Wednesday, April 25, 2018

BEBUT’S TRAIL XVII: Who Put the “N” in Nature 6

WE VISIT AGAIN A community in Baksan, Sapangdaku, Cebu City for our annual outreach program done every month of May, a few days before the opening of classes. It is our own way of thanking the communities that host our “dirt times”, a term we describe among ourselves in the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild who dirty their hands while doing camp chores and learning old bush skills.

Today, May 28, 2017, is our second year there. This event which is called originally as Who Put the “N” in Nature – and still is – started in 2012 at the former Roble Homestead in Kahugan, Sapangdaku. We have not changed our giving hearts and our special time with these children of the mountains who are obligated to walk long distances, cross streams and difficult terrain in order to study and learn in school.

We are equipping each kid – all 230 of them from Kinder 1 to Grade 10 – with notebooks, writing pads, pencils, ballpens, crayons, scissors, erasers, manila paper and a plastic envelope. The parents too will have their day with body pouches, household cleaning kits and sewing kits. But before the giving, there will be a meal for everybody and entertainment.  

This would not have happened were it not for the volunteers and our sponsors, a few of whom opt to remain anonymous. Thank you very much to all of you for your time, and your compassion and generosity. The images shown below told of the story about this heavenly time during the outreach:

These are the organizations and the people who have helped made the Who Put the “N” in Nature 6 possible:



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Photos courtesy of Markus Immer

Sunday, April 15, 2018

THE TRAILHAWK JOURNEYS: Sumilon Island Survival Training

MY COUNTRY, THE PHILIPPINES, is composed of many islands and it is in both the “ring of fire” and the “typhoon belt”. Our own eastern seaboard is facing the Pacific Ocean and is susceptible to rising sea water during climatic changes and during catastrophes, which could induce tidal waves and storm surges. The same with our western, southern and northern coastlines.

A strong earthquake from across the Pacific and from any direction would generate a tsunami, like in Southern Mindanao in 1977. A Category 5 cyclone, meanwhile, could overwhelm large coastal cities and communities typified by Typhoon Mike (Ruping) in 1990 and by Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) in 2013. In fact, these same calamities have struck many years ago and memories of its magnitude cannot be appreciated anymore by this present generation.

Coastal and island communities found in between inland seas, bays and straits are also not safe anymore. Islands are now experiencing unprecedented great floods, frequent landslides and massive erosion which we could very well attribute to large-scale deforestation, unabated quarrying and strip mining. We also have a long history of man-made disasters, ship collisions and faulty maritime navigation and a world war which is still in our memories.

Let us talk about the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. Communities living along foreshore areas and to as far as 1,200 meters inland were swept away by gigantic storm surges with an untold destruction, the likes of which was never before seen nor felt in our lifetime.  Unbelief and shock were written on the faces of every survivor. For the first few days, there was no outside help nor contact. Communications and transportation infrastructures were severely damaged, further isolating surviving communities.

Food and water ran low after two days and survivors resort to pillaging stores and those they thought were stocking vital supplies to feed for their survival. Law and order broke down as the stench of the dead began to add to the desperate situation. Government control was totally absent and everyone, including the dead, were left to fend for themselves on the streets. Anarchy ruled as armed mobs appeared everywhere even infringing inside the sanctity of private homes.

It was a hopeless situation for all other survivors who lived in desperate moments day by day. Slowly, the national government with its limited resources brought stability to some of the affected areas. The situation became normal only after six months as international humanitarian organizations poured in billions of dollars worth of aid, food and housing to give solace and normalcy to the lives of the affected communities.

The post-typhoon mayhem on the eastern coasts of Leyte was unexpected. Filipinos are known for their tenacity and resiliency when it comes to coping with disasters and other life-threatening moments. In such situations, they would retrieve and utilize their primitive-living skills which they learned from the older generations. During those desperate moments, everyone acted like feral animals. Human decency and respect broke down.

People seemed to have lost their will to think and resorted on primeval instinct. This could have been avoided if they have listened to government exhortations to abandon their homes before the storm came. Casualties would have been mitigated or avoided. Productive skills like people relations, community mobilization and communal survival would have lurched positively from the aftermath of the deadliest storm of the century.

It is situations like these that spurred me to give up the privilege of owning a knowledge that had been bequeathed me by my first teacher – my grandfather – and share it to people, communities, organizations, government agencies and corporations. Even before these calamities came, I was already teaching people bushcraft and survival. I have taught just enough and then people realized that they have to go back to the basics.

