If we really want SK beyond 2020…

 

Sharing with you the thoughts of Commissioner James Ceasar Ventura of the National Youth Commission regarding Pagudpud’s Paloma beauty pageant that the town’s SK willingly got involved in, and in general how SKs around the country have been doing by far. Note though that here he is giving his personal position as a young leader, and his statements should not be taken as the position of his agency. It would be worthy to listen to his thoughts because James is sincerely one of those who truly want the SK to succeed.

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James Ceasar Ventura

“At a personal level, Sir, I don’t believe we really need pageants right now. It’s too costly for entertainment. Waste of resources. That’s regardless of SK man yan o Buwan ng Wika, Tourism, whatsoever.

“Plus there are too many things we need to prioritize. In Ilocos, it would be teenage pregnancy, jobs, access to quality education, life skills kung kabataan ang pag-uusapan.

“I appreciate the SKs for helping their LGU implement its programs and activities, but I would have appreciated them more if they opposed the Paloma pageant for these reasons:

“1. They could have asked LGU to give them the funds which could be used for a scholarship or a training on crime or illegal drugs prevention.

“2. By supporting the activity, even without paying for it using the SK funds, the SK officials consented on inefficient budget use, and tolerated the culture of reducing gender issues as a laughing matter.

“I’d be honest, Sir. Many SKs are at a loss hanggang ngayon. They do not know what to do while they are also under pressure to do something ASAP. Hence, they become welcoming to proposals such as pageants and sports activities. Templated na kasi at madali nang gawin.

“I hope there were more of us at NYC to really guide them on the ground. I pray that their Youth Development Officer, their LGU and other youth leaders are already sitting down to plan for their kabataan. If that doesn’t happen, I don’t look forward for another SK election by 2020.”

I thank James for making me believe in youth power despite my cynicism. I was hoping the reformed SK would produce more noble young Filipinos like you, but what we have now, as in the past, are many SK officials and federation presidents elected not on the basis of their skills and zeal to serve, but on the strength of their blood relations. Trapo manipulation of the youth remain strong. And, as you said, SK officials are at a loss on what to do.

My humble advice to them is to carefully craft relevant, high-impact, and sustainable programs instead of falling to the allure of tokenism and Instagram fame. SKs have been in the position for only a few days and there have been activities done here and there and more lined up in the coming weeks. Coastal clean-ups, blood letting activities, sports programs are good, but they must be a part of honest-to-goodness programs and not turn out as sporadic activities that only look good on Instagram.

I don’t believe in the necessity and relevance of SK, not anymore at this time in our national life, as it was a bane in the past two decades. It was a nice idea that belonged to another era. It’s a dead intervention that should have remained peacefully in the grave of our collective political memory. But because the SKs are here and they are given public funds, let us, with all we can help them succeed. If this be the last batch of SK, may they build good memories before we bury this idea back to the grave of ignominy.

 

SK is back with a blast! Ilocos Norte town SK get busy with beauty contest

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Pagudpud SK Officials pose with their winning bets.

THE REFORMED SK is back. It’s officials in Philippine barangays assumed office on July 1.

Much has been said about the reforms made in the new edition of the Sangguniang Kabataan, through Republic Act 10742 or the SK Reform Act,especially on how youth leaders have been empowered to better contribute in national development, thereby erasing the reputation it has sadly earned in years past—that it is irrelevant, corrupt, and a bane to an already bloated bureaucracy. Bringing SK back to life was a big challenge, but its believers, including my friend James Ventura, who is commissioner-at-large of the National Youth Commission, are holding their hopes high.

It seems like the youth leaders of Pagudpud town here in Ilocos Norte are up to the challenge. In their first days in office, they got themselves busy with their first assignment, their baptism of fire: a beauty contest. The town is celebrating its 64th Founding Anniversary, and SK officials in the different barangays were in charge of scouting for candidates and preparing them for competition, and in serving as ushers and production staff during the competition proper. I learned from my interview with Rex Benemerito Jr., the SK Federated President of Pagudpud, that these assignments were given to them by the Municipality’s Tourism Office. What kind of competition did they get busy with?

It’s actually the brainchild of the town mayor. Straight males get dressed and made up as women, inspired by the Paloma character in the epic television soap, Ang Probinsiyano. Ten contestants from different barangays vied for the title, Miss Paloma 2018. While the competition is already on its third year, Kevin Riveral, the SK chair of Brgy. 2 explained, “Kami po yung partner ng LGU para maging possible ulit ang Miss Paloma 2018.” (As the partner of the LGU, we—the  SK—made possible the restaging of Miss Paloma 2018.) Kevin said he is “so happy a naisabak kamin uray katugtugawmi pay laeng.” (We are so happy that we got to work immediately even if we have just assumed office.)

The event was a crowd drawer. Expectedly there was a lot of laughter as it’s an old, tried-and-tested formula to get Filipinos entertained by male cross-dressing. But what actually did Pagudpud achieve with this? Well, organizers say, it gave men the rare opportunity to experience what a woman goes through.  But isn’t it lame to have that mindset? Being a woman is certainly more than wearing heavy make up and high heels. You could, in fact, be a woman even if you have a different sense of fashion.

If at all, the pageant only perpetuates gender stereotypes. “It doesn’t promote gender sensitivity because the candidates are being a laughing stuff,” PJ Quitoriano, a well-distinguished young transgender from Pagudpud, notes. He also lamented that the show fell short of promoting neither the empowerment of women nor the LGBT. The same sentiment was echoed by the Head of the Committee on Gender and Development of the nationally acclaimed Sirib Ilokano Kabataan Association: “It only promotes the culture of domination because participants are reduced to being objects of laughter.”

I will leave it to you, dear reader, to assess the merits of the first activity Pagudpud’s youth leaders embarked on. I will be cruel if I don’t give them credit for their effort. Some of them (and I know this because I was their speaker on Public Service ethics during their mandatory SK training held in May) may actually be truly eager to serve and make a difference.

But they started on the wrong foot.

While SK is back to life, I maintain that there are things that should have remained dead.

I’d be happy to be proven wrong.

Demonizing our tricycle drivers

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ONE OF THE favorite punching bags of netizens, at least those in my social circles, are tricycle drivers. The most common complaints include overpricing, refusing to convey, and rudeness.

While I believe that some passengers do have legitimate concerns on certain instances, and it is well within their rights to file a formal complaint ant to rant on social media, I lament that tricycle drivers have, in general, been treated contemptuously and have been “othered” as if they are cruel predators from another world.

I have read a fair amount of literature on tricycle drivers, particularly because one my past thesis advisees, Ralph Lasaten, had the tricycle drivers of Batac City as the subject of his sociological study. Among the observations that struck me was of Colbert Bellevue, an American. He said that because tricycles are in demand in most cities and towns in the Philippines, “tricycle drivers can command and exact chartered fare prices without any room for bargaining or haggling for a fair fare.” He went on to say that “the glitter of money in the heart and soul of a tricycle driver extinguishes the human kindness, compassion, helpfulness and goodwill to strangers; and henceforth, he becomes a ‘crocodile’ and a ‘wolf’ waiting for a prey at a corner of the road.”

I wouldn’t dispute Colbert’s observations. Indeed, the world is filled with opportunistic beings, and some of them happen to be tricycle drivers. In Batac where I work, complaints against tricycle drivers are also aplenty, and the famous line, “Dobliemton, ading” (Please double the fare) is met with revulsion. In Vigan and elsewhere, there have been cases as well of overcharging.

I usually have a great deal of tolerance with people ranting on social media, and this includes their ordeals with tricycle drivers, but a young lady’s Facebook post particularly caught my attention. You be the judge if the tricycle driver deserved the badmouthing he got from the lady’s sympathizers.

The young lady, a college graduate, rode a tricycle in queue (nakapila) at a shopping store in downtown Laoag. The tricycle driver said that if the lady was willing to pay twenty pesos, they would go immediately. The lady complained that it was too much and that with twenty pesos, she could already pay a bus fare to Batac. She noted that the jeepney terminal she was going to was just near. “It’s okay, but would you be willing for another passenger to go with you?” the driver asked. The lady agreed. But perhaps because of her impatience, she later told the driver, “nayunak to lattan,” she will just give an extra amount. So they went. Upon reaching the destination, the lady paid the driver 15 pesos. It is four pesos more than the regular 11-peso fare. However, the tricycle driver demanded 20 pesos because that was the amount she had earlier asked from the passenger. The lady reasoned out that she never promised to pay twenty pesos, and that she only offered to give something extra. After the short spat, the lady grudgingly paid 20. Shortly after, she ranted on social media, there posting the tricycle’s sidecar number.  The lady gained support from her friends who branded the tricycle driver as “abusado.” Many suggested that the tricycle driver be immediately reported to the police, to which the lady agreed.

As I said, there’s no denying that some tricycle drivers may be rude, some are choosy with their passengers, while others demand for more than the usual fare. But let us analyze the case of the young lady.

