Tag Archives: davao

Duterte Makes Peace While Robredo Prepares for War

While President-elect Duterte and his team are busy with forging a peace agreement with the communist party of the Philippines and ending a decades-long insurgency that has claimed thousands of Filipino lives, the team of in coming Vice President Leni Robredo and their allies in the media are preoccupied with making a fuss over the separate inauguration ceremonies for the two newly elected officials.

In trying to make a mountain out of this molehill – or more appropriately a shit pile – Robredo and her cohorts are showing just how petty and small-minded they are in the face of the greater socio-economic challenges facing the nation. It is no wonder then that her running mate was soundly trounced, and she herself barely scraping enough votes from vote-buying to get a win in the recently held elections.

And while the media wants to paint the decision of Duterte in political colors, the fact of the matter is really much more mundane – there just aren’t enough seats in Malacanang to hold all the guests if both the President and Vice President are inaugurated at the same time.

This information was already conveyed to Mindavote a few days before the formal announcement of the inaugural arrangements. According to our source the President-elect stuck to his original pronouncement of wanting to hold the event in Malacanang. This of course posed several logistical problems, not the least of which was the limited – only 500 seats – capacity of the venue. This meant that after all the mandatory invitations have been sent out – to the diplomatic core, the senate president and speaker of the house, cabinet secretaries, etc – there were only a little more than 100 invitations left for the President and Vice President, and their families and personal guests. 

This is why it was decided to hold the event separately, to allow each of them to celebrate it in a way that was both significant and meaningful to them. But of course, this kind of simple and sincere reasoning does not fit the narrative that the media wants to portray – that of a divisive and dictatorial President Duterte. 

Then again, this isn’t like the old days when all the news and information had to pass, and was controlled by the traditional media. People can now get the truth from other sources and make their own informed opinion.

Denizens of the deep

You meet the most interesting creatures underwater. LIke this flamboyant cuttlefish. Normally this guy crawls along the bottom, dressed all in black and dark greys. But when it gets excited, loke it is in these pictures, you can see how the colors come out. 

I took these photos somewhere in the Davao Gulf, at one of those beaches that you wouldn’t expect see anything so beautiful. Guess that goes to show you can never judge a book by its cover, or the ocean by the garbage stacked on the beach.
Cuttlefish1 image image image

Travel Memories

It’s been a while since I took to the road. Work, that dreaded four-letter, has had me tied down with deadlines for months – with the end still no where in sight. In times like these, I usually occupy myself by revisiting old photos taken during previous travels.

A floating house along the banks of the Agusan Marsh. This is near where the caught Lolong, the 21-foot saltwater croc a few years back. 
Another floating house. This time on stilts. The Agusan !arsh can be a great location for a reality TV series about a group of people riding araft from Davao to Butuan
Anyone want to play ball?
Sunrise after a night of fishing for tuna in siargao

Diving in Dumaguette

TURTLES! I’ve since returned to Dumaguete to dive in Dauin and Apo Island and true to my earlier expectations, I saw turtles and a lot more. And this time I didn’t forget to bring a camera, as evidenced by the images of ghost pipefishes, a scorpion leaf fish, nudibranchs, shrimps on whip corals and of course, a turtle. 

The seas were heaving and so was my stomach. I really shouldn’t have had that cheese omelet for breakfast. Still, there wasn’t much else I could do about it now, nor was there much else I could complain about. Straight ahead I could see the cloud-hazy bulk of Apo Island, and beneath it, I could imagine the famed corals and endless undersea wonders of what is reputed to be one of the world’s best dive sites. 

I got this far by driving all the way from Davao and I was determined to enjoy the experience. Too bad my friend Menka, who arranged everything for us, wasn’t able to join the dive. But then again I was here and Apo Island was there so what else could I ask for. At that point it mattered little that the sun kept hiding behind the clouds, or the high wind was whipping the waves across the bow of our small banca with such force that I had to wear my scuba mask to keep my contacts from getting washed off – I was going to dive in Apo island and nothing was going to spoil it. 

