double its production output without having to hire new employees. By achieving better raw materials management and zero wastage, Juboken’s cost of production dropped 12 percent.

Br. Bo now holds his “weekend coffee breaks” in Albay where he meets his employees from 4 to 6 pm to discuss production targets, analyze problems, brainstorm on issues and possible solutions, draw up incentive schemes and check the employees’ and the company’s performance.

By September 2003, the company gave a 15th month pay as incentive to the employees for meeting their production targets. His employees are increasingly getting involved in the decision making process.

Wellmade, SLERS, Anjo Farms, Walch and Juboken are among the 1,600 small and medium scale, family-owned business that were assisted by NWPC’s Istiv program, through which over 30,000 company owners, managers and workers had been trained during the past six years.

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Monday, July 11, 2005

OFWs help address acute classroom shortage in public schools

Leticia M. Subang
Special to MindaNews (February 1, 2005)1st of two parts

MANILA-- Inug-ug Elementary School in Pagulungan, Maguindanao has 514 pupils, 11 classes and, until late last year, no classrooms except for a makeshift hut made of bamboo and nipa.

Inug-ug is among the initial batch of beneficiaries of the Classroom Galing sa Mamamayang Pilipino Abroad (CGMA), a project managed by the Department of Labor and Employment.

The school now has two concrete 49-square-meter classrooms with a toilet, the construction of which was funded by donations pooled by DOLE from Alfredo de Leon, Ma. Aurorina Canlas, Melissa Cautiverio and Suzette Paguio. The four are participants of the Exchange Visitor Program in the US.

“Four more classrooms will be added,” said Elena C. Calingasan, CGMA project manager. With its current enrolment level, Inug-ug should have 10 to 11 classrooms.

Members of the Filipino Community in Northeastern USA, who have coordinated with Consul General Cecilia B. Rebong will be funding the additional classrooms.

Calingasan is part of DOLE’s team of labor attaches who are actively soliciting donations from overseas Filipino workers.

The project is a collaborative effort of the DOLE, Departments of Education and Foreign Affairs and the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc. which manages the actual construction of the buildings, said DOLE undersecretary Manuel Imson, who oversees the entire program.

In Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, Klubi Elementary School is a bit more fortunate than Inug-ug: it has one classroom for its 392 pupils and nine classes. They will get two additional classrooms after the Batch 2004 trainees of the Filipino Workers Resource Center in Malaysia agreed to pass the hat for the benefit of Klubi’s schoolchildren.

In T’Boli, also in South Cotabato, 785 pupils are studying in Laconon Elementary School. While the children are divided into 15 classes, the school only has seven classrooms. Their condition is expected to improve once the four additional classrooms will have been completed. The funds were pooled donations from Filipinos now based in Korea – the members of the Inchon Catholic International Community and the staff of the Philippine Embassy. The seed money was augmented by contributions from Geraldine Peteros and Michelle Advincula, who are also participants of the visitors exchange program in the US.

For the past 18 months, Filipinos working abroad have been helping raise funds needed to finance the construction of additional classrooms all over the country under the CGMA program.

A total of P51 million had been raised for the CGMA program and more pledges are coming in. The amount pooled has been programmed to build a total of 250 classrooms, of which 105 have been completed. A total of 108 elementary and high schools all over the country are its initial batch of beneficiaries.

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

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

Based on the data from the Department of Education, a total of 7,385 classrooms are immediately needed – 5,191 for the elementary schools and another 2,194 for the public schools. The total cost is estimated at P3.32 billion.

But the classroom shortage is actually a lot more acute. Assuming that each class of 50 pupils should have a classroom, the country’s public elementary school system needs at least a total of 43,737 classrooms for its 2,186,874 pupils. The actual number of classrooms is only 26,695 or a shortage of 17,042 classrooms.

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 level.

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 a total of 41,039 classrooms, while the ideal, at 50 students per class, should be 64,055 classrooms.

The enrolment pattern for high school students is different. The highest is in Region 4-A, followed by Metro Manila, 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.

All in all, the entire public school system needs over 40,000 more classrooms if it must stick to the standard of having 50 students per class. Given CGMA’s ballpark cost of $4,000 per classroom, at least $160 million – or close to P9 billion – would be needed to meet this shortage.

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

OFWs help address acute classroom shortage in public schools
Leticia M. Subang
Special to MindaNews (February 2, 2005)Last of two parts

If every Filipino working abroad could give a one-time donation of $20 each, then the acute classroom shortage would have been able solved.
About seven to eight million Filipinos are working abroad.

“We should invest in the education of our youth so our country could be assured of highly-skilled entrants into our labor force. This is the only way to solve our unemployment problem,” Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas said.

Of the initial 250 classrooms being built under the CGMA program, 57 will be given to 21 elementary and high schools in Mindanao. This may appear insignificant considering that in Mindanao’s public school system, one out of every three classes has no classroom of its own. Mindanao has over 1.2 million public school students – 472,597 elementary pupils and 783,362 high school students. Ideally, Mindanao should have over 25,000 classrooms. At the present level of enrolment in the country’s second biggest island, over 8,000 additional classrooms would be needed.

The initial response to the program that was launched about 18 months ago had been encouraging.

Among the early donors are the seamen affiliated with the Associated Marine Officers and Seamen’s Union of the Philippines, which contributed P2 million to build 10 classrooms in Tala High School in Caloocan. Two out of every three classes have no classrooms in Tala, which has 6,199 students and 39 classrooms – or a student-to-classroom ratio of 159.

The seamen’s union, which collects the donations from each member when they renew their licenses, is planning to donate again to build four classrooms in Quezon Province which was devastated by the typhoons last December, Calingasan said.

Meanwhile, Metro Manila, with a total of 15,349 classrooms, must have twice as much for its 1.5 million public school students. Metro Manila, where the classroom shortage is most acute, accounts for 35% of the estimated national shortage.

Tala High School, Camarin Elementary School in Caloocan City and Commonwealth Elementary School in Quezon City have one thing in common – two out of every three classes in these schools have no classrooms. Their student-to-classroom ratio – at 152 pupils per room for Camarin and Commonwealth – is almost twice the national average of 80 per room.

