Wednesday, October 04, 2006


“All this will not be finished in the first hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first thousand days, … nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.”
John F. Kennedy

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you,
then you win.
Mohandas Gandhi

September in Dumaguete is turning out to be a month of many firsts. And all because some brave souls dared to begin something new even with the presence of loud negative forcasters.

When Naoki Mayuzumi, the president of HI-SAW or the Higala International : Students from Around World, expressed that the first thing he would do as leader of the foreign students organization of Silliman University was to raise funds for the Korean student Samuel Kim who had a vehicular accident and was hospitalized with neuro-surgery involved. He had a cultural-show-for-a-cause in mind as the way to achieve the goal. To ensure patronage and a good audience share, I suggested that HI-SAW would repackage the annual ICE (International Cultural Exchange) using a beauty pageant format, for the Philippines is a pageant-crazy country. Naoki right away made the first steps towards mounting the First Mister and Miss Silliman International. Many campus mentors tried to question the HI-SAW project but it went on with a creative force composed of Kenjie ColaC2 from Saipan and Chantal Theil of Germany with the students from Davao completing the working team, Nonito Cuizon as choreographer and Raissa Matunog as script writer. As expected in its first mounting, the show wasn’t perfect but it gave dimensions in pageant possibilities.
One thing that made it unique were the talents: mr  Iran Mr. Iran Tedrik Norouzi showed his expertise in Persian cooking, miss indonesiaMiss Indonesia Precy Cua who was chosen Best in Talent performed her own Bahasa translation of Bryan Adam’s Heaven, Mr  Nigeria Mr. Nigeria Japheth Chinedu Anyaji showed his MVP glory in soccer, mr japan Mr. Japan Yoji Kusumi displayed the art of Japanese calligraphy, Miss Korea Joo-Young Park performed a folk song using a bamboo flute, mr jordan Mr. Jordan Muneer Ali Adel AbuRumman shared a poem in his language, the talent awardee for men Mr. Indonesia Bryan Wagey had fun on stage with his trumpet, Miss USA Treana Marie Havranek had a touching musical number of joy and hope overshadowing images of the 9/11 tragedy and there were a lot more. The 15th of September pageant was a memorable first in our University Town.

When people heard of Payag sa Likod, the restobar that’s giving Dumaguete its first party place with a Boracay energy, many laughed at its existence for it’s away from the waterfront. I heard them say that the party joint along the North Road would not last a year for people would get tired of the ‘artificial’ concept. But the management team behind Payag had proven them all wrong for last Monday, the 18th of September, Payag celebrated its first anniversary with a blast! Capturing an even more intense Boracay spirit with an RnB party featuring DJ Kimozave of Francis M’s concerts, Boracay’s MC Phat George who mounted ‘hot’ games of seduction with Manila’s Ledge Dancers – all these were put together by eventologist Toto Marquez, the man behind GEA Events. The night also had our very own Short Fun who gave a high-energy reggae jam. We forgot that it was on a Monday for Dumaguete’s livewires and party animals were all there. The celebration of The First will definitely usher us to another year of colorful Payag moments.

I also had a corner of sweet memory last Wednesday, the 20th of September, when I decided to revisit Woodward Little Theatre. I arrived before playtime and witnessed the transformation of familiar faces and the last touches on stage to capture the setting: a city park in the 1920’s. I was very delighted to see that this old little center of culture is alive with young talents. I was there to see the first work of a very talented comedy actor Rosbert Christian P. Salvoro as director. For his debut, this senior student in Speech and Theatre chose Glenn Hughes’ Red Carnations. It was my first time to experience a romantic comedy with the shortest running time but within the 35-minute act were good moments of laughter at those gentle heartfelt twists. First time to be in a theater production was Benjamin S. Dizon who played the father. His voice acting built a strong character on stage. Matti Hescock as the daughter had an effortless performance for she was perfect for the lovely object of desire. Successfully giving the boy an innocent nature was Josef Gil Cruz. He also gave it just the right tension although there were those uncontrolled Mr. Public Speaker hand movements. It was a wonderful first for Mr. Salvoro who gave much passion to the production.

Have you heard of Boston Market? It’s an American chain that specializes in rotisserie chicken, turkey, meatloaf, roasted sirloin, sandwiches, and a variety of side dishes with a catchy motto: Time for Something Good! A version of this classy food stop opened Monday, the 25th of September. It has the same name, but Dumaguete’s Boston Market along Noblefranca Street promises to share their own affordable fine dining delights: try the Boston Market Roasted Chicken and it will be your first taste of an oven roasted but perfectly moist chicken with seven herbs and spices giving it an inviting aroma, or the Pasta Tricolore with the hearty vegetarian sauce of brocolli, tomatoes and zubergines. There is only one man behind all these: Palawan’s favorite chef Quddus Padilla. I was there before it opened and this guy is like Superman’s version in the kitchen. There was no need for him to work with an architect and carpenters for he did it all from furniture design and carpentry to wall painting. With the help of his multi-tasking empowered staff: Eden, JR and Melanie and consultants like the constantly vibrant Sharon Dadang-Rafols with her buddy-for-all-seasons Jaruvic and Pam Galvez with her art & heart connection Jutze Pamate, Dumaguete now has the latest addition to its cosmopolitan lane. Quddus’ magical touch in interior design and carpentry stems from a childhood experience which was in his stepdad Franz’s boat building world. Check out how our lowly Daro bricks are used to give the dining tables the unique texture. Feel like a crowned prince with the chairs regal support. Business partner Michelle Joan Valbuena is always in excitement with the everyday new discoveries at Boston Market. Quddus’ inspiration in this business are the people of Dumaguete whose good taste has allowed him to explore new possibilties.

