Wednesday, August 26, 2009


THE PHILIPPINE AIR LINES Airbus A300 touched down on the tarmac of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) without the slightest jar in the early morning of June 24, 2009. It was a superb show of skill by the pilot of whose plane he flew through on the heels of a signal number 2 storm from Cebu to Manila.


I was quite worried leaving Cebu on a 6:15 AM flight knowing that there is a weather disturbance at hand. Nevertheless, I have to be in Metro Manila. My employers have faithfully placed their confidence on my shoulders to process the firearms application papers for their new pistols and revolvers. My destination – Camp Crame.

I have been on a similar task before on March 23 and 24, 2009 but I traveled then in a much favorable clime. However, I placed my trust in a short prayer and the flying skills of the Great Helmsman. I arrived in one piece and thanked the heavens for the feat.


From the NAIA Terminal 2, I hailed a taxicab for my billet in Harrison Street in Pasay City and by ten I was off to Camp Crame by way of the LRT and the MRT. It was raining and I put on my windbreaker. I arrived at eleven and met my contact, PO3 Flora Ocampo of the Office of the Chief, Civil Security Group.

Before taking lunch, I visited the Saint Joseph Chapel located in the center of the police camp and heard a noontime Holy Mass. The approach of the storm, however, threatened the whole of Metro Manila as classes were suspended and non-uniformed personnel streamed out of their offices leaving my papers untouched and unprocessed for that day.


I returned to Harrison and ate dinner together with my wife's cousins – the siblings Brett, Micah and Donna Mantos. Micah and Donna, now CPAs and blooming beauties, I last saw when they were just grade schoolers on a camp-out visit to the East Visayas Academy in Talisay City, Cebu in 1994 while Brett stayed with us in our old home back in 2000.

It rained the whole night as the storm passed overhead and the morn found me waking up early to find that the sky have cleared for a few hours and it rained again. As was yesterday's, I took a light rail travel to Camp Crame passing by over several stations. I left the licensing fees in the care of PO3 Ocampo and she assured me that the processing will be over by Friday or Monday, at the most.


I bade farewell again at the camp, which have been home to me on two occasions: from August to November 1991 when I was housed in Kiangan Hall, courtesy of Senior Superintendent Fortunato de Gracia during my police intelligence training; and from December 2001 to July 2002 when I was then quartered at the “White House” and attached as a part of the security team detail for Mrs. Sol Mendoza, the lovely wife of then-PNP chief, Director General Larry R. Mendoza.

I went directly to Harrison to say my warmest thanks and goodbyes to Brett and took a cab for NAIA 2 to catch a 5:15 PM flight to Cebu. On the way, the weather was fine and – surprise of surprises - there were no traffic! I arrived at the terminal an hour-and-a-half ahead of check-in time and poured my vacant time reading GUTS by Gary Paulsen.


Time to leave Manila once more and I settled in the A300 cabin still reading the same book. I took a PAL plane on my way to Cebu and safely landed at the Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA) at about 7:00 PM. I arrived home just in time to partake of a homely dinner prepared by my beautiful wife.

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Monday, August 17, 2009


INSPIRED BY MY SOLO trek in the dark on April 4, 2009, Boy Toledo and Ernie Salomon decided to try night-trekking along the trails between Napo and the Babag Mountain Range. They are, to me, the finest specimens of our kind who walked with me and I know the level of their physical conditioning and I have confidence that both can tackle navigation in the night with such ease. I opted to use this activity as an experiment in how to optimize the use of a single light to accommodate three or more hikers and to make life difficult for Boy T and Ernie.

I understand that a night hike in the woods is totally discouraged by the Leave No Trace movement, with which principles is strongly espoused by the Cebu Mountaineering Society and other outdoor clubs through all their seminars and outdoor activities, but it cannot be discounted by the fact that each individual will encounter such conditions some day in the future. I am one of those that will not swallow entirely this LNT for a reason; by a set of values entirely of my own; and a confidence borne of a wide experience in the outdoors.

However, there are other groups that do night-trekking because it is part of their tradition and of others still because it is more thrilling and challenging. These people, obviously, have not gone back to the trails where they have passed last night and see for themselves the great distortion on the vegetations caused by the limited vision offered by their hiking in the night. A little responsibility and a little training would do the trick to leave a little trace of their passing.

