Wake Up, Philippines!

New Mindanao flight route to boost tourism

Posted in Mindanao, Rest and Liesure, Tourism, Transportation, Travel by Erineus on May 18, 2009

By Ryan Rosauro
Inquirer Mindanao
First Posted 17:24:00 05/17/2009

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines—Northern Mindanao’s tourism industry could get a boost with budget carrier Cebu Pacific’s opening of its Davao-Cagayan de Oro route, a local tourism official said Saturday.

The new route is a “good connection” for international flights to Davao City, which is fast becoming Mindanao’s international hub, with direct flights from Indonesia, Hong Kong and Singapore, said Catalino Chan, tourism director for Northern Mindanao.

Davao City is also the country’s main link to the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA), he said.

Chan said the expected increase in tourist arrivals would also spur the economies of nearby tourism service-providing localities in Northern Mindanao such as Camiguin, Bukidnon and Lanao del Norte.

The Gokongwei-owned carrier opened the 50-minute Davao-Cagayan de Oro route last Thursday, with flights every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

Using a 72-seater ATR aircraft, the flight leaves Davao City at 6 p.m., and returns to the city at 7:10 p.m.

Before Cebu Pacific opened the route, tourists going to Northern Mindanao have to fly to Manila or Cebu before flying to either Butuan or this city.

For those flying into the country via the Davao Airport, the only option then was land transport, which takes about eight hours to this city.

In Ozamiz city, Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog Sr. said Cebu Pacific also announced that it would open a Manila-Ozamiz flight.

Cebu Pacific’s vice-president for marketing and distribution, Candice Iyog, confirmed this, saying the new route would start on June 16, with an Airbus A319 aircraft.

The route will likely be serviced four times a week, she said.

The Manila-Ozamiz route is currently served only by Air Philippines, another budget airliner.


‘Taltallak’ becomes Cordillera town icon

Posted in Luzon, Rest and Liesure, Tourism, Travel by Erineus on May 18, 2009

By EV Espiritu
Inquirer Northern Luzon
First Posted 21:27:00 05/17/2009

BALBALAN, Kalinga—This interior Cordillera town is a three-hour drive from Tabuk City, but people who drive through its quaint mountains and teeming forest cover end up skirting wooden carts that dart off its hills carrying many of its residents.

They call these carts “taltallak,” which have their own steering and brake mechanisms that allow them to accelerate down the sloping hills of this town.

During summer, some of these wooden cars are driven by children.

According to Regino Wacas, municipal tourism officer, taltallak are as common to the Kalinga towns of Pasil, Balbalan, Lubuagan, Tinglayan, and Pinukpuk, as the hand tractors or “kuliglig” are in the Ilocos and Cagayan regions.

There are 50 taltallak in Balbalan that residents use mainly to haul firewood. Until now, firewood is more commonly used for cooking than liquefied petroleum gas.

These contraptions are fixed together only by nails and rubber straps.

Residents first hammered together their taltallak in 1956. The term is a childish transliteration of trucks.

The taltallak’s inventor, Daniel Lopez, 63, said it was shaped after the only post-war vehicle in his village in the 1950s.

Lopez said he had pursued a childhood obsession for the “Weapon,” a heavy-duty World War II truck that was used in his village to transport ammunition and medical and food supplies.

At 10, he fashioned miniature toys looking like the Weapon. He nailed together his first taltallak, based on his toys, so he could take back firewood to his parents.http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/regions/view/20090517-205570/Taltallak-becomes-Cordillera-town-icon

Samar town finds light in caves

Posted in Tourism, Travel, Visayas by Erineus on May 18, 2009

By Volt Contreras
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:28:00 05/18/2009

BASEY, SAMAR—When you lose your way in a dark cave, when the lamp finally goes out and panic sets in, you might as well skip all the saints in heaven and directly ask God to speak His famous words: “Let there be light.”

Not food or water, but light, is said to be the most important thing when exploring caves. Compared to other outdoor adventures, like mountaineering or scuba diving, caving seduces with its own set of dangers, mysteries and thrills.

