The New Normal

Damn, when will this virus die? I wish to wake up one morning and find this COVID-19 gone. But we know it will be here much longer. So what now? Two key things that countries like South Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam have done to successfully stop the chain of infection and flatten the curve are aggressive contact-tracing and mass testing.

We can’t help but compare these to how our country is dealing with the crisis. Malcolm Gladwell in his book, “The Tipping Point” explains that human behavior is sensitive to and strongly influenced by its environment. So maybe we shouldn’t be comparing because we have a different context? I do want to believe that the government is doing its best despite challenges. Unfortunately, what I’m seeing is slow response, misplaced priorities, and incompetence from these leaders who don’t seem to know what they’re doing! I mean, seriously?!

But there’s still hope thanks to young leaders like Vico Sotto demonstrating excellent crisis response. Contrary to that Ok Boomer’s claim that the young are pretty stupid. Look who’s talking!

I read Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century” which analyzes globalization and emphasizes the inevitability of the rapid pace of change affecting the way we do things. I think a “flatter,” more accessible world led to the fast spread of the virus. And a “flatter,” more connected world, plus this crisis, is speeding up our transition to a mostly online lifestyle from business, to entertainment, to socialization. Businesses, in particular, would have to adapt quickly if they want to survive.

It’s fascinating and sometimes scary how things change fast. Yahoo used to be the preferred search engine but we’ve been “Googled” and we’re like, “Yahoo, what?” Angkas was a savior in Manila’s horrendous traffic situation but is currently cannot be the transport option due to physical distancing measures. In place of that, bikes are in. Who would have thought that working from home could apply to most of us and that Zoom meetings are now a regular part of our lives. This could mean that there’s really no need for offices. Feeling like a germophobe? It’s okay, that’s completely acceptable, to the delight of hygiene-related commerce. The virus has practically affected every aspect of our lives, harshly on the marginalized, as always.

I remember someone remarking that there’s nothing normal about the situation we are in right now. But we have to adapt and try to thrive in this so-called new normal. This can actually be an opportunity to build a greener and more inclusive future. We should all read “Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered” by economist E.F Schumacher (yes, I’ve been reading a lot of books, lately). Because it’s not all about the money. It’s should be about people. Isn’t that the kind of economy we should aspire for?

There’s also a lot of ongoing conversation on school opening and accessible education, and all that. Since we’re realizing what’s truly important, it would probably best for education to focus more on connecting to nature, and being kind, and becoming decent human beings. So we don’t end up with insensitive, privileged idiots running the world.




Quarantine Thoughts

If we were having coffee right now, I would tell you that I feel a bit anxious about the COVID-19 crisis leading to this “extreme enhanced community quarantine” we are in at the moment. I recognize the privilege I have of being able to work from home, having a roof over my head to begin with, and is so far not sick. I’m away from my family but knowing they are well makes me feel grateful.

If we were having coffee right now, I would tell you that it’s sad how this crisis is yet again exposing the reality of poverty, inequality, and incompetence. I know the local government units are trying to do their best. But we definitely could do better. Death becoming just a number should have been avoided. I salute those who call out what should be called out. And true leaders should take advantage of this feedback instead of being defensive.

If we were having coffee right now, I would tell you that the strength demonstrated by frontline workers is encouraging. We usually think that disasters and crises bring out the worst in us but it’s actually the opposite. People are donating money, food, masks, and whatever they could pitch in. Strangers are offering free rides to those in need. Artists are performing live online. Free books, and free lessons, and free movie streaming abound. It’s heartwarming to see this solidarity.

If we were having coffee right now, I would tell you that I support the call for #FreeMassTestingNow. And no, politicians and VIPs should not be prioritized. Otherwise, as someone brilliantly suggested, cough in a politician’s face and wait for the test result.

So, how about you? What would you tell me if we were having coffee right now?   

#TaalEruption2020: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

It is when disaster strikes that we often reveal our true colors. This becomes even more so apparent with social media.

After Taal Volcano’s eruption, related posts also exploded on Facebook. There were warnings and updates provided. There were prayers offered and an emergence of more religious people – those seeing this as a sign of the end of days or a punishment of our evils ways. Some would go to the extent of attributing this to the “Tala” dance craze, I hope as a joke, but in this age of stupidity, I don’t know anymore.

True to Pinoy’s so-called resilience and fun-loving personality, some managed to come up with memes and jokes, ang hugot, to other people’s dismay claiming that disasters should not be taken lightly.

