Friday, June 22, 2007

Gov’t to stop aiding kin of victims of sea tragedy

17 July 2006

LEGAZPI CITY—RELATIVES OF victims of the May 12 sinking of the MB Mae Ann 5 off Masbate City at the height of tropical storm “Caloy” can expect very little help from the government in terms of financial assistance, the Office of Civil Defense said.

The National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) has released a memorandum ordering a stop in the processing of requests for financial assistance.

NDCC executive officer Glenn Rabonza blamed the sea tragedy on the boat’s owner, skipper, crew and ticket seller who, he said, should be the ones to help the victims’ relatives.

Last month, relatives of the 27 passenger victims were at a loss on how to claim compensation from the vessel’s owner, Lobrigo Shipping Lines (LSL). With the latest NDCC memorandum, their hope for government assistance has been dashed away, too.

Nestor Lobrigo of LSL said he had already extended financial assistance to 10 of the victims. However, he said there was a limit to what the company could give.

“We cannot shoulder everything because it will be tantamount to our admission that the tragedy was all our fault, when, in fact, it was just an accident,” Lobrigo said in a phone interview.

Those who have not yet received compensation will also be paid, Lobrigo said, but he could not say when.

OCD regional police officer Cherry Abion has clarified the NDCC policies on financial assistance.

It covers only casualties of natural disasters, such as typhoons, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides, volcanic eruptions, tornadoes, lightnings and epidemics.

Victims of manmade disasters, such as fires, vehicular accidents, bombings, air and sea accidents, are not covered.

Relatives of the dead will receive P10,000, while P5,000 will be given to the injured. The amounts will be drawn from the NDCC calamity fund.

All claims are only valid within one year from the time the disaster or calamity occurred. Ephraim Aguilar, PDI Southern Luzon Bureau

Fireworks showkeeps Mayonvillagers awake

17 July 2006

By Ephraim Aguilar and Gil Francis G. Arevalo
PDI Southern Luzon Bureau

LEGAZPI CITY—FLAMING LAVA AND rocks cascaded down the slopes of Mount Mayon, raising risks of a major eruption and putting thousands of villagers on high alert for evacuation.

“If the activities continued in the next few days, we may upgrade the alert level to 4, which means a hazardous eruption is imminent within hours to days,” resident volcanologist Eduardo Laguerta said after the volcano gave a frightening “fireworks display” on Saturday night.

“From 6 a.m. on Saturday to 6 a.m. on Sunday, our instruments recorded a total of 111 volcanic tremors, a significant increase from Friday to Saturday’s 22,” he told Reuters.

An estimated 60,000 people in Albay would be evacuated in the event of a major eruption, disaster officials said.

Legazpi Mayor Noel Rosal said in a radio interview that even wild animals, such as boars and snakes, had begun descending from Mayon and that springs on the lower slopes of the mountain were drying up, all of which were “a bad sign.”

Residents in Barangay Padang here feared there would be more lava explosions.

“Mayon appears to be ready to explode but wants to hold everybody in suspense, which is more frightening for us,” villager Elvie Echaluce said. “We don’t know what will happen next—but we’re ready to evacuate anytime.”

Jose Mirafuentes, 41, of Barangay Matnog in neighboring Daraga, said that for two days now, he had been awakened by rumbling sounds at night, despite his having drunk more than enough liquor to knock him out.

No sleep

“It was louder on Saturday night to early Sunday morning. I could not sleep anymore,” said Mirafuentes, who lives in a village right at the foot of the 2,474-meter mountain, one of the country’s 22 active volcanoes.

Mirafuentes was specially worried about his neighbor, Salvador, who was still up in the volcano, making copra. Fortunately, Salvador returned home early morning yesterday.

During the past 24-hour observation period, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) noted a significant increase in the bulge of advancing lava, which rolled down to a distance of about 800 meters from the summit.

Phivolcs said it was a clear indication of the volcano’s mounting unrest.

Danger zone

Laguerta said the increase in the rate of the lava flow showed greater pressure at work inside the volcano.

The increase in the lava extrusion rate was accompanied by an increase in sulfur dioxide emissions—from the previous 1,251 tons per day to 2,221 tons—as measured Saturday morning, Phivolcs said.

Its latest bulletin said the lava flows and rock avalanches all occurred within the 6-km radius permanent danger zone, which covers parts of five municipalities with a total population of 3,000 families, or 15,825 people.

