RANGER STATION, TUBBATAHA REEFS – At around noon each day, eight strapping young men wait for Valerie to make her appearance. Her daily entrance, coming almost like clockwork, is what makes their day.
“That’s Valerie, sir,” Navy PO2 Jonathan Lobo says proudly as a dark shadow swims underneath the posts that hold up this ranger station. Even at some distance, her large disk-like shape, with the four flippers where arms and legs should be, is unmistakable.
Valerie is certainly no mermaid, but she is the only four-limbed female (and even the gender is an assumption, but it seemed impolite to point that out) within miles around that the men ever get to interact with.
She is, in fact, a Hawksbill sea turtle – hardly the stuff of any man’s fantasy, but then here everything else has fins, feathers, or gills.
MOUNT KITANGLAD, BUKIDNON – A peso coin drenched in chicken blood is the welcome offered to visitors to this mountain, which soars 2,899 meters over the city of Malaybalay, and the towns of Lantapan, Libona, Impasug-ong, and Sumilao.
“This will serve as your identification,” says Bae Inatlawan as she hands over the bloody coin, “so that the spirits will allow you to enter.”
SAN ANDRES, Tanay, Rizal – We were wondering why Sofia de la Rosa seemed a little agitated with our presence. After all, it’s not every day that visitors bother to come to this remote barangay nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Madre range.
In the course of our conversation, the barangay captain of San Andres also kept telling us that her people will not leave this village unless they are paid proper compensation by San Miguel.
BAGUIO CITY — Minutes after Manny Pacquiao beat Erik Morales last year, gongs could be heard ringing joyously throughout this northern city. Last Sunday, when Pacquiao wrested the World Boxing Council superfeatherweight belt from Juan Manuel Marquez, Baguio’s foggy communities were silent. Yet it may hardly been because residents here were less appreciative of The Pacman’s efforts this time around.
Even last year, pattong, or playing the gongs, could not have been for Pacquiao. Pattong is simply not done for individuals without relations in the community — even if that individual happens to be the “Pambansang Kamao (National Fist).” More likely, the gongs were brought out by some families here to announce a victorious bet made over the fight and to invite neighbors to partake of celebratory drinking and eating.
THE story of the Bugkalot, the last of the Philippine headhunting tribes, is a chronicle of loss. Like many indigenous peoples in many parts of the world, they have been dispossessed of their land, their culture destroyed, and the forests from which they derive sustenance exploited by outsiders.
EVEN AS a child, Renato Zosimo Evangelista knew he was different. For one, he dreaded Christmas. Unlike other children who would get excited at the first whiff of the “–ber” breeze, he would get anxious for the coming days ahead.
It gets colder in the mountains during those months. But it was not the cold that bothered him too much; Christmas was the time when his fellow Mangyan would come down from the mountains and ask for money from the lowlanders. As the youngest Mangyan studying in predominantly Tagalog Holy Infant Academy in Calapan, Oriental Mindoro, he was often bullied by his classmates who would tell him: “Bakit ka nandito? Doon ka sa mga kasama mo. Di ka ba mamamasko? Nasaan ang bahag mo? (Why are you here? Go stick to your own kind. Aren’t you going to ask for Christmas charity? Where’s your g-string?)”
SHE SAID it was a crucial journey for her children’s future.
Weeks before classes opened last month, Myrna Verde packed few clothes, gathered her four school-age children, and boarded a bus for Manila, some 138 kms from their village in Zambales. It was their first time to travel that far from home, but Verde, 57, had a mission: to look for kind-hearted city people who would give her money or any kind of help so that her children — all blind since birth — could continue going to school.
THERE ARE about four television sets in Tinoc, a remote town in Ifugao Province at the eastern foot of Mt. Pulag. The TVs are powered by solar panels. But there is no TV or even radio signals in the area. The TV sets are used in conjunction with DVD players.
One would think that Tinoc would have a long list of wants and needs. But last December 1 saw the inauguration of a local law that is expected to change profoundly the lives of the people of Tinoc and the rest of the province: the Ifugao Reproductive Health Code.
HOME OF the Sultanates, sarimanok, and Islam: Visiting Lanao del Sur province of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is like going back to centuries ago, when women walked around gracefully in their malongs (traditional wrap-around clothing) and men who had betel-stained golden teeth played chess all day. But although being transported to a place that seems stuck in time could be soothing to a frazzled urbanite, the truth is Lanao del Sur is that way largely because it is one of the poorest provinces in the country, while ARMM is the poorest region in the Philippines in all indicators of human development.