The tricycle driver was in a queue. He may have been in the line for at least half an hour. When passengers are scarce, the wait for a tricycle driver’s turn to get passengers could take an hour or more. It is definitely justified for them to have at least two passengers. But the young lady wanted special accommodation (she wanted to have the tricycle go pronto and all to herself) and that is why she offered to pay extra. The tricycle driver thought the young lady was willing two pay 20 pesos, but it turned out she would only give 15. I am not good in math, but I am sure that if only the lady was willing to wait, she would have paid only 11 pesos, and the tricycle driver would have earned at least 22 pesos, 33 if there were two other passengers, and even more if their destinations were farther, as 11 pesos was only good, according to the official fare guide, for the first one kilometer. Pray, tell me, how could the lady, in good conscience deprive the driver, who waited a long time for his turn, with the earning he rightfully deserves?

Five pesos. That’s the difference between what the lady was willing to pay and what the driver expected. Five pesos. The reason why the tricycle driver was portrayed as a monster, a crocodile, a dirt and abomination of society.

Hinay-hinay lang naman, mga kapatid. Please take it easy on them. Life is hard, yes. The tricycle drivers’ lives could even be more difficult than ours. Most of them do not have their own vehicles and have to pay a daily boundary to tricycle operators. In Laoag City, it’s around 250 a day, and that does not include expenses for gasoline. Only after they produce boundary and gasoline do they start earning for themselves. It should also be noted that the current minimum fare of eleven pesos was set by the Laoag City government in April 2011, that’s over seven years ago when prices of fuel and basic commodities were considerably lower.

“It’s not our fault that the queues are long, or that the driver does not have his own tricycle, or that transport fares have not been adjusted, or that life is unfair” one may justify, but it totally shows a lack of empathy for one’s fellowmen. Tricycle drivers, let me make this clear, are not our enemy.  They suffer like we do, and they even surely struggle more than the rest of us who can afford to spend a lot of time ranting on Facebook.

Because of scarce parking spaces, I prefer to commute when going to the centro, and tricycles have always made life easier. I pay more than what they ask. I pay more when the heat of the sun is punishing, or when the rains have the drivers soaked all day. I pay even more especially when they don’t ask for more. I do so not only because I can afford it, but because I want to. And each time I alight from the tricycle and hand them my fare, I say a word of thanks.

Like anyone, I could also be short-fused when the tricycle drivers are rude and in which case I don’t try to hide my disgust, but those are very rare instances, and as much as I could, I just take a deep breath and say a little prayer that God may help the fellow get past a bad day. I wouldn’t report anyone to the police—who already have more than enough in their hands—unless I am seriously aggravated. If it’s just my ego that’s hurt, I try to suffer a little, let it pass, and still keep my faith in my fellowmen.

It’s funny though that many professionals and high earners tend to be harsher in treating tricycle drivers. I know many of them. In stark contrast, Manang Glory, our help for  many years who has since retired, to this day refuses to use her Senior Citizen privileges, pays the regular fare, and most of the time gives even more. “Kaasida met” (I pity them), she would say. What a show of empathy. What a redemptive humanity!

This leads me to reflect on why tricycle drivers are easy targets of complaints both on social media and in the police station. And why people feel entitled to use the harshest adjectives on them.

While tricycle drivers are very much a part of our daily lives, we have become insensitive to their own concerns, blind to their sufferings, deaf to their pleadings, and while we ride their vehicles as they bring us safely to the comfort of our homes, we have only always seen them for their use but never for their worth. We have shamelessly “othered” them. And because they are disempowered and lowly, we easily pick on these tricycle drivers, for the smallest reasons, to be at the receiving end of both our personal frustrations and social disillusionments.

If only we could be angry with corrupt politicians as much as people verbally assault a tricycle driver for asking a few pesos he has rightfully earned, we could live in a better place. But no, we call our officials “honorable” even as they plunder millions from the public coffers. There is no enough outrage for inefficient and corrupt public works contractors, greedy capitalists who can’t let go of contractualization, no anger for the leeches in electric cooperatives and water distribution utilities, no disdain for big-time thieves and scoundrels.

For there is always the tricycle driver to hate and demonize.

And we could always feel better about ourselves.

God bless our trip.

That trip to Sarrat  

Going to Sarrat is usually fun and relaxing. We’ve had countless family picnics in the town’s charming river resorts, visits to President Marcos’ birthplace, or just strolls around the sleepy town. Each journey is memorable, but it’s the one we made on August 4, Tuesday, I will never forget.

That trip was the saddest I have taken in my whole life. Seated on my passenger seat was fellow writer and office mate, Reynaldo Andres. We were headed to the morgue to see the body of a slay victim Sir Rey would later confirm is his only child.

That morning in our office, Sir Rey looked worried and upset. He received a text message from his daughter Mai-mai, saying that she is in Cebu and that she needs money for her return fare. Sir Rey was surprised, for she thought his only child, a graduating student, was just working on a group project as she occasionally does with trusted classmates she has treated as sisters. The text message said money should be sent to a certain “Francis Domingo Ortega” with an address in La Union because her daughter’s identification card is not with her. She said they were in the Waterfront Hotel.

Sir Rey immediately went out of the office to send his daughter P15,000 through a money transfer outlet in Batac. That was around 9:00 a.m. I, too, went out of the office to attend my classes. When I returned for lunch at past twelve, Sir Rey was doubly emotional and nervous. When he called his daughter to say that the money has been deposited, the phone can no longer be reached.

Then came a phone call from another office in our university. The caller informed Sir Rey that she saw a Facebook post referring to her daughter: RIP. Sir Rey immediately went out of the door. After a few seconds trying to absorb the turn of events, I and our colleagues in the office–Ma’am Kat and Sharon–joined him. And thus our trip to Sarrat where radio reports say a body of a woman, with a bullet wound on her head, was found at dawn.

As it turned out, many already knew about the identity of the victim a couple of hours before Sir Rey was informed. Her classmates who earlier identified Mai-mai  at the morgue did not know how to tell Sir Rey, but they immediately gave their statement to the police.

The travel took at least forty-five minutes. I could have sped up so we can get there soonest, but I was extra careful as my knees were wobbly and I was feeling cold all over. Sir Rey, the tough guy and brilliant Ilocano writer Bannawag and Agriculture Magazine readers are very familiar with, was on my side weeping… weeping for her daughter and also for himself.

“She is the joy and hope of my life,” he said as he shared stories about Mai-mai: how the English language major was very good at writing poems and how proud she was about inheriting her father’s writing skills, how she dreamt of going to Law School, how her charming and jolly personality brought cheer to friends and family, and how happy she was turning nineteen just a few days ago.

Mai-mai was my student in Logic when she was a sophomore. Hands down the most stunning in class, she was also the most convivial. As her friends attest, she can brighten up a dark day with her ready smile and jolly disposition. But I only discovered only a year after that semester, that she is the daughter of Sir Rey, an institution in Ilocano literature and one of the country’s top science writers. The free-spirited Mai-mai was proud of her father but she wanted to establish her own name.

Sir Rey’s stories kept us all teary eyed. I would have cried with him, but all of us had to show some semblance of strength and hope. Maybe it was not Mai-mai. May be it was a mistaken identity. But then calls came one after the other. Some offered very clear clues. On the victim’s tattoo was the word “Jem” and Roman numerals that translate to July 28, 1996. Is that her nickname? Is that her birthday? “Yes,” said Sir Rey who was losing whatever hope he still held on to. “Nagulpiten ti tao..”, he said sobbing, wailing, and without propagating gender stereotypes, I say it struck me so hard to see a typical macho like Sir Rey weep unrestrained. He cried for justice even as the suspect was initially believed to be related to a powerful political clan.

Indeed, the trip to Sarrat was a crash course for me on the society we live in today: the value of family (Sir Rey narrated both the joys and hardships of fatherhood), the power and responsibility of the media and the Internet (and how Sir Rey, also a media practitioner, was among the last to know), the weight we give to education (Mai-mai was determined to graduate in April next year), our strong faith in God (“Dios ti makaammon,” said Sir Rey as he immediately called their church pastor who also immediately proceeded to the funeral home), and the impacts of politico-economic imbalances (that feeling of powerlessness when the suspect is believed to be influential).

When we arrived in Sarrat, we decided to go to the police first before proceeding to the funeral home. At the morgue, Sir Rey confirmed what we hoped was just a confusion, a bad dream, or just a distasteful joke. Jemima Keziah Andres, our beloved Mai-mai, is dead.

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What we know about the culprit so far.

The suspect, who is in his mid-20s, was initially named as “Francis Domingo Ortega” and was believed to be from La Union province and a relative of the provincial governor, but the name turned out to be an alias. Said to be charged with estafa and in running, he created a false persona for himself, creating a fake Facebook account.

When the suspect’s picture was widely circulated in social media, concerned Netizens revealed his true persona.

Victorino “Jay Ar” Mangabat Jr is his real name. Originally from Cauayan, Isabela, he has also lived in Gapan, Nueva Ecija. He has three Facebook accounts by the name Jay Ar Mangabat. One account indicated that he studied at the Ateneo de Manila University while two other accounts listed his schools as University of Sto. Tomas and Our Lady of the Pillar College, Cauayan City, respectively.

He is engaged and has a three-year old son. Mysteriously, his fiancé is said to have been missing for around a year now under mysterious circumstances.

