Friday, December 19, 2008

The Victorina Experience

It's no secret that I have been supporting the Victorina Blog for sometime. I started out as a mere lurker then elevated by actively participating in the discussions through comments. Then as more posts were published by its founder Amiel Aguilar Cabanlig, my comments were being solicited by many and hated by some because of its length. Most of my reactions are quite long and considered unbecoming for a blog comment and I apologized to Amiel for consuming a large chunk of his comment space yet he urged me to continue. I have to admit that I was taken aback bit. All I was doing was pouring what little I know on the viewpoint of an ordinary human pedestrian.

Now why on cyber-earth would I support another blog when I can do precisely just that on my own here? I say why not? I believe in the objectives of Victorina, and here is a lone voice doing precisely something I believe is worth taking more than just a second glance. And it grew steadily that we started getting a large number of readership. And we have Boldstar. This lovely lady with her genuine "acerbic wit" and boy, she is truly direct and the sort of take it or leave it kinda gal. Very refreshing. And then in comes somebody who is probably one of the many blessings Victorina ever had. Yes, I am talking about Rain. He is fierce. His entry really made waves and has been making waves ever since. And our comments were continually asked for by Victorina's readers. Of course, that was also not taken lightly by many and charged as if Amiel was favoring only OUR opinions. On the contrary, we encourage them to participate as much as they want since Amiel does not believe in blocking comments. Our individual trickles are slowly but surely turning into a stream of ideas and opinions.

Other welcomed entries are Atty. Trixie Angeles and Brian G. They of course know Amiel long before we all came on board. What a diverse set of minds united in one Victorina. I pointed this out to Amiel through a comment that like it or not, we are now a mini community. Everything went so fast, I don't even know whose idea was it to form the Victorina Council of Elders, and I was considered as part of that Council. WOW! Me? To tell you the truth, I was not flattered nor even considered it as an ego boost. I was actually honored yet apprehensive since that meant "responsibility." No, I don't loathe responsibility; it's just the thought of what I can contribute without imposing my own. I always wanted people to be freethinkers and not just conform to everything that are presented to them.
That is no small task. It was a challenge and I accepted fully.

Finally, we got the opportunity to meet face to face through Amiel's natal celebrations which, I learned later on was orchestrated by Rain. Physically absent were Boldstar and Brian who are both based abroad. Seeing the Council for the first time was an eye opener for me. Everything that we have been doing these past months is not an illusion and no grandstanding was present. These are true people with substance. Not unlike those whom I have met in the past through the net. My initial apprehension towards being considered a Council Elder was entirely misplaced. No fear. We can make a difference and here is the opportunity staring me in the face.

For all it's worth, no matter what plans Amiel and the Council have in mind, Victorina must move forward. And move it must for whatever little we can contribute for the betterment of our day-to-day pedestrian existence, I will be there.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Poetry I

Sandaling Kalinga

Apoy, nagdirikit, nagniningas

Pumapaso sa nanlalamig na mga kalamnan

Animo’y sinat, tumuloy sa lagnat

Hanggang lumagablab ang pinagniig na ningas

Nagbigay liwanag sa madilim na magdamag

Tumambad sa paligid mga kulay na nagkukubli

Umawit ang mga anghel, sumayaw ang mga diwata

Sa paligid ng kambal na apoy na kahali-halina

Unti-unting humupa ng matupok ang gatong

Muling nagkubli mga kulay sa dilim

Namaos ang mga anghel, napagod ang mga diwata

Ang kanina’y apoy, ngayo’y nauupos na baga

Muling bumalot ang lamig sa paligid

Habang ang baga ay nawalan na ng init

Ang natupok na apoy, abo ang nalabi

Ikinalat ng hangin sa mahaba pang gabi.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

10 Reasons Why You Should Stay In The Philippines

To further make light of our current situation, allow me to post MY reasons why you should stay in the Philippines. Let us do it ala count down mode:

Let's go:

You can go mall hopping without actually buying anything - Here, it doesn't matter if you linger in malls just to "cool off" in the air-conditioned mall interiors.

Cheap food is everywhere - Not for those who are squeamish. When you get hungry from the mall hopping. You don't need to spend a ton to stuff yourself. Just go out of the mall and make "tusok-tusok da pisbol" and do the "lagok da sago't gulaman" while listening to call center agents talking in taglish and you're done. Heck, you would even find Kikiam, Tokneneng, kwek-kwek and squid balls apart from the classics: balut, penoy, adidas, IUD, isaw, headset, earphones, betamax, etc. Believe me when I tell you the Filipino may leave the Philippines, but you can never take away the Philippines from a Filipino. When a friend came home from the U.S. after 13 years of living there in Los Angeles, one request of his just minutes upon landing was for me to bring him where we can buy ISAW.

