Posted by: Ces | May 8, 2016

Vowing to the People’s Will

At exactly a month from today I will have stayed, lived, in Davao City for eight years. And I can honestly say those eight years had been the best years for me and my family. Quality of life in Davao is arguably incomparable to that of zombie-like existence in Metro Manila.

But all these years I never attributed good life in Davao to the Dutertes. In fact, I saw the government in the city as one ruled by a political dynasty, no different from the rest of the country.

Davao is what it is today because the people willed it to be. The people built Davao-the proud Dabawenyos whose love for their land gave them the tenacity to keep the city safe and secure, even if it meant sacrificing small freedoms.

I came to realize this over a year ago when I started on a bi-weekly trip to Butuan City on a night bus. However, I came around consolidating my thoughts on this only a week ago  because, up to this point, I have been undecided on who to vote for president.

Getting on the 7pm bus from Butuan City meant I had to endure eight hours of travel with seven terminal stops (which means the trip is actually less than 6 hours if not for the 10-minute stops). It’s bad enough that us passengers had to try to sleep through jarring songs on the loud speaker that had to be really loud probably to keep the driver awake, but, once you get around to sleeping at 3am, the bus suddenly stops and the driver orders everyone to get down. So, like Walking Dead extras, we get off the bus, quietly, without any grumbles or curses or side comments. I knew I was shaking my head and my face was contorted in anger,  but I looked at the rest of the passengers, nobody was complaining. Not a peep. We have arrived in Davao City.

Soldiers in fatigue uniform with long armalite rifles tucked on their shoulders courteously greet us and firmly orders us to line up. They check our hand bags, look at us with suspicion. What would you look like when you’re awakened by this? I could see myself sneering but deep inside I was confused. How could Dabawenyos tolerate such treatment? This is unthinkable in Metro Manila, much less in other countries, except probably in conflict areas.

Dabawenyos are feisty. They know their rights and grit their teeth when someone tramples over them. Senior citizens and students assert their right to discounted fare. Citizens launch signature drives here and there to fight for a cause, a demand or anything. They protest about many things. Dabawenyos know how to protest, they are dauntless and they are not the kind who will keep quiet when told to do so.

But the people – a large majority of the people- tolerate Task Force Davao’s checkpoints. They look the other way when someone gets killed on the corner stand. They just smile and nod when the mayor curses on local TV on a Sunday morning when all the children are around, then hastens to tell the children not to copy him.

The people willed all these. Davao is as it is today because the people decided it to be so.

The people decided that Duterte is the only leader they will ever need to hold Davao City together. So they willed him to be at the helm for decades.

And now, it is clear to me, many Filipinos, a majority of the people, see what Dabawenyos saw in Duterte: leadership.

But leadership only happens when there are people to lead and when people allow themselves to be led.

If Duterte wins the presidency tomorrow, and it seems likely he will, it will be the will of the people. It may be unthinkable to some – especially to those whose bourgeois sensibilities are sighed by trash talk that Duterte wantonly does – every one must vow to the will of the people. Even the best thinkers of the world vow to the decision of the people because they know that even the most powerful in the world eventually succumb to the will of the people.

I personally do not like Duterte because his character is not likable at all. But that doesn’t matter, I know. I will vote for him tomorrow because I vow to the will of the people.




Posted by: Ces | November 21, 2015

Fishing Village Survives Pork Scam

With open arms, fisherman Alejo Gratico and his neighbors welcomed two men from a nongovernment organization (NGO) who arrived in Surigao City in 2008. At last, help finally came to the remote fishing community in Sitio Pag-ayawan in Day-asan village, Gratico thought.

“They promised to give us 100 lobster fingerlings. That would fetch some P25,000. They said it was a grant from the BFAR (Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources). All we had to do was to sign documents,” Gratico recalled.

Filled with hope, everyone waited. Most excited was Gratico, who was counting on the extra cash he would get to send his eldest child to college. But they never heard from the NGO again until after five years, when news broke out about dummy NGOs identified with wheeler-dealer Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged mastermind of the pork barrel scam.

The NGOs tricked unwitting farmers and fisherfolk into being listed as beneficiaries of millions of funds from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

“We were very disheartened. It was very difficult to trust any NGO or even any government agency after that,” Gratico said in the dialect.

But in July 2014, help came again for the Day-asan residents. This time, it was for real.