The greatest first moment in September was when our very own Carmelo A. Elli was given the very special opportunity to be guest conductor of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra in a concert last Thursday, the 28th at Foundation University’s Sofia Soller Sinco Hall. With his humble presence, Elli went to lead the orchestra with calmness that brought strength to Romero’s arrangement of the Visayan classic Matud Nila. This was followed by the his own arrangement of the Dumaguete Hymn. Elli with the PPO gave the familiar piece a new dimension – with the performance, our city’s hymn has reach a point of respect for its enduring value. Giving a space to a local talent is one beautiful act of generosity by the PPO’s conductor Eugene Fredrick Castillo.

Eugene, born and raised in America, as the conductor of the country’s leading orchestra gave our source of national pride a sense of completeness for he is truly Filipino in spirit. When told about his impact to the Filipino audience’ sense of nationalism, the young Maestro shared that race is not to be a consideration in his music for he has had equally wonderful experiences with musicians from other countries. He added that even the difference in language has no bearing for when “music begins, a connection will always be made.” Castillo’s welcoming and generous heart was at work on that memorable evening in Foundation University. Even with the disturbing applause in between movements of Schubert’s and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8, he was still very much into his music. The passion was strongly felt by the audience and his amazing control brought us to total silence – awed by the subtle energy of his dreamy touch. A force so serene manifest his unique leading like in those turns to face the violinists and bring them into an amazing unified range. The standing ovation finally came after he generously shared as an encore the all-time favorite medley from the Sound of Music. The applause in between movements and the delayed standing ovation were to be forgiven and be taken as part of the beautiful first-time experience – a point to grow for those would soon become faithful audience of the classical music. Thanks to Foundation University’s dynamic culture movers for a valuable gift of education. This outreach program of the PPO deserves a rewind on the same FU stage.

The last days of September would be the busiest for Claudio Ramos, the indefatigable performing artist. He is directing “Dinhi Ra Ko Kutob ug Daghang Salamat,” the first Cebuano play that will be mounted at Woodward Little Theater this school year. Mass Communication student Naddie May Orillana did the translation of the original play in Tagalog “Hanggang Dito Na Lamang at Maraming Salamat” by Orlando Nadres. The Silliman production which will open on October 2 will feature first time actors Kenn Acabal, Aiken Quipot and Ralph Olegario. From the rehearsals, Speech and Theatre Department Chairperson Prof. Nora Ravello noted how good are the actors in this play that digs on the world of a closet gay. It would be exciting to see another first and with the very creative Claude as director, the fun side of it is guaranteed. In his own words, “…this is my first play and I am giving it my all.”

Be the first in your circle to experience what are still out there beyond September.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

31st of May in San Pablo

If I should live to a ripe old age
May I possess some bit of individuality, charm and wit,
That I may not be discarded when I am withered, worn, and weak,
But sought after & cherished like a fine antique.

My friends know that when it’s the 31st of May, I’m somewhere in a place far from home. The birthday gift for myself is always a trip to a place that I have never conquered. It’s my way of gathering sweet memories for my rocking chair days. I also don’t want to be like most people who live in New York who have never set foot in the Statue of Liberty (which is, of course, right in the middle of New York harbor) or be like many people of this University Town who have yet to see the twin lakes in San Jose, the rice terraces and even just one of the five major waterfalls in Canlaon, the chocolate hills in Guihulngan, the yacht anchorage in Tambobo, be in the Old Convent in Bacong and the wonderful showcase of Karl Aguila’s furniture and other art works, or simply be at Mariyah Gallery and see the works of Kitty Taniguchi that brought her to China and the USA. There is so much to see in this beautiful world.

My ageless spirit, this time, brought me to San Pablo City in Laguna!

I was still in grade school when I first heard of a place called San Pablo. My sister Joan, a social worker, had his first job there, nd she would bring home stories of this city of the seven lakes, together with the pasalubongs that Laguna is known for.
As they say, when in Manila, stay at Shalom Center in Malate where its inexpensive and safe. Being in Malate brought back memories of the days with my lawyer-father. He would sometimes bring his youngest son to his business meetings in Café Adriatico or at the Aristocrat Restaurant.

Day before my special day, I had dinner at the Café Adriatico – another great moment of nostalgia. And so I decided to have my breakfast the following day – my birthday - at the Aristocrat along the boulevard.