You don’t need words to communicate - A simple nod from afar is all it takes to signify a hello. You can point using your lips. Invite someone to a drinking session by merely tipping your hand to your mouth as if holding an invisible glass or bottle. In a restaurant, you can ask the waiter for the bill by raising your hand or using a lighter and then draw a square with your fingers. Just don’t do this in fancy restos… hehehehe. There are many more body gestures that are universal, so even if you don’t speak the local dialect where you are at, you are sure to be understood.

You can stay in your parent’s house for as long as you like - Even when you are already working, more so if not. Sometimes, some even stay on after they are already married.

Even low-income families have maids or yaya’s - Well in my family, we don’t. However, I’m surprised that many, in spite of the current financial crisis, still have them, sometimes even having two. Tsk Tsk Tsk.

You can buy almost anything in “tingi” - The Philippines revolutionized retail. You can buy a stick of cigarette, one piece of candy, 3 in 1 coffee sachets, a teabag, a sachet of your toyo, patis and suka, even a sachet of shampoo and conditioner. Almost everything from your local sari-sari store. You can even get them on credit without using a credit card.

Running for public office, becoming a celebrity, or both, are surefire ways of leaving a life of poverty - It does not matter if you don’t have the capability or even the credentials, just as long as you look the part, you're in. Need I cite examples? Huwag na lang.

Everyone has a cell phone - Even your local magtataho or balut vendor has one. Heck, I’ve even seen a mendicant texting away in Quiapo once. Wr n u? Hr n me. Hehehe.

No matter what day of the year, people always find reasons to celebrate - It doesn’t matter if it’s someone’s birthday, any form of anniversary, death or whatever. Why not celebrate someone’s circumcision; after all, the Jews celebrate their BRIS. To make an example: 24 bottles of beer in a case, 24 hours in a day… Coincidence? I don’t think so.

And the number 1 reason why you should stay in the Philippines

Growing old is mandatory, growing wise is optional - Need I say more?


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

LUZVIMINDA: Issues & Tissues

With so many issues plaguing our beloved LUZVIMINDA, it would take a major overhaul of all three branches of government to effect a positive change.

The way I see it, most of these incumbent government officials are like termites. The only possible way to control their colony and hamper their growth is to neuter the queen. But somehow, they have this ability to mutate into something else, reproduce asexually and provide buffers that protect them and their ravenous appetites. And to think we pay our taxes dutifully to finance this circus.

Just try to imagine, they keep on proposing new taxes to break our backs further and then sick their watchdogs on us to harass, silence and even worse kill when we voice out our outrage. Our national budget now stands at P1.415 Trillion. But have you heard of a single senator or congressman proposing that they slash their pork barrel to save our ailing finances? NADA! Not a one! Even the deliberations and the contents of the proposed budget were done behind closed doors. Where is the transparency in that? When was this approved? Saturday, October 11, 2008, 3:34 AM. Yes you read right, 3:34 AM. Just when everybody was still focused and busy shouting at each other on that high profile clemency. They had slipped another one by us once again. And now, that issue about the budget will die down faster while media vultures will focus their sights on another filed impeachment complaint and that issue of ancestral domain. Jeez.

In essence, our young democracy to me is somewhat like farce. It seems what we actually have, is an established and deeply rooted but unconfirmed oligarchic dynasty. Isn’t it obvious? How many of them have family members in every strata of government? Start counting from the top and you'll see what I mean.

The cast for a tragic play is complete. We have a ruler with an alleged knave for a consort now for the nth time being subjected to another unseating. We have a supposedly fallen former star sashaying in our midst with her wannabe minions. Two very expensive chambers of filibustering legislators accomplishing almost nothing except for a few insignificant band-aid solutions rather than truly representing the people. A justice system which leaves so much to be desired. A military and police force with almost no teeth to fight off the state's enemies no thanks to alleged corrupt officers who control their purses, hence, cultivating a cesspool of law enforcers that do unlawful deeds only because they too need to survive. A media culture that is bias and thrives on the glamour of sensationalism rather than objectivity. And of course, we have the people who are ravenous for even the most basic of necessities for daily survival. Add to that, the presence of outsiders peering over our shoulders acting like big brother, observing and meddling in our state of affairs. I hope our historians are keeping record of the goings on so that the coming generations will be able to learn of the fallacies we are faced with today, day in day out. That is, if the country is still whole and our race is not scattered all over the world in the coming centuries.

Sometimes, I can't help feel like a piece of meat roasting slowly in my own juices in a pit of spit, almost ready to be devoured by hungry cannibals and my bones cracked and sucked of its blood-making marrow. Nevertheless, this is my country. And I love it here. I am not ashamed even with its artificial poverty and the covert systematic rape being done by some unscrupulous members of its citizenry. I love my country the Philippines. LUZVIMINDA: Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. That’s how she is known, that’s how I hope she will stay. Let us all do our part to resuscitate her and revive her starting with our own families.

