Tag Archives: philippines

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.

A Vulgar Politician

By Sass Rogando Sasot

Guestwriter for Mindavoices

 

“A VULGAR VILLAGE POLITICIAN”

That was how Abraham Lincoln was called by The New York Herald in one of their articles that lampooned him. They couldn’t believe the Republicans favoured Lincoln over candidates who looked and sounded more like a respectable statesman, such as Seward and Chase. On May 19, 1860, a writer called Lincoln a “third-rate Western lawyer..who cannot speak good grammar.”  On May 20, another writer limned Lincoln as someone who represented “all that is brutal and bloody in Seward’s political programme.” 

The Atlas and Argus was equally disgusted by Lincoln. On May 21, 1860, they described him as a “slang-whanging stump speaker, of a class with which every party teems, and of which all parties are ashamed.” On the same day, the Boston Post predicted that Lincoln would only serve as “the tool of the fanatical host he will lead on.”

On May 24, The Philadelphia Evening Journal  asked why should Lincoln become President? His language was “coarse,” they said. His style, “illiterate.” And Lincoln’s “vulgar and vituperative” character couldn’t hold a candle to the refine and eminent personality of his opponent.

When Lincoln became president, a newspaper in Illinois said this about him: “His weak, wishy-washy, namby-pamby efforts, imbecile in matter, disgusting in manner, have made us the laughing stock of the whole world. The European powers will despise us because we have no better material out of which to make a President.”

In Unpopular Mr Lincoln, Larry Tagg shared what a “Carolinian correspondent” told his friend about Lincoln:

“Did you think the people of the South, the Lords Proprietors of the Land, would let this low fellow rule for them? No. His vulgar facetiousness may suit the race of clock makers and wooden nutmeg venders — even Wall Street brokers may accept him, since they do not protest — but never will he receive the homage of southern gentlemen..[because they would never submit to rule by a president who] exhibits himself at railway depots, bandies jokes with the populace, kisses bold women from promiscuous crowds.” 

In their 2012 Civil War issue, the Atlantic republished the 1904 article of Henry Villard, the journalist who covered the Lincoln-Douglas debates. 

Lincoln, Villard said, was fond of “low talk” and liked telling “coarse or  even outright nasty” stories and dirty jokes. “The coarser the joke, the lower the anecdote, and the more risky the story, the more he enjoyed them,” Villard explained.

Villard found Lincoln revolting.  “Again and again,” he said, “I felt disgust and humiliation that such a person should have been called upon to direct the destinies of a great nation in the direst period of its history… I could not have persuaded myself that the man might possibly possess true greatness of mind and nobility of heart..”

As he got to know more the man, Villard saw something more in Lincoln: “…in spite of his frequent outbreaks of low humor, his was really a very sober and serious nature, and even inclined to gloominess to such an extent that all his biographers have attributed a strongly melancholic disposition to him.”

And as the presidency of Lincoln unfolded, Villard witnessed how the vulgar village politician “proved [himself] to be one of the great leaders of mankind in adversity, in whom low leanings only set off more strikingly his better qualities.”

In Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer, Fred Kaplan offered this reflection regarding Lincoln’s nasty and dirty jokes:

“More genteel than Lincoln, [Henry Whitney, friend and colleague of Lincoln,] struggled to explain the president’s ‘filth,’ and to be sparing with his examples. ‘The great majority of [his] stories were very nasty indeed. I remember many of them but they do us no good.’ Apparently they did Lincoln good. They helped him politically and professionally. And rather than displacing his “ideality,” they expressed an element of his personality and experience inseparable from his moral idealism. Like Mark Twain, he had a genius for pithy narrative, and a sense that his stories and obscenities expressed something crucial about the underlying flaws in the universe and the inexplicable darkness of the human situation. And often the darkness found its best expression in humor.”

 

Will Duterte become a Lincoln or a Qaddafi? Only time will tell.

Who’s Afraid of Duterte?

This is an excerpt from an article written by Sara Soliven De Guzman for the Philippine Star (http://www.msn.com/en-ph/news/opinion/the-yellow-submarine/ar-AAgX7tJ?li=BBr8Mkn&ocid=SL5MDHPwhere she exposes the efforts of groups and personalities identified with the previous administration to prevent President-elect Rodrigo Duterte from taking office.

Duterte, who won by more than six million votes over his nearest rival (with allegations that it was actually much higher if not for the vote-shaving done by the administration party), was elected to implement a wide variety of changes starting with a crackdown on criminality and corruption in government. In her article, Ms. De Guzman echoes the feeling of many observers that there are those who are afraid of Duterte, seeing in him an end to their lording over the Philippines. 