The suspect, together with his son and mother, rented an apartment in Barangay Aglipay, Batac City on July 3. They hurriedly left the place at around 3:30 a.m. on August 4. A source said they stayed in a lodging house in Laoag City for three days in June.

He is driving a white Montero with a fictitious plate number.

Those who have met the suspect describe him as the silent type, haggard, had unkempt hair, and “lutang”, a term specifically used for drug users. He pretended to be rich, but it was not clear what work he did.

If you have any information leading to his arrest, please contact the authorities immediately. The NBI Laoag Hotline is (077) 771-3885.

May we, my dear friends, altogether pray for the eternal repose of Jemima, fight for justice, and work for a society where no person, man or woman, will have have to suffer the same fate, and that no father will have to take the same sorrowful trip to Sarrat or elsewhere.

*****

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Terrible Ilocos Norte hotels and resorts based on TripAdvisor

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ILOCOS NORTE has definitely made a mark as one of the Philippines’ top travel meccas, given the province’s amazing natural, cultural, and historical attractions, plus fun activities to boot. But, given the influx, how are our hotels meeting the demands of guests?

Many tourists depend on Internet-reviews to check the quality of hotels, restaurants, and other travel-related establishments. The most popular site is TripAdvisor.com which allows reviewers to provide both quantitative ratings and qualitative information based on their actual experience. Guests rate the establishment on a scale of 1-5 based on the following criteria: location, sleep quality, rooms, service value, and cleanliness. The written reviews are very useful for people planning their trip. One would not pay a budget price and demand five-star accommodation, but would expect decent services and facilities. In the same breath, expectations and demands run high when the price paid is high. At the end of the day, value for money weighs heavily.

I will write about the best and average hotels next, but let me devote this post to the bad and the worst.

Continue reading “Terrible Ilocos Norte hotels and resorts based on TripAdvisor”

Batac a genius… no loser!

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Judeleah Pucan, best female performer
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pictures from the Tan-ok ni Ilocano Festival of Festivals Facebook Page/ Alaric Yanos, PGIN

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(This is the second of a series of articles comprising my critique on the Tan-ok ni Ilocano Festival of Festivals 2014 held Nov. 29 at the Marcos Stadium in Laoag City. Read also the article Why I am proud of Laoag this time.)

Not a few people are concerned about Batac’s apparent downfall in their Tan-ok performances as shown by their skidding rankings. They were champion in the Festival of Festivals’ debut in 2011, 2nd place in 2012, 3rd place in 2013, and fourth this year.

It’s easy to believe in these numbers and hastily conclude that Batac is losing its artistic prowess, but I strongly contest this. They, in fact, won not just trophies, but even more for themselves and Ilocos Norte for doing what they do best.

The best thing about Batac folks is their healthy dose of insanity which I think is good because human civilization advances not because of those who blindly conform but on account of men and women who bravely challenge the status quo, and dare to be different. After all, this Home of Great Leaders is not known for people who remain comfortable with the world as usual.

Last Saturday, they landed only fourth, but did you, dear karikna, realize that Batac made history that night by staging the grandest musicale Ilocos Norte has ever seen?

On the Tan-ok stage where many of the contingents are still infected by the Visayan fever (ala Sinulog and Dinagyang), Batac dared enough to present something fresh, and excel in it. Let me discuss in detail my observations not only from the show but during some of their practices which I had the chance to watch.

Delicious story

The empanada was shown in response to the shifting tastes of the Spanish-era Ilustrados. Immersed in the lifestyle of their colonial masters, the tastes and preferences of these educated elite were strongly influenced by the West, but time came when their palates looked for something novel. They wanted a fusion between the Western way of cooking and rich native flavors. Thus, the Batac Empanada which is one reason why Ilocos Norte today is known as a gastronomic mecca. This was shown in the well-executed Kitchen Musicale where, in a party hosted by a Señora, Ilustrados refused to eat the usual fare (e.g.hamon, paella, lechon, embutido), moving the servant Indios to serve the Batac Empanada. Continue reading “Batac a genius… no loser!”

Notes on the 2014 Tan-ok: Spotlight on stories

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Tan-ok choreographers and tourism officers from around Ilocos Norte
Aian Raquel, Tan-ok Creative Director
Aian Raquel, Tan-ok Creative Director

It’s November and all 23 cities and municipalities of Ilocos Norte are in full swing with their respective preparations for this year’s edition of the Tan-ok ni Ilocano Festival of Festivals happening on the 29th.

I highly anticipate this year’s Tan-ok as organizers have given premium on what I, together with well-meaning Ilocano culture advocates, have been wishing for in previous editions: faithfulness to the Ilocano story. Indeed, any self-respecting festival should have at its core the true story of its people who are celebrating greatness, be it of an object, food, event, or any phenomenon.

Last October 24, your karikna was invited by Aian Raquel, the event’s creative director, to serve as resource speaker in a story workshop participated in by choreographers from the various towns and cities. With the exception of a few who failed to attend, I was glad with the receptiveness of the participants.

I delivered a brief lecture on the history and culture of Ilocanos but not after making a clear caveat that everything that I was to say in the workshop was my own insights as a fan who happens to have some knowledge of Ilocano culture and history, and not of the Tan-ok management. I also said that they are not obliged to heed my humble recommendations.

At the onset, I stressed to the participants that artists like them are powerful personas. They, in fact, could even be more influential than politicians, for they shape their people’s consciousness, help them define their identity, and empower them to preserve their heritage while embracing evolution and change. Any artist who sees his value only by the trophies he has won is underestimating, even insulting, himself.

In the course of making the presentation entertaining and winnable, overeager choreographers either in the guise of claiming artistic license or sheer arrogance and plain ignorance, twist and alter the story to the extent that it is rendered unrecognizable by the people who supposedly own it.

Most notorious, of course, in fictionalizing stories is Laoag City’s Pamulinawen Festival. Ironically, it has, over the past four years, brought home 3 championship trophys, lording over the competition since 2012.  Over the years, Pamulinawen has been portrayed as blacksmith trade (2011), courtship (2012), and songwriting (2013). In the Mini Tan-ok Dance Competition last February, Pamulinawen was interpreted as cockfighting.

In terms of wealth, both in terms of financial and human resources, Laoag, the city I live in and love over and above any place on earth, arguably has the upper hand. I wish that choreographers will finally zero in on a proper story which will properly shape and define the Pamulinawen Festival which still badly pales in comparison, mainly on account of lack of consistency and character, to more established festivals across the nation. Unfortunately, Laoag was the only group which decided not to talk about their storyline during the workshop.

But why has Laoag consistently won? Continue reading “Notes on the 2014 Tan-ok: Spotlight on stories”

Soon to rise, finally: SM City Laoag

Brgy. Chairman Romulo Bartolome: Landowners have been paid by as much as 30 percent.
Brgy. Chairman Romulo Bartolome: Landowners have been paid by as much as 30 percent.
Tata Pedro shows the property where SM City Laoag will rise.
Tata Pedro shows the property where SM City Laoag will rise.
Along Nangalisan West Highway (right side leading to the airport)
Along Nangalisan West Highway (right side leading to the airport)
The view from the bridge
View from the bridge
View from north of the river
View from south of the river

From a city with small, homegrown groceries and department stores that close at 6:00 p.m., Laoag City in the past couple of years has built a reputation as a retail mecca, with big stores sprouting faster than you can say cheese.. or Sy.

In December 2009, Robinsons Ilocos Norte (San Nicolas technically but is geographically almost Laoag) was the first national retail chain to open in the Ilocos Region. It was followed by three others: SM Savemore in December 2011, SM Hypermart in October 2012, and Puregold in November 2012. Of the four, however, only Robinsons is a full-service mall with a department store, supermarket, cinemas, a food court, an array of shops, and an activity area. To many, the Ilocos mall scene will never be complete without a full, honest-to-goodness SM.

Even before Robinsons IN was built, there have been long-standing rumors that an SM Mall will rise in Laoag City. It has not, as you know, been realized. The search for a parcel of land big enough for the mall’s requirements took a long time. SM apparently wanted to have it in Laoag, not anywhere else, and, naturally, they wanted the place to be accessible. Conflicting pieces of information had circulated about SM having finally chosen a lot here and there, but nothing was credible enough to be believed, or at least for long.

In 2012, however, news spread that a land area along Brgy 51-B Nangalisan West (south of the river, road leading to Northwestern University) had been identified by SM Prime Holdings and that negotiations with various families that own the property were already underway. It was a difficult process, our informant (a Laoag City elective official) said, because of the usual process of having heirs of families, some of whom are based abroad, sign documents. SM also haggled with the families in terms of price. All of these went slowly but well, our informant said, and groundbreaking rites were expected as early as February last year, in time for the Laoag City Fiesta month. But then there was nothing.

The project hit a snag, our informant said, when officials of a national agency allegedly tried to extort Php 4-Million pesos from SM. Of course, this did not make mall executives happy, and they decided not to pay up. The project was thus derailed.

But all seems well now, says the informant. SM executives apparently sought the help of a top provincial official so they won’t have to lose millions to the alleged extortionists.