I turned to our divemaster and asked how much longer it would take. He shrugs his shoulders, which I took to mean either, he didn’t know, didn’t hear me, or it didn’t really matter. I envied his indifference to the passing of time and speculated about how moments flow into each other and of the transitory nature of our existence. That is until a particularly big wave hit me squarely on the face, almost knocking the mask off and treating me to a mouthful of saltwater. From then on, I thought it more prudent to just keep my mind on not drowning before I even got into the water. 

Stubbornly our little banca, like the little choochoo that could, pressed on. Every dip into the waves threw up a fresh wall of water, but at the same time it drew us closer to our destination and it wasn’t long before we were turning the corner and were within sight of our first entry point. 

As the small 16–horsepower engine sputtered to a stop, the divemaster began his briefing. We were at Cogon Point and we would be doing a modified back roll entry, which actually meant that we would neither be going on our backs nor were we rolling. We would in fact be jumping of the banca face forward and butt first. Whatever. It was going to be a drift dive with our maximum depth pegged at 80 feet. He pointed off to the distance to our exit point, telling us that we would be picked up by the boat when we surfaced. 

Three splashes later and we were all in the water and raring to go. After some minor adjustments, a few hand signals, and the hiss of air being released we slipped gently underwater. 

THE CLOSEST THING TO FLYING 

For those who’ve never tried it, it’s hard to express in words the three dimensional freedom one gets from diving — unfettered by gravity, it is the closest thing to unaided flight humans will ever experience. Whenever someone wanting to learn to scuba asks me what its like, I often tell them to just try it and they’d either come out liking the experience or hating it. 

Another thing about scuba, the lines of choices are clearly drawn. It is always an experience sliding beneath the waves. There is a quietness and serenity that overwhelms the senses and drives all thoughts out, leaving only the moment and the awareness of each breath. Sounds of the world above are forgotten and motion is reduced to the pace of thick molasses. 

These first few moments are always the best for me; it is a moment of doors opening and genies being unleashed. 

And the genies of the deep were clearly with us during that dive as less than five minutes into it we were welcomed to Apo by a pair of giant trevallies swimming in the current. They were a bit above us and I wanted to swim to them to get a closer look, but the urgent tank-banging of our guide drew my attention further down. 

I swam to where he was and saw the huge, moss–lined, barnacle-encrusted carapace of a hawksbill turtle. I searched for the head and it took me a while to notice that it was tucked underneath some sponges feeding. This wasn’t the first turtle I’ve seen, but it was certainly the most self-assured. It never spooked even when I got in close enough to almost touch it. I can remember looking into its wizened eyes as it turned its head ever so casually towards me and wondering what amazing sights he must have seen — and all this time there was this whole surfer dude dialogue going on in my head — and I knew that it won’t be long until I was started calling clownfishes, nemos. 

After that first awesome encounter, there were a couple more turtles that we saw — even one with a missing fin — plus schools of jacks, barracudas, a couple of stone fishes, a ribbon eel, a snaggle-toothed snapper that I swear was almost as long as my forearm, and more corals than you can shake a stick at. 

As to the last, it was wonderful to see such abundance without any signs of decay or deterioration. 

We did three dives that day, each successively better than the last and at the end the only thing we regretted was not having the foresight to bring an underwater camera (duh!). Well, I guess that only means I’d have to go back and do it all over again… maybe next time the sharks will be there. 

The unseen world of scuba diving

 

The Beauty Within

Few things can surpass, and none can match the thrill of scuba diving. The sensation of slipping into a world where the constraints of gravity are loosed and one is free to fly, gliding with the unseen currents like an eagle soaring in the wind, is an indescribable experience that never gets old no matter how many times you do it. Every time is always the first time, and every dive unique from all the rest. The vastness and diversity of our oceans practically guarantees that you will see something new each you put on that wet suit.

When the water is crystal clear and the visibility is unlimited, you can survey the underwater world like you would from an airplane – looking down on the many-colored and oddly shaped corals. The multitude of fishes too numerous to count. And the unbelievable array of the strangest, weirdest, most interesting creatures you would ever find – from an eight armed octopus that can change colors at the drop of a hat, to shrimps with a thousand eyes and a kick so fast it creates its own sonic boom. Old Mr. Ripley can write a whole volume on these wonderful animals and it still won’t even scratch the surface.