“There is a very strong crusade to stop president elect Rody Duterte from becoming the President of the Republic. Many sectors of society are out there for the kill. They continue to lambast him and threaten him for one reason or another. If you carefully study the background of these groups or individuals, you will clearly see a connection to the so-called “yellow mafia.”

Why is there a conspiracy to destabilize the new government? In the past, new presidents are welcomed. I have not heard nor read of a president elect being excoriated this way. We usually wait and see and give that leader a chance to prove himself or herself for the first 100 days. What is strangely happening now?

This is also the first time we see a president elect working right after the pronouncement of his winning the election. He started telling the public what he wants to happen as if making those in government hear his message in a subtle way. This is the first time I see police manning the streets, drug busters out for the kill, government working heeding the calls of the president elect unaffected by the presence of the former who still maintains his seat of power until June 30.

Amidst his roughness and nonchalant ways, president elect Duterte is giving us a head start of his presidency. He is a no nonsense guy. He is tough and rough and whether conservative citizens disdain him, the majority is looking forward to the “change” he will bring in.

If you watch the news on major networks, you will sense a strong campaign against Duterte. If you read the news, you will observe several newspaper journalists and social network sites taking a turn against him. Many in media have joined the bandwagon especially after Duterte called their bluff on boycotting him: Go ahead, boycott me. I’m urging you. Make this trip your last to Davao City. I do not care if no one is covering me. By the way, many politicians (mayors, congressmen and senators) have jumped off ship and are now swimming to Davao. Some are even riding a “yellow” submarine. Susmariosep!

Many of the top corporations and networks in this country are run or have been affiliated with the ‘yellow race.’ Believe it or not, they are anxious of what might be. This is precisely why they are all out there to destroy the “terminator.” Yes, Duterte if clear with his decrees will swipe all of them to do what is right thus, leaving a small chance for any hunky punky which many are used to in running conglomerates. Enough is enough and come July 1 all hell will break lose as we watch Duterte walk his talk.”

Did Robredo Benefit from Vote-Shaving in Basilan?

By Sass Rogando Sasot

Guest writer for Mindavoices

 

 

 

WHY IN TUBURAN, BASILAN AND NOT IN NAGA CITY, CAMARINES SUR?

 

Madame Vice President, 

 

I hope you stop doing this. You need to keep your remaining integrity intact. The results in a lot of districts in BASILAN, the vote shaving/inflating capital of the Philippines, are UNBELIEVABLE. 

I’ll believe it if you can explain convincingly why you received this overwhelming result in Tuburan, Basilan:

Robredo 94.56%

Marcos 1.65%

Cayetano 1.69%

Escudero 0.59%

Honasan 1.16%

Trillanes 0.34%

 

…and not in your own bailiwick Naga City, which you said was better than Davao City:

Robredo 88.78%

Marcos 5.80%

Cayetano 2.07%

Escudero 2.28%

Honasan 0.60%

Trillanes 0.44%

 

I would expect you to get the Tuburan result in Naga City, just like how Duterte got it in his own bailiwick, Davao City:

Duterte – 96.59%

Roxas – 1.18%

Binay – 0.52%

Santiago – 0.26%

Poe – 1.42%

Seneres – 0.01%

 

…just like how Marcos Jr got that same overwhelming result in one of his bailiwicks, Laoag City, Ilocos Norte:

Marcos 95.85%

Robredo – 2.07%

Cayetano – 0.47%

Escudero – 1.04%

Honasan – 0.28%

Trillanes – 0.26%

 

In your case, you didn’t receive that overwhelming support in your OWN bailiwick, but in Tuburan, Basilan, which is part of the vote shaving/inflating capital of the Philippines. So, why does Tuburan love you more than Naga City loves you? 

I still feel that you don’t have anything to do with it, but if you keep on defending Aquino, you’ll suffer. 

Remember what happened to Zubiri?

Leni Robredo’s Own Game of Thrones part 2

By Sass Rogando Sasot

Guest writer for MINDAVOICES

 

 

Robredo4.jpg

 

DO FOREIGN DIPLOMATS HAVE A RIGHT TO PARTICIPATE IN THE CONDUCT OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS  OF COUNTRIES OF WHICH THEY ARE NOT CITIZENS?

