Vadchang: Restoring the Batad Rice Terrace

A half-day farm work at the foot of the terraces was nothing compared to the lessons I have learned about the life of my friends from Batad. I have been going to the rice terrace for 5 years now, but have never really tried plucking out the unharvested palay stalks left after the harvest season. But this time, I took the opportunity to take part in the restoration work which started last year by Ka Rene Bajit and his team. Ka Rene has been like a father to me, ever since I came to know him in 2008 in the same place.

In able to help the community members restore the damaged fields, Tatay Rene and his team started the Vadchang: Restoration of the Batad Rice Terrace. The Vadchang (or hachang as spelled and pronounced by the locals) means to work together or in Filipino bayanihan. It aims to gather volunteers from all walks of life to spend a weekend in Batad and help carry out some tasks in restoring the typhoon-ravaged terraces. I was happy to meet new friends come and carry rocks and piles of dirt from one terrace to another.

Lolo Kano never grew old

It must have been this same love that kept us talking from 4:00 to 11:00 in the evening.

Sir Ed Ruch, or Lolo Kano as the Tagbanua brothers and sisters call him, has been doing so much in the community ever since he came in Coron Island right after the World War II. He is a missionary from the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL). He, along with his wife and a team of missionaries, came to Coron to do translation work a few years after the World War II.  And now, for more than 50 years, Uncle Kano has continued to serve the Lord through his friendship with the Tagbanua people.

In between sips of tea, Uncle Kano narrated how he came to the island in the 1940s.  The staff of the SIL were asked “who among you is not afraid of water?”. Lolo Kano gladly volunteered. So with his team, they sailed off to the Calamianes group of islands. He was newly married then, and was a new father to their first child. By profession, Lolo Kano is an anthropologist specializing in language studies and translation.

The first few years were not easy. The island did not have electricity, not even accessible potable water. Aside from this, the island was infested by malaria. This was all far from the comforts of his home in the USA. However, the greatest challenge was building friendship with the people who are so different from all he is. But Lolo Kano, amid all these, plunged in to the joys of serving God through his friendship with the Tagbanua people.

He also literally plunged into the waters of Calamianes for he loved SCUBA diving in the island’s coral gardens and shipwrecks. “Never grow old” he’d tell us. When I was in the island, Lolo Kano even SCUBA-ed the Calis Point with my friend Unting. He was 87 years old.

Stories in pictures:

Lolo Kano and I at Banuang Daan. This photo was taken after a tribal wedding. Lolo Kano is highly respected in the community and people sought after his advice and suggestions regarding community issues. He is, deep in his heart,  a Tagbanua.

Lolo Kano taking meeting notes at the monthly Saragpun. Saragpuan is the gathering of all Tagbanua followers of Christ. This time, it was held at one of the towns in nearby Banuang Daan. We were joined by representative from the tribal churches from more than ten towns in the Calamines group of Islands. I understood very few of the whole gathering. The event was delivered in the native language, including the worship songs.

Jeremiah or Unting (a native name christened by a brother to my friend which meant liar, hehe) accompanied Lolo Kano as we passed through the mangrove-lined path to the shore.  It was a delight to see them together with held hands.

Lolo Kano gave me a wave as I took a shot of the team. They are heading back for Banuang Daan, the island at the heart of the Coron Island, his home for the past 50 years.

My brothers Unting and Ruzz, conversing with Lolo Kano at the church in Banuang Daan.

Gayyem: A journey into the heart of God

Come with me to the village where there’s not much to live on, but there’s so much to live for. [Dr.Sarmiento]

If there is something that really excites me, it is that every time I usher someone into an adventure of going deeper into the heart of God. I am always excited to see someone be amazed and wonder at how marvelous the love of Jesus is that we were given the chance to live lives of sheer joy out of obedience. Last summer, I had another chance to witness this unfold when I joined the Operation Samaria.

Operation Samaria is an annual community immersion and a ‘missions’ exposure trip which seeks to challenge young people to go beyond their comfort zones and journey towards a life of ‘walking’ alongside the marginalized Filipino groups in the Philippines. It is an initiative of Medical Ambassadors Philippines for over 20 years now. From this trip, many students, young professionals and health workers have been challenged to respond to the call of service, and love.

Image[Sun shines over the fields of Aguinaldo, Ifugao as the team headed for the MAP Clinic (or what they fondly called Hillgendorf). The rainy season has not come yet and all the fields are enjoying the sun. From here, the team will be divided and go to 3 other barrios.]