The 31st of May started with a walk towards Ellinwood Church where I had my prayer of thanksgiving. At Aristocrat, I ordered for some Spanish omelette, highlighted with a birthday serenade by my favorite Christian pop artist Jojie Perocho.

Jojie asked if I had a song request; I requested for my American Idol favorite, Somewhere Over the Rainbow. She sang instead Someone to Watch Over Me. It felt like a date with an angel. Her voice with much innocence was a beautiful gift. That one song would have been enough, but she gave me more-- an autographed cd copy of her album. This album has already been sold-out, with miniature jars made of the Pinatubo volcanic soil. I thought my day was already made with gifts of nostalgia and music; it was the prelude to the planned journey.

Along Taft Avenue is the Pedro Gil Station, from where I took the LRT to get to the Gil Puyat/Buendia station for 12 pesos only. Somewhere near the Buendia-Taft intersection are JAC buses that ply to San Pablo are found. I paid 150 pesos for this two-hour air-conditioned bus ride.

When I got down at San Pablo, I asked pedicab driver Benjie to give me a tour around important points for 500 pesos. He agreed. Our first stop was lunch at a carenderia called Binalot Sa Dahon and indeed, everything was wrapped in banana leaf --from the hot steamed rice to the grilled maya-maya. The next stop after lunch was Villa Escudero!
At Villa Escudero will give you two options: 885 pesos with lunch at the waterfalls and 540 pesos without lunch. I had buko for my welcome drink, and a guided tour to the Museum.
Villa Escudero is a coconut plantation founded in 1872, and acquired by Don Placido Escudero and his wife Claudia Marasigan in 1880. In was 1980 when the Escudero family opened the plantation to tourists.
The collection at the museum, with an architecture capturing the grandeur of an old Spanish church, is amazing. There are religious artifacts with a complete altar as centerpiece, right below are the life-size statues of the characters of the Last Supper -- which they have updated it to include Dan Brown’s version of having Mary Magdalene in it.
My eyes were kept busy with centuries of silver alters, carrozas, Spanish galleon trade items and ceramics. Their Philippine dioramas celebrate the ethnic and tribal traditions of our country.
On the second floor, I was drawn to the collection of gowns, coats and barongs worn by Philippine Presidents and First Ladies, from Aguinaldo to Arroyo, on their respective inaugurations. There were more from the American Regime, and the World War II collection. Knick-knacks, dolls, toys, jars, jewelry and other stuffs from all over the world are echoes of the well-traveled Escudero family.
Part of the package is a carabao cart ride around the plantation. A perfect photo opportunity is at the gate of the Escudero pink mansion as this is where the historical markers are found. While on this enjoyable ride, a guitarist and a soprano entertain you with kundiman classics.
Statues of lovers and kids playing bring to life the Philippine countryside genres. I love the spot with Lolo and Lola having a frolic with their grandchildren; near this tableau is inscribed: “If I should live to a ripe old age. May I possess some bit of individuality, charm and wit, that I may not be discarded when I am withered, worn, and weak, but sought after & cherished like a fine antique.”
When I saw this line about aging gracefully, I somehow concluded that in this family estate, Don Ado Escudero’s influence must be truly working. Even in his absence, you can feel his presence for the Villla reflects so much of his wisdom.
I wanted to enjoy the rowing at the lake near the cottages but it was time for the afternoon cultural show-- colorful culture unfolded before me, another harvest of what would surely become a sweet memory.
May 31st in San Pablo is also happens to be the day Festival of the Seven Lakes.
Seven colorful bamboo rafts paraded around Sampalok, the biggest lake, and on each stood a diwata, a lovely barrio maiden in a flowing gown, and crowned with fresh flowers.
Around the lake, the Tilapia Festival was another crowd drawer but I had to run to the old San Pablo Church where the Flores de Mayo was about to begin.
My birthday was filled with vibrant colors and they gave me more of the zeal for life – making me feel even more ageless!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Silliman’s First Family

“ My father always told me, ‘find a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.’ ”
- Jim Fox

Looking at how comfortable Silliman University President Ben S. Malayang III with his new job, I know that he has found a responsibility that is very close to his heart.

To Sillimanians, the name Malayang is always identified with the University as almost everyone in this huge family from Mindanao went through our beloved portals. It wouldn’t be difficult to share the bond we call The Silliman Spirit when with the Malayangs. The love for Silliman is evidently in their bloodline.

In fact, when you get to be with them in one of their family gatherings even away from the campus, you would always feel like it’s one of those familiar Silliman family fellowships. Many of the values that stem from the Christian environment prevail when with them: the spirit of joy simply overflows!

President Ben Malayang

Visit the President’s Office today and you will experience this cool and easy feeling when within a Malayang zone. I‘m sure the President’s Home would even be a greater experience as you will have in the welcoming line not just the joyful Big Ben, but also the interesting members of his happy home.

