Archive for the ‘bicol’ Category

Buhi-Malinao road ushers in more commerce for Bicol

February 27, 2009

Linking communication is the most obvious benefit of having a road between towns and villages. Alternative routes of trade and commerce are made easy. These are expected in the recent completion of the 35 kilometer road (about half of 66 kilometer highway) which connects the 2nd and 4th districts of Camarines Sur to that of 1st district of Albay.

Leading to the port area of Tabaco, Albay, the highway makes it easier to reach Catanduanes Island in Bicol. Travel from Manila will be shorter than before.

The new road starts from Hanawan Ocampo, Camarines Sur onwards to Barangay Burokbusoc and Sagrada in Buhi, Camarines Sur, reaching up to Malinao, Albay. It is heralded as an accomplishment by LV Castaneda of the Department of Public Highways, (DPH.)

But Buhinon Jesus Valenciano (in a letter to Bicol Mail’s editor,) writes to question the integrity of the road. He fears that the “all-weather road” in some sections need cementing or asphalting. He says, without good maintenance, this road can easily fall into disrepair. —-Bicol Mail (02/19/09; 02/26/09) (Photo Credit: =0=


UP Ibalon with Physicians for Peace in Naga City

February 7, 2009

The Physicians for Peace gave out free wheelchairs to pre-screened indigents in Naga City. UP Ibalon Bicol was a partner in this project and may act as conduit for future donations by the Physicians for Peace, an international charity organization headed by a Fil-American, Dr. Juan Montero.

This partnership of the UP Ibalon and the Physicians for Peace came as a result of the efforts of Dr. Josephine (Jenny) Robredo-Bundoc, a UP Ibalon alumna and currently a world consultant of the physicians’ group. Jenny is the younger sister of UP Ibalon Bicol president, Butch Robredo and Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo.

The wheelchairs were pre-fabricated and the UP Ibalon members had the fun of their life assembling the equipment. The activity was a satisfying spiritual experience for Ibalonians, having been exposed to disabled while having the capability to offer help, however small.

Having grassroot reach in the city’s 27 barangays, the members of the Kapisanan ng Sangguniang Barangay Kagawad (KSBK) Naga City chapter had searched for recipients. Lolit Nantes heads the KSBK as President.

The City Social Welfare Department further screened the recipients.

Watch the video above and share the fun.

A Spate of Rural Bank Closures and a Bad Legacy

January 23, 2009

A new wave of pessimism and outrage about rural banks and pre-need plans is engulfing the country including Bicol. This came about after the string of rural banks failed and the Legacy pre-need plans group closed shop without approval from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). And Legacy is controlled by one Celso de los Angeles.

Who is Celso de los Angeles? Currently, he is the mayor of the small town of Sto. Domingo, Albay. But I heard that when he ran last elections the question was why a non-native would be running for mayor. I also heard the rumor that he needs it for “protection”.

It seems Celso de los Angeles has a checkered past to say the least. In the mid-80s he was barred by the Banko Sentral ng Pilipinas after three banks under his wing collapsed. The BSP cited him for unsound banking practices.

What the guy next did was to buy Legacy Scholarship Pension Plan and Consolidated Plans in the late 80s. Later the two firms were merged.

He next emerged as the chairman of the National Housing and Mortgage Finance Corporation (NHMFC) which is the government’s agency tasked in assisting the so-called housing businessmen. Vice-president Noli de Castro, who was Gloria’s “housing czar”, brought him there.

One will wonder how a banned person could be appointed to such position (It also speaks about Kabayan’s capacity to choose people.) And this is after Chavit Singson tagged one “Celso de los Angeles” as a jueteng operator.

He did not last long in NHMFC because malodorous smell immediately leaked. One of his executives got busted for extortion. The agency was immediately politicized–palakasan became the norm and politicians’ recommendations (and for sure there are no audits involved in this) became important in transactions. Another two officials were later charged in court in connection with a land-titling scam. Housing NGOs strenously complained and protested against his mismanagement of the government agency.

That’s when he metamorphosed into a town mayor. It seems the guy was born in the Year of the Butterfly.

Then 10 apparently disparate and geographically dispersed (in Bicol, Luzon and Visayas) rural banks began to fail one after the other. Those banks were offering “double-your-money schemes” in 5 years. And all were traced to be connected to the Legacy group of Celso de los Angeles, the guy banned by the BSP for unsound banking practices.

Now it appears that Legacy is dipping its hand into the coffers of the banks. A big chunk of the banks chain’s fund seems to have been loaned to Legacy. And now Legacy closed shop. If that is not a scam then what is that?

