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.

Here comes the Rodolfo CG. Fariñas, Jr. National Science High School

House of Representatives

RA 10965

Expected to open next year in Laoag City, particularly in Brgy. Vira—a hilly village where large Fariñas estates are located—is the Rodolfo CG. Fariñas, Jr. National Science High School.  President Rodrigo in December signed Republic Act No. 10965, the law mandating its creation.

People had mixed feelings about this news. While the creation of a new, modern, well-funded science high school in Ilocos Norte is a welcome development, not a few are baffled with its name.

The most vocal critic is Board Member Vicentito Lazo who repeatedly pointed out in the sessions of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan that “a street, plaza, or government building could be named after a person only after 10 years after his death except when that person had attained highly exceptional achievements or when the cause of death is due to patriotism or in the service of men.” The new science high school is named after Congressman and Majority Floor Leader Rudy Fariñas’ son JR who perished in a vehicular accident in 2015.

I would not deal with JR’s worthiness for such an honor or whether other great men and women better deserve the distinction, lest I be accused of disrespecting the dead, something I am not inclined to do. The Fariñas family, through the good congressman known for being a devoted father, have all the right to honor their departed loved one by any means allowed by law. And the law creating this science high school is by no means a weak piece of legislation.

After all, it was the Majority Floor Leader together with no less than the Speaker of the House, Pantaleon Alvarez who introduced House Bill No. 5235 entitled, “An Act Establishing a National Science High School in the City of Laoag, Province of Ilocos Norte to be known as Laoag City National Science High School and Appropriating Funds Therefor.” Note here the originally proposed name of the school.

After going through the process in the Lower House, in August last year it was sent to the Senate, requesting for concurrence. After being read on First Reading, it was referred to the Committee on Education, Arts and Culture chaired by Senator Francis Escudero and the Committee on Finance chaired by Senator Loren Legarda.

The joint committee recommended the bill’s approval without amendment and was thus presented on December 6 to the plenary for Second Reading through its sponsor, Senator Escudero. It must be noted that on that day, the senator made an omninus  sponsorship speech for 17 bills that seek to establish, separate, convert, and/or rename one elementary school and 16 secondary schools—including the Laoag City National Science High School.

In his explanatory note, Escudero posited that “Laoag City, being the capital of the Province of Ilocos Norte, deserves to have its own science high school to cater the needs of its growing number of elementary school graduates every academic year. The establishment of the Laoag City National Science High School aims to offer courses that focus on the fields of science, technology and mathematics. These courses will enable its students to be equipped with the proper training and adequate education for a science-oriented career. Thus, the Laoag City National Science High School will not only provide free and quality education but will also facilitate better opportunities for the future of the city’s youth.”

Normally, senators are given time to review proposed bills before the period of interpellation, but considering that the 17 bills are of local application and that local legislators, in this case the members of Congress who sponsored the bills, are “better informed and better equipped to make a judgment on these proposed bills,” the senators proceeded with the interpellation.

But no one stood during the interpellation and no amendments were proposed for any of the 17 bills… save for one. Senator Franklin Drilon made a manifestation proposing that the Laoag City National Science High School be named instead as Rodolfo CG. Fariñas, Jr. National Science High School. This proposal was accepted by the Sponsor, and there being no objection, the Body approved the amendment to House Bill No. 5235. It was approved on Second Reading that day, and was subsequently approved on Third (and final) Reading on Dec. 11 through a unanimous vote.

On Dec. 13, HB 5235 was sent to the Office of the President of the Philippines. A few days after, Dec. 19, it was approved and signed into law by President Duterte, and became Republic Act No. 10965.

What I wanted to show here is that the law creating the Rodolfo CG. Fariñas, Jr. National Science High School clearly went through the process and had the overwhelming support of the legislature and the Philippine president.

Is it legal? Yes. Unless someone challenges R.A. 10965’s constitutionality in the Supreme Court where it is declared as unconstitutional, it is a law that must be enforced and respected. But will anyone challenge it before the High Court? And who?

I don’t think even Governor Imee Marcos will go at great lengths to challenge this in the Supreme Court. She is now busy in her senatorial run, and this is not the best time to be at loggerheads with Congressman Fariñas. The memories of the 7171 congressional probe are still fresh. In fact, the inquiry has not yet even been fully, finally terminated and thus remains a potent bargaining chip of Congressman Fariñas.

Granting that somebody brave would challenge the wisdom of the Legislature and the Executive Branches of Government and would actually file a case in the Supreme Court, such person would all be but a hopeless martyr, if not a fool, wasting time and resources, and not least because after the Sereno impeachment, who among the justices would wish upon themselves the ire of a major presidential ally such as Congressman Fariñas?

And so we can say now with certainty that the Rodolfo CG. Fariñas, Jr. National Science High School, barring any major political upheaval or popular dissent, will open next year. According to news reports, the initial science building will cost at least P110-M and will stand on a three-hectare government lot. Indeed, I have no doubts that Congressman Fariñas–especially because their family name, his beloved son’s name is at stake–will do everything within his vast powers to make it a good one, a great one, one hell of a model science high school in the country. And if this happens, the Ilocano learner will stand to benefit.

But this science high school, having been named the way it was named, will also be a publicly funded monument of a family’s love for a departed member. It will moreover be an unmistakeable proof of something we in this country already know and are doomed to endure for a longer time, perhaps for eternity unless we move towards political maturity: that politicians do things because they could.

What I owe MVF

Laoag City Vice Mayor Michael V. Fariñas
(Photo from philstar.com)

If there’s one blogger-journalist who has hit hardest on Michael V. Fariñas, both when he was mayor of Laoag and in his tenure as vice mayor cut short by a tragic accident last night, it could be me.

Over the years, I have written about him on a range of issues, nothing personal and all of public interest. Each time I’d do so, people would ask if I was not afraid. He was, after all, the leader of the city, a member of Ilocos Norte’s powerful family, and a man preceded by a certain reputation. Even my editor at The Ilocos Times—deeply concerned with the political repercussions it will have on our publisher who is now back in politics as a barangay captain—once edited out some lines about a throwback issue people today not dare talk about.

Was I afraid? I wasn’t. At all. I think Sir Michael fully embraced critics like me—and here I remember my late friend Steve Barreiro who also wrote explosive columns on MVF—as an important part of a democratic city. To his credit, MVF never caused injury nor harm to me or my family, and my commentaries notwithsatnding, he always flashed for me a smile and extended a firm handshake each time we cross paths. As he does to other people, he prepends my name with “Apo” as in “Apo Herdy.”

