Wake Up, Philippines!

The adventure has gotten even bigger

Posted in Uncategorized by Erineus on May 2, 2009
May 2, 2009, 11:45am

It all began when a group of American zoologists were working as consultants for a project in China back in the late 1990s. Just when the project was set to finish by the end of the decade, one of the zoologists, Tim Desmond, went on a tour of the Subic Freeport Zone in the Philippines. He was pretty impressed by what he saw.

“We toured the West Ilanin Forest, which was the perfect setting for a marine park. It’s situated in Subic Bay, which means it’s protected from the rough waters of the China Sea, especially during stormy weather. And the backdrop is acres and acres of forests,” he recalled.

Tim Desmond noted that setting up a marine park in Subic would also serve a purpose. It would be the ideal home for the animals they had in China. . “As we were wrapping up the job, the people from Subic called to ask if we were still interested in setting up the marine park,” he said.

Thus, Ocean Adventure was born and it quickly went on to become Subic’s biggest attraction.

Since its opening nine years ago, the park has set up three stadiums with each serving as separate venues for the dolphin and whale shows, the sea lion shows and the high diving show. Each stadium holds at least two shows a day.

The park also has an aquarium dubbed the Ocean Discovery Aquarium, a souvenir shop and restaurant, a learning center, and a sea lion training center.

Desmond went as far as hiring the man who was managing Hong Kong’s Ocean Park, John E. Corcoran. He’s now the president of Ocean Adventure. (Tim Desmond is the park’s CEO and chairman.) The structures within the park were designed by Desmond’s old buddy, Terry Nicholson.
Obviously, the park’s primary market is composed of visitors belonging to the AB economic bracket. A lot of the park’s income is also generated from school field trips and company outings and picnics.

Desmond attributes the park’s success to aggressive marketing. “We decided to do our own marketing because we wanted to push the park as the major destination of Subic and not just one of the port’s attractions. A few other businesses in Subic chose to present themselves as merely one of the attractions. Their businesses suffered as a result. Some of them had to close,” he says.

It also helped that Desmond assembled a team composed of zoologists and park experts he had worked with before. Yet both Desmond and Corcoran prefer to give credit to the Filipino staff they hired to run the park and train the animals.

“It’s great working with the trainers we hired,” says Corcoran. “They learn very quickly and now they’re simply among the finest animal trainers in the world.”

Gail Laule, the park’s senior vice president, couldn’t agree more. It’s Laule who creates the concepts of the shows but she echoes Corcoran’s comments on the Filipino trainers.

Her passion for animals is epic. She keeps a home in Subic and California and both places are home to several cats and dogs. Most of these animals were strays and were rescued by Laule. “Animal activists probably don’t like the fact that we’ve been been keeping animals in captivity for commercial purposes,” she notes.

“But the park also pushes for animal preservation through the shows. We make the shows educational. The audience is taught to be more responsible when they’re in the ocean and advised to avoid doing things that could harm or kill the marine animals.”

Laule notes that in their own way, the sea lions, dolphins and whales in the park are doing their part in preserving marine life. “And I like the fact that the animals here will never go hungry and they will always be safe from predators,” she points out.

Meanwhile, the team of Ocean Adventure isn’t resting on its laurels. The park at this point has a new attraction; a high diving show staged by a Florida-based company called Brown Entertainment. Headed by veteran diver Bill Brown, the company holds three high diving shows a day at Ocean Adventure.

Brown brought in around eight divers to perform daring dives designed to thrill and entertain. The team is composed of champion divers from Canada, Russia, Poland and the US. The show includes a comedy skit and a breathtaking dive from an 80 foot tower. The show is quickly paced and the divers know a thing or two about acting. Brown describes the company as a traveling troupe of sorts. “Right now we have divers performing in South Africa and other parts of the world,” he says.

Brown’s divers will be performing in Subic until June.

The park is now also getting bigger. It has annexed the adjacent beach and put up a new resort, the Camayan Beach Resort. It’s open for day tours and the hotel has around 45 guestrooms housed in two newly-constructed three-story buildings. Right now, the resort is constructing another wing to house more rooms and suites and a swimming pool for the exclusive use of hotel guests.

Resort manager Livingston Kofi Quashigah expects the new building and pool to be completed before yearend. “The project is moving quickly because everything is being done in-house. Construction is on-going 24 hours a day. We also made measures to shield resort guests from the construction work,” he says.

The resort was also designed by Terry Nicholson who created an authentic resort atmosphere in the place. “Terry insisted on using local materials,” says Quashigah. “He’d rather use Vigan tiles than ceramic floor tiles, because all the other resorts are using ceramic tiles. He didn’t want to have a modern-looking resort. He wanted the place to blend with the environment.”

Just recently, Ocean Adventure annexed the beach at the other end of the park. Dubbed the Adventure Beach, it’s been developed to host roughly 2,000 guests and is reserved for private parties and corporate events.

