The Heart of Philippine Politics throbs with Gratitude

The Heart of Philippine Politics
Throbs with Gratitude
By Apolinario Villalobos

With the President’s asking the opinion of the Congress on how the “saving” should be defined, did he commit another error?

Most congressmen were recipients of the DAP fund and they will surely come up with a definition which will be self-serving to save themselves from being investigated after the Supreme Court has declared the program, albeit, some parts of it, as unconstitutional. It is a public knowledge that even when the move to impeach the President will reach Congress, it will all just be for show, as majority of the Congressmen supports the President. Prof. Briones, a former government official who worked as a National Treasurer, has been insisting that the right definition of the word is in the Constitution. The Congress is not the right “party” to define what “saving” is, if that what the President meant when he threatened the Supreme Court that he will consult a “third party”. As a Treasurer, she was considered as among the most knowledgeable regarding the handling of public funds. And, what will happen if the Supreme Court would not agree to what the Congress has “concocted”? Will that be what Filipinos fear as “constitutional crisis” which will necessitate the meddling of the military?

The insistence of Pnoy in justifying his handling of the DAP is understandable, as he is approaching the end of his term, hence, his steadfast attitude in his desire to “finish” as many “projects” as he could to show the world that he did something for his country. His honesty is without blemish and his intention is commendable, though, clearly with a taint of Machiavellian principle in which, the means is justified by the end. Meaning, if the result is good, don’t mind how it was accomplished. For an honest guy like him, it may be alright, but what happens when the country has chosen a president with questionable character, a plundering kind, and would find ways to circumvent the Constitution, thereby, adding more travails to what the Filipinos are suffering from now…all because he has set a precedent? Clearly, looking at the aspirants for the highest post of the country, nobody can be perceived with a clean-enough reputation, as shown by expositions on their involvement in anomalies are concerned. Clearly, too, compared to Pnoy, all of the aspirants are way below the line of honesty. Again, the people’s apprehension is on the word “precedent”.

Remember the congressman who tried to pass a bill to change some provisions in the constitution with the phrase: “unless otherwise, provided by the Law” so that quick changes can be made in the halls of Congress to encourage the establishment of businesses by foreigners in the country? The question is, who makes the Law?…the barbers?… the vendors?…the drivers?…the teachers? That congressman epitomizes the state of our lawmaking bodies! And this is what the Filipinos do not want to happen – the crippling of the Constitution which has already been mangled by one of the past administrations. And now, Pnoy is consulting the Congress with questionable credibility, and asking for a Law that will justify his DAP!

There is a consistent popular show of disgust on how the DAP was handled. Headlines of newspapers practically shout it out. For weeks, even before he delivered his supposedly hollow State of the Nation Address (SONA), rallies were held denouncing it, radio commentators were and still are one in condemning it, and even the ordinary citizens are still very vocal about their ill-feelings towards it. How can the president, then, maintain his seemingly ignorance about the building up of hatred towards his administration? Is he not properly informed about what are happening outside Malacaῆan Palace? Is his family not extending enough support to him, by at least, honestly telling him the real on-goings? Does he not have a few minutes for reading, at least one newspaper, or at least, glance at a headline, while having coffee?

He has been committing blunders, the worst of which is his adamant holding on to his “trusted” secretaries who are being clamored to leave their posts. His SONA did not do him any good, as he mumbled the same egoistic pronouncements. Even his dramatically breaking voice that showed his hurt feelings about the general mistrust toward his Administration, did not help him a bit. As if the lackluster show, backed up by mechanical clapping of hands was not enough to give him a lesson, he practically ran to the Congress afterwards for help….to that edifice where, the people know, is where his supporters that comprise the majority, lurk! With that move, what will he expect as to how the Filipinos would react?

There is a general impression that the President is practically, being influenced by the people around him, much to his disadvantage. Looking back, that is how his mother, the late and former President Cory Aquino was perceived by the Filipinos who seemed to have woken up one day – filled with regrets, after they virtually gave the power to her on a silver platter when Ferdinand Marcos vacated Malacaῆan Palace.