May God keep her whole.


Sunday, October 5, 2008

Greed and Avarice, Military Style

First posted in Amiel Aguilar Cabanlig's Victorina site as Andro: (This entry with corrections and additions.)

This is another classic example of the dangers of playing with other people’s money. Greed along with its twin, avarice.

Long before the news of Major General Carlos F. Garcia's plunder of the military funds came into focus, soldiers were already complaining, albeit silently, about failures of their military arsenal in the midst of battle along with the lack of or inferior military gear. This was proven when a report from a leading network, covering the war effort, made a broadcast on the conditions of soldiers in Mindanao as well as to cover the reported kidnapping of Italian priest Giancarlo Bossi. They were ambushed on the way back and they saw misfiring mortars, locking guns and outdated communication devices and almost no air support. The soldiers like "normal” Filipinos were laughing but alert at their sorry plight. We Filipinos do have that inherent trait amidst all adversity to laugh at ourselves. But the fear and shame that were in their eyes betray that flimsy facade they are trying to project. Fear that their equipment will fail them in their hour of need, shame in knowing their high ranking officers and dependents are living luxurious lifestyles somewhere else, far from the war zones. The scam of a scum pilfering tax payers’ money and treating it like it was his personal piggy bank was more than just shameful. He was dealing double jeopardy. One, pilfering military funding and two, he was putting the lives of deployed soldiers at risk. Fourteen marine soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice in that ambush, most were even beheaded.

I may not be a destitute or that fully padded, but what little I have, I worked my ass off honestly for. My former job had me exposed in handling millions of pesos, in cash, which I could make disappear in a flash and still appear accounted for, but I was never tempted to do so. Not even during the hardest of times. And I'm proud of that fact. There was even a running joke in the office when I bungled up making a check, they said: "Ayan kasi, ayaw sa intsik, gusto lagi encash." So, it is hard for me to be impressed or even jealous of sons or daughters of other military officers most especially if said sons or daughters are known bums and just living off their family's questionable assets. I may be startled a bit at first, but that's just about it. There are still lots of them here in Fort Boni acting like demigods and dropping of their father’s or even their mother's rank as if to inspire awe and intimidate anyone to submission. Some military spouses and paramours are likewise guilty of this fact. Ang sarap pagbabatukan! Sometimes I wonder whatever happened to that much publicized life-style check.

June of this year, another Major General and a Staff Sergeant faced a court marshal. Major General Jose T. Barbieto and his co-accused Staff Sergeant Roseller Echipare was charged and investigated for possible violations of Article of War 55 (Officer Making Unlawful Enlistment), Article of War 96 (Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and a Gentleman), and Article of War 97 (Conduct Prejudicial to Good Order and Military Discipline). MGen Barbieto was relieved as commander of the Army's 4th Infantry Division on March 6, 2008 following an order from the Ombudsman. To simplify, they are scamming money off recruits in the thousands of pesos per person just to be enlisted or re-enlisted in the military without the need of passing all the stringent tests required for enlistment and/or re-enlistment. Great! First, we had failure of equipment now we have failure of personnel. As of this writing, the case is still on going and both of the accused are confined to quarters.

A soldier is a formidable living, breathing and thinking machine. His ingrained skills are tools he can call upon in life or death situations, while his weaponry increases his chances of surviving or successfully completing his given mission. How can he be confident knowing his equipment or lack thereof, may fail him at any time? How can his morale be bolstered knowing that his supposed adversaries are carrying far modern equipment than what he has? And the fact that his family is living in near slum conditions while his generals, officers and their dependents are living la vida loca? All these and still, be expected to perform brilliantly and to ultimately make the greatest sacrifice, if he has to, for God, for country and freedom.

A soldier friend of mine, the son of a late Colonel, is on his second tour of duty in Mindanao. Both he and I come from a military lineage, although, mine extends longer and broader. Ironically, he is assigned again in my dad's province of Basilan. We have lost several buddies over the years to the war in Mindanao. And it is with respect, when we do get together, to dedicate our first bottle of beer to our fallen. I do hope and pray for his safe return.

"Kaya walang kukurap, baka malusutan ng corrupt."

-Pictures are from the web-

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Food, Glorious Food

I have always been fascinated with food, any food. I am very thankful that I seem to gain little weight no matter how much I consume. There have been times when asked what kind of diet I'm into, my ready reply would be "I'm on a see food diet." Of which people would query, what kind of particular sea food I prefer. And I would correct them immediately in a comical manner: "no you don't understand, you see, I said I'm on a "see food diet", meaning I eat whenever I see food.