Indeed, the green light seems to be on and bright. Brgy. Chairman Romulo Bartolome of 51-B Nangalisan in an interview with this writer said the land developers sought two days ago his permission for the setting up of fences around the property where SM will rise. Furthermore, he disclosed that landowners have already received payments as much as 30 percent. According to Bartolome, the property measures around 9 hectares, 8 hectares of which is within his barangay while the rest belongs to nearby Nalbo. As Brgy. 51-B’s land area is only 28 hectares, over one fourth of the entire barangay will be occupied by SM. The people from the community seem upbeat about this development. Pedro de Lara, 70, a retired firefighter who is now a part-time tricycle driver says he expects a wave of progress in their barangay once SM City Laoag opens.

In the absence of another major snag, therefore, groundbreaking could be held in a few months and by then officials of Laoag City, which is now being increasingly known more for its malls than its sunshine, may finally sing with great joy, to the tune of the SM jingle, “We’ve got it all for you.”

Ilokano language under attack (Ang panggugulo ni Almario; the mess of Joel Lopez)

JLo
KWF Chair Virgilio Almario and DepEd Ilocos Norte’s Joel Lopez

booklet

All Philippine languages are actually under attack, but Ilokano has become most vulnerable and is now at the center of a raging battle, no thanks to the treachery of one man and the fascist ways of a national artist.

The controversy has been raging since January, and the plot thickens day after day. It started when Dr. Joel Lopez, assistant division superintendent and MTB-MLE (Mother Tongue Based Multilingual Education) coordinator of DepEd Ilocos Norte, singlehandedly introduced changes to Ilokano orthography or spelling system that will be taught in schools. He never conducted consultations with language stakeholders.

Professional Ilokano writers and Ilokano language experts in the academe were quick to object. Under the MTB-MLE Implementing Rules and Regulations, stakeholder participation is necessary in drawing up a working orthography for any and all Philippine languages. Various groups—including GUMIL and Nakem Conferences—wrote position papers and letters addressed to various levels of the Department of Education (from division superintendent to the DepEd secretary himself) and also to the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF).  Everyone opposed the JLo (abbreviation for Joel Lopez; with profuse apologies to Jennifer Lopez) orthography.

Continue reading “Ilokano language under attack (Ang panggugulo ni Almario; the mess of Joel Lopez)”

If only shopping can always be this fun

Buying stuff, while stress-relieving for some, could get really frustrating. Sometimes it is extremely difficult to find the item you want. There’s the design you’re looking for but you don’t have the size, or maybe a size fits you but the color is so not you. Worse, you’re two minutes too late in buying the item of your dreams; the last piece was taken by another shopper who had more luck. And the saleslady, overworked and underpaid, is grouchy.

This is why I always look forward to the one event where one can choose, mix and match, and create personalized stuff. Thankfully, hapening tomorrow until Sunday (May 23-25) is the ‘Make Your Own Havaianas” event at Robinsons Ilocos. I had a great time in its first edition around the same time last year. To date, I have around 10 pairs of Havaianas slippers, all of them nice and comfortable to use, but my own creation stands out among them, to me at least.

For the sole, I chose plain black. I always prefer it without prints because I love the feel of rubber on my foot… the rubber-skin connection. Plain black because I am not drawn to flashy designs. For the strap, I chose my favourite color… red, shade of the Marcoses and of San Beda, my alma mater. For adornment, I picked two pins, one for each strap. One was an “Ilocos pride pin” on sandboarding, of which Ilocos is increasingly getting known for, while the other was on my favourite sport, bicycling.

I was desperately going through my files to show you how it was done, until I gave up searching. Anyway, here was my “creation” in last year’s Ilocos Norte MYOH, a first in this part of the country.

No, Jaja Colleen, please spare that one. You murdered two of my Havs when you were still a pup.
No, Jaja Colleen, please spare that one. You murdered two of my Havs when you were still a pup.
No, Jaja Colleen, I can't buy you one. I don't think they have a line for cute pets like you yet.
No, Jaja Colleen, I can’t buy you one. I don’t think they have a line for cute pets like you yet.
ILOCOS PRIDE: Sandboarding
ILOCOS PRIDE: Sandboarding
FAVE SPORT: The slow, steady cadence of a bike is like a two-wheeled, human-powered sojourn to utopia.
FAVE SPORT: The slow, steady cadence of a bike is like a two-wheeled, human-powered sojourn to utopia.

The fun of designing my own flip-flop was made even more exciting by the festive mood in the MYOH area. No grouchy salesladies, only helpful and jovial staff. And, oh, they are all good-looking. (They hired hot guys and gals just for the event.) It helps too, that Mary Ann Cua-Macaraeg, CEO of Visionaire, Inc. which exclusively distributes the Brazillian brand, has in her staff stellar graduates of the university where I teach. There’s Ajo Rumbaoa who was president of the Central Student Council, and, recently hired was Michael Mugas, a marketing cum laude graduate whose leadership in school orgs led him to a stint in Japan.

I learned from Blauearth that this year’s MYOH will mark the festive Brazilian street culture. Vogue posits that “Brazilians have the ability to make a party out of nothing, and then make it the most exciting night you’ve ever had.” Brazilian culture, they say, is all about self expression, and not being ashamed of how vividly you express it. Filipinos are like that, too, to some extent, but maybe Brazillians do have less inhibitions.
Continue reading “If only shopping can always be this fun”

Rockstar Governor

If she wins as governor, her critics warned in 2010, she will probably spend more time in Metro Manila than in the Ilocos Norte Capitol.  “She will be bored here,” they said matter-of-factly. Sure, Imee Marcos had served as congresswoman for nine years but that job meant more time spent in the nation’s capital.

Four years and one reelection later, the cynics, or whatever have remained of them, are silent. Many may now even be singing a different tune. Looking at how things are going on for the province, it has become increasingly difficult not to admire Imee Marcos as a leader. Highly popular and well-loved, she has attained rockstar status never before seen in this part of the country. Here are 10 reasons why:

1.      Hands-on leadership, good governance

To begin with, Imee has consistently proven, both in moments of joy and in times of disaster, that she is a hands-on governor. Even young employees at the Capitol are having difficulty keeping pace with the lady leader who is known to work long hours even on weekends. “Her energy is unbelievable,” says a colleague at the provincial press corps.

Resulting from her hard work, Ilocos Norte has been constantly identified as among the best governed provinces in the country. It also holds the distinction of being the first Philippine province to attain full ISO certification.

Governor Marcos during a flag-raising ceremony
Governor Marcos during a flag-raising ceremony (NOTE: Most photos in this article are from websites and social media accounts maintained by the Ilocos Norte Provincial Government.)
Imee visits calamity victims.
Imee visits calamity victims.

Continue reading “Rockstar Governor”

‘Elsa’ draws huge crowd anew, brings Ilocos Norte to national limelight

 

AUNOR: Still making waves 32 years after "Himala"
AUNOR: Still making waves 32 years after “Himala”

Around 3,000 extras took part in the filming of Himala, the 1982 Ishmael Bernal masterpiece shot in Paoay. Considering its limited budget, it was a miracle of sorts putting together what is now largely considered, both by critics and the viewing public, as the best film ever produced in the Asia Pacific. Last Saturday, May 10, the miracle happened anew, with a crowd ten times bigger witnessing the immortalization of the film’s iconic character, Elsa.

The unveiling of a fiberglass statue depicting Elsa was the highlight of this year’s Himala sa Buhangin, an offbeat outdoor arts and music festival staged in the Paoay Sand Dunes. Actress Nora Aunor, who played the lead role, graced the event to the delight of an estimated 25,000 revelers, including hundreds of die-hard Noranians from other parts of the country.

Created by visual artist Gerry Leonardo, the fiberglass sculpture depicts Elsa deep in prayer and kneeling in front of a withered tree. Erected atop one of the highest peaks in the sand dunes, the statue was unveiled with cinematic effect at around 9:00 p.m. There were bolts of lightning as music from the movie was played along with the classic line: “Walang himala! Ang himala ay nasa puso ng tao, nasa puso nating lahat! Tayo ang gumagawa ng mga himala!” As if it were a movie shooting, fans chanted, “Elsa! Elsa!”

Continue reading “‘Elsa’ draws huge crowd anew, brings Ilocos Norte to national limelight”

It’s a nice feeling: Miss Ilocos Norte is actually from Ilocos Norte

 

???????????????????????There was joy and madness at the Centennial Arena when the winners were announced. After four years of limbo, Miss Ilocos Norte is back!

The capacity crowd was on fire, with supporters from the province’s 21 municipalities and 2 cities rooting for their respective candidates. I have not seen an Ilocano crowd—usually hard to please—so vibrant since Daniel Padilla’s mini-concert in the same venue last year.

All the candidates showed their best and glided elegantly on stage. They were trimmed down, with only the fairest surviving, from 23 to twelve, and then five. In the end, Laoag City’s Czarina Marie “Yna” Viloria Adina bagged the title.

The newly crowned queen is a real beauty: flawless, charming, smart, and this is the best part: she is really Ilocana. It is a bonus for me and other proud Laoageños that she comes from our city.

