Monday, August 18, 2014

ACACIA TREES DO NOT HAVE WIFI (Justice for Chad)


ACACIA TREES IN CEBU, they grow old, they fall.  Some are cut.  Some are saved.  Public opinions they differ, swaying back and forth.  The pros and the cons.  A greater part of me prefer that they stay or get balled or pruned.  Some trees are sick, I believe so, standing guardian-like, mute witnesses of history on the route that pass by them from Naga to Carcar.  But can they be saved?

Those who believed that it can be done – a resounding YES!  Those who believed that it cannot be done – a bullyish NO!  As sure as Peter walked on water, my friend Chad Bacolod took a side.  It was a personal choice.  It was a choice borne out of his familiarity with the environment where he thrived in of which trees play a crucial part.  He choose to take sides with the acacia trees that had been a fixture at his hometown of Naga since he was a tottering tot.


Chad is a true gentleman of the outdoors.  His passion of the outdoors pushes him to venture outside of his comfort zone to enjoy it during weekends with friends.  His greater freedom among hills allowed him to see the bigger picture of this unstable world we called home threatened by climate change, overpopulation and shrinking water resources.  Misguided developments caused by indiscriminate cutting of trees have caused so much of our present troubles. 

These, he sees even beyond the wide glass pane of his workplace, which he loved to call as a “12-feet by 4-feet flat TV with one channel”.  He might have meant this window to the one-tracked-mind policy of his employer – the Department of Public Works and Highways – which has a long history of indiscriminate cutting of such trees.  Yes, he worked in a DPWH weighbridge station located at Minglanilla as a temporary employee.

His advocacy in protecting the acacia trees got him on a collision course against the policy of his employer, the DPWH, and the powers that be in the Municipality of Naga, the Cebu Provincial Government and the Philippine National Government.  His participation in a rally presided by Fr. Robert Reyes last August 8, 2014, got the ire of his bosses, when his side won, leaving the government agencies concerned with a big slap in the face.  


That defeat got more painful when a big rally to create awareness on the plight of the acacia trees was hatched on August 10 from Naga to Carcar, involving more people, and putting more salt on a smouldering wound.  Then, all of a sudden, without any explanations, Chad’s employment with the DPWH was hastily terminated.  For what?  For being the champion of the speech-less acacia trees?  For exercising his right to freedom of expression as a mere participant and for his comic statements in a social network site?  Oh, come on.

His termination, done without giving him his right of due process, is a violation of his rights, fully guaranteed under the Philippine Constitution.  Whatever administrative rules you may have in DPWH, it does not supersede that basic law.  It never had and it never will.  Under the Civil Service Law, Chad is also entitled to those rights and his security of tenure even if he is just a temporary employee.  I believe the Regional Director of the DPWH-7 and the District Engineer of the 1st Engineering District has a lot of explaining to do.

Chad had never been a fugitive of justice nor embroiled in a morality issue.  In fact, what he did was championing the cause of a higher order of morality – that of protecting the acacia trees from being cut – which is not really our exclusive right but those of the next generations per se.  His actions bespeak of his unsullied character that had been exemplary for as long as I have known him   and tested during the time of a river incident in Alegria.


He is a communicator with RECON-MACE 7, an active climber-member of the Mountain Climbers Alliance of the Philippines, a co-founder of the Enthusiasts of Cebu Outdoors, a member of the Visayan Trekkers Forum, an ardent learner of bushcraft under my tutelage at Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild, a volunteer of several outreach events and relief missions, an environmentalist and a family man.  He is all these and for being all these, he is persecuted by DPWH-7 and by politics within his office.  A victim of retarded and myopic minds.

Justice is a fair lady and, through her, Chad will have his recourse.  This blog will use its space to right a wrong; to forward a message to the DPWH hierarchy to consider Chad’s case.  Cutting of trees would not had been an issue should the government asked consensus of the many or that they just had done their job well.  We know it stands in the way of development and a road right-of-way project but there is no reason to cut it if they would have exhausted all their creative minds to spare its destruction.  We know some trees are old but they knew that also and did not act on it until two trees fell recently. 

