Thursday, January 22, 2015

NAPO TO BABAG TALES LXXVIII: For the Benefit of the Children of the Highlands

      “Whoever welcomes a child such as this in my name, welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me, welcomes not me but the One who sent me.”

                                               Mark 9:37, Catholic Pastoral Edition

      “The one who is found to be the least among you all, is the one who is the greatest.”

                                               Luke 9:48, Catholic Pastoral Edition

PICTURES TELL STORIES. This is all about The Outreach phase of the Who Put the “N” in Nature III, held at the Babag Mountain Range, Cebu City on May 25, 2014. It is a very warm sunny day, made humid by an early morning rain. Volunteers take the loads of school supplies and food and juice cups into their sturdy shoulders to bring smiles to the children of Kahugan, Kamiliano and Napo, who all were already expecting us at the Roble homestead. The number of recipients are a lot more compared to last year but the team worked hard to achieve the goal of feeding the children and their parents and evenly distributing the school supplies.

This is our story:

The following are cited for their collective effort, support, sacrifice and cooperation to make the Who Put the “N” in Nature III, a very successful endeavour:


...and to those not mentioned, God knows the good things you did in secret. Smile.


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Thursday, January 15, 2015

WARRIOR REVIEW: Silangan Greyman Hike Pants

A PAIR OF LONG HIKING pants are essential in my outdoor activities. Bushcraft and survival demands such apparel for it protects you from scratches and some harmful plants as the playground it chooses to be are thickly wooded areas and jungle. There is a big difference when you wear a pair of long pants that I decide to purchase a few pairs. One of these is made by SILANGAN OUTDOOR EQUIPMENT.

SILANGAN OUTDOOR EQUIPMENT is a local company based in Talisay City, Cebu that had made its name making quality tents like the REV 20, the REV 20+II, the AMIEL 5 and the EIS 8. These tents had taken by storm the local mountaineering community because of its revolutionary designs. The tents had been to all of the most notable peaks in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao and had stood toe-to-toe with imported brands when it comes to weight and resistance to the elements. Its prime advantage is its price.

When Jay-R Serviano thought of experimenting about branching into outdoor apparels, he begun to produce rain pants and wind breakers. Then he made a prototype short pants that Wil Rhys-Davies of Snakehawk Wilderness School volunteered to test. I liked the fabric that he used that I insisted to order a pair of long hiking pants, based upon a simple design. I even suggested to make it custom-made for me and so the SILANGAN GREYMAN Hiking Pants was born. It is the only one of its kind since the SILANGAN tab is stitched, by mistake, at a different place.

Why is it called a GREYMAN? Well, for one thing, it is in gray color. Gray is a neutral color. When you are wearing something gray, you could blend well on any environment, whether you are in an urban area or in the mountains. Gray had been associated with people who remain inconspicuous or go unnoticed in places where they live or operate and these are people with dangerous occupations or doing clandestine jobs. The street lingo “grey man” is meant to describe these certain individuals.

In fact, when wearing gray, you could pair it with anything. Whatever shirt or semi-formal upper attire you wear or whatever color, gray seems to melt into the background and becomes one with what you have on. The color is just so flexible and the SILANGAN GREYMAN had given justice to the flexibility of gray by using a very flexible fabric that stretch for almost an eternity. The GREYMAN is made from a light synthetic cloth that is available locally.

It has two main slip-on pockets on the front and another pocket at the back, which has a zipper, found at the right. The front opening is secured by a good-quality velcro tape and a durable zipper. Four belt loops are stitched at the waistline which could accommodate standard operator belts. A black PVC key ring is stitched at the front to keep those small items handy all the time.

I had worn and tested the GREYMAN for the first time during the Outlaw Bushcraft Gathering held at Sibonga, Cebu in 2012. For three days and three nights, I had not removed it away next to my skin. It was a hot and humid three days yet the fabric had not caused suffocation on my skin since it is very breathable. Its lightness had added to the comfort. During the coldest temperatures brought on by dawn, the GREYMAN surprisingly held my body heat in check, particularly at the lower legs.

I had also worn the GREYMAN on thick forests and jungles. Many times, I got caught with the spines of rattan palms. This is a very formidable vine-like plant where spines grow on its stems, leafstalks and leaves. Its tendrils are thin and would always catch fabric and skin unnoticed until you get tugged. Miraculously, the GREYMAN had survived such ordeals with nary a tear except a few dismounted strands which can be easily returned to its place with a few stretch of the fabric.