That is the key question in interpreting the dinner held in honour of Vice President-elect Robredo that foreign diplomats in the Philippines attended. The presumption is “No. Non-citizens have no right to participate in the conduct of public affairs of countries of which they are not citizens.” 

What are the relevant sources of international law? I can think of two international treaties: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. 

Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) grants the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs ONLY to citizens. By implication, non-citizens don’t have that right. This exclusion is a nod to one of the sacrosanct principles in international relations: territorial sovereignty, which is essentially the power to exclude.

The next question then is what type of activities can be considered as related to the “conduct of public affairs.” CCPR General Comment No. 25 of  the UN Human Rights Committee, the UN body given the task of interpreting the ICCPR, provides clarification (http://bit.ly/1Ye7Swy). 

Paragraph 25: The conduct of public affairs…is a broad concept which relates to the exercise of political power, in particular the exercise of legislative, executive and administrative powers. It covers all aspects of public administration, and the formulation and implementation of policy at international, national, regional and local levels…”

Having this in mind, is the dinner held in honour of Vice President-elect Robredo related to the exercise of political power in the Philippines? God is in the details. The organisers of that dinner has the duty to explain that that dinner is not in anyway related to the conduct of public affairs in the Philippines. Given the current political climate, do we have a reason to assume that this dinner is not related to the exercise of political power in the Philippines? 

Furthermore, the diplomats who attended that dinner is duty-bound to explain that their participation in that dinner doesn’t breach their obligations under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. 

Article 41, paragraph 1 of the Vienna Convention states that persons enjoying diplomatic privileges and immunities “have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs” of the receiving State. If the dinner is related to the exercise of political power in the Philippines, then participating in that activity may be considered an interference in the internal affairs of the country.

Things get more interesting if we consider Paragraph 2 of Article 41 of the Vienna Convention. It mandates that “all official business with the receiving State entrusted to the mission by the sending State shall be conducted with or through the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of the receiving State or such other ministry as may be agreed.”

Was the participation of the diplomats in the dinner held in honour of Vice President-elect Robredo sanctioned by their government? If yes, then they are on official business. If that is the case, did they conduct this official business with or through the Department of Foreign Affairs? If it’s not an official business, and they are participating as private citizens, what gave them the right to participate in the conduct of public affairs of the Philippines?

The Truth About Corruption in Media

President-elect Duterte has called the attention of the Philippine media to address the issue of corruption within their ranks

Now that President-elect Rody Duterte has let the cat out of the bag and called out the Philippine media for the rampant corruption that is happening within their ranks, we need to look further into this practice – not because we want to take sides in this debate – rather, as the guardians of our civil liberties, the media must be held to a standard higher than the one we hold all the other institutions of society by.

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The Truth About Media Corruption in the Philippines

The irony of the Philippine media is that it is one of the free-est in the world in being able to express its opinions, and at the same time it also has among the highest number of media practitioners killed while supposedly pursuing their job.

These conflicting realities – a free and independent media able to talk about any matter under the sun and a culture of violence that has resulted in hundreds of their number killed – is almost impossible to understand using western models of the role of media in society.

Conventional wisdom says that media is the fourth estate, the guardian of the people’s welfare against the abuses of those in power, an incorruptible pillar of truth, justice, and integrity. Under this ideal concept, the tools of repression (i.e. the rampant media killings) cannot co-exist with the almost limitless freedom of expression enjoyed by the Philippine media. Either one is free or not.

In order to better understand this phenomenon, one has to look deeper into the roots and role of the Philippine media in the society. In many cases, media companies are run as a business first and an advocate of truth a far second. In these instances, bottom lines carry more weight in the boardroom than by-lines and the policy of “bank balance news, pay-first views” becomes the norm more than the exception.

From top to bottom corruption is rampant in the media industry, but none more so than in the unregulated community radio stations that proliferate throughout the Philippine countryside. In many of these outfits, any person can walk in, buy airtime for a few thousand pesos a month, and basically broadcast whatever they want.

While on the surface this may appear to be the very model of democracy and freedom of expression, the lack of regulation and even the most rudimentary training on journalistic ethics has turned these radio stations from a platform to expose wrongdoing into a tool for blackmail and extortion. 

The way these “block-time” broadcasters practice “journalism” resembles a mafia shakedown more than anything else. Typically they would start by picking a target – a local government official or a businessman – and launch an attack against some alleged wrongdoing (real or otherwise) that they have committed. This continues for a time until either the victim sends an emissary to the broadcaster or the broadcaster himself visits the victim with a proposal to air his side of the issue. This method of double-dealing is what is colloquially known as ACDC or Attack-and-Collect, Defend-and-Collect journalism.

