Tuesday, March 25, 2008


DURING THE DATES November 25-27, 2007 three phenomena occurred inside the Philippines. It gave me goose chills for these series of events were unprecedented in meteorological and climatic history in this part of the world that gave rise to the suspicion that climate change have now reared its fearsome effect upon us.

First of these were the appearance of three tropical storms, all at the same time, within the Philippine area of responsibility. Storm “Lando”, which was in the process of exiting the country after wrecking havoc over Central Philippines in its westerly route the week before; storm “Mina”, which got stalled at the vicinity of Catanduanes Island packing 175 kph winds; and storm “Nonoy”, following the trail of “Mina”.

The second phenomenon was the circling dance of the storms “Mina” and “Lando” in what the meteorologists termed as the Fujiwara Effect. This climatic oddity was first observed by Dr. Katsuo Fujiwara in 1902 in Japan, for which name was eventually attributed to him. The stronger “Mina” seemed to have siphoned off the weaker “Lando” causing the latter to change direction in a semi-circle and reversed back to where it came!

Then, for a preview of worse things to come, the sea water, spawned on by the gravity pull of a full moon and a storm surge, rose to an unprecedented level. In the Mactan Shrine of Lapulapu City (site of the Magellan and Lapulapu monuments), what always used to be dry land, suddenly, got inundated with sea water while seafood restaurants erected on stilts on the seashore nearby saw their floorings being flooded for the first time.

At Cebu City, sea walls located at the villages of Ermita and Pasil, where engulfed by large sea swells causing four houses to float and being removed from their foundations. Elsewhere in other parts of the Visayas and Northern Mindanao, hundreds of families were evacuated to safer grounds as big waves rose to great heights destroying their homes.

Fortunately though, the attempted putsch of Trillanes et al at the Manila Peninsula Hotel in the financial district of Makati which came at a later date (November 29) after bolting out from their guards from the middle of a court hearing did not classify as a phenomenon even though the possibility of a lunar interference which, sometimes, a full moon does to a body of flexible matter like fluids or of a living organism or creature whose body mass contained fluid-like attributes, causes it to move or act in a strange and radical manner, which that attempted power grab episode seemed to indicate.

It is a political absurdity though that occurs now and then up there in Manila that usually get a good exposure by an equally comical media that, altogether, makes the market barometer stick gyrating and shaking up and down crazily in the Philippine Stock Exchange.

Even though we in the south are isolated from those political troubles affecting the National Capital Region, still, tremors caused by those events affect us down here in the provinces. Politically, we're immune to the turmoil up there and life goes on here oblivious of the drama, but what got our goat is when those foolishness occur prices of basic commodities would go berserk in the provinces without our doing and, most of the time, fundings for projects would halt to a trickle and national basic services would drag in a wait-and-see attitude.

And why does Cebu, the rest of the Visayas and Mindanao suffer the same fate every time clowns do their thing up there in Imperial Manila? I can't find any good answers but just hope and pray that we don't contract the grime and the diseases that they love to wallow in up there.

In the meantime, let's worry more about the wrath of nature.

Document done in OpenOffice 2.1 Writer, Trebuchet MS font, size 12.

Monday, March 10, 2008

MOUNT MANUNGGAL: An Epitome of a Sick Mother

I HAVE CLIMBED Mount Manunggal six times. First on September 26, 1992. The last on July 14, 2005. While climbing Manunggal is very hard as it is quite steep, what made it harder is it has no forest cover along its trail.

Deforestation is quite obvious as lands which used to abound with forests are now utilized to grow ginger, garlic, onions, cabbage, eggplants, etc., etc. They say that this part of the area is called the Central Cebu National Park, but, I say, it is the Central Cebu National Farm. Slash-and-burn farming left its mark on the earth as stumps of burnt-out trees are left like tombstones to remind as of man's indifference to his environment.

As always, we start down from Tagba-o in Barangay Tabunan, where we crossed a river that divides Cebu City from the town of Balamban whence Mt. Manunggal is a part of. From the river it was steep climbing all the way. Although Manunggal is only 3,009 feet above sea level, my club, the Cebu Mountaineering Society (CeMS), considered and rated it to be a major climb. The heat of the sun made it harder for want of trees and the trail is slippery and wet caused by the ever-present dew brought in by fogs.

With a heavy backpack you can negotiate Manunggal from the river up to the campsite in about four to seven hours, depending upon your physical fitness and area familiarity. Returning to Tagba-o is quite easy: you could walk or run downhill (provided you have strong and arthritic-free knees) and with a lighter pack it's over in two hours. In all, Manunggal is a good training site to prepare for harder major climbs outside Cebu.

Mount Manunggal is known for being the crash site of the presidential plane, Pinatubo, which crashed on its shoulder killing instantly the dear President Ramon Magsaysay and eighteen others on March 17, 1957. A monument honoring Pres. Magsaysay stands at the crash site, which, incidentally, is the present main camping area for mountaineers. A shrine was also made to house the relic of the Pinatubo – the plane's main engine block.