Now the PDIC (Philippine Deposit Insurance Corporation) buffer fund is threatened with the need to reimburse all these banks’ depositors (to the tune of up to P250,000). These types of rural banks have already learned to split big deposits into P250,000 chunks. So in the end it will be taxpayers who will have to pay for this scam.

At least Bernard Madoff was already arrested and now under custody of the court. And in the US the scammers have almost no way to wiggle out of the judgment of the courts. But here scammers are protected by a wall of lawyers, politician-patrons and TROs (temporary restraining orders).

Yes, the Philippines is a developing country. Developing in the wrong direction.

[Photo credit: Bullit Marquez, AP]

Update on Operation Blessings: Wheelchair distribution in Bicol

January 15, 2009

Operation Blessings

by Dr. Josephine R. Bundoc

Operation Blessing (OB,) the charitable project which aims to give away wheelchairs to indigent disabled amputees in March has set its guidelines in the selection of recipients from Bicol. Since the available wheelchairs are limited, Ibalonian Dr. Josephine R. Bundoc, consultant of the UP-PGH Rehabilitation Medicine Department has the following guidelines in the conduct of the charitable giving:

Requirements of Operation Blessings for the wheelchair recipients are:

1. Name, age, medical diagnosis and reason(s) for needing a wheelchair: a
physician’s signature is preferred, but not required.
2. DSWD Case Study report on the recipient
3. Barangay certificate that the recipient is a resident of the barangay.

Operation Blessings’ counterparts— the LGUs, NGOs or partner(s) are enjoined to assist in the following:

1. Board and lodging of the O.B. team (normally 6 personnel) for 2-3 days
2. Venue for distribution – preferably gym or something like the Naga Civic Center
3. Transportation expenses of wheelchairs
4. Manpower to assist in wheelchair assembly

Operation Blessings plans to distribute free wheelcharis in Bicol on the 3rd to 4th week of March. For Camarines recipients, Daet, Camarines Norte will be the stop-over before Naga City and Camarines Sur. The distribution team will then proceed to Tabaco, Santo Domingo, Legaspi, Tiwi in Albay province, and subsequently proceeding to Sorsogon City in Sorsogon Province.

Ibalonians within and in between the above-mentioned areas may submit requirements of potential recipients before Feb 15, 2009 so they may be included in the distribution. Expecting to be in Naga City to meet with those involved with the project, Dr. Bundoc and the UP Ibalon Alumni president Butch M. Robredo express their thanks to all those who commit themselves and find in their hearts valuable time and energy in helping this worthy endeavor. The participation of more members and non-member volunteers are welcome and gratefully appreciated.(Photo Credit: Edgar Jediza) =0=

Addendum: On February 6, 2009, there will be amputee screening and measurement of beneficiaries in Naga City. Only 6 wheelchairs will be handed over since documentation by DSWD and verification of eligibility of recipients are not yet completed.—mesiamd (01/16/09)

RELATED BLOG: “UP Ibalon Alumni-Bicol pursues its wheelchair & leg prosthesis project for indigents” Posted by mesiamd at 1/09/2009


Storm Signals Lowered, Coast Guard Suspension of Trips Remain, The Classic Conflict and Ten Thousand Stranded in Bicol

January 4, 2009

As of 4:30pm today, Sunday, January 4, 2009 Typhoon ‘Auring’ has changed direction to the North and it will no longer hit land. Consequently, all public storm signals have been lowered except for Eastern Samar.

If there are no storm signals prevailing, normally ferries can set sail. However, for prudence’s sake, the Philippine Coast Guard maintained its suspension of sea travel at 10 points. That will mainly be in Bicol, Eastern Visayas and Caraga region.

Reports say over 10,000 people are stranded in Bicol. I will not be surprised if the total number of people right now reaches 30,000 all over the suspension areas.

I have said in a previous article that it is wave heights that primarily matters and not wind speed [“Two Boat Sinkings, A New Year Ferry Suspension in Bicol, Wave Height and Gale, 01/02/09]. But I checked the PAGASA forecast and there is no mention of wave height! It is Mike Padua’s weather service website ‘’ that has a wave height forecast but it is just near the typhoon’s center.

So nobody knows right now how large the wave will be in the ferries’ routes. Though PAGASA enjoins ships to report meteorological conditions in their specific areas I don’t know if this is heeded. And if heeded I don’t know if PAGASA has a way of consolidating and disseminating it.

