Monday, September 25, 2006

Kuala Lumpur, Sept. 2006

I went to Malaysia’s capital last Sept 10-13 to attend 2 conferences sponsored by the Atlas Economic Research Foundation and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF). From the air, areas around metro Kuala Lumpur has thick vegetation, could be natural forest or plantation forest. As the plane descended further, I admired the capital’s land zoning: there is clear demarcation among natural forest, palm and other agricultural plantation, and the sprawling urban landscape (residential, commercial and industrial). There are scattered patches of land clearing and land conversion – from forest land to agri land or industrial and residential projects.

The plane descending further towards KL International Airport (KLIA) and away from the city center, the wide palm plantation became more visible. Thousands of hectares of this plantation almost everywhere.

My plane (Air Asia) landed at LCC terminal; this is the terminal for budget airlines and some cargo planes. Although this is not the main airport, the passenger terminal is bigger than Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Manila, the Philippine’s biggest airport. Getting through the immigration section takes about 15 minutes.

There is no train from LCC terminal to KL city proper. Take the green bus to KLIA, fare RM 1.5 (Malaysian Ringgit; average exchange rate then was RM3.60/US$). The bus ride is about 15 minutes, could be around 12 kms. between LCC and KLIA terminals. Road infrastructure is good, no houses near the 2 terminals.

KLIA is really one of those gigantic airports in the world. Well, Malaysia hosts one of the races of Formula 1 and motorbikes grand prix every year in Sepang circuit, so its airport should be as impressive as its race track and the grandeur of the Petronas twin towers.

From KLIA to the city proper, you have 2 options: taxi would take about 1 hour and would cost between RM70-95. Or take the KLIA Express train, that takes only about half hour to KL central station, fare RM35. This train is really modern and fast. There are tv monitors that flash international news, exchange rate of the ringgit with other major currencies, cities temperature around the world, etc.

As the train moves from KLIA to KL central station, the views change: from a dark subway to the wide palm plantation and patches of land clearing, to the sprouting new buildings and real estate projects of KL’s periphery, then to the dense buildings and skyscrapers of the city proper, and back to the subway.

My destination was Corus Hotel, the venue of the 2 conferences. From the KL central station subway, I moved to an elevated train station, the Putra LRT line. After a few stations above ground, the train went underground. I did not check how many LRT lines in KL, but the stations in the city proper, especially around the twin towers, are all underground. Fare to Ampang Park station (after KLCC station) is RM 2, and Corus Hotel is just a 5 minutes walk from there. Wow, the Petronas twin towers is just about 3 blocks away from my hotel, only about 5 minutes walk!

After day 1 of the conference, Atlas treated us to a sumptuous dinner at a Chinese restaurant at KL City Center (KLCC), a big mall at the foot of the twin towers. The mall is big, about 6-stories, the roof is transparent, so you can see the twin towers above it. After day 2 of the conference, FNF treated us to another yummy-yummy dinner in a big restaurant on the other side of the twin towers.

After day 3, no more free dinner, we’re on our own. I joined a big group of fellow conference participants and we went to the central market to buy some food and souvenir items for our trip to our respective countries the next day. The central market is not big, well not big compared to a shopping mall. But from its 2-storeys structure, there are lots of shops. I bought a few white t-shirts with various KL designs at RM 5 each.

By the way, there was a live band that performs every night (except Mondays) near the lobby of Corus Hotel, composed of 3 ladies and a male musician. One night as our Japanese friend treated us to a drink at the lobby, I heard the girls sang the “Otso-otso”, they’re Filipinas! So I approached them, learned later that they’re all Cebuana. I even danced with one of them on the dance floor, and jammed one song with them.

Departure day, my flight was 7:20am. I shared a cab with 2 Nepali friends to the airport, we left the hotel a little past 4am. Malaysia’s road infrastructure is indeed impressive. The Philippine’s infrastructure is a joke compared here, except for the privately-operated toll roads in North and South Luzon. Midway between KL city proper and the airport, we stopped on a red light in an intersection. Beside our taxi was a police car, and it also stopped, even when there were no other cars moving from 3 other directions. If it’s in Manila and other Philippine cities, police cars and other government vehicles seldom stop on red lights, especially when there are no other vehicles moving from other directions.

So, if I were to compare KL with Metro Manila, here are my quick notes:

1. Road infrastructure, KL is way more advanced and developed. Potholes are non-existent or very few.

2. Trains, again KL is more advanced. In MM, only the 3 LRT lines operational and only 3 subway stations (Buendia, Ayala & Katipunan).

3. No jeepneys and tricycles in KL, while there are tens of thousands of those smoke-belching vehicles in MM.

4. Manila’s international airport is way, way inferior compared to KLIA, including the infrastructure linking the airport to the city proper.

5. Beer and alcoholic drinks in Malaysia are very expensive. A beer that would cost only around US$0.40 in a supermarket in MM would cost about US$2 in a supermarket in KL. Heavy taxes on beer and alcoholic products explain for the big price differential, not to mention that Malaysia is a Muslim country.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Clark airport, Pampanga

Clark International Airport is part of the sprawling Clark Ecozone, a former US military airbase in the Philippines vacated by the Americans in 1991, and converted into a wide commercial and industrial zone. It is located in the province of Pampanga, about 100 kms. north of Manila, via North Luzon Expressway (NLEX), Dau exit.

If commuting, one can take Philtranco buses from Pasay and SM Megamall that go direct to Clark Airport. Fare is P350 to/from Pasay, and P300 to/from Megamall. If traveling light, one may also take any north-bound buses that stop at Dau bus terminal. From there, walk a few blocks to the highway, take a jeep to Clark main gate, fare P7.50. From here, there are taxis that can take you to the airport (about 6-8 kms.) at a high price (P150 upwards); some enterprising jeepney drivers will sweet-talk you for P150 to P200. But if you travel light and it’s not raining, just take a regular jeepney from the main gate, pay P9.50 and get off at Clark airport gate. You can walk up to the passenger terminal building for around 400 meters, not far really.

Clark airport hosts a few no-frills airlines – Tiger air (to Singapore), Air Asia (to Kuala Lumpur), Asiana air (to Seoul), Cebu Pacific (to Cebu), other smaller airlines flying to Boracay, other domestic destinations.

The terminal is small, and airport security inspection for departing passengers is simple. You go through body frisks only once and that’s it. But government taxes and fees are not exactly simple and cheap. When I got Air Asia’s promo rate of only P409 one-way for Clark-Kuala Lumpur (excluding taxes by Malaysian and Philippine Governments), that was really cheap. But after checking in for your flight, you have to pay P1,620 travel tax ($32.4 at P50/$), then P350 ($7) terminal fee. At NAIA in Manila, the terminal fee is P550 ($11).

By the way, before I booked my flight for Air Asia, I got 2 price quotations for the Manila-KL-Manila flight: $380 + taxes for Singapore Air (via Singapore) and $400 + taxes for Malaysian Air. I was really grateful to my friend who texted me, “check, cheap!”

There are a few food shops and 1 duty free shop at the departure lounge. If you are flying no-frills airlines like Air Asia, better take some drinks and food there as those airlines offer no free drinks and snacks, not even water, during flights, you have to buy them from the flight stewards.

Coming back to Clark airport from foreign lands, a pestering sight are the Bureau of Customs people: they really open and inspect every luggage as if every arriving passenger is a potential smuggler! Small or big boxes, even small hand-carried items, everything inspected! To me, they seemed like small vultures with government IDs, waiting for an opportunity to harass (and possibly extort money from) some innocent arriving passengers. I asked the Customs guy who opened my luggage, “why do you have to open all luggages and hand-carried bags?”, he replied “Gano’n talaga eh” (“that’s the way it is”). I only shook my head with this typical callous bureaucratic attitude.