Members of my family on my mother side are all good cooks especially the men. Yes, each has their own versions of whatever dishes and oftentimes we would compare whose kaldereta is better, or whose beef stroganoff is too oily, whose salad dressing is too runny, etc. They also have this peculiar knack of turning the lowliest of ingredients into something wonderful. Most of them are not even bought but grown in the backyard.

My mother has this knack of copying food she had sampled in a restaurant. Once she had a taste of something she likes, rest assured that she can recreate the recipe almost perfectly. A talent my sister also seems to have which unfortunately I didn't acquire. I remember one time when I took them out for a Chinese dinner in a restaurant I come to often enough. Actually it was a trick on my part. I have been able to go to different restaurants and hotels in and around the metro because of my line of work and my friends. And when I get to sample something I truly liked from a fancy restaurant or even a turo-turo, I make it a point to bring either my mother or sister, or both back and sample it for themselves. And true enough, a day or two after; they recreate the dish to my delight. But it doesn't stop there, for the next time that dish is prepared, they would have improved on it further making it superior to the original recipe and thus making it their own. As a result, we never run out of guests in our house. A day won’t pass without at least one person who would come and stay for a couple of hours just to say hi. More so if we have a party. That is why, in our household, we may turn all lights off during the night except for the kitchen. The kitchen light is perpetually on, 24/7.

I can never compete with my uncles and cousins especially my mother and sister with regard to food preparation. They all seem to have this tactile ability to cook without even following a specific recipe. I am an outsider of sorts. They have this ability of making even the lowly okra or eggplant taste so good you'll come back for more. Oh yes I can cook but I have to follow a recipe to a T. My food may look and taste good, but they lack personality. One talent I have though is identifying who cooked which food. If presented with adobo or menudo prepared by two or even three family members for example, I can easily identify who prepared which without fail.

This talent made an officemates' wife smile with pride once. She happens to be a wonderful cook. We were on a weekend office outing once. She insists on cooking on site every time we do. As we sat for lunch, hungry from all the swimming we did, I was surprised with one of her offerings. I couldn't believe my tongue, it was good but there is something amiss. I immediately pointed this out to her and said she was not the one who made it. She was surprised but instead of being embarrassed gave a smile and said to her husband, "See, Genkuro knows my cooking." Her husband who happens to be my officemate was surprised himself. It turned out that one of their son's prepared that particular dish. So you see, even if you followed a recipe exactly, it won't be the same and will lack the personality of the original. It will totally be another character; it will assume that of the one who prepared it. It's like an indelible fingerprint capturing every nuance, spirit, love and state of mind of the one cooking the dish. That is the reason why the same dish will taste different coming from different branches of the same restaurant. The same is also true in cocktail and drink preparations.

With so many eateries here in the Philippines, it would be a delight for me to sample everything before I die. One thing I will never try though is dog meat. I love dogs, but love them as companions and not as gastronomic fares. I've had my share of exotic foods before and still do from time to time. I've had monitor lizards (bayawak), different kinds of snakes, beetles, crickets, grasshoppers (balang) and varied exotic sea food usually not sold in the market. I never had or will ever have a taste of something endangered though. I've had my share of the most exorbitantly priced restaurants to the cheapest street food. I've also sampled cuisines that are so fancifully prepared and so good to look at but tasted bland. Some that looks disgusting but burst with flavors so wonderful it made my tongue and palate smack with delight.

If there is one thing I'm good at in food preparation though it is baked goods. The precise preparation and measure is up my alley. I made it into some sort of extra livelihood once. Nobody can get enough of my almond coconut macaroons or my double chocolate cupcakes. But I had to let it go since baking takes a lot of time and I couldn't keep up with the orders, plus I had a full time job. I know there would be a time when I will go back to it again soon. The food business is really profitable if done logistically right.

But no matter how good or palatable food is. I have to agree with Penelope Cruz' character in a movie entitled Woman On Top wherein she says: "... food will taste better especially if you share it with the one you love." In the same breath I add: "It doesn't matter what is on the table for all to share, what matters is who is there with you to share it with."

Tara, kain tayo?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Written Word

Life has been very boring for me lately ever since my early retirement from the hussle and bussle of the corporate world. Yes, you read it right, "early retirement." Actually, in spite of my present boredom, I'm actually enjoying myself. With all the time in the world at my disposal, the liberation from work related stress and the daily commuting to and from the office. The commuting part was the least of my problems since I always took a cab every morning going to the salt mines. Going home is another matter since I almost always hung-out in and around the Makati commercial complex or wherever my vagabond spirit takes me, with or without company. I enjoy observing people in this time frame they call rush hour. If going to the office every morning is an obligation, going home is a chore. You see a woman lugging her groceries, a fellow irritatingly looking at his watch every ten seconds probably waiting for a date who is obviously late. Office girls unwinding in a nearby coffee shop talking about their bosses and the toxic day they had, or a group of gentlemen in a round of beer at a café and of course, the lines of people you see at the taxi stands, the bus, the colorum service vehicles and jeepneys. Such a cheap thrill you may say, but hey, I'm the one being thrilled by this activity and it's admittedly relaxing, well, for me at least.

