Hale Manna and Novembers

These are photos from November 2015 when I hopped on a bus, alone, to seek refuge at Hale Manna, for the second year. Life in the city gets harsh, and although ours is a time when we are learning that we can stay in one place to be still and rest from the constant motion of things—or events—the process of leaving and arriving from one place to another facilitates the same process of leaving and arriving from one state to another. The feeling of getting used to some things, or getting comfortable with situations we’re in, needs to be shaken lest we fall deeper into our complacencies and familiarities. Because feelings like this do atrophy and we hardly notice when we are no longer moving towards the direction of our dreams—or our truths.

This particular time I went to Hale Manna was different from the usual times we go to the beach where the sun is high and burning bright and the water sparkles at its reflection. Clouds hovered above, the sea was blue gray, not a tinge of the pink and orange glory at sunrise and at sunset. But, see, the charm of Hale Manna never ceases when the sun is gone. The lush gardens, the stillness of the sea, the palpable dew that is in the air, the calm in colors and the energy that wrapped around me were reassuring of a presence in the absence of shine, of sparkle, of glitter.

November has been associated with darkness and the dead. Or with grief and anguish, cold and chilling like the proverbial Guns N’ Roses’ November Rain.

But  isn’t it that it is in the darkest that we find our most enduring light? And isn’t it that we feel most alive when we have gone through dying? November for me is a time of rebirth, and so I welcome tomorrow with a boldness of the heart.








A Sister’s Birthday Wish

I am not a mother. I am a sister. But my birthday wish for my sister is the wish every mother has for her daughter—or the wish every father has for his son: a better world for her to live in. One that is just, fair, peaceful and full of life. I didn’t know the words sustainable societies five years ago. I didn’t use the word livable back then.

I lamented the apathy of my generation back then. I felt that the youth had been sleeping—or that we have been sedated. When I talked to people my age about issues that I think mattered, they say that is how things are. That it is sad but it is reality. And I used to be hurt. When I talked about injustices, big and small—or is there even such a scale—I could hardly find anyone who felt strongly about them. Some called me idealistic. Others, aggressive.

The journey that my sister is going through is the same journey that I have gone through—except she’s been more courageous.

I want a better world so she doesn’t have to want to take it to the streets anymore. That she may again write songs other than about the struggles of our time. Many of us say it doesn’t work anymore. That we have grown tired of it not being able to make a dent to the system that we’ve been trying to change. And so we learned to create things. Better things—despite of and in spite of businesses, of governments, of a zombified nation. But some of these better things include hundreds of activists taking it to the Arctic to stop Shell’s oil drilling. It includes thousands of protesters occupying Wall Street in the United States so we wake up to the evils of the banking institutions.

In the Philippines, better things include the EDSA Revolution, the fall of Estrada—and of Arroyo—the anti-pork barrel march, the climate pilgrimage, the Lakbayan ng Lumad, and many other protests that took different forms, that had been called different names like prayer rallies or vigils. There was nothing wrong with the EDSA Revolution. It is the things that we did and did not do after EDSA that has been keeping us in the shadows. There was nothing wrong with taking to the streets to topple the governments of Estrada and Arroyo or the anti-pork barrel march. It is the things that we allowed to continue to happen after the march. It is our ningas-kugon and our lack of will to continue to do the work beyond our indignation rallies.

Protests have a role to play in our fight for every cause and they take many forms. The noise we make has a role to play in our collective awakening. There was a Stop Cebu Flyovers Movement protest before the moratorium on flyovers. There were anti-GMO protests before the Philippine Supreme Court banned GMO field trials.

When our children rise up and question what is happening around them, we do not stop them—because we can’t. The world asks of us to be wise enough to lead them and show them that we are doing something. When they have been awakened, they can never go back to sleep. Because that is our nature as human beings. We don’t want to be the generation that didn’t do anything while nature was being abused and the planet was on the brink of collapse, while technology trumped humanity and we had forgotten what it means to be a human being, while we had forgotten where we came from and why we exist—or did we ever find out?