Everyone loves the First Lady Gladys Fe Rio - Malayang. She graduated from Silliman University with a BS in General Science in 1976. She is always with a radiant smile. The pastor’s kid has grown to be a faithful servant to God’s ministry. When the family was based in Oakland, Gladys would drive several miles on the freeway just to be in a church where she was a big help in the Music Ministry – the First Lady loves the piano.
First Lady

She has been leading various Church organizations, education committees and agencies and NGO’s concerned with human development.
As Executive Director of The Women’s Health Care Foundation (WHCF), she has been very helpful in educating the Filipino community with issues concerning reproductive health. Her present network and consultancy assignments on human development projects from around the world would be beneficial to the academic and extension programs of the University.

In fact, she is very generous with her ideas and has been a resource person during the celebration of the International Women’s Day in March.

Nayna I hope the Creative Writing circle of Silliman, and the students of the College of Law will also have the opportunity to meet the First Daughter Nayna Aurafe - it will definitely be a valuable intellectual exchange. Nayna graduated from the University of the Philippines with a degree in Creative Writing. She is now a senior Law student at UP. Prior to this, she was working with the communication arm of the World Wildlife Fund. Nayna would definitely love our University Town, the gateway to her other passion: scuba diving.

Miharu_Jay Miharu Jay Kimwell, fondly called Mij, has many Sillimanian friends as she was an active leader in the first two Hexagon camps, a gathering of Christian Youth Fellowship from six different churches. Mij graduated with a degree in Biology from UP Los Baños and worked with the Marine Science Institute. She had presented a paper during a national convention on Marine Biology held in Silliman. This junior medical student of the UERM College of Medicine is married to Bart Kimwell, a professor in Architecture at the University of Santo Tomas. Like her mother, Mij also plays the piano; she also loves to sing. Bart plays the drums.

IMG_0100 Feeling so uncomfortable with the attention he is getting as the only son of the University President is the youngest Robert Jed, a junior Mass Communication student of Silliman. RJ is the president of Silliman University Debate Society, bringing home to MassCom glories from all the debates and speech contests he competes in. RJ is also a feature writer of the Weekly Sillimanian and was a representative to the Student Government Assembly. This founding president of the Renaissance Youth Leaders Forum (RYLF) hopes for more action relating to student welfare. He said a “convergence of interests will lead to a more dynamic intellectual life.”

When asked to describe his own family, he smiled, and said, “talkative.” Then he added that the Malayang family is: liberal, outspoken, loves to travel, opinionated. And that they all love good food, RJ added with laughter.

He said he’s glad he’s into outdoors sports like mountainbiking. That is why you don’t see the “typical Malayang build” on RJ. Yet?

Two more important family members – Musa and Toffee – will be flying in from Manila. Both Labradors. They, too, will feel at home in this City of Dogwalkers.

Friday, May 19, 2006


Throughout our lives, in all its facets, a woman’s touch has given us strength. Count the miracle of growing within and beyond her cradle, count her art of listening and her word of encouragement, count the beauty of the comfort of home, her model of faith everlasting, the lessons taught at school, the inventions to make life easy, the voice of freedom and of courage. A woman is always a big blessing in our lives.

Today, as the entire Silliman University community says a million thanks to Dr. Agustin A. Pulido for his gift of leadership characterized by an amazing 10-year display of his sense of humility, sacrifice, and courage, let us also take time to say “thank you so much” to the women in Silliman University’s First Family.

Our heartfelt gratitude to the President’s wife Dr. Dorothy “Doris” Pulido, she never liked being referred to as the “First Lady” - a mark of her gift of humility.
Mrs. Doris Pulido with TrusteesDR. DOROTHY ANN " Doris " BERMEJO-PULIDO (center) with Silliman University Trustees Roselyn G. Delloso and Fema P. Sayson

All first ladies should learn from Ma’am Doris as she never put any effort to make her presence felt. Her way of helping her husband was always in a silent and humble manner. There was no need for audience whenever she would go unnoticed as much as possible. For that, she is greatly admired. Mayette Utzurrum-Montebon considers Doris Pulido her role model because of her unassuming nature.

Ma’am Doris has actually been a big sister to many women at Silliman Church to whom she taught through her example of a life dedicated to Christian service.

As a medical doctor, Dr. Doris spent many years in the healing ministry, which was capped with a big responsibility as hospital director.

She had served as Chairperson of the Board of Deacons at the Baptist Church in Central Philippines University. Over here at Silliman University Church, Ma’am Doris is a member of the Board of Elders, and the chairperson of the Personnel Committee, which takes care of an important call - the choosing of pastors to lead the Church.

Mrs. Pulido is an achiever, yet as a mother, she never pushed her children to be in the same height that she has conquered. There was no push for the children to surpass her being a high school salutatorian, nor for them or for them to follow her footsteps as a medical doctor, or for them to be at the level of her husband’s impressive performance in the academe.

