Monday, January 16, 2017
HERE IS A LABOR OF LOVE: THE CEBU HIGHLANDS TRAIL. It is served on a silver platter. It is raw, full of imperfections, but it is there: long, beautiful and beckoning. I could have been in another place but I choose to be at my rightful place as the progenitor of the Cebu Highlands Trail. I will walk it for the very first time on January 17, 2017, from the shores of Liloan Point, Santander, all the way through Cebu’s northernmost tip, in Bulalaqui Point, Daanbantayan, our own “finisterre”.
It would be a crazy attempt. Crazier than you would have thought it to be. Blame that to the influence of both the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, or even that of the Camino de Santiago. You and I know that we could never hike through these Holy Grails of backpackers. Not even in our wildest dreams. Why make life complicated when we could enjoy a long hike here? Cebu is just as perfect because of its elongated shape. Although it is just a fraction of the AT and the PCT, you are assured of a dip in the sea after journey’s end. Either ways.
Looking back, it never occurred to me that, one day, I would extend that dayhike that started from Lutopan, Toledo City to Guadalupe, Cebu City on February 20, 2011 into a full-blown love affair called the Cebu Highlands Trail Project. It became a means to an end: To expose the other side of Cebu to the other brand of tourism, with its natural shape, a very trying terrain and a warm tropical heat imposing its will on the more intrepid travellers which, unfortunately, not all could be.
Adventure tourism in Cebu is not just about adrenaline rush and, certainly, it is not about elevation for we certainly have less. It can be done here in irregular horizontal patterns with length, time and space painstakingly taking on your resolve. There are no spectacular heights and no seas of clouds but there is just the distance and the weight on your back. You get to know real people and witness rustic living that had changed little. You go hungry as your food supply runs out but the beauty of the CHT is that you can retreat and then return to the last place of engagement. Just like paying installments for a loan!
The CHT is about 408.29 Kilometers long with an elevation gain of 954 meters, according to Wikiloc, but it bends and turns and it goes up and down along the rugged and forbidding spines of the island province of Cebu. During the exploration phase of its eight segments, navigation were done by traditional means only to keep people guessing and to raise its standing. No GPS device was ever used. All routes were later traced by hand and mouse and saved in Wikiloc and, therefore, inaccurate.
After the last few meters of the exploration had been achieved, preparing for the Thruhike was next. Jonathaniel Apurado, my second in the CHT Exploration Team, would be joining me. I had to knock on the hearts of friends, peers and business so I could raise funds to cover expenses for food, equipment, apparel, fares, fuel and other contingencies for this test Thruhike which would be about 27 to 32 days long. After I have sorted out the itinerary, I was able to identify the needs of this month-long activity.
Derek Manuel of CLASSIC BLADE EXCHANGE, the preferred choice of Philippine preppers for imported blades, was the first to open his purse for this long hike, which is unprecedented yet in Cebu’s outdoor scene, even in its general history. Then I had a meeting with Carlo Torres of GALILEO SATELLITE CONTROL SYSTEMS PHILIPPINES who was interested in helping Cebu tourism and he donated a Global Star GPS tracking device. The gadget would give my location every five minutes in any Android or iPhone devices.
On the other hand, TECH1 CORPORATION lent me two of their Versa Duo Radios for VHF signal propagation tests to the repeater station of Ham Radio Cebu located in Busay, Cebu City and other designated repeaters. My outfitter, SILANGAN OUTDOOR EQUIPMENT, provided me the event jerseys and a couple of their elastic hiking pants while VIAJERO OUTDOOR CENTRE provided four pairs of high-quality hiking socks at a special price reserved, according to them, for those "who respect the outdoor and conservation efforts".
An alumnus of the Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp of 2015, Niño Paul Beriales, shipped brand-new Jack Wolfskin hiking shoes to Cebu from the Middle East to be used for this Thruhike which is a good thing considering that all our existing shoes have seen good days exploring the different segments. Same with Mark and Mirasol Lepon who provided us herbal supplements for our journey. Another protegee, Michael Schwarz, sent a ThermaRest Ridge Runner sleep pad for camp comfort. Lani Perez of BAKHAWAN BEACH HOME would again host me when I will be in Daanbantayan.