It is unfortunate that instead of unifying the country and lead the Filipinos towards what he repeatedly call the “straight path”as his last face-saving effort, Pnoy, the “beloved” President of the Republic seems to have chosen the wrong path towards more trouble. His “straight path” is now being touted as one, with plenty of potholes, thorny weeds, and rocks!

There is more “fund” in the Philippines…more fund for the pockets of politicians and lawmakers…more fund for their endless junkets abroad with their families…more fund for “ghost” projects implemented by “ghost” NGOs…more fund for “friends” who helped during the election…more fund for the condos and flashy cars of government officials…more fund for unrealistic researches of government agencies.

But, no fund for the malnourished Filipino children…no fund for the survivors of natural calamities for almost one year now….no fund for bridges in far-flung villages…no fund for the shacks that DEPEd call “school”…no fund for contractual teachers…no fund for empty medicine cabinets of some barangays …no fund for the advancement of agriculture which should be the base of the country’s economy.

In my honest and regretful opinion, the heart of Philippine politics throbs with gratitude…so very sad, indeed!

It’s theirs, after all, and paid for

the Book of Pain

IMG_3720

Her cement block chapel is deep in the barrio.
There she rests behind glass, a century long gone,
a pious soul, dried and shriven, mummified by some
quirk of the grave and brought back for the pilgrims
who flock to see her. For her upkeep there is
a donation box off to the side, which more
than covers the votives that are lit and left
on the rail to weep out their visits for them.

She cried the river that runs down to the sea,
to guide the  fishermen home,
says one, crossing
himself. No, says another. When the sun could not
come out, it was she who swallowed the night.
No, no,
says a third, the town had grown wicked,
and there was no wind strong enough to clean it.
With one exhale, she quickened the air and then,
the bread of the poor would leaven again.
They nod
as one. Yes, yes, they…

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The Philippine Eagle

The Philippine Eagle
By Apolinario Villalobos

The Philippine Eagle that we know today was actually, known before as “monkey-eating eagle”, a misnomer because, the bird does not only live on monkeys but other creatures of the forest, as well.

The former management of Philippine Airlines has been a big help in boosting the effort of foreign researchers to put to light one of the country’s rarest birds, thereby preventing its relegation into extinction. It took foreign naturalists steely will power to drum up attention to the plight of the to-be-extinct rare bird, before some local agencies were woken up. Foremost of these groups based in the country was the Haribon Society, a birdwatching organization founded by Alicia Busser in late ‘70s. The name refers to the Philippine Eagle, the “hari ng ibon” (king of the birds), compressed into “haribon”, and their logo, that of the eagle’s face. The members were expatriates living in the Philippines, who took time in visiting forested areas to record different endemic bird species. A Filipino member was Ed Buensuceso, supervisor of PAL Tours and Promotions’ Research and Development Unit.

During the last week of January 1978, Ed Buensuceso told me prepare for a trek up Mt. Apo, but this time, for another purpose. I found out later that it had got to do with the filming of the breeding of the Philippine Eagle by FREE (Film Research of Endangered Environment, Ltd.) on one of the slopes of Mt. Apo. FREE was composed of four adventurous and young Americans, namely, Robert Kennedy, Wolfgang Salb, Neil Rettig and Alan Degen. The project was funded by the National Geographic. A telex about the death of the eaglet which was being monitored prompted Ed to hasten to the site with me to chronicle the event.

As planned, I went ahead to notify the local forestry in Davao of our intention. The following day, Ed and Wolfgang arrived from Manila. We immediately left for the filming site on a jeep that the FREE team rented for the duration of their project. Wolfgang handled the wheel expertly that even the rocky dirt road did not slow him a bit. We swayed to the crazy motion of the seemingly fragile machine which was actually designed for such kind of terrain.

We reached Baracatan after an hour of being juggled inside the jeep. I was dizzy but as soon as we got down several feet from the cabin of Ron Kruppa, I forgot how tired I was. Ron was a volunteer naturalist who supervised the Parks and Wildlife Division of the Department of Natural Resources’ breeding program for the Philippine Eagle in Baracatan. The agency has been renamed, DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources). He was taking care of the Philippine Eagle in captivity. At last, I have seen my first Philippine Eagle, up close!