Southeast slopes

Laguerta said Phivolcs was keeping close watch on the volcano’s southeastern slopes, believed to be the most highly critical area as it is in that direction where lava and other volcanic emissions go.

The area covers some parts of Legazpi and the towns of Sto. Domingo and Daraga.

The danger zone was extended to 7 km on the southeastern slopes on Saturday.

Alert Level 3 has been up since Friday night, which means that volcanic quakes and tremor may become more frequent, the emission of sulfur dioxide may increase.

Alert levels

Laguerta said there was a big possibility of the alert level being raised to 4 if tremors continued within the next few days.

At alert level 3, a dangerous hazardous explosion is considered possible; at 4, it is seen as likely, and at 5, the highest alert, an eruption has occurred with lava flows or ash columns reaching 6 km.

Laguerta said the latest volcanic activities indicated a high probability that there would be a major eruption.

“The development of its activity is quite disturbing for the past days,” Laguerta said. “That’s why our monitoring is now becoming more critical as far as the contingency plans of the local governments and the OCD (Office of Civil Defense) are concerned.”

Watching the fireworks

On the streets of Legazpi, residents watched rocks and other debris cascading from the crater, raising brownish-gray clouds of dust.

The Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council is already coordinating with concerned agencies on the possible evacuation of people residing in barangays Bonga, Padang and Buyuan.

PDCC operating officer Cedric Daep said all concerned areas had been advised of contingency measures.

An eruption warning system is already in place for the quick evacuation of threatened communities, and radio stations have been told to broadcast emergency calls, said operations officer Jukes Nuñez.

Appeals from officials

Gov. Fernando Gonzales renewed his call on those living within the 6-km danger zone to evacuate to avoid possible casualties.

Mayor Rosal advised residents within the zone to gather their livestock and cattle in a safe place as part of evacuation preparations.

“Our farmers in the danger zone should stop for awhile and not enter there because we never know what will happen. There could be a sudden eruption,” he said.

Mayon started spilling lava and debris on Friday in what some volcanologists said was the beginning of a silent eruption.

Violent history

A series of eruptions also shook the volcano in 2001, forcing 50,000 people to flee.

Mayon has erupted about 50 times since 1616. Its most violent eruption, in 1814, killed more than 1,200 people and buried an entire town in volcanic mud. A 1993 blast killed 79 people.

The Philippines lies in the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, where volcanic activities and earthquakes are common. With reports from Reuters, AFP, AP

Prepare to evacuate, Mayon residents told

16 July 2006

By Ephraim Aguilar
PDI Southern Luzon Bureau

LEGAZPI CITY—RESIDENTS NEAR MT. MAYON HAVE BEEN ADvised to prepare for evacuation in case volcanic activity intensifies after lava began trickling down its slopes in a “mild and quiet eruption” on Friday.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Philvolcs) raised the volcano’s alert level status from level 1 to level 3 at about 6 p.m. on Friday after observing lava trickles in the southeast quadrant of the volcano.

“The sudden raising of the alert level status was due to the volcano’s rapid change brought about by mild explosions and detaching of volcano fragments,” said Ed Laguerta, resident volcanologist of the Phivolcs.

Alert level three means there is “relatively high unrest” in the volcano with volcanic quakes and tremors expected to become frequent ahead of an eruption.

The 2,474-meter Mt. Mayon, known for its near-perfect cone and one of the country’s 22 active volcanoes, last had a major eruption in July 2001, forcing the evacuation of about 50,000 people. It has erupted about 50 times since 1616.

Phivolcs warned that more explosive eruptions could occur “as gas-rich lavas are expelled” and warned residents to stay away from the six-kilometer permanent danger zone (PDZ).

On Saturday, officials extended the PDZ to 7 km on the southeastern slope, where most of the molten rocks and other debris have been rolling down since Friday.

Laguerta said the volcano’s southeast quadrant was the most critical area as volcanic flows travel to that direction, affecting areas here and in the towns of Sto. Domingo and Daraga.

Evacuation of residents in the highly critical areas will start as soon as Philvolcs raised the alert level to 4, said Cedric Daep, Albay provincial disaster action officer.

Daep said around 7,476 persons or 1,484 families live within the six-kilometer PDZ.