And this town invites you, dares you, to discover them yourself.

For years, Basey’s Sohoton caves—part of an 840-hectare forest area that was declared a national park in the 1930s—have been drawing a modest stream of tourists, hobbyists, researchers and even treasure hunters. Back then, you hire local boatmen and guides, fend for your own lunch, and try to make it back to the city by nightfall—that’s basically it.

Last week, however, the trips to the caves ceased to be a simple come-and-go affair.

Residents offered a “tour package” with add-ons, such as river-cruise meals, trained and uniformed guides, a catering service and overnight lodgings.

Apart from donating equipment like kayaks, overalls, helmets and other safety gear, the Department of Tourism (DoT) last year started training some 60 villagers in this remote municipality on the basics of “visitor management,” eco-tour planning and marketing, food preparation and first aid, among others.

It turned mere guides into engaging storytellers, plain housewives into skilled cooks and project managers, and a laid-back barangay (village) into an energized community.

Alternative livelihood

Two community organizations have since been formed—one to manage the river cruise and the other, the cave tours.

Notably, more than half of the members are women, most of whom had previously known no other trades outside farming and mat weaving.

“We need alternative forms of livelihood since our town had been under commercial logging for over 30 years, when the only ones who got rich were the loggers,” Basey Mayor Wilfredo Estorinos said during the May 11 inauguration of a visitor center in Barangay Inuntan, the main takeoff point for the boats.

Apart from villagers who would be directly employed by the eco-tours, an initial 30 households were willing to provide overnight shelter to visitors, according to Estorinos.

Hours later, he would gamely do the Visayan folk dance curacha to entertain guests on board a wide, twin-hull river craft that serves as the tour’s “floating restaurant.”

Maiden cruise

The newly built boat or lagkaw can carry up to 30 tourists and a crew, including a singer and guitarist. It is said to be more spacious than the vessels similarly used for the Loboc River cruise in the nearby province of Bohol.

The DoT extended a P230,000 grant for the skills training and supplies, while the municipal government allotted a counterpart fund of P100,000 to construct the boat.

On its maiden cruise that day, the lagkaw glided leisurely down the Golden River, where the water wore the pristine tones of greens and browns, where petals—not plastic—dotted the currents.

A separate fleet of pump boats and kayaks took visitors to the Sohoton caves, where tour guides like Richard Alibado applied his training by putting on a good show.

Don’t touch surface

First, Alibado laid down some house rules.

“Don’t touch white surfaces once inside,” Alibado said in Filipino as he briefed visitors at the cave entrance that rainy Monday afternoon.

Oil smears from the human skin are like graffiti that could ruin the natural “growth” of the rocks and cause them to turn brown or black, he explained.

Still confusing your stalagmites with stalactites? Alibado offered a simple tip: The one spelled with the “g” crops up from the “ground,” while that with the “c” hangs from the “ceiling.”

As he led the group deeper into the shadows, Alibado turned from being a mere safety officer into a weaver of fantastic tales.

“What you discover inside caves depends on your imagination; you just have to give life to the rocks,” his prelude went.

Subterranean world

Alibado ticked off scientific terms to describe peculiar rock formations or surfaces.

But in Alibado’s guided tour, the Sohoton caves also became a subterranean world populated by “elephants,” “Ifugao farmers,” “the Holy Trinity,” “astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin” and even Michelangelo’s “The Pieta.”

“When my friends and I tapped this hollow wall and produced different sounds, we attracted a Philippine Eagle who has never left the cave since. You can actually still see the eagle’s talons to your left,” he said, stringing together one of his many myths.

But the biggest stars, Alibadon said, were the hanging formations just a few feet apart which he teasingly called “Mama” and “Papa.” The Philippine Daily Inquirer leaves it to future Sohoton visitors to find out why.