Camarin will get additional rooms through the donations from the Filipino-American Chamber of Commerce of San Francisco USA and Global Filipino USA. Commonwealth’s will be funded partly by contributions from the Filipino-Canadian Association of Kingston, Ontario.

Some CGMA funds came from unexpected sources. People in Profit Systems (PIPS) and Isabellamina Foundation, civic organizations 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 ran Leo van Vogel, vice president for Asian operations. The donor initially specified that the school beneficiaries should be in Zambales, Pampanga, Batangas and Mindoro. So far, a total of 18 school have been identified to be recipients of two to four classrooms. Now, PIPS/Isabellamina Foundation is also supporting schools in Mindanao and Metro Manila (such as Camarin).

A number of donors specified their hometowns as their intended beneficiaries.

Camilio Tabalba, who is now based in Canada, indicated Guinsiliban Central Elementary School in Camiguin, his home province, as his beneficiary. The CGMA project office is doing the validation and documentation needed before construction activities could start. Tabalba’s donation will be augmented by funds from PIPS/Isabellamina Foundation.

Ronnie Avenida, who runs the California-based Avenida International Consultants, opted to help Gubat National High School in Sorsogon. The Gubatnons of Northern California led by Ligaya Avenida pooled their donations and together with Ronnie and his wife, they were able to finance the construction of two classrooms that the students have been using since June last year.

Two Gubat teachers who are now in the United States are also chipping in. With the inflow of donations, four more classrooms would be constructed in Gubat, Calingasan said.

Gubat has 2,752 students and 10 classrooms. This means that 80% - or four out of five classes – do not have classrooms. Given its current level of enrolment, Gubat should have 55 classrooms.

Carmelita O. Matsushima, who married a Japanese, Hiroshi Ueda, is the chair of Nara Mabuhay Community. The couple donated to Jose P. Laurel High School in Quezon City where Carmelita used to teach. Jose P. Laurel has 1,839 students and 26 classrooms. Ideally, it should 37.

Spearheaded by Apolinario N. Matibag and his wife, the Filipino Workers in Spain donated classrooms for Bulbugan National High School in Gloria, Oriental Mindoro, the couple’s hometown. The group coordinated with Ambassador Joseph Delano Bernardo and Labor Attache Natividad Roma. The Matibag couple, now permanent residents of Madrid, represented the organization during the inauguration last December 29, officiated by the newly ordained priest who was also Matibag’s son.

Two Filipino groups based in Spain – the Samahan ng mga Pilipino sa Madrid and Filcom in Marbella donated classroom to Gov. Julio V. Macuja Central High School in Hamtic Antique. As the group’s president Diosdado N. Valdes informed the CGMA project office, their members are all from Hamtic.

“We try to accommodate the donors’ requests,” Imson said. There were a few times, however, when they could not. A former teacher wanted to donate to the school in Quezon City where she used to teach. Being an urban area, however, Quezon City requires two-storey school buildings to maximize the space. With CGMA, its standard package is a one-storey building with two classrooms and a toilet. “We are still exploring other options with the would-be donor,” Imson said.

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A YEAR AFTER: New village rising where 120 died

First posted 10:12pm (Mla time) Dec 24, 2004
By Leticia M. Subang
Inquirer News Service
Editor's Note: Published on page A1 of the December 25, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer
(First of two parts)


SAN FRANCISCO, Panaon Island, Southern Leyte-A new village is slowly taking shape in Barangay Punta.

The survivors of last year's devastating landslides are building new homes at a relocation site, collectively working to get on with their lives.

We gathered once more in Punta on Dec. 19 for the hugkas or babang luksa (the first death anniversary), which culminated in a Mass and an offering of flowers and candles at the huge wooden cross that marks the place where most of the victims' bodies were found huddled together the day after the landslides.

With us were two boatloads of Limasawa residents led by fishermen Robert Galvez and George Betonio.

On Dec. 19 last year, the two fishermen along with 11 other passengers from Maasin were heading to Limasawa. Navigating with a small compass in the midst of strong rain and zero visibility, they missed Limasawa and found refuge in Punta--only to be shocked by a series of landslides a few minutes after they pulled their boat ashore.

It was Galvez and Betonio who brought my cousin, Eduardo "Bebot" Subang, who was seriously wounded, to the provincial hospital in Maasin the next day. Bebot's leg later had to be amputated.

"We wanted to visit Bebot and see how he is doing," Betonio said as we gathered along the shore after the Mass.

"Punta will always be part of us," added Galvez.

Constantly in fear

The survivors of Punta can easily validate the ordeal that the residents of devastated Real in Quezon--which was hit by four successive storms early this month-are now experiencing.

According to Barangay Captain Ricky Subang, all 22 barangay of San Francisco have passed a resolution to set aside some money to be donated to the families dislocated by the landslides and flash floods in Quezon.

The rains brought by the recent storms have also triggered landslides in Panaon, but smaller in scale and farther from the villages.

Yet some residents are constantly in fear. In the nearby barangay of Sta. Paz, where a huge crack resulting from geological faults has been found on the mountain, classes are suspended and the residents prepare to evacuate whenever it rains continuously for at least two days.

Many of the survivors, particularly the children, still live with the trauma caused by the tragedy. Thunder, lightning and heavy rains send the children crying and cringing in fear.

Nightmare

Some of the elderly, particularly those who lost their spouses in the landslides, often fall into moments of deep silence. Or they resurrect their lost loved ones by recalling funny anecdotes, and in the next breath scaring themselves with stories of apparitions and ghosts.

Our relatives keep going back to Punta, hoping to retrieve lost valuables from the earth that crashed down on their homes that fateful night.

On Christmas Day last year, while temporarily living with relatives, Bartolome Subang or Tiyo Ome wished aloud that he had not lost the vintage carpentry tools my grandfather passed on to him before Lolo died in 1980. He knew he would need those tools once construction at the relocation site started.

Florencio Subang (Tiyo Florin) wanted to return to Punta that night, after realizing that in the confusion, he had left a wad of cash in his cabinet. But his children insisted that they keep on moving.

Along the road Tiyo Florin spotted and greeted his cousin Paterno Subang (Tiyo Pater), who was holding a flashlight and an umbrella.
Tiyo Florin, together with his younger children, later made it to the town safely.