For this activity I will test-drive a Habagat Viajedor and stuffed inside it were my heavy old-school sleeping bag, clothes, a liter of water, a flat bottle of rum and other outdoor items. I also brought with me an Apexus tent which was given to me by Dennis Legaspi during the recent Sinulog Mardi Gras. I will be using it for the first time and, like the Viajedor, it will also be tested. I carried a much heavy load this time than our usual trip here as we will be spending a night at Manwel's Peak and there will be some cooking.

Boy T will carry and test his new Bulin camping stove, his cook set and half-cooked ham. I carried two kilos of rice while Ernie will do the honors of cooking the ham on his alcohol-fed stove and the rice on Boy T's stove. Meanwhile, I will just watch and start a little bonfire in my mind. That is the plan, I think.

On the night of April 25, 2009, we met at the parish ground of the Our Lady of Guadalupe de Cebu at six and we took dinner at nearby eateries before taking our traditional warm-up walk to Napo at 7:30 PM. We arrived there at 8:07 PM and we checked our equipment before proceeding to cross the first river crossing.

For my own good reason, I left my heavy Maglite 15-inch flashlight at home intending to train my eyes with starlight and to deny myself of the privilege of adequate illumination. Sounds extreme? Hard core? No and no! I am just a guinea pig this time. A crash test dummy manipulated by my own desire to achieve more night-trail experience and knowledge before imparting these to my fellow outdoors kind.

By the time we crossed the river, I led the pack with Boy T in the middle with his headlight on. Ernie donned his headlight but it is switched off and act as a back-up in case Boy T's light malfunctioned. There is no moon on the horizon unlike in my previous trip where there was a waning half moon. Despite a handicap of an almost absent lighting, I put forth a torrid pace and the two behind me sweated hard despite the cooling effect of an upland atmosphere. We arrived at the second-river crossing in almost daylight speed.

I drank from a spring nearby and we rested just a few minutes before we started on again taking another route that would by-pass the community at Sitio Busan. This trail is intended for use by us only on special occasions and in emergencies and just the three of us knew of this trail aside from the locals. We huffed and puffed as we climbed up and we wonder to each other why we got ourselves so tired this early. We proceeded steadily and took a quick rest and proceed again then a quick rest and so on and so forth...

At exactly ten we arrived at the house of Manwel Roble, our young friend and guide. He was already waiting for us and have been preparing his gears for this occasion. I was so thirsty and so were Boy T and Ernie. I drank from my Nalgene bottle and left less of a half liter of water for the last ascent to Mount Babag. Manwel's father went with us to lead us to a new trail. We followed a ridge and it went on higher and higher of a difficulty a degree or two lesser than that of Ernie's Trail.

This trail is a desolate trail and here and there were newly-cut branches and trunks of young trees and bushes and tossed about were frayed out leaves and twigs that were left to dry and rot on the hillsides. We smelled wood smoke and up ahead we heard a vociferous beat of a battery-powered stereo. Smoke blended with the fog and there was haze hanging around the surroundings and as we neared the object of the sound we saw one guy in a makeshift camp cooking rice over an oversized charcoal glowing red and hot while the other tending a charcoal-making hole. So, they do that at night now.

I call this trail the Babag East Ridge Pass and I will follow that trail again soon in daylight condition to investigate more of the environment that these mindless cockroaches are slowly eroding. This is our mountain too. We have as much right as they have on the land which they took for granted making easy money cutting trees for firewood and charcoal which they sell to greedy traders. A deed that does not help any of their children and their children's children. A deed that we hope to break someday.

At the final stretch of the trail, I let Ernie and Boy T, with their headlights on, overtake me and I tackled the dim trail with just the aid of starlight. It was barely discernible but I followed the trail marked by a parted hard ground in between plant growths and low vegetations. It was a slow pace I made for beneath what my eyes can't see are surfaces that were uneven and blocked with half-buried rocks and wood and protruding roots. And it was steep!

I arrived last at Babag Ridge at eleven-thirty and they were waiting for me on two parallel bamboo benches! The idea of walking on an almost even flat surface at the Babag Ridge Road is already rest for me so I forego with the temptation of sitting on the bamboo benches. The rest followed after me their lights bobbing in the dark. At almost twelve midnight we claimed our campsite at Manwel's Peak, three hundred meters far from the tower-ringed peak of Mt. Babag.