Once in a while the lucky diver may also catch a glimpse of a shark, the undisputed king of this watery world, cruising among lesser mortals with all the surety and menace of Mike Tyson entering the ring during his prime. Seeing these apex predators for the first time, looking into the unblinking blackness of their eyes, you get a distinct feeling that it is only through their sufferance that you continue to remain healthy while in their realm. It is a humbling encounter where the wise depart with a sense of awe and a big question mark on the true place of humans in the hierarchy of nature. And the foolish do not leave at all.

The Treasures of the Past

But for all the beauty that it holds, much of our seas and oceans remain a mystery. An unexplored world just outside our doorsteps, and whose murky depths have proven all but impenetrable to our quest to see and understand what lies beneath the waves. Far from the prying eyes of men, a large part of human history lies hidden and undisturbed in the silent darkness of the ocean floor.

Buried beneath thousands of feet of water is a chronicle of man’s earliest attempts to answer the siren’s calling beyond the waves. From the meanest dugouts to grandest galleons, crossing the vast distances between continents meant venturing far beyond the sight of land and into the heart of the unknown. It was an adventure for the ages and countless brave souls answered the call. Tragically not all of them made it to the journey’s end. Stored away in Davy Jones’ mythical locker are the stories of man’s persistent itch to explore, to discover what lies beyond the horizon. 

Aside from fueling our curiosity, the oceans have time and again been used as a tool to extend man’s capacity to inflict violence on other men beyond the borders of their own nations. Throughout history, and even up to the present time, warlords, conquerors, and despots have played their games of brinksmanship on the high seas, with the fate of millions on the line. And while those who have succeeded are written into the history books, the failures of those whose efforts have yielded nothing but a watery grave, can be read only from the battered and broken wrecks they left behind. 

Killing the Goose that Lays the Golden Egg

In descending these depths, the intrepid diver journey’s into a world of unending possibilities and new discoveries, a world of wonder and sudden, violent danger. A world filled with relics of the past and the promise of a bright future. And, sadly, a world that is slowly dying from neglect, and misuse. Because its bounty is hidden beneath the surface, it is easy for people to turn a blind eye to the rapidly deteriorating conditions of our oceans. Despite the increasingly dire warning and doomsday predictions from scientists and conservationists, the dumping of millions of tons of garbage into our waters remains unabated. 

According to a report by by Ocean Convervancy (oceanconservancy.org), “The amount of plastic going into the ocean from land is estimated between 5 and 14 million tons annually. This study demonstrates that the sheer volume of plastic in the ocean is orders of magnitude greater than what has been previously estimated.  In the next decade our ocean could hold one pound of plastic for every three pounds of fish.

We know that plastic is bad for ocean wildlife and habitats – animals ingest it and can get entangled in it; it litters our beaches and waterways.  Volunteers with Ocean Conservancy’s International Cleanup have collected over 190 million pounds of trash, including plastic waste, since the event began 30 years ago.   And plastic waste is not just an environmental concern.   For countries where plastic consumption has outpaced waste management, there are real concerns around public health, job creation, tourism and quality of life.” 

And as far as it being an endless supply of food for our growing cities, man’s greed and inexhaustible appetite has beggared the once seemingly limitless riches of Neptune. Every year, as the fish stocks grow smaller, it becomes harder and harder for fishermen to meet the demands of the market. Leading many to resort to more desperate and environmentally destructive methods in order to increase their haul of the ever more precious fishes. Soon this vicious cycle of exploitation and extermination will come to a dead stop as the oceans will finally be depleted of all that it has to give. Which, if the current studies hold true, may come sooner rather later.