If you take Philtranco bus to Manila from Clark airport, be aware that the buses make only 2 stops, in Megamall and Pasay terminals only. In my case, since I have to get off at Quezon Blvd that day, I decided to go to Dau bus terminal and take any of the air-con buses bound for Cubao/Pasay. So I walked again to Clark airport gate, took 2 jeepney rides to Dau, had launch at a fastfood shop before boarding the bus.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Bacolod City

Bacolod is Negros Occidental’s provincial capital. Like many big cities, it is bustling with so many vehicles. Lucky that is road network is generally wide, and there is a circumferential road that diverts many vehicles away from the hussle and bustle of the downtown area. Still, traffic situation in the city's northern part (Mandalagan, especially) is getting worse.

Two big malls attract many of the city's and the province's shoppers, Gaisano and Robinsons'. A 3rd and bigger one, SM City Bacolod, is currently under construction at the back of the provincial capitol. Old and now smaller (compared to the 3 big malls mentioned) department stores like Lopues will be no match to those giant new-comers.

There are 2 seaports in the city: Banago port where Negros Navigation boats dock, and in the reclamation area, where super-cat boats that ply the Bacolod-Iloilo-Bacolod, Superferry and other commercial boats and cargo ships dock.

What contributes to bad traffic situation in the city is the absence of islands that separate the opposing lanes. Many vehicles just make a left turn or U-turn anytime, anywhere and anyhow. Another contributor to slow vehicular movement, is the deterioration of many roads in the city, largely due to the huge trucks that carry heavy cargos of sugarcane to be delivered to various sugar centrals...

Thursday, June 22, 2006


Laoag City is the capital of Ilocos Norte, the country's north-western most province aside from Batanes. The city is more than 600 kms. from Manila. Pagudpud is the province's northernmost municipality, and is bordering with Cagayan province.

I've been to Laoag and Pagudpud 3x: the first in 1993 (Manila-Laoag-Pagudpud-back); the second in 1999 (Manila-Ilocos-Cagayan-Nueva Vizcaya/Ecija-Manila); and the third in 2002 during the First North Philippines Expedition (see my first postings in this blog; Clark-Nueva V/Ecija-Cagayan-Ilocos-Clark).

In 1993, me and my former officemates in Congress were able to explore many parts of Laoag and neighboring towns of Ilocos Norte. My recollections of those areas are now hazy but these are among the nice places that I can remember:
(The 1999 and 2002 trips, I and my companions did not really explore the city, just saw the city proper and moved to the next destination)

1) Fort Ilocandia Resort -- a famous and 5-star hotel in the North, Spanish-era architecture buildings, sprawling open spaces. It has up to 2-kms long fine sandy beach facing South China Sea, from its 77 hectares area.

2) Sand dunes -- in Brgy. Lapaz, a geological wonder in this part of the country.

3) Paoay Church (St. Augustine church) -- in the municipality of Paoay, really old, has some big "aratiles" fruit trees perched alive on its thick walls.

4) Laoag church (St. William's Cathedral) -- one of the biggest churches in the country; Italian Renaissance designs.

5) Museo Ilocos Norte -- exhibits of history, culture and lifestyle of the province.

6) Marcos museum -- in the municipality of Batac, I think.

7) Bojeador Lighthouse -- in the municipality of Burgos, between Laoag and Pagudpud. Reputed as the oldest and tallest lighthouse in Asia, 73 steps to climb in a spiral staircase.

8) Pagudpud -- considered the "Boracay of the north" because of its long white-sand coastlines. Lots of resorts, lodging houses and restaurants. The waves though, can be normally big as it is fronting an open sea with no huge islands from a distance that can partly deflect the winds.

9) Patapat Cliff -- one of the longest bridges and viaduct in the country. The original road is high up there the current viaduct, on steep slopes of a mountain. It was closed many years ago because it was prone to frequent landslides. The current viaduct is long (maybe about 2 kms. long) and has a breath-taking view of the wide South China Sea. Some old and previously sunken ships can be seen from a distance.

When you go up a few kilometers of Patapat Cliff, you will reach the boundary with Cagayan province, near the municipalities of Candelaria.

The road condition in Ilocos provinces is generally good. Municipalities north of Laoag (to Pagudpud-Cagayan) are generally sparsely populated.

Monday, June 19, 2006

South and western Tarlac

From Manila to the north, you will pass by Bulacan, Pampanga, then Tarlac provinces. Via North Luzon Expressway and Macarthur highway, the last town of Pampanga before crossing a relatively new and beautiful bridge to Tarlac is Mabalacat. This bridge with a high arch and smooth road was constructed only after lahar flows from Mt. Pinatubo in the mid-90s have stabilized.

1) Bamban -- this is the first town of Tarlac after crossing the bridge. Nothing seems spectacular and notable to see in this municipality from the highway. The municipal hall -- and other municipal offices like the police, social welfare, etc. -- is rather far from areas which are densely populated.

2) Capas -- the next town. Prominent to see in this municipality is the Capas public market, and some rows of tricycles around it. Further north is a Y-junction road at a big Caltex gas station. Here, there are a number of fastfood shops. If you turn right at this intersection, you will reach the municipality of Concepcion. You turn left to go to Tarlac city and the rest of northern Luzon. About 300 meters from this intersection is the cool building of Capas municipal hall.

Capas Shrine is about 7.5 kms. from a small intersection before the municipal hall. The shrine is home to more than 30,000 names of dead Filipino and American soldiers who perished in WW2 during the infamous "Death March". The place is beautiful to visit, with a good hanging bridge behind the shrine; thousands of mahogany trees were planted around the shrine, itself surrounded by a fence.

The shrine was constructed and financed by taxes. Before, entrance was free. About a year ago, the managing agency, the AFP, started collecting entrance fee of about P30 per adult and another P30 parking fee. You're a taxpayer and you did not bring extra cash for such fees and the government, the soldiers, will not allow you to see a structure that was financed from the tax money you surrendered to the government a few years ago.

3) Tarlac City -- the provincial capital. If you're seated in the front of a car or a bus, you will not miss the big arch that says "Welcome, Tarlac City". Before the city proper, you will pass by Luisita Park, where they have Luisita Mall, and a number of big fast food and coffee shops, wide parking spaces, and huge, several decades old rain trees (aka "akasya" trees). A sugar central, wide sugar plantation, a golf course, and other projects of the Cojuangco and Aquino clans are located to the east of the Luisita park.

Being halfway to Baguio, the city is the main "stop and eat/rest" area for many buses and private motorists. Hence, there are a number of restaurants and bus terminals of big bus lines here. At the Y-intersection in the city at Siesta restaurant, Victory and Five Star buses stop here for 20 minutes rest/stop. You turn left in this intersection, you are headed to the province's 3 municipalities in the western side, as well as western Pangasinan's towns and city (Alaminos and Bolinao especially).

4) Sta. Ignacia -- less road traffic going here and the succeeding municipalities compared to the highway going to the Ilocos region and the mountain provinces of Cordillera. A number of hilly and winding roads here, a respite from the flat, straight (and boring) roads of the previous municipalities and cities. Again, nothing so spectacular to see in this town.

5) Camiling -- a good intersection for many municipalities. Coming from Tarlac City and Sta. Ignacia in the south, to the right is Paniqui; to the north are the municipalities of central Pangasinan (Malasique, Bayambang, Calasiao, etc.); and to the left is Camiling town proper and the municipalities of western Pangasinan.

The city has numerous volume of tricycles! There are just too many tricycles around the big public market, that there seems to be no streets around it where there are no parked 3-wheeled small vehicles.

The road infrastructure going to Camiling is also deteriorating. There are simply plenty of cracked roads, uneven and potholed roads.