From places here and abroad, goodhearted individuals and friends donated part of their blessings for the purchase of the Thruhike’s need. The list is long yet these deserve printed here for they are the very people which I am also indebted to and for which I most dearly give away my appreciation and thanks like Amado Olmedo, Juliet Molina, Val Espina, Lester Padriga, Atty. Jose Marie Gochangco of GV HOTELS, Morgan Kanae, Aljew Frasco of TITAY’S LILOAN ROSQUILLOS & NATIVE DELICACIES, Jose Neo and the CAMP RED BUSHCRAFT & SURVIVAL GUILD, Bruce Ragas, Wilma Rellora and Emerson Benoza.
Another PIBC 2015 alumnus like Locel Navarro, created the design as well as shouldered the printing of the CHT event banner; while internationally-renowned layout artist, Ronald Abella, took care of the designs for the commemorative t-shirt, badge and sticker, and facilitated our event press release for a local newspaper. On the other hand, Randy Salazar negotiated with PARK N’ GO BAKESHOP on my behalf, so bread will be part of our food supply.
Markus Immer will personally drive his own vehicle, at his cost, to deliver our food and other needs during rendezvous points at the following places and dates in Mantalongon, Dalaguete on January 21; Lutopan, Toledo City on January 26; Lawaan, Danao City on February 1; Tabili, Catmon on February 5; and Labangon, Tabogon on February 8. I favored the rendezvous method since the CHT does not have the infrastructure yet to host food depots.
Fellow outdoor bloggers came to pitch in their help by promoting the CHT like Gian Carlo Jubela and Sheila Mei of ADRENALINE ROMANCE, Ven Ap of MOUNTAIN STORIES and Andrea Gaurana of SHOESTRING XAYD, spreading this good news to hikers, mountaineers, travellers and subscribers, who all had been following the exploration updates with noteworthy articles; of sourcing potential sponsors; even personally parting their own blessings.
This test Thruhike, is recognized by the CEBU PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENT, this after my meeting with the Honorable Governor Hilario P. Davide III and Provincial Tourism Officer, Mr. Joselito Costas, last November 25, 2016, turned out well and cordial. The meeting also touched on the possible collaboration of the Province of Cebu on a book that I am currently writing – A WARRIOR’S PILGRIMAGE: THE MAKING OF THE CEBU HIGHLANDS TRAIL. The result of the Thruhike will nail the last chapter for this book, hopefully.
There will be guest hikers that will come with us but they could only choose a route either from Liloan, Santander to Mantalongon, Dalaguete in southern Cebu or from Guadalupe, Cebu City to Lawa-an, Danao City at the start of the northern leg. Then some will spend a single night in camp to keep us company. They will come from here and from other places and all will experience of what to expect if ever they would come back to engage in their own Thruhike of the CHT.
After this Thruhike, I believe, the Cebu Provincial Government has the last say on whether they would perpetuate this long trail for tourism or ignore it. It would need good capital and the involvement of both the local government units and upland communities to maintain and enhance the CHT into a better one. Perhaps, it would be logical to welcome Cebu’s outdoor community also, as part of the stakeholders for, from them, comes their know-how in the CHT’s future refinement, and their capacity to bring in tourists catered to this activity comes without question.
As for me, I have done my share of connecting all the routes into one long trail worthy of its place in the books of the international backpacking circuit which were started and accomplished at my own initiative and inspiration. It was a very laborious task fraught with unexpected circumstances that would melt away enthusiasm. I dug deep into my ancestral roots and the skills, creativity and audacity that go with it. I persevered and I succeeded. It is my privilege then to test my creation before opening it to the community at large.
It is worth mentioning also that I could not have had accomplished this were it not for God’s kindness, protection and guidance in my walk through the wilderness of my soul and the real landscape; my wife and family who have to go through dire straits as I focused all my energies into this; my Exploration Team composed of Jonathaniel Apurado, Justin Apurado, Jovahn Ybañez and Fritz Bustamante who sacrificed family time and work like me; and my Base Support Team comprising of Jose Neo and Chad Bacolod who went out of their way to deliver the message.