One time, it was accidentally sliced by a knife. I leave it be. Instead, I observed the damage over a period of time, whether the cut would extend to other areas like most wearable materials do. It had not run and the edges had not frayed despite exposure to sustained tropical outdoor activities. The cut had not widened either.

I have used the GREYMAN as my main working pants during humanitarian missions in Bohol, after the 7.2 earthquake, and in Northern Cebu, after Typhoon Yolanda. It was soaked many times by saltwater when I had to wade beaches to transport relief items from boat to shore. I had also used this during a week-long filming sessions that documented the Bajau people in Leyte. I was partly wet all the time but I had not encountered chafing on the inner thighs by its smart design.

The GREYMAN fabric, not only is very light, flexible, breathable, stretchable and tough, it is also quick-drying. You may get wet, but as you walk by, it dries very quickly. Washing it with regular laundry detergent is no problem inside a washing machine or by traditional means. It is tough and could withstand rubbing and wear-and-tear at its most vulnerable condition like being wet.

After more than two years, my pair of SILANGAN GREYMAN Hike Pants is still in good condition. It had received abuse by any conceivable form in the furtherance of my outdoor activities. I would want another pair because I am quite satisfied with the material used and the workmanship of SILANGAN OUTDOOR EQUIPMENT.

Unfortunately, this apparel is not sold openly on the market yet but you could order it personally from Jay-R Serviano or thru me but it is best if you could visit the SILANGAN OUTDOOR SHOP located at Sangi, Tabunok, Talisay City.

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Thursday, January 8, 2015


ALTHOUGH THE OUTREACH will be next week, Jhurds Neo and Dominic Sepe found it imperative that the donated school supplies which were collected during the Who Put the “N” in Nature III Concert-for-a-Cause last Friday at the Handuraw Events Cafe be immediately transferred to Kahugan. I go with the flow of the two and I am here at the parking lot of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church today – May 18, 2014 - because of that.

There would be a lot of notebooks, writing pads, pencils, crayons and other items and I will have to maximize my presence and usefulness by bringing a big bag for this purpose. For the first time, I will use an olive-green duffel bag that used to be the property of the South Korean military which a cousin had given me many months ago. No, my cousin is not Korean and he neither looked like one.

Jhurds, on the other hand, will also be using a vintage rucksack that was issued to the Swiss military and once belonged to his uncle who was drafted in the early ‘70s. It has a 50 liter room space. He showed me the spacious insides and it had already been claimed by two 1.5 liter plastic bottles of iced Coke. How does he plan to place some notebooks in there?

Anyway, aside from Jhurds, Dominic and I, those who also come are Aljew Frasco, Christopher Maru, Eli Bryn Tambiga, Jerome Tibon, Bogs Belga and Tope Laugo. This had not been an announced activity but the idea of this worked its way through cellphone messages. This is strictly a Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild activity. Although the donated items are many and may be heavy, but it is not daunting. We have many good reasons why it is not despite this oppressive heat.

We leave at 08:00 and, thankfully, Aljew had brought his Toyota pickup and it saves us money to pay for motorcycles. The pickup found parking space in Arcos and we only have to hike a few meters to Napo. My duffel bag is heavy, fully loaded with children’s books, notebooks and writing pads. As usual, I have my dirty cook pots, my EDC kit, my blades, extra shirt, a water bottle and a Silangan “stealth hammock” which I used as a cushion between pot and my lower back bones. Aside that, I add a kilo of pork meat into my cargo.

From Napo, I readjust the tilt of the duffel bag from time to time so I could maintain balance and prevent chafing on one of my shoulders. The uneven terrain causes the bag to shift many times and I also have to adjust this the same number of times. When I reach a mango tree, I stop to rest. It is good to just stop for a while and listen to your body talking in its very peculiar manner. After 10 minutes, I move on.

I reach Lower Kahugan Spring and drink a lot of water. I am deprived of that since my water bottle is empty and placed inside the duffel bag. Oh, it is a blessing to just remove it from my back. I am beginning to experience a little pain on the flesh of my shoulder blades. It is because, while it is heavy, there are no cushion pads on the shoulder straps. It will be painful once the terrain begins to go steep and I am now facing an ascending trail with dread which I will soon walk.

This first person monologue also applies to the rest. While I may be explaining my predicament, the others have had also their own difficulties. Even with smaller backpacks and lesser cargoes, they are also in a struggle with the heat and their hands are holding plastic bags of school supplies. These are men of hard stock and they manifest their presence on this day by doing something good here instead of being somewhere else. They are not mainstream and does not want to be.