What she wants other mothers to know is that what counts more is “building-up the children’s self-esteem at an early age.” This is best achieved, according to this outstanding mother, by a concrete demonstration of love for the children – an unconditional love for the way they are, and the way they want themselves to be.

“Don’t be too critical to kids, teach them kindness by being kind to them.” She counseled. She said that it’s easy to teach the kids love and respect when their parents consistently demonstrate love and respect for each other. “Walk your talk,” is the best way to teach. “No calling of names or saying of bad words at home,” she stressed. After all, home is the first place where children feel and believe that there is God and the parents’ best teaching would be to honor God.

As to career choices, Ma’am Doris has successfully led her two daughters, Cybele Ann and Deneel, to their own successes by announcing that she would not want them to be in the difficult experience she had as a medical student. She made sure both would be self-motivated.

So, the former Campus Crusade leader Cybele, named after the goddess of nature, took up Business Management and obtained a master’s degree. She is now based in the US, and is married to Engr. Luther Risma. The couple is blessed with two daughters, six-year-old Aidra Ann, and one-year miracle baby Chai Lee.

Deneel, taken from an original ‘concoction’ of her parents, majored in English Language Teaching in college and finished a master’s degree in the same field. She is at present the Resident Manager of Bethel Guest House and is happily married to Lt. Col. Ezra James Enriquez. They are blessed with two handsome sons, high school senior Mark James and fifth grader Joshua James.

Ma’am Doris loves to recall the days when she would watch Deneel dancing Philippine folk favorites, and to see more of her graceful movements in Hawaiian and Tahitian dances.

With the Dr. Doris Pulido’s wisdom on motherhood, Oprah Winfrey was right when she said,“Biology is the least of what makes someone a Mother.”

Thank you Ma’am Doris, Cybele and Deneel for the gift of subtle and humble presence, for letting us see so much beauty in a simple life, and for the great example of life anchored in Christian service.

Happy Mothers’ Day!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

'Scrabble Queen' is a Sillimanian

I love those years when the Filipino family thought of summer as a time for family board games: chess, Chinese checkers, mancala, its Pinoy version called sungka, Mastermind, Othello, Solitaire, Da Vinci's Challenge, Games of the Generals, Battleship, Snakes and Ladders, Monopoly, Dominoes, Charade through picture cards, Word Factory with its dice game version called Boggle. Among these, only chess has survived against TV and computer games, and it remains the only one in the mainstream of the international sports arena.

There are contest circles around the world, however, that are promoting one game that we all have known and loved -- the very challenging Scrabble. Its surprising to note that in the international arena, Scrabble is dominated by men; when we always thought of it as a home game for girls even at home, while chess was generally for the boys.

In the Philippines, a woman is lording it over all scrabble circles - mainly dominated by men. In fact, among the country’s Top 5 players, Odette Carmina L. Rio is the only woman. Odette, if some of you remember, graduated cum laude from Silliman University with a degree in Political
From justice halls, Odette moved to a small classroom in Iloilo City. You see, Odette is a lawyer by profession, but she now prefers teaching English as a second language to students from Korea. After a stint in the US, she says she has learned to live a “very simple life and uncomplicated life.”

Her teaching job now gives her time to devote more focus to her ultimate passion -- playing scrabble, achieving VIP stature in the world of word wizards.

How do you measure VIP stature? Check out the number of websites you get after you search about a person on Google. Try this: Search for “Odette Carmina Rio scrabble.” You’ll be amazed at the results you get: several websites announcing her “international player status” in the word power game. Abolutely the Philippines’ Scrabble Queen.

Odette was twice national champion in 2002 and 2004. Then she won third place in the Asia-Pacific Scrabble Championship held in Kuala Lumpur, fifth place in the Bertam World Scrabble Masters, and finished Top 10 four times in Thailand’s Annual King Cup. She has also achieved an ‘expert rating’ in the US with a rare 1,888.

Odette has been playing scrabble since she was still nine years old, along with her father’s favorite board games, chess and the Games of the Generals. The biggest challenge, she remembers, was always Daddy, a military general, who would approach the game with war tactics in mind.

In high school, the passion for the game reached an intense level for she had learned to love solitaire scrabble. Scrabble gave her the achiever’s zeal as she would face every challenge, such attitude of always learning new words very also very rewarding, in school.

Odette said she would love to visit Dumaguete again someday, and promote scrabble to the young. Say says it’s the “best way to increase their knowledge of words.”

I can only agree with Odette. If you will have noticed also, today’s generation in this University Town seems to have lost their ability to spell words correctly, or to comprehend what they read due to all-too-common weird abbreviations in text messaging.

That’s why I find it an important move to really bring her home here so she can help inspire young students. We can host Odette in the University Town for a peptalk on scrabble, or she can be the star player of sorts in an inter-dormitory or an inter-high school scrabble championship.

What would it take to play in a top-level game of scrabble? “An ability in Mathematics, as you look into probabilities and combinations.” She adds, “those good in Music can also be good in scrabble, as they know how to place the right scale in a given space.”