Later, a chapel was built by the University of San Jose-Recoletos (USJ-R) for their outreach project. One good reason why Manunggal is attractive to climbers is the presence of a very cool spring which never falters in water volume, come drought or el niño.

On my second climb on March 1993, many mountaineers converged there on the occasion of Pres. Magsaysay's death anniversary and I felt in high spirits due to a show of solidarity and presence of the same kindred souls like I do. I got to know and made friends with climbers from other clubs. We lit a big bonfire as different groups presented different entertainment presentations. It was very memorable.

A year later, we climbed Manunggal in the dead of night knowing that by day the trails will be full of people and very muddy and slippery caused by too many stomping feet. Familiarity with the trails of Manunggal had given us an advantage in doing a night trek. But by day, we observed, too many people had climbed up and many people are still coming. It was an unusual crowd and an air of a fiesta lent the air as people not belonging to any mountaineering group began to destroy vegetation they see, throwing at will plastic and other garbage around. What made it worse is that a lot of plastic were carried off by the breeze and scattered in different directions!

I saw many hogs, goats and hens being brought up to be slaughtered later, but, one pig I saw escaped from its leash and ran downhill so fast leaving its caretakers stumbling in its wake. Amused but disgusted at the same time, we folded our tents after lunch and went downhill for home to protest against the organizers who were promoting that year's climb. Never again that I and CeMS would participate in any activity that would destroy or neglect the beauty of our mountains.

All my other climbs at Manunggal were done not on the occasion of the Pres. Magsaysay death anniversary anymore and, once, on December 27, 1995 I made a solo ascent there and I felt peace with myself and the world. My last climb was with a group of unarmed policemen on training. We started from the trans-central highway in Barangay Gaas, Balamban where we passed by Pingis waterfall, then a boulder-filled river before climbing up.

I saw now a different Manunggal. The monument, the relic and the chapel are still there, but, they have “neighbors” now. Shanties have sprouted selling their wares. The ever-flowing spring is now boxed inside a concrete and water pipes protrude like an octopus' arms to irrigate the farms below. Oh, a row of outhouses are built near the spring. Too many structures built have despoiled the sanctity that is Manunggal.

On the other side of the mountain's shoulder, a DENR (Department of Natural & Environment Resources) station, a visitor's lodge and several huts were erected for purposes of maintaining the government's reforestation project and to house VIPs every time the commemoration of Pres. Magsaysay's death is held every year. It is also that time the mountain's ecosystem croaked and groaned through many agonizing moments as a sheer number of ecologically-impaired people converge to make fun of the environment leaving piles of uncollected garbage and bending and distorting every blade of grass or leaf and branch.

A road now connects Mount Manunggal (making it more accessible to these kind of people) from the trans-central highway and it is all of five kilometers or so in length, one-third of which is concreted. We exited through this road and I bade goodbye to my dear old Mount Manunggal one last time praying that the government's reforestation effort would cover all of the unabated intrusions, the shameless activities and unrestricted development that we have effected upon one of the homes of the rare and endemic bird – the Cebu flowerpecker.

Nearby is Mount Mauyog, almost equal or higher in altitude, but still unspoilt. Very few have camped there and that will be my future camping destination. On my way to Mauyog I will pass by Manunggal and, maybe, give her a kiss accorded to that of a mother. An ailing mother. I will be still around to watch over her concerns and complaints and give her a voice for all the world to hear.


Yet despite man's indifference towards his environment there is always a thin ray of light that gives hope to protect the environment from wanton exploitation and nerve-numbing development. A few voices will start that fire and ignites them into something productive. It takes only a few bold steps to make it roll against a brick wall of dissent coming from people having interests in that area of concern.

I salute the Honorable Eduardo R. Gullas, Cebu 1st District Representative, for doing something to protect our watershed (of which Mont Manunggal is part of) by sponsoring a bill known as the “Central Cebu Protected Landscape” in the Philippine House of Congress which was then enacted into a law. It shall now be unlawful to develop Cebu's watershed area composing the Central Cebu National Park, the Sudlon National Park, the Kotkot-Lusaran-Mananga river system, the Buhisan, Mananga and Lusaran watershed.

Although it doesn't bar people from coming to an fro in sheer numbers that create an ecological impact on Cebu's mountain areas, especially in the Central Cebu Mountain Range, but it does put a stop to all those development that is now starting at its fringes. At least, in this lifetime I lived to see something that ensures the survival of our children and their children's children.

This document is done in OpenOffice 2.1 Writer using Trebuchet MS font with size #12.