This survival training is prepared and designed for use in a post-disaster scenario like storm surges and tsunamis, even consequences from a maritime accident. This course aims to develop the participants of the basics of survival in island and foreshore setting of sandy beaches, rocky shorelines, limited water resources and sparse vegetation, without disregarding the proper procedures that would ensure the chances of survival of an individual.

Preparation for any survival situation should be given premium by anybody, regardless if the individual is an experienced one or not. As much as we would like the serenity and aesthetic joy and the privacy of an island surrounded by an emerald sea, the fact is that islands present its own hazards coupled by unpredictable weather conditions which could spawn a calm sea into a roaring monster in just a few minutes.

I always emphasized that a person can be an island on his own contrary to the general idea. I would always encourage that every individual should be self-sufficient and could sustain his ability to survive alone when facing real survival situations. He should be able to fend for himself during the most trying times and, in the absence of equipment, compensate this with knowledge. Knowledge of survival skills enhances one’s standing in a group of survivors and, through his guidance, a community could arise from despair.

My training is designed for island visitors, backpackers, tourists, resort workers, residents and water sport enthusiasts and would complement experience, skill, safety and good common sense. Its main purpose is to educate and to give an idea about what to expect when faced with a situation of survival on an island and foreshore environment and, consequently, prepare a person for the worst conditions.

Bluewater Resorts, a Filipino company operating the world-renowned Bluewater Maribago Beach Resort in Lapulapu City, the Bluewater Panglao Beach Resort in Bohol and the Bluewater Sumilon Island Resort in Oslob, Cebu – all “green” resorts – took a good step forward by encouraging their resort officers and staff to actively participate in a three-day BASIC ISLAND SURVIVAL COURSE this writer had offered for May 23, 24 and 25, 2017 at Camp Bermejo of the Bluewater Sumilon Island Resort.

Camp Bermejo is named after Fr. Julian Bermejo, a Spanish priest who was the architect of the construction of a series of watchtowers in Southern Cebu that fended off Moro raids early in the 19th Century. One of these surviving towers is found on the eastern part of Sumilon Island. Its stone masonry withstood the test of time as well as a few hardwood buttresses. Gone is the wooden platform that would have supported the defenders and their instruments of warfare.

Beside the old Spanish structure is a round concrete tower that supported a navigation light. It is about 75 feet tall. It is not a lighthouse. Vegetation dominating the interior of the island is a forest of white leadtree (Local name: ipil-ipil), introduced many years ago as sanctuary for birds and to prevent erosion. Along the edges of the island are bare rocks and pocket forests of indigenous coastal hardwood varieties and mangroves.

A network of paths was established by Bluewater management to access the interior and Camp Bermejo and along the fringes to approach isolated beaches and hidden nooks. The campsite, the lecture area and the kitchen are located near the man-made structures of Camp Bermejo. Seven Bluewater staff attended this training, which is geared for traditional outdoor and casual setting.

Introduction to Survival was the first chapter of the first day, May 23, and it is where the survivor’s mindset were explained thoroughly, along with the hierarchy of needs and of survival nutrition. Next was Water Sanitation and Hydration which is very important since islands and foreshore areas always bore the brunt of abrupt changes of weather from uncomfortable warmth to lashing sea sprays and wind chills. These places rarely host natural springs and fresh water sources.

Knife Care and Safety came next after lunch and siesta; and the participants learned our country’s knife law, ethics, safety carry and use, sharpening and proper storage. Then they get to test their dexterity with a knife through the practical chapter of Survival Tool Making where they carved spoons and drinking jugs from bamboo. Lectures ended at dusk. Participants helped each other out to cook their dinner. The campfire became the social hub of the yarns and storytelling episode which ended at around nine.

Second day, May 24, was a test for the participants and also was the most exciting. They fasted that day. Their concentration were challenged by hunger, thirst, humidity, drowsiness, annoying insects and the warm sun. First part of the morning was the chapter on Notches. It was another practical session with a knife but aided this time by a batoning stick. Five different notches had to be carved from a stick with the last one needed to hold another object like a rock or metal.

After that, everybody relaxed to listen to the section on Foraging and Plant Identification. They were shown photos of harmful plants and samples of simple traps and snares. Then we proceed to Fire, Tinder and Campfire Safety. On this episode, the participants were taught how to identify and chose the best firewood and kindling, manufacture tinder and test their skills on the ferro rod and the flint and steel. Later, they witnessed how fire is made through the bow drill.