Chad had nothing to do with the acacias.  It was the government’s fault after all.  Chad was just expressing his unbelief at how a row of heritage trees became a scapegoat at the government’s ineptness.  Chad did what he had to do to save those trees and he became a scapegoat as well from the very agency that was tasked to maintain the highways of which he was connected.  The manner by which Chad was terminated does not speak well of the professionalism and honesty of the DPWH hierarchy. 

Chad had not used government time to participate in a rally with fellow environmentalists.  He was off duty.  What he says or expressed are of his own opinion.  DPWH and the national government, for that matter, has no control over the minds and hearts of its people because we are not a socialist country like China or North Korea.  We are in a free country and we have that right to ask grievances and retributions too.  It was very unfair with the way you treated a good guy like Chad Bacolod.  



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Monday, August 11, 2014

NAPO TO BABAG TALES LXX: Manggapares Trail

WE LEAVE GUADALUPE for Napo at 06:30. Today – December 29 – is the last Sunday of 2013. This is not a planned trip but the occasion to do this, as time permitted, goad me to rally certain people at the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild to walk with me to the Babag Mountain Range. Thus came Jhurds, Dominic, Justine and Faith to break that cycle of indulgence on good food brought on by the holiday season.

I carried two liters of water for this, as well as my soot-covered cook sets. As always, the AJF Gahum knife will take its place, hanging proudly by my side, and my William Rodgers bushcraft knife, silently protruding about by my backpack. We need to walk early because it will be a long hike and the warmth of the rest of the day will torment us. I believe that the wide-brimmed digital ACU camo hat that Lester Padriga had given me will be handy. I consumed just one piece of bread and a glass of water. I have experimented this simple meal many times and have forged a trust on this.


Before we reach the Lower Kahugan Spring, we break off the main trail by taking on another one. This trail was mentioned some years ago by Fele Roble as “mangapar”, a shortened version of “pares nga mangga”, in reference to two big mango trees that mark another branch of the route which is on the spine of Tagaytay Ridge itself. For easy reference, I name the route as Manggapares Trail. I had previously hiked this path downhill in January (NBT 57: The Last Wild Place) and uphill in March (NBT 59: Reunion with an Old Trail) and it will be my third time here.

The connecting route to Manggapares Trail pass by brushland and mango trees for some four hundred meters before reaching the first of a series of newly-finished power pylons. The steel tower stand tall as I gape from below and it promises you some views that you had not seen from the other parts of the Babag Range. This could be the beginning of Manggapares Trail but I am just amazed at how some people construct this behemoth for several months in the middle of nowhere and then abandon it.

I walk on the trail and come upon another one with big holes all around. As I was resting, I saw the branch of another trail that may or may not lead to either Napo or Lanipao. My adrenaline rose to another level upon seeing the prospect of exploring a trail that had long been abandoned and unused for some time. It is a path worth exploring in the future. Very well, I push onward the ascending ridge and pass by another tower.


We take a rest at a wide ground, cleared of vegetation with pieces of charcoal all around. I see a grove of sand bamboo (Local name: bagakay) and another grove of spiny bamboo (Local: kagingkingon). This would have been a perfect place for a campsite except that there is no water source nearby. I may need a dry pole of sand bamboo since it is effective as a weapon because, I know, we will be passing soon through thick jungle. I do not want to be surprised by something lurking beneath vegetation. My right thumb bled when I touched a sharp part of the bamboo as I was cutting it.

We reach an unfinished tower where the rough road ended or begun, depending on which way you came from. The road had not been used for some time and vegetation begins to claim it. A small backhoe is abandoned, left to the elements and to “cannibals”. I see a missing alternator and a starter from the engine’s compartment. A small cement mixer is also left behind by the construction workers with the carburetor from its small engine missing.