So what has been my activity like after leaving the mines? To begin with, I immensely enjoy the extra thirty minutes in bed every morning, make that an hour. The leisure of taking longer showers, and enjoying coffee every morning. The time to play with our twelve dogs, reading novels, taking pictures, videos, time to be with family and friends. Blogging and commenting on blogs.

Ever since I can remember, the one activity I enjoy doing the most is reading. Sometimes I am amused when friends or family members will ask for my help in setting up their brand new electronic equipments when all the while help they need can be found right in the box it came with. Yes you guessed it, the user's manual. Some people almost always never give them a second glance others who do however can't seem to figure them out even with the illustrations it contain.

The written word holds such fascination for me especially if the writer is deftly astute in presenting an idea or proposition. Of course I also enjoy reading those who presents something with no frills, direct to the point, come as you are style. As of late, what grabs my attention is the vast information or disinformation one can get from the internet and the myriad of blogs. For a rabid and voracious reader like me, it's like manna from heaven. Would you believe there was even a time when I read different versions of the Holy Bible page per page from Genesis to Revelations? I would love to read the Qur'an if someone would care give or lend me a copy. I want the book though, not the online version. I'm not sure, but I think an Imam would not oblige something like that to a baptized Catholic like me.

A drop of ink may make a million think - Mark Twain

These days, one of my regular pastimes is reading and commenting on Blogs. I find it very healthy to read other peoples take on everything and anything. What tickles my fancy is the comments section these blogs have. Some people are very creative in giving an opinion on the blog posts, some helpful, some outright rude, stupid and illogical. Not one drop of ink spilt here. Here in cyberspace, all you have is the typed in words of someone who maybe is your next door neighbor or someone from a far flung place somewhere not even google earth has an aerial map of. But of course it would be idiotic if you believe everything you read from the net, like it is likewise stupid for anyone to take the news at face value unless it is live, caught on cam and actually happening in real time. With freedom, some unscrupulous writers opt to misinform or distort the facts for the benefit of someone who has the ability to shell pretty pennies for a PR job and pass it off as NEWS.

It is therefore important for a reader to discern what is a good read and what is not and how it will affect his or her life no matter what he or she has read. Each one of us have our own view of what should be wrong and what should be right, what is acceptable or not. A simple solution to this is, if you don't like what you are reading, stop, drop it and read something else. But bear in mind an argument you may incite will be weak if you have only one side to lean on. This I find in some blog comments wherein they are so shallow and the obvious inexperience of the commenter is shown right there in the written word. People, a blog is the free thought of the writer. If you have to disagree with what is written, be constructive, creative and civil with your comments. If you dare insult, be brave enough to identify yourself. After all, bear in mind that the blog owner has the power whether to publish your comments on his/her site. And if you are stupid enough to comment sarcastically, your words will be for naught and no else will see it aside from you and the blog owner. I am not washing hands, but I have been guilty of writing insulting comments before, not at the writer though, but at the subject of his/her blog topic. Most especially if the topic is of a truly despicable character in our society.

An example I can cite which caused considerable reaction, although not from blogs, which is still fresh in peoples mind is the book The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. I say the book, not the movie. First off, the book is fiction. Yes the book dealt with the belief of the Catholics that Jesus as a deity and the supposed existence of Jesus Christ's bloodline and His supposed marriage to Mary Magdalene who happens to be of royal blood and not a prostitute. A direct contradiction of what the Catholic church indoctrinates into its fold. It also points to many references to what Catholics now believe is so but are supposedly fabrications of the church leaders. As an added bonus, it also tackled the existence of a group, intent on preserving this bloodline. Read it again people, the book is fiction. So is it any wonder when the Santa Iglesia made a whole lot of bang against the book and its writer, the controversy sparked the curiosity of the reading public, hence, the increase in book sales to best seller status and even getting a movie deal. As a follow-up, the prequel of The Da Vinci Code
(although it came after) also by Brown titled Angels & Demons was also a hit and will also come to the theaters sometime next year 2009. Needless to say, both books are thought compelling and a good read. The cause of all this? A FICTION novel. This is the Catholic version of what Salman Rushdie had several years earlier when he came out with his fourth novel entitled The Satanic Verses. What Rushdie got was not just flak and protests from the Muslim community and the literal public burning of his book copies but also a fatwa issued by the Ayatollah Khomeini against Rushdie calling on all Muslims to kill Rushdie and his publishers on sight. Up to now I must confess, I haven't read that book. The premise of the story is very salivating. Unfortunately, I can't find a copy.