And then there are stories of kindness and bayanihan. Of those offering their cars for evacuation. Heroes cleaning windshield of fleeing vehicles. Selfless souls offering free masks, and free food, and shelter (even for animals). Groups mobilizing themselves to provide donation and much-needed support to those greatly affected by the eruption. Thankfully, these overshadow the greed of capitalists jacking up the price of face masks, of panic-stricken folks hoarding the said masks, of fear mongering fake news, and of inaction from those who should have been doing more.

As expected, in times like this, online bickering will almost always arise. We use social media as source of information, means of communication, and a platform of self-expression. Our online persona has become an extension of ourselves. The difference to in person encounter, however, is we don’t have any social cues warning us that we may be going overboard with our pronouncements leading to misunderstanding and worse, bullying or hate speech.

Social media divides us but I want to believe it’s a powerful tool that unites us, too. At the end of the day, we are all humans seeking connection, validation, and love. And I for one, am glad, that I still see humanity despite it all.

Kuro-kuro dala ng maulang panahon

Madalas maulan o mabagyo ang Agusto, ang aking birth month. Marahil tanda ito ng buhos ng grasya ng kalangitan sa aking pagkasilang. Ngunit ito’y hagulgol ng dalamhati para sa marami, lalo na kung ika’y nasa Metro Manila. Paano’y lalong lumalala ang malala ng kalagayan ng trapiko na kasalanan di umano ng mga pampublikong sasakyan at provincial buses. Dagdag pa diyan ang pagbaha na hindi na pinagtataka ng karamihan dahil epekto ito ng kawalan ng disiplina at pagpapahalaga sa kalikasan, pagkakalat lalo na ng mga plastik, pagputol sa mga puno, at di maayos na pagpaplano ng siyudad.

Normal na ang dating hindi. Ang daluyong ng malalakas na bagyo dahil sa climate change. Isang climate emergency na kung tutuusin. Ngunit walang pakundangan sa patuloy na panggagahaman ang maraming pulitiko’t korporasyon. Ang mga kabataa’y nagra-rally, umaasa ng aksiyon mula sa mga makapangyarihan. At sila’y babansagang rebelde. Papatahimikin. Papatayin. Silang lumalaban para sa kapakanan ng kalikasan.

Sa Hong Kong naman patuloy ang welga bilang pagtutol sa mga panukala ng Tsina, na tila ay may planong sakupin ang buong mundo. Maging ang teritoryo ng Pilipinas ay inaangkin. Kaya’t kagulat-gulat ang pagdami ng mga Chinese National sa bansa. Probinsiya na nga yata tayo ng Tsina na mukhang hindi naman inaalmahan ni Digong.

Sadyang masalimuot ang kalagayan ng pulitika ngayon sa Pilipinas na pinakomplikado pa ng sagutang “dilawan” at “DDS.” Kung kaya’t love life nalang ng mga artista ang pinagtutuunan ng mga mahilig sa tsismis. Samantalang isang buntong hininga na lamang ang magagawa ng marami habang patuloy na magtitiis. Tatanggapin na lang ang realidad ng trapik, ng ulan at bagyo, ng baha, ng patayan, ng mga corrupt – na iraraos nalang sa walang kakupas-kupas na hugot.


Musings on Whatever: The Water Crisis

Our home back in Baguio is not connected to the city’s water supply network so we would always have water delivered. This naturally made my family very mindful of our water consumption. We collect rain water which is used to water plants, wash the laundry, and clean floors. A basin for dish washing and a bucket for bathing are always available to conserve water. Wastewater can be reused to flush the toilet.

So it does bother me sometimes when I see people who would just keep water running from the faucet or mindlessly waste water. Yes, water is a renewable natural resource but it can also be depleted. The earth is mostly covered in water but only 3% is freshwater. More than half of that is frozen in ice caps so we’re basically left with around 1% for our water needs.

A growing population entails an ever increasing demand for water. But rapid urban development, pollution, deforestation, and climate change are leading to water scarcity everywhere like Cape Town in South Africa; several cities in India; and even in Metro Manila in the Philippines.

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As of 6:00 AM today, the water level in Angat Dam, Metro Manila’s major water source already went down to 159.93 meters (below the 160-meter critical level). 
Without any significant rainfall (100 mm/24 hr) expected this week, the water level is expected to continue going down and might even reach its historical lowest level of 157.56 meters (July 2010). Credit: Earth Shaker

Clean drinking water is a human right. But what are we doing to uphold this right? It’s sad how we don’t put too much value on what nature offers. It’s practically free. But in return, we destroy the very thing we need for survival.

Post-apocalyptic scenarios come to mind – of dessert landscapes; of riots, and power play, and killings over water; of water everywhere but not a drop to drink…

Well, we could resort to drinking treated poo water, like what is being done in Namibia; or maybe consume desalinated water if we could afford the technology. But for now, what we can actually do is to conserve water, plant a tree or two, and keep water bodies clean. Is this too much to ask?