There was excitement in immense proportions. Maybe we have forgotten how such experience feels? The most anticipated and biggest funded beauty pageant in this part of the universe has been Miss Laoag, but for some reason, and in the guise of internationalization, organizers opened the pageant to everyone, and since then, most Miss Laoag winners are actually not from Laoag. We had a Miss Laoag from La Union in 2012, Miss Laoag from Isabela in 2013, and a Miss Laoag from Baguio this 2014. (Check this article: What is wrong with Miss Laoag.)

Nice feeling

“It’s a nice feeling, noh?” says Mary Jane “Mahjang” Pascual-Leaño, who had practically reigned in all major beauty pageants in Ilocos Norte (except Pasuquin’s Sunflower Gay Festival, of course). As Miss ABC Laoag 1999, Miss Laoag 2000, and Miss Ilocos Norte 2001, Mahjang sure knows how good it feels to be supported by fellow Ilocanos. But it feels even better for me and her other faithful subjects to know that this beauty, over a decade after her reign, continues to serve Ilocandia in every good way, unlike most Miss Laoag candidates, many of whom are professional Bikini Open contestants who hop from one beach, pool, bar, town, and province to the other.

Due to the barrage of comments you, dear karikna, have made on articles I have previously written on this issue, and also on account of my conversations with various stakeholders, I am sure that most Laoageños really wish that Miss Laoag is from their city. I even say that we have a right not just to request for it, but to demand so, because the city government spends our taxes for the expensive event. I have done my share. In March last year, during the campaign period for the local elections, I personally handed to Mayor Chevylle Fariñas a printed copy of comments you left on my blog. I have also talked about this with Miss Laoag production head Randy Leaño and creative consultant Ianree Raquel—both of whom I highly respect and admire on account of their artistic genius—but the former seemed resolute in keeping the pageant open to everyone so long as they meet the physical requirements.

When the finalists were announced towards end of the Miss Laoag search held last February, the crowd was silent, unexcited. There was no loud cheering, no revelry. For how can you honestly root for anyone you don’t really know? How can you lend the distinction of being your city’s muse to some person who will leave a day or two after the pageant and who will only comeback to turn over her crown?

Yna Adina represented Laoag City though she has never donned the crown of Miss Laoag. A tourism graduate of Mariano Marcos State University, she is a real looker. “Artistahin,” is what common people say of her. Not only is our new Miss Ilocos Norte beautiful; she is also well-mannered, good-natured, and proudly Ilocano. As pageant winner, Yna is signing a one year contract with the provincial government as ambassadress of goodwill. This means we will be seeing her around for the entire duration of her reign.

Other winners were Maria Khrissa Parado (Dingras), first runner-up; Princess Raihanie Salleh (Bacarra), 2nd runner-up; Sheena Bolaños Dalo (Burgos), 3rd Runner-up; and Lyka Mari Bumanglag (Bangui), 4th Runner-up. Among them, it seems to me that Dalo has the biggest chance to make a name in modeling. I am writing a separate article about this 5’11” stunner from Burgos.

“Fast paced, finished early”

The audience, both those who trooped to the arena and homebodies who watched the television coverage, were surprised that the pageant ran for only two hours (8:30-10:30 p.m.). This is a breakthrough because other pageants could last five hours and end at near dawn.

It was a breathtaking quickie, indeed. There were no long speeches, no intermission numbers, and, true to the Miss Universe format, only the top five were subjected to the Q&A portion. The board of judges included Miss Tetchie Agbayani, a versatile actress and the first Filipina to pose for Playboy Magazine. She hails from Vintar and Dingras.

Finely crafted videos

Another revelation was the quality of the video presentations that featured each of the top 12 finalists. World-class both in form and content, the video clips showed in amusing ways the real life personas of the candidates. Miss Burgos, who is probably the most economically challenged among the candidates (she had worked as a househelp for years), was shown cleaning up the Cape Bojeador Lighthouse, a landmark of her hometown. Portrayed as a doting aunt, the audience saw Yna Adina’s caring side.

The videos, by the way, were prepared by EM Productions. EM stands for the first names of Eric Cayetano and Marianne Pasion, two persons passionate with their work, but not as much as they love each other.

That feeling

It really felt good, dear karikna, to celebrate the beauty and talent that are truly our own. We hope Mayor Fariñas felt it, too.

Thumbs up to a real Miss Laoag.
Cheers!
Cheers!

Pasuquin’s Pride: oldest gay parade in Asia

Sunflowers
GOD SAVE THE QUEEN. Amor Albano is crowned as this year’s Queen of Sunflower Festival. Held in Pasuquin, it is the oldest organized gay parade in Asia. Richard Bumanglag, aka Kristina Cassandra (second from left), was adjudged as Miss Ilocoslovaklush 2014.
Richard Bumanglag, aka Kristina Cassandra, is Miss Ilocoslovaklush 2014  (photo by Inot Villanueva)
Richard Bumanglag, aka Kristina Cassandra, is Miss Ilocoslovaklush 2014 (photo by Inot Villanueva)
Queen Amor
Queen Amor

Pasuquin is arguably one of the most backward municipalities of Ilocos Norte. It is economically slow, unprogressive, and stagnant. The town’s tourist attractions, if any, are not as well-known as the mindless bickering of its political families. Its Biscocho, though good, has never made it big on a national or regional scale. Salt-making, once a pride of this town, is no longer exactly traditional as the rock salt they use is now imported by bulk from Australia. The town could have made it big if only they supported the idea of setting up a dragon fruit farm first broached by resident Editha Dacuycuy, but she instead set up her now-famous farm in adjacent Burgos town after Pasuquin officials showed little interest.

These said, Pasuquin may not exactly be a model town, but there is, dear karikna, one thing the town is proud of. Such is little known, little emphasized, but is actually huge: its gay pride.

The Manila Pride March bills itself as the “oldest gay pride march in Asia.” Its first edition was staged in 1994. But did you know that an organized gay parade is being held in Pasuquin for forty two years now, starting in 1975?

A group of successful gay professionals formed the Sunflower Organization in the 1972. Its first project was the Sunflower Festival, a drag parade that celebrates pride in gay identity and fosters camaraderie among its members. Surprisingly, the people of this small and tightly Catholic town welcomed the idea. Mothers and fathers were supportive of their gay sons. Town folks watched the festival participants not with ridicule or contempt, but only with respect and admiration. It was such an extraordinary phenomenon that led American filmmaker Shawn Hainsworth to produce the documentary “Sunflowers” which earned critical acclaim in the 1997 Chicago Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and other film fests in North America. The film brought the Sunflower Festival in the international gay radar.

It’s a puzzle, dear karikna, how gay empowerment has become ingrained in the culture and consciousness of Pasuquenos, but Benly Agudelo Academia, current Sunflowers Organization president, offers this insight: “Sunflowers was started by successful professionals who were respected members of the community.” That is why, he said, “at the end of the day, people looked at our talents and contributions, and not on our gender.” Truly, the organization, through its yearly parade, has shown everyone that success and honor is no monopoly of heterosexuals and so no gay must be forced to linger in the dark. Aptly, the organization is named after the Sunflower which is known to face the sunlight. Members call themselves “sunflowers.”

In the absence of any record that would prove otherwise, Sunflowers is the oldest gay organization in the Philippines, if not in Asia. The University of the Philippines Babaylan, the largest LGBT student organization in the Philippines, was oranized only in 1992 while Progay-Philippines was formed in 1994.

Continue reading “Pasuquin’s Pride: oldest gay parade in Asia”

“Taga-Laoag ba si San Pedro?”

 

Pamulinawen Festival at Aliwan Fiesta 2014  (photo from Aliwan Facebook Page)
Pamulinawen Festival at Aliwan Fiesta 2014 (photo from Aliwan Facebook Page)

“Sa Laoag ba nagsimula ang sabong? Taga-Laoag ba si San Pedro?” These questions were raised by one of the official commentators at the 2014 Aliwan Fiesta, the country’s biggest festival of festivals staged last Saturday at the CCP Complex in Pasay City. The commentator, who said he is also Ilocano, was bewildered when the Laoag City contingent interpreted the Pamulinawen Festival as cockfighting. Such bewilderment, dear karikna, was shared by a whole nation, or at least those who saw the event in person, through television broadcast or on the Internet.

But before I proceed with my humble observations, let me express my admiration for the 300-plus strong Laoag City contingent who gave their all in their performance. I am personally aware of how hard they labored, how much they sacrificed, and how they put their heart every step of the way to make their city proud. Kudos to their stellar production team headed by Christian Espiritu, an exceptionally talented performance artist; to all the support staff, dancers, propsmen, instrumentalists, singers, designers, sewers, cooks, architects, engineers, and other volunteers—all of whom were passionate in carrying out their respective roles. Credit also goes, of course, to the City Government of Laoag led by Mayor Chevylle Fariñas who supported the group.

Having said these, there was no question, dear karikna, about the Laoag contingent’s dedication and talent. The bewilderment comes from what is really the most important element of any authentic festival: the story. An event or ritual significant to the history and culture of a people, a particular agricultural product, means of livelihood, food, animal, or plant endemic to the place—these are highlighted in festivals. In short, they are about something a place and its people are truly proud of and thankful for.