Manong Gaudencio Benero is still haunted by the nightmare of skulls and skeletons that he had shortly before the tragedy.

Upon learning that the first landslide had destroyed Tiyo Pater's house, Manong Gaudencio instinctively knew that the nightmare had begun.
There were only four people living in that house--Tiyo Pater, his wife Tiya Pering, and their two grandchildren.

Manong Gaudencio's elder brother, Patron, also did not make it, and it took our relatives three months to find the bodies of Tiyo Pater and Tiya Pering.

2-month-old baby

Tiyo Florin's son Ricky, the barangay captain, found himself on a more uncertain path that night.

The third landslide was now blocking the road his father had taken only a few minutes earlier. Ricky's group was forced to go toward the shore, only to move inward again after they found they could not cross Kagpanga, the river that separates Punta and the town.

Clutching his 2-month-old son, Ricky led his group through the clan's rice fields, grappling with waist-deep mud and thorny nipa fronds, constantly calling out the names of his other children and his companions, refusing to move further until he had heard them reply.

Ricky and Tiyo Florin were eventually reunited in the house of our aunt, Jenny Subang, who lives across from my parents' house in the town.

Max, Ricky's baby and the youngest survivor, emerged from the ordeal unscathed.

Another aunt, Carmen Gitigan, could not imagine how she made it through that night.

She was in her house, standing on top of a table and trying to reach something when she was swept by the raging mud toward the sea. She found herself still on top of her table, floating on the water.

Whole family

Meanwhile, Tiyo Ome, totally buried in the mud, was losing hope--until he realized that he had been pushed toward the sea and was thus able to slowly swim to safety.

His wife, Tiya Rosing, and the entire family of his daughter, Renee Subang Paug, the principal of the town's high school and my childhood playmate, perished that night.

Renee's daughter, Karen, had just arrived that evening from Sogod where she was studying.

Tiyo Ome's son, Bebot, was seriously wounded and had to be confined in the Maasin hospital for weeks.

More than 120 Punta residents died on Dec, 19, 2003. Our clan lost 26 children--16 in grade school and 10 in high school.

My mother, Peregrina, particularly misses the kids who used to kiss her hand and greet her every morning as they pass our house on their way to school.

Opening old wounds

Watching the images on TV of the recent tragedy in Quezon is like opening old wounds. I am brought to tears as I remember receiving phone calls from my relatives the day after the landslides, frantically asking for help.

I also remember thinking that with the coming year being an election year, politicians were bound to use our tragedy to project themselves.

But I could not understand how a presidential party, supported by elaborate media coverage and security arrangements, could visit our place and yet could not provide masks, gloves, boots and body bags so we could perform the grim task of pulling out our dead from the mud in order to give them a decent burial.

Every year, our country is hit by typhoons, floods, earthquakes and other calamities, both natural and man-made. We have had a devastating earthquake in Baguio, towns buried in tons of ash from Mt. Pinatubo, countless numbers of lives lost in Ormoc, Cherry Hills, Payatas, and Ozone ... The list is endless.

In fact, the tragic death of Speaker Jose de Venecia's youngest daughter only highlighted a pathetic condition--our continuing incapability to immediately respond to emergencies.

Yet our generosity during times of crisis and our ability to bounce back after seemingly insurmountable challenges are admirable and amazing.

"We have gone through a lot of difficulties in trying to rehabilitate our community and rebuild our lives. But we have also experienced how generous people can be in times of crisis," Ricky said.

Far from forgotten

The past year was not an easy one for the Punta survivors.

As they tried to cope with the trauma, they bickered with one another, presented to and argued their cause with various government officials and donors, got caught in the heat of partisan politics during the May elections, and even had to deal with a bit of religious intolerance. (We trace our roots to the Philippine Independent Church; many Punta residents are now affiliated with the Catholic Church.)

The survivors strove to keep the clan's enclave, which had survived for four generations.

They could not even begin to think of changing the name of their barangay--Punta, or "point," a simple geographic description of the fishing village that is now deserted but far from forgotten.

The settlement was started by my great grandparents, Marcela Moreno and Eusebio Subang in the 1800s. My grandfather, Gervacio, born in 1896, was one of the 13 children of Eusebio and Marcela.

Nobody lives in Punta anymore. But the people regularly visit it--to harvest coconuts from the trees that have remained, or to gather driftwood along the shore for their firewood.

The fishermen, lured by Punta's rich waters, keep coming back to cast their nets. Along its shores, entangled among the corals, are shreds of clothes, blankets and mosquito nets, toys and many other parts of their lives.

Picking up the pieces

And with the help of relatives, various government agencies and civic groups, the survivors have been able to cope with the tragedy.

For the relocation of the 98 households that survived the landslides, the family of Rosario Peregrino Maglana, a member of our clan, donated a piece of land by the national highway, and the municipal government of San Francisco acquired the adjacent property.

Now based in Davao, Tiya Sayong had requested that a portion of the land be reserved for her family so she could eventually live with them as she had earlier intended.

She had always dreamed of retiring in Punta and was about to purchase a lot near the village chapel, but the landslides crushed that dream.

The houses are still unfinished, but the survivors now live there. They continue to build using materials supplied by the Red Cross, with financial support from the US government.

The new village will be called Barangay Punta Extension.

Because it is far from the sea, we will miss the times when the village folk gather on the shore to meet the fishermen blessed with a good catch and help them remove the fish entangled in the nets.

It was one of the communal activities that bound the village folk together in the past, and that cannot be replicated at the relocation site.

To be concluded

A YEAR AFTER
Tragedy brings Punta folk even closer
First posted 01:22am (Mla time) Dec 26, 2004
By Leticia M. Subang
Inquirer News Service
Editor's Note: Published on page A1 of the December 26, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer
(Second of two parts)

SAN FRANCISCO, Panaon Island, Southern Leyte -- The pace of construction at the relocation site in Barangay Punta is understandably slow.

Those who survived the floods and landslides that killed more than 120 in Punta alone on Dec. 19 last year have to work under the government's "food-for-work" program. But they also have to make some money to send their children back to school and buy basic needs such as medicines.

The skilled carpenters who are leading the construction have to take time off to earn a living. It is the women and the youth who are in charge of transporting the filling materials, as well as the water, sand and gravel needed in mixing the cement.