6) San Clemente -- After Camiling, the roads are better and less dilapidated; traffic volume is also fewer. The town proper is small, not much to see, except that the municipal government has constructed a new and modern-looking municipal hall along the highway.

At the Camiling intersection before the bridge, if you turn right, you will reach the town of Paniqui. At Tarlac City Y-intersection, if you turn right, drive several kms. more, you will also pass by an intersection leading to Paniqui.

7) Paniqui --

8) Ramos --

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Lingayen, Pangasinan

Lingayen is the capital of Pangasinan province, previously the most populous province in Luzon. Now it's second to Bulacan as the latter takes in more and more migrants from many parts of the country.

Among the interesting spots to see in this municipality are the following:

1) Tree-lined boulevard, from the main road to the provincial capitol, nearly 1 km. long. The cemented center island has been replaced with bricks, so the scenery is now more beautiful.

2) Provincial capitol, newly painted. The structure is huge and tall, built many decades ago. In front of the capitol is open parking, as well as open grass. Beside the capitol is the "Urduja house", which is the official residence of the provincial governor.

3) Lingayen beach, clean, fine dark sand. There's an open space with no huts and cottages fronting the sea, behind the provincial capitol, this is about 400 meters long. On both ends of this open space, there are private cottages and huts for rent.

4) Lingayen Gulf memorial, with a pavilion showing a photo exhibit of "Lingayen landings" during WW2 when Gen. Macarthur and batallions upon batallions of new American forces landed to pursue the retreating Japanese forces. There are also old tanks, old fighter planes, and anti-plane guns on display in an open space in front of the pavilion.

5) Lingayen airport, old and not modern, can take in only small private planes. Interestingly, the runway is between a small public cemetery and the sea. Pretty much like The Police's song, "Wrapped around your finger". A portion of the song goes this way, "devil and the deep blue sea behind me..."

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Western Pangasinan

Pangasinan is among Luzon's most populous provinces.
The province is bordered by La Union to the north, Nueva Ecija to the east, Tarlac to the south, and Zambales and the South China Sea to the west.

The western side of the province, if coming from Manila, starts with the municipalities of Mangatarem and Aguilar, further north-west to Bugallon, Labrador, Sual, Alaminos, Bani, Anda and Bolinao; also the towns of Agno, Dasol and Infanta.

Among the major tourist spots in this part of the province are:

(1) Mangatarem:

a) Mangatarem church -- lots of bats living in the church! they sleep at daytime, come out evening to look for food. The church is still being used for mass and other activities; the bats don't harm people, they just hang up there on the high ceiling. The church is in the town proper, just beside the highway.

b) Manleluag hot spring -- plenty of trees, managed by the DENR. It has 3 swimming pools, one for children, 2 for adults; the biggest pool is from 4ft to 10 feet deep; entrance fee only P15/head, but can have plenty of people at times especially during holidays. The place is
about 7.3 kms. from the highway, 5kms. dirt road, the rest is paved.

(2) Aguilar:
a) Aguilar church -- middle between a modernist and old church; there are also a few bats on the ceiling, but not as many as those in Mangatarem church. This is also in the town proper, and right beside the highway.

b) Sitio Mapita -- an agricultural village by migrants from the Cordillera, mostly from Benguet. This is about 15 kms. from the highway, the road is narrow and mostly unpaved; paved or cemented roads are in steep portions to avoid landslides and early road deterioration. The view at the top is good as you will see the lowlands and mountain rangers, except that the mountains are mostly bald and heavily deforested.

(3) Bugallon
a) Mt. zion Pilgrim mountain -- it has a chapel and retreat house on a hill, shiny and expensive-looking statues, elaborate altars, chandeliers and marble tiles. On another side of the hills are the 14 stations-way of the cross. Here, the concrete statues are more than 6 feet tall; station 1 alone ("the last supper") is about 15 meters long. If you want to walk from stations 1 to 14 ("Jesus resurrection"), that will be about 400 meters walk, the last station on a high hill, but with 360 degrees view of the surroundings.
The place is about 5 kms. from the highway, 4 kms. paved, the last km. rough road, but manageable even for small cars.

b) Millent Agro-forest farm -- this is the farm that I am managing. Mostly mango and forest trees plantation. Our mangos are all fruit-bearing, average age of around 20-25 years old. Our forest trees are mostly mahogany (average age of 10-13 years old), with patches of acacia auri, gmelina, narra, and molave. Our place is about 1 km. further from the pilgrim mountain. More of this in another posting.

(4) Labrador
a) Covelandia du Labrador -- a new and modern resort, clean and big swimming poools, or one can plunge into the sea which is just a few meters from the pools.

(5) Sual

(6) Alaminos
a) Hundred Islands -- a famous tourist spot...

Rizal province

We are writing a travel book!
Yes, I and 3 other friends -- Elma, Llana and Francis.
Actually, our plan is to write a series of books, one big province, one book.
And for our first book, we will write about Rizal province, Metro Manila's eastern and closest neighbor. So far, we have visited all of the province's 13 municipalities and 1 city (Antipolo), took pictures of some of its cultural landmarks (churches, parks) and natural tourist attractions like waterfalls. Below are portions of our upcoming book:

I. History

The province of Rizal was named after the country’s national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. It was officially created in June 11, 1901 through Act. No. 137 of the Second Philippine Commission. As the existing unicameral legislative body at that time, the aim was to establish civil government after the Filipino-Spanish and Filipino-American conflicts. Rizal then was composed of twenty-six (26) municipalities, fourteen (14) of which came from the old province of Manila—Las Pinas, Malabon, Makati, Paranaque, Mandaluyong, San Juan, Navotas, Muntinlupa, Taguig, Pateros, Marikina, San Mateo and Montalban, with the balance of twelve (12) coming from the Politico-Militar Distrct of Morong—Angono, Binangonana, Cainta, Antipolo, Cardona, Jalajala, Morong, Pililla, Tanay, Taytay and Teresa, and with Pasig as its seat of provincial government....

II. Geography

The province is relatively flat on the western side, and mountainous on the eastern side. To its north is the province of Bulacan, to its east is the Sierra Madre mountain ranges (and further east is the northern part of Quezon province and the Pacific Ocean). To its south is the province of Laguna and Laguna Lake, and to its west is again, Laguna Lake and Metro Manila (and further west is Manila Bay). Thus, the province is unique because it has a large urban sprawl (eg, Cainta and Antipolo City) whose commercial activities and night life approximates those in many cities of Metro Manila. At the same time, it has rural fishing and rice farming villages and municipalities. Since the lake has freshwater, the water can irrigate rice fields, some farms even produce 3 cropping seasons or whole-year round (like those in Jala-jala).

Beyond the urban sprawl and vast lake, are hills and mountains with their rugged terrain and forest vegetation, some thinly, some thickly forested areas. In fact, just an hour and a half from Ortigas, a famous commercial and financial center of the country with its tall skyscrapers, there are some sitios and/or barangays of Tanay (eg., Brgy. San Andres) which until now do not have electricity yet! But you have lots of low-lying clouds and clean creeks over there....

III. Socio-economic conditions

Rizal will be the 7th most populous province (out of 80 provinces) in the country this year. It has the fastest population growth rate among all provinces between 1995-2000; the last census was made in May 2000. Thus, what many people perceive as migration of people from the poorer regions to Metro Manila, may not be true after all. What happens is that people land in Manila via boats, airplanes and buses, but they ultimately settle in Rizal, Bulcan, Cavite and Laguna. This is shown by the fast population growth rate of these 4 provinces in 1995-2000 of 4 to nearly 6 percent, vs. Metro Manila’s 1% population growth rate, shown in table below....