Pamulinawen as sabong? While it is true that some Ilocanos may be involved in pallot (Ilocano for cockfighting), there is no proof either that such gambling activity started here or that we are doing it here more than anywhere else. It is questionable, too, whether among many things we can choose to celebrate, this gruesome hobby is really what we take pride in.

So why the choice of story? Inside sources say the pallot narrative was picked because it is a “winning piece.” This is because scenes inside the cockpit are really exciting and colourful. Given the lively character of more popular festivals like Cebu’s Sinulog, Iloilo’s Dinagyang, Bacolod’s MassKara, or Kalibo’s Ati-atihan, Pamulinawen organizers probably wanted something really flashy, although flashy is not really Ilocano. Continue reading ““Taga-Laoag ba si San Pedro?””

Cardinal Quevedo’s questionable loyalty

Orlando Cardinal Quevedo (photo by PGIN)

First, dear karikna, let me let you realize how powerful this man is. In a church of 1.2 billion members, he belongs to the top brass. He is one of only 117 existing cardinal electors (cardinals below 80 who are qualified to elect a pope) of the Roman Catholic Church, and one of only two in this country of almost 80 million Catholics. That makes this man one in many millions. Considered a “Prince of the Church” vested by the Vatican not only with religious powers but also with political might, His Eminence Orlando Cardinal Quevedo is definitely an influential man.

Last Sunday, March 31, the 75-year old church leader visited his hometown to the grandest hero’s welcome ever seen in Ilocos, next only to the arrival of President Ferdinand Marcos’ remains in 1993. Quevedo was born in Laoag City in 1939 to parents who are both natives of nearby town Sarrat. The family later on transferred to Marbel, South Cotabato. He makes history as the first cardinal from Mindanao, and the first Ilocano, too.

I must say, however, that though he is a kailian, I was disappointed upon hearing his appointment as Cardinal last January. To explain why, let me refresh your memory. Continue reading “Cardinal Quevedo’s questionable loyalty”

Empanademocracy

http://marlonarlene.blogspot.com/
http://marlonarlene.blogspot.com/

empanada2

empanada3

With or without egg

Meaty or meatless

Egg half done or fully cooked

Grated papaya and mongo beans stuffed neatly

Inside a crisp shell made of rice flour.

Orange, yellow, green, brown, white

Burst into flavorful hues

Vinegar or catsup, which condiment would you choose?

Push it with soda, beer or water

But, oh, does it matter?

And even as we enjoy this Ilocano delight

Of, by, and for us

We concede: burgers can be good, too, alright.

With diverse tones, thus.. In God, we trust

Over, Empanada we crave

And, hopefully, burp.

Tan-ok ni who?

The Tan-ok ni Ilocano (mini version) Dance Showdown was held tonight at a half-full Ilocos Norte Centennial Arena. ‘Mini’ because, unlike the full version held last December, the number of dancers are limited (only 12-16), performance time is shorter (3-4 minutes), and props are simpler and smaller. The show is also less budgeted.

The idea is to form groups that can be feasibly booked for events, including national and international gatherings held here in Ilocos Norte. All the 21 municipalities and 2 cities were expected to showcase their rich culture through dance. “Tan-ok” means great, so the contingents were tasked to highlight what their respective peoples and places are proud of and known for. All the contingents accomplished that, except one: the champion.

Laoag City’s routine, no doubt, was most entertaining. Thanks to top-caliber choreographer Christian Espiritu—whose talent I personally admire; and who we in The Ilocos Times chose as one of the Top 10 Ilocanos for 2013—the dance was well-executed, lively, and colorful. It portrayed “pallot” (cockfighting), and presented the vivid scenarios inside a cockpit. It was fun to watch.

But beyond fun and entertainment, many viewers—including Prof. Arsenio Gallego, vice president of the Dance Education Association of the Philippines—have raised the following questions: Is cockfighting the pride of Laoag City? And, is there verifiable evidence that Laoageños, or Ilocanos in general, are drawn to cockfighting more than other ethnic groups in the Philippines?

I am not, dear karikna, opposed to cockfighting and neither am I moralizing here. But is this really the story we want to creatively tell people who want to know us more? Is this really our story?

San Nicolas celebrated their pottery; Batac told their folk history; Pinili took garlic to the stage; and Vintar let out their Siwawer bird.

Cockfighting. Tan-ok ni who?

Continue reading “Tan-ok ni who?”

Sweet victory for our language

Proud coach here.
Proud coach here.

The biggest story I wrote this 2013 was the dismissal of 3 high school students because they spoke Ilokano on campus. Run by foreign Christan missionaries, the school strictly implements an English-only policy.

As fate would have it (or is it destiny?), that high school’s best bet in oratorical competitions, now a freshman in the university where I teach, became one of my debaters. He is a prized find. Very diligent. Eager to learn. Fun. Charming. And respectful.

Recently, ehem, we emerged as champion in a debate tournament with Ilocano as the main medium.

And guess who was hailed as best debater?

More than the trophy and prize, and the bragging rights that go with it, I am happy that a student, previously barred from speaking his mother tongue on campus, could shine and show the world that wisdom is no monopoly of any language. And that Ilocano could, and, in fact, should, be used for intellectual endeavors.

Congratulations, John Marvin Galat aka Jamjam. We–I, your kuyas and ate in the MMSU Debate Society–are proud of you.

Agbiag ni Ilocano! Narambak a baro a tawentayo, kakabsat.

The Top 10 Ilocanos for 2013

Unlike last year’s inaugural list dominated by politicians, this year’s is a more interesting mix of personas who have made a significant dent in their respective spheres of influence. The youngest is 21 while the most senior, actually the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award which we are introducing this year, is seventy something. Among the Top Ten, there are more male awardees, 8. Nine are based in Ilocos while one is a US migrant.

As chair of the selection committee, let me invite you to meet the Top 10 Ilocanos for 2013 picked by the Editorial Board of The Ilocos Times, the oldest and most read newspaper in the North.

Picture1

(In alphabetical order)

Continue reading “The Top 10 Ilocanos for 2013”

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE TAN-OK NI ILOCANO JUDGES

Dear Mesdames and Messieurs:

Thank you for accepting the noble task of sitting as judges in the Tan-ok ni Ilocano Festival of Festivals. You were, of course, chosen on account of your sterling credentials and unquestioned integrity.

I argue that no singular activity has raised awareness of and pride in Ilocano greatness more than the two-year old Tan-ok. With tens of thousands of people watching it live and many more witnessing it on television and online, it is no doubt the most witnessed event in Ilocos Norte history.

It is a wonderful activity worth every centavo (or million) spent for it, and Governor Imee Marcos is right to push for this showdown of the respective festivals of every Ilocos Norte town and city. Its return of investment cannot be quantified; in fact, it is priceless. The greatness of the performances on stage permeates the consciousness of our people, who in turn reflect and multiply greatness in their respective spheres of influence.

I have one concern though, and this is on truthfulness. Some groups have won in previous years because the performances were really artistic and entertaining though lacking in authenticity while some authentic festivals lost mainly because they were dull and unexciting.

Ilocos Norte Tourism Officer and Tan-ok organizing committee head Ianree Raquel wrote an article for The Ilocos Times when he was still an arts instructor in a state university. It was aptly titled “Awe inspiring but untruthful.” During a municipal fiesta, he witnessed a festival performance which, he observed, gave primacy to entertainment over truthfulness, artistic license over cultural integrity. His essay, excerpts of which follow, details the same words I wish to convey. Continue reading “AN OPEN LETTER TO THE TAN-OK NI ILOCANO JUDGES”

It’s Pagudpud, NOT Boracay of the North

photo by blauearth http://blauearth.files.wordpress.com/2010/11/dsc_0180.jpg
photo by blauearth (blauearth.com  http://blauearth.files.wordpress.com/2010/11/dsc_0180.jpg)

In long past, some people branded Pagudpud, the famous beach town of Ilocos Norte, as Boracay of the North, because of its wide and long shoreline and its pristine white sand. Almost all write ups and promotional materials sold Pagudpud that way.

Many Ilocanos were thrilled with Pagudpud’s association with the more popular beach in the Visayas. Boracay, of course, was better known, more established, and was the place to be seen. Stargazing is also more fun in Caticlan as celebrities descend there, especially during summer.

Decades after, some still refer to Pagudpud as “Boracay of the North,” but a growing number of people are beginning not to be amused.

“Some say Pagudpud is the ‘Boracay of the North,’… But do we hear people say Boracay is the ‘Pagudpud of the South?’ Surely not,” laments Xavier Ruiz, who works with the Ilocos Norte Provincial Tourism Office. The BS Tourism cum laude graduate of Mariano Marcos State University  explains that such branding is “an obvious acknowledgement that what we offer our visitors are only second best with no clear identity and are constantly clinging to more established destinations thinking it would be the best marketing strategy.”  The young tourism professional says he thinks otherwise: “Our province is beautiful and astonishing.. I believe we can do better.” Ruiz’s boss, Ilocos Norte tourism head Ianree Raquel, agrees. “We always strive to give our visitors a unique taste of the North far from what they could experience in other destinations,” he says in an interview.