A website pointed out that a scrabble geek could only take a few minutes to find a way to put a Z or Q on a double letter score and at the same time, hit the triple word score.

There is so much wisdom involved in the arrangement of tiles in one’s rack to reach rewarding forms in a particular bag, like when it in a Double-Bag Scrabble where one divides the tiles into two separate bags: one for vowels, the other for the consonants.

Ah, there is just so much to learn from the country’s Scrabble Queen – truly Dumaguete’s very own!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


My first Holy Week on an island was in Camiguin and the great experience brought me to explore the other Philippine islands like an annual pilgrimage: Siargao had the best beach experience; three ‘holy’ days was is enough to explore Palawan’s frontier; there’s nothing holy in Boracay as it’s the perfect place for party animals; Siquijor leads you to the old churches, at the same time, you hear stories of the omnipresence of beings from the world beyond; Bohol keeps you busy traversing from one tourist spot to the next; with surprising rural glory was in Punta Bulata.

My original plan this time was to go to Pagudpud in Ilocos Norte where the renowned ‘cinematic beauty’ of Saud Beach has always been my dream destination since I first saw it in the Siguion-Reyna film Hihintayin Kita sa Langit. The other stops in this rustic town have very inviting names like Kabigan Falls , the Blue Lagoon and the Paraiso ni San Anton.

But Holy Week this year awkwardly fell just after the summer school started, giving us less time for travel. I decided I just had to be within the Visayas this time.

Then I remembered that I have never conquered any part of the “mango country” of Guimaras Island. “Go GUIMARAS!” became my Holy Week theme.

On Maundy Thursday I crossed the Visayan Sea. Sailing from Negros to Panay islands, the window view from the fastferry gave me a beautiful frame of Guimaras Island, leading me to conclude, I made the right decision.

I went through the regular route with Iloilo as my first stop. For Dumagueteños, the best place to stay in Iloilo is Pensione del Carmen along General Luna Street, home of a lovely Dumagueteña Carmen Larot-Rio. The Lonely Planet guidebook Pensione del Carmen as a place that feels like home.

The solemnity of Holy Week in the old city of Iloilo can really be felt with almost all stores, including SM City mall , closed. I did not waste time; I urged my host Tita Carmen and her daughter Odette to join me in a revisit of the Miag-ao Church, a national shrine. The Church of Sto. Tomas de Villanueva, built in 1786, is one of the four Baroque churches inscribed in 1993 on the World Heritage List. The historic sanctuary draws many families, apparently on their way to Boracay. Upon the request of my furniture designer friend Karl Aguila, I took several pictures of the baroque details on walls, doors and the stairways. The noise of the hundreds of visitors was still drowned by the silent grandeur of the majestic architectural achievement, shimmering in gold with the generous light coming from the huge classic windows.

After the beautiful long day, we rewarded ourselves with a dinner Junho, a Korean corner that was the only place open during Holy Week. All the food in the menu was authentic Korean, and the vegetarian variations of Kim Jin Ho were perfect ways to celebrate with our oriental version of the Lord’s Supper. I suggested to Mr. Kim to open a branch of his bankable business in Dumaguete. We exchanged calling cards and as token of our new friendship, he handed me a set of Korean table utensils in ornate silver.

My “Mr. Congeniality charisma”, as friends tease me, must have been radiating even until later that evening because when Mr. Kim saw us waiting for a taxi for the longest time, he even offered to drive us home to Pensione Carmen.

I should say that Good Friday is the best day to be in Guimaras. Streamers were all over the Province to announce the big event in the island, Ang Pagtaltal sa Jordan (The Crucifixion in Jordan). The trip on a huge banca was about 25 minutes. This joyride to Jordan, the capital town, departs every 30 minutes. Then as we dropped anchor, we noticed the people voluntary lining-up for inspection, not for guns or bombs, but for fruits, especially mangoes. The local government there confiscates fresh fruits brought into the island so that these do not contaminate their indigenous varieties.

We were hoping to catch the 3pm ‘crucifixion.’ It seemed like Jordan was having a fiesta; colorful banners welcomed the visitors including a good number of foreigners who were curious about the taltal. Inside the poblacion was a play on the trial of Jesus with dialogues in the local dialects.

Listening to the Good Friday drama in Hiligaynon and Kinaray-a was truly interesting. The theatrical production, complete with colorful Roman-inspired costumes, which ended in the actual ‘tatal’ on a hill- while we were having a sumptuous lunch.

Native cuisine like puso sa saging salad and many others were on display in a booth made of coconut leaves – true Filipino spirit!

After witnessing the colorful production on the death of Christ, we proceeded to the town of Nueva Valencia where the popular beaches are found. All resorts were fully booked but we were lucky to have found a space in a private cove called Villa Igang. It turned out to be the best place to stay as it was not crowded. The tranquility of nature prevailed as it is away from the summer fiesta of beach people. Its landscape was carefully manicured, careful not to destroy the natural beauty. Igang in Guimaras means a kind of stone in the Province, framing the cove with natural sculptural formations.