On one occasion some years ago, I told him: “Sir, you are my favorite mayor,” to which he replied with a chuckle, “Paborito a tirtiraen.” (You’re fond of hitting me.) Then we had a nice photo together. His wife, Mayor Chevylle and his kids are also very nice to me.

Last April, in what would be our last encounter, MVF visited us at home during the “last night” of the wake for my dad. Surrounded by barangay captains, including my brother Herry, he stayed for seven hours until almost the break of dawn. I sat right beside him for about half an hour during which he told me how he has always respected my thoughts and how he chooses not to get affected by criticisms and unfair accusations and how he prefers to “just do his job.”

Never that night or ever did he tell me to shut up or tone down.

I love living in a city where a person can freely and responsibly express views, no matter how uncomfortable it may be to the powerful. That is why as a dutiful son of Laoag, I share my thoughts and talents in the ways I know, always with pure intentions, always with humility, and a dash of courage.

MVF helped make that possible. He consciously made Laoag a fertile ground to write, a safe place to disagree, a conducive place for the practice of journalism.

I thus say that MVF, simply by being MVF—with all his human strengths and frailties—helped me nurture a career in writing.

For that, I am thankful.

So long, Sir Michael. Rest now. May God be with you.

Discrimination in Mister Laoag decried

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Laoag City could be one of the most LGBT-friendly cities in the Philippines. A third of its elected councilors are openly and proudly gay. There’s Rbee Ablan who comes from a prominent political family, businessman Handy Lao, and Mikee Fariñas who happens to be a daughter of the power couple—the city mayor and vice mayor. All three city councilors ran on a platform of gender equality and promised to promote gender-sensitive legislation. True to their promise, they pushed for the passage of The Comprehensive Anti-Discrimination Ordinance of Laoag City which is currently under review by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan. Moreover, Mayor Chevylle Fariñas is known to be friendly with the LGBT community, and gay people are highly placed under her administration. Gender discrimination was unheard of at the Laoag City Hall…

Until lately. It comes as a surprise that there is much resentment among members of the local LGBT community at this time because of an issue surrounding an event spearheaded ironically by Councilor Lao—the Mister Laoag pageant.

One aspirant is believed to have been rejected on account of his suspected relationship with a gay person. The basis? A photo of him in an intimate pose with a transgender. Note that the picture showed no nudity or any taint lewdness, but did give event organizers a hint that the aspirant could be in a same-sex relationship. During the interview held open to the public, the controversial aspirant (CA) was asked by the seven-member panel if it is true. Out on the spot, he denied it. The panel also felt at liberty to ask CA what roles he played in bed. Note that these questions were not asked all candidates.

Thirty-six applicants vied for 16 slots, and CA did not make the cut. In an interview, Councilor Lao explained to me that every aspirant was assessed holistically and that total personality of each aspirant was assessed. While Lao belived that CA was not rated based on one issue alone, the councilor did not deny that the issue could have, indeed, hurt his chances. It was a split-hair decision. Of the seven members of the selection panel, 4 voted to reject CA while 3 wanted him in. Lao was with the minority.

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Laoag Councilor Handy Lao

According to insiders, the organizers were worried at how having CA would affect the reputation of the show. Lao said they also wanted to protect the candidate from possible bashing and ridicule. They felt it was not time to have a candidate like CA in Mister Laoag.

There was outrage among LGBT members in Ilocos. Feeling insulted and rejected, they cried foul. They were quick to point out about hypocrisy and double standards. They felt betrayed by the bigoted act, especially because it was committed by friends. Those friends send the messages loud and clear: Having a same-sex relationship will deny you opportunities;  LGBT relationships ruin credibility.

Lao was well-aware of the outrage, and, in an interview with me, he confessed to have shed tears over the controversy. While he stands for the collegial decision of the screening panel, he accepts that shortcomings and excesses may have been committed. These, he said, will be seriously addressed in the next editions of Mister Laoag. As of our time of interview, the councilor is yet to reach out to CA or the members of the LGBT community. He said he was still collecting his thoughts and planning how to proceed.

“Needless to say, yes, something like that happened,” remarked Councilor Fariñas, promising to look closer into the matter. As an advocate for equality and respect that is due all human beings in the city, the councilor says he is disturbed by the issue. “I don’t think anybody should be judged based on their relationships because acceptance and respect inspire human persons to perform better and do well.” He said that the mayor is bent on gathering parties concerned to shed light on the unfortunate controversy.

Councilor Ablan, for his part, stressed that he will never tolerate discrimination. “I, for one, suffered from discrimination almost all my life. I know how it feels and I know what a person in this situation goes through,” he shared before asking, “Do we all have to have the same lives to enjoy the same rights?”

Aian Raquel, provincial tourism officer, makes this sad note, “Everybody knows what’s happening. No amount of sugarcoating and euphemism can hide homophobia even within the bakla circles.”

It is my fervent and sincere hope, dear karikna, that this issue is properly addressed so that we can honestly advance the right of individuals to freely affirm their sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression.

As for Laoag City and its illusions of LGBT advancement, the bubble has been burst. Only if we successfully shrug off the medieval, parochial, bigoted tendencies of people—especially those who make decisions that bear an impact on our collective consciousness—can we truly move forward.

We wish the Mister Laoag pageant well, and its pure, immaculate, unsullied reputation, and I seriously pray that this issue is settled in the soonest time. There should be no place for hate and hurt, not only because we will be celebrating the Laoag City Fiesta and Ilocos Norte’s bicentennial in the next days, but more because everyday we struggle in a world already filled with manmade misery and conflict, to live and let live.

The Uncaring “Uncle”

Photo from the Uncle's Bar Facebook Fan Page
Photo from the Uncle’s Bar Facebook Fan Page

After the merriment that was the Parada Iloca-locana Halloween Parade on Oct. 31, some participants went to Uncle’s Bar in Brgy. 23, Laoag City. It had been a long and tiring week which they decided to cap with some cold drinks in the warm company of friends.

But the night ended in tragedy for Wayner Tulali and Lucky Gappi, both from Batac.  In a rumble that ensued a few meters from the bar, they were stabbed multiple times, each of them, as their group was about to go home at past 4:00 a.m. Another man from the opposing group was reportedly hurt.

A criminal case has been filed against one suspect (who was also hurt in the incident), and the victims’ friends say for now they are trusting in the process, though fears of a whitewash can’t be avoided as one of those who they allege was part of the mayhem is a son of an influential politician.