Continuous walk

Sohoton literally means “to pass through” in Waray. Indeed, one occasionally had to squeeze through narrow openings to get to the different chambers, some cramped and clicking with the noise of bats, others as big as churches.

But exploring Sohoton was quite easy since it required no risky climb or descent, just a continuous walk on mostly level ground.

“That’s why it’s a cave for all ages,” said Karina Tiopes, tourism director for Eastern Visayas.

“Don’t look at me!” said a smiling Tourism Undersecretary Eduardo Jarque Jr.

A jolly promoter who has been with the DoT for the last 32 years, Jarque noted that of the country’s 10,000 caves, only around 300 had been explored.

Tourism Secretary Joseph “Ace” Durano, who like Jarque was here for the inaugural river cruise and cave trek, cited Basey as an example of a community about to perform the delicate balancing act of promoting and protecting its natural wonders.

Durano said the DoT supported the town’s eco-tourism ventures because “we saw that the enabling conditions are here” for that balance to hold, mainly the willingness of the residents and local officials to do their share.

Respecting the caves

Sohoton is just one of the 30 caves found in Basey. To this day, none of them has been vandalized “because the community respects them,” according to Tiopes.

“The belief that spirits dwell in caves also helps keep people out, and the caves are protected that way,” said Jason Garrido, president of the Philippine Cave Guides Association Inc.

Garrido and some 200 other enthusiasts were in Tacloban City in Leyte (30 kilometers from Basey or 45 minutes by car) for the 9th Congress of the Philippine Speleological Society.

The five-day congress, held at the University of the Philippines-Tacloban, assured Basey of tourism visitors for its newly launched projects that week.


“Cave tourism in the Philippines is still quite young,” Garrido said.

“Through gatherings like this, we hope to learn the best practices. Most of our caves are still untouched so we can still contain whatever damage had been done.”

Caving, he said, could be more “technically demanding” than mountaineering, “[which involves] climbing, endurance tests and movement skills. But in caving, your primary source of security is light.”

Inside a cave, “you get to feel how small you are in the scheme of things. There would be times when you won’t even see the walls or the ceiling but only the small [illuminated] space around your body. The fear factor is higher.”

But the experience, Garrido said, could be rewarding: “It’s the chance to discover something—like a new species of fish or a secret burial chamber.”

Or maybe even lost treasures? But then, the folks of Basey, by fostering cooperation and turning to eco-tourism as a way out of poverty, may have already unearthed something just as valuable.


Of senior citizens and the disabled

Posted in Disabled, DTI, OSCA, Senior Citizens by Erineus on May 18, 2009

By Ramon J. Farolan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 05:11:00 05/18/2009

here is an interesting twist to the plight of some senior citizens who feel their complaints are not being attended to by government offices, like the Department of Trade and Industry and the local Office of Senior Citizens Affairs (OSCA). When government institutions are unresponsive to the plight of our people, it is left to media to try to help them out.

Last month, Antonio Chong wrote about his experience with Bizu Patisserie and Café located at the Alabang Town Center in Muntinlupa City.

“As a father and senior citizen, I enjoy the small pleasures in life such as occasionally receiving a gift certificate from my son who is in the United States. Last Saturday, April 18, at around 9:30 to 10 pm, I brought my family to the Bizu Patisserie and Cafe for the purpose of consuming a gift certificate sent by my son. It was a celebration of sorts because my youngest son had just passed the Bar, and would be taking his oath of office as a new lawyer.

“When our bill was presented, I naturally gave them my senior card and that of my wife. And then I gave them the two gift certificates each amounting to P500 as payment. The cashier looked at our senior cards and said, they could not honor our senior cards because of our mode of payment. When I asked for an explanation, the cashier Ms Maritess Norambaba insisted that it was their policy not to grant a senior citizen discount if payment was through a gift certificate. I explained to the cashier and asked her to call up her boss, explaining to them that a gift certificate was in fact better than cash because it was bought and paid for in advance. She called her boss, Mr. Aaron Tarko, who offered instead to give me a P40 discount. I naturally refused to accept the token discount offered. I considered the P40 as a consuelo de bobo of the restaurant to shut up an old man.