Day-asan Councilor Nenita Batulan said the Philippine Cold Chain Project (PCCP) had been a saving grace for families in the village.

The PCCP is part of an agricultural assistance package from the US Department of Agriculture and implemented by US-based Winrock International. It is focused on driving self-sufficient and safe food production and processing in the Caraga region.

‘Little Venice’

In Day-asan, people literally live above water as houses are built on reclaimed sandbars developed into little communities just off Surigao Bay.


For tourists, it is the “Floating Village” and Surigao’s “Little Venice.” For enterprising low-income families, it is an ideal place to grow lobsters. In fact, many homeowners raise lobsters right under their kitchens.

“We were always on the losing end when it came to pricing. It was the big lobster traders who dictated the price,” Batulan said.

To access assistance from the PCCP, the Barangay Day-asan Lobster Culture Association was organized by the residents. Gratico was elected chair.

Still traumatized by their experience in 2008, many households initially refused to join the association. But Gratico was adamant and put his faith on the project, having seen the commitment of community coordinators who were assigned by Winrock to help them.

Soon after, 30 households signed up for the project, enough for them to access the PCCP funds through the First Community Cooperative microcredit facility, and start the home-based lobster-growing business in the village.

In August 2014, the association was formally formed, but it took months for it to be registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. In May this year, the lobster fingerlings were released to the members.

“Under this financing mechanism, we loaned out 300 battery-sized fingerlings worth P75,000 to P90,000, payable in 12 months at a very low interest of 0.8 percent. Recipients do not get cash, just the fingerlings,” said Jim Orprecio, PCCP deputy chief of party.

Orprecio said his agency wanted to develop a sense of ownership among the residents and do away with the usual dole system of giving grants to communities.

“Experience shows that if we just give everything to beneficiaries without any equity or counterpart from them, sustainability becomes a problem. You don’t always take care of what you feel is not yours,” he explained.

For Batulan, the PCCP saved them from loan sharks and opportunist investors who used to finance their lobster culture business at very high interest rates.

“We usually ended up with just a break-even or even at a deficit because of the high interest imposed on us by financiers. If we sell off-season, traders buy our lobsters at a very low price,” she lamented.

Better life

“When we received the fingerlings, we were in disbelief. I was asking myself, ‘Is this true? Are we not being tricked this time?’” Gratico said, his voice cracking.

He noted how life took a turn for the better for them since the project had come.

“The community is now more cohesive. We talk about the future. We talk about our business. Before, as soon as we get the day’s catch from the sea, we just laze around, do nothing else.

ALEJO Gratico, chair of Barangay Day-asan Lobster Culture Association    photo by MA. CECILIA RODRIGUEZ

Now, we take care of our little lobsters, hopeful for the extra cash we’ll get from them by the end of the year,” he said.

He outlined his plans for the association and let out a faint laugh when asked if the others who remained doubtful of the project would have a change of heart soon.

“I can just imagine when they see us selling our own lobsters at P2,500 a kilo, they’ll rush in to sign up,” he quipped.

At 80- to 90-percent survival rate, the 300 lobster fingerlings given by the PCCP would be equivalent to over half a million in revenue. The first harvest of fully grown lobsters is expected in December.

Association members have agreed to continue investing part of their earnings into their small lobster-growing business. The rest of the money will be used for their children’s education and to pay off debts.

Gratico is optimistic that the project will improve the quality of life in Day-asan.

Orprecio said that apart from providing a sustainable source of income for fisherfolk, the long-term impact of the project was increasing the production and providing a steady supply of quality aquaculture products, such as lobsters, to the local and export markets.

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Posted by: Ces | November 21, 2015

Bones Worth Keeping

Bring the elephant to Philippine soil. This is a personal mission that American bone collector and conservation advocate Darrell Dean Blatchley has set out to do since he founded D’Bone Collector Museum in 2012 in Davao City.
It seemed to be a simple task, at first. No, he does not intend to bring a replacement for Mali, the famous yet aging elephant at the Manila Zoo.

What Blatchely plans is to transport a complete set of full-grown elephant bones from Africa, set it up for viewing and thus be able to educate Filipino children, especially those from Mindanao, about this remarkable animal. But now, not only does he need $22,000 to make that happen, Blatchley also needs to hurdle pervasive bureaucracy, rising costs of import duties and hollow promises from supposed donors. He remains undaunted though.