What adds to the anguish of the victims’ friends is the seeming lack of empathy on the part of the Uncle’s Bar management. One Facebook post by a friend of Wayner and Lucky goes:

“There is just one thing I would like to point out openly- what did the management of Uncle’s Bar do during and after the incident? If your customers have just left, about to board their car parked right in front of your establishment, wala na bang pakialam? Aren’t establishments like Uncles supposed to have security personnel? Both were rushed to the hospital na sobrang lapit sa Uncle’s, did they check on these two young men after the incident? Simpleng malasakit lang sana sa customer, kahit ‘yun lang!”

Indeed, dear karikna, that’s too much a lack of empathy, not to mention responsibility, for a business establishment, especially for one whose name refers to a close relative.

One wishes that their concern for clients in distress is as warm as an uncle’s hug, and not as cold as their beer.

Golden Epal

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We, the people of Laoag, will celebrate our golden anniversary as a city tomorrow, June 19, and I am glad that the scheduled activities are modest. I hope the event will be meaningful, and for good reason.

Indeed, there are a lot of reasons to be grateful and to celebrate. Laoag today stands as one of the finest cities in the country, having reaped various distinctions including those on, but not limited to, the environment, peace and order, governance, literacy, and the arts. All these were achieved not due to one person or two, but on account of our collective good work as a people.

However, a few weeks before the celebration, tarpaulin posters of a former politician have dotted the city’s public spaces. The posters bear the name and face of ex-councilor Melvin de la Cuesta (yes, that guy who could not make up his mind on who he really witnessed was the killer of Laoag City Vice Mayor Jimmy Chua in 2005) and in big print, “Thank you so much for your research!”

Almost all who see the posters are puzzled. What research? And who is thanking him?

Let me give a background. De la Cuesta authored the city ordinance mandating the anniversary celebration of Laoag City’s charter (RA 4584) signed on June 19, 1965 by President Diosdado Macapagal. The ordinance was the subject of controversy as other councilors, including Atty. Toto Lazo, insisted that Laoag’s cityhood must instead be celebrated on January 1 because RA 4584 clearly stipulated January 1, 1966 as effectivity date after its approval by the people through a plebiscite.

The research being referred to here is De la Cuesta’s very simple effort of going to the National Library, and maybe the Senate archives, to find details about Laoag’s Charter. In the advent of the Internet, that is something even grade school pupils can do. Only real “researchers,” especially those who immensely contribute to society– for instance, scientists who successfully discover cure for cancer or HIV/AIDS, develop a machine producing free and sufficient electricity, or invent an equipment swiftly detecting and exterminating epal politicians–deserve such grand show of gratitude.

But, who is thanking him?

It is very obvious that the tarpaulin posters are self-advertisements. It is De la Cuesta thanking himself. The city government could not have propagated those tarpaulins because, according to well-placed sources, the top city officials ordered the removal of those posters in the downtown. Those hung in the barangays are still abound.

At least four of the incumbent city councillors are barred by term limits to run again next year, probably a golden opportunity seen by De la Cuesta—who, after ruining his credibility due to the Jimmy Chua case, has perennially lost in elections in Laoag and Sarrat.

De la Cuesta made confusing testimonies on the death of Chua before implicating, and later clearing, then mayor, now vice mayor, Michael V. Fariñas. On account of the fickle-minded whistleblower’s recanting, the case was since dismissed by the Department of Justice due to lack of probable cause.

If there is anyone we should be thankful to hence, it is our beloved city Laoag who has nurtured us in the past 50 years and more–not some flip-flopping, self-aggrandizing politician. But if indeed we are in the mood to thank individuals, how can we forget Congressman Simeon Valdez, who sponsored the bill for Laoag’s cityhood? And how about Eulalio Siazon, our city’s first mayor, who earnestly campaigned for a yes vote in the plebiscite?

Today, there are no tarpaulin posters in their honor, but they deserve to be remembered by a grateful people.

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”

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”

P-Noy mentions Laoag twice in SONA but has never visited Ilocos Norte as president

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Then presidential candidate Noynoy Aquino in Laoag City, 2010
Then presidential candidate Noynoy Aquino in Laoag City, 2010

NOT ONCE but twice. President B.S. Aquino mentioned Laoag City two times in his State of the Nation Address on July 28 at the Batasan in Quezon City.
First is when he announced that NEDA (which, incidentally, is headed by an Ilocos Norte native and MMSU alumnus—Sec. Arsenio Balisacan) has approved the Laoag City bypass road; second when he illustrated the extent of national highways his administration has built: it can connect the cities of Laoag and Zamboanga four times, he said.

It is quite refreshing to note that Laoag City bears an imprint in the President’s consciousness, yet he has never come here since he became president. I am not sure why, but it could be two things: maybe he thinks Ilocos is hostile ground for him or, in reality, he doesn’t really care enough about this part of his kingdom. To her credit, Governor Imee Marcos has always spoken well about P-Noy, and would share stories about their experiences in congress—they being together in the opposition during the time of Gloria Arroyo.

P-Noy did come to Ilocos though when he needed our votes, and while he did not rank first in the polls here, with Joseph Estrada and Manny Villar besting him, it was not bad. Compared to her late mother who got zero in a number of precincts in the 1986 snap elections, P-Noy got from Ilocanos a good number of votes, and that included mine and, I guess, most of my colleagues in The Ilocos Times who bought his anti-corruption tack: Mitch Esmino, Steve Barreiro, and Jun-B Ramos.

Not only did I vote for P-Noy; I wore yellow for almost two months preceding the 2010 presidential elections. But I have not worn those shirts in a long while. It is odd that he mentioned Laoag twice regarding roads which connect us to the rest of the country while he has seemingly disconnected himself from us since we became part of the body he collectively calls “Boss.”

I may be P-Noy’s boss, but Nora Aunor is my idol. As a Noranian, I was deeply hurt when the country’s one and only Superstar was rejected by Malacañang as national artist. I hope it had nothing to do with Ate Guy’s glorious Ilocos Norte visit and her being declared as honorary daughter. Only a paranoid drug addict would do that.

Continue reading “P-Noy mentions Laoag twice in SONA but has never visited Ilocos Norte as president”

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!

Priests unhappy with bishop’s project

mayugba Insiders say many priests of the Diocese of Laoag are unhappy with a pet project of Bishop Renato Mayugba who has been in the diocese for only a year.