On rainy days, the mud makes work a lot more difficult. And a large portion of the relocation site is dark at night because it has yet to be connected to the local electric cooperative's distribution lines. (The few lights they have are just tapped from the houses near the site.)

But from the banter of the survivors, one can envision what the new village would eventually look like. Their spirit of unity is obvious in the way they proudly recall the times they won most of the contests -- the cleanest, the greenest -- in the 22 “barangay” [villages] in San Francisco.

Punta is a strip of land at the foot of a mountain along a coast lined by volcanic rocks.

There is not much space for gardening and yet every Tuesday before their lives were changed forever, the villagers would bring to town their weekly harvest of vegetables, mostly planted in recycled cans and plastic bags.

Even during the critical months after the landslides, the women revived their potted vegetable gardens around the makeshift shelters.

Beloved nurse

The people of Punta fondly remember Natividad J. Rich, who recently sold all her assets in the United States to retire in her native Maasin City.

Rich herself remembers how she first gained recognition as a newly sworn rural health nurse in the early 1960s by turning Punta into a model pilot rural health unit.

"The people helped me a lot; they were very cooperative," she recalled when she visited San Francisco for my father's 80th birthday in November last year, more than three decades after she left Panaon island.

Rich was our rural health nurse at a time when there was no doctor to provide primary health care to the people of San Francisco. I remember having to take an hour-long ride on a frail motorboat with her just so I, then a 5-year-old, could see a doctor in Maasin in the mainland.

She willingly got up at night to answer calls from ailing villagers, walked mountain trails for hours, and braved the strong waves brought by the “habagat” [southwest monsoon].

For complicated cases, she consulted her brother Gil, who was then working with the province of Southern Leyte as a rural health doctor.

Rich stayed with us for many years. As my surrogate mothers, she and my aunt Corazon wept when they brought me to Davao City, where my parents lived, to start my schooling.

After Rich left for the United States in the mid-1970s, the people she had served missed her greatly. They never forgot her, for there was no other nurse as dedicated and gutsy as she.

Urgent need

The need for reliable health service is as urgent as ever.

The nearest hospital is about two hours away by car (in Sogod) or by pump boat (in Maasin).

It is no wonder that the people welcomed orthopedic surgeon Diego Yuboc when he decided to come home to San Francisco in the late 1980s after years of practice in Mindanao.

With the competent medical services he gave, the people embraced him. He was our town mayor for nine consecutive years until May.

Yuboc's mayor-by-day-doctor-by-night stint required him to convert a small room beside his office into a clinic. There, he would sometimes perform minor operations under the light provided by a small reading lamp.

Abundant help

The survivors are grateful for the help they have received from various groups.

At the height of the crisis, Ormoc residents brought truckloads of rice and sugar. Other donors gave bancas and fishing nets that enabled the fishermen to resume their livelihood, and carpentry tools that proved equally valuable when they started building new homes.

The Salvation Army donated 10 motorized bancas, each of which is now being run by a group of five fishermen.

When we visited the relocation site, Barangay Captain Ricky Subang was supervising the setting up of a decorticating machine. Cocotech is helping the village organize a cooperative that will produce twine and textiles from coconut coir.

Plan International also donated a small truck as part of its project to rehabilitate the areas destroyed by the landslides.

Environmentalists are studying various options, including the propagation of vetiver grass on the mountain slopes to help stabilize the soil, according to my cousin, Jilson Maitim, who has accompanied many of these groups to the numerous landslide areas in Punta, Liloan and San Ricardo.

Relatives now based in the cities and abroad sent cash, which was used to buy food and other necessities.

In one instance, we were able to pool P120,000 from relatives. The money was used to hire extra labor to speed up the construction of the houses and the excavation of the septic tanks.

Improving infrastructure

When the landslides hit on Dec. 19 last year, San Francisco was isolated by the numerous streams that swelled and made the road impassable. My children were then on a vacation, and my cousins had to come in a motorboat from Liloan to collect them.

It was the first time my family decided to spend Christmas in Leyte.
In the past, on good days, we had to negotiate the bumpy, 10-kilometer road linking Liloan and San Francisco for over an hour.

The tragedy must have awakened the consciousness of our national leadership. The roads have since been widened and graded, and the long-delayed concreting of the national road was started by the contractor, Italian-Thai, immediately after the May elections.

The project, expected to be completed in about three years, will link Panaon's four municipalities of Liloan, San Francisco, Pintuyan and San Ricardo.

When President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo visited San Francisco immediately after the landslides, Smart Communications Inc. set up a small antenna that was strong enough for people to send and receive text messages on their mobile phones.

As the construction activities went on full swing this year, Smart's facilities were upgraded. Even subscribers of Globe Telecom Inc. now enjoy a strong signal in areas along the seashore.

With better communication and transport facilities, the people of Panaon are hoping for better economic opportunities.

The island is the take-off point of the roll-on-roll off (ro-ro) ferry service between Leyte and Mindanao. There is now talk of putting up a ferry terminal in San Ricardo on the other end of the island as an alternative to that operating in Liloan, which in turn is linked by a span as long as the Quiapo bridge to mainland Leyte.

If this materializes, then Surigao City in Mindanao will be about an hour and a half away by ro-ro. At least, the much-hyped Strong Republic National Highway is getting to be a reality in our place.

Reunion

On Nov. 4, we gathered once again for the 80th birthday celebration of my father, Dominador.

Like the time when we all came home for my grandfather's 80th birthday in 1976, the whole village took part in preparing for the occasion.

The common questions were: "Will we push through with our reunion in May 2005? Where will we hold it?"

As far as I am concerned, we should, and it does not matter where.

We still have a lot of work to do and we still have to mobilize resources and support. But all of us are looking forward to the completion of the relocation site.

The survivors plan to clean up the now deserted Punta and slowly revive it into the economically productive enclave that it once was.

Our relatives may not be able to live there anymore, but for most of us, Punta is not meant to be abandoned and forgotten.

"We shared so many happy memories there," said my cousin Marilou Maglana, a Davao-based cardiologist, who rushed home to Punta immediately after hearing about the landslides last year.
She had been away for more than 30 years.