I pitched my Apexus tent and it was very easy to erect by my own self, much more so with a helping hand. Boy T tried pitching his tent but one front arch pole broke in two pieces leaving Boy T's tent looking like a strange UFO with two protruding antennas. Hehehe! I switched my sweat-soaked clothes with dry ones and I felt good but not my tummy! Boy T and Ernie were also very hungry resulting from the exertion so we decided to cook the rice and the ham and accommodate for ourselves a late late second dinner. We were so tired and we decided to forget the rum that I carried up here. Ernie later slept with Boy T while I shared sleeping space with Manwel.

We woke up at seven in the morning the following day, April 26. We reheated the ham and cooked another round of rice and ate breakfast before we decided to break camp and went downhill to our favorite store overlooking Metro Cebu. So early in the morning we consumed already four 1-liter bottles of San Miguel Beer Grande and we were greeted with a song from Tony Orlando's “Beautiful Sunday” on an FM station. After we have had enough of our drinking we backtracked to where we went at 10:00 AM and went down via Kahugan Trail. It started to rain. Hard!

We were so delighted by the pouring rain that we let ourselves soaked to the soles. FYI, raincoats are not part of our gears during our training. We need to increase our endurance to the cold. The rains packed hard the loose topsoil in going down to Kahugan and there were no slippery moments as we went down and down in such a fast pace. We made it in lesser time reaching the San Roque Chapel than the last time we visited here.

From the chapel, Boy T and me ran the excellent trail in under seven minutes time to the river crossing; jumping over obstacles and evading curves and turns with practiced food placements on a trail that were already so familiar with us. Our sweat mixed with the rainwater in our shirts by the time we reached the river bank and waited for Ernie with his cane to arrive. He did arrive three minutes later but it still was a good pace.

We walked the rest of the trail to Napo and arrived there at ten-forty. The skies were still cloudy and we decided to walk the asphalt and concrete road down to Guadalupe church and made it at 11:15 AM. From there, Ernie and me hopped inside Boy T's KIA Pride and drank empty the three bottles of San Miguel Beer Grande near the Guadalupe police station before resuming to attend the CeMS monthly meeting and consumed another two bottles. After that there was mayhem...


NIGHT-HIKING, NIGHT-trekking or night-walking is not advisable for anyone. Not even to those who have enough experience of the outdoors. Remember, the conditions encountered during daytime is different during nighttime. We all know these and we don't have to stretch our imagination further why is it so.

But there are three exceptions: (1) When you are caught up with dusk as you tried to make it to the campsite or to a pre-defined destination, (2) you rouse early from sleep and start at early dawn, and (3) you are training in a controlled environment.

The recent activity undertaken by us only illustrates the limitations by which a group of travelers in a very dim trail will encounter. It is already a given, that everyone is equipped with a flashlight or a headlight considering that this is one of the items that is given a high priority. As dusk approaches everyone will settle down and retrieve their own lighting device from their packs. And at a convenient hour everyone switches on their lights.

The night navigation training however dissolves the common notion that everyone should do as they please with their lights. That would be a comfortable thing to do walking in a well-illuminated trail without thinking of the consequences if all the lights fail at the same time. That is impossible, yes, but there is always Murphy's Law to contend with and that natural law will never go wrong. Then there's the matter with security if you give off a bright luminescence from a distance.

With the training, the participants were instructed to maintain a walking formation whereby a single light would be adequate and to make available other lights on stand by mode. The other purpose of this training is to develop and make use of the participants' natural night vision and how to sustain this plus how to identify certain constellations that will keep you oriented.

One light is sufficient for three people, two lights for five to six and the lightbearer should be strategically placed in between and the fewer lights used the lesser visibility from a distant observer. This is not an easy thing to do but, through practice, it will be second nature. Ernie and Boy T have gained with this experience and they have learned fast unheard of for old men.

Night Navigation Training is one activity that does not come often. The trails in Napo to Mt. Babag would present that opportunity perfectly to anyone who may avail of this. Just give me a nudge and I will oblige your request.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009


TIBET IS NOT CHINA. Neither is it part of the latter. This I know when I began to read history books in the '70s.

There's a whale of a difference between the two! Tibet is a theocracy while China, officially the People's Republic of China, is a socialist state. The finest form of Buddhism is practiced in Tibet. The PROC have, long ago, shelved the spiritual aspect of its citizens by the Cultural Revolution of Mao Zedong.