Although the clergy, especially its senior members, are open to the idea of building a seminary in the diocese, they lament that the 90 to 120 million pesos to be spent for the facility’s construction in Bacarra town is unnecessarily expensive. The priests fear that diocesan programs, particularly those for the poor and marginalized, will be sacrificed because of the ambitious project. “The college seminary is not a pastoral initiative; it’s a project of the bishop,” a senior priest said, thus revealing rocky relations brought about by Mayugba’s construction project.

There were suggestions to just improve the existing St. Mary’s Minor Seminary in Brgy. Mangato, Laoag City where the college seminary could be housed (high school seminaries are unnecessary anyway and are being closed down elsewhere), but sources say the bishop was cold with the idea. Other priests also opine that building a college seminary should not be a priority because the school only caters to a few. Established in 2011 and currently housed within the Laoag Cathedral Compound, the Mary Cause of Our Joy Seminary produced only six graduates last month while the current batch of freshmen is composed of a mere nine.

The diocese also has the option to continue sending aspiring priests to the San Pablo’s Seminary in Baguio City where most of the diocese’s priests graduated from.

Despite strong opposition, however, Mayugba, according to insiders, seems resolute in constructing a new seminary facility primarily because he wants something that people will remember him for. (“Kayatna nga adda bukodna a pakalaglagipan.”) Continue reading “Priests unhappy with bishop’s project”

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?”

We elected leaders, not parents

It is fiesta month in Laoag City, and each day is filled with activities initiated by various sectors. Naturally, politicians are everywhere grazing festivities and making themselves more visible than usual to the public eye.

It was in a beauty pageant held a few days ago (I am not, dear karikna, fond of beauty contests but I am fond of my relatives; my cousin’s daughter tried her luck in that competition) that I noticed how our city leaders have decided to package themselves.

Politicians calling themselves father or mother of a town, city, province, or the nation is not exactly unusual in the Philippines, but my city’s case is interesting. Chevylle Fariñas, the first-term mayor, succeeded her husband Michael, who was mayor for nine years and now the vice mayor. In that pageant, the welcome remarks was delivered by their daughter Mikee, the new chair of the Association of Barangay Councils and ex-officio city councilor. In her entire speech, from her customary roll call of the guests to the end, she repeatedly and proudly referred to the mayor and vice mayor, as “Mother of the City” and “Father of the City.” I felt both uncomfortable and saddened listening to that speech. And confused, too… should we now call this young councilor, Ate of the City? What about the other city officials? Do we call them Tito and Tita of the City? Who are our ninongs and ninangs?

Everyone knows that the young Fariñas is in office not really on her own merits, but because of her parents’ impressive achievements. The challenge for Mikee then is to prove that she deserves the position—that she is a good leader who just happens to be the mayor and vice mayor’s daughter. Surely, she deserves a chance to prove herself, but that would only be possible if she restrains from treating public events as family affairs. Continue reading “We elected leaders, not parents”

‘Naimas nga agserbi’

riknakem.jpgNear midnight of Oct. 28, my Uncle Gerry in Hawaii posted a lengthy note at the Labayog Clan Facebook page. There was good news for the clan. (For the curious, yes, Labayog is the La in La Yumul.) My brother was elected as chairman of Brgy. 7-A, Laoag City where his family has lived for around 25 years. I reside in nearby Brgy. 5. The following is Uncle Gerry’s post quoted verbatim.

“Wow! Again, the Labayog Clan made history. Herry Labayog Yumul is elected as kapitan.

“If you are a Laoagueño, West Riverside is like a municipality within a city. It covers Barangays 1 to 10. Barangay 7-A is like its capital, being the center of the densely populated West Riverside.”

“Herry, who has the heart of a leader, deserves the position. When I attended his graduation in Baguio City, I already saw in him the makings of a leader. When his name was called, there was a thunderous applause and standing ovation. He even captured the heart of the most beautiful co-civil engineering graduate and now his wife Gina. Sabi nga nila, may inalat si Herry.

“He practiced briefly in construction supervision. But his salary was not enough to raise a family. With 3 children to feed and send to school, his salary was not enough so he ventured in business. As a market vendor, the hundreds of vendors in Ilocos Norte were amazed of his character and personality and elected him as president of the Ilocos Norte Ambulant Vendors Association. He had represented them in dialogue with government officials for a system beneficial to both sides. He is currently president of the Laoag City Night Market Vendors Association.

“In 2010, he ran as a barangay official, and was overwhelmingly elected. In this election, the outgoing Brgy. Captain made Herry his personal choice to lead 7-A. Even high-ranking provincial and city officials gave him their blessings. Thankfully, he was also endorsed by the Iglesia ni Cristo.

“In his campaign sorties, members of the Labayog clan extended their all-out support. They were with him everywhere, rain or shine. The Pink Ladies—composed of Mafae, Mafel, and Girlie (Herry’s nephews)—were even Branded as EBB or Eat Bulaga Babes. I call them Herry’s Angels.

“I laughed at one of their campaign slogans. ‘Ibotos tayo a Kapitan ni Tito Herry, naimas nga agserbi’ (Iboto natin si Tito Herry, masarap siyang magsilbi.) And they follow it up with, ‘Uray damagenyo ken Tita Gina.’ (Kahit tanungin niyo pa kay Tita Gina.) Dinamagko ken Gina, kasta unay ti katkatawana. (Nung tinanong kay Gina, sobrang tawa niya.) Continue reading “‘Naimas nga agserbi’”

Farewell, Mayor Ventura. Be a good citizen of heaven now.

ceasr old selfVentura: One-man campaign teamcesar with me

When our newspaper was doing a feature on the Laoag City mayoralty candidates in this year’s local elections, I insisted on including Cesar Ventura, a former mayor who was regarded by many as nuisance. Naturally, my colleagues smirked at the idea of putting him side by side with whom they believed were legitimate candidates. I believed in fair play.

But I had respect for the man, the only politician to beat a Fariñas in Laoag City, for I grew up knowing him as a good mayor, a no-nonsense leader who made things work. He was a builder. During his term, I had a one-week stint as a junior city councilor. I was in high school then.

Even after his political glory has faded, he always had this burning desire for good governance. He would talk to me to make sumbong everytime he had the chance, and I always intently listened, and thanked him.

Last Wednesday, October 16, he succumbed to renal cancer after a long battle against the disease. He was reportedly confined for a long time at the St. Luke’s Medical Center until his family decided to bring the former mayor home to his beloved city. He died at the Laoag City General Hospital.