April Rafales, a reporter of the ABS-CBN regional station in Laoag City, shares the view of the local tourism professionals. “We cannot be a prototype of something;  a place can only be its own best version, setting its own standards and offering what it can,” she says, and warns that comparing Pagudpud to other tourist spots can also set false expectations among tourists.

I share the same sentiments, dear karikna. I have been to both beaches several times, and I figured that each has its own beauty and charm. Each has its own selling points. Boracay is for bored people thirsting for excitement. Pagudpud is for the wary soul thirsting for serenity. Boracay offers an outrageous night life while Pagudpud offers intimate spaces for bonding with family and friends. It’s a choice between an overdeveloped resort and a relatively Spartan one. It’s not unlike a competition between a virgin and a hustler. Continue reading “It’s Pagudpud, NOT Boracay of the North”

An unusual US visa interview (or how the American consul talked to me in Ilokano)

US embassy

My paper abstract was accepted for presentation at an international conference in Hawaii on Nov. 14-16. And the next step was to get a US Visa. I was anxious. For who among us hasn’t heard of heartbreaking, if not horrific, experiences with consuls at the US embassy?

The whole process of applying for a visa, and the mere thought of it, seemed daunting to me: bank payment, online application, setting a schedule. My journey began with an online application that was, alas, delayed by a series of unfortunate events: unsuccessful attempts to schedule a group interview (there six seven of us from our university applying together), lack of common available time among us six, adjusted schedules because of flooding in Manila, and the university staff in charge of assisting us traveling abroad for two weeks. Meanwhile, plane fares were steadily going up as days passed.

Then the schedule came: September 6, 2013, 6:30 a.m. All of us got the same appointment, but we were to be interviewed as individuals, not as a group, which I thought was unfortunate because I heard group interviews have lower casualty rates. Anyway, I made sure I had all necessary documents that may be asked: passport, appointment letter, certificate of employment, bank certificate, samples of my published works, and a draft of my research paper.

A few days before the interview, I searched on the Internet articles about actual experiences of Filipinos during visa interviews. There are a lot of tips shared online, but, aside from coming in prepared and having documents that may be asked, the greatest advice I got was to be honest. Consuls are rigidly trained to detect lies, I read. And I learned too that they have eagle eyes for inconsistencies between what you wrote in the application form and what you say during the interview.

I don’t have a problem being honest and consistent, for I know myself quite well, and I am comfortable being me. My real fear was in being assigned either to a cruel consul or to a good one who woke up on the wrong side of the bed. And so, the night before the interview, I prayed to God to give my consul a good night’s rest, and, hopefully, sweet dreams.

Continue reading “An unusual US visa interview (or how the American consul talked to me in Ilokano)”

Poly

st-william-s-cathedral

In Greek, “poly” means multiple, but for many Catholics in Ilocos Norte, the word is more associated with “long.” Uncomfortably, unnecessarily, unbearably long.

Fr. Policarpio “Poly” Albano, currently rector of St. William’s Cathedral in Laoag and former parish priest of Batac and Dingras towns, is known in all the parishes he has served for his kilometric homilies that are desperately wanting in coherence and organization.

Maria, a Batac parishioner who is now based overseas, laments, “Kapag nagsesermon siya, natutulog ako. Paggising ko, nagsesermon pa rin siya kaya matutulog ulit ako. Mga lagpas kalahating oras siyang salita lang nang salita. Halos wala na nga talagang nakikinig sa kanya. Napaka-monotonous niya at paulit-ulit-ulit-ulit-ulit talaga. Ang boring boring. Walang emosyon. Going around the bush. Walang pinatutunguhan ang sermon niya.”

Magenta, a Cathedral churchgoer, says she would rather skip mass than listen to Fr. Poly deliver a homily. “Kapag nalaman kong siya ang magmimisa, hindi na lang ako tumutuloy. Kasi lalo akong magkakasala kung nakaupo ako sa simbahan pero naiinis ako dahil ‘yung pari ay nakakaubos talaga ng pasensiya dahil sa napakahabang sermon niya na paikot-ikot. Torture talaga!” Magenta, not her real name, is a teacher, and thus knows the necessity of proper lesson planning and class preparation. Surely, Magenta knows that quantity never compensates quality, that length of delivery never makes up for lack of preparation.

I really can’t imagine, dear karikna, how insensitive a speaker one could be to continue to blabber and not notice that the faithful are either sleeping or squirming in their seats.

What many churchgoers lament is that Fr. Poly’s sermons just go around in circles. For instance, when he gives the cue “Kamaudiananna” (Lastly) it does not mean the homily is anywhere near its end. “Lastly,” in Fr. Poly’s case, means the homily is around one half delivered. He would proceed to repeat the same things he has tackled earlier in the homily, not for style nor emphasis, but simply for evident lack of structure.

Some well-meaning parishioners have mustered enough courage to provide Fr. Poly feedback regarding his uber-long homilies. But the good priest dismissed the comments simply by saying,

Continue reading “Poly”

Laoag City doctor a veteran abortionist

abortion pic

“Sir, I am in deep trouble.. you’re the one I am sharing this with because I know you are understanding.. I am not yet ready sir,” read the text message my former student Brent (not his real name) sent me.

Sensing what the problem was, I replied with a question, “How many months?” to which the eighteen year old answered, “Two to three, sir… I know it’s my fault, but I am not really ready.”

Then Brent asked me if I know any abortionist they could go to. I was shocked.

Part of the subject Sociology 1, I teach Family Planning to my students, and because I believe in free, informed, and responsible choice, I present both the natural and artificial birth control methods. But never have I encouraged abortion, fully aware of its risks and its ethical and legal implications. In fact, I always tell my students that If anyone of them unwillingly gets pregnant or impregnates anyone by chance, I will take it as my personal failure as a teacher.

I tried to talk to Brent against resorting to abortion, but he was firm and resolute. He and his girlfriend have talked about it seriously and there is really no way, and giving birth to the baby is no longer an option for them. He said they want a medical doctor to perform the procedure to make sure it’s safe, and he asked me again if I can recommend anyone.

I don’t know any doctor who performs abortion, I told him, and even if I do, I would not make any recommendation. And what self-respecting doctor would perform abortion here in Laoag City? But I assured Brent that I am not judging them as persons despite what they were planning to do, for I am sure they have really given the matter a great deal of thought leading to their firm conviction that abortion is the only  solution to the biggest problem they have had to face in their teenage lives. I assured him of my prayers. He reminded me that the matter is confidential.

Two weeks later, Brent texted again. “Successful, sir,” he said, “a doctor performed it.” And when he told me who the doctor was, I was startled. I was in great disbelief. Continue reading “Laoag City doctor a veteran abortionist”

Finally, an honest-to-goodness call center in Ilocos Norte

EGS riknakem

The Long wait is over.

After three years of preparations for the entry of large BPO (business process outsourcing) companies in Ilocos Norte, one of the largest call centers across the globe is setting up a branch in the province.

Expert Global Solutions (EGS) is expanding in Ilocos Norte, and  is opening at least 600 jobs for call center agents and management personnel.

The company offers a basic, entry-level monthly pay of P12,500 for call center agents and a sign-up bonus of P10,000. Employees who meet prescribed targets will also receive performance bonuses and incentives. Salaries for managerial posts start at P30,000.

Applicants, who must at least have one year of college, only need to bring a resumé at the Ilocos Norte Centennial Arena’s i-Hub Center where recruitment is in full swing. Located in Laoag City, the arena is one of the sites being considered for the call center expected to open next year. While the offices are being constructed, successful applicants will undergo training, with pay, at EGS Clark, Pampanga.

As much as possible, the company wants to hire Ilocos Norte residents for the job openings, although applicants from other provinces are also welcome. They are also encouraging Ilocanos working in their other branches to come home to the province.

EGS is the holding company for two global leaders in business process outsourcing: NCO Financial Systems, which specializes in Accounts Receivable Management, and APAC Customer Services, which concentrates on Customer Relationship Management.

The company is headed by Mr. Rainerio “Bong” Borja who has over 25 years of experience managing large-scale customer service, IT support and consulting organizations within the Asia- Pacific region. Mr. Borja, who has also served as president of Aegis People Support, is a founder of the Business Processing Association of the Philippines (BPAP)—the umbrella organization of BPO, contact center and IT-enabled services companies in the country—and was its chairman for five years. Continue reading “Finally, an honest-to-goodness call center in Ilocos Norte”

Notes from Aurora Park

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Photo by blauearth (http://blauearth.com)
Photo by skyblue/Ritchelle Blanco dejolde
Photo by skyblue/Ritchelle Blanco dejolde
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Photo by blauearth (http://blauearth.com)
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photo by blauearth (http://blauearth.com)
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photo by Blauearth (http://blauearth.com)
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photo by blauearth (http://blauearth.com)
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Katrina Valera-Mandac (photo by blauearth  http://blauearth.com)
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Ilocos Allstar (photo by blauearth http://blauearth.com)
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Emil Tanagon (photo by blauearth http://blauearth.com)

LJC

University students (photo by blauearth http://blauearth.com)
University students (photo by blauearth http://blauearth.com)
Steve Barreiro (photo by Blauearth http://blauearth.com)
Steve Barreiro (photo by Blauearth http://blauearth.com)
Bikers unite! Rex Alejandro (photo by blauearth http://blauearth.com
Bikers unite! Rex Alejandro (photo by blauearth http://blauearth.com
Lady Jaja Colleen
Lady Jaja Colleen

“Parmeken ti kinababoy, ibalud dagiti birkog!”