Image[The teams were assigned to go to other barrios to conduct medical services and teach children. We were joined by bright young medical students from prestigious medicine schools in the country. I am so proud to be a part of the team, and to witness their joy in serving our Ifugao brothers and sisters. Keep it up!]

Image[“Gayyem” or friends from Ifugao line-up for their free check-up. Most of the patients were infants and children accompanied by their parents. I do not have pictures but I was so happy to be in the surgical team, it was a learning experience to assist Dr.Jun Garcia, our surgeon for the mission trip. I hope it happens again. Or, someday, I’ll be the one doing the surgery. Why not!]

Image[Some cooking wares and chicken houses spotted in the community. The beauty of Ifugao lies not much in the grand belongings of the people, but rather in the ingenuity crafted in their every day lives, as these “everyday” wares portray.]

Image[The whole OS Team joined by Doctors Jun and francis, and the barrio’s Barangay Captain. We’re off to Batad in Banaue, Ifugao, our second mission site for the trip.Can you find me?]

Image[Great morning from the land of the Ifugaos! Behind us is the Batad Rice Terraces, famous for its majestic amphitheater-like rice terrace. The fields are waiting for the sun, soon, it going to be harvest season, again!

I am grateful the Lord for all the new gayyem I met in this journey. The love and concern I have seen and felt only reminds me that He, indeed, makes himself known to his people, through his children. I am glad that I have witnessed how a co-participant gladly opened her heart to the Lord, and asked Him to turn her life around. Til the next OS!

Some more stories:

[Photos included in this post were primarily from Ms.Precious Banas and Allan Nacino. Thank you!]

Tapyas: Journey to Faithfulness

Climbing the stairs that early morning was more than refreshing. Some few more days and I will be leaving this familiar sight, and not know when I would be back again. They say it has 700 steps (I guess more!), and at the top is a 360 degree view of islands of Coron. Seas, mountains and islands surrounded the bald mountain where the three of us headed for, that good morning.

I was the lead of the pack. But, of course, no one will be lost here, as anybody could see the white cross even at the start of the hike. It somewhat reminded me of God, and us on a journey towards him.

Kaya pa? Kaya pa!” Ate Cathy said as she rested her back on one of the railings. She has been here in this place, probably more than a hundred times for she has been living in the area for more than 20 years. She and her husband (and now, with their four children) are missionaries serving the Christian churches in the Calamianes group of islands. With us busily taking our pictures was Miles, her eldest daughter. Silent, she may often be, but her heart is full of stories and wisdom yet to be taught to many younger Christians in the area.

20 years. No, more than 20 years. Can I last that long in serving communities? Can I be faithful for such long number of years? Sure it won’t be easy. But, as long as I see the cross along the way, the 700 steps won’t be too wearisome, and too long.

Ayan ate, andito na tayo!” I said, as Ate Cathy set her foot on the last step.

[Lush green mountains and canopies surround Mount Tapyas, the viewpoint where one can have a 360 degree view of the Coron Islands. I was privileged to hike the mountain with two of the loveliest people in the  island. We were heading for the small cottage to have a quick devotion.]

[There is so much truth in what people say that Palawan is the last frontier of the Philippines. May I add that, Coron, in all it’s glory (haha!) have the best of both worlds when it comes to mountains and seas. In view is the mountain range at the boundaries of Coron and Busuanga.  I could not number the islands that lay before the mountain.]

[Behind me is the famous Coron Island, also known as the Sleeping Giant (You have to go to Coron to figure that out). Clear blues skies, and kalmada seas greeted us that morning. I hope I can take my family here some time soon.]

Other stories:

Galoc: Learning with the island kids

“Ate,” the boy whispered, “pwede bang huwag ka na lang umalis?”. He then looked at me as if waiting for my nod, or my sweet yes. It felt as though I’d break a young heart’s desire if I’d say my no without careful tone. “Hindi pwede eh, hinihintay kasi ako ng mga magulang ko, pero, babalik ako kung kaya ko.”

It must have been the hardest part of the DVBS (Daily Vacation Bible School). After three days of learning together, of playing and doing all the fun things, the end comes all must say bye, for the moment. It was hard especially for the kids who attended our lessons from Galoc.