Guimaras for School Pie

Dr. Mary Lou Lacson-Arcelo of the John B. Lacson Colleges Foundation, owner of this charming Villa Igang, explained that igang is actually a good material for cement production. She said she is thankful that their provincial government disallowed the establishment of cement factories for it will certainly destroy the tourism potential of the island.

Mary Lou’s magic in landscaping is wonderfully transforming her part of the 43-hectare property of the John B. Lacson Foundation into a haven of peace, with much fun: fear-conquering dive from a cliff, with a view of the coral grotto, or rowing in a pond surrounded by mangroves, or exploring caves.

Eco-tourism is on the right direction at Mary Lou’s corner as she has two highly qualified consultants: her husband, educator-economist Dr. Adriano A. Arcelo, who is a consultant for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and Dr. Angel C. Alcala, the world’s father of Coastal Resources Management who has visited the resort twice with his family.

I saw Philippine Daily Inquirer society columnist Maurice Arcache jamming with friends at the beach. He expressed how much he loves Villa Igang as it is a “humble paradise,” he said.
Maurice added that he enjoys rowing with his buddies the most. Meanwhile, Visayan Daily Star’s social columnist Edward Lacson said their favorite ride is a boat with a bird shape.

They were all proud to have covered the entire pond without the help of a boatman. Edward also expressed his appreciation for the professional service of the seven-man staff. He added that HRM students should actually do their internship in places like this.

Resort Manager Lorlyn P. Arañador committed to explore other options to make their service consistently good or even better. She said she hopes to offer more variations of the seafood cuisine in our next visit.

Guimaras does have endless opportunities. We went up to Valle Verde Mountain Resort for a relaxing afternoon, and witnessed the frolic in the huge swimming pool sandwiched by the slopes.

Then, on to a major stop: an amazing view of more than 50,000 mango-bearing trees in Oro Verde, one of the Province’s three main plantations.

Having sampled the world's sweetest mangoes known as the Guimaras Super Mango, it was not to be the end of our round-the-island tour.

Next stop was the Our Lady of the Philippines' Trappist Monastery where the kind monks, generous with their smiles, welcomed us in a shop of mango jams, jellies and other dried fruit products.

I got some of their baskets made of twigs and the spoon and fork set made of coconut shells and bamboo. A tour around the monastery grounds is a walk of green peace with trees and flowers!

There are more to see, and more fun to experience: Roca Encantada where the summer house of the distinguished Lopez family is located, the coral islets called Siete Pecados; the 30-minute climb up to Bala-an Bukid with a stairway leading to a giant cross and chapel at its peak.

But alas, our time was up, we had to journey back to Iloilo on Black Saturday.

I spent Easter Sunrise with a garden fellowship at the UCCP. I enjoyed the egg hunt and the conversations over the Ilongo favorite breakfast delights like pancit molo, and puto with dinuguan.

After the Holy Week, you’ve still got 45 days under the heat of the summer sun; go on your own journey; GO, GUIMARAS!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Team Spirit in The Sison Twins’ Triumph

They may not be as famous as Hollywood’s versatile twins Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen but the University Town’s favorite twins, Angela and Angeli Sison, are one of the neatest wonders we can talk about. And their recent triumph defines their edge over the other identical pairs, for Angeli and Angela graduated as Valedictorian and Salutatorian, respectively, from the St. Louis School-Don Bosco. High School Class of 2006 must be so proud that the Sison Twins led them with distinctive graduation honors.
The Sison Twins
The twin sisters have always been achievers in school since their kindergarten days. The secret, according to Angela, is not competition but team work. Definitely no sibling rivalry and no point of jealousy. They would support each other for they are not just sisters, they are the best of friends.

Angeli agrees to her sister’s point by expressing that “everytime Angela would win a contest, it always feels like I, too, won. It’s like being always in the same team.” Angela added, “ we are always together for we both love pushing ourselves beyond our limits, and we share in this great feeling of being able to prove one’s worth.”

Born 15 minutes apart on December 4, 1989, Angela and Angeli are not exactly the same. At some challenges, they would conquer same glories, like being both crowned as Miss Intramurals - Lili on her freshman year and Lala on her 3rd year.

But they can also be in two different directions like in the academe. Angela loves anything under Communication and Language but will never be as intense as Angeli when it comes to Science. And then, they are together again in their passion: the art of dance. They both love one of the most graceful sports, Dance Sport. They have been so good at it that have been featured in many events in the city and have been representatives to various competitions.

They credit their successes to three important points: the pressure and discipline coming from their mother, the indefatigable Dr. Aideline Erames-Sison, with the special expression of support from their Dad Aniceto who is always there for them; Developing good time management, and third, the pressure coming from a family tradition, coming from a clan of achievers.

As kids, their dream was to become flight stewardesses but now the twins want to become Nurses for they find fulfillment in being in touch with people and their needs. they have found a meaningful way to be of service to people and it is trough health care. High School life was for them a stage of finding themselves and they are thankful to their Don Bosco family for teaching them the importance of service, sharing and the value of equality among people.