The Ends is Nigh

UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report warns us that we may have only until 2030 to solve the issue of climate change. Basically, we have to limit warming to 1.5°C because the continuous increase in temperature has already given us a preview of what is to come – catastrophic typhoons and droughts, frequent flooding, deadly diseases, and these could get worse. Sounds like a Nostradamus prediction but it’s all real no matter how hard people like Trump deny it.

Would this actually prod politicians, capitalists, and corporations to do something? If all hell breaks loose, they’re safely tucked in their ivory towers counting money. How can they sleep at night? Makes you want to punch them in the face.

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For instance, worst plastic polluters like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestle make empty promises about reducing plastic waste which we’re practically eating already (Yep, microplastics were found in human poop!) There’s Monsanto controlling food production and promoting Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). The issue of GMOs is debatable but if you ask me, without comprehensive studies on the long-terms effects of consuming GMOs, I wouldn’t choose to eat them.

In the Philippines, a developing country subscribing to the ideals of developed nations, urbanization is on a rush. Mountains are flattened and trees are cut to make way for concrete roads, and malls, and condos, and fastfood restos (making us all dangerously fat).

The state of the environment is never a priority. We have this idea that we have the right to trash this planet (case in point, overtourism of Boracay leading to its closure). Eventually, we sadly face the consequences of our actions and they can turn out to be deadly. Lives were lost in the landslide in Itogon, Benguet and Naga, Cebu. And this is not something new. But corrupt government officials who don’t give a damn don’t do anything about it.

I read about narcotization in Chuck Palahniuk’s novel, “Stranger than Fiction.” When a problem looks too big, when we’re shown too much reality, we tend to shut down. Are we shown too much of environmental decay that we have decided not to take any action? Why is it all bad news that we are made to see anyway? Someone said because good news can take care of itself, which makes a lot of sense.

Speaking of good news, the ozone layer is healing! So we do have the capacity to turn things around. Maybe we can address climate change and plastic pollution and it won’t be the end after all. I hope.


SenseCampPH and Sustainable Travel

It is unfortunate that the only way to escape from our stressful busy lives and to re-connect with nature is when we visit places like Mount Purro Nature Reserve. Yet it’s a shame how a lot of tourists are obsessed over the Instagrammability of a destination. No wonder we face issues like overtourism, pollution, and commodification of culture.

There should be a better or more sustainable way for tourism. This very theme was tackled during the SenseCamp 2018 organized by MakeSense, which is a two-day event that included discussions on various facets of sustainable tourism, different workshops, advocacy and awareness building, and opportunities for networking (Read about last year’s SenseCamp here).

In the said event, Alo Lantin who loves telling stories through photographs, reminded participants to travel beyond social media – to genuinely wonder, to be authentic, and not to fake experiences. Alo’s message is also perfectly captured in his favorite quote from the movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: “To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”

Melody Melo-Rijk from WWF-Philippines also talked about their project, “The Sustainable Diner: A Key Ingredient of Sustainable Tourism.” As discussed, one can be a sustainable diner by eating local, trying plant-based dishes, using reusable utensils, and not wasting food, among others.

TJ Malvar, who helps manage the camp’s venue, Mount Purro, said that their goal is to be a truly sustainable travel destination. He admits that there’s a lot of work to do but the key is balance of the triple bottom line – profit, people, and planet.

We normally think that when we take care of the environment, we are saving the planet. But in reality, we are doing so to save ourselves. When we travel, when we see the world, may we appreciate it and make an effort to protect it so the future may also have the opportunity to see and experience these places.

The SenseCamp Participants (Photo by George Buid)



IFOAM-Asia Organic Youth Forum: Our Journey through Mindanao

Mindanao is tainted with a not so ideal reputation due to incidences of war and terrorism. A travel ban in the region is also in effect for foreigners. But this did not stop me together with 20 other advocates of the organic movement to travel around Mindanao and learn how organic agriculture is practiced there.

We represented our respective countries namely China, Taiwan, India, South Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Bhutan, Indonesia, Philippines, Argentina, and the UK to the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM)-Asia Organic Youth Forum which is part of the 3rd Organic Asia Congress.

Organic Youth Forum (2)

The pre-forum activities included field trips where we got to see firsthand the efforts being done by individuals, organizations, and local government units (LGU) in promoting the organic movement. One impressive initiative is the “From Arms to Farms” project of Mayor Rommel C. Arnado which transformed the Municipality of Kauswagan from a depressed ghost town and war zone to what it is now, a barometer of peace. A Bogota Peace Prize and Galing Pook awardee, the project trains rebel returnees to become organic farmers which Mayor Arnado believes addresses hunger, poverty, and the issue of land grabbing considered as the root causes of violence in the area.

