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.