For my sister, who is my blood sister and soul sister, who celebrated her birthday yesterday, I pray that you may always have peace in your heart, no matter the chaos or disorder around you. That you may always feel love, no matter what. That you may always breathe life, no matter what.

Happy Birthday, Pepang! 🙂 I love you.

Camotes Island, Cebu – 2015

The first time I went to Camotes was in 2005. I remember how I was suspended in awe of the beauty that had been waiting for us. As the motorized banca that we rented was about to dock, approaching where the receding sea waves that reached the shore come back and join the body of water again, I thought we found a paradise. I went back a year after, and went again last month—8 or 9 years after.

I often describe Camotes as “guapa” when I talk to my friends about it. Cebu has several white-sand beaches. Some are powdery fine while the others, a little more coarse. Camotes’ is powdery fine. But it’s not just the quality of sand that gives it a feminine feature. Santiago Bay, where we were exactly in Camotes, has a mass of elevated land with lush trees, mostly, coconut, extending to the sea on both sides of the bay. I liken it to a sense of boundary which women, in general, have. The shoreline is not very long so one can definitely walk the entire stretch of the bay. Some who stay at the beachfront by the bay go walk to check Santiago Bay Garden and Resort, a more high-end resort that sits atop the elevated land to your right if you are facing the sea.

That the water is crystal clear—in varying shades of blue, deep blue and green, if you look from the shore—is not anything new about most beaches in Cebu. But, yes, Camotes has it. The first time I went there, we stayed at a resort called Payag, literally a nipa hut, right at the beachfront by the bay. The sea view was totally unobstructed, which is still the case now. For this recent visit, I stayed at Masamayor, with my friend Carla, where we did in 2006 or 2007. More concrete structures have now been erected a few meters from the shore which makes it less unadulterated than it was years ago. But the beach is still glorious in its beauty.

We woke up very early on our second day, around 4:30, and went out for a walk around 5 am or a little past that. It was low tide. The morning was peaceful. The breeze, light and touchy. The air was cool. It was perfect for deep breathing and for emptying the mind with the worries of the city, allowing the self to get drawn to the details of the sea—like the bare beach sand, moist from the water that had just receded and the rustic colors that were starting to infuse the low sky as the sun was starting to rise. We picked up some trash on the beach: a foil pack of junk food, which, obviously, had just been dropped, or thrown, rather, within the hour we went walking and taking photos as well as a few pieces of thin plastic that had lodged in the moist shore.

Santiago Bay is a public beach. I say, the best way for locals to appreciate what they have and enjoy. You see them resting in cottages or waiting for customers who’d like to pay for their services to cook for them or to take them to a tour around Camotes Islands.

Santiago Bay is just a piece of Camotes. There is more to explore and discover. But the beauty and charm of Camotes can only be preserved for as long as the locals help protect the sea from garbage and pollution and as long as the visiting tourists and travelers do the same.

Mt. Kanlaon Coffee and The Fight Against GMOs

I’ve been trying to find good quality beans to replace my used-to-be-favorites Guatemala and Colombia from Starbucks. I love Figaro but the beans I’ve tried are not good for pressed coffee so I only buy their coffee black when either brewed or the usual americano. Being very particular with the quality of my coffee, I had to repeatedly ask Carlo who sells Mt. Kanlaon coffee at Cebu Farmers Market in Handuraw whether it’s good for a French press. He promised to either return my money if I didn’t like it or lend me his brewer if pressed does not turn out satisfying.

Well, I’m proud I bought this and I love it because it’s local and organic. It has a full flavour but doesn’t have an unpleasant after taste. Plus I need lesser-than-usual amount of coffee to make a tall cup and I put just a little amount of sugar to make it more delightful (sometimes, I go for no sugar).

Some time last year, I joined the boycott of Starbucks after word was out that they have partnered with or supported Monsanto and other GMO companies in blocking efforts to GMO-labeling. It wasn’t absolute boycott as I couldn’t find the right beans to replace what I have been using. A few times, less than five, I went to the store and bought coffee to-go when I had no choice but, hey, I’m trying my best and products like Mt. Kanlaon coffee and the people who grown and sell them help in the advocacy.