Last lecture for the day is Food Preservation and Cooking. Their appetite for food which were denied them became possible by cooking rice in improvised bamboo pots. When that done, they proceed with Nocturnal Hunting. They caught five big land crabs with bare hands and sticks. They now have food to pair with their rice. However, we decide to release the crabs and eat food provided by Bluewater Sumilon. They had proven their worth and the campfire was now more lively.

Third day, May 25, the participants packed their things and, once finished, they sat around and listened to the lecture on Customizing the 72-Hour Bag. Different kits and items are shown to them of what it looked like and how does one design it to the type of environment and activity one is engaged in. Then came Traditional Navigation. Floating on seas, constellations, the sun and moon matter very much. Last one for the day was Outdoors Common Sense. It talked about protection, safety, wildlife encounters and well-planned travels.

The day wrapped up with giveaways courtesy of Mr. Jose Neo of the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild. A Seseblade Sinalung was raffled out and it went to a lucky Bluewater staff. This blogger is thankful for Mr. Erik Monsanto of Bluewater Resorts for making possible this training in a protected marine sanctuary of Sumilon. My thanks also goes out to Mr. Neo and Camp Red; and to my patrons whose names I carried and endorsed: Seseblades, Silangan Outdoor Equipment, KnifeMaker, Derek’s Classic Blade Exchange, Titay’s Liloan Rosquillos, Pacing’s House of Barbecue and Tingguian Tribe.

Document done in LibreOffice 5.3 Writer

Thursday, April 5, 2018

PURE SURVIVAL CHRONICLES: Virginio Lavilles, Defender of Bataan

IN THE COURSE OF my life’s journey, I have met many people who were survivors of different mishaps and catastrophes, circumstances and deprivations, wars and conflicts, and they lived to tell their experiences, predicaments and fortunes. While others I came across to, are witnesses of, or have been recipient of tales from these survivors, it still are stories worth telling. I am an eager listener and I always remember the stories very well and added these pieces of information into my “library of self-preservation”. This blog is, in itself, a repository of pure survival tales.

Virginio Lavilles is my uncle. He is more known by his friends as Guy. He is the big brother of my mother and he is popular everywhere. He is a very likeable fellow and he has a good sense of humor. He died when I was 12 due to cirrhosis of the liver. When he was alive, he used to come over regularly to our house to visit us. Actually, it was the house of my grandparents. Our next-door neighbor is his sister. But he lived in Barrio Luz and has a family of his own.

He, along with my grandparents, my mom and my aunt, and sometimes visitors from Bohol who were always welcome to stay in the house, would talk and reminisce about the years preceding World War II and during those darkest of days when the Japanese came. I always heard their stories and I became familiar with it. My uncle was a legendary character and I find it strange that this gentle family man was another person whom I cannot reconcile as him in those stories.

So it goes that the clouds of war came to the Philippine Islands. The United States, who governed the archipelago, wanted to remain neutral even when Germany invaded Poland, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and France in September 1939 and threatened to cross over the English Channel. Japan fought a maritime war with Russia and annexed Korea, Manchuria and Taiwan and, later, invaded China, Indochina, Burma, Malaya and the Dutch East Indies.

Gen. Douglas McArthur was mustered from retirement by the US Congress and was tasked to plan and organize the defense of the Philippine Islands, most notably from Japan. It was during this time that several divisions of the Philippine Army were organized and trained for conventional warfare under the umbrella of the United States Army Forces of the Far East or USAFFE. It would fight side by side with American divisions.

There were not enough men to fill up the divisions as the local populace cannot fathom why Japan would wage war on neutral US and on the Filipinos, reasoning that we have no scruples with Japan. It was not our war, but the US believed that the archipelago was a very tempting prize for Japan, nevertheless, since it would control maritime traffic and, at the same time, protect their own transport of valuable natural resources like rubber, petroleum, lumber and metal ores from invaded countries.

The US and their Philippine counterpart appealed to their constituents and, slowly, enlistment began to pick up. My uncle found himself one day in an Army enlistment post inside Camp Lapulapu. His father, Atty. Gervasio Lavilles, personally brought him there out of patriotic duty. The old man served once as a Philippine Scout during World War I. My uncle was 17 when he was forced by his father to be a soldier and became Private Lavilles.

Then on December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and, hours after that, declared war on the USA. The following day, Japanese planes went south, bombed and strafed all military and vital civilian installations in the Philippines everyday. The US and Philippine forces were caught flatfooted and it became inevitable to everybody that Japan did not give a damn about no scruples and all. Everybody now wanted to join the Army.