This is the borderline area that produces sea accidents. Of course, ship companies would want to sail. In the case of overnight ferries to Cebu if they don’t sail they probably won’t have a ship available for the next night because none arrived. And this throws awry their set schedules.

As I write this it is the time for peak departures of ferries. These departures are usually bunched between 7 to 8pm. I know that they will be trying to break free of the Coast Guard leash and try to sail even by midnight tonight so they can still meet their sked tomorrow. So sometimes this becomes a cat-and-mouse situation. If the seas are rough in their ports, the captains may not turn out bull-headed at all. But if it is calm, he will be at the face of the local Coast Guard commander, who in many cases is not of officer rank. But, of course, he will have no way of knowing how strong are the seas in his route.

The situation points out one problem in the Philippines. Even in Spanish days we have watchtowers who are able to observe local sea conditions. This was reinforced by the Americans. Part of this system are the lighthouses. However, in recent decades the old watchtowers started to crumble and some of the lighthouses are already automated, meaning there is no one manning them.

But the problem is this system is not under PAGASA but under the Coast Guard and it is PAGASA that makes the forecasts. Moreover, many of these lighthouses have no communication to a data collection point. Sayang (a waste), because anyway many of these have cell site coverage. And big ships are anyway sailing but I wonder if reports from them are assidously followed up.

Old England has a system of coast watchers. Don’t we need to emulate it given our long coastline and reliance on the seas?

I will be interested in the further development of this discourse. This is a safety at sea question where people, especially the sailing public, should be interested in.

[photo credit:daylite]

Two Boat Sinkings, A New Year Ferry Suspension in Bicol, Wave Height and Gale

January 3, 2009

For thousands of Bicol ferry passengers the forlorn walls of the ferry terminals in Tabaco (Albay), Pilar and Matnog (both in Sorsogon) was their New Year’s eve sight. This came about because government authorities, on the advice of the weather bureau, suspended small crafts from sailing citing forecasts of waves of up to four meters high.

This suspension is probably a reaction to the recent sinking of the motor boat MB Mae Jan which plies the Calayan island to Aparri, Cagayan route in which about half of its 100 passengers died. It was said that the weather was fine when the boat left Calayan but it turned bad before the boat reached its destination. The incident highlighted the disregard of PAGASA (the Philippines weather forecasting bureau) advisories which warned of big waves for that day.

Maybe the suspension is only correct. Forecast of wave heights should be the governing factor in ferry trip suspensions rather than wind speeds which is the basis for typhoon forecasts. It is waves that primarily swamp and capsize ships and not the winds per se. People should probably start to understand now that ships can meet sinking incidents even without a typhoon warning (and I am glad PAGASA now uses the term ‘gale’ to describe stormy sea conditions). I hope that government will stress more the importance of heeding wave height forecasts and educate people accordingly.

Sometimes I wonder if we need MB Mae Jan incidents for us to learn these things. But with the new system I hope the lives lost in that incident and in the MB Don Dexter Cathlyn sinking off Dimasalang, Masbate which killed about 40 people would not have been in vain.

This day, this change had a new twist. Ferry trips in Bicol were again suspended but this time the reason for the suspension is the refusal of the ship captains to venture out to sea combined with the barring of sea travel by the the Coast Guard. I hope this development augurs a new era of more pro-active observance of sea safety. I think we have needlessly lost enough lives in sea tragedies over the years because of the bahala na (leaving things to providence) attitude.

However, I hope this will not augur a new era of over-cautious sailing when ships are grounded when a storm is still far away and it so happened only that there is already a typhoon warning. Economic oppurtunies are lost this way. There is no need to automatically suspend ships when it is still shining and wave forecast is still moderate.

For prudence, maybe a finer distinction between small ships is needed. Old sea travellers know that outriggers and motor boats which are wooden are more vulnerable than steel ferries and there are bigger ferries that can handle waves better. The should not all be lumped under the category of ‘small sea craft’.

More passengers will be stranded in the future, for sure. But maybe it will also teach them how to read weather forecasts especially those that are available on the Net which is numerous enough and is up-to-date.

[photo credit: freewebs]

Bicol as a medium of instruction

December 19, 2008

“I imagine some of us resisting the idea of having to learn math and the sciences in Bikol/Filipino instead of English. But do we think that the French students learn math and science in English?”—Raniela Barbaza

The snowy cold Friday afternoon in December 19, 2008 is an excellent time to read Raniela Barbaza’s insightful pitch on the use of English as a medium of instruction for Filipinos. Anywhere in the world, it is a subject of warm debate that doesn’t go away. From New York, Raniela’s message is clear on the subject. Bicol, our language in Maogmang Lugar is just fine as a medium of learning, says our Ibalon scholar-guru holed in the Empire State.