Galoc is a small island located at the west-end of the Cullion-Calamianes Group of Islands. To get there, one must endure a wonderful three hour boat-ride from the Coron Town Proper. There is no regular electricity supply in the island and most households make use of generators to watch even some news and movies. During vacations, the kids make themselves busy by playing near the beach. Some become assistants to their fathers in fishing and taking care of the seaweed farms planted around the island.

I was given the task to handle the pre-teen group (yehey!) ages 10-12 years old. I was really thrilled to get the slot since, most of the games and other things I had in mind were meant for those who are nearly high school students. All in all I had 12 students, all studying at the island’s elementary school. All of them contributed so much in our activities and group plays, and became lively participants in our discussions.

Image

[This  picture was taken after the graduation ceremony of our DVBS. I thank the Lord for allowing me to meet these new brothers and sisters in the island of Galoc. I learned so much from how they live their lives. Simple, as it may seem, but they understand how life can be lived out in faith everyday. I pray that these children will finish their schooling, and will pursue God, and the dreams that He has for them. I know they’ll be God-fearing heirs of Culion Palawan. Until the next summer, mga palangga!]

Image

[Jerlou got my Leadership Award. This boy will definitely soon lead the young people in Galoc. He is very bright, and able to initiate the tasks I gave for his team. Galing talaga! Before we ended our class, Jerlou was one of the 12 who prayed and invited Christ to come into his heart. I hope he hungers more for Christ, and that he’d soon realize how important it is to have a relationship with Him. As an award, the kids received extra candies!]

Image

[Team picture! From left to right: Miles, Teresa, Alwyn, Ate Betty (she is Pastor Dante’s wife, and together, they lead the ministries in the Galoc Church), me and BJ. They have been wonderful team mates. I got to know them more during our reflection-prayer times. Thank you guys!]

—– —— —— —— —— ——-

I am also grateful for all the friends who have contributed their candy gifts and money. All in all, we have gathered more than 10 kilos of candies (yehey!). They were all used for the summer church activities in the islands of Coron and Galoc. The goodies were put into small packages and were given as graduation gift. The Lord will give that to you a hundred-fold. Thank you for taking part in the story. The kids were just so happy to receive the gifts. Salamat po, hanggang sa uulitin!

Some scenes from Galoc:

SCUBA: RELAXing my way to life

The darkness I saw below me signalled that I’m reaching far too deep than what I ever expected. Unaware, I finned up, still stunned with the depth of the ocean floor. I could not breathe, and would not go down farther.

Ano ibabalik na ba kita ng bangka?” Miah, my friend and dive master asked me (ahem, scolded, actually). He was just looking at me, straight in the eye. “Hindi,” I replied (ahem, cried, actually). I know going down would mean facing my fear of darkness and depth. But going and giving it up only tells me that I’ll miss what beautiful surprises await me under the seas of Coron.

I was hyperventilating, though, I really wanted to tell my master diver that I am just trying to gain some confidence, to relax. Sa madaling sabi, nag-iipon lang ako ng lakas ng loob. I took a deep breathe, repositioned my regulator, blew hard and deflated my BCD. It was a shame but I grabbed my friend’s hand as I went down the water (H-H-W-S-D, naks). Always keep in mind to RELAX. And that’s tha whole secret to enjoy the ocean in scuba, just RELAX. Tells us so much about life as well di ba?

Image

(This picture was taken at the CYC Island, here in Coron, Palawan. We were first taught the basics of the SCUBA, assembling the gears, breathing techniques and the lifeline signs. The first dive was the most difficult, as I struggled adjusting on my regulator. CYC beach boasts of lively corals and small colorful fish.)

(Just looking at Kuya Arnie’s smile makes me feel everything’s going to be fiiiiiiiine. And all went okay. Kuya Arnie Pabelonio owns Coron Divers (http://www.corondivers.com.ph/). It is the only Diveshop in Coron owned by a Filipino. During the dives, Kuya Arnie would always put his left hand on his right hand, a sign meaning RELAX. I observed that he’d often do this gesture, even when we’re out of the water. He will always be the embodiment of that word. RELAX.)

Kaputolan: A journey to discovery

Kaputolan. Brotherhood. That’s how they say it in Tagbanua.

It was as if I had a new set of brothers as I trekked up that barely trodden mountain. It was an unexpected 70-degree steep assault, an untouched forest, which very few people, including the Tagbanuas, dared to take. That day we were heading for what they call Sungkol ni Pupotan.