Trainings and preparations were doubled and rumors of Japanese landings came from all directions. The populace were agitated and some abandoned the urban centers for the countryside. On December 22, 1942, the Japanese landed in Lingayen Gulf and the real invasion began. It was a very strong force. All opposition wilted before the fighting prowess of the Japanese, many of whom were veterans of jungle warfare in Indochina, Malaya and Borneo.

Pvt. Lavilles and his unit were deployed to Luzon to face this invasion force. Gen. McArthur activated War Plan Orange 3 and all units proceeded to the Bataan Peninsula to lure the force of Lt. Gen. Masaharu Homma there instead of destroying Manila and exact needless civilian casualties. The lines were set and fire and steel rained against each other. Mechanized warfare overran trenches and flesh as the discord of war placed everyone in a state of shock and madness. I heard these words from my dear uncle:

“I lost many of my friends. I just could not easily accept it and continued to deny, even to this day, that they died. They were very alive. They were of my age. We even joked a few hours before and smoked our last cigarettes when the bombs came. It was hard to accept. I would ask God, why not me? I lost my appetite after that and kept thinking of them and then the bombs would come and I forgot about them for a while…

The explosions shook the earth and you hold on to yourself for dear life, wishing you were in another place. You are scared, angry, thirsty and your adrenaline is up. Your stomach is in a knot. You felt the hunger but you have no taste for it. There is no way, no chance, to place a shot at your enemy. Somewhere infront of you are Americans and Filipinos. I was counting the days when I would find the chance to kill a Japanese soldier or be killed…

Living among the dead in the trenches was overpowering. All what was left of your former comrades lay grotesque and horrid. A few of them had half of their faces blown away; many lost limbs; a lot got half of their bodies burned and a lucky few, they just died as if in a state of grace. They all lay there and you moved carefully not to step on them until the front became silent and they were taken away for burial. Streaks of blood on the earth remind you that they were still there.

The defensive lines of Bataan retreated every week but it was enough to stymie the timetable of the Japanese. They were expecting half-hearted opposition just like they encountered in China, Indochina, Malaya and the Dutch East Indies. They even overwhelmed the Royal British and the Royal Dutch forces. A feat which surprised even their military strategists and they were now using the same tested tactics in Bataan.

Weeks went by and it became March and the defenders of Bataan could not be dislodged easily. Japanese casualties were heavy. It was a stiff price since it claimed their most battle-hardened veterans. Reinforcements of fresh troops came and replaced battle-worn units. The Japanese now have total air superiority during this time and more ships supporting their infantry target the rear and the supply lines of the defenders.

The Japanese kept up the pressure, importing more troops from Korea, Malaya and Indochina. The defensive lines broke and became pockets of resistance. One pocket resisted and shrunk in size until it held the heel of Bataan. Resistance was futile as enemy opposition surrounded them from almost all sides, except where the side of Corregidor Island is facing.

I remembered that day of April 9, 1942. It was the saddest day for us defending Bataan with all of our lives. We lost so many and yet it was not enough. We ran out of heavy rounds many days ago and we fought bravely with small arms against overwhelming odds. We were left to our own wits on the field. Scrounging for rifle bullets that a comrade left behind. There were no more food to eat, no water to drink. It was a very hot day…

Infront of us was the enemy. Their tanks advancing slowly. My commanding officer handed me a piece of paper and a white cloth tied to a stick. I was chosen because I was the youngest and, perhaps, the dumbest private. Against my will, I climbed up slowly from the fox hole and raised my arms slowly and walked uneasily forward. I could have pissed right there as all Japanese weapons were trained on me…

Then a Japanese officer motioned me forward. I stepped a few more paces and told to stop. A Japanese underling walked past me and kicked the back of one leg and I went down to my knees. He snatched the paper and gave it to his superior. Another soldier kicked me from behind and I fell face flat on the earth and then he pumped a rifle butt on my head. It hurts but it hurts more that you are now a defeated adversary and a POW.” 

All told, there were around 10,000 Americans and about 58,000 Filipinos as prisoners of war. These survivors would be forced to march from Mariveles, Bataan to Capas, Tarlac on what would be known in history as the Death March. It is a walk of more than 90 kilometers, most of it on roads under a sweltering heat of the day. Only the fittest and the most adaptable would survive this infamous chapter.

The forced march, under the threat of death, started on April 10. The prisoners made it in five to twelve days to San Fernando, Pampanga. In between were rests under the heat of the sun, deprived of whatever shade. Whatever valuable items that prisoners possessed were confiscated and, ultimately, they had only the shirts on their backs, their trousers and their boots. Instant death came to anyone who possessed Japanese property.