IV. The Municipalities and a City

(1) Rodriguez (previously called Montalban)

It is the province’s northernmost part. To its north is Bulacan province, Sierra Madre mountain range and north Quezon province to its east, San Mateo and Marikina City to its south, and Quezon City and Caloocan City to the west. Wawa Dam in Montalban Gorge was built by the Americans in 1909 as an important potable water source of Rizal and now Metro Manila. It was closed in 1962. The gorge is in the Philippine legendary stories where legendary hero and Filipino strongman Bernardo Carpio, was said to have stopped the 2 fighting hills, with Bernardo Carpio in the middle, and this created the Gorge. Below the gorge where water from the dam drains are huge white rocks, boulders of marble-like rocks. In a sense, even if it just a folk story, Bernardo Carpio can be considered as the first Filipino “rocker” for having played with huge rocks :-)

The dam can be reached by a barangay road, now fully cemented, about 5 kms from the main municipal road. You will pass by a stone quarrying area on one side of Marikina River. On some parts, the quarried area is wide enough. The barangay now collects as parking fee. There are big and tall rain trees (commonly known as “akasya”) in the main parking area. From here, you need to walk about 400 meters passing by a small cluster of houses and mini-stores, rocky sides of the mountain, a short rock tunnel, flat walls that some rock climbers would ascend.Wawa dam is a beautiful sight to see.

The seemingly white water as they fall from the dam and the strong rumbling sound of the falling water on huge white rocks below is the main tourist attraction here. There are temporary nipa huts near swimming and picnic area of the river, both below and above the dam, put up by enterprising locals who rent out the huts for P100 each per day. These are just temporary structures put up only during the dry season. During the rainy season, the river can swell to high levels, swamping all weak structures in and near it.

Other tourist attractions of the municipality aside from the gorge and dam, are the following:
(a) Pamitinan Cave, a place where Andres Bonifacio and 8 other Katipuneros declared the first Philippine Independence from the Spaniards in April 1895. This is near the river.
(b) Avilon Montalban Zoological Park, in Brgy. San Isidro. You need to pass by dirt and bad roads to reach here, a 7 ½ hectares resort. We went there last year, around October. Entrance fee was high, P350/head, as the municipal government imposes a 30% amusement tax on the original entrance fee. This 30% local tax is big, almost 3x that of VAT (12%), and yet the municipal government seems to be doing nothing to improve the unpaved rough barangay road leading to this resort.

The church in the municipality is called Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary. Nothing so spectacular or "must see" in this church. On 2 wings on both sides of the altar are the statues of Virgin Mary.Beside the church is the town's municipal hall. It's clean and air-conditioned. There's a municipal tourism office that gives away a nice, glossy pamphlet that highlights the town's historical and natural tourist attraction, as well as the mayor's master plan of modernizing the municipality's public facilities. There's an on-going construction of gallery-museum and botanical garden at the Wawa Park.

Going there:
(a) From Commonwealth avenue going to Fairview, Quezon City, turn right at a highly populous part of the city called Litex and Payatas. It’s going a bit downhill, passing by several garbage redemption centers (where recyclables are deposited and sold elsewhere) as this is where many garbage trucks pass by to dump garbage in Payatas open dumpsite.Roads are mainly 4 lanes (2 lanes each way), except on some narrow parts of only 2 lanes (1 lane each way), winding and uphill-downhill; the cement fence of La Mesa watershed area in the left, houses and other structures or idle land on the right. Further on you will pass by near the Payatas dumpsite. There’s a good panoramic view of Rodriguez and San Mateo from the La Mesa watershed area, before turning downhill on some tricky corners, down to a bridge across Marikina River, then to Rodriguez public market and the town proper....

(b) From Cubao, there are jeepneys plying the route at Aurora Blvd.Fare is around P35/head.San Mateo is about 5 kms. south of Rodriguez. Its municipal hall is a glass building with seemingly no windows. Hence, it's fully air-conditioned. The offices inside are clean and neat.

(2) San Mateo

Unlike Rodriguez, has no municipal tourism office; but a staff of the Mayor handles tourism-related concerns. They have a wide streetmap of the municipality, it's very useful.Among the famous resorts and tourist spots in the municipality included in their wide street map are Shunji's Resort, Villa Diaz Resort, both Malanday; Villa Apolonia Resort and Hotel in Sipac Maly.Rodriguez and San Mateo are relatively isolated from Rizal province's contiguous towns and a city. After San Mateo, you are in Marikina City, part of Metro Manila, where the roads are wider and less congested...

(3) Antipolo City

The Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage (Nuestra Senora de la Paz y Buen Viaje) is among the most prominent tourist attraction of the city. The cathedral is where the 300-years old Virgin Mary statuette is said to have protected ships sailing the Manila-Acapulco Galleon trade route during the Spanish era. As a result, anyone who wished to travel made a pilgrimage there in order to pray for safe passage. More recently, car owners have brought their brand new cars there to be blessed by the priest.

One thing to note is that the route to the church may be confusing to first-time travelers as roads are narrow with no visible landmarks on how to reach the church which sits on a hilltop.When we went to Antipolo last February, there was a sign for antipolo church. Early on, there would be men standing at corners waving at you- church, church, they would shout. They would point to the right, then left, then start jogging after your car, very disconcerting, irritating and sad. Shades of Pagsanjan.What is irritating is that they seem to deliberately send you in the roundabout direction to get to the church. Once there, there were loads of hawkers asking you to buy stampitas, candles, cashew, fruits, suman and others. There were actually only about 8 semi-permanent stalls lined up in the plaza below the church. One of cashew and suman, 2 of candles, and other geegaws....

7. Binangonan

Among the famous tourist attraction in this municipality are: (a) Lake Island Business Resort (b) Vicente Manansala shrine located inside a subdivision, not far from the highway. This national historical landmark showcases some original works, art paraphernalia and his relics. (c) St. Urusula Parish church (d) Fiesta Casino Resort. There are many signs along the road, indicating a resort that should be sizeable. Turning off from the main road, it was a bit of a drive before we saw anything. Still, there were enough markers on the road to remind us that we were on the right track....

14. Jala-jala

This is the southern-most part of the province. It is 19kms. from Tanay, and jeepneys (fare is P23 per head) would normally take about 30 minutes to reach the municipality, passing by the town of Pililla town proper, which is just adjacent to Tanay. The town’s name was derived from “halaan” shells; later on, people started calling it jala-jala. The road to this town is generally lined with trees – narra, rain tree, gmelina, mango, etc. Vehicles are few. With its proximity to the lake, some farmers are able to plant rice even during summer, or 3 crops a year (one rice cropping season is 4 months). Some agricultural lands are planted with sweet potato (“kamote”) and other root crops....

Meanwhile guys, if you know a lot about this province, or one or two of its 14 municipalities and city, please send us a page or more. Write to, or We will put your name in the acknowledgment section, and we'll give you complimentary copy/ies of the book once it's out. We hope to have it ready for sale by June this year.


Mt. Kitanglad, Mt. Hibok-hibok, 1994

It was good Friday I think, when we travelled from Davao City (from Mt. Apo) to Malaybalay, Bukidnon. There were no buses plying that day, so we rented a jeepney. We took the newly-constructed road, mostly unpaved, route via Buda, Bukidnon; this means we will not pass the Agusan provinces anymore as this is a much longer route. The jeepney took about 6-7 hours to reach Malaybalay! We thought it would take us only 5 hours.

From Malaybalay, Bukidnon's capital, we rented another jeepney that would take us to the municipality of Manolo Fortich, the last town of Bukidnon bordering the province of Misamis Oriental and near Cagayan de Oro City. One of our members in Congress Mountaineers, is Malou Acosta, and she and her family are hostic us in their house in M. Fortich. Malou's mother is also a Congresswoman, representing Bukidnon's 1st District.