The eagle’s eyes pierced mine with such hypnotizing effect that right at that moment, I realized why it’s given such respect that it deserve. Its piercing look sent a cold sensation down my spine. The tuft of fine feathers on its crest gave it a regal look. I would say, its beak could make anyone tremble, and its powerful claws add respectability to its appearance. Ron coaxed the bird to his leather-gloved left arm. In the process, it spread its wings much to our delight.

After lingering in the camp for about twenty minutes, we went back to the jeep and traced our way back to the junction that led to Matundo, which we reached at past four in the afternoon. We almost failed to find porters as it was already late. Two kind natives fortunately, gave in to our request. As soon as everything was settled regarding the fee and other conditions, we started our trek to the campsite.

It was not just an ordinary trek as I found out later. Precipitous and narrow trails cut from the rocky face of the mountain made us gasp for air, as we gained altitude. My legs became wobbly as Ed and I made several ascents and descents. Darkness enveloped us in a forest, about three kilometers from the camp. From time to time, we rested during which I found time to massage my aching legs. The long strides of Wolfgang brought him very much ahead of us to the camp.

Finally, after almost an hour of downhill trek and hike over plowed cornfield, we reached the camp, a wooden two-room structure where we found Wolfgang, Alan and Neil having an early evening chat. We joined them and after a shot of rum, I somewhat regained some of my strength.

Early the following morning, Wolfgang, Ed and I went to the “blind” or “Lookout”, a camouflaged platform built on the slope of the ravine among the bushes and ferns. It was so near the nest which was meticulously built on a branch of a big tree. I peeked through the high-powered telescope that brought the nest nearer and just imagined the eaglet that should have been there. The poor eaglet, we were told, was choked by a bone that caused its death. With the eaglet gone, we were hoping that its mother would still visit the nest.

We patiently waited, from time to time listening to bird calls coming from around the area. The wait gave Wolfgang the chance to relate to us how they patiently cleared and blazed trails, with only the hope of finding the nesting eagle, prodding them on.

At high noon, it came. Warning and distress calls of preys filled the ravine. Soon, we saw in just a very short moment the sleek figure of the bird dart by. It soared up, reduced to a mere dot against the blue sky. After that rare moment, I went back to the camp, leaving Ed and Wolfgang in the “blind”.

In the camp I played with “tariktik”, the team’s feathered mascot. It was such a tame hornbill that they let it explore every nook of the house. It was even privileged to scatter its droppings around which the team would patiently scoop up in the morning.

A couple of hours later, Ed and Wolfgang transferred the telescope near the camp. I was told that the eagle came back several times after I left them.

Based on the team’s journal, the first sighting was made on December 6, 1977, but while they were situated in a different location. Robert Kennedy, wrote in the journal, that on such day, he first heard the bird’s call and later on, it appeared with a brown prey, which he presumed to be a flying lemur. Later, it was joined by another that Robert suspected to be the mate. Both glided towards a big tree not far from where he was hidden. He saw that one of the eagles with the prey landed on a large epiphyte fern growing on the last main fork of the tree’s crown. He suspected it to be a nest. After patiently observing one of them, tearing off green sprigs with its bill and flying back to the suspected nest, he finally, concluded that he discovered the nest!

Robert added in the journal that Wolfgang has also observed the ongoing from where he was situated. He located the perch of Wolfgang who let out a Tarzan-like call. He saw Wolfgang jumping up and down with excitement while pointing at the same branch that he was closely watching.

The December 7 entry of their journal contained information on how they finally confirmed their suspicion about the nest on the huge tree. They made another “blind” very near the nest so that they could make a closer observation. That was the “blind” that Ed and I found. Their binoculars caught a “white object” in the middle of the nest. In just a little while, the female eagle glided down into the nest and positioned herself as if to incubate. So that’s it, they found the nest with the egg!