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Sunday, July 10, 2005

Mindanao-based relatives lead in relocating survivors of Punta landslides

By Leticia M. Subang
Special to Mindanews
1st of 4 parts / Mindanews / 11 December 2004

(Leticia “Jane” M. Subang, a Dabawenya who lost at least a hundred relatives in the Southern Leyte tragedy last year, covered Davao City for BusinessDay in 1984 to 1986. She wrote this piece for MindaNews)

Davao-based 83-year Rosario Peregrino Maglana had always wanted to go back home to San Francisco in Southern Leyte. Just like my parents, Dominador and Peregrina Subang, Tiya Sayong and her husband Santiago left Leyte immediately after the strong typhoon devastated the island of Panaon in 1949.

The “Bagyo sa Cuarenta y Nueve” as those old enough to remember would say was so strong it damaged even the lowly camote and sent many of the able-bodied away, looking for the proverbial greener pastures. My father and several of his cousins decided to try their luck in Mindanao. They worked hard and they prospered.

From farming and trading in Nabunturan, Davao del Norte (now in Compostela Valley), Tiya Sayong’s family ventured into a small vulcanizing shop in Buhangin (Davao City) in the 1970s. Deco Machine Shop, which they relocated to Cabaguio St. is now one of Davao’s leading metal working shops. Four of her children are now medical doctors with stable professional practice.

And after almost five decades of fruitful life and professional career in Davao City, my parents decided to go home to San Francisco in 1997. And Tiya Sayong dreamed of going home, too. In fact, she had chosen a lot near the chapel in the fishing village of Punta where most of the residents are descendants of her and my father’s grandparents, Eusebio Subang and Marcela Moreno.

They were ready to pay for the lot so she can start constructing her retirement house when a series of landslides devastated the village last December 19, 2003, leaving about 120 of our relatives dead and almost all of the houses destroyed. According to the Mines and Geological Sciences Bureau, the mountains of Panaon are riddled with geological faults and it would not be safe for the survivors to go back to Punta again.

So Tiya Sayong opted to do the most logical thing - donate part of her family’s property along the national road so her relatives will have a safe relocation site. She requested that a portion be reserved for her family so she can eventually live with them as she had earlier intended. They readily obliged.

The municipal government of San Francisco acquired the adjacent property so the 98 families that survived the landslides could be accommodated. They have started constructing the houses using the materials supplied by the Red Cross with financial support from the US Government.

Adept at coping with the vagaries of the sea, the survivors are a resilient group. They are slowly rebuilding their homes, collectively working to regain normalcy in their lives.

Most of them are still living with the trauma caused by the tragedy. Thunder, lightning and heavy rains would send the children crying and cringing in fear. They would periodically resurrect lost loved ones by recalling well-loved anecdotes, and at the same time, scare themselves with stories of apparitions and ghosts.

Indelible images

They keep going back to Punta, hoping to retrieve some of their lost valuables as the soil the mountain dumped over their houses started to settle. Last Christmas, while temporarily living with relatives, Bartolome Subang wished he had not lost the vintage carpentry tools my grandfather passed on to him before Lolo died in 1980. One of my Lolo’s favorite nephews, Tiyo Ome had been looking after our family’s share of coconut land for decades. He knew he needed those tools once construction at the relocation site would start.

Florencio Subang wanted to go back to the village that night after realizing that in the confusion, he left a wad of cash in his cabinet. His children insisted they keep on moving, giving him the flashlight so he could lead them towards the town. Fellow survivors would later speculate that the wad my Tiyo Florin left behind was worth at least P40,000 or even P70,000. He would just smile without saying exactly how much. Along the road he thought he spotted his cousin, Paterno Subang, also holding a flashlight and an umbrella walking silently. Tiyo Florin even remembers greeting Tiyo Pater. Tiyo Florin together with his younger children made it to the town without any untoward incident.

Tiyo Florin’s son Ricky, the barangay captain, found himself in a more uncertain path that night. The third landslide in the area had blocked the road his father had passed a few minutes earlier. His group was forced to go towards the seashore only to move again inwards after they found they could not cross Kagpanga, the river that separates Punta and the town. Clutching his two-month old son, Ricky led his group through the clan’s ricefields, waded through waist-deep mud and thorny nipa fronds, constantly calling out his children’s and others companions’ names, refusing to move further until he heard their replies.

Ricky and Tiyo Florin were eventually reunited in the house of our aunt Jenny Subang who lives across my parents’ house in the town. Max, Ricky’s baby and the youngest survivor, went through the ordeal that night unscathed. (Tomorrow: Working together for a new life)


Mindanao-based relatives lead in relocating survivors of Punta landslides: A new village taking shape
By Leticia M. Subang
3rd of 4 parts: Mindanews / 13 December 2004

The pace in the relocation site is understandably slow. They have to rely on volunteer labor from the survivors themselves who could not totally depend on the “food-for-work” assistance being extended to them. They, too, have to earn money so they will be able to send their children back to school and meet other basic needs such as medicines.

The skilled carpenters who are leading the construction activities have to be rotated so they will have time to attend to other projects and earn a living. The women and the youth are in charge of bringing the filling materials as well as water, sand and gravel needed in mixing the cement.

During rainy days, the site would become muddy making work a lot more difficult. At night, most of the houses remain dark as the relocation site has yet to be connected to the distribution lines of the local electric cooperative. The few lights they have are just tapped from the houses near the relocation site.

But by simply listening to their banter, one could envision what the new village would eventually look like a few years from now. For they are confident in their unity - as may be gleaned from recollections of how they would win most of the contests - the cleanest, the greenest - among barangays in San Francisco.

Barangay Punta was strip of land at the foot of a mountain along a coast line of volcanic rocks. There was not much space for gardening and yet every Tuesday, the villagers would bring to the town their weekly harvest of vegetables - most of which were planted in recycled cans and plastic bags. Even during those critical months after the landslides, the women revived their potted vegetable gardens around their makeshift shelters.

Need for basic health care

Natividad J. Rich, who recently sold all properties in the United States to retire in her hometown Maasin City recalled how she first gained recognition as a newly sworn rural health nurse in the early 1960s by turning Punta into a model pilot rural health unit. “They helped me a lot, they were very cooperative,” she recalled when she visited San Francisco for my father’s 80th birthday, more than three decades after she left the island.