Daep said relief officials were stockpiling food and readying evacuation centers. Daep said groups have been formed to transport evacuees, provide security for abandoned communities, and provide health and sanitation services at the centers.

But officials said they won’t order any evacuation yet as they braced for a possible violent eruption that may take weeks.

“There has been an increased tendency toward a hazardous eruption,” Alejo Baloloy, a Phivolcs science research analyst said, but ruled out a sudden, major eruption.

“Right now, we are on a mild eruption phase, with high frequency tremors attributed to rockfalls by the detached lava from the dome.” He predicted a major eruption could take place “within weeks.”

On the streets of Legazpi City, capital of Albay province close to the volcano, some residents watched as boulders and other debris cascaded from the crater, stirring up brownish-grey clouds of volcanic dust in their wake.

“What is happening now is a mild and quiet type of eruption,” Renato Solidum, chief of Philvolcs said. “What we are watching is the rate by which this magma is being extruded. If it is faster and stronger, it will lead to more hazardous eruptions.”

Laguerta said red-hot boulders, some the size of cars, broke into smaller pieces after being expelled from the crater, piling up about 4 km down the southeastern slope.

On Friday night, a 2-km long streak of lava that looked like “burning embers” was seen slowly snaking down the southeastern slope, said Jukes Nunez, an operations officer with the provincial disaster officer.

Nunez said an eruption warning system was already in place for quick evacuation of nearby communities, and radio stations would also broadcast emergency calls.

“There is no more human activity” within the 6-7-km danger zone as of Saturday, he added.
Mayon’s most violent eruption in 1814 killed more than 1,200 people and buried an entire town in volcanic mud. An eruption in 1993 killed 79 people.

The Philippines is in the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” where volcanic activities and earthquakes are common.

In June 1991, Mt. Pinatubo exploded in Zambales in one of the world’s biggest volcanic eruptions of the 20th century, killing about 800 people. With AP, AFP reports

Teachers feel dragged into Comelec poll scam

11 July 2006

LEGAZPI CITY—ENCOURAGED by the recommendation of the Ombudsman to impeach Election Commissioner Resurreccion Borra, the president of a teachers’ group here believed the Ombudsman’s move could be the starting point of justice for teachers who served in the 2004 elections but whose signatures and handwritings have been tampered with and forged.

The Office of the Ombudsman has recommended impeachment for Borra for the voided P1.3-billion Mega Pacific election automation deal.

“I want the teachers’ voice to finally be heard. Because of what happened the teachers were put in a bad light. What we always wanted was for justice to prevail and that the respect for the teachers’ cause be put back,” Fe Dolot, president of the Legazpi City Public School Teachers Association Inc. (Leciptea), said.

Last May, the members of the Leciptea were dismayed and disappointed by the Commission on Elections en banc ruling on May 29 proclaiming Mayor Noel Rosal’s rival Michael Imperial as duly elected mayor of this city with 33,861 votes against Rosal’s 31,673.

During the May 2004 elections the Legazpi Board of Canvassers declared Rosal winner with 44,277 votes against Imperial’s 33,275 votes.

But Rosal’s 14,067 votes were invalidated by the Comelec Second Division composed of Florentino Tuazon and then commissioner Meloh Sadain, whose term of office expired early February.

The Comelec affirmed the division’s ruling on May 29 even as Rosal had a pending petition for certiorari with the Supreme Court.

After the release of the Comelec ruling, teacher-members of the Leciptea branded it as an affront to their dignity as teachers because it would cast doubts on their honesty and integrity, implying that they took part in cheating in the 2004 elections.

The teachers also decried the Comelec’s failure to hear their side before coming up with its ruling.

“We are holding the truth about the 2004 elections. The election results the teachers came up with were the truth. We can never accept that the truth be twisted or altered,” Dolot said.

Dolot added that because of what happened, the almost 400 teacher-members of the Leciptea are thinking of no longer rendering their service as members of the Board of Election Inspectors this 2007 elections.

“We are thinking twice if we will still serve in the 2007 elections. On my side, I am resolved not to serve. Other teachers share that intention also. But we will see. It depends on the justice we will get,” she said.