They want their fellow youth to know that it is wonderful to have fun but it should always go with a sense of responsibility. Angeli stressed in the importance of developing intelligence and Angela joined her in stressing that it is possible to have a balance between fun and the intellectual life. “One doesn’t have to be a nerd to be called smart.” They had fun even in those times when they had to do hard work. They have joined contests in speech, journalism and dance. At home, they found joy in reading books, and loved all of Nicholas Sparks bestsellers: The Rescue, A Bend In The Road, A Walk To Remember, Message in A Bottle, and much more love and “kilig” for The Notebook.

Like the lady character Allie Nelson in The Notebook, the Sison Twins believe that a love that is enduring and deep can turn a trial into triumph, and may even have the power to create a miracle. What they’ve got is the love for each other as sisters and as friends. And together, they will face life with a “team work” that will bring them to more triumphs.

Monday, April 03, 2006


Most people beat the heat of summer by going to where the coolness of the water can be felt even just visually. I’ve been to the Twin Lakes: Balinsasayao and Danao twice this week to guide University guests. As I bring them around the big lake, I love talking about two of my favorite environmentalists: the Bird Man and the Bamboo Man.

I never had the opportunity to listen to Doctor Joe, the birdman of the Philippines, live! But I love the recollection of Silliman campus kids who had those great times with him walking under the shades of acacia trees and he would tell them bird stories.

It was the 10th death anniverssary of Dr. Dioscoro S. Rabor, the country’s preeminent zoologist and conservationist, on March 25. He is never forgotten, his legacy is enduring.

He received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Silliman University in 1974. The name Rabor is internationally known. His legacy shines through pioneering works with birds which included the discovery of the sad state of the Philippine Eagle. Even in retirement, he was still active with consultancies in Wildlife Biology. Rabor's passion for nature conquered points beyond Negros island. Try to climb Mt. Ilong-ilong in Mindanao and you would find the name of this Cebuano carved on a stone at its peak and check on environment stories of Mount Isarog in Southern Luzon and you’ll find the same prominent name. He trekked and climed Philippine mountains as part of more than 50 expeditions into the forests of more than 25 islands. He discovered and named most of the Philippine birds. Other exotic species of animals including rats were his discoveries. Some of them were named after him like Rabor's Wren Babbler or the Napathera rabori found in the Sierra Madre Mountain.

A book on Philippine Birds by Robert S. Kennedy has this dedication, “to Dioscoro Rabor and wife Lina, ‘whose pioneering field efforts for more than half of the 20th century helped shape the field of ornithology and conservation in the Philippines.’”
To trek around the lakes is for me an experience of Rabor’s passion and when I’m rewarded with a sight of an endangered specie like the Negros bleeding heart pigeon, I do express thankfulness to the Bird Man for he paved the way for the new generation of Filipinos to still experience wildlife in a virgin forest.

Another person whose passion for conservation is so inspiring is the Bamboo Man of the Philippines, Frans Kleine Koerkamp who celebrated his 70th birthday with his friends at South Sea on March 29. He was actually born on February 11, 1936 in Netherlands. Frans who also came from a poor Dutch family is inspired by the molding he got from a monastery where he found his life motto, “Hand ignarus mali, miseris succurrere disco” (Since I came from poverty and misery, I have learned to help the poor and the miserable).

This ordained Carmelite priest came to the Philippines in 1964 and had Escalante, Negros Oriental as his first mission area. The severe poverty of the hacienda workers led him to take a strong resolve to help the poor. He underwent trainings on Cooperatives and helped the poor by organizing them into unified forces for community development.

In 1972, Frans mission brought him to Iligan where he was exposed to rampant human rights violations under the Martial Law era. A community development worker from Escalante Inday Rabelista also came to Lanao to work with credit cooperatives. With the same point of departure and with a shared vision, their friendship grew deeper. On March 29, 1979, they were married and have become strong partners in the service for others. Their respective missions brought them to Manila where they had their son Jobert in 1982 and daughter Monette in 1984.

With deep emersion into the Philippine society and the experience of the various crises faced by the people he loved and served, Frans has become a true Manoy, a foreign Man with a piNoy heart.

And having visited many parts of the Philippines, he has found a dreamland: Dumaguete. It was in 1994 when he realized his dream of building a home for his family on this University town.

And it was at this time and place that he found a great way to help the people: a community effort to preserve and develop a livelihood out of the lowly Philippine bamboo. Buglas Bamboo Institute (BBI) was founded by Franz and the revived traditions out the common kawayan is now being cascaded to other communities.

Kawayan, as a primary feature in Philippine architecture and landscape, has gained back its respect and glory. Thanks to Manoy Franz, our country’s Bamboo man.

Summer is the time to conquer nature! And as we go far and deep into our happy wanderings, let Doctor Joe’s free flight with the birds and Manoy Frans’ love for the bamboo be our compass so that we will never be lost in the dense fog of human selfishness.