She was our rural health nurse at a time when there was no doctor who could provide primary health care to the people of San Francisco. As a 5-year old child, I remember having to take an hour ride on a frail motor boat with her just so I could be seen by a doctor in Maasin in mainland Leyte.

She would wake up at night to answer calls from ailing villagers, willingly walked mountain trails for hours, braved the strong waves brought by Habagat or the southwest monsoon. Confronted with more complicated cases, she would consult with her brother Gil, who was then working with the Province of Southern Leyte as a rural health doctor.

She stayed with us for many years. As my surrogate mother, she and my aunt Corazon, cried for hours when they brought me back to Davao City where my parents lived, to start my schooling. When she left for the United States in the mid 1970s, the residents of San Francisco really missed her. They never forgot her, for there was no other nurse who was as dedicated and gutsy as she was.

The strong need for reliable health service remains. It is no wonder that the people welcomed Diego Yuboc, an orthopedic surgeon when he decided to go home to San Francisco in the late 1980s after years of practice in Mindanao. With the competent medical service he gave, the people embraced him. He was the town mayor for nine consecutive years until last May. Yuboc’s mayor-by-day, doctor-by-night stint required him to convert a small room beside his office into a clinic where he would sometimes perform minor operations illuminated by small reading lamp.

Help from many concerned groups

The survivors are grateful for the various help they received from many groups. Barangay captain Ricky Subang said that among the most appreciated aid came from unexpected sources, such as the Philippine Star which donated close to 20 bancas, fishing nets and the first water pumps in the relocation site. The carpentry tools given by various donors became equally valuable as they started constructing the houses.

For our relatives, mostly fishermen and skilled carpenters, these expressions of solidarity are deeply appreciated as these enabled them to resume their livelihood activities.

The Salvation Army donated 10 motorized bancas, each of which is now being operated by a group of five fishermen. Plan International is also donating a small truck which they can use for trading activities while Cocotech is helping them put up a coco coir decorticating center so they can produce twines, geotextiles and other coconut by products.

Environmentalists are studying various options including the propagation of vetiver grass along slopes to help stabilize the soil, said another cousin, Jilson Maitim, who had accompanied many of these groups to the numerous landslide areas on the island.

Some relatives now based in the cities and abroad sent cash which helped tide them over during the crisis. Some of the cash donations were distributed among the families so they can buy some food and other essential items.

In another case, we were able to pool P120,000 from various donations from relatives based in Manila and abroad. The money was used to hire extra labor to help in the construction of the houses and the excavation of the septic tanks. Many of the houses - all core units with no dividers and ceilings - have yet to be finished. (Conclusion tomorrow: improving infrastructure)

Mindanao-based relatives lead in relocating survivors of Punta landslides: Improving infrastructure
By Leticia M. Subang
Special to Mindanews
Last of 4 parts / Mindanews / 11 December 2004

When the landslides hit Punta on December 19, 2003, our town was isolated because the numerous streams were swollen and the road was impassable. My children had to be fetched by my cousins in a motor boat from Liloan to reach our place earlier that day. That was the first time my family decided to spend our Christmas in Leyte.

As my husband and I followed our children a few days later, many concerned friends were asking if we were pulling them out from the place of the tragedy. That possibility never crossed my mind - doing so would only teach them abandonment during times of crisis. We were all there as originally planned.

On good days, it would take us about an hour to negotiate the bumpy, 10-kilometer road linking Liloan and San Francisco. The tragedy must have awakened the consciousness of our national leadership. During our recent trip, the roads had been widened and graded and we reached our place in about 30 minutes.

The long-delayed concreting of the national road across the island was started by the contractor, Italian-Thai, right after the elections. The project, which would take about three years to finish, will link Panaon's four municipalities of Liloan, San Francisco, Pintuyan and San Ricardo.

The prospect of having better roads has raised the hopes of the people of Panaon for better economic opportunities. The island is the take-off point of roll on-roll off (Ro-Ro) ferry service between Leyte and Mindanao. They are now talking of putting up a ferry terminal in San Ricardo on the other end of the island as an alternative to the one now operating in Liloan, which in turn, is linked by a span as long as Davao City's Bangkerohan bridge, to mainland Leyte. If this materializes, then Surigao City in Mindanao will be about an hour-and-a-half away by Ro-Ro. At least, the much-hyped Strong Republic National Highway is getting to be a reality in our place.

Last November 4, we gathered once again for the 80th birthday celebration of my father, Dominador. Just like the time when we all went home for my grandfather's 80th birthday in 1976, the whole village participated in preparing for the occasion.

Tiyo Ome and a cousin, Mundo Subang, took charge of preparing the three lechons along the shore just a few meters away from Punta. My children went snorkeling while Tiyo Ome's group was roasting the pigs. And since Patron Benero, the village's chief cook for such occasions is now gone, Jilson and the women took charge of preparing our dinner. Under the present circumstances, we could not hold games and contests. But just like past clan gatherings, we all had a great time together.

Ricky requested that they keep the few bundles of uncooked pancit for the "hugkas" or "babang luksa" on December 19. Two days later, they raffled off the houses. The men have pledged they would help finish the houses assigned to the widows.

They still have a lot of work to do and we still have to mobilize a lot of resources and support but they are looking forward to the completion of the construction activities in the relocation site. Then they can start cleaning the deserted village and slowly revive this into an economically productive enclave that it had once been. They may not be able to live there anymore, but for most of us, Punta is not meant to be abandoned and forgotten.

My cousin Marilou Maglana, Tiya Sayong's youngest daughter and a Davao City-based cardiologist, rushed home, after more than 30 years of absence, last December immediately after learning about the landslides. "We shared so many happy memories there," she explained.

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Punta is so remote I often feel only typhoons know it

Posted: 0:50 AM (Manila Time) Dec. 24, 2003
By Leticia M. Subang
Inquirer News Service

The author is a former reporter of Business Day. Her children, who were vacationing on Panaon Island, survived the landslides that killed more than 100 of her relatives. -- Editor

IT IS difficult to describe how much Punta, a village in the remote municipality of San Francisco on Panaon Island, Southern Leyte, means to my family.