Likewise, the unceasing support in the past coming from Alvin John Osmeña, Glen Domingo, Lavilles Family of Australia, Alan Poole, App Ops Philippines, Harold Butanas, Amaya Montecalvo, Ham Radio Cebu, Rommel Mesias, Melo Sanchez, Jeremiah Dayto, Glenn Pestaño, Drinox’s Kitchen, the Quijano Family, Matthew de Leon, Zue Fashion, Tactical Security Agency, PAC Outdoor Gear and Cirilo Toledo are most valued. They all deserve the same recognition and acknowledgment for the success of this Project.
After I will have reached the end of this Thruhike – that would be in Bulalaqui Point – I would place a small token from the beach of Santander and begin a new tradition for Thruhikers in this part of the world. It is a legacy I am leaving for soon I would grow obsolete and old. My pilgrimage would soon be also yours and no one could deny your own adventure. The CHT will stay. I believe so.
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Postscript: I would like to offer slots for those who would like to join me on the northern leg of the CHT on the following routes:
Guadalupe, Cebu City to Mt. Manunggal, Balamban
January 30 and 31. Campsites Mt. Tongkay and Mt. Manunggal.
Lawaan, Danao City to Caurasan, Carmen
February 3 and 4. Campsite Bangkito, Tuburan.
Malingin, Bogo City to Bakhawan, Medellin
February 11. Dayhike.
Bakhawan, Daanbantayan to Bulalaqui Point, Daanbantayan
February 13 and 14. Campsite Lanao, Daanbantayan.
Kindly contact Jhurds Neo in his Facebook account or his mobile phone number 923 880 8900 so he could properly brief and instruct you.
Likewise for those who would want to spend a single night with us starting from Nug-as, Alcoy all the way to the north. These are the camps:
January 20 – Nug-as, Alcoy January 21 – Mantalongon, Dalaguete
January 25 – Mantalongon, Barili January 26 – Tubod, San Fernando
January 27 – Buot-Taup, Cebu City January 31 – Mt. Manunggal
February 5 – Tabili, Catmon February 8 – Labangon, Tabogon
February 10 – Malingin, Bogo City February 11 – Bakhawan, Daanbantayan
February 13 – Lanao, Daanbantayan
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Wednesday, January 11, 2017
I AM UTTERLY TIRED TODAY but it does not mean that I will not honor a commitment. I have to else I will suffer credibility. I woke up late but, nevertheless, I have to move. It is already 08:00, when I arrive at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish. It is Sunday – September 18, 2016 – and there are many churchgoers. I have not taken breakfast but there is a bakery.
I remind myself not to overexert. A few days from now I will complete the Cebu Highlands Trail Project by walking its last segment that will start from Nug-as, Alcoy to Liloan, Santander. An earth-shaking hike not for the weak-kneed. Anyway, the guys from the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild, I presume, will be going to the Napo Trailhead and that is where I am going now.
I arrive at Napo. Another group of hikers just left. I do not want to follow in their wake nor would I overtake them on the trail. I will give them space and distance and their privacy. There is one option for me: hike along Sapangdaku Creek. I do not like to walk on streams nor encourage people to do so. It is one of those moments that I will take a chance.
I remind myself again that I am an ancient relic now and possesses no more agility to leap over stones midstream. I go down a path before the footbridge and walk along a bank of Sapangdaku Creek. The water is robust and noisy for it had been raining a few days ago. There is a bend up ahead and a big rock, ancient and covered in moss, faced me. It had been there since it was swept downstream during prehistoric floods.
Man-made water holes, washing wells, fishtraps and footprints complement boulders, sand, pebbles, vegetation, debris and deep pools in the character of the stream. The sound of rippling water constantly hum in your ears and sometimes disappears for a few seconds before it emerges into a stronger resonance. All those times, my awareness are at its edge, never wavering nor retracting into complacency.
The water passes on a small channel where current is strong but crossing the stream is easy here. I clamber over rocks when passage forward becomes tricky. I have to be careful of where I place foot over the other without neglecting other concerns like venomous reptiles and harmful plants. It is always like that. Scan the places first high and low before reaching out for a handhold or placing a foot. All done methodically.
I see few people on the stream. A farmer crossing a stream unaware of my presence. Two women with a small child washing clothes by a bend. Another woman with child doing the same chore on the mouth of a small feeder stream. However, human presence are everywhere. Unseen people talking and laughing nearby. A smoke flares up with somebody tending it. Invisible children playing, their voices echoing on the narrow confines of the stream. Someone feeding the squealing pigs. Pebbles gathered by somebody and abandoned.