Currently, Rosal still owns the disputed mayor’s seat as the Supreme Court’s grant of his appeal for a temporary restraining order on the Comelec ruling favoring Imperial is still in effect. Ephraim Aguilar, PDI Southern Luzon Bureau

7 land mines found in Bicol

03 July 2006

BULA, CAMARINES SUR—LESS than a month after President Macapagal-Arroyo’s declaration to wipe out communist insurgents in two years, the police’s Explosive Ordnance Division (EOD) here found seven land mines, three of which had been detonated, but not before disrupting traffic along the Maharlika Highway in Barangay Pawili on Thursday.

Ninth Infantry Brigade spokesperson Lt. Col. Florante Isles said the recovery of the mines began at 6 a.m. Thursday after a civilian, whom he refused to name for security reasons, discovered the explosives hidden in the grass beside the highway.

Vehicles coming from other parts of Southern Luzon and headed for Albay usually traverse the road.

Isles said the seven improvised, remote-controlled land mines, which were powerful than a grenade, were remnants of a land mine explosion that occurred in the same area last Monday.

During the earlier blast, a military service vehicle headed for Naga City in Camarines Sur was damaged while a member of the Army’s 65th Infantry Brigade, identified as Pfc. Soliman Puddin, was seriously injured.

“Fortunately, the service vehicle was running fast. If not, there could have been casualties in that ambush, which were obviously perpetrated by the NPA (New People’s Army),” alleged Isles.

Maj. Ramon Rosario, chief of the AFP Civil Relations Unit in Bicol, assured the public that government forces would intensify patrols, visitations and forums in the communities “so it could assess the real situation and immediately respond to the people’s security needs.”
Ephraim Aguilar, PDI Southern Luzon Bureau

7 mines found on Cam Sur highway

01 July 2006
By Ephraim Aguilar
PDI Southern Luzon Bureau

BULA, CAMARINES SUR—SEVEN land mines were found Thursday on the stretch of the busy Maharlika Highway that passes through Barangay Pawili in this town. Three of the mines were recovered and detonated by the Explosive Ordnance Division of the local police, but not before disrupting traffic on the highway.

Military officials said the land mines were planted by members of the communist New Peoples’ Army.

According to Lt. Col. Florante Isles, spokesperson of the 9th Infantry Brigade, the recovery of the land mines started at 6 a.m. Thursday after a civilian, whom he refused to name for security reasons, discovered and reported on the presence of the explosives which were hidden under the grass on the roadside.

The highway is a national road taken by vehicles coming from other parts of Southern Luzon and headed for Albay.

Isles added that the seven improvised, remote-controlled land mines, each with explosive power greater than that of a grenade, could be related to the land mine explosion that occurred in the same area last Monday.

During the Monday explosion, a military service vehicle heading for Naga City was damaged while a member of the 65th Infantry Brigade identified as Pfc Soliman Puddin was seriously injured.

“Fortunately, the service vehicle was running fast. If not, there could have been casualties in that ambush, which was obviously perpetrated by the NPA,” Isles said.

Maj. Ramon Rosario, chief of the AFP Civil Relations Unit in Bicol, said the “planting of land mines along the highway can cause potential harm to civilians not only to the military.”

Rosario, however, assured the public that government forces will intensify its conduct of patrols and visits to assess the real situation and immediately respond to the people’s security needs.

Rosario added that the explosives found on the highway cannot yet be linked to the recent series of bombings in Metro Manila, as police investigations are still ongoing.

Poor cooking seen cause of Bicol malnutrition

30 June 2006

LEGAZPI CITY—AN OFFICIAL of the National Nutrition Council in Bicol pushed aside poverty as the main cause of malnutrition in the region, saying the problem lies more in how housewives prepare food for the family.

“Bicol is not that poor. We have abundance of food supply, like rice and root crops. But there is something wrong with how mothers cook and how the family menu is planned,” Joselita Armea, NNC Bicol regional director, said during Wednesday’s review and evaluation of the implementation of the Bright Child Project (BCP) of the government.

Armea said that under the BCP, they have been teaching mothers how to prepare the right kind of food for the family.

The BCP was given life by Executive Order 286, an act promulgating a comprehensive policy and a national system for early childhood care and development, which President Macapagal-Arroyo signed on Feb. 23, 2004.

Ms Arroyo also allocated P5 million in seed money for a campaign promoting the BCP and also for the initial implementation of its programs.