Mt. Kanlaon is an active volcano in Negros Island in the Philippines. Negros is one of the few provinces that banned the entry and propagation of genetically-modified organisms  or GMOs and is known for developing organic farming communities including the ones growing coffee trees by the mountain ranges of Mt. Kanlaon. Cebu Farmers Market is an initiative of GMO-Free Cebu, an anti-GMO campaign being ran by volunteers who are farmers and consumers (I will tell you more about the market and the campaign in a separate blogpost).

Global Voices Summit 2015: Reflections and Connections

The most natural connection that I found was with Rising Voices, through two girls—16 and 17 years old—representing a group called Girl Activists of Kyrgyzstan. They share the story about their fight for gender equality in their country. In Kyrgyzstan, girls cannot have the same privileges as boys. They cannot study Science, for example, they say. Many girls don’t go to school and are forced to marry early, locked in their houses to do housework. They cannot participate in discussions around problems and issues that involve girls. But their determination to get involved rests on the fact that they believe you cannot solve problems girls have if you don’t go through them. As part of their initiative, they hold spaces for other girls to talk about their own issues and get the support that they need. More girls, they say, have come forward to tell them they feel the same way, think the same way, or go through the same experiences. They use art, stories and music to amplify their message and encourage more girls in their society to feel empowered. These two girls, however, admit to getting tired. As with most social movements, they sometimes end up alone, sometimes wanting to quit, or just drop everything.

This writer is part of a civil society organization called the Movement of Imaginals for Sustainable Societies through Initiatives, Organizing and Networking. In the context of MISSION, the “initiatives” that are born out of personal transformation is the basic foundation of the larger societal transformation. And that is what Rising Voices is about—based on what I have seen at the summit. MISSION is holding Liwanag World Festival, in Cebu, in September this year. At Liwanag, social movements from different walks of life, from across different cities in the Philippines and countries in the world will converge to look at ourselves, to see and deepen our understanding of the forces that drive movements in effecting social change—The Science and Spirit of Movements.

Global Voices is a vast sea of movements.

In a plenary session called “Battling Trauma: The Highs and Lows of Revolution,” four journalists, and online activists, share what witnessing the brutality, the casualties, the aftermath and the fatigue have done to them, their friends and their communities. They share about how they still see hope rising from the rubble. But one of them, an editor from Bahrain, tells us about how the killings of journalists she knows have instilled fear and have paralyzed her from writing any more about the conflict in Bahrain. She speaks from a wound that hasn’t healed, or never heals. The brave journalist from Egypt says it is difficult to make sense of the panel, where they are being asked about how they are finding hope, after having been reminded again of images of the revolution.

This morning when I woke up, I wondered how journalists truly cope up. There are conscious volunteers on the ground, like Freunde, doing interventions like Emergency Pedagogy to help prevent trauma in survivors from developing or escalating. Perhaps, journalists need it, too. Because, we see, trauma doesn’t seem to only develop in the form of visible “abnormal” behaviors, in panic attacks or anxiety attacks but also in paralysis or debilitating fear that stops us from being who we are, what we can be and what we can do to serve the larger evolution. They, too, need a sense of place and a sense of peace or a sense of order in the societies that they serve.

I learned about how online activists are building what mainstream media is destroying—like the authenticity of protests and the issues in which they are built upon. It was enlightening to hear how the whole Russian-Ukraine conflict have become what it is—polarized—when in the beginning, people were going out into the streets with different sets of issues and causes to fight for. It is an honor to hear from people who have the authority to tell the story. During the summit, I was feeling like I had stepped into a space that, only now as I write, I realize is hallowed ground. You don’t normally get to enter a space where you feel that unstoppable force for truth and compassion.

To Global Voices, its journalists, online activists, bloggers, volunteers: how do we truly serve you in return?

panel_battling trauma

Cebu Flyovers

For the benefit of those who are not aware of what has been happening in Cebu, the construction of two flyovers in Gorordo Avenue and MJ Cuenco last October has been suspended after being met with a strong opposition from various sectors that formed what was initially known as Stop Cebu Flyovers Movement, now recognized as a civil society group called Movement for a Livable Cebu.