These are men whom I could rely on any SHTF situation anytime. They do not blink and give alibis at the last minute. They are very austere in their gears and the lack of it does not cause a problem for them since what they do not have they make. They carry knives openly, hanging proudly at their sides, which showed their true worth as gentlemen of the outdoors. These are not carried for anything else except as an extension of their working hands in union with their thinking minds.

Enough said! I walk Kahugan Trail with a liter of water added as weight. I concentrate on my breathing in cadence with my steps. I close all perceptions of discomfort and focus on how I could deliver my precious cargo to the Roble homestead. The Roble family will again host the outreach on May 25, 2014 and, for the time being, we will use their home as a storage space for these school supplies. I know there will be more donations of this kind when we will do the event reprise at The Outpost on Friday.

Slowly, I ascend. The bag straps digging into my shoulders. The load conspicuously present all the time. Behind me is Bogs, the rest are beyond my vision. The warmth of the day is relentless but I have a camouflaged veil protecting my face and my nape. I looked like a queer Arab though with my improvised headgear. I yearn a drink but it is in the duffel bag and I do not have the patience to unhook the straps from my shoulders and putting it back after a mere sip.

Good thing the route pass by a lot of old mango trees. Shady spots keep your head high, especially when there is a cool breeze. Every so often I rest under these spots. If a cloud passes overhead, I take that opportunity and walk a good distance until the sun take back what little joy I had. Regardless, I push on, passing by an even steeper path, rocky and uneven, but with a lot of handholds. I could already see the great tamarind tree and the house neath it from half a kilometer away.

Finally, at 10:30, the heavy duffel bag is off me. It now sits on a rough-hewn wooden bench, its precious cargo are being unloaded. I take a much-deserved drink and I begin to scrutinize a Mora Companion knife that Jerome had given me hours ago. I never had a Mora before and I appreciate Jerome’s generosity. It is genuinely Made in Sweden. As with all Scandinavian knives, it is rat-tailed, the tang buried by a rubber handle. The blade is made of carbon steel while the sheath is PVC with a clip to hook on a belt.

I snatch the pork meat I carried and sliced it with the Morakniv according to the menu: Squarish for the pork adobao and slender for the mung bean soup. It is effortless, of course, with the great reputation these Swedish knives have for its edge. Deboning the meat is seamless as well. Trust that to the dexterity of the hands. Meanwhile, Bogs offer me a sachet of gourmet chocolate drink and I would not pass this chance while the place is still blissfully empty. When the rest arrive, it will be pandemonium!

My waiting for the rest of the stripes took quite a while. They had not anticipated the heavier load they carried on a warm sunny day. Jhurds is winded but ever smiling. Jerome feel something bad in his stomach. Aljew is speechless but unbothered. Christopher gave a sigh but shrugged off the predicament. Doms is scowling as sweat drip on his face. Eli, unbothered, just keeps his silence. Tope, on the other hand, prays for blessing on a board exam he is going to take.

Like sudden rain that fall on land, the Roble homestead gets flooded with the sound of chopping wood. The famous blades of Camp Red gets unleashed by their masters. Even with that, you feel safe as all use their knives responsibly. All know their knowledge of knife etiquette learned during the Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp.

Tripods are immediately set up when the first flickers of fire showed among the matting of tinder and kindling. Firewood are collected and split by large blades or by smaller ones with help from wood batons like Aljew did with his KaBar fighting knife. You do not do that to a vintage blade but Camp Red uses their blades on all kinds of work unlike some people who treat it like some sort of Barbie dolls. All the food ingredients are unloaded, as well as all the school supplies.

Dominik, Eli and Tope gets busy doing an inventory of the donated notebooks, pencils, crayons and other items. Christopher, Jerome and Jhurds help among themselves the slicing of onions and vegetables. Garlic are crushed while the fern tops are washed. The pot of rice is suspended over the fire while another pot of mung beans is boiled. Preparing a meal with the stripes of Camp Red are done the old way.

When all the food are cooked and ready for serving, all fall to order and behaved like gentlemen. The food, oh yes, the food, it tastes good. The mung bean soup is the first to get decimated, then the pork adobao. It is not everyday that you get to hike the mountains, do something good, test your prized knife, drink coffee under the sun, talk of bushcraft trends, sweat as you work with your hands and eat good food.

Then the conversations rises to a high crescendo when the blade porn is unleashed. We leave at 16:00, retracing our route that we took hours ago. We arrive at Guadalupe and go on our separate ways. But the best thing we did was the launching of the precious cargo for the children which we will be distributing next Sunday.