The egg hatched on December 23, and since the normal incubation period of the egg was reportedly 60 days, the laying was suspected to be on October 24. Based on findings, the eagles usually initiate their breeding activities at the start of the rainy season. Both the male and female took turns in incubating the egg, with the latter, giving its bigger share at about 70% of the effort. The male hunted and brought food to the female but their feeding took place outside the nest. When the egg hatched, the female alone brooded over and fed the chick. The male continued hunting, and that time, brought the food directly to the nest. The recorded food brought to the nest were, monkeys, flying lemurs, flying squirrels, a rufous hornbill and several unidentified animals. The female fed the chick three to seven times a day.

Unfortunately, the eaglet got chocked by a bone, after just merely a month after it was hatched. The heart-breaking incident made the team decide to look for other sites where they could make another documentary on the eagle, hopefully, from their mating to the hatching of their egg. They decided to try the thick forests of Bislig, an industrial town of Surigao.

After so many years, the then, monkey-eating eagle, and now Philippine Eagle has become one of the symbols of the country. The Baracatan Breeding Station at Baracatan, Davao del Sur has flourished with the success of DENR’s breeding-in-captivity program for the rare bird. The station is along the trail that Mt. Apo climbers take if they want to start from the Davao side. The other starting points for the Mt. Apo climb, are Makilala and Kidapawan, both of North Cotabato province.

Maynila sa Bagong Salta

Maynila…sa mata ng bagong salta
ni Apolinario B Villalobos

Hindi ko na maalala pa
Ang ibang yugto ng aking buhay
Mula’t sapul nang ako ay lumisan
Sa aking sinilangang bayan
Kung saan ang nakagisnang pagdarahop
Ay bahagi na ng buhay
Ng mga taong kakambal ay hirap
Nguni’t hindi nagsisisihang magkakapitbahay.

Musmos na isip at murang katawan
Ang nagpatianod sa tawag ng pangako
Kumukulo ang tiyan sa kawalan ng laman
Dahil iilang pirasong barya
Hindi magasta-gasta
Sa pag-aalala na kapag mga ito’y nawala sa bulsa
Sa laot ng buhay na malupit pala
Ay lalo akong magmumukhang kawawa.

Puyat at pagod ay di ko inalintana
Sa pag-aakalang bukas ako’y may pera na
Kaya halos hilahin ko ang araw
Sa kanyang pagbaba doon sa kanluran
Para mapadali ang pagdatal ng kinabukasan
At mga ilang araw pa nga ang nagdaan
Narating ko ang Maynila
Lunsod ng iba’t ibang kulay at mukha.

Hindi ko mawari ang unang naramdaman
Nang ako ay unang tumapak sa pantalan
Para pa rin akong namamalikmata
Sa aking mga narinig at nakita-
Walang kapatirang daloy ng tao
Ingay ng nagtatawanan at naglalako
Kaya’t ang dating masaya
Kagya’t na pumalit ay takot
Nabahid sa aking mukha…
Sa sarili, nasabi ko na lang –
“Ah, ito pala ang Maynila”.