The Gorordo and MJ Cuenco flyover project proposal didn’t undergo a public consultation. No technical planning was done until the opposition made noise. The Regional Development Council appointed a Technical Working Group to conduct the study but its Infrastructure Development Committee would later on vote not to endorse the report of TWG. The findings say that the proposed fyovers are not going to solve the traffic congestion. TWG recommends road widening and flared intersections among others.

MLC met with Secretary Rogelio Singson of the Department of Public Works and Highways in Manila to dialogue with him. Singson was not aware of the opposition. He said he would only support projects backed by a comprehensive study. He issued a moratorium.

North District Representative Rachel “Cutie” del Mar—one of the proponents of the “network of flyovers” that was envisioned by his father, former Congressman, now citizen Raul del Mar—and Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama met with President Benigno Aquino last November. Rama is opposing the flyover projects. Former city mayor, now South District Representative, Tomas Osmena accuses Rama of wanting to divert the flyover funds to his own projects. He is concerned that “RDC would look funny if members agree to Rama’s plan to recall its endorsement of the flyover projects.” The president ordered DPWH to conduct a traffic study that should have been completed by the end of December 2011. MLC has not heard back about the said study.

But the representative del Mar—most likely, the citizen del Mar, too—and Osmena are insistent on the construction of the flyovers. And two more flyovers had been proposed for 2013 funding last Friday. The representative del Mar says she will do all she can to decongest traffic. TWG is confident that no technical study could prove that flyovers in Gorordo and in MJ Cuenco would ease the congestion. Even the Cebu City Traffic Office Management rejected the two flyovers.

Urban planners argue that flyovers have no place in the urban core, that massive structures make people become disconnected with the community, encourage more crimes and unfriendly neighborhoods. Advocates are concerned that the flyovers will destroy the cultural heritage and historical value of Gorordo Avenue without solving the problem of congestion. MLC has asserted the need for a comprehensive master plan to avoid arbitrary infrastructures—like the flyovers. It envisions a mass transit system, real sidewalks, bike lanes and wide green public spaces.

The representative del Mar appears quite optimistic that the suspended construction will begin soon. But MLC is fighting. “What explains this relentless pushing for flyovers?” somebody asked. If the proponents recognize that this is not a one step forward, two steps backward move for MLC, then they must be taking the risk to secure the funds. The construction can be delayed, anyway.

In Cebu today, some people sit on their thrones and do as they wish. Some play god; others act as if Cebu were their hacienda.

Please let your friends know.

A Cebu of Inclusiveness

(The blogger wrote this for the Movement for A Livable Cebu last month. She is a member of the Movement of Imaginals for Sustainable Societies through Initiatives, Organizing and Networking. Helping MLC grow is one of the initiatives of MISSION.)


The series of dialogues dubbed “Creating Our Future Cities: Where Do We Begin?” that transpired the other week is probably the first of its kind in Cebu. The brainchild of the Movement for a Livable Cebu brought together different voices from across the different spheres of society—the government, the private sector and the public which includes civil society movements. Two experts, together, provided a framework in which to view the future of Cebu—that in which the “software” and the “hardware” of a sustainable and a livable city are integrated. Dr. Abdoumaliq Simone, an urbanist and a sociology professor, provided the former while Architect Senen Antonio, urban design and planning expert, supplied the latter.

“I would like to thank Dr. Simone…” said a political science professor from the audience—in the open forum of the last of the series of dialogues at the CAP theater—who resonated well with Simone’s espousal of a culture of inclusiveness for citizens in urban planning and governance. This was seconded, although indirectly, by several others who participated in the open forum. What was supposed to be a question-and-answer segment became a platform in which they brought up concerns and issues from the grassroots level—like the great lack of opportunities in rural areas forcing residents to come to the urban core thereby contributing to the traffic congestion. Simone portrayed the deceptions at work in urban life that turn out to be accidental gifts through people getting things done out of trying anything and out of whatever resources they have to make their lives or their livelihoods better. This invited the participants in the audience to talk about the plight of the vendors in Colon as well as in Carbon market. One of the participants requested for a copy of Simone’s speech which he then sent through e-mail to MLC.