The PROC invaded Tibet in 1959 and have subjected the Tibetans to a long history of ridicule, oppression, violence and unimagined cruelty. Tibetans don't consider themselves Chinese in much the same way as the Basques in Spain and the Tamils in Sri Lanka; yet they have not taken the path of armed resistance. Theirs is the path of non-violence and compassion.

Their present plight is what a small group of Cebuano peace activists called the Circle of Friends for Tibet have taken up in a meeting deep in the heart of Friendship Village, Cebu City, Philippines in the late afternoon of August 2, 2009. Ernie Salomon and I, both fresh from a whole day of mountain climbing, came to that meeting by invitation. We all watched a DVD documentary – Tibet's Cry for Freedom.

I understand, when the PROC decided to invade Tibet, Tibet did not maintain a standing army. What they have were volunteer monks, untraditioned in the art of warfare; armed with bows, spears and flintlocks called to defend against a modern mechanized communist army – themselves an army of a once-oppressed people in 1939-45.

The film documented the first Western eyewitness accounts of a peaceful Tibetan demonstration sometime in 1998 which was violently quelled by the PROC authorities. In it were numerous photographs and videos surreptitiously taken by outsiders showing the People's Liberation Army imposing their will upon the Tibetan people. More than a thousand died: monks, nuns, old men, women and children.

This Tibetan trait for peaceful resolutions of their predicament have been taken advantaged of by the PROC authorities. In one segment of the film, the PROC army gang up on a lone and helpless monk cowering on the ground and took turns in beating him to bloody pulp with nightsticks. Despite those, the Tibetan people offered its other cheek.

As if that is not enough, a third of Tibet's land area were gobbled up by their hungry neighbor up north. Tibet's cultural and spiritual structures were demolished to give way to condominiums and malls. Chinese immigrants came, wave after wave, and dominated Tibet's economy; saturating their puritan community with wickedness associated with night life.

Tibet's people were relegated as second-class citizens. What economic and employment opportunities offered where reserved for ethnic Chinese immigrants. Traditional crops were replaced with those that support China's population. Many Tibetans seek asylum in other countries while those that remain have to contend with extreme poverty or death. Meanwhile, the United Nations do nothing but talk, talk and talk. Blah. Blah. Blah...

I have never seen of a peaceful and spiritual people being subjected to such cruel and inhuman persecution by another people of another culture until now which happened in Tibet. Theirs is of the same parallel to the persecution of the First Christians by the whole Roman Empire. Perhaps, it is in the same length and breadth done against Native Americans by the immigrant population of white America.

We were all caught aghast by the barbarity of the treatment the Chinese heaped on the gentle people of Tibet. The suffering of the Tibetan people goaded the Circle of Friends to organize a Free Tibet Concert last year in Mambaling Park to create awareness in this part of the world about their miserable plight. They have also picketed the PROC Consulate here in Cebu and distributed leaflets condemning the grave human rights violation they have inflicted on the people of Tibet.

I have vowed to help Tibet in my own little way. They will always have space in my heart and in my blogs. This is a story of Tibet and I am not afraid to tell it here.



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Saturday, August 1, 2009


I DRANK MY LAST BOTTLE OF beer and I went home at thirty-five past eight in the evening. Our office just concluded a Thanksgiving Mass and there was a buffet dinner and then drinks were served. It is Saturday, April 4, 2009 and, earlier, two members of the Cebu Mountaineering Society led a mixed group of eighteen member-applicants and guests from and from NCR to a trek from Guadalupe to Mount Babag at 10:00 AM.

I am supposed to be on that morning trip but I begged off from joining the activity but I promised them that I would be there at eleven in the evening. The drinking session in our office was an unforeseen event and I was forced to tarry long, but, nevertheless, I did make true my oath that I WILL BE THERE and so I quickly gulped all the frothy liquid served to me.

After a quick shower I packed my things inside my Habagat Venado II and bade goodbye to my wife and the kids. I carried along my heavy Maglite - powered by four size-D batteries, my rainbow-colored Mantrack jungle knife and my new Böker folder for my protection on my solo travel in the dark. I also brought my throwing axe and secured this outside my backpack while I held the flashlight with either hand. A good knife is a good companion on the trail.