The park has more plans under its belt. Across the street is a forest which will be the home of the terrestrial animals that will soon be sharing top-billing with the park’s sea lions, bull sharks, bottle-nosed dolphins and human high divers.

Obviously, Subic’s biggest attraction is getting much bigger.

For inquiries about Camayan Beach Resort and Ocean Adventure, call 706-3344 up to 46.http://mb.com.ph/articles/204531/the-adventure-has-gotten-even-bigger

The Swiss Guards: still one of the Vatican’s tourist draws

Posted in Tourism, Travel by Erineus on May 2, 2009
May 2, 2009, 12:01pm

The Vatican’s Swiss Guards are popular all over the world, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, for their colorful yellow, red and blue striped uniforms, nipped at the waist, with puffy sleeves, and billowing pantaloons, their helmets adorned with crimson plumes. They resemble no other army anywhere.

And brandishing seven-foot pikes known as the halberd, their expressions implacable, they appear formidable despite their festive wardrobe. The Guards patrol the Apostolic Palace, home of the Pope, 24/7. When the Pope passes them, his sentinels stand at attention to salute: His Holiness’ safety is their primary purpose.

Popular lore suggests that Michelangelo designed the flamboyant outfit. This, it turns out, is a myth. According to the Vatican website, when Swiss soldiers first arrived in Rome to protect the Pope, there was no mention of their garb and, it can be assumed, they dressed like soldiers of that period.
However, the website goes on to point out, “… it is quite certain that those Swiss Guards were shod and dressed, ‘vestiti usque ad calceas,’ at the Pope’s expense; they probably wore the white cross of Switzerland or the Papal crossed keys sewn on their chest. Their weapons were the halberd and the broadsword and their shoulders, chest and arms were protected with metal armor.

In the 16th century, soldiers usually wore a doublet or jacket, fitted at the waist and ending in a point at the front that went under the belt. Or otherwise they wore a longer doublet that reached to the knee.
Both the short and long doublet had no collar and the neck was usually left uncovered as can be seen in a miniature kept in the Vatican Library. The puffed parts of the sleeves and breeches were at times decorated with colored bands of material attached only at two extremes. Often these different colored bands were used by the mercenary captains to distinguish one company from another. The soldiers usually wore stocking to the knees.

The Swiss Guards owe their existence to Pope Julius II — as a papal aide, the Swiss warriors so impressed him that in 1478 he convinced Pope Pius to sign an alliance with the Swiss. Later, as Pope Julius II, he brought in 200 men in January 21, 1506, the year the first stone of the new St. Peter’s Basilica was laid.

The Swiss Guards are the world’s smallest military corps, one with very exacting stipulations that must be met to join the ranks. Today, numbering 110 men, the Swiss Guards may still be the world’s smallest army. Recruits must be between 19 and 30 years old, at least 174 cm tall and must agree to a two-year tour of duty. Additionally, potential Vatican soldiers must be Swiss citizens who attended military school in their native country; they must be observant, unmarried Catholics, of a good moral and ethical background with either a professional diploma or high school degree, per the Vatican website.

The papal Swiss Guard tradition has been marching on for nearly 500 years — making it the oldest, continually active military corps in history. Many tourists see the Swiss Guards as the perfect backdrop for a souvenir snapshot. Some even try their best to break the stoic seriousness of the guards not realizing that they ate not just for show but were highly trained for any emergency.

You don’t see them slouching or hanging around or smoking a cigarette like a carabinieri (Italian military police) as they take their jobs very seriously and bring great commitment to it. Enduring 24-hour shifts, most Swiss Guards find their greatest battle is putting up with thousands of tourists asking the same questions: “Is there a bathroom?” “Which way to the museum?” and “Why can’t I see the Pope?”

The Sack of Rome

The sack of Rome in 1527 marked the bloodiest day in Swiss Guard history when 147 Swiss Guards lost their lives defending Pope Clement. Only 42 guards survived. Wielding nothing but Renaissance weaponry, this tiny army kept Nazi soldiers out of Vatican City as Germany occupied Rome during World War II.

The last time the Swiss Guards ever lost to an invader was in 1798 when Napoleon swept through, disarmed and disbanded the corps and abducted two popes in two years. One of those popes, Pius VI, died in captivity. After that, the guard’s record is impeccable, keeping popes and papal territory safe and protected since their troops regrouped in 1800.It was an undercover Swiss Guard who helped shield Pope John Paul II during the assassination attempt against his life May 13, 1981, in St. Peter’s Square.