Philippines: The “Miracle” Country

Philippines: The “Miracle” Country
By Apolinario Villalobos

• It is a “miracle” how the Filipinos could survive the onslaught of natural and man-made tragedies.
• It is a “miracle” how the survivors of calamities could keep the anguish to themselves and just cry out their woes while bidding goodbye to loved ones buried in common graves after natural calamities resulting to hundreds of deaths.
• It is a “miracle” how survivors of calamities could have lived on foodstuff recovered from the muddy ruins of groceries, rotting rice from NFA warehouses, crunchy coconut meat patiently scraped from hardy shells salvaged from roadsides, and roots of yams from the denuded hills, instead of living with even a bit of decency on the goods donated by concerned countrymen and benefactors from other countries, and which are “still” in the “care” of government agencies….waiting to be “stolen”.
• It is a “miracle” how victims of tragedies could survive the sweltering months in tents while waiting for the promised temporary shelters built at a sickening slow pace…due to red tapes as government agencies admit…so they know, but what have they done?
• It is a “miracle” how some survivors of calamities could walk around, soaked to the bone by rain in tattered shirts despite sacks of donated clothes in the “safety” of government warehouses….waiting to be “stolen”?
• It is a “miracle” how survivors of calamities could live on despite hunger and exposed wounds which are left untreated due to the lack of medicine, while pronouncements are made by government health care agencies about the country’s sufficiency in hospital beds, medicines, services, etc….. did they not hear about barangays “sharing” the services of rural health care providers?
• It is a “miracle” how big families could survive on the limited two kilos of NFA rice per purchase, despite boastful announcement from government agencies that markets are “flooded” with such prime commodity as a deterrent to the exorbitantly-priced commercial rice….where are the precious grains that are supposed to be sold in sufficient quantities to Filipinos so that they need not go back and forth to the market and spend precious centavos for fare?
• It is a “miracle” why nothing is heard about the cases filed against hoarders…were cases filed just for show?
• It is a “miracle” how a government official could survive the shame of being a nothing-doing, yet, arrogantly announcing consistently during the last four years that there will be no power shortage, until he realized lately, that he has been wrong, and now desperately asks Congress for an “emergency power” for the President, to finally solve the problem….it is a “miracle” how this energy “wonder boy” is still around, instead of giving chance to others.
• It is a “miracle” how some people could still believe assurances from the government about the influx of investors despite the glaring fact on power shortage which is an important factor in business operation…….the government is hoping for “miracles” to happen when the investors use generator sets for their operation….tourists to wake up in the middle of the night and grope their way to the toilet…tourists getting stuck in the middle of a zip line due to sudden a blackout…tourists “enjoying” their candle light dinner, with sweat trickling down their face and neck.
• It is a “miracle” how some Filipinos believe the report about thousands of kilometers of highways and farm to market roads when for even some promised short-span bridges, only posts are evident.
• It is a “miracle” how the leader could easily rant the “miracle” projects “funded” by lawmakers with money “miraculously” taken from the government coffer, and forgot that these were involved in the ghost Napoles NGOs, hence, some are non-existent…did the government go into the tedious filing of cases against the three lawmakers and their cohorts, just for show?
• It is a “miracle” how village teachers could survive despite limitations on instruction materials, allowance, wage… survive teaching under leaking roofs and rooms with see-thru walls….survive arduous treks to their schools beyond hills and mountains…survive the threats on their lives, without the benefit of even a single centavo of “hazard pay”, while government officials, lawmakers and their families hie-off to vacation lands on weekends to unwind.
• It is a “miracle” how the hardworking Bureau of Internal Revenue could have ever thought of slapping sidewalk vendors, small-time vegetable and fish vendors, lundrywomen, beauty parlor workers, jeepney and taxi drivers with taxes…their pittance “income” at the end of the day, not even enough to buy half a kilo of rice!
• It is a “miracle” how parents of young Filipinos trying their best to learn the ABCs could still afford the high-priced textbooks converted into workbooks.
• It is a “miracle” how the Department of Education can take note of the “excellently miraculous” statistics on enrollees at every start of the school year, and forget to take note of the decline of these statistics as the school year approaches its end, to indicate that the impoverished children quit school because of malnutrition and poverty…yet, the officials do not exert an effort to lift even their pinky finger to remedy the situation.
• It is a “miracle” how “intelligent” ass-lickers could believe the “miracle economy” of the Philippines and clapped their hands as if they were toy monkeys that run on dry-cell batteries, in admiration of the guy who boastfully mentioned it during a very special occasion, complete with his broken and emotion-filled voice.
• It is a “miracle” how the country can survive the shameful raids on drug laboratories by government agencies with their consistent failures in bagging the Chinese drug lords who own them…and the confiscated drugs becoming unaccounted later on.
• It is a “miracle” how the country has still retained its name despite the foreign takeover of its economy…its people slaving it out for these foreign investors as sales clerks, messengers, factory workers, drivers, houseboys and housemaids, on short-term contracts.
• It is “miracle” how this third-world agricultural country could still survive despite the lack of support from the government to improve farming technology…and, instead, rely on importation of basic commodities such as rice from neighboring agricultural countries whose agricultural scientists and technicians got trained at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Laguna, Philippines!
• It is a “miracle” how the rice farmers of the country still survive despite the deadly stranglehold of their necks by loan sharks/ rice traders who buy palay from them at ridiculously low prices and sell its milled form to the consumers at excessive prices.
• It is a “miracle” how some Filipinos can still patiently listen to hollow reports on the “miracle economy” of the country!