I am just wondering why they left behind the fifth tower unfinished. Gaping big holes show each where the foundations for its posts are constructed. We leave this and another tower loom overhead and another one on top of a hill and that is it. From hereon, we will not trudge anymore on a path with steel pylons in between. It is now 10:00 and I am hoping we will reach our resting point at 11:00.


Across me is Mount Liboron. I passed by a trail a half hour ago but I take chance instead to go around the peak on a path that I discovered in March. I just hope that the vegetation had not claimed back the scant trail I created there. I cross a barbed wire fence and look for this route. It is gone and I mistakenly follow a scant path downhill which led to more thick jungle. I do not want myself to go easy on the temptations of a downhill path only to discover that you are trapped in a boulder-filled watercourse where all nasty creatures forage, a possible haunt of a Philippine king cobra (Local: banakon).

I go back up to where I started to find another route when Justine got hit by cramps. We rest for a while before proceeding to higher ground and rest again when we are there. When I think that the ground where I am at is in line with a saddle, which I believe lies somewhere below us, I start the downhill search for a path. It is slow painstaking progress, the big AJF Gahum knife doing its work slashing vines and branches then sheathing it back when I move a few meters and the process is repeated over and over until I see open ground. In between are rocks whose ground underneath showed signs of burrowing. Perhaps, by monitor lizards or by snakes.

We walk down and reach the saddle and we take rest there. It is 11:35. In ten minutes we will be at our rest stop to prepare our meal but we were so exhausted that we need to boil water for coffee to get back our energy. When we have done that, we proceed and reach our midway destination at 12:00 (we are an hour late), which is actually a garden with two tiny houses owned by Julio Caburnay. Julio had been so kind to accommodate me on two occasions in the past that I believed he will do so again which he does.

I start the cooking of rice on butane fuel and resume to slice the eggplants, purple taro, gumbos and spring onions then work on the jute leaves and Malabar nightshades. Dominic proceed to slice eggplants, sponge gourd, red squash and bitter gourds as well as doing the cooking. Faith and Justine alternately watch over the second pot of rice which is cooked on another stove and fry beef jerky provided by Jhurds, who play music on his Samsung Galaxy to entertain us.

Dominic is able to finish the cooking of mixed vegetable soup and eggplant adobo. I take two refills of the mixed vegetables and rice and the rest did so. We were so filled up with the tasty food that Dom had cooked but, even that, there were a lot of leftovers and we gave it away to Julio and his family. Aside that, I also leave three-fourths kilo of uncooked rice to them before proceeding on our journey. It is already 14:30 and too few hours for the day. We may have to sacrifice rest time though with full tummies towards Babag Ridge.


Cooking for people outdoors with few ingredients in an uncomfortable location can give you a lot of pressure but Dom had overcome this challenge after a little coaching. Someday he may learn that skill and there are too few good cooks who could dish out tasty food outdoors. I know that a lot of outdoorsmen prefer to eat the easy way like pre-cooked food or heating the contents of canned goods or doing the cooking itself but with MSG and other artificial preservatives. Camp cooking with less is not for everybody. It is confined to people with the proper frame of mind.

Cramps caught Justine again and we rested within a forested part of the route. In a few minutes we will switch to the old Babag Trail. This trail is now forgotten by weekend hikers and is unknown, except by me and, perhaps, by off-road motorcyclists, as what Julio told me when I first met him. Nevertheless, I found the trail in excellent condition winding along the spine of Babag Ridge. It is thickly vegetated that you could barely see some parts of Sapangdaku Valley and Metro Cebu on the east and the wide Bonbon Valley on the west.

I follow the trail until I switch on to another one that goes into a meadow and along fenced properties which take a long detour going a long way down and a long way up. Long ago, I used to walk straight from Buhisan to Upper Busay without these hindrances. Property owners begin to seal off their lots when people bring their racing motorcycles on the trail, according to a local. So far, I have not encountered them in the past and on the three occasions that I came back here. Maybe in the future but I hope it never come.