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Thursday, January 1, 2015


THE BAJAU PEOPLE HAS created a deep impression on Silke de Vos during the time when she was part of a production outfit doing a documentary story about the indigenous fishing methods of these sea-faring people who, sometimes, are known as the Philippine Sea Gypsies.  I was also with her for four days, being part of the team organized by film maker Matt Everett from April 28 to May 1, 2014 in Bato, Leyte.  (Read my article Conversations with the Bajaus.)

Silke decided to organize a team of her own to document the Bajaus again.  I am again part of this and there is a reversal of roles:  Matt will be her cameraman.  She has commissioned her diver friend, Lisa English, to help her on this project titled BADJAO SAFE DIVING, which really is a brainchild of Silke and her husband, Peter de Vos.  Silke and Peter owns Amontillado Beach and Diving Resort, located in Dauin, Negros Oriental.   

Badjao Safe Diving aims to improve the survivability of the Bajaus through education and actual training on the proper procedures of safe diving standards which are respected by all professional scuba divers around the world although it does not recommend or support the use of air compressors in diving.  Through this direction, the hazards of unsafe diving practices among the Bajaus would be minimized.  In the end, it will provide the Bajaus more years to enjoy their main livelihood and more years to bring food on their tables.  

To recall, the Bajaus catch their fish through diving, breathing air supplied by air compressors.  These air compressors are either the commercial kind bought from hardware stores or those that are improvised.  Improper diving causes decompression sickness which leads to coma, paralysis or death.  A lot of local government units have good reasons why it prohibits fishermen from engaging in compressor diving because of health concerns.

We start at 07:30 of May 10, 2014 from Kon Tiki Diving Resort in Lapulapu City, Cebu where Lisa and Silke were staying the previous night.  Silke rented a good-sized boat for this project.  Very spacious unlike the last time.  The plan is to cross the Camotes Sea into Isabel, Leyte and find the crippled Bajau man that another Bajau, Jerry Balansi, had mentioned last April 28 and interview him.  We do not know the exact place where he lived, much more so, the name of the man.

We took the chance even though it begins to look like finding a needle in a haystack.  But it is a better option than going to Bato first to look for Jerry then go up to Isabel and back to Bato.  That way, we can save on fuel and time.  We only have two days to do this project.  The problem is, the boat crew have no idea where Isabel is and they have to fetch another guy who does.  I had traveled to Isabel as a boat crew but it was night time and that was 28 years ago!

Anyway, the EZ Map that Silke bought was a big help.  Fishermen off the coast were also a big help, giving us information.  We dock at the Port of Isabel at exactly 12:00 and walk to the village of the Bajaus in a place called Marvel.  We introduce ourselves to the village chieftain and tell him our story.  It helped to mention the name of Jerry and they were very accommodating.  It would have been easy to locate our man but he was not in the village.  He left three days ago for Baybay City.

Challenged by this situation, the trip altered into something adventurous but, at least, we now have a name.  The quest continues back to the Camotes Sea, passing by Ponson Island, where a lone fisherman gave us directions to Baybay like someone would on a street.  We reach the Port of Baybay at 16:00 and see a man with crutches.  He is with several Bajau women and children and I am sure he is the one whom we seek and interview.  

He is Matlan “Sonny Boy” Kalingkopan, a former compressor diver.  Incapacitated by his injury caused by decompression sickness, he now make his living begging on the streets to feed his family.  He is 48 years old, married and a father to a 6-year old girl and a 2-year old boy.  He is an expectant father to a third child five months on the way.  He converted to Roman Catholic years ago and christened as Sonny Boy.  His is a sad story.

He was born in Basilan and started diving at a young age.  He met his accident some thirty years ago while in Zamboanga.  He narrated that he stayed below at about 30 arm lengths for a duration of the time you finish two cigarettes.  He remembered he floated to the surface fast and stayed on the boat to enjoy a cigarette when he began to feel numbness on his legs, tingling of the skin, headache and difficulty of breathing.  He lost consciousness and, when he regained that, three days had passed.  

He never was able to recover his full health despite being subjected to home and traditional remedies.  He left his place of origin when his father was murdered by pirates and their boat stolen away and he journeyed with his wife into the cities of Pagadian, Dipolog, Iligan, Surigao and Cebu to try their luck but he was disappointed.  He settled in Isabel for good and begged on the streets of Ormoc City for many years but he was apprehended recently and dumped in Baybay, where he goes back from time to time.

He says, a lot of good people in Ormoc knows him and he was able to give his family a decent meal.  The aluminum crutches he uses now were given to him by a kind doctor from an Ormoc hospital.  In Baybay, he is still feeling his way and he do not earn much unlike what he used to in Ormoc or when he used to dive for fish long ago.  He cried when he talked about his predicament and placed his faith in God that He will not abandon him.  