Apparently, the participants in the open forum had more comments and reactions than questions sending a strong message of the need for the public to have avenues in which key decision-makers and other stakeholders could engage them, include them and think with them in looking for ways to solve the issues they, after all, live with.

In the dialogue at St. Theresa’s College, a high school student asked Simone about how they could participate in the processes the city undertakes given that they are “young” and that they “don’t know anything.” Simone replied by asking how old she is. “Sixteen years old,” she answered. “So you’ve lived here for sixteen years, right?” he asked. The question didn’t need to be answered. You know a place if you live there. He cited using Facebook or online media as one of the ways in which the youth can express what they think.

Simone conveyed that one does not have to be eligible—have the authority, education, social or personal background—to speak up and act. “For if people only have something to say, only will act when they feel eligible to do so, then few people will take risks, people will remain in their corners, in their narrow worlds, and few new experiences will be created…”

Simone defined democracy as the ability to move across the city or how free one is to circulate around. He said that when people no longer have access to each other, then it is—he thinks—a sign of a diminishing democracy. In the dialogue at the University of San Carlos-College of Fine Arts and Architecture, he pointed out that some infrastructures do not help forge relationships and connectedness and sometimes even cause people to avoid each other—he cited “the flyovers” as an example. These relationships, according to him, help create more opportunities for people and that it allows them to get things done by observing each other, learning from each other.

On addressing traffic congestion, which was asked in the open forum, he said that there is no amount of engineering that could solve the problem. “You just need to take out more cars from the road,” he said. “It takes political courage to do that,” he added.

Simone did not assume to know how to resolve the problems of Cebu but he has offered valuable insights on how to go about them simply by a juxtaposition and comparisons of the different urban practices and the dynamics of urban dwellers and urban cities that are very much like Cebu.

This writer thinks that the very culture of Cebu is about having a deep sense of community with each other, fostering relationships in a neighborhood where a parent, for example, can tell his neighbor: “pabinla sa ko kadali sa akong anak kay muadto ko sa merkado, ha?” Everything is close-by—literally and figuratively.

Simone’s ideas and depiction of living viable lives in an urban setting captures the soul of Cebu. A colleague of mine in MISSION or the Movement of Imaginals for Sustainable Societies through Initiatives, Organizing and Networking would tell me later on that she thinks Simone brought in very deep, thoughtful and people-oriented ideas and thoughts that stretched many minds and raised consciousness.

Meanwhile, Architect Antonio encapsulated the heart of Simone’s talk in Smart Growth planning and designs that enable cities to avoid the suburban “sprawl.” He described a “box-to-box” kind of life that can be attributed to sprawl—where people spend more time in their cars, in traffic and confine themselves in homes and subdivisions that do not provide the opportunity for people to interact with each other. He advocated allowing the diversities to come in. Antonio, in a roundtable discussion, a day after the series of dialogues, also pointed out how subdivision developments here in Cebu are contributing to sprawl and is causing segregation of society. His presentations captured the essence of a humanist architecture.

The two speakers are “strikingly similar in their approaches, both leading towards sustainable and livable cities,” said Architect Joseph Michael “Yumi” Espina, lead organizer and dean of USC-CAFA, in his welcome address in one of the forums.

To build on the learnings from the dialogues, MLC is engaging the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc.  in a dialogue next week regarding the next steps which could include Development planning at the local government unit level.

MLC is beyond stopping flyovers. Its role is to constantly engage the different sectors of society in genuine dialogues and consultations that foster transparency, responsibility and accountability. It vows to bring in the public in the decision-making process as well as bring into the public consciousness matters where it is a major stakeholder.  Today, “we are witnessing the emergence of a coalition of groups which are common in their quest for a Comprehensive Metro Cebu Planning effort,” Espina said in his opening remarks at the CAP theater. If the local government, the businesses and the community work together, Cebu might just open another fabric of history.

I cannot give justice to what MLC has been co-creating. It is beyond words. But, perhaps, a movement can be defined as something that keeps moving, with boundless energy, or a fire you can’t seem to put out.

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