The stream passes by a community and sewage pours into it. Stench is revolting. Water looks sinister. Vegetation grows thick and fat on the water channel. Few spots to walk and the only places are nearby canal outlets. No choice except hold breath and make an exit quick. At other times, it passes by thick vegetation where both sides were linked by a bridge of vines that is so low, so dark and so suspicious-looking.
When I am on an open field, the stream looks so glorious in the morning sunlight. It is as if I am in another world. Upstream becomes a conduit of much cleaner water and enchanting scenery until the channel is blocked by felled trees. The dried leaves and branches cover everything what is below. Would I step on stone, water or snake? I hope my feet touch dry ground always.
There had been reports of Philippine king cobras (Local name: banakon) escaping from a government-run zoo in nearby Kalunasan. When you are a snake on the loose, the fastest way to travel is going downhill and, when you reach a stream, you got all the food and the coolness you need, and then work your way upstream. Aside that, there are cobras in the wild also and this is still their habitat. I had not seen one but I had seen other kinds of venomous and non-venomous snakes.
There is that faint splashing sound that catches your attention which is different from the usual ones made by a current ricocheting its way on rocks and debris and shore. It grows stronger and stronger as you approach and you discover it is a cascade, sometimes mistakenly described by the many as a waterfall. A waterfall is a straight drop of the stream from a height while a cascade is but a stream rambling on solid rock from a height.
So this is the one that caused so much racket everytime I walked the trail above Sapangdaku Creek but I suspected it at first as a waterfall. I do not have a name for this stream landmark nor I have people to ask of. I have noticed that there are two pools created by the drop. One on the bottom and the other on its middle. Besides that, there is another separate pool on its side, created by an overflow.
There is a passage going to the top of the cascade but you would have to climb a 15-foot wall of rock, which I did, thank God, I can still do it at my age and bulk now. Scrambling rocks and boulders is no stranger to me for I learned rock climbing in Cantabaco, Toledo City in the ‘90s, back in the days when I was lean and strong and young and fearless. But now, I am afraid of heights.
There is another pool but narrow and above it is a chute on the rock that channeled the stream at its swiftest current. This is a good spot to take a bath since it is hidden. Maybe later. I walk upstream and more of the wonderful features: pools, small cascades and crystal-clear water with schools of guppy in it. Farther, there is a trail built on a man-made pile of rocks. Motorcycles came down here often as seen on the different wheel tracks. I just want to travel along the stream.
There is another deep pool, another set of big boulders and children. One of the boys, who was crouching and unaware of my presence, dropped his excess load into the swift current. The stream, like any other streams in the Philippines, is a repository of everything, like animal wastes, chemicals, garbage, sewage and excess loads. This stream is polluted but people wash their clothes and dining utensils and themselves with water from here.
I am able to keep my shoes and my feet dry by my sheer wit in choosing where I walk. In my experience, it is not wise to walk with wet shoes unless you have no other choice. There was a time when people were crossing Marbel River up to their crotch on their way to Mount Apo, there I was leaping among boulders midstream over their shoulders, not because I was showing off but because I am uncomfortable with wet shoes and socks. That was dangerous! I was able to accomplish that because I had a wonderful pair of shoes and I was a fool.
The clear water becomes white. Chemicals! I could hear a small engine from afar. It is used to power a water compressor for spraying mango trees. The sound gets louder as I approach and I heard another sound, that of water being sprayed. Up on the branches of a mango tree, a man is spraying the leaves and flowers. I held my breath and made another quick exit. Cebu’s mango industry is the number one pollutant of rivers! Next are the flower farms. Just look at the abnormal growth of algae.
Once upon a time, Cebu mangoes were the best in the Philippines and our mangoes found its way to the US, Europe, Australia, Japan and other countries. Not anymore. We are now overtaken by Guimaras. You know why? They grow it organically while ours use chemicals. Food standards are now high and very strict and, what was once Cebu’s market, are now verboten. Sapangdaku Valley is mango country and trees dot the landscape like broccoli. How I wished growers go back to the basic and be less greedy.