To wrap things up, the written word like the wheel is one of the many inventions of man that has uplifted our lives, stirred imagination and further thought. From the simple to the most complex of construction, the written word has preserved history and points to a brighter and more informed future.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Cha-Cha 2008

Two years ago, the incumbent set of government people put out it’s “grand deception” as the Supreme Court called it, the Cha-Cha or Charter Change. They needed to convene a Con-Con (Constitutional Convention) or a Con-Ass (Constituent Assembly). For various reasons and interests, the prime would be to alleviate the country of its sorry plight it is in now. Now for Cha-Cha 2008, another reason being given out is to ensure a long lasting peace in Mindanao.

I, for one am for change. Positive change that is. In my personal opinion, any form of Cha-Cha, Tango, Tinikling, Singkil or Pandanggo will not help since the intention is truly shady. It doesn’t matter to me how many Con-Con’s or Con-Asses they convene unless they say or truly divulge HOW a change in the bible of the land will help millions of starving Filipinos when the same characters will remain at play. It was really not a shocker for me that most of today’s (8/13/2008) Philippine broadsheets came out with screaming headlines “Systems go for Cha-Cha.” Come on, we’ve been through that already with the freedom constitution and what change has it provided us with?

Well we did have more freedom to express our views not present before. That’s positive. But aside from that, came also a new set of problems we haven’t had experience in dealing with before, not even during the time of the Spaniards. The people in general have been under some form of Pontio Pilatos glorifying themselves as a blessing to the people. Some of them truly are but most are just that, media hogs. Sad to say that even some of our Barangay Captain’s set themselves as demi-gods in their area of responsibility. As I’ve said in the past entries, we had a chance during EDSA 1 and we squandered it. It may have been the opportunity we were waiting for but the reality is, we didn’t know how to use it properly. We were all bent on revenge and getting all that was lost, real or concocted. We lost the real gist of what must be done to rehabilitate not only the coffers of the land but also instilling positive changes in the minds of our youth for this new found freedom we have. Again I stress that these are my personal views. And if you, dear readers, are not happy with the way I think, please feel free to go somewhere else because there are more coming.

Unless we learn from our mistakes in the past from the history of our country, we most likely will fail in this pending smoke and mirrors game plan behind this new attempt. They are saying it will effect change citing this and that but how? Can they not do it if they truly mean it in the present set-up? What’s stopping them? We always hear these words during election period and that’s a given. Have any of those lofty ideals surfaced? You be the judge. Are you securely employed? Are your streets and community safe? Can you look at your Honorable straight in the face and say “you are doing a miserable job” and not be sued or worse just vanish on the face of this earth? If you are legally in any form of trade, are you content with the way things are run when you get to renew your business licenses and permits? If you buy any form of item from a store, can you return it for a refund if you are not satisfied with the product? Can indigent people really rely on the government for lasting assistance instead of dole outs to help them get back on their feet? Are you silently wishing to have your relatives and work here instead of abroad away from the clan? If you are an honest taxpayer, are your taxes being handled correctly and used accordingly? Cha-Cha “daw” can help. HOW? And why now?

Whoever the major players are in this latest Zarzuela must come forth and let the real truth and intentions be divulged. For once I wish that they do so. Let’s play with the cards on the table. Let the people truly decide without any form of diabolical scheme behind it or coercion and threats or bribery. We’ve also been through that and it never worked for us, only them.

I am not looking for someone to blame even though my statements may say it. If there is someone to blamed, it is also us. Us because we blindly allow it to happen right in front of our faces and do nothing other than sulk in a corner or just talk without action. We may now openly curse everyone in government even your Barangay Kagawad, but other than that, we remain indifferent. Maybe we became numbed because of the countless promises and half-truths we are served with on a daily basis. Even more during election season and yet we half-wittingly swallowed it and then we silently spit or regurgitate it all later when it bites us back.

Cha-Cha is not an answer. If we bite into this latest form of deception, we might as well, as a people, be labeled Tan-Tan (Tanga-Tanga). All things considered, change is inevitable and we truly need it. But how we go about it will be an entry for the history books. After all, history is written by the victors. Let the victors be the entire Filipino nation.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Manila Ocean Park

Feeling a little cooped up last Monday, March 10, 2008, I decided that I would go out and mall hop around Manila the very next day. I made my itinerary starting North of Fort Bonifacio. My intended tour was to go to Trinoma, Robinson's Galleria Ortigas, SM Megamall, Shangrila Mall, SM Makati, then ending my tour by going to SM Mall of Asia (MOA). It has been quite a while since I did that and sometimes I feel the need to just be around people I don't know as part of the crowd. Unfortunately, aside from being cooped up with my nose stuck in a copy of Susanna Clarke's - Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, which I have been putting off reading since last year, I have also been neglecting keeping abreast of what's happening around the Philippines. Reason being the endless hearings being conducted by the Senate regarding the ZTE scandal, and the rallies being planned. Geesh. Scandal this, scandal that. When will this circus end?