I take my three children there regularly just so they will know the value of keeping one's family ties intact.

In 1976 we were there to honor my grandfather's only request -- that no matter where we were at that time, we would gather together in Punta on his 80th birthday.

In 1999 we were there to celebrate my parents' 50th wedding anniversary. And we started planning for my father's 80th birthday in November.

Punta, 1.5 kilometers away from the town center of San Francisco, is where we hold our clan's regular May reunions. We wanted to have such reunions every two years, but with 2004 an election year, we decided to hold the next get-together in 2005. Relatives who had migrated to the cities and overseas have promised to start saving for the trip home.

But there is no more Punta to go home to. Most of the clan's elders are gone. As of the last account, only three of the elders, all first cousins of my father's, survived the deadly landslides.

Today, my husband Joy de los Reyes and I will be in Punta. (This is the first time that my whole family will spend Christmas there. Normally, my parents would visit us in Manila during Christmas, after which they would have their medical checkup.)

Our children -- Antonio Isabelo, Aida Corazon and Jose Socrates -- had gone ahead and arrived there last Friday. (Antonio and Aida are both Philippine Science High School students; Jose is a Grade 5 student at the Ateneo de Manila University.)

I had arranged for a van to take them from Tacloban, passing Hilongos to collect their two cousins and my father's two-year-old great-grandson, who were coming in from Cebu and then proceeding to Liloan, where my sister Rebecca was waiting. She had just arrived from Canada with her French Canadian husband for a three-week vacation.

As the road between Liloan and San Francisco was already impassable by then because of the continuous rains, the group proceeded to San Francisco by pump boat, an hour-long trip around the island.

Little did we know that an hour after the children arrived in San Francisco at 5 p.m. on Dec. 19, tragedy would strike.

Relatives tried to call me Friday night but I was beyond reach as I was working overtime on a book project. They were hesitant to call my cousin Eddie, who drives for us, because they did not want to tell him that his parents, nephew and niece were missing.

Power was out and, consequently, phone lines were down in San Francisco. It was a call from my aunt in Davao that jolted me early Saturday morning. Then another cousin in San Francisco thought of turning on his generator so relatives could call out.

And that was how I received an eyewitness account from my cousin Ricky, village council chairperson of Punta.

The extent of the devastation started to become clear to me. Soon, relatives working in Metro Manila were calling me, and I spent the whole day repeating the grim story Ricky had told-that at least 80 members of our clan may have died in the landslides.

Our death toll, as relayed to me early yesterday morning, is now over 100.

Never hungry

PUNTA is so remote that I often feel only the typhoons, which never fail to visit it every year, know it exists.

Life has never been easy in Punta, a village of subsistence farmers and fishermen as well as artisans -- skilled carpenters and masons.

They are not rich but they will never go hungry. They often have fresh fish every morning, and the extra catch is brought to the town center to be sold, with a portion set aside for my father who lives there.

As in many other villages of San Francisco, the residents of Punta are mostly children and the elderly. Many of the able-bodied have left to seek better job opportunities elsewhere, just as my parents did in 1949 when they decided to try their luck in Davao.

Some chose to stay, like Ricky, one of the clan's best carpenters, and Ismael or Maying, the lead fisherman.

But most of them never fail to come back in May, when San Francisco's fiesta is celebrated on May 15 and Punta's on May 19. It is during these times that cousins, who would have remained unacquainted, get to meet.

While May means fiestas and more visitors, I prefer to go home to San Francisco with my family between March and April, the peak of the fishing season when the sea is calmest.

We have been spending the Holy Week there for several years now. It is a time when the moon is full and, according to the common wisdom, when sea urchins are at their juiciest.

My children have spent happy days snorkeling in Punta, like I did when I was a kid myself.

Much of the corals along the shores of San Francisco were destroyed in the 1960s and 1970s when dynamite fishing was routinely employed.

This was how Albino, one of our neighbors, lost a leg. "Ma-Albino ka," the elders would often warn those who continued with the destructive practice.

But not in Punta. Its people have preserved the corals, knowing fully well that these are where the fish breed.

I still remember the hours I spent with my father just watching the fish weave in and out of the corals, just as I cherish the delight of my son in seeing a baby octopus changing its colors as it swims by.

Several years ago, San Francisco was declared a protected area. And we have noticed that the corals had started to regenerate.

Dear departed

BUT I don't think my children will still be able to snorkel in Punta's waters this Holy Week. There will be no Lolo Pater and Lola Pering to prepare the lunch they will eat on the beach.

Tiya Melia, who often looked after my children when they were there, and Manong Maying, who supplied our daily dose of kinalaw, will have relocated by then.

And there is nowhere we can wash away the salt after swimming for hours in the sea. The water-impounding pond that the villagers built is gone.

There the women used to gather every morning to wash their clothes and exchange gossip. The water, drawn directly from the mountain, was soothingly cool and clean.

Punta is reputed to have one of the best sources of water in San Francisco. But the mountain, the source of Punta's water that nourished the people who lived there for generations, also became the cause of their death.

The Panaon Institute, the high school in the town center, will have to look for another principal to replace my cousin Renee Subang Paug, who perished together with her family that night. She was one of my playmates.

Some of the Subang kids will not be present at the school graduation. (Being a big clan, we had children in almost all the elementary school levels, and we were always updated on who finished the school year with honors.)

But at least my cousin Eddie is assured that his parents' bodies have been found. The municipality has prepared a mass grave for the dead.

On the shoulders of Ricky, the clan's village chief, lies the responsibility of organizing the survivors.

Ricky has helped many of his cousins build their homes (and that includes our own in the Fairview area of Quezon City).

When we spoke on the phone Saturday morning, he sounded incoherent at first, apparently still in shock at seeing so many of our clan members buried in the mud. But as I coaxed him to identify the dead and the missing -- for the benefit of other relatives living in Manila -- I knew that he, together with our other cousins who survived the ordeal, will carry on.
And when I called again last Sunday, I was told that Ricky had gathered his workers and started mass-producing coffins for our dead.

Hopefully, Ricky will soon be rebuilding his own home. Once we have buried all of our dead, we will have to start helping one another reconstruct shattered lives-the children who have been orphaned, the parents who have lost their children.