“To cut a long story short, I paid with the gift certificate without any senior citizen discount. Since in the past, nothing ever came out of my complaints to DTI and other offices I thought maybe I should write to you this time.”

This is the first time this type of transaction has been brought to our attention. Tony Chong does not mention who issued the gift certificate and the conditions covering the use of the said certificate. For example, Rustan’s issues gift certificates, but they are good only for use at Rustan’s outlets. The writer also does not mention how much of their total bill was for the benefit of senior citizens in his party.

What puzzles me is that Bizu accepted the gift certificates as payment but without allowing the senior citizen discount. My feeling is that if the gift certificate was treated like legal tender, there is no reason why the senior citizen discount should not be applicable. Oftentimes our laws do not cover every possible situation—in this case, the use of the gift certificates. Common sense and sound discretion are most important in the fair resolution of this type of incidents.

* * *

The suggestions of Bernardo V. Peralta of Cebu City regarding amendments to the Senior Citizen law in order to make it more beneficial for the elderly members of society are well-taken.

In particular, as Mr. Peralta has pointed out, there is need for the local OSCAs to be given prosecutorial powers so that the office can forcefully go after violators of the law. Right now, business establishments are not afraid of the complaints being filed with OSCA because they know that nothing much would happen, except possibly the inconvenience of having to reply to the notices being issued by OSCA.

The suggestion for a special court to be designated by the Supreme Court to hear senior citizen law violations is also warranted. At this time, when the implementation of the law is spotty and ineffective, there is need for a few examples of violators who disregard the rights of senior citizens, being punished.

Of course, the most important amendment would be to raise the senior citizen discount to 32 percent, since the imposition of the 12 percent EVAT practically reduced the discount to only 8 percent.

* * *

Friends of former President Fidel V. Ramos called to say that he was on the cover of Time Magazine, Asia edition, on May 15, 1995. My apologies.

* * *

A few weeks ago, I noted the 17th anniversary of the passage of the “Magna Carta for Persons With Disabilities.” The National Council on Disability Affairs (NCDA), under Mrs. Lovely Romulo, continues to advance the cause of our disabled, providing them with opportunities for integration into the mainstream of community life.

With so many unemployed these days, it has become even more difficult for the disabled in our society to find any kind of meaningful work. In pursuit of social responsibilities, many companies employ persons with disabilities. Let me mention some of them so as to create a greater awareness of the generous assistance being extended by the business sector to our less fortunate citizens.

The Lamoiyan Corporation employs 12 deaf mutes who are regular employees of the company. They are aged 22 to 55 years, and are in production and maintenance work. Most are high school graduates and have been with the company from two to 20 years.

Drugmaker’s Laboratories in San Pedro, Laguna, employs 10 regular and five casual employees who are deaf mutes, out of approximately 500 company workers. Most are high school graduates and they hold key and technical positions in tableting and packaging. The company is engaged in the production of an array of pharmaceutical products, household items, glass cleaners and toll products. What’s surprising is that these disabled workers receive a higher daily wage than the minimum in the area.

The Philippine Postal Corporation (PPC), specifically the Central Mail Exchange Center (CMEC), has 27 deaf mutes as employees, both male and female, working as mail sorters, dispatchers and checkers. They have been working in the agency for more than 15 years and were hired during the time of postmaster general J. Roilo Golez. Perhaps, the current president and general manager, Hector Villanueva, can add a few more to the payroll of the PPC.

The University of Santo Tomas (UST), College of Fine Arts and Design, has four faculty members with disabilities. They are all orthopedically handicapped persons (polio victims) who started their faculty work during the term of Dean Jaime delos Santos.

Personal Collections is a corporation engaged in direct selling of various consumer merchandise nationwide. Their National Capital Region branch recently hired five persons with disabilities—mostly, polio-afflicted—as trainees. They do invoicing, inventory checking and other types of clerical work.


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