So I was already set for my day long adventure the next day when it has been brought to my attention that, Tuesday, March 11, 2008, starting at midnight, a nationwide transport strike will take place. No jeepneys, buses, taxis. Heck, even tricycles and pedicabs will be joining in the fray. The only available transport will be the LRT and the MRT. But with no other means to get to their stations, going out will be pointless. Oh yes people, like any other pedestrian, I do take public transportation. Great. That will definitely put a hold on my plans. The transport groups are striking regarding the implementation of the single ticketing system for traffic violations.

Tuesday, with nothing better to do, I turned on the TV to see updates about the transport strike. Around 9:00 AM, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo caved in and signed Executive Order 712, a move that convinced the transport groups to call off their strike before noon. Hallelujah! With a major adjustment in my itinerary, and instead of going to different malls around the Metro, I decided to go to just one, MOA. I planned on visiting their Science and Discovery Center. I haven't had the opportunity yet since there was a student tour the last time I was at the MOA. My experience on this would be the topic of my next blog.

So on I went with my friend Jojo whom I asked to tag along. So after our tour of MOA's Science and Discovery Center, and with time still to spare, I decided to visit the Manila Ocean Park. I know the whole park is not yet 100% complete, but I also know that the Oceanarium already is. It was already getting dark when we got there but might as well check the place out.

The Manila Ocean Park is the first and largest aquarium facility in the Philippines. It is also touted as the first world-class marine themed park to adopt a fusion concept - bringing together in one complex an Oceanarium, a mall, a restaurant row, boutique hotel, open water marine habitats and multi-purpose function facilities. The park is located behind the Quirino Grandstand of the Luneta Park in Manila. The park is open from 10:00 AM to 9:00 PM, Mondays through Sundays. Admission fees are PHP 400.00 for adults, PHP 350.00 for children and PHP250.00 for students.

During our visit, the Oceanarium and Souvenir Shop is in full operation (first phase). So based on what I have seen, by my estimation, the park is only 40% to 45% complete. What that means is, the price of the admission ticket, AT THIS POINT, is a bit steep and not commensurate to the experience with the park being incomplete as of date. I learned that the marine themed hotel and mall (second phase) and the marine habitats (third phase) will be operational within the year. What I'm looking forward to in my next visit would be the glass bottomed boats. I wouldn't mind getting in line just to have that ride.

On with the tour. Taking photographs and videos inside the Oceanarium is allowed, provided no flash or video lights are used so as not to scare the marine animals. Upon entering, guests are given a brochure/map of the complex with brief descriptions of the different pavilions/sections within. The tour starts in a section called AGOS (Flow) which describes the natural flow of water from land to sea. What will immediately get one's attention are two giant ARAPAIMAS in a big tank on the right side of the entrance. On the left is a tank of OSCARS. Guests will have to go up a series of wooden steps to an upper platform to see a tank with an ELECTRIC EEL and another tank with what looks like a GIANT CATFISH. Also in this area, you hear the flow of running water from a mini waterfall then you go down to a shallow touch pool with different kinds of STARFISH. The guide told us that we can feel the texture of the starfish but we must not lift them out of the pool. I can't help myself and I asked the guide where these starfish came from. She said they came from Cavite. I wondered where in Cavite they came from since as far as I know, most of Cavite shores are polluted and these type of starfish thrive in shallow waters. The last time I saw these type of starfish was when we went to Hingotanan Island in Bohol years back. I remember vividly that they were larger and more colorful than these in the touch pool. There were also several smaller tanks with smaller fish, which I later found have bigger relatives inside the other sections. By the way, you can click on the pictures to see a bigger version.

The next section is called BAHURA (reef). At the entrance is an interactive kiosk which showcases the types of marine creatures within. Most notable in this section are the CLOWNFISH (of Finding Nemo fame), obviously, they are very popular with children and REEF STONEFISH (synanceia verrucosa), SEAHORSES, PORCUPINEFISH (buteteng laot), BOXFISH, different varieties of ANGELFISH, LIONFISH, etc. There was also a small tank with three transparent embryos of the BAMBOO SHARK. Also in this section you will see a JAPANESE SPIDER CRAB said to be the largest arthropod, in its temperature controlled tank. Going around this section is very relaxing. It reminded me of the old Acuario de Manila (Manila Aquarium) located at Calle Real del Palacio (Gen. Luna Street), Puerto Real Gardens in Intramuros but without the fishy smell and adobe walls.