Another simple yet impactful project is the setting up of a farmer’s market in Cagayan de Oro led by Governor Bamby Emano of the Province of Misamis Oriental. Farmers can sell their naturally grown produce every Friday at the market without paying any fee. The LGU also provides transportation support.

The farms and the organic practitioners we met were likewise very inspiring. Alomah’s Nature Farm in Dahilayan, Bukidnon managed by the couple Benjohn and Grace Mahistrado showcases beautifully landscaped vegetable gardens. They have mastered diversifying and value-adding as they sell vegetable salad, vinaigrette dressing, and herb tea on top of turning their farm into a learning site and a tourist destination.


A visit to the biodynamic family farm of Vic Tagupa located at Dumarait, Balingasag gave us a glimpse of a philosophical and spiritual approach to organic farming. Considered as a model of a climate-resilient farm, the 1.44-hectare land is surrounded by a perimeter buffer dike planted with nitrogen-fixing trees, banana, and fruit trees which serve as defense against flooding and contamination from synthetic fertilizers being applied in nearby farms.

In the Municipality of Talisayan, Maristella Rallos wants to make farming sexy. Her passion towards nature motivated her to start organic farming which in two years’ time has turned the bare land into what she calls now as VS Project, a space where she gets to try out good practices in farming.

School gardens in Bislig City was a delight to see especially knowing how children are exposed to organic agriculture at an early age. Interestingly, a lot of the youth from the cities and municipalities we’ve been to are motivated to practice farming the organic way.


During the forum proper, we learned about best practices and experiences of young farmers, advocates, and organic pioneers. We also had the chance to interact with the local youth of Bislig.

The whole experience has been wonderful. I gained so much insights and is encouraged by all the brilliant stories and sharing. All I have is gratitude for the heartwarming hospitality of the LGUs, the hard work demonstrated by the organizers, and the friendship gained from like-minded people.

Cheers to a bright future for the organic movement in the country and in Asia!

Negros, beyond the City of Smiles

Bacolod, known as the “City of Smiles” is the capital of Negros Occidental. Tourists would normally go on a food trip as part of their itinerary to sample the namit (delicious in Ilonggo) dishes the place offers.

You can have dinner at Aboy’s Restaurant, a turo-turo style resto famous for their grilled seafood; have chicken inasal at Chicken House for lunch; and have desert at Calea Pastries and Coffee.

“The Ruins” tagged as “Taj Mahal of Negros” is a must-see tourist spot in Talisay. You can sip your coffee while gazing at the lit structure providing a mesmerizing view at night. Don’t forget to take the obligatory table top reflected shot of this once great mansion, burned down during the World War II (to prevent the Japanese from using it), the fate of a lot of the mansions all over Negros.


Just 30 minutes away from Bacolod is Victorias City where you can find Peñalosa Farm. At the farm, you can learn about organic farming and eat organic meat and vegetables.


Travel back to the past as you visit Hacienda Santa Rosalia, a sugar plantation located in Manapla owned by the Gaston family. Built in the 1930s, the Gaston Mansion survived the forces of war and nature. The Chapel of the Cartwheels is situated near the ancestral home. This non-traditional church is made from cartwheels, plows, mortar and pestle, and broken pieces of glass. The church aims to make the Catholic faith more local and more accessible. The Hacienda Crafts Factory is also in the area, where world-class craft and woven products are made, providing livelihood for the locals.


Bacolod is the usual travel destination in Negros but explore the rest of the island and you’ll be happy to see that there is more beyond the City of Smiles.



January in Photos

Challenged myself to take at least one photo each day. It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. There would be days where I was uninspired or there was just nothing to take a photo of. But what I liked about this self-imposed challenge is I became more observant and I started looking at things around me with fresh eyes.

Here’s my random line-up. 1. New Year fireworks 2. expanse of rice field 3. office table 4. a man in the dark 5. plate of Pad Thai 6. line of motorcycles 7. a looking-away selfie 8. an old couple holding hands 9. Makati buildings 10. colleagues 11. view from the side mirror 12. grapes 13. Greenpeace wall 14. protest art 15. signage 16. an empty park 17. vintage windows and ceiling 18. elevator ceiling lights 19. foliage 20. the sky through a wired fence 21. early morning view from my window 22. Philippine map 23. BGC street art 24. fluorescent lamp 25. brainstorming notes 26. traffic 27. leaves bathed in the rain 28. billboard 29. pedestrians waiting 30. wall art 31. the night sky and a dot of moon