The Sungkol is one of the 18 lakes found in Coron Island. Unlike the famous and widely visited Kayangan lake, the Sungkol was left hidden to people, as it is hailed to be a sacred place —for it is a home to the spirits, to the unseen creatures protecting the forests and the lakes. “Kung may nakakarating man doon”, said Am-ey (Uncle), “piling-piling kaibigan lang”.

And there we were, trying hard to retrace the trails, exerting extra energy to reach the lake at the other side of the mountain. Wild bamboo trees surrounded our path as the balinsasayaw flew above us. As soon as we saw some form of water, the brothers hurried down all too excited to get a glimpse of the mysterious lake. As we reached the end of the trail, what welcomed us was a peaceful, pristine lake, surrounded by small stone mountains. The water was as blue as the clear morning sky.

Sa talambuhay ko, ngayon lang ako nakarating dito”, remarked Am-ey. He is around 50. “Pag napapadaaan ako dito, tinitinganan ko lang, pero hindi ko sinubukan.” But the moment we launched out and plunged into the lake, Am-ey‘s life, and ours, were forever changed.

Mga Kaputolan, praying at the opening of our fellowship at the Kayangan Lake. Am-ey is the man in blue, sitting on the left. (Image from Ms.Precious Banas)
With mga Kaputolan at Sungkol ni Pupotan

Trip to Quiapo

Sitting beside my sleeping father today brings so many memories of the past. Papa has been drinking again, and smoking. Don’t get me wrong, my Papa is very gentle, mostly reserved and never caused any trouble in the house, or bothered any neighbor in the community. He barely speaks his mind, and most of the time, would opt to be an observer, than a ‘director’. He has been like that ever since, ever since, he came back from Saudi Arabia more than a decade ago. I was around 5 years old that time.

My papa used to be one of those many Filipinos swept by the promises brought by the OFW surge in the 1990s. Before going abroad, he served as a company driver for a small business in Manila owned by a Chinese, this Chinese, who happened to be his step-father. His mother, my Lola Nena, died when Papa was around 9 years old. He said she was very good in playing the piano, and she probably sings well, because my Papa does. He never knew his father. All he’s saying is that his father was gunshot, even before he was born. But he doesn’t know if this is true.

I remember, one of our priced possessions back then was this radio recorder. Not that it was expensive or high-end that time, but, it was our only way to send our love greetings and audio notes to papa in Saudi. That was long ago when computers were a thing for the rich and the modern West. My papa also had his own stereo in his bunk, it was a Sony, more high-tech than ours and had bigger speakers. Maybe he had that so he can hear our cassette-tape recorded messages clearly.  He had a collection of various cassette tapes and betamax! He even had a collection of Michael Jackson albums and a complete series of Star Trek and the original Superman. As a little child, I thought these were the most mind-blowing possessions he ever brought back home when he finally decided to not renew his contract from work abroad.

The 9 year old me was all excited when papa came back home. He brought all these things from Saudi, some Barbie-dolls and of course, the mind-blowing tape collections. Finally, papa is back home, and our cassette-tape recording sessions are over. He is now here. But although he’s here, I feel so estranged. But that’s another story.

It was in the mid-90s when our family went through a financial crisis. Just some time after papa got home from Saudi. All four of us were enrolled (my Kuya and two sisters who were all in gearing up for college, and me in elementary school) and papa’s finances were depleting. I can only recall so little of all the many things they did to make ends meet.

But I have kept this one…

That morning, mama woke me up and said that we’ll be going to sell some things in Quiapo. I never knew what Quiapo was, and had no idea what’s in there. Papa was also all dressed up, and had this big box with straw strings all over. “We’re going to take these to Quiapo”. The box was big and heavy that mama had to carry it from one side, and papa on the other. And so we went on to Quiapo.

It felt as if we walked thousands of kilometers that day. Going from one street to another was an arduous task. Mama and papa were carrying the big box. I just held on to mama’s other hand. Those moments were just too hard. We were all sweaty belaboring ourselves under the sun selling all these things. But what’s harder for me was the thought that we were selling these tapes, these mind-blowing collectible tapes papa once held dear when he was in Saudi, away from us.