Farewell, mayor. Be a good citizen of heaven now.

And please make sumbong to God about the crooks down here.

riknakem.jpg

*****

Also, this post by blauearth, In Memory of Former Laoag Mayor Cesar A. Ventura.

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”

Battle for Laoag: Roger the Crusader vs ‘Sweet’ Chevylle

(The Ilocos Times and riknakem.net are embarking on a voter information campaign dubbed “Keddeng ti Umili 2013”. In this issue, we are featuring the mayoralty candidates in Laoag City. News articles on the interviews, conducted mainly by your karikna, are published in the paper.)

She is sugar, spice, and everything nice. She answers even the most controversial questions but knows how to get though them unscathed. She pledges to speak ill of no one, even if her main political opponent is having a field day throwing mud.

He is stiff and stern. It is not difficult to be afraid of him. And having a reputation of literally slapping people, which he does not categorically deny, is of no help. But he came prepared for the interview, bringing with him documents proving that the current administration led by his nephew is anything but sugar, spice, and everything nice.

chevylle roger

It has happened elsewhere, family members torn widely apart by politics, but we did not see it coming here in Laoag City. The Fariñas Family has always seemed close-knit and formidable until now. There was hope against hope that they would resolve their issues among themselves, but in politics, dear karikna, hope has its limits. And so it has come to this.

Roger accuses the couple—Mayor Michael and ABC President Chevylle—of corruption and ill-gotten wealth. He cites a newly constructed house, which he values at 80 million pesos, condominium units in Manila, and luxury cars, among others, as proof of shenanigans. He decries the deterioration of peace and order, overpriced but losing government ventures such as the Laoag City General Hospital, and dirty public spaces which was unseen of during his term when the Laoag first gained fame as the Philippines’cleanest and greenest component city .

roger with me

To all these, Chevylle has ready answers. In her husband’s nine-year stint, she says, Laoag City has reaped various recognitions, including the ‘Seal of Good Housekeeping’ from the Department of Interior and Local Government. She argued that “If there was corruption, it would have been known because the ‘seal’ guarantees efficiency and transparency in governance.” She says their house, located at Brgy. Vira in the city’s outskirts, costs only eight million pesos at most while denying other properties Roger asserts they have amassed. While enumerating their various businesses which contribute to their family income, this advertising graduate of Miriam College says she is not materialistic and is content with a simple lifestyle. She proceeds to show a crucifix pendant, a gift from his late father, which she says is her main piece of jewelry. Continue reading “Battle for Laoag: Roger the Crusader vs ‘Sweet’ Chevylle”

Gloria attends pro-RH gathering in Laoag City

NO, she did not wear a neck brace, and, no, she was not out on bail. It was the better Gloria I have previously written about who joined Ilocanos, mostly young people, at the foot of Gilbert Bridge last August 6 for a candle lighting ceremony in support of the Reproductive Health Bill.

It was a crucial moment for the controversial piece of legislation which has stagnated in Congress in the last one and a half decades, no thanks to the opposition of the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy. (I have to say “hierarchy”, dear karikna as all national surveys say a great majority of Filipinos, the Catholic faithful included, strongly support the RH Bill.) Congress was to vote whether to proceed with the prolonged and circular debates or to terminate the interpellations and push for the bill’s second reading in the Lower House.

It was a crucial moment, and the significance of the activity was not lost on Gloria Portela Valencia, 55. Taking time off from her many chores as a house help in Laoag City, she joined well-meaning citizens, composed mostly of young people, in the silent activity for the RH Bill.

Frail and shy, Gloria came in a red shirt she usually wears when attending mass. She lit a candle, stood there, and joined the group in the brief gathering. But Brigette Mayor, a field reporter of GMA’s Balitang Ilocos noticed Gloria among the crowd and interviewed her. “Manang, apay supsuportam ti RH Bill?” asked the young journalist who may have been expecting a generic answer, but hit a pot of gold in her interviewee’s moving response.

“Agsaksakripisyoak ta kayatko laeng a magun-odda ti ar-arapaapenda ngem saan met ta sabali met ti napaspasamak. Nasakit unay ti nakemmo a nagannak ta kasta met ti nagbanagan dagiti annakko.” (I sacrificed because I wanted my children to realize their dreams, but something else happened. As a parent, I feel sad about what my children had to go through.)

Gloria hails from Barangay Bacsil in Dingras town. Manong Rolando, her “First Gentleman,” is a tobacco farmer who tills less than a hectare of land that is not theirs. The eldest among her siblings, she started working as a kasambahay at age 13. When she got married and bore kids, this devoted mother quit her job and stayed home to take care of her growing family. She gave birth to six kids. Eight years ago, however, when two of her daughters started going to college, Manang Gloria decided to stage a comeback as a househelp so she can help send them to school.

A few years ago, Gloria’s world crumbled when she found out that one of her daughters, already in third year college, got pregnant by a married man. When that happened, she could not sleep at night though tired from the day’s work. She would stare blankly at nothingness, mulling why things went wrong. She did her part, she sacrificed, she prayed hard, but why? Two months after, as if her troubles were not enough, this mother discovered that her other daughter, also in her junior year in college, was pregnant, too. Both of her girls had to quit school to take care of their young, and Gloria was totally devastated.

Don’t get me wrong, dear karikna, Gloria loves her two granddaughters and are proud of them, but she knows that things could have been better. Her apukos could have been born at a better time and under appropriate circumstances. Continue reading “Gloria attends pro-RH gathering in Laoag City”

Sked! Sked! The 2012 Laoag City Fiesta

Hollywood has the stars. Laoag has the sun. Welcome to Hallaoag.

Wish to share with you, dear karikna, the line up of activities for this year’s Laoag City Fiesta. There are events of various shapes and textures slated throughout February, and I am sure you will get yourselves interested in a thing or two.

This is the first time I have this kind of information on my hand. Though I am with the media, there has always been, in previous years, a dearth of information on the fiesta activities, and even I would be kept in the dark as to the goings on. I am sure many others would have wanted to join past revelries but fell victims, too, of this failure in communication. The provincial government is definitely doing better in this regard, with its effective use of all forms of media in getting their constituents posted.

