Legazpi Weekend Getaway

“How can something so beautiful turn out to be destructive at the same time?”

This was what came to mind when I first saw a glimpse of Mayon Volcano as the plane descended at the Legazpi Airport. The volcano, completely visible except for a small patch of clouds covering the top, took my breath away.

According to Wikipedia, Mayon is the most active volcano in the Philippines erupting over 51 times in the past 400 years. The most destructive eruption was in 1814 that buried the town of Cagsawa. Aside from volcanic eruptions, Albay is also frequented by typhoons. But the province is a model for disaster resilience and zero casualty for their impressive disaster preparedness efforts.

Arriving so early in the morning, I got to walk around Legazpi, also known as the “New Albay,” which is reminiscent of a quiet, sleepy town but contrasted by a cluster of malls in the area. It was around 6 AM and all the shops were closed and most activities were centered in the market nearby. For me, Old Albay District had more charm with its old structures, quaint cafes, and hip and modern restaurants.

As a first timer in the place, having a perfect view of Mt. Mayon was the goal. For this attempt, we went to Daraga Church, Cagsawa Ruins, and Camalig (where Japanese war tunnels and the chocolate hills of Albay are located). Too bad, the volcano was not at all sociable and hid behind a veil of clouds the whole time.

Despite, this, we comforted ourselves with Albay’s one of a kind culinary offerings – traditional Bicolano dishes from Waway’s Restaurant which used to be a turo-turo (eatery); Bicolano fusion options from the famous Small Talk Café; and sili (chili) ice-cream from 1st Colonial Grill which also offers other interesting flavors like kalamansi (lime), malunggay (moringa), and tinutong na bigas (burnt rice).

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The following day, we got lucky as Mayon finally displayed a full view of it’s perfect cone, its unbelievably symmetrical conical shape. What better way to enjoy Mayon but through an ATV tour with Your Brother Travel & Tours. For someone who doesn’t drive and can’t even ride a bicycle for the life of me, riding the ATV was a lot of fun as we threaded through rocky slopes, a river, and long and winding roads.

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Legazpi is definitely a must-visit place. You get to go sightseeing and do fun activities, you’ll enjoy the food that will surely satisfy your palate, and you’ll revel in Mayon’s grandeur. How about that for a quick weekend getaway.

Making Zero Casualty a Reality

“We live life with the assumption we have time.”

I nodded in agreement as I was in the audience listening to Migel Estoque’s talk about the work that Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation does and how getting connected; gathering essential, useful, and personal supplies; and making a plan could reduce disaster risk.

This was part of Rappler’s Agos Summit, held on July 7-8,2017, that highlighted best practices and innovations in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and Climate Change Adaptation (CCA).

 

Preparing for “The Big One”

I remember being fascinated while experiencing my first earthquake in Baguio back in 1990. As a young boy, I was oblivious to how deadly the disaster was.

These tremors have been happening more often these days with the latest one hitting Leyte. Makes Metro Manila residents even more paranoid over the magnitude 7.2 earthquake expected to be generated by the West Valley Fault.

Will it really happen? We don’t know for sure but Ramon Santiago of Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) said that the best we could do is to prepare people and to raise awareness. “It’s not the earthquake that kills, it’s the weak and old structures,” he added mentioning special concern over buildings built before 1990.

To further promote a culture of preparedness, a metro-wide earthquake drill (#MMShakeDrill) is scheduled on July 14-17, 2017. Regular drills build confidence helping residents to stay calm as panic causes more harm and even death in times of disaster.

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Baguio Hilltop Hotel during the 1990 earthquake (Photo from Phivolcs).

Nature can save lives

Situated along the Pacific Ocean (an incubator of storms) and the Ring of Fire (where volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occur), the Philippines has been ranked as the 3rd highest disaster risk nation (2016 World Risk Report), the 13th most climate-vulnerable state (2016 Climate Change Vulnerability Index), and the 1st most exposed to tropical storms (Climate Reality Project). As a country, it seems like we got it all, disaster-wise.

The risk we face from disasters is even more exacerbated by our actions. There’s no proper waste management which causes garbage to clog drainage systems resulting to flooding. Due to deforestation, water flow during heavy rain is intensified which could lead to erosion or landslide. Intensive agriculture makes the country defenseless against the impacts of El Nino and La Nina, making us food insecure.

Senator Loren Legarda in her keynote speech during the Agos Summit mentioned how logging caused the mudslide at Saint Bernard, Leyte in 2006. We remember residents saying that logging also worsened the damages of Typhoon Sendong in Cagayan de Oro. In contrast, a town was saved by mangroves from the wrath of Typhoon Yolanda.

Everything is interconnected. But we have lost our connection to nature. We have to be reminded that our best defense against climate change impacts, quite simply, is caring for our environment.

 

DRR education for children

Children are especially vulnerable to disasters. But children don’t have to be helpless if we provide them with the right Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) knowledge, skills, and attitude.