Perhaps the darkest moment in the Guard’s history occurred in 1998 when its former commander, Col. Alois Estermann, and his wife, were murdered by a disgruntled corpsman, Cedric Tornay, who then turned the gun on himself. Pope Julius II formally requested the service of Swiss mercenaries — famed for their courage and loyalty — in June 1505. Just three months later, a regiment left Switzerland and headed on foot for Rome. One hundred and fifty Swiss soldiers arrived at the Vatican Jan. 22, 1506, the day that marks the official founding of the corps.

(The Swiss Guards figure prominently in the movie “Angels & Demons” opening across the Philippines on Friday, May 15. It is distributed by Columbia Pictures, local office of Sony Pictures Releasing International.)


Island to Highland

Posted in Leisure, Mindanao, Rest and Liesure, Tourism, Travel by Erineus on May 2, 2009
From Davao’s aquatic depths to its mountainous heights
May 2, 2009, 11:49am

Seeing something majestic almost always leaves people speechless, even breathless! At least that was exactly how I felt the instant I laid my sights on Davao’s rich aquatic resources, and more. The experience is utterly difficult to translate into words when none of it would ever suffice to describe its beauty and splendor.

Located in the Southern Mindanao region, journalists had a sneak-peak of Davao city’s teeming natural wonders from underwater to above the surface landscapes in a “Dive the Gulf” adventure sponsored by the Department of Tourism (DoT) recently. A three-day escapade to a paradise waiting to be explored that sent us chasing the thrill of adventure on the island and the adrenaline rush in the highlands.


For someone who doesn’t know how to swim, it would seem like a challenge to submerge one’s self into the open waters of Samal Island, the best site for underwater adventure. But no. It’s rarely a requirement. All one needs is a brave heart.

According to Wind and Wave dive master Randy Pascua, it’s a common misconception for first timers (like us!) but dive masters are competent enough to wade for two. Just don’t forget to breathe through the air regulator.

Our first dive site was at Marissa Reef, named after Marissa Florendo who was one of the proponents of underwater photography in Davao of which Pascua is a member of the auxiliary team. It is an underwater mountain with a sudden drop that could send diving neophytes into panic. I guess I was lucky to have reached 15 feet.

Likewise, buried in the deep waters of Samal Island are World War II Japanese battle vessels that go as deep as 90 to 115 feet, making it ideal for shipwreck dives.

“This location is ideal for macro diving, or underwater photography adventures. Underneath, there are a lot of water species still unnamed and are yet to be discovered,” injects dive master Johny Lee of the Hongkong Technical Diving Association. Lee has been traveling back and forth to the Philippines, specifically in Cebu and Hongkong at least thrice a month to teach scuba diving to a variety of students. Right now, they’re looking at the prospect of bringing his students to Samal Island to explore its diverse marine life.


There are more than 23 dive sites in Samal Island that opened up to the public in 1993. Apart from Marissa Reef, the Coral Garden located in Talikud Island, just five minutes away from the beach is the next most visited site. It is an underwater cliff that spreads up to a five-kilometer stretch of corals boasting of colorful underwater vistas. To get there, boats and launches are available at Sta. Ana Wharf and km. 11 Wharf in Sasa.

Acclimatized and confident this time with what to expect and how to solve the common problem of water getting into my swimming mask, as well as dealing with the constant buzzing in my ear each time the dive master goes a notch down, this writer was able to reach up to 22 feet and enjoyed every minute of the less than an hour dive. Clown fish and dory became my best pals as they played with me at the palm of my hand. Also spotted were nudi branch, a tiny fish that crawls underwater, a sea turtle that was swiftly swimming away, and a pygmy seahorse, pregnant one at that!

The experience was exhilirating! Thus, I couldn’t help but ask, how much would a person need to do it all over again? According to Rhea Delfinado, one of the dive guards for Wind and Wave, their services for introductory dive costs P750.00 per head that includes underwater photos, souvenir shirt, food on board, briefing session and 30 to 45 minutes actual underwater dive. Likewise, the group holds three-day certificate dive for those who are interested to teach diving lessons and making it a living. Check out their website at http://www.windandwavedavao.com/home.php.


On the second night, we were treated to a slight detour of conquering the depths and heights of Davao in a feast called Caracoles Festival held at Sta. Ana Wharf. It was the first time in many years that the celebration was held in a different venue as it was previously done in Samal Island from sunset to sunrise.

The occassion proved to be an interesting one with various designers competition that aims to promote the national government’s advocacy campaign of preserving the environment.

The group was met by Davao’s tourism regional director Sonja Garcia who explained the organization’s ongoing efforts.

“Davao Gulf is a hotspot which means areas that have marine mammal strandings and they are declared marine protected areas. It is also included in the Coral Triangle Initiative along with Indonesia and Malaysia. Thus, we’re doing our best to preserve it not only for tourists but for the future generations as well,” Garcia tells.


There are many other wonderful adventures to engage in while in Davao. Apart from scuba diving, the city offers water tubing in Sibulan River in Davao del Sur and caving in Kapalong Davao del Norte.
But for a more sedate kind of exploit, I suggest visiting Eden Nature Park for an adrenaline rush, cool weather and organic food.