You have to know, dear karikna. This is because the fiesta of Laoag, the province’s capital city, is effectively the fiesta of the whole of Ilocos Norte. And also because it is your taxes being spent here. Such knowledge could also serve useful for practical purposes, such as knowing when and where traffic is going to be heavy. By the way, the theme of this year’s festivities is “Marching Valiantly to the Future” or, you guessed it, MVF, the mayor’s initials. Continue reading “Sked! Sked! The 2012 Laoag City Fiesta”

Outpour of love for La Greta

SHE’S got to be today’s most loved lola in the Saluyot Republic. Many wept, some smiled. Many wept and smiled. Many wanted to hug the lady, others wished to join her for coffee. Everybody prayed for her good health. While many wanted to help the lady, the wiser ones knew that Matilda “Gretchen” Mandac, just by living a life of bliss and serenity amidst harsh realities, has already helped them.

Last week’s “The (other) Lady at the Capitol” elicited heartwarming reactions from thousands of netizens who read, liked, and shared the article posted in this blog and circulated heavily  in social networking sites.

“This is tragic and yet inspiring. I have to admit my tears were flowing while reading the story. Some people have everything and yet they want more. This amazing lady is an angel. Thank you, Nana Gretchen, for opening my heart,” says Passerby, member of a famous rock band. I didn’t know he can be that cheesy. Carla Tayag, another blog visitor, had a similar sentiment, “..And here I am, whining that I can’t even buy myself a new pair of flats. I think learning about her story already helped me a lot… In fact, more than I can ever help her.” Indeed, many readers admired Nana Gretchen for her indomitable faith and strong character. To many, she exemplifies the best in the human spirit.

The bulk of reactors were young students. Kristian Ranjo, I learned, have had coffee dates with La Greta even before I wrote the story. Icko shared that part of him “died” when he learned about Nana Gretchen, but Michelle Fuerte, who saw joy in the lady’s story, wrote, “Thumbs up Nanay Gretchen, isa kang magandang modelo sa mga tao na dapat tularan at ipagmalaki. Love You.”

“I Love You, Nanay Gretchen,” actually reverberates in a number of comments. Many said their newfound hero reminds them of their departed grandparents. Those who still have their lolos and lolas pledged to love their elders even more. Continue reading “Outpour of love for La Greta”

The (other) Lady at the Capitol

Nana Gretchen: Homeless in the City

Matilda Ricardo Mandac, 63, is a truly powerful woman, and it’s not because she has stayed and worked at the Ilocos Norte Provincial Capitol, and has seen 5 governors in a span of over three decades.

Nana Gretchen, as Mandac is popularly known (it is said that a tricycle driver named the lady, for reasons unknown to her, after actress Gretchen Barretto), has been selling cigarettes and snacks at the vicinity of the Capitol since 1980, during the term of Governor Elizabeth Marcos Keon. Over the years, she has endeared herself to a lot of people. A former governor once regarded her as “anting-anting ti kapitolyo” (amulet of the capitol).

When she still had a small stall inside the perimeter fence of the Capitol, Nana Gretchen had gross sales of around three hundred pesos a day, from which she had a net income of less than fifty pesos. However, when the Capitol had a major facelift last year, the fence had to go, and she was displaced. Today, she sits in front of the Dap-ayan, a food center near the Capitol. Left without a stall, she carries three bags: one bayong contains a couple of cigarettes packs she sells, another is filled with empty plastic bottles she gathers and later on sells at the junk shop, while a third one—a shoulder bag—contains other personal effects.

But she does not really have a lot. Not now when her daily sales have fallen to below a hundred pesos, as no one, except her old clients, knows that she is selling cigarettes. She brings out her wares when someone buys, and keeps the container immediately after. She scrambles when rain comes as she does not have a shade. She owned a broken umbrella, but lost it.

Nana Gretchen used to live with relatives in Brgy. 4, Laoag City, but was displaced by maternal kins in 2004, leaving her homeless. While she tried to seek help from the Public Attorney’s Office, she could not pursue the claim in the absence of a land title. Efforts to negotiate with her relatives failed.

And so Nana Gretchen stays at the vicinity of the Capitol, whole year round, and that includes cold Christmas Nights and New Year’s eves. She would take daily baths at a faucet in an inconspicuous part of the Capitol garden. Note, dear karikna, that it is not at all a public scandal as she does it at 3:00 a.m., when almost all of us are in deep slumber. And with her clothes on.

A picture of bliss and serenity

Nana Gretchen looks neatly dressed, but don’t get confused. With only two sets of clothes—blouse and slacks—she uses each pair every other day. It is not unusual that her clothes won’t dry enough, so she would end up sporting a wet outfit.

Buying ten pesos worth of Pan de Sal at Town Bakery every morning, the store is kind enough to pour hot water on her coffee cup (actually a reused plastic container of instant noodles). A sachet of instant coffee costs her five bucks. When her purse allows it, she would have budget lunch at a carinderia. For dinner, what dinner? She spends the long nights with an empty stomach eagerly waiting for next morning’s pan de sal.

Living in the streets comes at the cost of safety, but we already know that. And I am not only talking about typhoons and other calamities that she has to contend with. Nana Gretchen has been mauled by a mentally deranged man five times already, and counting. Her head would ache with the man’s powerful jabs, but Nana Gretchen is thankful the injuries she has sustained have not warranted a trip to the hospital.

She has not, in fact, been hospitalized all her life, and thank God. But, at her age, one could not help but worry how she would cope in the face of a serious disease. In the dark corners where she spends the night, mosquitoes abound. And it just takes one bite from a dengue vector to send anyone, rich or poor, to harm’s way.

Meantime, she nurses herself when faced with illness, aided only by a large dose of faith, which she nurtures by attending Sunday services at the Christ the King of Glory Fellowship. Holding no resentment towards God, she says she is just thankful to be alive. While Nana Gretchen admits to occasionally crying in her lonesome, she appears to have a very positive attitude. She tells herself, “saan met siguro kanayon a kastoy.” (Maybe it will not forever be this way.)

Year 1987 was a particularly trying year for Nana Gretchen. In June, she gave birth to her only child Lucky Marjorie. But the baby girl was born prematurely and lived only a few minutes. Three months after, her husband Dominador was murdered. Those two deaths in a year punctuated her chance of belonging to a family. Lone child of Simeon, a farmer, and Guillerma, housewife, Nana Gretchen is a product of a dysfunctional home.  Her parents, now both deceased, parted ways when she was a baby. With her mother suffering from a mental ailment, she was then left in the care of an aunt in Dibua South, a barangay in the outskirts of Laoag City. Her aunt saw her through grade school.