Hoping for a Better Future

But until that time comes we continue to hope that something will change. Something drastic that will make people realize that we should do all we can to preserve and protect the oceans and all the creatures that live in it. Not just because we rely on it for food or that it is useful for whatever purpose it might serve us, but because it is simply the right thing to do. The late Jacques Cousteau, a scuba diving legend and one of the earliest advocates for marine conservation said it best when he declared that, “If we go on the way we have, then fault is our greed. If we are not willing to change, then we will disappear from the face of the globe. If we are just logical, then the future would be bleak, indeed. But we are more than logical. We are human beings, and we have faith, and we have hope, and we can work.”

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For more of my ramblings, please visit my site at http://www.mindanation.com and http://www.infinitemonkees.com

Billion peso blunder Part 2

In addition to their penchant for fudging the fiscal details of the Sasa Port Modernization project, Department of Transportation and Communication Secretary, Joseph Abaya and the rest of his team are also guilty of ignoring local realities, not to mention sensibilities, in drawing up the plans for this wet dream of a project. 

Harping on the fact that this is the first and only PPP project in Mindanao, Abaya – with the enthusiastic endorsement of Mindanao Development Authority Secretary, Lualhati Antonino seem to be under the impression that Davaoeños should be jumping for joy simply because the national government in Manila has deigned to bless us with its attention. Antonino articulated it best when, while lecturing the stakeholders on what is good for them, she said “eh di kung ayaw ninyo  sa Davao, sa Gensan na lang…

Not to sound like the ungrateful brats that these people make us to be for voicing our concerns, an appreciation of local know-how should be a paramount consideration when undertaking a project that threatens to disrupt the lives of so many people. More than the tyranny of their calculators, those who drew up the plans for this monstrosity should respect how people feel – no matter how capricious or illogical it may appear to them. This is even more true, as is the case in this hot mess that they insist on foisting on the people of Davao, when the supposed facts and figures being presented flies directly in the face of common sense.

One clear example of this conflict between theory and practice is in the over-hyping of the supposed benefits that will be derived from the increased efficiency in loading and unloading after the Sasa Port if modernized. According to DOTC, the current rate of unloading in Sasa Port of two days will be reduced to just three hours once the new facilities are put in place. On paper it is hard to argue with such empirically advantageous data. 

But if you are a Davaoeño who has passed through that one and only road in front of the Sasa pier – if you are familiar with this narrow, over-crowded stretch of highway where traffic comes to a complete stop at every intersection – from the Lanang all the way to Panacan and beyond. Then you would instinctively know that there is absolutely no way that the current road network can handle the sudden flood of container-laden trucks, which the DOTC gleefully predicts will be spewing sixteen-times faster than they do now. 

Maybe as a way to show that they did have some foresight and anticipated this problem, they now promise to build wider roads to accommodate the increased traffic volume. But without explaining where and how they will go about it doesn’t really add up to much of anything beyond more of the same empty words. I am particularly curious as to how they intend to expropriate all those private properties along the highway extending north and south from the port. Huwag na po tayong magbolahan, the principle of Public Domain be dammed, there is no way in hell that the government will be able convince those thousands of Davaoeños to sell their homes and businesses for the making of a highway. And without these crucial pieces of real estate, the much ballyhooed increased efficiency of the new Sasa Port might as well be flushed down the toilet for all it’s going to do for the city.

And as if ignorance of the local road network wasn’t bad enough, the plan is also riddled with assumptions such as the idea that banana exports out of Sasa port will continue to be a viable option and one of the prime reason for its modernization. While I am all for positive thinking, the DOTC, NEDA, MinDA, and all these other alphabet soup agencies are clearly delusional when the choose to see this particular glass as being half full, instead of what it really is – a half-empty vessel that has rapidly lost half its value because its bottom has fallen out. 

The simple and irrefutable fact is that the banana plantations are in Panabo, and it will always be more efficient for plantations to ship their products as near to the source as possible. This is why, despite having been in operation for only a couple of years, the Davao International Container Terminal (DICT) has already siphoned off a large chunk of the market that the Sasa port still dreams of. Worst still, this is a situation that only promises to become more acute once the Hijo International Port Services, Inc. (HIPSI) in Tagum City is completed. That the DOTC still insists on locking the barn door long after the horse has escaped illustrates a lack of imagination and the built-up inertia of incompetence that afflicts government institutions.