He is happy to learn that we are doing something for the Bajaus and he would have joined our tomorrow’s workshop should he be in good health.  The interview on Sonny Boy was done on camera at Baybay’s waterfront.  Later, we film him begging at a street corner where there is a popular fastfood chain.  The shooting wrapped up at 20:00 and we facilitate for his transfer to his temporary address here but not after we parted some cash for his upkeep.  After we had taken supper, we stayed at the GV Tower Hotel.

The following day, May 11, we left Baybay at 05:10 for Bato.  We were there last week, except for Lisa.  The boat reach the Port of Bato at 07:40 and, immediately, we proceed to the Bajau village of Dolho, crossing an estuary by a raft made of Styrofoam scraps.  We carry equipment, cameras, visual aids and literature for an impromptu workshop on a beach.  We meet Jerry, his brother Kapolisan Balansi, and Dulhussein Jumaldi and all agreed to attend and to learn the basics of safe diving procedures.

Lisa is the main instructor of the workshop while I interpret for her and for the Bajau should they comment or ask questions.  The simple illustrations provided quick learning and, sometimes, I need to be very creative when explaining very technical terms like “oxygen”, “nitrogen” and “decompression sickness”, which does not have an equivalent in the Cebuano dialect.  A shaken softdrink bottle, with its bubbly contents, provides them understanding why gases expand in the human body if under pressure.

When the theoretical part of the instructions had been finished, Silke decide to rent a boat owned by a Bajau complete with a compressor machine.  Silke needs to apply the theories to an actual situation and we all get ready to move offshore.  Our destination is one of the lighthouses of Dawahon Reef.  We drop anchor there while Silke and Lisa prepare their scuba diving gears.  Dulhussein, together with two others, transfer to our boat to get a last-minute review of the lectures from Lisa which I interpret for them.

Dulhussein and another will dive.  Lisa will dive with them and will give signal communications underwater.  Silke will also dive with them but she will take footage of the training.  The third Bajau will stay on their boat and will act as watchman.  He will see to it that his companions will be supplied with air and will signal same when their time under the water is about to approach the allowed time.  He will jerk at their compressor hoses and he will rap the side of the boat.

Matt stayed on our boat and shoot footage on the Bajaus’ boat and the surface where the ongoing training is being done below.  I keep reminding the Bajau watchman, above the din of the compressor, to be attentive of the time.  The current is swift, the compressor hoses are stretched almost horizontally.  We wait for the tell-tale signs of bubbles.  It came, but,  whoever is below the surface, especially at the five meter level, stayed according to the length of time allowed.  

Dulhussein surfaced first then the other Bajau.  They were trained to ascend slow – to never overtake their air bubbles - and to stay five meters below the surface at three minutes before surfacing.  Since both do not have waterproofed watches, they were instructed to count slowly from 1 to 180.  When Lisa and Silke, likewise, surfaced, all gathered on our boat for their final evaluation.  

Lisa and Silke observed that the swift current caused the air hoses to wrap tight on the Bajau divers.  Should those conditions arise, the boat should flow with the current.  It was a difficult situation for the Bajaus yet they followed the instructions to the letter.  Asked of his opinions regarding the different dive routines that he was undergoing, Dulhussein narrated that he felt good.  He did not feel the usual uneasiness that came to him after every dive using the old unscientific way.  “Mas maayo ni (This is better)”, he says. 

Happy on the progress of the workshop and training, Silke gave Dulhussein and his companions, all representing the Bajau community of Bato, a set of waterproofed instructional illustrations.  These illustrated cards would now be the cornerstone of safety whenever the Bajaus go diving.  Aside this, a quartz wristwatch with bezel ring is donated to the Bajaus so somebody on the boat would keep track of time in their underwater search for fish.

We officially terminated our business with the Bajaus and part ways from them at 17:00 for Cebu.  The team reach Lapulapu City at 22:30 and enjoy a very filling late supper at the Kon Tiki Diving Resort.  It was a memorable experience for me to work with professionals who know their line of work and exposed me further on the intricacies of the rules of proper underwater diving, which is very educational.

I am hoping that this advocacy of the de Vos couple would be made into a documentary and generate interest among well-meaning organizations and individuals on the plight of the Bajau people.  The sea is their only source of income and they have to adapt to dangerous fishing methods so their children could live.  Teaching them the right way like Badjao Safe Diving would improve their lot.      

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