There is another deep pool and, above it, is a chute of water. I walk on and there are sandbars. Two men are shoveling sand into empty cement sacks. I walk past them and an abandoned spoon in sand. Another small feeder stream joined Sapangdaku Creek. Passage quite tricky but I saw a track of a person going upstream. Reading a track is a skill. Most tracks are imprints on soft ground. That is the easy part. Following someone on hard surfaces like stones and boulders is extraordinary. I just love it.
Arrived at a big pool with a good chute. The pool is dammed with stones to make it deeper and to fence in fish. I go around it and am now in familiar ground. Just 300 meters more upstream would be where those crazies of Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild would make their dirt-time, if I am correct on my presumption. I walk past a natural rectangular stone that could have been used by a local for sharpening blades.
I am at the spot of where they are supposed to cross the stream and climb up a trail but I saw not one trace of them. Disappointed, I drank my first gulp of water. I laughed at myself of why I went to the great length of stealth-walking on a stream only to find that they are not here. Well, it happens. Yes, it happened that I walked that part of the Sapangdaku Creek where I have not had the opportunity to do so. I am glad of my debacle. It was a great day.
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Friday, January 6, 2017
ASK ANY AVID MOVIE GOER about Mission Impossible II and they would almost always tell you that “originals are the best and sequels are not”. The 1st Responders General Assembly and Conference of September 16 and 17, 2016 was reportedly a sequel to the first one which was held last year. It was not a sequel but just a reunion and an attendance check of all Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Offices in Cebu Province.
I was there to represent both the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild and Ham Radio Cebu. Both non-government organizations were part of the summit of last year and have been invited again to take part in this conference. I arrived early at Camp Marina, located at Kalunasan Hills, Cebu City and my tribe from the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild came a few minutes after me. We set up our hammocks and overhead shelters between trees behind the big tents.
Mark Lepon, Nelson Tan, Nelson Orozco and Leomil Pino, along with Chad Bacolod of the Provincial Information Office and Marcus Tiu of Ham Radio Cebu, set up theirs near mine. Contingents from the north, south and central parts of Cebu Province began to arrive to register and to claim big empty tents as their shelters. There was a big amphitheater on the lower ground where all activities will be concentrated but the reception area was quite busy during the early hours.
The big names of last year’s summit are not around anymore to give it a moral boost and an ascendancy of why should there be another big one. The three-day 1st SAR Summit, an original idea of Dennis Cortes, was a big success and it provided the moving force by which the requirements of Republic Act 10121 should be strictly implemented by all local government units, which a lot failed then to allocate and/or provide office space, personnel and budget.
However, the staff of the Cebu Provincial DRRMO gave it their all on this occasion even with what few funding and logistics they may have mustered from their budget so a good tradition started by the first summit would continue, although a bit late, but just the same, an important event. It does not matter if it paled in comparison to the original but, it would be the proper forum to talk again the spirit behind RA 10121 and to review the strides taken by the PDRRMO in behalf of these LGUs.
The 1st SAR Summit slogan of “Interoperability, Camaraderie and Cooperation” had been remembered and it achieved satisfactorily with a good turnout of contingents for September 16 but I thought we got a bigger crowd back then. There was not a high government official or any subaltern to grace the occasion and this is where this event failed to live up to the prestige of the first. Even PDRRMO head, Baltazar Tribunalo Jr., appeared only once, a far cry from last year where he was everywhere.
I do not know what happened to the whole PDRRMO setup? It seemed demoralized? In fairness, it is the best outfit in Central Visayas and, probably, including the whole Southern Philippines. Would politics have a hand in its current operation? Its selection of personnel, perhaps? We know that it was just a few months after election and those that won seats would claim that privilege (bad practices that keep recurring like nightmares) of placing relatives and supporters under government employment.
The PDRRMO needs skilled people and the very experienced. It has already that in its old roster. Why fix something when it is in good working order? The successful campaign launched by Mr. Tribunalo and Mr. Cortes to inculcate the value of implementing properly RA 10121 to the LGUs is commendable. There never was a precedence (and a challenge), such as the implementation of the DRRM Law, and we are all running out of time to mitigate climate change, which is almost close to impossible.