After recently receiving his Datu Bago Award, the highest award given by the government of Davao City to its notable constituents, Blatchley will be flying to Manila to look for 22 donors to donate at least $1,000 to the cause, arrange the transport of the bones, and finally, take the elephant to his museum. He is so sure he will get the support he needs to make it happen.

Preventing extinction

Twelve years back, in a hunting store in the United States where preserved rhinos, tigers and elephants were on display, a seemingly innocent encounter with a store worker made Blatchley decide to set up a museum that would allow Filipinos to learn more about natural history.

“He asked if my wife, who was with me at the time, was a Filipino and pointed out that Filipinos were all the same. He sounded offensive and we were fuming,” Blatchley narrates, noting that this comment had been a turning point for him. Filipinos, that store worker explained, looked so awed and ignorant when they see preserved large animals, unlike other Asians. “Why?” the store worker asked Mary Gay Blatchley. “Don’t you have these kinds of places in your country? How do you learn about natural history then?”

Bugged with the question, the Blatchley couple went back to the Philippines and visited the National Museum. There they saw the shameful truth: The Philippines gives little value to educating its people about natural history by preserving animal artifacts.

“It was on the third floor, in a small, old room with a leaky ceiling—the Philippines’ collection of bones and artifacts. I had [bigger] collection of bones in my living room,” he quips.

Blatchley maintains that there is a need to educate Filipinos about what the Philippines is blessed with, learn about the animals in other countries to get them to think about conservation. He laments that the future generation, his children, will never ever see a live western black rhino and hopes that by letting them see at least the bones of these animals, it will lead to better appreciation of the need to conserve them and their habitat, and prevent their extinction.

Fast-forward to the present, Blatchley, with support from his missionary parents, his wife and friends from around the world, has expanded his private collection from 350 to over 1,000 species that are now displayed in well-lit glass cases in a three-floor building. The bone collection includes that of a 12.5-meter (41-foot) sperm whale, a 9-m (30-foot) python, a megamouth shark, several crocodiles, a large collection of preserved rare insects as well as different species of house pets.

“All I want is to not be asked by my own children why I let those animals become extinct,” Blatchley says.

In the Philippines, according to studies, animals become extinct even before they are discovered and documented due to environmental degradation. World Animal Foundation lists the Philippines as one of the islands in the world suffering extreme habitat destruction, along with New Zealand, Madagascar and Japan.

A crocodile tooth will usually fall off and a new one quickly grows. This basic knowledge has driven many enterprising Filipinos to breed crocodiles instead of the traditional practice of killing them for their teeth and skin. J. CUDIS/CONTRIBUTOR

Changing mindsets

But how can the Philippines learn to appreciate the value of preserving the remains of dead animals if it falters in respecting the living animals?

Terralingua (, an organization dedicated to biocultural diversity conservation, has pointed out the connection between the loss of indigenous peoples’ traditions and understanding of the species, including ancestral beliefs, to animal extinction.

For example, the Philippine crocodile used to thrive in the northern Sierra Madre because the native Agta fishers were knowledgeable about the behavior and ecology of the crocodile and its habitat. Agta beliefs and practices also included strong taboos against killing and eating crocodiles. With the disappearance of Agta culture and the lack of knowledge about the animal, the Philippine freshwater crocodile is now critically endangered.

For Blatchley, Filipinos need to readopt the indigenous mindset about respecting nature and everything in it. D’Bone Collector Museum is a reminder of the world’s rich biodiversity and the sad fact that it is slowly destroyed by humans.

The museum has been a way to educate not only children but adults as well on why respecting animals, dead or alive, is important.

Economies of conservation

“In Thailand, when an animal dies, they recover the bones and put it in their house. It’s not a fascination of the animal dead. It’s a fascination of when the animal was alive,” Blatchley notes.

“If a carabao, which has given bountiful crops and good life for a Thai family dies, they preserve and hang its horns in the house to remember it. Filipinos chop it off, make it into a soup, or burn and destroy it,” he adds.

In many cases, locals who find dead whales, dolphins, even those rare sea creatures that are found awash on the shores will chop these into pieces, sell or eat them and bury what remains. Blatchley says promoting awareness against this practice has been a constant challenge but asserts he is winning it.

“Now people call me or come to me to report about a sea creature that had been awash on the beach. I come and help rescue it if it is still alive, or take it to the museum and preserve the bones if it is dead.”