Ultimately, we reach the shoulder of Mount Babag where the trailhead going down to Sapangdaku Creek starts but Jhurds is craving for cold soda drinks and we postpone our downhill hike by walking instead towards a small store along the ridge 350 meters away. We follow the road until we reach it at 15:45 and everyone made themselves comfortable with cold bottles of softdrink while I rehydrate myself with a cold bottle of beer.


When we had rested enough, we leave at 16:30 for Mt. Babag and then down the loose and steep trail towards the Roble homestead. I am wearing my newer Columbia Coremic Ridge 2 hiking shoes and it has superb traction where it raise my confidence but, at the same time, would expose me to risks. The sane side of me preside and I go slow even when my feet are suffering from pressure of being confined in shoes that has a very small space allowance. It is really painful but I grit my teeth to absorb the soreness.

It is a blessing then to take a rest after that tiresome hike and I bless the day I made the Roble homestead as a resting area. I rehydrate from their stock of water which the family prepared for thirsty hikers. On request, they could produce young coconuts and open this for you to savor the sweet juice. Since it is almost dusk – 17:10 – we tarry just a bit and accept the offer of ripe bananas. I donate a small amount of money for their upkeep and proceed on the last half of the downhill trek in semi-darkness.

When I reach the creek, I retrieve my LED torch to light my way. I am drained physically and mentally and cannot afford to use my natural night vision perfectly as I had when I get a good rest. At least, in darkness, I am on familiar terrain. The train of lights that follow ensure that all is well with my trail mates. We pass by where we started in the morning and everyone are quite awed by the route that we took. For them it is another epic journey but, for me, it is just “another day at the office”.

We arrive at Napo under the soft glow of sodium lights. It is 18:30. We took a lot of rest time, injury time and an hour of trail blazing. I am short of my expectations which I based on my previous trip on the same route (NBT 59: Reunion with an Old Trail) but I am wiser this time. Maybe I will do another repeat of this alone.


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Friday, August 1, 2014

ZOMBIES


I WAS IN THE MIDDLE of shaving my jaw stubble in the morning of October 1994 when The Cranberries video was shown on MTV. The tune struck some chords in my emotions as my mind tossed me back to a quarry that had slipped. The razor sliced my skin as I stared into a face yet pain was nowhere. I felt like a zombie. Numbed of a failure that had never been mine.

I am talking about a killer that got away. A vicious serial soloist. Blending in the night with GI wires and scissors. A real zombie. Without remorse and feelings.

He begins to take shape in my consciousness after a robbery-homicide incident on a businessman in El Filibusterismo Street, Cebu City on August 24, 1994. The lone killer took 700,000 pesos all by himself, a huge sum of money of that day. Nobody knows the guy. A complete stranger. More like a ghost!

I am a former cop. An operative of a special unit under the Theft and Robbery Section. I helped follow up this case and got some leads until it led to an apartment at the back of the Holy Cross Church in Basak-Pardo. My unit and two full teams from the TRS laid a trap on the night of September 30, 1994. They all botched this up and let the quarry get away.

I was a couple of minutes late at the scene and I took pursuit among the dark alleys not knowing where the killer had gone to. I could only second-guess and it was raining hard. I was drenched as I pursue the search alone and went over the fence inside a public school. I went over another fence into a huge university campus and still came up with nothing.

When I came back to the scene, it was almost daylight. The things and the money that the killer accumulated thru his criminal activities were seized and confiscated. What I got was just a small ID picture of the man and a name. As if in consolation, I got a hint that the man was a suspect in a sensational crime in Luzon.

I enlarged the picture in a photo shop and it was with me breakfast, lunch and dinner. I stared into the eyes and it revealed nothing. The two earrings on the right ear were a dead giveaway, that is, if we bump into each other on a street corner which is close to impossible at that moment.