The 60-hectare expanse owned by Jesus Ayala boasts of a thriving forest area that serves as an animal sanctuary, and a plethora of lush flora, mangosteen orchard, giant ferns, macademia and native durian trees. Located in Mount Tolomo within the administrative district of Toril, it is currently one of the greenest ecological tourist spots in the Philippines.

In addition, tourists and guests can enjoy comfortable villas, cottages, and rooms, where they can stay overnight while enjoying the beautiful sights all over the place.

And while there, don’t fail to try the “Skyrider”, a 60-feet, 200-meter zip line ride that can’t easily be found in other travel destinations. The tagline wasn’t lying when it said, “Heaven is a little closer in Eden.”


Mango people in Bohol confab

Posted in Agriculture by Erineus on May 2, 2009
May 1, 2009, 6:37pm

We have met some of the most interesting mango people at the 11th National Mango Congress held at the Bohol Cultural Center in Tagbilaran City from April 27 to 29.

One interesting lecturer is Frank Sacdalan who grows mangoes on a total of more than 38 hectares in Libungan, South Cotabato. Two of his farms are owned by him while two others are leased from their owners.

He is particularly proud of the 142 tons of mangoes he harvested from 500 trees on February 13 to 19, 2008. Some of the trees are 30 to 50 years old. He is so proud because he was able to sell his harvest at P31.50 per kilo so that he was able to gross P4.4 million from that particular harvest. The cost of production and marketing was P1.7 million so he made a net profit of P2.7 million.

Frank discussed at Congress how he can make two harvests from his mango trees twice in 14 months. He does this by applying paclobutrazol (Cultar is the brand name) in the soil. This hastens the maturiy of the leaves so that they could be induced to flower in just 3 to 4 months from treatment with Cultar. If one were to depend only on mother nature, the maturity of the leaves will not be uniform and it will take 8 months before the trees could be sprayed with flower inducer.

If the trees are treated with Cultar in October, the trees could be induced to flower in late January or early February. The fruits will be harvestable in late May or early June. Immediately after harvesting, the trees could be induced again to bloom. There is no more need to apply Cultar at this time. This will be harvestable in late October or November.

Thus he can harvest from his trees two times within one year.

Another interesting fellow we met is Patricio Evangelista, president of the Federation of Mango Growers and Handlers Associations of Pangasinan, Inc. He is busy attending to so many things, contacting a lot of mango people. That’s because it will be the turn of Pangasinan to host the 12th National Mango Congress which will be held in Lingayen on February 22 to 24, 2010.

At some other time, we will be featuring other interesting mango people in our write ups soon. There are many other interesting personalities in the mango industry from Cebu, Bohol, Visayas and Mindanao. Just keep yourself posted on our agri-page and the magazines we write for.

Experts claim success with ‘green water’vs bacteria

Posted in Agriculture, Research/Development by Erineus on May 2, 2009
May 2, 2009, 6:32pm

Two University of the Philippines (UP) biotechnology experts have finally succeeded in battling the pesky luminous bacteria that have caused untold losses to shrimp growers.

Dr. Jesse D. Ronquillo of the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology and Prof. Valeriano L. Corre, Jr. of the Institute of Aqualculture (IA), College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences from the University of the Philippines in the Visayas (UPV) said their research has shown that using “green water” technology eliminates the bacteria that had caused high mortalities in prawn grow-out areas.

Research on the problem started in 1999 but the technology was perfected only in the last three years.

Ronquillo and Corre said the project aimed to prevent and control aquaculture diseases like the spread of vibrio or luminous bacteria, which broke out in 1993 and exterminated shrimps in Visayas farms.

Chlorination had long been used to reduce pathogens in the water but the impact was short-term since rapid repopulation of seawater occurred upon dechlorination.

Another method was to use vaccines and antibiotics but no vaccine has been available to eliminate most shrimp diseases. Moreover, the use of antibiotics is suspect since it can have collateral effects on consumers.

Modifications in management techniques were suggested to address the problem posed by luminous bacteria but the semi-intensive farming method and the use of modular ponds proved to be rather expensive and laborious.

Since the completion of the project in 2002, shrimp production has been enhanced.

The new technology uses green water to culture shrimps. It is a technique that relies on phytoplankton-rich water. In this system, saline tilapia is also propagated in fish cages to produce green water, which controls the growth of luminous bacteria.

Green water technology is the most functional solution, Ronquillo and Corre said.

Through this technique, pathogen growth can be inhibited, water quality can be improved and the immune system of the cultured species can be stimulated. The use of biocontrol agents like living microorganisms, aside from being a biological method, costs much less.

The propagation of green water technology is funded by the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) through its biotechnology research and development (R&D) program.