These undertakings are done by the museum in closer coordination with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources more than the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Blatchley says the government needs to review its framework to animal conservation. For example, the law states that when an eagle bred in captivity is released, the government closes off 100 or more hectares of land that in turn endangers the livelihood of the people in the area. People then resort to killing other animals for livelihood or even to killing the eagle to make the government reopen the area for people.

Blatchley also highlights the success of conserving Philippine freshwater crocodiles as a result of legalizing the skin industry of saltwater crocodiles.

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by Ma. Cecilia Rodriguez

October 2007


Cagayan de Oro city – Ten years ago, the farmers of Sumilao, Bukidnon staged an unprecedented 28-day hunger strike that has claimed the life of one of their members and caused lifelong ailments to others.


The protest hugged the headlines and forced the government to forge a “win-win” solution to the farmer’s woes involving 144-hectares of disputed land then owned by the influential Quisumbing clan. But the solution was apparently cosmetic. In 2004, the Quisumbings filed a petition to convert the land as agro-industrial estate. This was upheld by the Department of Agrarian Reform.


The farmers sought the help of Malacanang and filed a motion for reconsideration. On October 3 this year, Malacanang junked the motion and killed the hope of the farmers for a legal solution to the problem.


“Now we are employing active non-violence to fight for our cause,” says Jun Gallego, team leader of the group of farmers who have begun a 600-mile walk from Sumilao, Bukidnon to Malacanang last October 9.


“So far, we have been walking for five days covering 130 kilometers. We still have 1,300 kilometers of walking to do so we reserve our strength, we don’t overstretch our body,” said Gallego. He said the marchers are doing fine but some have complained of foot blisters as most of the farmers are not used to walking on paved road.


He said that the farmers are motivated by the show of support they get from the church, people’s organizations and even ordinary folks. “In Guinobatan, for example, we were welcomed by the mayor himself who allowed us to use the municipal gymnasium as resting area. Along the way, people gave free water, candies and coffee to the marchers,” said Gallego.


The farmers plan to personally bring a petition letter to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo asking for the revocation of the conversion order and seeking for the extension of CARP.


Atty. Normina Batula, co-director of BALAOD Mindanaw, a group of legal advocates helping the Sumilao farmers, cites the need to reform the CARP if ever it will be extended. “This is the only way we can avoid such cases as the Sumilao, where the landlords go around the law and get away with it,” she says. She lauds the determination of the farmers to get their land back. “It is their right to make use of extra-legal means. There is no law preventing anyone to walk the roads,” she says.


A group of Asian lawyers from the Alternative Law Groups briefly joined the marchers yesterday in Misamis Oriental and walked for eight kilometers. They said they were inspired by the tenacity of the farmers and hoped that this can also be done in Burma.  


Posted by: Ces | November 25, 2007

Muslims-Christians take battle in golf course

by Ma.Cecilia Rodriguez September 2007



Cagayan de Oro City – Instead of canons and mortars, Muslims and Christians at the opposite side of Mindanao prefer to fight it out with golf clubs.


A Muslim-Christian friendship golf tournament has been organized by prominent Muslim and Christian figures in Northern Mindanao on September 7,8 and 9 at the famous Pueblo Golf and Country Club here.


Police Senior Supt. Amerodin Hamdag said the event is meant to highlight the friendly relations between Muslims and Christians. He said more than fifteen prominent Muslim personalities sponsored the tournament, among them Agrarian secretary Nasser Pangandaman, Southern Philippines Dev’t. Authority chair Zamzamin Ampatuan and the governors of Sultan Kudarat, Tawi-tawi, Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte.


Vice President Noli de Castro leads the ceremonial tee-off and has also signified his participation in the games.


“This will show that Muslims and Christians are living peacefully together. Here we are all brothers and sisters,” said Hamdag. He stressed that this tournament is only the beginning of more meaningful events that will nurture the relationship between Muslims and Christians.


Max Sino, co-organizer of the tournament, said the proceeds will be used to set-up a new Muslim-Christian foundation. “The foundation will work on ways to make the ties between Muslims and Christians stronger,” he said.



More than 200 players are expected to join the event which is open to both professional and amateur players. “Almost 30% of the players are Muslims coming from all over Mindanao. They are really happy that the participation of Muslims in a game of golf is highlighted because this is the first time this will happen,” said Hamdag.        

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