Many more would succumb to exhaustion and poisoning caused by swallowing dirty food and water. Death could also come from the bayonets given to one who was now incapable of walking or in the act of escaping or accepting something from the civilians like food and water. By the sheer power of parched thirst, prisoners would have no other choice but drink water whenever they find it like ponds and canals.

After the formal surrender ceremony, the gravely wounded and those that could not move were placed separately from the rest. I believed they were all dispatched. Regimental lines were formed by company strength. We were told to march and marched we did. The Japanese marched with us with their bayonets attached to their muzzles and ready for the kill. They would threaten and kill you if you just stared at them or out of sport…

I looked for any opportunity of escape but I found none. Some of our comrades were lucky to escape unnoticed while a great number got caught and dispatched right away with machine guns, rifles and those long bayonets. An American beside me was able to catch a ball of sticky rice thrown from out of nowhere and everyone placed their dirty hands on it, including me, and devoured it without a trace…

We do not know where we were going but we know that the battlefields were much easier living than be a POW of the cruel Japanese guards. I was consoled by the presence of so many Cebuanos. We goad each other out and that gave me strength. Being a prisoner is not that bad, after all. You retained your self-esteem and I am proud to be with these brave Americans and Filipinos. I would not have this if I entertained of deserting my comrades during the early days of battle. Surely, I would never be forgiven by my father.

When the sickly masses of POWs reached San Fernando, they were all hauled in to waiting locomotives, packed tight inside livestock and freight box cars, to Camp O’Donnell in Capas. There were few engines and there were many prisoners. The Japanese did not expect that many. Many more succumbed to asphyxia, complications from infected wounds and extreme heat.

Camp O’Donnell used to be a camp of the Philippine Army’s 71st Division. The Japanese found use for it as a concentration camp for POWs. The billeting was expanded to accommodate close to 70,000 prisoners, well beyond their expectations. Light materials made of bamboo and palm shingles were constructed to house the unexpected number. Operating the camp was a logistical nightmare for any prison administrator.

I was in one of these bamboo structures. It was very small for the 200 of us. We slept sitting down on the hard ground but we were allowed to stretch outside during daytime. Many of us would be on work detail and we dug holes with sticks and bare hands. We were fed little rice and a little soup. A rat straying into our room would be a great feast. It was cool during the night but when it rained the bare floor would get flooded and, God knows, how many would piss on the seats of their pants…

The stench was overwhelming as weeks became months. What were once men were now stick men. The spaces between us were not tight anymore and air could move around us this time because we are now so thin. We could even sleep horizontally five at a time for an hour every four days. Little comforts like that made your life as POW bearable. I am glad we had officers. It became a fashion in camp to wear ragged oversized clothes. Of the original 200 many died but many prisoners arrived and we are packed to square one…

One day after Christmas Day 1942, I was conditionally released from Camp O’Donnell with a signed agreement that I would never fight again the Japanese and I would report every week to the military administrators where I lived. Those from Cebu were herded and packed into military transport to Manila and then put on a steamer bound to Cebu. It was a happy moment of my life that I get to see again my friends and neighbors but absent among them were those that paid their ultimate sacrifice for freedom in Bataan.

Private Lavilles eventually rejoined his father and sisters in Bohol in June 1944 and joined a guerrilla unit. When the Liberation forces came, he went out of hiding and fought side by side with Americans again in Cebu. After World War II, he was honorably discharged from the Army and worked under his father who established a law firm. Later, he worked under the City Government of Cebu.

He most likely experienced post-traumatic stress disorder after the war. Memories of departed friends and comrades and the brutalities of war might have been too much for him to bear and caused him to drink excessively almost every day. Alcohol intoxication might be his own method of coping with the post-battle stress. At that time, PTSD was still under clinical research and it was only in the ‘80s that this medical condition was properly treated.

He died on November 20, 1975. He was 54. He was survived by wife Lourdes and children Alice, Albert, Michael and Patrick.

Document done LibreOffice 5.3 Writer
Fifth photo grabbed from
Sixth photo grabbed from
 First and third photos grabbed from
Fourth photo grabbed from Imminent Threat Solutions

Second photo grabbed from KRQE News 13 | Associated Press
Seventh photo is a snapshot of a page of Bridging the Generation Gap by author Magdalena Loredo Lometillo
Eighth photo from the Lavilles Family Archive