Monday, March 3, 2008


EVER SINCE James Naismith invented basketball in 1899, this sport has taken great leaps and bounds and has been popular ever since, in almost all countries and in all continents (except Antarctica). The sport has made tremendous growth and development (and popularity) since the founding of the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the United States whereby the game's standard has been raised to a higher and a much competitive level by such immortal greats as Bob Cousy, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julius Erving, Larry Bird, Earvin "Magic" Johnson and His Airness - Michael Jordan.

Basketball is basically a big man's game and is well suited to Europeans, Americans and some peoples of South America, Africa and Asia where height and heft is an advantage. This game was brought by American colonists in the early 1900s here in the Philippines and it quickly gained acceptance by the islanders due to its simplicity and accessibility with regards to equipment and playing field as compared to another American invention and import - baseball.

The Philippines, despite a population having only an average height of only five feet and three inches (5'3") earnestly played basketball with such passion, ardor, skill and heart that it became champions many times in basketball in the Far East Games of the 1920s up to the advent of World War II, beating taller and bigger teams like China and Japan.

The "islanders", as they were called, placed seventh in basketball in the 1928 London Olympic Games (its highest finish since) and, at one time, 12th in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. In the World Basketball Championships, the forerunner of the FIBA Cup, Filipinos have been running roughshod over bigger and taller teams by placing third in 1954 and fourth in 1956.

Here in Asia, we were masters of the game in the Asian Games from 1950 up to 1961 and in 1969. The last international title we held where we sent native-born cagers was the 1975 Asian Basketball Championships, from whence the core of that squad became the pioneers of the second basketball professional league in the world - the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA).

The Filipinos would talk about basketball in much the same length and breadth the Italians and Brazilians would talk about football or England about cricket. It is the staple of all topics whether you are in Malacañang, in the schools, in the slums, in high-end villages, even in combat zones.

Every generation, every child aspires to play basketball just like their idol and it is a common sight that you would see pick-up games or grassroot leagues played in makeshift basketball courts right on the streets, on dirt and grassy fields, on mountainsides and on anything that is almost flat and has space.

I belong to that generation wherein basketball is played in makeshift courts, and playing in a covered court or gymnasium is considered a luxury. I was fourteen when I started playing basketball. We were so damn good then in dribbling the ball in pot-holed and gravelly fields that when we played in cemented courts its as if our feet have wings. Much more so in a wooden parquet-tiled court.

At 14 and at 5'4'' I was tall enough to play point guard and developed the skill to dribble efficiently in both hands. I also developed a good shooting touch from all angles and, being a left-hander, opponents find it difficult to defend against me whether I'm shooting a jumper or scoring on a lay-up.

But by 17, I grew to 6'1'' so fast that I find it hard to execute my moves as a point guard. The added weight stretched and slowed me so much and that I was not accustomed to play in a higher horizontal level leaving me gasping and disoriented due to the rapid change of my growth hormone. Although I shot and made long jumpers, I was forced to play an unfamiliar position of center, my teammates contending that there wouldn't be anyone to snare the rebound if I miss those long jumpers. And they were right.

In the early 1980s, PRT gyms are quite exclusive and expensive and it would have helped me in developing my stamina and my strength, but, I opted to change gears: I played and practiced soccer instead, for a year, wherein it helped me gain my speed, my agility and the total control of the game once more.
In 1982, I tried out (and got accepted to play) with the University of Southern Philippines (USP) Panthers but went to play instead with the Cebu State College of Science & Technology (CSCST) Builders after my school records in another university got snagged. I hogged the bench that year where we were winless, but in my second year as a Builder, I averaged 7.4 points and 2.6 rebounds in the Cebu Amateur Athletic Association (CAAA) where we notched a win at the expense of the Cebu Technical School (CTS) Scanners. In that year I could never forget the 60-152 lashing our team got from powerhouse University of the Visayas (UV) Lancers, who eventually won the CAAA, the Zonal Championships and the National Students' Basketball Championships.

For the next two years we logged two wins against CTS and a win against USP. We also became champions in basketball competitions of the Association of Vocational Institutions of the Philippines (AVIP) in Region 7 twice and, in 1986, CSCST represented Region 7 during the State Colleges Universities Athletic Association (SCUAA) held in Tacloban City, wherein we placed third behind Region 3 and the National Capital Region. During my last year, we snatched two wins: against Salazar Institute of Technology (SIT) Skyblazers by a wide margin and, again, CTS.

By the time my eldest son was born in 1989, I hung up my sneakers from competitive playing. Sometimes, I got invited to play in basketball tournaments by some teams, but the zest for the game was now missing and I have to oblige their invitation by showing up in some games and practices (and the free uniforms!). I thanked God for protecting me from injuries that many have incurred and incapacitated their playing careers and I took care not to experience those injuries now late in my age. What skills I have learned and studied I will pass on to my sons, Gringo and Cherokee.

Definitely, there are no more basketball games for me, but there is the TV where I tune in to and watch with millions of other Filipinos of the country's greatest of all pastime - BASKETBALL!

Document done in AbiWord 2.4.6, Trebuchet MS, font size 12.