Indeed, the Philippines is a “miracle” country. The leader says so as he reads the statistics on a piece of paper – report from his trusted few who rant “miraculous” accomplishments that bloom out of nothing! But in fairness to the government’s effort to “enlighten” the Filipinos, perhaps, yes, perhaps, some of the “miracles” can be true…but then, only some….those which were already part of past reports…and get reported again and again.

A Recollection: The Sta. Cruz Mission of Fr. Rex in Lake Sebu

A Recollection: The Sta. Cruz Mission
of Fr. Rex in Lake Sebu
by Apolinario Villalobos

When I was in college, I joined a group from our school that visited the Sta. Cruz Mission in Lake Sebu. We were just a bunch of ordinary and curious students who gawked at the colorful costumes of the T’bolis and excitedly bought souvenirs. Never did I know that, years later, I would retrace my steps to the sprawling “village” composed of several cottages, the biggest of which housed the Administration Office.

When I joined the Tours and Promotions of PAL, the said office received an invitation to the Foundation Day Celebration of the Sta. Cruz Mission. As I was in-charge of the department’s tourism promotion publication, I was given the instruction to represent the office. Excitedly, I took a flight that brought me to General Santos where I met again the station officials who interviewed me when I applied to the company as ticketing clerk. On hand were Mr. Francisco Abiera, the Station Supervisor and his assistant, Mr. Manuel Vega. They had been closely coordinating my arrival with the officials of the Sta. Cruz Mission, the couple, Emma and Boy Crespo.

When I arrived at the Mission, Mr. and Mrs. Crespo introduced me to Fr. Rex, the Mission’s founder. I gathered that the Mission’s seed fund was donated by his parents. Later, his relatives and friends in the United States pooled additional funds and sent them to him. His vision was to make the Mission “self-liquidating” by subsisting on its own funds generated from the handcrafted products purchased from the indigenous communities around the Mission and sold to walk- in tourists and through an outlet in Manila. I found out that their sales outlet along A. Mabini St., in Ermita, was supervised by Luz Campo, a classmate in college. I was also glad to have met another college classmate, Thelma Pama, assigned at the Administration Office.

I gave assurance to Fr. Rex, as well as, Mr. and Mrs. Crespo, that Philippine Airlines was all out in promoting their advocacy, especially, among the expatriate communities that were already in close contact with our office as regards their outdoor activities, especially, birdwatching and exploration of indigenous communities.

The following year, when another invitation was received by our office and referred to me, I immediately got in touch with Jill de Villa, an American expatriate who had two Philippine travel books to her name. In no time at all, she was able to alert other members of their group for a trip to Lake Sebu. It was during the second visit that I met my Geometry teacher in high school, former Leonor Palabrica Arzagon (now, Mrs. Pagunsan) but, who at the time of our meeting at Lake Sebu was the President of the Notre Dame of Marbel University. I learned from her that their school had also been promoting the Mission to help them raise funds.

It was Fr. Rex who brought the indigenous communities of Lake Sebu to the attention of tourists from the state where his family lived. Later on, by word of mouth, the information spread to their friends in other parts of America. The sales outlet in the Ermita district, on the other hand, was busy in sending boxes of handicrafts to as far as Japan. The members of the expatriate communities in Manila also bought their souvenirs from the same outlet.

Fr. Rex and the Sta. Cruz Mission, practically sparked the fire of interest that even caught the attention of the national government. The Department of Tourism lost no time in checking the T’boli land for extensive information which was furnished to the then, First Lady Imelda Marcos. Soon, glossy Philippine tour brochures were never without at least a photo of a colorfully-attired T’boli woman or an indigenously-clad couple. A little later, the issue on T’saday, the “cave dwellers”, a project of Manda Elizalde, hugged the limelight. But that is another story, as it was not spared from a controversy.