For the whole families who died together that night, I take comfort in the thought that nobody among them has to live through the trauma.

This is indeed a tragic Christmas for us. But I am confident that this clan will rise above the tragedy.

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Dabawenyo writes on Southern Leyte tragedy

“I thought of writing but just thinking about it makes me cry”
By Jane Subang / MindaNews / 23 December 2003

(Editor’s note: Leticia “Jane” M. Subang is a Dabawenyo whose parents migrated from Southern Leyte in 1949 and returned there in the late 1990s after pursuing productive professional careers in Davao City. Her father, Dominador, worked for C. Alcantara and Sons and taught accounting and management courses at the University of Mindanao. Her mother, Peregrina, was a guidance counselor at Quezon Elementary School. Jane used to write for BusinessDay and was based here in Davao City from late 1984 to shortly after People Power I forced the Marcoses to flee to Hawaii in February 1986. Jane is married to Joy de los Reyes, editor in chief of Malaya. They have three children, Antonio Isabelo, Aida Corazon and Jose Socrates. They are now based in Manila. She initially told this story via text and phone calls to MindaNews’ Carolyn O. Arguillas, her buddy during the Davao City coverages from late 1984 to early 1986, and godmother to her firstborn, Tonton. Jane, finally mustering enough strength to write, added more paragraphs today. This is her story).

As usual, it would be a Christmas of reunions.

This was the first time that my whole family was going to spend Christmas with our relatives in San Francisco, Southern Leyte. Normally my parents would visit us in Manila during Christmas, after which they would have their medical check ups and we, in turn, would be in Leyte during the Holy Week.

Our three children went ahead, arriving there last Friday. Joy and I are scheduled to fly on the 24th.

Little did we know that an hour after our children, Tonton, Inday and Bobot arrived in San Francisco at 5 p.m. last Friday, December 19, a tragedy would befall our clan.

Relatives had been trying to contact me Friday night to inform me about the tragedy but I was beyond reach as I was working overtime on a book project then. Besides, I had just changed my cell phone number a few days ago, and the cousin who received the first stream of news did not have my new number. They were hesitant to call my other cousin, Eddie, who drives for us, because they did not want to tell him the worst of their fears then – his parents, nephew and niece were missing.

Power was out and consequently, phone lines were down in San Francisco. It was a call from my aunt in Davao that jolted me early Saturday morning. Then another cousin in San Francisco thought of turning on his generator so relatives could call out, and that was how I got the eyewitness account from my cousin Ricky, who is also the barangay chairman there.

The extent of the devastation started to become clearer to me. Soon, relatives now working in Metro Manila started calling me and I spent the whole day repeating the grim story Ricky told me – that at least 80 members of our clan may have died in the series of landslides that struck Punta, a village 1.5 kilometers away from the town center of San Francisco where my parents and where my children stayed.
At the end of the day, I felt so numb I couldn’t even cry.

It was only on Saturday night when I could muster the strength to send text messages to friends. “Naglandslike kagabi sa Leyte. Sa barrio mismo ng mga kamag-anak ko. Death toll could be abt. 100. Lahat ko kamag-anak. 30 bodies have been retrieved. Nakabalot lang. Nasa auditorium. D children r now in a big house owned by an aunt based in the US. The adults are in the auditorium and parish center. Dumating sina Tonton dun kahapon to visit my parents. Papunta kami ni Joy Dec. 24. safe naman sila as they are living in the town proper. The affected barrio (Punta) is 1.5 km away.”

Friends I sent the text message to called, asking how they could help.
“How do you bury a hundred relatives?” was all I could say.
Having worked as a journalist, I know the immediate need is for rescue boats, coffins for the dead, food, clothing and shelter for the living. As of Sunday, I was told by another cousin, Elmer, that they did not even have cadaver bags. The dead, starting to show signs of decomposition, were wrapped in blankets and mosquito nets that my cousins could lay their hands on just so these could be transported from the site of the landslide to the town center.

How easy it is for journalists to write about other people’s tragedies but how difficult to write about our own.

I thought of writing but just thinking about it makes me cry.

As of Sunday night, 40 bodies had been retrieved. Today (Tuesday), the clan’s death toll is over 100. From what I have learned, the survivors were distributed among relatives who are living in the town center. Food is being prepared in the town’s parish center.

A friend in media texted me if the barangay captain Ricky Subang, who was just interviewed is related to me. He was the first to give me an eyewitness account Saturday morning. He is among the best carpenters of the family and he helped build my house in Fairview, Quezon City.

Starting last Sunday, he was busy mass producing coffins for his own relatives, mostly those who were retrieved earlier. The bodies that were retrieved Monday and Tuesday were placed in a mass grave which the municipality prepared. Perhaps, we will eventually decide to have a common marker for all of those who perished on that fateful night.

Tomorrow, December 24, I am going home to Leyte, as originally scheduled. And I know it is going to be even more painful.

That barangay is one that bound us as a clan. We hold our reunions there. In 1976, we celebrated my Lolo’s 80th birthday, and in 1999 we were all there for my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary. We are now preparing for my dad’s 80th birthday next November.

To inculcate the value of family in my kids, I regularly bring them there.
“Ngayon wala na na. I don’t think the survivors will return there. It would be very painful,” I told friends that night. But I could not also think of how family reunions would be without Punta.

The mayor is toying with the idea of relocating my relatives in a patch of land behind the cockpit in the town. My initial reaction was how can they survive living far from the seashore? They were farmers and fishermen. But then again, the idea might work.

For we have to start thinking how to rebuild shattered lives. “Dami naming orphans,” I answered my friends who asked about the situation Sunday night.

Until now, my Dad does not know the extent of the tragedy (my mom and other relatives there fear he might have a heart attack). All he knows is that there was a landslide. He knows about the evacuation.

What he doesn’t know is that almost all his cousins are gone. That would surely devastate him – for they were his social and emotional support system. Everyday, somebody from the village would visit him, bringing him news and his share of the fresh fish they have just caught. They also go to him frequently seeking for his advice.

Now they are gone. My sister said we will tell my dad the whole story when I get there.

Then again, maybe we should do so only after we will have arrived in Manila on December 28, again, as originally planned.

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