Sadly, this is also the root cause of many of the the killings of media practitioners in the Philippines. In a country were pride and social standing is paramount, an attack on a person’s integrity – particularly on such a public scale – often constitutes a killing offense. While this can never justify a murder, it does go a long way in explaining how these crimes come to be.

From this perspective, much of the blame should be placed squarely on the media industry itself for failing to clean up its own ranks of scalawags and crooks. By insisting on painting all media killings as an attack on press freedom, they are failing to address the real and rampant illegal activities of those criminals who are hiding under the convenient mantle of “media.” Not only does this oversight protect the guilty, it also demonizes the victims, and endangers the legitimate journalists. 

Netizens react to Pick-up Truck Bishop’s call for Duterte to “show delicadeza”

Netizens of all faiths and denominations reacted negatively to the call of Butuan Bishop Juan Pablo de Dios for in-coming President Rody Duterte to “show some delicadeza before criticizing the Catholic Church.” The bishop’s statements, a reported in the Philippine Star, drew the ire of Duterte’s online supporters, many lf whom called the prelate “a hypocrite.”

It can be recalled that Bishop de Dios is among those leaders of the Catholic chruch who requested favors from former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. He asked for a brand new pick-up truck, which he said he will use to service his flock living in the mountains. 

Based on the comments and reactions of those who read the reposted news report on MindaVote, majority of the people felt that the bishop stepped over the line of decency with his call. “Kayo po yata dapat ang mag show ng delicadeza,” says Junice Dacalos. “Humingi kayo ng sasakyan sa gobyerno… Ang PCSO ay para sa mahirap, hindi para sa simbahan… Ang mga katulad nyong mapagsamantala ang nakakahiya sa bansang ito.”

For Rosel Zagado, being “100% Catholic” has nothing to do with his opinion about Duterte and the leaders of the church:

John Luneta for his part cautioned the CBCP from “waging war against Duterte,” saying that “they should remember that they have moved mountains to convince carholics to stay away from Duterte last election campaign, yet Duterte won by a landslide.”

For Elsie Tan, she had this advice for Bishop de Dios and all other leaders of the catholic church who still insist on meddling in politics

 

Hey Buddy, Have You Seen My Keys?…

Once upon a time there was a drunk who was searching for his car keys under a street lamp. A policeman comes over and, after being told of the situation, decides to help the guy look for his keys. They search and they search – and find nothing. Finally, the cop asks the man this is really  where he dropped them. The drunk replies, “Nope. It fell over there, but it is so much brighter here.”

The situation sounds absurd when presented as a joke, but the punchline turns tragic when you consider that this is exactly how voters act when they choose the better packaged, and presumably more popular Binay, over the less charismatic, but infinitely more honest , Mar Roxas. What’s worse is that, while we often attribute this voting pattern with the “uneducated” masses, there is a significant number of supposedly enlightened Filipinos who continue to support Binay’s candidacy, not from ignorance, but because they know perfectly well which side of their bread is buttered.

Like the contrast between light and darkness, those hoping to continue the path to reform have aligned themselves against the return to the old, corrupt ways being advocated by Binay.

A Monumental Mistake

The controversial Torre de Manila rises behind the historic Rizal Monument in Luneta Park. Photo from skyscrapercity.com

Much as I try to focus only on those topics that have a direct impact on the lives of Mindanaoans, I just cant resist commenting on the recent full-page advertisement taken out by DMCI regarding their controversial Torre de Manila project. It offers a wonderful opportunity to talk about ways of communicating with an angry public that might help other companies, some of them in Mindanao, that are facing similarly sticky situations.

For those unfamiliar with the issue, the controversy stems from DMCI’s decision to build a 49-storey condominium directly behind the Rizal Monument in Luneta. According to some very vocal sectors the building sacrilegiously obstructs the otherwise pristine skyline that has framed the historic landmark for more than a hundred years. But which, as far as DMCI is concerned after having jumped through all the legal hoops, they are well within their rights to construct.

From a communication stand point, what we have here is a classic example of the disconnect that happens between the logical and emotional levels of discourse. On the logical sphere, where what one says is received by the audience exactly as it was transmitted, there is very little ambiguity in the project, especially from the point of view of the sender. In this case, DMCI.