The Sta. Cruz Mission of Fr. Rex was a lesson on how a simple seed donation could prosper into an internationally-recognized effort because of the sincerity of those who were involved to establish a strong spiritual foundation. The Mission hired local graduates from parochial schools, particularly, Notre Dame, equipped only with a basic knowledge in accountancy to keep the office ledgers in order. Other hired young women and men who graduated with courses that varied from Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education (BSEEd), Bachelor of Science in Education (BSE), and Liberal Arts (LA), trekked over hills and crossed treacherous rivers in order to be with their assigned indigenous communities. They stayed with their communities for five to six days a week, to impart to them knowledge from textbooks, Bible and their own experiences. Practically, these lay missionaries became the “ parents” of the different clusters of indigenous communities.

The young lay missionaries who reached out to the communities, jeopardized their own safety. There were stories of how some of them survived from being drowned due to the strong currents of rivers that they had to cross. Some encountered snakes along the trails. I observed their strong attachment to their communities every time they went down the mountains to gather at the Mission for the Foundation Day celebration. In order to attend the parade on the Big Day, families went down from their mountain abodes a day before. Those coming from the far villages would light their way using torches as soon as darkness overtook them. With them were their “parents” – the young lay missionaries of the Sta. Cruz Mission. Every time I attended the Foundation Day, I saw to it that I stayed late at night until the wee hours of the morning to watch the parade of torches coming down mountain trails and out of the forests toward the Mission. It was a sight to behold!

As soon as every community was accounted for, a parade was held around Lake Sebu, culminating at the Mission activity grounds, the central area of which was canopied for the Mass. The expatriate women led by Jill de Villa were delighted and grateful to have attended a Foundation Day celebration as they had the chance to see a unique Mass, wherein, during Offertory, leaders of the different indigenous communities brought to the altar their baskets overflowing with offering that consisted of their respective produce. They were preceded by young T’bolis in colorful attire, dancing to the rhythm of indigenous instruments. It was a very memorable experience for the visiting American women. One of them told me that she could not help shedding tears while looking at the solemn faces of the natives whose eyes were all focused to the altar where Fr. Rex was officiating the ceremony. The Mass which was enhanced with native ritual during the Offertory took longer than the usual one hour, but I found out that it was the reason why lowlanders flocked to the celebration of the Mission’s Foundation Day, aside from the night-long torch caravans down mountain trails.

The T’boli as a community of indigenous Filipinos, became synonymous with South Cotabato, more popular than the place where they live, Lake Sebu which is a namesake of the biggest of the three lakes in the area. On the other hand, T’nalak, a handwoven T’boli fabric sourced from the fibers of abaca is used today, to denote a festival in Surallah, also a town of South Cotabato province and the gateway to T’boli land, and which lately, has been drawing local and foreign tourists.

The gateway to the colorful T’boli and other indigenous communities of Lake Sebu is Surallah, which can be reached from Cotabato City, Koronadal City, General Santos City, Tacurong City, and Isulan. Airports are located at Cotabato City and General Santos City, from which commuters can take airconditioned buses and vans to Isulan, Tacurong City and Koronadal City, from where jeepneys can be taken to Surallah for a connecting ride to Lake Sebu. For convenient travel, however, airconditioned vans and buses can be contracted at the four mentioned cities, and the town of Isulan for direct trips to Lake Sebu.

Sheena

Sheena
By Apolinario B Villalobos

Born with a smile etched on her lips
That not even a whimpered cry could erase
With chinky eyes squinting to the blinding light
The fragile bundle of love seemed to say:
“Here I am, watch me become great someday”.

Though smothered with love as she grew
And, pampered, yet, she chose to be on her own
She proved that girls could be resolute and strong
Her dexterity and quick-mindedness showed it all –
That her steps were heading toward the success’ call.

Her lilting voice and warm captivating smile
Makes her glow even in a throng of harried crowd
Standing out head and shoulders above the rest
Her stride makes a mark…just so graciously tall –
And a dashing beauty as could be seen by all!