Take a bite on her insightful piece in “The Lure of the Apple: on the question of English as medium of instruction” (12/20/2008, Barbaza, R) (Photo Credit: Iansagabaen; Mr.Bwcat)


30,000 families to be relocated in Bicol train rehab

December 13, 2008

It’s like Rip Van Winkle coming out from sleep. At last, the plan to repair the Philippine National Railways (PNR) from Laguna to Legazpi City is alive again. For the project to push, it will require the relocation of 30,000 families settled on the 15-meter clearance of the train’s path.

The government plan is definite good news to Bicol, but it’s mind-bending why only now will repairs be undertaken. The train plying the southern end of Luzon is different from how it looked decades ago as it meandered in the craggy mountainsides of Quezon Province to the foot of Mount Isarog in Camarines Sur and Mayon in Albay. Huge numbers of people have already crowded the tracks, the 483-kilometer stretch from Manila.

Vital to travel in the Bicol region and the rest of the country, the PNR had been largely neglected. It practically operated in meager maintenance budget even if plans to extend the line, about 135 kilometers from Legazpi to Sorsogon had been on the works.

Wooden planks and metal supports on the transportation line were continual victims of thieves who used them as firewood or sell them as scraps. For many years, almost nobody took action for their upkeep, to the disappointment of Bicolanos. The yearly torrential rains caused infrastructure damage. The government did little to prevent people from building houses along the railway tracks.

This early the concern for the legal rights of the squatters has been raised. Human rights groups are pushing for standard eviction amenities. The enormity of the problem causes some interested investors to back out of the project.

“Jun de la Torre, Community Organization of the Philippines (COPE) assistant regional coordinator said they have strengthened their social preparation efforts in favor of the railway settlers by collaborating with 10-federation strong Bicol Urban Poor Coordinating Council (BUPCC) headed by Lorna Chavez to ensure that the rights of these affected settlers would not be derailed when the PNR rehabilitation project starts in the near future.” Bicol Mail, (12/12/08, Neola, J)

The project is rocked with questionable political deals. P17 billion has been allotted to remove the illegal dwellers on the dangerous tracks. It constitutes a third of the total budget of P52.19—the cost of the much delayed project which was earlier scheduled in 2005 to 2011.

It is uncertain when the money will come or if it is adequate. With the postponements that go with government projects, at this time, the railway rehabilitation remains a dream for Bicolanos. (Photo Credits: Orangedroplet; Alcogoodwin; Alcogoodwin; orangedroplet)=0=

RELATED BLOG: “Life on the railway tracks & the fate of Isadora Duncan” Posted on Friday September 12th, 2008


The Pili Nut: Bicol’s Pride

November 24, 2008

Mention Bicol to an outsider who knows our region, three icons will probably come to his mind–Mayon Volcano, “Bicol Express”, our savory fare and the pili nut. All three are unique to our place.

Pili is a tree and nut that can only be practically found in the Philippines (it was already introduced in other countries but it is only here that it is commercially processed). 82% of the country’s production comes from the region (and 60% of the region’s drop comes from Sorsogon), hence Bicol’s identification with it. In fact, it is an expected pasalubong (present) from someone who just came from Bicol.

Technically, it is not the nut that is eaten but the seed or kernel inside the nut. It can be eaten raw but mainly it is processed into sweets and more than a dozen kind of this exists. Some of the better known are roasted (salted) pili, glazed pili, sugar-coated pili, pili bocayo, pili brittle, pili jam, buding, pili tart, turrones de pili, mazapan de pili and various kinds of pili bars. Chocolate-coated pili is also made and so is chocolate bars with pili nuts. It can even be used in ice cream.

Most pili processors are in Bicol but Manila processors are now emerging. Actually, the yet few pili sweets sold in Visayas and Mindanao are not from Bicol processors.

Pili has not yet made an international impact. But knowledgeable sources point out that that is also the situation of macadamia nut 30 years ago. It is thought that a breakthrough in international marketing is needed.

But one problem is pili’s lack of supply. Cultivar practices have not yet advanced and research for the crop is lagging. Being organically grown (that is, no agricultural inputs like pesticides and fertilizer) its productivity and availability is not yet in the same level as mango. For a tree that, on the average, is 20 meters in height, it only produces 33 kilos of nuts a year. Before Typhoon “Reming” (or “Durian”) the average price was P25/kg for whole nuts.