Nana Gretchen has to be strong, and it is not a choice but an imperative in the urban jungle where she lives. Maybe this is the reason why some people get the impression that she is “mataray,” an impression I also had before I talked to her. And so while hers is one of my dream interviews, I dilly-dallied in doing it. But then I finally found myself one afternoon sitting a few meters away from her in front of the Dap-ayan. Looking at her, I felt intimidated. While I have done interviews with people of prominence, I was clueless how to approach the lady. Noticing my stare, she responded with a warm smile. What a joy! It did not take long before I warmed up to the lady, and, before I knew it, she began talking about life.

The reason I am drawn to Nana Grechen is that, unlike Christopher Lao—the bratty UP alumnus who blamed government for his failure to realize that his car is not a submarine that can traverse deep bodies of water—Nana Gretchen does not feel that anyone, her government included, owes her anything. Not demanding help, she just quietly strives to earn a living for herself. All that she has formally claimed from government is a senior citizen’s card that she does not really find any use for. As for Governor Imee Marcos whose renovation project consequently affected her livelihood, Nana Gretchen only has respect and admiration. She concedes that the Capitol lawn, without the fence and her stall in it, looks better. “Personal sacrifice for the public good,” is a principle she understands more than most politicians I know. The Dap-ayan is also expected to be renovated soon, but that is another problem she wants to face on another day.

Her toothless smile may conceal it, but I know how difficult it must be to be in her shoes. My heart breaks when I see old people live in miserable conditions. People who have toiled all their lives deserve the pleasure of simply enjoying the good life—say, play mahjong and bingo while waiting for pension, or, for the religious, like my mom, spend as much time as they want in church. Yet Nana Gretchen harbors neither bitterness nor envy. And no, not pride. While she does not beg, she would not refuse a sandwich when offered by a kind stranger.

“That kind of fulfillment is something that I envy. I wish I have that kind of bliss and serenity,” says my friend Jun during a few rounds of SanMig Light on a Friday night, and I couldn’t agree  more.

Nana Gretchen reminds us of sheer pleasure in little things—of owning an umbrella, of wearing dry clothes, and of simply being able to take a bath in naked glory.

At the end of the interview, I gave her a tight hug, and I felt power and wealth that could only come from the inside.

200 call center jobs open.. and this time clean

The most difficult column I have written by far is that of Ilocos Norte-based call centers that sell—in  ways deceptive and malicious—porn sites, for I knew it would create a stir and would affect the livelihood of those involved in the trade. I would not have done the exposé, but no one else, not even colleagues in the media, seemed inclined to do it, so I performed my moral obligation as writer and well-meaning citizen. I wrote about the subject, but only after a great deal of thought and soul-searching, on top of my exhaustive research. It was in August last year.

An investigation was conducted by the police after the matter was tackled in the city council.  Radio and TV stations also picked up the issue, thus taking off a lot of weight from my shoulders. I could have written follow-up articles, I did not.  It was enough that I brought the issue out in the open.  And I was already receiving threats on my safety.

I never learned about the results of the investigation, but I did know that these businesses slowed down and that some agents lost their jobs as a result. For their part, parents who learned about these shady activities ordered their children to quit their jobs in these call centers. It saddened me, but such sadness was mitigated with a strong hope that these establishments will eventually handle only decent accounts and, ergo, provide only decent jobs to our people, especially the young.

On March 31, while I was in the circus of computing grades, distributing class cards, and being chased by those who got red marks,  I chanced at a mini job fair conducted by Kinetic Human Division at the MMSU Batac Campus. I was happy when I saw their staff interviewing our students. I learned that they offer a lot of job openings today, and that business is booming. 

I had no doubts whatsoever that they offer today only clean jobs, jobs that our students and graduates can be proud of, learn from, and earn enough from. I know that KHD, Laoag’s largest BPO (business process outsourcing) firm, has learned from past’s lessons and is training its sights on a future so bright.

I got the chance to talk to Ms. Ethel Saliendra, human resource officer of KHD, who initially looked startled to see me around. She requested for a talk with me though, and I took it as a good opportunity to explain to her why I wrote what I wrote last year. All is water under the bridge now, I said, and that I was happy to see that things are looking up. Continue reading “200 call center jobs open.. and this time clean”

Konsehales Japorms and the Fashion Police

ONE FRIDAY NIGHT, after an exhausting workweek, I was in a video shop in Laoag looking for a good movie to watch when I chanced at City Councilor Joseph Tamayo who was also on a scout for good films.  The good councilor suggested to me “Law-abiding Citizen,” a film that stars Jamie Foxx.

The movie intrigued me instantly because I consider myself a citizen who has high regard for the rule of law, and more so in Laoag, the city of my affections.  A traffic enforcer flagged me one time because my motorcycle had an open pipe. I am not a fan of anything noisy, my friends know how much I value silence, but when I bought the second-hand vehicle, it was set-up with an open pipe, and I was not aware that it was not welcome in my city given the number of motorcycles with open pipes around her streets. But informed that I was in violation of an Anti-Nuisance Ordinance, I respectfully presented my driver’s license, gladly accepted my violation ticket, and sincerely thanked the traffic enforcer for conscientiously doing his job. I went to the city hall and paid my three-hundred-peso fine the next day.

My friends would later on laugh at me. “You should have told the enforcer that you’re from the media, and he would have given you a chance,” they said.  Sadly, they didn’t get the point.  I write for a community newspaper and so I am in a better position to know existing legislation. It was a shame that I was ignorant, and the least that I could do was to pay my dues, and help inform the public of the law.

Tamayo, I know, is of the same stock.  He was once flagged by Land Transportation Office personnel due to a violation: the Sangguniang Panlungsod’s majority leader was not wearing a helmet. He likewise accepted his ticket and went through the process, like any law-abiding citizen should.

As a survivor of two motorcycle accidents, I know how important the wearing of helmet is. Sans the protection a reliable head gear, either I would not be alive now or permanent damaged would have marked my shining, shimmering, widening forehead.  And so I wear that monstrosity, no matter how inconvenient, every time I ride my motorcycle, and I encourage others to do the same.

I am a law-abiding citizen, and our washerwoman, who knows that I would rather keep garbage in my pocket rather than throw them in Laoag’s patently clean streets, would attest.

But what does one do when faced with a law that is patently strange, such as the one recently sponsored by Tamayo, Franklin Dante Respicio, Donald Nicolas, and David Frez?  City Ordinance No. 2010-03 penalizes, among others, the wearing of tsinelas while riding a motorcycle in any street in the city.