The implementation of this program was prioritized in areas tagged nutritionally depressed. Ephraim Aguilar, PDI Southern Luzon Bureau

Bicol intensifies drive against sea disasters

26 June 2006

MASBATE CITY—THE PROVINCIAL government is intensifying its campaign to prevent sea tragedies in the storm-prone island-province to prevent a repeat of the recent MB Mae Ann sea tragedy, which took 28 lives at the height of tropical storm “Caloy.”

A typhoon doctrine and saving-a-drowned-victim seminar was conducted here on June 20 by the Coast Guard District, Maritime Industry Authority (Marina), Philippine Ports Authority, Office of Civil Defense, Department of the Interior and Local Government, Regional Disaster Coordinating Council, Police Regional Office 5 and Naval Forces Southern Luzon.

The seminar taught 80 shipping lines owners, boat captains, barangay officials and rescuers about safety measures, typhoon doctrine and saving lives during a sea disaster.

“It’s about time we refresh the minds of operators on safety and the passengers of their rights to minimize loss of lives and damage to properties,” said Marina regional director Lucita Madarang.

Madarang said tarpaulin ads containing safety measures and reminders to the passengers would be placed in the 19 ports of Bicol this week.

Coast Guard District commander Capt. Luis Tuason Jr. said another common problem was the lack of designated holding areas with basic facilities for stranded passengers.

The passengers of the Mae Ann 5 had slept in the boat despite the raging waters brought about by the storm.

He said a similar seminar would be held on July 5 and a life guard training on July 4-6 in Sorsogon.

Vice Mayor Lilian Lim-Espinosa said the local government hoped to help provide information about the prevention of sea disasters.

Asked to assess the city’s medical facilities, the vice mayor, who is also a doctor, admitted that the city lacked hospital facilities.

“The biggest hospital we have here has only secondary facilities. But in terms of skilled doctors, we have a good number of them in the province. What we need is a set of advanced medical equipment.” Ephraim Aguilar, PDI Southern Luzon Bureau

Bicol campaign calls for stop to killings

25 June 2006

LEGAZPI CITY—The Stop the Killings campaign, which was organized by Karapatan-Bikol and supported by some religious groups (both Catholic and Protestant), militant groups, and friends and family members of slain activists, was launched here on Friday.

The six-month campaign, which ends Dec. 10, aims to strengthen the call for justice and to stop extra-judicial killings in the region and in the country.

John Concepcion, spokesperson of Karapatan-Bikol, said the Bicol region is one of those places with the most number of political killings, citing that 89 of the around 600 cases happened in the

Bicol region as of the last week of May—the most recent of which was the killing of former communist leader Sotero Llamas in Tabaco City.

“It may really be an irony that we are now asking justice from the government, which we also have been pointing out to be the possible perpetrators behind these killings. But we believe it is the government’s responsibility to bring justice to the victims and their families,” Concepcion said.

He added that they were strongly suggesting an independent committee composed of the church, media and other NGOs to be formed to help the government look into these killings if the public wants a fair investigation of these unresolved cases.

In the campaign, families of slain activists, church people, and human rights advocates will meet every third Saturday of the month in public places to protest the series of killings under the Arroyo regime.

The launch of the campaign also held venue for testimonies of the relatives of the slain activists.
On the same day, the same group criticized the Arroyo administration’s allotment of P1 billion to finance an all-out war against communist insurgents, saying it will just be used to intensify the killings of political activists which the administration has branded as “enemies of the state.”Ephraim Aguilar, PDI Southern Luzon Bureau

Kin of victims in Masbate sea tragedy seek compensation

12 June 2006

LEGAZPI CITY—“WE SPENT ALmost P40,000 for the wake of my father. The coffin cost P35,000. They said they would shoulder all the expenses but they only gave us P13,000,” Annabelle Magdaraog told the Inquirer in a mobile phone interview.

Annabelle is among relatives of victims of the M/B Mae Ann tragedy, which cost the lives of 27 passengers at the height of typhoon Caloy, who are now in the dark on how to claim compensation from the boat’s owner, the Lobrigo Shipping Lines (LSL).

Annabelle is the eldest daughter of Wilfredo Magdaraog, the inspector of the boat Mae Ann 5 which sank less than a mile away from the Masbate port at Barangay Kinamaligan at 2:30 a.m. on May 12 at the height of Typhoon Caloy.

Lt. Edgar Boado, station commander of the Philippine Coast Guard in Masbate, said the boat hit a motorized banca as it was about to pull back and was engulfed by big waves.