Mt. Kitanglad is Mindanao's 2nd highest mountain, and I think the country's 4th or 5th highest mountain. Climbing this mountain, however, is not as difficult as the other mountains. There were plenty of telecomms towers and structures at the summit! The jeepney can reach up to 2/3 (or 3/4?) of the summit, so we had to walk only about 1/3 of the distance from the highway.

Mt. Hibok-hibok, Camiguin

Camiguin is an island-province north of mainland Mindanao. To its north is Bohol province, to its south is Misamis Oriental and Agusan del Norte provinces. Per square kilometer of land, it has the most number of volcanoes in the country. It has around 7 volcanoes, 6 are inactive, and only Mt. Hibok-hibok is active. The province is also known for white sand beaches, sweet lansones, a tall waterfalls, and other natural attractions.

From Bukidnon (after climbing Mt. Kitanglad), we went to Cagayan de Oro City. Took a bus to a municipality of Agusan del Norte, took a boat from there to Camiguin. Climbing this province's highest and active volcano is not difficult. We actually climbed it and went back in about 5 hours. You will pass plenty of steaming holes around the volcano approaching the summit. These are the volcano's vents, along with hot springs, and they help taper the volcano's potentially dangerous fury. Hence, despite its being an active and always steaming hot volcano, there are no dangers of serious and dangerous eruption....

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Mt. Apo, 1994

Mt. Apo is the Philippines' highest mountain. Standing at more than 10,000 feet above sea level, it's actually less than 1/3 the height of Mt. Everest (29,000+ feet). Nonetheless, climbing the country's highest point is a dream for many new and aspiring mountaineers. Our group, Congress Mountaineers, planned a 1-week, 3-mountains to climb in Mindanao, on holy week of 1994. Seven of us -- Peachy Tiongson, Coco, Jules, Toto Gestuveo, Jun Velasco, Gene Penas and myself, set for this trip. Within 1 week, we should be able to climb Mt. Apo (Davao-Cotabato provinces), Mt. Kitanglad (Bukidnon), and Mt. Hibok-hibok (Camiguin), in that order. We wanted to save, so we took the Superferry from Manila to Cagayan de Oro City (about 35 hours), then bus from Cagayan to Davao via Agusan provinces (about 9 hours).

First stop was rest and recreation at Seagull resort, Davao City, owned by then Cong. Dureza, Toto's cousin. It was a full night of swimming, drinking and partying! We woke up the following day a bit groggy, but happy. We left the city late in the day, and travelled to Kidapawan, North Cotabato; we slept on a mountain resthouse in a barrio, where a vehicle will pick us up the following day to bring us to the jump-off point of Mt. Apo.

After an early breakfast, a 4wd vehicle picked us up. We started the trek around 8:30am on a river. It would be a river trail at the beginning. We passed by a PNOC geothermal production or exploration plant in the mountain. No logging activities, except those in cleared areas where the power plant is located. We saw many huge trees, mostly dipterocarp species, but the biggest that I saw on the trail was a huge almaciga tree, circumference about 3-4 people on a circle arms spread apart.

We reached Venado lake, a wide open area that becomes a swampland during the rainy season, about 2pm. On summer months like this, the lake is small, the dry flat land is wide. This place is about 3x the area of UP Diliman's sunken garden, I think. Most climbers would rest here for a night, have party in the evening, and climb Mt. Apo's summit the following day. That was also our original plan. However, we got some momentum, and didn't find staying in the place too inviting, so after a few minutes rest, we decided to continue the climb up to the summit on the same day!

That was a decision that would prove to be discomforting later. At mid-afternoon climb, we were covered by trees, then tall grasses (cogon/talahib) at a deforested area protected us from cold winds. By 5:30pm however, the tall grasses are gone, so we got exposed to chilly winds and the cloudy sky was getting darker, our visibility getting murkier. So we had to walk faster to keep our bodies warmer, but it was simply getting colder. We were separated from each other temporarily as the stronger ones were on the front while the more tired ones were left more than a hundred meters behind. I reached a relatively flat camping area a few meters from the summit around 6:30pm; by then, it was dark, I was chilling, and I could not find the others. I got scared and thought that I got lost!

A few minutes more and I could hear their voices calling out those who were left behind. I was appeased and went straight to the first tent that was set up to rest and put on 2 layers of jackets. We sensed that there could be some mild typhoon coming because the weather was rather harsh. After eating dinner and a few shots of vodka (Gene's favorite), we slumped our tired and cold bodies inside our warm tents.

We woke up past 6am refreshed, cooked and ate our breakfast, and headed to the summit. To the top of the country's tallest mountain! There weren't big and tall trees on the top, only dwarf trees and plants, including dwarf bamboos like those in Mt. Pulag. We took pictures, sat at the summit, and waited for the thick clouds to disperse so we can see the lowlands, the provinces of Davao and Cotabato. We waited for more than 2 hours. When we realized that it's pointless to continue waiting as the cloud seemed to be as thick as they were 2-3 hours ago, we decided to pack up and leave the place. Our original plan was to stay here for another night.

Since we started late (almost 10am), we descended fast. We moved fast on our way to Venado lake. After the lake, we met many climbers, both mountaineers and ordinary hikers who just plan to have a picnic at the lake, brought with them live chicken and small pigs/goats to slaughter and cook in the lake. We slowed down as we had to give way to those who were ascending. We reached the jump-off point where we started the other day about 5pm. The driver of the vehicle nearby that would meet us was surprised and unprepared since he was supposed to meet us the following day. Actually he was surpised I think at how fast we climbed and descended the mountain.

From the mountain, we went to Toto's place in Digos, Davao del sur. So happened that there was a family or clan reunion at Toto's place, so there were lots of food and beer that night. Some of us got drunk and were knocked down to the sofas later that evening.

The following day, we savored once more our achievement of reaching Mt. Apo's summit and descending safely. Of course, stories of how drunk some of us were the other night added spices to the laughter.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Mt. Halcon, Mindoro, 1994

Mt. Halcon in Mindoro island, is famous for its being far and various terrains that challenges those who want long walks, see really big trees, and those who want to experience and pass the "limatic boulevard". I think the summit of the mountain is the boundary between Oriental Mindoro and Occidental Mindoro provinces. The former faces Batangas province while the latter faces northern Palawan province. In between the two is a small island hosting beautiful coral reefs famous among divers, called Apo Reef.

The jump-off point to start the trek to Mt. Halcon is the municipality of Baco, Oriental Mindoro. From Manila, we took a bus to Batangas City; took the boat to Calapan, the provincial capital. Then we rented a jeepney to Baco, to a barangay largely inhabited by Mangyans, one of the known tribal minorities or indigenous people (IP) in the Philippines. Our group was composed of Gene Penas, Peachy Dumlao, Toto Gestuveo, Doming and myself. We were all working in the House of Representatives then, except Doming but his wife was working there. Gene acted as our team leader.

Day 1 was a loooonngg day. We left our houses 2am, caught the 3am bus at Pasay City, caught the 6am boat at Batangas City, had our breakfast at past 8am in Calapan. By the time we started the climb (after getting 2 Mangyan guides) at around 9.30am, we were already tired and sleepy. To worsen things, it was a cloudless morning and the sun was very unforgiving that day! The lower part of the climb was in an area that was cleared of trees by the settlers, the Mangyans themselves, and converted to subsistence agricultural crops. The lack of trees and their comforting shades exposed us to late morning hot sun. Toto was the first to slow down, stopping and resting more often and drinking more water. Our guides told us that we will walk 2 days up, and another 2 days down. Hence, we need to walk faster if want to rest and sleep earlier.

Our 2 Mangyan guides were really "sons of the earth" literally. Not scorning them, but they really smelled something from the earth, my nostril was really assaulted(!) Also, they never wore any shoes or slippers, they walked barefooted, and they walked much faster and with ease than us who were wearing thick hiking shoes. To mitigate the situation, I tried to walk at least 3 to 4 meters away from any of them, but the smell was there. Later on in the day, my nostril got used to the odor and I stopped complaining by myself.