That, dear karikna, was the cry of hundreds of Ilocanos who joined the anti-pork barrel gathering held at the Aurora Freedom Park last Monday, Aug. 26. Dubbed as the Pork O’Clock March, the gathering drew representatives from various sectors to peacefully but loudly express indignation against mammoth government corruption. Incidentally, this rally for the abolition of the pork barrel was staged near the monument marking the abolition of the tobacco monopoly in 1882.

Like the Million People March in Luneta and other protest activities around the country, the Laoag event did not have any organizers, only facilitators. I and a couple of other writers met Friday, three days before the event, to talk about how the Ilocano voice can be heard in what was already looming as a nationwide day of protest. We in this part of the country are often perceived as passive on issues, but no, not this time, we said. We know that Ilocanos are as furious as the rest of our countrymen, only that there is no avenue where we could express our collective fury. Continue reading “Notes from Aurora Park”

The Pork O’clock March

Yes, we Ilocanos may longganisa, bagnet and dinakdakan, but we sure abhor this kind of pork. And so we cannot be silent. And so, like the rest of the nation, our voices will be heard.

pork

For, as Edmund Burke puts it, all that is needed for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing.

See you, dear karikna.

Pastor Brian Shah airs side, assures public he is not anti-Ilocano

riknakem.jpgThis year, 2013, has no doubt been a roller coaster ride for Rev. Brian Shah, president of Saviour’s Christian Academy in Laoag City. Just last February, he was awarded as one of the Most Outstanding Laoagueños. Today, he is an object of national wrath, and moves are underway to have him deported to his home Singapore.

Shah is currently embroiled in a controversy that has angered Filipinos here and overseas—the expulsion of 3 students from his school on the sole ground of speaking in Ilocano.

A blog post I made last Tuesday morning went viral in a few hours, and prompted the media to cover it.  Various groups have issued statements of support for the three kids while an online petition for Shah’s ouster as school president and deportation from the country is gaining steam.

So far, most people know only three things about Reverend Brian Shah: president, pastor, and Singaporean.
And this is because he has denied all requests from us in the media to get their side. That, they say, was upon the advise of their lawyer who eventually spoke for SCA in media interviews. Thus, we know so little about Shah’s version of the story.

Last Friday, Shah, through an emissary, requested to talk to me so he can air his side. The interview happened yesterday, Aug. 9, in his office at the Saviour’s Christian Academy. It was a holiday so only Shah and his wife May who serves as the school’s administrator, were in the campus, aside from the security guards stationed at the gate.

I was a bit afraid to the do the interview but I went anyway. The couple welcomed me warmly. Pastor Shah sat down with me in his office, Ms. May would later join us after serving coffee.

The moment we sat, Shah looked at me, his eyes already wet. “It has been a very painful week for me, Herdy,” he said as his tears fell.  I did not expect the scene; it was not the Pastor Brian Shah I imagined.

Almost sleepless the past days, Shah has been at the receiving end of phone calls from angry individuals and groups here and abroad. “The moment I say hello, they would start yelling foul words, and some would even threaten me with harm.”

I told him I would listen to anything he would like to share. The 59-year old pastor then began by recalling why he came here to Ilocos Norte. In the mid-80’s, he was a rising executive in a multinational company in Singapore, and has been offered the a tempting offer to head marketing operations in Southeast Asia. However, he felt God’s strong calling for the missions, and decided to come here to the Philippines instead.

Reverend Brian Shah during the August 9 interview
Reverend Brian Shah during the August 9 interview

In 1987, he was initially assigned in Dilavo, a fishing village in Pasuquin, one of Ilocos Norte’s poorest towns. There, he immersed with the villagers. He said worked with them and embraced the people’s way of life.

The following year, they moved to Laoag City to start their ministry and built the Church of Our Saviour in a rented space at A. Castro Avenue. They constructed a small chapel and, behind it, a small preschool.  It was, in fact, a makeshift structure that people referred to as “Kusina School.” For four years it was for free. Later on, rich students were asked to pay so they can subsidize the poor.

Through the years, they established other centers: an orphanage in Abra, a shelter for sexually abused children in San Nicolas, and a free medical and dental clinic. They have also been active in disaster relief operations.

In 2000, the school transferred to its current location in D. Samonte Street. The compound occupies almost a whole block and houses several buildings. Tuition fee per student now ranges between P22,000-P24,000, inclusive of books and other materials. But the couple have also sponsored scholarships for poor students, some of whom are now working as professionals. They currently have four scholars at SCA.

English-speaking Policy

The English-speaking policy at SCA began around 10 years ago when Shah noticed that even Grade 5 pupils could not speak basic English. “How come our students are paying for their education, and yet they have not learned basic English?” he wondered. He said he wanted to equip students linguistic skills that will make them globally competitive. Shah said he has always emphasized to the students the value of excelling at what they do, and to dream big. “You should not only aspire to be a lawyer or a doctor, but a good lawyer or a good doctor.” He said he believes that proficiency in English would open up doors of opportunities for them.

Still, he said, he recognizes the importance of the vernacular, citing that in their Church, half of the worship services are in Ilocano while the other half are in English. He shared that SCA provides a vibrant multicultural environment. Of their 670-strong student population, 20 are Muslim while 10 are Hindu. Moreover, many of their teachers are Catholics and members of Iglesia ni Cristo. He also said that some of their teachers are homosexuals, and are not discriminated against. “What is important to us is their talent and their passion to help the kids.”

Moreover, Shah clarified that the school is fully compliant with the Mother Tongue Based Multilingual Education, and that Ilocano is being used as medium of instruction in Grades 1 and 2.

On the dismissals

Shah said he has received many complaints from Grade school pupils and their parents as to why high school students have been violating the language policy. “How come we in Grade school are speaking in English while many high school students continue to speak in Ilocano?” Shah quoted the pupils as saying.

He said the original punishment was to make the violator write a thousand times that he will not speak Ilocano. But Shah, a hands-on administrator, felt the need to be stricter in imposing the language rule. So, on July 30 in the afternoon, he went to all the classes in the high school level to warn them not to violate the English-speaking policy. “I have given you a lot of warnings in the past but you continue to violate. I am giving you this last warning. Please, I really want you to learn English, so please follow the rule.” Shah told the students.

However, just a few hours later, he received a report that the three kids (who, Shah says, were inseparable) spoke Ilocano. “I was upset,” he said, “and that to me was more of a defiance thing, and not much of an Ilocano thing. They were defying school authority.” That very afternoon, he told Samboy Respicio who he said, “is like a son to me,” and whose parents have been his co-pastors for 25 years, that he will be asked to transfer to another school.

That night,  Shah posted on the school’s official Facebook page, “Insubordination and direct defiant (sic) among students is totally unacceptable and I don’t tolerate such nonsense. Tomorrow heads will roll. It took us many years to build the school to what it is today and just a few to destroy all our hard work.”

shah fb post

The next day, Shah informed the other two students, Kleinee Bautista and Carl Abadilla, about his decision, that they will be advised to transfer to another school. Shah denies having gestured like he was about to hit one of the expelled boys. He also denies having said a foul word. “But I admit that I raised my voice because I was overcome by my emotions,” he said.

Continue reading “Pastor Brian Shah airs side, assures public he is not anti-Ilocano”

Issue closed, announces school’s lawyer; Of course not, say parents of kids kicked out for speaking Ilocano

Not that fast.

In an interview with GMA Ilocos news, Atty. Jaime Agtang, counsel for Saviour’s Christian Academy, said the issue—that of 3 Grade 8 students kicked out of school for speaking Ilocano—is closed. However, parents of one of the kids have denied this.

“How can it be closed when they have not even acted on our formal complaint?” wonders Lamar Abadilla, mother of Carl. She said they filed on Thursday (Aug. 8) at the Department of Education Division of Laoag City a letter of complaint addressed to Superintendent Araceli C. Pastor. The six-page complaint presented the details of the case, and sought for administrative sanctions on Shah. The parents are also demanding for a public apology.

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Meanwhile, DepEd Assistant Secretary for Legal and Legislatve Affairs Tonisito Umali is keeping a close eye on the issue. In a television interview yesterday, he categorically stated that speaking in the vernacular is not a valid ground for expelling students. “Mali po talaga yun. Walang batang dapat patalsikin dahil nagsalita lang naman ng Ilokano kahit may English-speaking policy,” he told ABS-CBN’s Anthony Taberna. Moreover, Umali said expulsion of a student is a penalty that must be approved by the Office of Education Secretary Armin Luistro.

Reached by riknakem.net through phone, Pastor said she has not yet informed Umali that a formal complaint has been filed. Continue reading “Issue closed, announces school’s lawyer; Of course not, say parents of kids kicked out for speaking Ilocano”