Anabelle added that the LSL management promised them P50,000, setting aside its first promise to shoulder all their expenses for the wake and burial of her father.

“The P50,000 was all they wanted to give even if my father was an employee of their company. They also hadn’t been releasing money for my father’s SSS [account],” Annabelle complained.

LSL owner Nestor Lobrigo and boat captain Rudy Enepequis were absent during the hearing scheduled by the Maritime Industry Authority at the Marina regional office at 2 p.m. on June 6 prompting the office to reset it to June 23.

Nelson Ramos, Lobrigo’s legal counsel, said his client failed to appear in the hearing because he was under medication in Manila due to hypertension, which, he said, was caused by the stress brought about by the Mae Ann’s sinking.

However, Annabelle said the real reason for Lobrigo’s absence was that he wanted to escape responsibilities.

“He was just pretending to be sick and he could not be in Manila for medication because yesterday he was here in Pilar, Sorsogon (where Lobrigo is a councilor). He really just didn’t want to face people who might remind him of his forgotten obligations,” Annabelle said.

The Inquirer tried to get the side of Ramos, being the representative of Lobrigo in the postponed hearing, but he refused to be interviewed, saying they did not have the time as they were catching up the last boat trip to Masbate City.

Marina regional director Lucita Madarang said if the principal respondents still failed to appear in the next hearing on June 23, they would base their judgment on their own assessment of the case.

The hearing could have been a venue to clarify the contradicting sworn statements submitted earlier by the survivors and the boat captain.

Madarang said the survivors claimed in their sworn statements that the boat captain did not advise them not to sleep inside the boat during the storm.

Enepequis, on the other hand, claimed that the passengers did not listen when he told them not to sleep inside the boat because it was risky.

He said some of the passengers did not want to leave the boat for fear of losing their paid seats, while some claimed they could not afford to lodge somewhere else till the storm was over,” Madarang said.

The Philippine Coast Guard in Masbate City has filed a criminal case of gross negligence resulting in multiple homicide against Enepequis.

Madarang said Enepequis was directly accountable for the passengers’ safety in the freak accident.

“If Enepequis is proved to be guilty of negligence of duty, we will cancel his boat captain license and the franchise of the Lobrigo Shipping Lines,” she said.

The Mae Ann 5 sank near the shore when it was being maneuvered away from the M/B Morifan.

Madarang said initial findings also showed that many passengers died because they were trapped inside the capsized boat, whose exits were closed because of the storm.

Some of the passengers were also sleeping when the accident happened, which might have caused them to panic when they woke up submerged in sea waters. Ephraim Aguilar, PDI Southern Luzon Bureau

SC stops Comelec on order vs Legazpi City mayor

09 June 2006

LEGAZPI CITY—THE SUPREME Court has stopped the Commission on Elections from enforcing its order to Mayor Noel Rosal to vacate his post in favor of Michael Victor Imperial, who was declared winner by the poll body in the 2004 elections.

The high court issued the temporary restraining order on June 7 as it granted Rosal’s request for a status quo. The order was signed by clerk of court Ma. Luisa Villarama, on the authority of Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban.

The Comelec en banc affirmed on May 29 the decision of its second division that Imperial was the duly elected mayor of the city, having garnered 33,861 votes as against Rosal’s 31,673.

The city’s board of canvassers had declared Rosal the winner with 44,277 votes over Imperial who got 33,275.

Of Rosal’s votes, 14,067 were invalidated by the Comelec division, composed of Commissioners Florentino Tuazon and Meloh Sadain, whose term of office expired early February.

“I thank the Supreme Court for granting my appeal based on its merits and I hope it will be enlightened by giving the teachers a chance to present the true picture,” Rosal said. Ephraim Aguilar, PDI Southern Luzon Bureau

8,000 rally in Legazpi to back unseated mayor

04 June 2006

LEGAZPI CITY—SOME 8,000 RESIdents of this city took part in a rally to protest a Commission on Elections decision removing Noel Rosal as the city mayor and replacing him with his closest rival, Michael Victor Imperial.

The protesters carried streamers assailing the Comelec for “killing... democracy... and wasting the votes of the people of Legazpi.”

Other streamers said Comelec was bribed to rule in favor of Imperial.