After our early lunch break and brief noon-time sleep, everybody recovered and resumed the climb faster. By then, we were also walking in thick forest cover. We passed by a river and its water is so clean and so cold. We were tempted to put down our heavy backpacks and dip in its refreshing water for a few minutes. But losing momentum and courting sickness by dipping our sweating bodies in cold waters are risks that we can't afford, so we just filled our drinking water bottle, washed our faces, and resumed walking.

By mid-afternoon walk, we noticed that the "limatic", those small and thin worms that reside in the mountains and suck blood, were getting plentier. When hungry, they are as thin as broomstick (made of coconut leaves); after sucking blood, they expand to a little bit smaller than a cigarette butt! And there are thousands of them all around. The forest is a cool place; when there are people or animals passing by, them warm-blooded creatures, the limatic sense and notice this, they get ready to jump to the passing warm-blooded guys. So you see them sticking to your arms, or legs, or even your face, trying to stick their sticky and pointed mouth to your skin so they can suck blood. You remove them by physically pulling them out from your skin, or whisk them several drops of rubbing alcohol, they'd fall off voluntarily.

By late afternoon, we were near or already in the peak of the first mountain. Tired and hungry, we looked for a relatively flat and open space to pitch 3 tents (2 for us, 1 for our guides). We found a good place, beside a big and tall almaciga tree. This tree has various industrial uses, aside from wood and lumber production; one such industrial use, I heard, is extraction of resin and other raw materials for plastic. The circumference (measurement of a circle) of the almaciga tree near us was equivalent to around 2-3 people holding hands together in a circle!

After pitching our tents and unloading our things, changing shorts and shirts, removed our shoes and socks, it was only then that I realized the damaged caused by the limatic in my body: two of them were curled up between my fingers in my right foot, seemingly full, contented and sleeping! Their sudden thickness should correspond to the amount of blood they have sucked in my foot. Another limatic was more malicious: it stuck in my right butt and sucked from there, causing some blood to spill in my brief and short. They all never lasted a minute longer after I found them. I crushed them to pieces by smashing them between 2 stones; the remains I threw into a flaming stove we lighted in cooking our dinner.

Actually, almost all 5 of us were bitten by the limatic that day. Our Mangyan guides were laughing at us why we seemed to be so paranoid with those pesky little leech. And one thing I noticed: not one of our 2 guides complained to have been bitten by those leeches! Maybe because they got used to those pests that they can easily remove them from their skin, or maybe because they have thicker feet and sun-baked skin that the limatic don't find them too yummy to suck blood.

After dinner, we lighted a very small bonfire as we -- Toto, Gene, Doming, myself and our 2 guides -- were huddled in a circle and drinking a few glasses of gilbey's gin (Gene's favorite!), gave us warmth and light for the evening. Peachy was too tired and slept early. The chirping insects and some night birds were our "stereo" that night when we went to sleep.

Day 2, we woke up early, cooked and ate breakfast early, packed our things and resumed the trek by 7am. This time, we'll go down a bit of the first mountain, to climb the second mountain which is our destination -- Mt. Halcon. Around 9am, we met a group of about 5 men, also Mangyans but from a different group or tribe. They were thin but muscular, 3 were wearing G-strings while 2 were wearing shorts. We greeted them "magandang umaga po" (good morning), they never nodded nor smiled, just no reaction while standing still and allowing us to pass. Their hair were not as kinky as our Mangyan guides from Baco. And their faces were a bit oblong. Later when we were far, our Mangyan guides told us that such group is from a different tribe of Mangyans, they reside in the middle of the mountain, have a different language and they do not speak or understand Tagalog. I figured that perhaps explained why they never responded to us when we greeted them.

I can't remember now if it was before or after lunch when we finally reached the summit of Mt. Halcon. Another achievement of setting foot on Mindoro island's highest mountain and one of the farthest mountains to climb in the Philippines! At the top of this mountain, you see mostly mountain ranges nearby, small dots of human settlements in the plains below, and the vast sea further beyond. The cool and refreshing air, plus the sense of achievement of having reached this high and far mountain, easily erased the pains and hardships that we experienced over the last 2 days. We had fun chatting and exchanging jokes at the summit. Later in the day, we walked down a bit lower to pitch our tents again in a relatively flat and open area. The same thing we did the previous night: cook, dinner, drink a little bit; and ngooorrrkkkk-weeezzzz later.

Day 3, we wanted to be back in Calapan by evening of same day, so we resolved to start the walk early and walk faster. After breakfast, we were descending as if we had a patient to bring to a hospital that day. The climb back to the first mountain naturally slowed us down. After which, it was a walk-jog pace. It helped that we have lighter baggage now after we have consumed most of our drinks and food over the last 2 days.

Back to the "limatic boulevards". Those portions, I think in both the 2nd mountain (Mt. Halcon) and the 1st mountain, where limatic density is high. This time we tricked them by walking much faster. Just as they were preparing to jump to us from the leaves and branches of trees and small plants, the last of us (the "tail") has already whizzed past them. I remember in those "boulevards", for about 30-45 minutes, the longest rest stop we could take to drink water was around 5-15 seconds only!

I think we made it to Calapan in 1 day. We were able to catch the late afternoon boat trip to Batangas City. After a brief dinner in Batangas, we boarded the bus to Manila. We reached home late in the evening. The following day, we saw each other again in our respective offices in Congress. Our other mountaineering friends who failed to join us in that climb were literally "salivating" with awe and envy with the kind of stories and experience that we told them. Hehehe.

Mt. Guiting-guiting, 1995

Mt. Guiting-guiting is found in Sibuyan island, Romblon province. The province is composed of around 7 islands; the biggest of which is Tablas island, comprising of several municipalities and is the center of provincial commerce and marble quarrying; Romblon island is smaller but it's the seat of the provincial government and hence, provincial offices of national government agencies are found there. Sibuyan is a quite island, more forested and mountainous, and very little, if any, quarrying activities.

I have climbed Mt. Guiting-guiting sometime in the middle of 1995, with 2 other friends, Jules (our team leader in Mt. Pinatubo climbs a year earlier), and a Japanese scientist (I forgot his name, but Jules invited him) who was looking for a special kind of ginger ("luya") of about 4 feet tall or higher for his PhD dissertation in Japan. He heard that such kind of ginger can be found in Sibuyan island.

The mountain is famous for its difficulty in climbing. Several years ago before we climbed it, 4 members of UP Mountaineers fell on its rocky cliffs and died. It was a big news among mountaineers then since the casualty figure was high. For me, I was still "high" and inspired in climbing as many mountains and volcanoes I can, after our 2 climbs in Mt. Pinatubo, climbs in other high mountains (Mt. Apo in Davao-Cotabato, Mt. Halcon in Mindoro, Mt. Pulag in Benguet-Mt. Province, and so on). So, the challenge of climbing this dangerous mountain sent some adrenaline rush into my curious mind.

A friend in Congress, Donna Morgado, briefly toured us in the municipality of Magdiwang(?). She also introduced us to a famous guide there, nicknamed "Bulod", I think. Bulod was one of the few strong climbers and guides who retrieved the bodies of the fallen and dead UP mountaineers in deep and pointed rocks of Mt. Guiting-guiting. Bulod assured us that since the weather looks fine and sunny, we may need no ropes when we assult the mountain; nonetheless, he brought us a 50-meter rope in case the weather would turn sour.

Day 1, we climbed up the so-called "Mayo's peak". This took us around 6 hours, I don't remember. We camped for the night. This is the first of 2 summits that we have to climb; the second summit will be Mt. Guiting-guiting's peak. Mayo's peak seen from the lower plains, is like the long and big teeth of a giant hand-saw. The jagged terrains cover Guiting guiting's peak and hence, gives a false sense of ease in attempting to climb the mountain.