Reading from their own official statement, they clearly see Torre De Manila as nothing more tan a straightforward “urban solution” designed “to help address the need for mid-income housing and urban renewal… (and to provide their customers) the convenience, security and quality of life they deserve.” In seeking to strengthen their logical legal basis for Torre De Manila, DMCI also cites its compliance with all the rules and relevant laws, their clearance from the National Historical Commission, urban development issues in the City of Manila, and international precedence in the preservation of national heritage sites.

Before commenting on some of the deficiencies of DMCI’s statement as a communications tool and a way to bridge the gap between them and their detractors, let me just say that from a purely legal perspective, I have no doubt that it stands on very solid footing. That said, I also believe that this is one of those cases where one can be legally correct, but ethically wrong. And trying to argue one over the other will not get you anywhere in the eyes of an already outraged public.

What DMCI doesn’t seem to understand, and what it’s statement fails to address, is the anger felt by those opposing their project. And while they took time to outline why they are “right” and their opponents are “wrong,” this logical presentation will not have any impact on the raw emotion that drives those on the other side. It is like talking about one coin but coming from different sides, you will never be able to come to an agreement without taking a leap of faith and accepting that the other side may just have as much “right” as you do. That their perceptions, while based on nothing more concrete than a hunch, still has the force of reality behind it. And attacking people’s beliefs by calling them irrational guarantees that they will only resist harder than ever before.

In order to find a common ground, DMCI should first identify the source of the anger. Is it because of the structure or is it because of the process that went into the building of the condominium? Most often than not, the public’s anger comes from a feeling of being ignored. Of being marginalized from the decisions that affect their lives. And compliance with laws and regulations, especially in the Philippines where confidence in the government is not very high, does not ensure public acceptance.

Once the source of the negative emotions has been identified, DMCI should determine who or what is driving the anger. While there will always be those who are using the issue for their own agenda, there are also legitimate groups who have real grievances. These are the people DMCI should reach out too. Maybe even form a community organization that would work towards finding an acceptable solution. These should be sincere efforts to bridge the gap and not just public relations damage control.

Lastly, DMCI should look for ways to widen the discussions with the public. The unknown is also a potent force in creating anger and anxiety, particularly in issues that are emotionally charged. By engaging the public in dialogues across all platforms of media, traditional and social, they will be able to reassure the people that, at the very least, they are listening to their concerns. This way also, by their reasonableness, they will be able to expose the extremists and the crazies whose anarchic views leave no room for compromise. DMCI should not be afraid to talk to the community, even when they may not always agree, these can be a rich source for demonstrating that they can do better.

So, Grace Poe wants to be President. And if the surveys are right, majority of Filipinos want her to be the President too. But from what we’ve been hearing through the political grapevines, the decision of whether or not the first term lady senator would actually take the plunge rests entirely on her good friend, advisor, and constant companion, Chiz “The Whiz” Escudero. After orchestrating the ascension of Jojo Binay to the office of the Vice President, he has somehow maneuvered himself to be in the perfect position to ride the coattails of Poe towards the same seat in 2016.

If Chiz manages to pull this off, it would cap off a wild series of horse trading and back channel negotiations that has seen the political fortunes of these would-be Presidents rise and fall in dizzying fashion. Whether it is Binay, Poe, Roxas, or Duterte, the one thing that is clear is that people are having a hell of a time keeping up with all the issues being brought out about each candidate. And with the expansion of media platforms into the real of the social networks, the slightest rumor can disrupt even the best laid communications plan.

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In the wings of all these political maneuverings, President Aquino went about with the regular business of government by signing RA 10668, or the Liberalized Cabotage Law, which would now allow for much, much cheaper shipment rates of foreign goods all over the Philippines. Prior to this law it was cheaper to send goods to and from abroad than it was to send them from Manila to Davao.

As an example of the impact that this new law would have on Mindanao development, the President cited the case of a cargo container from Cagayon de Oro going to Hong Kong. He explained that in the past it would have cost US$ 1,264, of which eighty-eight percent or US$ 1,120 to ship it from Cagayan de Oro to Manila, and only US$ 144 from Manila to Hong Kong. “Because of the amended Cabotage Law, shippers from Cagayan de Oro can go straight to Hong Kong. They will pay only US$ 500. They will be able to save US$ 746 per container,” this the President says, would end the absurdity of the situation where the Philippines has one of the world’s most expensive shipping costs despite having some of the largest shipyards, and being home to one-fourth of the world’s seafarers. This development is a clear victory for the people in Mindanao. Finally the stranglehold on shipping, which has favored the interests of Metro Manila over the rest of the country has been broken.

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.