The Republic Act No. 10121 or the “Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010” mandates the Department of Education to integrate DRR education in the school curriculum. Every year, the department observes the month of July as the National Disaster Consciousness Month, which is now known as National Disaster Resilience Month.

Related activities, however, are typically limited to disaster response drills and exercises. While these efforts are a good start, they seem to limit students’ skills and knowledge needed in the overall approach of DRR. Moreover, efforts that primarily concentrate on disaster response tend to leave a gap between understanding the interrelation between environmental degradation, climate change, and disasters.

But there are efforts that try to further provide DRR education to different sectors of the society, especially children. One such program is HANDs! (Hope and Dreams) Project, a research trip organized by the Japan Foundation Asia Center, focusing on disaster and environmental education + creativity.

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HANDs Fellows conduct storytelling with children in Thailand (Photo by Kenichi Tanaka).

As a HANDs Fellow, I was able to learn about disaster resilience stories from Navotas, Metro Manila; Bali, Indonesia; Phuket, Thailand; and Kobe, Japan (Apply now to be a HANDs Fellows this year). As an offshoot of the program, we’ll be implementing our action plan focusing on training teachers on creative methodologies for DRR education.

 

Zero casualty during disaster may be difficult to achieve but it has been proven time and again that with adequate information and preparation, it can be achieved. And the best time to be informed and to prepare is now.

 

Also published on x.rappler.com.

SenseCampPH zeroes in on Sustainable and Livable Cities

According to World Health Organization, more than half of the world’s population live in urban areas. With this, city dwellers encounter a myriad of problems such as resource scarcity, energy and food insecurity, traffic congestion, pollution, and natural disasters made worse by climate change, among others. How then can we work towards sustainable and livable cities?

This is the challenge we explored during the first-ever SenseCamp in the Philippines, the MakeSense community’s signature unconference. A SenseCamp is a participatory and participant-led conference where you get to exchange ideas and take concrete action on a specific social issue.

Held last weekend at Kahariam Farms in Lipa, Batangas, the event featured sustainability-related initiatives of various resource persons. Abigail Mapua-Cabanilla, Director of Hub for Innovation for Inclusion, provided a different side of how we see Manila traffic through their human-centered innovation research. Manuel Bretaña IV, Chief Curator of Qubo PH, stressed about the importance of creating more green spaces. Wilhemina Garcia of JunkNot, shared how regular and everyday junk can be transformed into usable items. Phil Gray talked about how harnessing solar power through sunEtrike, an electric tricycle, can move riders in a cleaner, more comfortable, and more cost effective way. Aaron Salamat of RVA Design and Build expounded on green architecture.

Aside from breakout group learning sessions, there were start-up creation and crowd-sourced workshops. Participants were also treated to a panel discussion blended with live music from Benjamin Bernabela and Amalia Morante of Tunay Arts Movement. Benjamin and Amalia became part of the panel together with Manuel Bretaña IV and Zero Waste Advocate, Xavier Martin who gave their insights on creating better cities through individual action.

On top of all the learnings, those who took part of the SenseCamp enjoyed the organic meals, the farm tour, the fun games, and the interaction with social entrepreneurs and passionate, like-minded people.

It was an inspiring and memorable weekend and may all the meaningful conversations lead to collective efforts in truly building sustainable and livable cities.

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A Green Mind

I woke up thinking how using the AC demands more electricity which primarily is sourced from coal thereby contributing to carbon emissions hastening climate change. But William McDonough and Michael Braungart’s book, “The Upcycle” claims that this is more of a design rather than an environmental problem. If the energy comes from a renewable source, then you don’t have to feel guilty about enjoying the comfort provided by an air-conditioned room.

Same thing with taking a long shower. Nothing wrong with that if the water is recycled.

And this applies to products which don’t necessarily have to end up as trash if they follow the cradle to cradle concept, a holistic and waste-free way of manufacturing.

While reading this fascinating book in the bus, I can’t help but shake my head and wonder how difficult it is to pocket the tiny bus ticket that people put more effort in stuffing it in corners and crannies. Don’t get me started on the supposed inspection of these bus tickets. We do know there’s a better system and is already existing at that. Another design flaw.

Would it make a difference if I confront them? I once did that in the jeepney when this full grown, obviously educated woman, just mindlessly threw the garbage on the floor and I told her, “That’s not the garbage bin.” She just looked at me innocently as if she didn’t do anything. And that’s what I end up doing when encountering such individuals. Stare at them spitefully and they stare back confused wondering what they did wrong.

Littering is bad and everybody knows it but we’re just too lazy to care, that is, if we care at all.

Speaking of trash, another frustration I have is with straws and plastics. When you say, “No straw/no plastic, please” vendors or servers sometimes find that amusing. I was told, “Remove the straw yourself.” So when I see my friends using straws, I judge them, a little. I observed that for most people, these things are not a big deal.