From flowering it has a relatively long maturation time of 8-9 months. It takes 6-7 years for a plant to reach fruit-bearing but grafting can reduce it to 4 years. There are seven approved varieties as certificated by the National Seed and Industry Council (NSIC): the “Magnaye”, “Laysa”, “Lanuza”, “M. Orolfo”, “Magayon”, “Mayon 1”, and “Mayon 2”. The Pili Research and Training Center of the Department of Agriculture spearheads the research and propagation of the crop.

Improved varieties which uses cloning are now available and it is mostly for free at the moment since the government is promoting this as a high-value crop. The province of Albay and Sorsogon gives free planting materials and Albay even gives real property tax exemptions for six years to pili growers.

There is an advantage in shifting from coconut to pili. With practically the same tree spacing, pili’s earnings per tree is higher than coconut with less labor involved. Replanting capital even be sourced from the sale of coco lumber. And intercropping pili with root crops and mongo is possible, increasing income. The empty nuts can even be used for fuel and the pulp of the fruit can be eaten after boiling.

With proper drying and storage pili nuts can be stored for up to one year. It is not subject to much price fluctuation and it is still a seller’s market. If an international marketing breakthrough happens possibly all the new production can easily be absorbed. But here there is basically a chicken-and-egg situation: breakthrough is hampered by the limited supply. An oversupply is not much of a problem since pili can easily be processed into pili oil which is comparable to olive oil. The uncoated seed or kernel is 70% fats and oil indicating high recovery.

Plant pili, anyone?

The San Fernando, Camarines Sur-Oas, Albay Diversion Road

November 23, 2008

The construction of a San Fernando, Camarines Sur to Oas, Albay bypass (diversion) road has recently been approved. It is one of 10 priority projects in Bicol for 2008-2010 along with the construction of the new Legazpi airport. P500M has reportedly been released for the project. The rationale of the project is to decongest the main road running from Naga to Legazpi. A shortening of the travel time between the two cities is expected.

The planned diversion road is 61.90 kilometers long. Only 14 kilometers will be new road as it just intends to use old roads that already exist. Thus, 32.22 kilometers of existing gravel road will be paved and 15.68 kilometers of the existing Maharlika highway will be improved. An old bridge will also be repaired and a new 40-meter bridge will be built. The total project cost is estimated to be P2.25 billion.

This bypass road will connect the old roads connecting Legazpi to Naga (see my previous article, “The Old Roads of the Naga-Legazpi Corridor and Dialectal Variations Along Its Way”, 11/18/08). From the town of Oas it will probably use the old Mayao road that connects the town to Libon, Albay.

From Libon, it will use the gravel road that connects it to the upland barrios of Nabua. This is the Libon-Buga-Tandaay road. This road crosses the Nabua-Balatan road in the big barrio of Tandaay, Nabua. The road runs through the southern shores of Lake Bato.

From Tandaay,Nabua a gravel road runs to Bula, Camarines Sur, running south of the plains irrigated by the Bicol River. This road skirts the southern side of Lake Baao. This is the old Malawag road.

It seems the new road construction mentioned will be used to connect Bula to San Fernando, Camarines Sur. It is probable that the paved road running west of Bula to the barrio of Panoypoyan will used. If not, some other farm-to-market (feeder) roads might be used like the road to Bagoladio. It seems the new bridge will be used in this stretch since the Bicol River will have to be forded here, a connection that hencetoforth does not yet exist. Before reaching San Fernando, the road will pass through portions of Minalabac, if not the town proper. However, Milaor will be bypassed.

This diversion road for the most part will pass through the foot of the long mountain chain on the southern side of Bicol which is always visible from the road when one is traversing the Sipocot to Ligao stretch of the Maharlika highway.

Concerns have been raised about the possible effects on Naga and the towns that will be bypassed by the new highway. There’s fear that the economic downturn suffered by Daet and the Camarines Norte towns when the Quirino Andaya highway was opened will be replicated here.

But to sustain progress sometimes new infrastructure must really be built. There is no question that the Naga-Legazpi road is already a little bit crowded and this won’t get better anymore. Anyway the first users of this highway will probably be the cars, trucks and buses that just passes by the area en route to Sorsogon and Eastern Visayas.

Whatever, it is imperative that a comprehensive study be made of the possible impacts of the new highway should be. This is needed to warn the sectors that will be affected and also anticipate future problems.

It is now being bandied as the “GMA Highway”. The information is from NEDA (National Economic Development Authority) Region V office so it must be official now.