This piece of legislation does not reflect the true sentiment of the people these gentlemen were voted to represent.  I do not say that laws must always be populist, for real leaders, dear karikna, must not be afraid to make difficult decisions, and this is the best time to make unpopular legislation because the elections are over two years away, definitely not the time to fear losing votes, given our people’s short memory. But I believe the Sangguniang Panlungsod, who unanimously approved the ordinance, are wasting their political capital on this particular measure.

The public, as expected, met this ordinance with much resistance—from farmers who do not own shoes to sons sent by their frantic mothers to buy three pieces of tomato at the market. Continue reading “Konsehales Japorms and the Fashion Police”

“Damaso” guy hails Laoag’s Rafales

WHILE I CONSIDER myself tech savvy, there are still times when my jaws drop marveling at how technology spreads information like wildfire.  This, dear folks, is one of those times.

Last week in my newspaper column, I wrote about Jesus “Lakay Susing” Rafales, a fellow Ilocano who blew his whistle and led a classy walkout at the St. William’s Cathedral in Laoag after a priest read a politically charged pastoral letter during the mass.  This happened almost two and a half decades before Carlos Celdran, a famous tour guide, did a theatrical protest at the Manila Cathedral over the issue of reproductive health.

At a rapid pace, the article, which I also posted in this blog, made the rounds in social networking sites Facebook and twitter.  Shortly after, Celdran himself read the story, and shared it as well to his tens of thousands of followers in cyberspace.

“I’m reading about a man who came before me named Rafales.  Read about him.  Cool cat,” Celdran twitted.  Then after, he left the following comment: Continue reading ““Damaso” guy hails Laoag’s Rafales”

Before Celdran, there was Rafales

AND THE present pales in comparison to the past.

Carlos Celdran, a well-known tourist guide, made news recently when he walked into the Manila Cathedral in the middle of a Mass and shouted, “Down with Padre Damaso!”  in protest of the church’s arrogant blocking of the Reproductive Health Bill.

There were mixed reviews of Celdran’s theatrics.  A few said  it went overboard, that it was tasteless, even “bastos,” but most were appreciative, thrilled, even blown away by his act.  Many felt that Celdran did what they would themselves do if only they can muster the same amount of courage.  “His stunt was not only brilliant, it was one of the most classy protest we have seen in many years,” said one fan.

I agree, Celdran did well.  Few people know, however, that two and a half decades before the Manila Cathedral incident, something like it happened at the St. William’s Cathedral in Laoag, and it was even more meaningful and classier. Continue reading “Before Celdran, there was Rafales”

Mga Larawan sa Maharot na Dilim (Unang Bahagi)

(Nais kong ibahagi sa inyo ang isang sanaysay na sinulat ng isa sa aking mga pinakamahusay at pinakamasigasig na mag-aaral—si Cherry Gatiw-an. Tungkol ito sa kanyang mga karanasan sa pagsasagawa ng pananaliksik sa red district dito sa Ilocos. Si Cherry ay isang third-year Sociology student ng MMSU. Siya ay tubong Pudtol, Apayao.)

PARADISE of the Low-Flying Palomas kung tawagin ang lugar na iyon. Ang mga babae ay mga mumunting kagamitang may katapat na presyo, mga paninda. Bilang isang babae, nasasaktan ako.

Hawak ang kapirasong sulat na pirmado ng aking guro, pinuntahan ko ang kontrobersyal na pook. Agad kong hinagilap ang pangulo ng samahan ng mga may-ari ng mga bahay-aliwan. Pagkaraang makatanggap ng pahintulot mula sa kanya, agad kong sinimulan ang aking pakay— ang gumawa ng pananaliksik kung ano ang totoong nangyayari doon. Sa tanang buhay ko, noon lamang ako nakapasok sa tinatawag nilang night club.

Hindi naging madali ang pagpunta ko lugar.

Paano ko makalilimutan ang taas-babang tingin sa akin ng mga tricycle driver sa tuwing sasabihin ko kung saan ako papunta? Ako na pabalik-balik sa bahay-aliwan—paano ko sila mapaniniwala na hindi ako tulad ng iniisip nila? Continue reading “Mga Larawan sa Maharot na Dilim (Unang Bahagi)”

Laoag dads dignify ‘palakasan’, adopt Mikey Arroyo as son

mikey_arroyoJUAN MIGUEL “MIKEY” MACAPAGAL ARROYO, eldest child of the most distrusted president in Philippine history, was recently declared by the Laoag City council as an adopted son of the city.

Based on a news report written by Dominic Dela Cruz and published inconspicuously in an inside page (meaning: treated as a story of little significance) in last week’s issue of the Ilocos Times, city officials explain that the resolution “seeks to recognize Arroyo’s assistance to the marginalized sector of the city through his endorsement of their medical cases to the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) which in turn granted medical and social services to the needy constituents of the city”.

The sponsor of the said resolution is Laoag Association of Barangay Councils (ABC) president and city council ex-officio member Chevylle V. Fariñas, who is strongly convinced of Arroyo’s worthiness of said recognition.

According to the feng shui-guided Fariñas, also the city’s first lady, the PCSO would not have denied the people’s request but that the Pampanga solon’s recommendation—being a son of the President of the Republic—made it easier and faster (emphasis mine) for those who need help to be granted their requests. Continue reading “Laoag dads dignify ‘palakasan’, adopt Mikey Arroyo as son”

Hitler’s visit, unbearable speeches, amazing Miss Laoag tilt …and other notes on Pamulinawen Festival 2009

ms-laoag

Let me begin by saying ‘Congratulations’ to everyone behind the festival. I know they put in a lot of hard work in the fiesta preparations. By now, I hope they have managed to catch up on sleep, and that their eye bags have disappeared.

I acknowledge that writing a review like this one is a breeze, nothing compared to all the organizers’ sacrifices. They were actors, I was just a spectator. They labored while I savored the moments. I will therefore cushion the blows. Continue reading “Hitler’s visit, unbearable speeches, amazing Miss Laoag tilt …and other notes on Pamulinawen Festival 2009”

More jobs?

There’s a blog dedicated to tackling the burning issue in Laoag City today–the construction of a mall that will force the demolition of a heritage school.   http://laoagcentralissue.wordpress.com

What follows is a couple of  interviews with Laoag City folks on the issue of job generation.

Will the mall project really generate the around-1000 jobs it promises?  What kind of employment will it offer?  Short-term, contractual jobs?

What do you think, karikna?