But most egregious of all their shortsightedness is the DOTC’s failure to incorporate the clear and unequivocal clamor coming from many of Davao’s leading citizens for a berthing place for passenger cruise ships in any plan to modernize the Sasa Port. This oversight, which Sec. Abaya dumps on the lap of his colleague, Sec. Mon Jimenez of the Department of Tourism, is a clear-as-day indication of the planners inability to think beyond their cubicles. Making matters worse, they tried to justify their deliberate omission of the passenger berth that everyone wanted, by citing the concerns of the shipping companies that no one welcomed. 

In the end, after all is said and done, I go back to councilor Dayanghirang’s assessment that the biggest failure of Abaya, Antonino, and all those pushing for this project has little to do with their ability to explain the technical aspects of it, rather it is simply in their inability to communicate with the kind of respect that the people expect and deserve. 

Honey, Do I Look Fat in This Dress?

The ability to communicate is one of the most fundamental aspects of our being human and the foundation on which much of our civilization is built. Yet it is also one of those things that we take for granted in our daily interactions with other people. 

Simply because most of us learned to talk when we were still toddlers, we automatically assume that we’re already good at it. Unfortunately the history of human conflict shows that this isn’t exactly true. Most wars are the direct result of some form of breakdown in the communication process at the highest – and presumably the most responsible – levels of government, leading to incalculable misery and suffering for everyone else.

All communication happens on two levels, the Object and the Relationship. Object-level is when you make statements about things, such as when you say a ball is round, or a girl is beautiful. While Relationship-level conversations happen when you discuss the same things in relation to something else, as in the ball being rounder than another ball, or the girl being more beautiful than another girl. 

But because most people are unaware of the existence of these levels in communication, misunderstandings on even the most harmless comments can easily deteriorate into arguments. Take the case for example, of a wife asking her husband if she looks fat in the dress that she’s wearing. On the Object-level, this is just a simple yes or no question, something that any observant 3-year old can easily answer. 

However, on the much deeper Relationship-level, where whatever the husband says has a direct relation to his wife’s sense of well-being, things can become a bit more complicated. If he thinks that she isn’t fat, then he can genuinely say so and she would be happy. But if he does think she looks fat and fears that saying so might hurt her feelings, then a simple yes or no isn’t so simple anymore. 

Now before we talk about how we can resolve their dilemma, let’s leave the happy couple for a moment and look at how the same situation can occur in other areas of our lives. Whether it’s at work or with our family and friends, we don’t really have to look far for examples. The fact is, for most of us miscommunication has become so commonplace in our relationships that we don’t even notice it – much less put in the effort of trying to understand its underlying causes.

But then, if we are serious about wanting to improve our lot in life (as we should), we need to lose the blinders and really start looking deeper into this particular aspect of how we live. We need to understand the process of communication and the reasons it goes haywire so we can fix it when it does.

On this, one of the more important concepts we need to learn is that, while communicating at the Object-level can be a zero-sum game – that is if one person is right, the other is necessarily wrong – this cannot be applied at the Relationship-level. If even just one of the parties involved in the communication process does not get this, and insists that any outcome must be framed within the context of total victory or defeat, then a successful resolution of the conflict would not be possible.

What is worse is that, while individuals may be afflicted with this zero-sum communication bias, tragically it is more common – and much more magnified – among groups of individuals. This is the reason why nations go to war over issues that should have been perfectly solvable if only people understood that we can communicate peace just as easily as we can make war.

Former US President George W. Bush famously illustrated this kind of mentality with his “if you are not with us, you are against us” position at the start of the second Gulf War, and we continue to see the same in the South China sea stand-off, the debate on same-sex marriage, and a million other complex issues that are being presented in shades of just black and white. 

So now, going back to our earlier example, the solution to the husband’s problem – and other similar problems – depends on the kind of relationship he and his wife have built over the years. And this in turn has a lot to do with how they have learned to communicate with each other. Escape from a zero-sum game is only possible when all parties learn how to show respect, trust, tolerance, and fairness.

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