Day 2, we have to leave our heavy back packs. We will climb Mt. Guiting-guiting with only drinking water, trail food and a camera to make our climb easier and faster, then come back at Mayo's peak in the afternoon, before sunset. The first few hours of trek was not so difficult. Comes now the flat walls of huge rocks, we have to walk on its ledge of only around 2 feet wide, sometimes narrowing to only 1 foot, and you have no protruding parts of the rock to cling on! Bulod said it's this part of the mountain where the 4 UP mountaineers unfortunately fell to their death.

By then, I was getting nervous and afraid. I felt that my balls have gone up my neck, wondering if I'd ever join this climb if I realize it's this dangerous! Just one false step and it's "goodbye world!" You wouldn't even hope that you'll survive and be a veggie for the rest of your life if you fall on those cliffs and pointed rocks below! But then, I said to myself, If I have climbed a dangerous volcano like Mt. Pinatubo where no one else have traversed except my buddies, I should be able to go up and down this mountain! Bulod assured us the tracks are dry and non-slippery, so he didn't have to tie the ropes for us to cling on. With enough encouragement, we passed that dangerous part of the mountain.

We reached Mt. Guiting-guiting's summit after 4 or 5 hours. Its vegetation up there is composed mainly of small, "bonzai'ed" trees and flowers. There are plenty of pitcher plants, those plants that collect water from the clouds and dews, deposit them in a pitcher-looking stem. The rocky, very little top-soil crust of the mountain's summit does not allow big trees to survive since there are not enough minerals on the rocks; besides, the strong winds in the top makes sure that tall trees are felled. Thus, only small and short vegetations will survive and thrive in this kind of environment.

Our trek back to Mayo's peak was faster and I was less nervous. Having achieved our goal -- to reach the summit safely -- I felt like a-floating a bit while walking down. We camped again for the 2nd night at Mayo's peak.

Day 3, go down to the plains with our back packs and probably catch a boat leaving for Manila by noontime. So Jules and I were practically jumping and running like kangarous on our way down the mountain. By 12 noon, we were in Magdiwang and hurriedly run to the pier area and we were able to catch the departing boat for Manila.

Watching Mayo's peak from a distance in the boat, and nursing some scratches in my bruised legs, I was thinking that I'm lucky again, once more, for having seen and reached another dangerous mountain. Yeebbaaa!!!

Friday, March 10, 2006

The DOT in Mt. Pinatubo

Before one can climb Mt. Pinatubo via Capas, Tarlac, one must pass by the Department of Tourism (DOT)-Region 3 office in Brgy. Sta. Juliana, Capas. This is about 22 kms. from the highway and from the Capas municipal hall; about a kilometer of this 22 kms. route is not paved and dusty.

At the DOT Sta. Juliana station, there are a number of rules:
1) Register and pay entrance fee of P50/head.
2) You must get a guide -- even if you've been to the volcano a few times and you know the route already. There should be 1 guide per 10 people; guide fee is P500 per day. All guides are Aetas.
3) Get 4x4 jeep (wrangler type); regular ones can carry up to 5 passengers; longer ones can carry up to 8 people. Jeep rates are P2,500, back and forth.

My observations during our climb last February this year are as follows:

a) The DOT practically has zero service for the P50 it collects from each climber, and there are climbers everyday; could reach dozens of climbers on weekends. No signs for direction, no new viewing deck. There is an old viewing deck that was built about 5 years ago, the wooden stairs are already rotten and damaged. There's a waiting shed near the viewing deck that was constructed around the same time as the deck.

b) The DOT also collects P200 per jeepney trip, we were told by the driver of the jeep that we took. Since drivers and/or operators simply pass on the DOT fee to the passengers, so it's us climbers who again paid for DOT jeepney fee. We were 5 in a jeep, that's P40 each. P50 entrance fee + P40 jeepney fee = P90/head that went to the DOT, for almost zero services given!

Me thinks the DOT is sort of a parasite that just capitalizes on the beauty of Mt. Pinatubo's crater lake. The DOT did not create that lake, does not provide road signs to climbers once the trek begins, does not clear some pathways of tall cogons, wild grasses and vines. Neither does the DOT create new structures for the viewing pleasure of the paying hikers. The money collected (in our case, we paid around P90 each, directly and indirectly), without receipt, probably just goes to paying the allowances of DOT and LGU bigwigs and salaries of extra and unnecessary employees.

Also, requiring climbers to get a guide even if some of the climbers already know the route is making the trip more expensive and more unaffordable to some people. Sure some Aeta villagers are the direct beneficiaries of this policy since they are the only accredited guides. But some poor people who also want to see Pinatubo's natural beauty and don't have enough cash for the various expenses (entrance fee, guide fee, jeep fee with DOT P 200 share) will be deprived of this experience because of the multiple fees required by the DOT.

Hence, DOT may be promoting eco-tourism of Mt. Pinatubo, but it is also acting like a parasite that just collects multiple fees with no corresponding services to the paying public.

Some reform suggestions for the DOT:

1) Stop collecting P50 entrance fee if it does not intend to introduce any new developments. It can continue collecting the P50 entrance fee so long as will also provide useful services like route signs and directions, so that for people who do not have enough cash to pay for a guide, they will not get lost.

2) Remove or reduce the agency share in 4x4 jeep rental; encourage competition among jeep operators to help bring down the rental cost, to make the volcano more accessible to more people.

3) Encourage multiple services and segmented rates among guides. For instance, some guides who can speak basic and elementary foreign languages (for American, European, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, other foreigners) can charge various rates. A single, flat rate does not encourage innovation. Why would a guide bother to learn some Korean or Japanese conversational sentences if the rate for guides is flat and the same?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Mt. Pinatubo, 1994 and 2006

The eruption of Mt. Pinatubo (central luzon, Philippines) in 1991 was considered the "most violent volcanic eruption of the 20th century". In the 19th century, the most violent was the eruption of Mt. Krakatoa in Indonesia, where the whole island-volcano was gone and wiped off the face of the earth (that's what I've read).

I have climbed Mt. Pinatubo for the 1st time in September 1994. There were 4 of us in the group -- Jules, Gene Penas, Calmar Palma, and myself. There was a big group composed of 16 climbers (about a third of whom were foreigners) and 17 Aeta porters, sponsored by the Dept. of Tourism (DOT)-Region 3, who would climb the volcano, dubbed as the "first human landing in Mt. Pinatubo by foot". The 4 of us wanted to be there in the crater summit one day before this big group would arrive! So we started our climb a day before this group.

It was a terrible, horrible climb as there was no pathways then. We were using contour maps and a compass to help us locate our goal and our paths to get there, use ropes to get down to cliffs of loose soil and sand, use bolos in hacking some tall cogons and grasses, to no avail. We retreated after day 1, and decided to wait for the bigger group and go along with them. We were self-sufficient in food, water, cooking equipment, ropes, and training, so were not a "burden" to the group; on the other hand, we helped some climbers get on with rope handling in dangerous parts of the climb. After 2 more days of hiking and rope rappelling (?), we reached the crater summit! It was a gratifying experience to see the crater and the lake formation; my 3 days of daily climbs have paid off!

Planning the route for the DOT-sponsored climb was easy because other government agencies were involved, especially the Philippine Air Force (PAF) which probably provided aerial pictures of possible routes. Also, the PAF also provided daily monitoring of the group climb by sending at least one chopper every day, giving suggestions to the group leaders on the ground possible routes. On the 3rd day of the climb actually, the group lacked food and water, so one PAF Huey chopper dropped dozens of boxes of canned food and mineral water to the group.