And stopping in between stalls, we endured waiting for people to look into our box. Mama and papa would often call out to people and tell that we are selling collectible tapes, dropping names of the best titles from papa’s collection. But sadly, our merchandise did not sell well. “Alam niyo sir,” said one of the customers, “CD na po kasi ang na-uuso ngayon. Pwede ko bang bilin ito ng mas mura?”

And papa gently smiled and replied, “Sige”… and gave it away.

Thank you po, Papa.

Marriage is an OVERFLOW

Are you overflowing in God?

Hello there reader. Thank you for taking time to read this post. This won’t be long definitely. Before you start going through the paragraphs, I would like to ask you a very important question, which, you have to keep in mind, as you read on this entry. Pause for a while, and reflect. So here it is: Why do you want to get married?

The answer that you have in mind right now is extremely important in the course of your married life, for your purpose/goal will determine how you treat your marriage. Do you want to get married to make another person happy and satisfy that person’s need? Or, do you want to get married for sex? Maybe for companionship and security, right? And, of course, as one of my friends said “para magkalat ng lahi!”. I guess, all of these reasons are valid, although, not even one of them comes close to the REAL purpose of marriage.

Marriage is an OVERFLOW. It is two unique people completely satisfied in God, and OVERFLOWING in His abundance of love, committing to serve and support one another for life for the sole purpose of reflecting the glory of God back to Him. Hmmmh, such a long definition huh. In simpler terms, its main purpose is WORSHIP. I can imagine you wince right now saying “oh, she’s talking-church again”!Oh well, I may sound churchy, though, God’s blueprint (the bible) says it all when the first marriage happened in Eden. Marriage will never satisfy our half-filled or even empty glasses. We cannot share what we do not have.  But if we are full and even overflowing in God’s abundance, then, we become a blessing to the person whom we treasure most, and even to the thirsty people around us.

So, are you overflowing in God? Do you even take time to personally know God? I pray that before you even think about marriage, consider first your relationship with Jesus Christ, the Source from whom LOVE OVERFLOWS.

Backpacking Escapades: The tastiest meat of Cordillera

If you really want to know the heart of a culture, one of the MUST visit places would be no other than the town’s local market. You probably don’t have this in your itineraries but, honestly, this is the place to be if you want to understand how the locals think and live. My recent trip to the Cordilleras brought me to the MUST visit Bontoc Market. I have been here thrice and it never fails to amaze me how it presents the culinary genius of our forefathers in the highlands in all its simplicity and creativity.

The tocoucan market (tocoucan: someone of Bontoc) is the center of the town’s activity as it is located near the key institutions and gathering areas of Bontoc. One cannot help but marvel at the colorful Cordillera fruits and vegetables displayed on the market aisles. Stalls selling big fan-like tobacco leaves and other paraphernalia used for making moma— a staple food consist of betel nut, leaf and lime—frequent the corners of the market.  There are also several chicken cages which contain live b-cull (commercial) and native chickens used for making the best soup dish in town—the pinikpikan. But, the most interesting item in the tocoucan market is this line of hanging dried cuts of pork meat left to further dry in the open (chilly) air and kissed by the afternoon sun. That’s the magic of etag, the more than the usual meat.

Etag (or inasinan for the Tagalog speaker) is a dry native meat used to enhance soup dishes as the most celebrated pinikpikan. According to Manong Freddie, a local etag-maker who has been in the business for more than 15 years, etag can be made in two ways. One is to have it done purely with salt, the way he does his own etag. He says he likes to keep it this simple because according to his own words “ayoko nga ng may chemical” (I’m with him here okay, go organic!). The other way is to have it smoked. The latter variant has definitely an additional kick to the taste of the soup although, as manong Freddie claims, some part of the smoking process may have been made with some unnatural additives.

Our host showed us some ‘the moves’ in making his tasty craft, the etag. Take it from me; 15 years plus of making it makes him the best etag-maker I have seen in Bontoc!

Manong Freddie covering fresh pork meat with salt
Meat all salted to be kept inside pot/drum for 2 weeks.
Cured meat taken out of the container and hung to dry under the sun
Etag sold at the corner of the Bontoc Market. Ready for Pinikpikan!

Simplicity and functionality are words that best describe the culinary psyche of our Igorot forefathers. With some creativity, one can do more than 20 dishes with the etag. And with careful storage, etag can last for more than a month.

So on your next getaway to the north, you MUST go find etag. I tell you, it makes food and life, more than the usual.

Credit: photos from Ms.Sheena Vivar