How about health? We know that fastfood, processed food, and too much meat is bad news. Bad for the environment, too. But it doesn’t matter. It’s what’s available, it’s cheap, and they taste so good, as well. I still eat fastfood sometimes because it’s that convenient. And real food is difficult to come buy these days. I was a pescatarian for a while wanting to be a vegetarian but options can be very limiting. Add to that the idea of micro plastics in my fish and pesticides in my veggies. Besides, according to “The Upcycle,” we should celebrate diversity and that includes diversity in diet. So right now, being a flexitarian is the best option for me.

I don’t know if it’s just a trend but more and more people are turning to organics, and healthy living, and being more mindful and more sustainable in their ways. This is the right thing to do but who am I to tell people how to live their lives. As zero waste advocate Lauren Singer puts it, what environmentalists can do is to show everyone that there are other better options.

I remember the quote from Inception: “An idea is like a virus. Resilient. Highly contagious. And even the smallest seed of an idea can grow.” So I guess my goal, since it’s Environment Month and all, is to plant seeds of green ideas and hope that these would grow in the minds of people. Because the truth is (and this is not some kind of an alternative fact), environmentalism, this seemingly hopeless idealism, is for humanity’s survival.

Isang pagninilay-nilay

Ang nakaraan ay tila pilit natin binabaon sa limot at muli lamang naaalala dahil pula ito sa kalendaryo. Tinuturo man sa eskuwela’y di nito nabubuhay ang silakbo ng pagmamahal sa bayan. Tulad ng isang larawan, unti-unting kumukupas sa alaala ang rebolusyon at mga kabayanihang nagawa noon. Nagiging palaisipan kung ano nga bang pinaglaban nila. Simpleng kalayaan mula sa banyagang mananakop? Ang karapatang magkaroon ng sariling pagkakakilanlan? Ang makawala sa pagkakagapos?

Subalit isang kabalintunaang ngayo’y nakagapos pa rin. Sa kalbaryong pasan araw-araw. Sa kamay ng mga mamumunong pansariling interes ang inuuna. Sa materyalismong pag-iisip. Sa pagsunod sa dikta ng lipunang kinabibilangan.

Huwad na kalayaan nga ba ang mayroon tayo?

Series of Unfortunate Events

There’s the suicide bombing at Manchester after Ariana Grande’s concert.
And then the Maute terrorist group attacks Marawi.
And then double bombing occurs in Jakarta.
And then another one in Kabul; and let’s not forget, this happened to Saint Petersburg, too.
And then Duterte declares Martial Law in Mindanao.
And then we have Mocha Uson’s symbolism hoopla.
And then online trolls, fake news, and mindless social media postings continue on.
And then Trump wants to pull out of the Paris Agreement.
And then we learn that the Nickelodeon theme park in Coron is pushing through.
And then a gunman wreaks havoc at Resorts World.
 
It’s a crazy, crazy, crazy world.
 
And yet we see a glimpse of hope and kindness, and beauty in humanity.
 
From the One Love Manchester benefit concert that would aid victims and families affected by the Manchester bombing.
From Muslims protecting Christians from the Maute terrorists.
From noble groups and individuals quietly doing their part to attend to the needs of Marawi evacuees.
From Indonesians defying terror with their, “we are not afraid” message.
From truth seekers, those making their stand for what is right, and citizens who are not afraid to question the government.
From 146 other countries which ratified the Paris Agreement.
From environmentalists defending our oceans and the planet.
 
From people who strive to be human.

A Plastic Tale

I’m cheap, easy to manufacture, and you could mold me into any form you wish. You can use me once and throw me away and forget about me altogether. That, unfortunately, is not the end of my story. Because apparently, I can outlast your life and be here forever.

Sometimes, I get recycled but mostly I’m buried or dumped or kept somewhere away from your sight. Other times, you burn me and I give my last breath of life through toxic fumes. Or I let the wind carry me up in the air or I just float endlessly into the sea.

Life in the ocean can never be lonely. I’m reunited with all my kind at the North Pacific Gyre where we form a garbage patch. And thanks to the biggest plastic polluters, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, we could soon conquer the ocean.

I feel guilty, though, as I cause the death of countless animals when they mistake me for food or when they get entangled in my deadly embrace. And ever pervasive, I can break down into micro plastics ending up in your plate of fish.

I know it’s more convenient to use plastic bags instead of reusable ones. Or to buy bottled water instead of carrying a refillable bottle. Or choose disposables instead of washing up. Or drink through a straw instead of simply sipping one’s drink. But there’s already too much of us that maybe it’s about time that you reduce your plastic consumption.

Hey, I won’t take it against you. It’s the least I could do considering that May is the Month of the Ocean. And if it’s not too much, maybe you can even sign the petition calling for ASEAN to unite and act to protect the oceans from plastic and marine debris.

Every single piece of me ever made still exists today. However, I’ve stayed long enough and I’m ready to move on.

Greenpeace whale installation