At 9:47 PM I arrived at the back of the Guadalupe church and I rode a motorcycle-for-hire for Napo and started my lonely trek 15 minutes later. It was very dark on the trail but there were wisps of moonlight that penetrated through the foliage and I used this scant light to navigate myself in the dark. A waning half-moon was still hanging in the western sky and in two hours it would be hidden behind the Babag Range. It was not easy doing travel without a focused light in front of you but I managed myself quite well.

I reached the second river crossing at 11:02 PM. I admit I mimicked the pace of a turtle. My personal safety is always on my mind and I used my flashlight only when crossing a river or a gully. It is best to limit your visibility at night. I bypassed upland communities knowing that a stranger's scent and sound could be easily picked up at night by a watchful dog so I improvised and followed trails where I have not passed before and calculated the routes to connect it to the main trail. These could not be easily done during daytime much more so during night without using a flashlight.

Finally, I reached Manwel Roble's place at fifteen past twelve midnight and I was soaking wet with perspiration even when the night was quite cool. I could hear voices from within the house and they have not noticed my coming so I took camera shots of myself sitting on the bamboo benches before I decided to make known my presence. I gave away my two kilos of rice to them so I could make use of less weight tackling the difficult Ernie's Trail.

Manwel's father accompanied me and I decided to use the flashlight to light our way. The moon had already descended beyond the Babag skyline and there are no more faint moonlight to aid in my navigation. The use of the flashlight at this phase of the trail is most needed and I would have to forego the element of invisibility. Along the route I could clearly see the lines and ridges left by many hiking shoes seen at a different angle of light. They left a lot of shoe prints to follow!

I arrived at the established campsite at Manwel's Peak at about 1:30 dawn of April 5. Ernie Salomon and Glenn Lao held vigil, along with five others, to await of my coming. It was a refreshing sight at this vantage scanning the bright lights of the part of the metropolis. The two bridges linking the island of Mactan with the mainland sparkled in the clear air while vehicle lights would repeatedly glint as they travel along lighted avenues and urban byways. Across another campsite faraway firelights danced and twirled and we thought it to be St. Elmo's fire.

Manwel was also awake and he was grinning ear to ear and I greeted him congratulations for graduating from elementary school. And gave him a high five. Yeah! Cool! After Ernie helped me set up my borrowed Coleman tent I decided to call it a night - or day - whichever is appropriate. Yes, I slept without even unfolding my sleeping bag and I didn't know that. I was that exhausted.

I woke up at nine and I noticed that they have already cleared the campsite. Mine was the only tent left standing. Por dios mio! I quickly broke camp and stowed all my belongings inside my bag. While I was busy, Glenn L and Boy Toledo where talking to the group. It surprised me to see Brian Gera present. Now we are four CeMS members leading a “mixed group of eighteen member-applicants and guests from and from NCR”.

After a photo session and prayers by Vince, Dusty of with her brother and friend, decided to part ways with us, with them going by way of the easy Babag Ridge Road exiting at Garaje in Busay while we will follow our scheduled route down for Kahugan Trail and back into Napo then Guadalupe. Without a surplus of time I skipped breakfast and gave away my part to Manwel and to his cousin, Paterno. We gave the boys their guide and errand fees and we left them our surplus of unused canned goods, noodles and snacks.

Boy T led the downhill route while Brian and Glenn L acted as backstop. Me, well, I just went with the flow of the pace and content myself without working my mind on managing the speed of the group. The sun was hot and all felt and bothered by the heat. We met fellow hikers from MONC going the other way and we exchanged smiles and short conversations with them. We arrived, finally, at Napo at 11:30 AM and all ordered cold softdrinks to whittle away the thirst.

Travelling at the asphalt road under the near noontime sun would be a useless exercise and we all settled to ride motorcycles-for-hire by twos instead and reached the parish grounds of Guadalupe safely and quickly. It was a successful assessment and training climb by Boy T, Glenn L, Brian and me on the fine young member hopefuls; with which event ran parallel to an ongoing climb undertaken by eight CeMS vanguards on the Cuernos de Negros Mountain Range.

The climb at Mt. Babag were ably steered by Boy T and Glenn L with support from Brian and Ernie. At the end of the activity, four of the participants submitted their membership-application papers to Boy T - a gesture which elicited an approving smile from him. Jolly good show Boy T! You have finally arrived.

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