I guess, in my own opinion, too much politics often destroy what would otherwise have been a good tradition in the making. People holding the reins of governance, along with their different streaks of character and psyche (unsavory or not), as well as their priorities and their promises to their constituents which, most of the time are just that – promises, almost always influence the outcome of running simple bureaucracies like the PDRRMO and its LGU counterparts.
I have seen many new faces brought on by the changes imposed by the newer elected officials of the towns and cities and on Capitol itself, willfully and whimsically, that put to waste the efforts put forth by the last administrations to equip their responders with valuable knowledge and hard-to-get trainings. It is indeed a waste to see these experienced and trained people go in exchange of politicians playing favorites to their backers. Except for a few ones.
The first of the LGUs that I have trained in wilderness survival, the Municipality of Liloan, have gone a long way since, from being upstarts last year to become one of the top-tier DRRMO of the province. I did not even recognize them were it not for their attractive rescue uniforms bearing the name of Liloan. If their morale was that high, it is because their municipality fully supported them in terms of logistics and trainings and implementing faithfully RA 10121. Surely, there were no ugly politics poking in their office.
Team-building activities and meals took the whole of the first day until dusk came, accompanied by rain. Then it was time for my Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild to present a show. We were tasked to light a bonfire from a flame made by friction and it came at a worst time: it was already night and everything was wet. I assigned two teams for this task. One on pieces of bamboo and the other on bowdrill. We succeeded in making a small fire from friction but burning wet wood was difficult until a bonfire did succeed.
The second day – September 17 – was devoted for the drafting of a protocol for response and another for communications. It was for this reason that top guys from amateur radio clubs like Randy Pancito of Cebu Amateur Radio League and Jet Manuel of Ham Radio Cebu were invited along with civic radio clubs ACER and REACT-Metro Cebu. The amateur clubs have the expertise and the technical know-how to propagate signals in extreme conditions and would be willing to extend trainings at no cost to the LGUs.
That turned on a sour note when a government functionary from the National Telecommunications Communication insisted on the use of cellular phones. He was talking nonsense there since we all know that as an unreliable communication tool because we were there after a 7.2 earthquake in Bohol and, later, after Typhoon Yolanda and it failed miserably! Even without calamities, its coverage is limited. All outcomes of accidents do not stay on open terrain. Most of the time, it is found in places where you do not thought people would visit. Places where even a sliver of sunlight cannot penetrate.
Then this functionary proposed and promised for the creation of a special frequency, solely for emergencies when, in fact, there was already one at 145.000 MHZ VHF provided by law for such uses, only the NTC office here assigned it to another amateur radio club. Breaking its own rules and behaving as if it is alright. Disgusting! The NTC should have done damage control right after Yolanda instead of impressing people with promises as if they know when the next disaster would come.
We from the amateur radio community follow rules because that was what is asked of us from the NTC. We are different from the rest because we need to pass a written examination before applying for an amateur radio station license. We help the government, even if not requested, and be available in places of catastrophes to provide direct communication links to the outside world. We help by way of trainings and offer equipment and time to help communities, LGUs and NGOs develop their communication capability (at no cost because we are amateurs) and to instruct proper radio etiquette.
I can not understand why the regional NTC office does not recognize the role of legitimate amateur radio clubs? Amateur radio stations and clubs will stay forever while government workers retire, can be transferred or gets dismissed and they cannot dictate the preferences of their replacements. We just hope that the next NTC director would be fair on legitimate, but true, amateur radio clubs and not be consumed with prejudices and petty politics. The next one should clear the VHF emergency channel of 145.000 MHZ for use of all amateurs instead of one club.
Spent the rest of the second day in my hammock since I had lost interest with what that NTC employee was incoherently babbling about. Closing ceremonies began right after lunch and the best LGUs were given recognition for their exemplary achievements. The Liloan DRRMO snared the top award besting the rest of the field, even the highly-urbanized cities which has more resources at their disposal. What Mr. Cortes, Mr. Manuel and I have taught them they applied in the real world and they came out the best.
The Responders General Assembly and Conference is an important event and, I hope too, in the next chapter (that would be next year), that our elected officials in the province or whoever are the substitutes will be, should take the highest consideration of gracing this since DRRMOs can make politicians look good on public. Appreciation can be best felt when being seen and not by excuses.
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