I begun to work alone and away from everyone. I gathered more information and I learned more of the man. He was involved in a multiple murder case in Cainta, Rizal on April 22, 1993. I got a real name this time.

I combed all the police blotter backwards in all the precincts of Cebu City from the date he escaped our police dragnet going back to the day of the “Cainta Massacre”. I got 40 to 60 cases that was similar to his M.O. but I got fifteen that was really his, including one after his escape. The tools of his trade were GI wires and scissors. He later used a small handgun.

      “Another head hangs lowly,
      Child is slowly taken.
      And the violence caused such silence.
      Who are we mistaken?...”

The lyrics sung by Dolores O’Riordan penetrated deep into my psyche. It produced an ember of anger within me and I promised myself that I will catch this serial killer on my own. I have to be a zombie myself to take on a zombie.

January 5, 1995. I was alone at TRS when a phone call from a security guard of a bank in General Maxilom Avenue came through. A document was faxed from another bank in Davao. The man intends to retrieve his savings left here!

With the document, I worked really hard to convince my superiors to track the man, which they did, but with reservations. Although I was given the privilege to choose people for my team, they gave me just a little support. Aside that, the prohibition of firearms will start on January 10 for the May ‘95 senatorial elections. I just have a few days to legally operate outside of where I am assigned. Just a very tiny window of success.

I chose just one man for my team to the surprise of my superiors. Got my mission order and faxed a copy, including the warrant and a request for exemption to the Commission on Elections and the devil be damned! We leave Cebu two days later for Davao via Cagayan de Oro without any idea where our quarry will be.

January 8. While riding in a bus, I see Mount Apo in the distance. Been there last April. I needed a sign. Appearing suddenly in slow spiral motion was a Philippine eagle. I always hold dear the sight of an eagle since the time I encountered one so close in the jungles of Leyte in 1992. A spark inside me burst alive. I knew in the instant that this hunt would turn out right in my favor.

January 9. The killer did not go to the bank in Davao as was indicated in the document. The banker mentions a name that led to another name and another and then another one until it led to a tattoo shop. The shop was closed. It was noon time. My two-man team was beefed up by a team of Davao’s Finest.

We went to the tattoo artist’s residence in Matina and waited. I saw near the subdivision guardhouse a man sitting in a tricycle and something glinted from his right ear. Two earrings! The man alighted and stood up to his full height. In my excitement, I left the unmarked police vehicle without any word to the others.

I stalked the man as he walked towards a small roadside store. I drew my gun. I was quick. I grabbed his short crop of hair from behind and yanked his face upward and slammed him hard to the storefront. He was pinned, unable to use his strength. I managed to inform him his rights during the scuffle.

Meanwhile, the six other cops inside the vehicle were confused at my sudden leaving. Then they saw me wrestling somebody and ran towards my direction. They arrived just in time to handcuff the killer which took some great difficulty.

From there, we whisked him to city hall where Mayor Rodrigo Duterte sat waiting. He congratulated me and the rest for the successful arrest. It was good publicity for Davao City. Good for investors. Finally, I got my redemption!


      “In your head, in your head,
       Zombie, zombie, zombie,
       Hey, hey, hey. What's in your head,
       In your head,
       Zombie, zombie, zombie?...
       ...they are dying...”

I returned to Cebu on January 14 without my quarry. I was placed off-limits to media interviews. I liked to shed a tear but I can’t. I was devoid of emotions. I was stunned by the sudden turn of events.

The serial killer was shot while attempting to grab a Davao cop’s gun when being escorted to Sasa wharf on January 11. Dead on arrival. He was my ticket to an instant promotion. With a cadaver, I could get less; at the most, a medal. Which I did.


My zest to serve in the force spiralled down even when my audacious mission caught the fancy of my fellow cops in both Davao and Cebu and in the media. Popular TV host Noli de Castro looked for me. He featured this story, nevertheless, in his TV program, Magandang Gabi Bayan. I was not interested with all this attention. I had already turned into a zombie.



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