Moving on, we went in the next section called LAOT (fishing ground). This section has four large tanks. Inside, you will find an array fish that can be found in deeper waters. In one of these tanks you will see a GIANT GROUPER (lapu-lapu). That fish is so big and looks so tasty that different lapu-lapu recipes ran through my mind. In the center of this section, there are several sofas arranged in a circular pattern where tired guests can sit and relax in the subdued lighting. Overhead, one will also find a cylindrical screen showing various deep ocean sceneries. Also in this section is the entrance to the 25 meter long acrylic tunnel. and in my view, the Oceanariums' main attraction. It was a great experience to see deep sea fishes swimming overhead from one section of the aquarium to the next. RAYS (pagi), TREVALLIES (talakitok) and so many others that I don't know what they are called. It's a sight to behold.

BUHAY NA KARAGATAN (the living ocean) is the next section of the Oceanarium. The main feature of this section is the 25 meter long tunnel mentioned above. It shows various marine animals and how they interact with each other. Also in this section are, eels and many others. In here, one feels what its like to live under the sea inside a bubble, without feeling the pressure or getting wet. Guests are allowed to sit alongside the tunnel railings on both sides.

Next stop is ANG KALALIMAN (the deep). In here, guests gets to view different kinds of schooling fish like the BARRACUDA (torsilyo). In this section, one will get to view the tunnel aquarium from the other side. Make sure to look up lest you will miss the overhang aquarium where you will see different sized STINGRAYS at rest or slowly gliding at the transparent bottom. In here you will also find the MULTIMEDIA FACILITY section. But of course, who would not be fascinated by the shark tank which extends to the second floor of the Oceanarium. There are three kinds of sharks in the tank, namely: The BLACKTIP REEF SHARK, WHITETIP REEF SHARK, GRAY BAMBOO SHARK. Also in the tank is the GIANT GUITARFISH which is actually a type of ray with two tall dorsal fins.

Roaming around the different sections, looking at tank to tank, I didn't realize that almost two hours has already past, and we haven't even been to the second floor yet. Lucky for us that there weren't too many people so we got to enjoy the place more and moved freely without too much crowd.

Having seen all we have to see on the ground floor, we proceeded to the second floor. Upon getting there we found two shallow pools which they call the Fish Foot Spa. Several people were trying it out so I took some more photos and videos while the little doctor fishes were doing their job of nibbling at the dead skin cells of the guests' feet. An attendant approached me as I was snapping away and encouraged me to give it a try. With a smile I begged off and said I will give it a try next time.

I went over to the shark tank. This same tank is the top of the shark tank located on the ground floor. being up here, I realized how thick the glass is. My estimate, it's about 2.5 to 3 inches thick. Maybe even thicker. The top is open and sharks swim about freely on top as in the bottom of the large aquarium. A note to parents, be mindful when your kids approach the tank. It's not that high. It's only slightly more than a meter high. Right beside the shark tank is the Stingray tank. I gathered this is the top of the overhang tank. Aside from these, nothing much is special about the second floor. Also located on this floor is the entrance to the Ozeano Restaurant which is still non-operational. From the brochure, it says it will offer a variety of cuisines from around the world and offering more than a dozen buffet and ala carte menus. Ozeano Restaurant is owned and operated by Tamayo's Ozeano Philippines, Inc.

With nothing else to see, we decided to exit the facility. We were confused at first since there was no clear signs where the exits were until a guard pointed us in the right direction through the restaurant. The place is indeed unfinished since we saw floor tiles that still need to be installed. Even the exit stairs are still rough and if one is not careful, you might trip. The pathway led us through a corridor to the souvenir shop. Even the shop still leaves room to be desired since their selections are too common and not specialized. Most of the items on display bears the Manila Ocean Park "sticker" not imprinted nor embossed. So we just continued on. One more turn and we are back in the Dome. Interestingly, this dome gives me the impression that I am in a giant dried up sea urchin shell. And my kudos to the one who thought of the slow changing lights which cycles through red, pink, light green, green, blue green, aqua, to blue.

Yes dear readers, the whole park may not yet be finished as of this writing, but having experienced walking through the Oceanarium, I retract my earlier statement and say that it was worth it even though it's not yet complete. Also, I must add that the tanks need a lot of work. A lot of the artificial reefs and corals are obvious. Nonetheless, I can't wait until they finish the whole complex. I'm looking forward to seeing the marine habitat soon and to try out that glass bottomed boat ride. Just a little advise fellow pedestrians, if you intend to visit the Oceanarium anytime soon, do so on a weekday. Doing so, you will avoid large crowds which will make your visit a lot more enjoyable.