I don't remember if we stayed for the night near the crater or we went down a few hours later that same day. What I remember was that after reaching a barangay of Angeles City near the volcano, we were met by around 10 4x4 jeeps, members of the Angeles 4-wheel drive club, we were brought to a hotel in the city where the DOT sponsored a big welcome party to the group, with us included in the fiesta.

Since we already know the path to the crater summit, Jules, our team leader, planned an even bigger goal: a traverse expedition across the volcano! We will climb via Angeles, Pampanga; go down the crater, cross the lake by rubber boats, and walk down via Botolon, Zambales. We estimated it would take us 5 days in all to do the task (2 days up, 1 day cross the lake, 2 days down). Jules gathered 6 other guys -- his ex-gf Coco, Raymund Azanza, Gene Penas, Uly Veloso, Rap Rios, Noel Mercado, and myself. The training was tedious, like rappelling on 2 joined 50 meters-ropes since we estimated we might go down on up to 70 meters long flat wall of loose rocks and sand.

Jules approached some corporate sponsors; 3 have responded. Fuji Films gave us 60 rolls of films (40 for print copies, 20 for slide shows) and promised to develop all the films. Purefoods gave us 11 boxes of canned goods; while Panasonic lent us 2 of their video cams.

We started the climb December 27, 1994, hoping to be at Botolan town, Zambales on the 31st afternoon, we can still catch a bus to Manila and celebrate the New Year with our families on that evening. We reached the crater summit after 2 days, on schedule. But it took us 1 day just going down the crater via rappelling. Another day to cross the lake to Zambales side via inflatable rubber boat and inflated tire interiors joined together by bamboo pieces and small ropes. So we reached the other side after 4 days, it was already December 30.

We didn't know how long it would take us to walk down, but we hoped we'll make it in only 1 day. We were dead wrong! After 10 hours of walking (well, we've been walking 10 to 11 hours per day on this journey), we realized the way down is still long, so we camped in the middle of the dessert-like environment full of lahar deposits all around us. That was December 31! In the evening, we hoped to hear firecrackers exploding somewhere; at least that would give us an idea that we're near "civilization". Again, dead wrong! Not a single sound of firecrackers! That means that we were still too far from the nearest barangay of the nearest municipality of Zambales!

The 2 days walk in Zambales was another horrible experience as the sand-water mixture of a wide river that we walked down blistered our feet almost beyond recognition! There were plenty of small holes and scratches all over our feet, all 7 of us!

On the afternoon of January 1, 1995, after 6 days of walking and seeing no other people except our buddies, we saw other people, Aeta villagers! We shouted with joy because we knew that we were near the town proper. Ooppss, we reached the farthest barangay of Botolan (ie, the 1st barangay that we saw from the volcano) by 7pm! By then it was dark, so we rented a jeepney that will take us to Botolan town proper, so we can get a bus that will take us at least to Olongapo City. We reached Olongapo almost 10pm, tired and hungry, we decided to look for a place to stay that night. Gene approached a relative of his wife in that city, and they gave us warm dinner and warm beds to rest our tired bodies and blistered feet.

We arrived in Manila January 2, or 7 days after we have left the city!
It was the longest, most tiring climbed I've ever done in my life. But it was worth it!

After Fuji developed the films, some to huge sizes for display, Jules approached some malls if they were interested to host our photo exhibits. By March and April 1995, our photos of our traverse expedition were showing in the center lobbies of SM Megamall (Ortigas), Glorietta Mall (Makati), House of Representatives (Quezon City), Holy Angels University (Angeles, Pampanga), John Hay (Baguio City), among others.

Eleven years later, some friends (ex-officemates of my wife, Ella) from De La Salle University (DLSU) Manila, Francis Santos especially, invited me to join them in climbing Mt. Pinatubo, this time via Capas, Tarlac. And we would ride 4x4 jeepneys that will take us from the last barangay of Capas, Brgy. Sta. Juliana, to that part of the mountain-volcano that the vehicles can no longer tackle. The climb was set February 25-26, Sat-Sunday, and there will be 19 of us in the group.

Our bus in Pasay City left past 2 am, we reached the Capas junction after 2 hours, or past 4am. A long jeepney that could take more than 20 passengers was waiting for us, courtesy of a friend who also arranged four 4x4 wrangler jeepneys in Sta. Juliana that will take us near the volcano. The 4x4 ride was more than an hour, over wild terrain of lahar deposits, winding creeks and big rocks. The climb to the crater of the volcano took us 2 1/2 hours. The lack of sleep, heavy backpacks and walk in late morning sun wore many of us.

The crater lake still looked awesome as it was 11 years ago when I first saw it. This time, the lake is wider and deeper. In our 1994 climb, the lake was narrower and the water was warm, maybe 40+ celsius hot; many parts of the volcano's beach were still spewing hot smoke. There was a group of protruding black rocks (sort of new build up of rocks that never materialized into full eruption) in the middle of the lake; now those protruding rocks are gone, perhaps covered by the now deeper lake.

We swam for an hour in the lake in the afternoon. It was a refreshing swim, though the water became colder as the sun retreats further to set for the night.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Barili, Cebu

December 2005

Barili is a a town 60 kms. south of Cebu City. From the provincial capital, you travel on the eastern coast, pass by Talisay City, Naga, San Fernando, other coastal towns; you can see Bohol island across the sea. At Carcar town, you turn right to cross the mountain range going to the western coast, where you will see Negros island. The road infrastructure is generally good and smooth even in the winding and mountainous parts.

Among the interesting places to see in this town are: (a) Sayaw beach, (b) viewpoint overlooking a cliff, a mangrove plantation, and and fishing village, (c) Mantayupan Falls, (d) Bolok-bolok spring and swimming pools, and (e) the old church in the poblacion center.

Sayaw beach has white sand and gravel. The swimming area though is rocky, you have to bring a beach sandal or slipper if you do not want to step on some rough rocks and coral formations in the seafloor. Nevertheless, the sights are cool and you will find some colorful fishes when you go snorkelling. Entrance fee is P10 per head and bamboo cottages are P100 per day. Since we stayed for only 2 hours, we haggled and rented the cottage for only P50. The beach is about 4 kilometers from the municipal bus terminal, Shamrock restaurant and bakeshop.

From Barili town proper to Sayaw beach, you will pass by the viewpoint area; it's good to stop for a few minutes to see the cliff, wide sea, mangrove plantation, a fishing village. Good for picture taking too.

Mantayupan Falls is tall and beautiful. There are actually 3 waterfalls; the first two are about 1-2 storeys high, and about 20 meters away from each other and share the same pool. The third is high, maybe equivalent to a 4- or 5-storey building, and waterfalls are strong. The swimming pool is wide and deep in the center. To get near where the strong water falls, there are bamboo rafts for rent, P150 per hour (we were able to haggle and bargain for only P100) that can carry 10-15 people. There is a rope that raft passengers can use to pull themselves closer to the waterfalls. It rained hard 2 days before we arrived there (December 28), which probably explained the strong gust of water falling from the top.

At the moment, the water has 2 main uses: for a mini-hydro electric power plant, and for irrigation of rice fields. There is no entrance fee -- yet. The provincial and municipal governments will develop the site into an eco-tourism park, and a public toilet is being constructed already. The waterfalls is just around 2 kms. from the town proper, passing by less than a kilometer of dirt road.

Bolok-bolok spring is around 3 kms. from the poblacion center, near the waterfalls. It has 2 cold, running water swimming pools; entrance fee is P10 per head.

The municipal church is big; the interior design is not as elaborate as the famous churches, but the white and bright-color paint and paintings make the church's interiors appear bright and spacious.

Many buses pass by Barili. Ceres bus is the dominant bus line, but Librando Transit, vans and other smaller vehicles put up a good and healthy competition to Ceres bus. Further south of Barili are municipalities known for good dive sites -- Moalboal, Dumanjug, etc.