“We are not in favor of the Comelec decision. I was a poll watcher during the elections and there was no fraud that happened. We cannot accept this because we believe that this is the modus operandi of the Comelec. Time will come when the people will lose their trust on the Comelec and no longer vote,” Rosita Ajero, a resident of Barangay Binanuahan, said.

Legazpi City Vice Mayor Jess Rico Salazar expressed disappointment, saying the Comelec, in coming up with its decision, did not even check the results of the elections.

“The mandate of the people should not be changed. You will see in this protest that the masses are enraged. I am glad that the people of Legazpi are not nonchalant about the Comelec’s violation of their rights as voters,” Salazar said.

He also said the Comelec’s decision was unfair because it did not allow evidence to be presented.
“We have to change those people in the Comelec who make the institution less credible,” the vice mayor added.

In his speech, Rosal tagged accusations that he cheated during the elections as “irresponsible.”

“If you want to be a leader, you have to learn to accept defeat,” he quipped.

The mayor also said it was not manageable for him to cheat the 14,000 votes declared invalid by the Comelec.

“I hope that as I file an appeal to the Supreme Court, it will be enlightened by giving the teachers a chance to present the true picture,” Rosal said.

The teachers have claimed that their signatures on the election returns in the hands of the Comelec were faked and that the Comelec did not allow them to air their side.

After Rosal’s speech, a retired teacher ran to him crying.
At least 70 members of the Legazpi City Public School Teachers and Employees Association Inc. (Leciptea) participated in the protest rally.

The Comelec en banc ruling was made on a pre-proclamation protest filed by Imperial against Rosal questioning the results in 520 voting precincts, citing alleged various irregularities. Ephraim Aguilar, PDI Southern Luzon Bureau

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

2 more Bayan Muna leaders slain in Bicol

28 April 2006

By Delfin T. Mallari Jr.and Ephraim Aguilar
PDI Southern Luzon Bureau

ONCE TARGETED BY THE MILITARY’S ALLEGED death squads, a leftist activist has only three months to live.

Bayan Muna national deputy secretary general Robert de Castro made this statement yesterday as two more militant leaders were felled by unidentified assassins in separate attacks in Daet, Camarines Norte, and Daraga, Albay.

The back-to-back killings of Jayson Delen in Daet and Jim Mirafuentes in Daraga brought to more than 100 the number of militant activists murdered in different parts of the country since 2001.

Delen, Bayan Muna-Camarines Norte secretary general, was shot dead by two men on a motorcycle along Litana Street at 9:45 a.m., police said.

He suffered five bullet wounds and died on the spot, police added.

Death on the farm

Mirafuentes, a member of Bayan Muna and the president of a local urban poor association, was gunned down at around 9 a.m. in Kilicao village in Daraga, according to police.

Mirafuentes, 48, was tilling his farm in Sitio Matagbac when two of five unidentified men approached him and opened fire, said investigator SPO2 Francisco Mendevil.

The victim suffered bullet wounds in the head, neck and chest, De Castro said in a phone interview.

The murders occurred five days after Bayan Muna member Marilou Rubio and her brother were killed, also by unidentified men in General Nakar town in Quezon.

3-month timetable

De Castro linked the killings to a statement by Lt. Gen. Pedro Cabuay, Armed Forces Southern Luzon Command (Solcom) chief, that the “insurgency problem in Bicol had been cleaned up.”
“We fear that he was referring to us, the legitimate organizations,” De Castro said.

The military has denied any hand in the murders.

De Castro claimed the three-month timetable on the life of a targeted militant leader was in line with Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL), a purported military campaign to destroy the communist New

People’s Army and other leftist groups in five years’ time.

He called Bantay Laya a “vicious” plan.

Special groups

“That’s why there is always an OBL victim every three months in different areas across the country,” he said.

De Castro alleged that various military commands had their own special intelligence groups whose sole task was to monitor sectoral organizations and identify target personalities for liquidation.

He said the main goal of the OBL as defined in the military plan was to destroy the revolutionary movement, including its political infrastructure, and sectoral front organizations.

“Meaning, the legal militant organizations like Bayan Muna,” he said.

Like Oplan Phoenix

He likened OBL to the US’ Oplan Phoenix during the Vietnam War that supposedly resulted in the massacre of innocent Vietnamese peasants.

“OBL differed only in the sense that the desired impact of the assassination is to sow fear and terror among members and supporters of the target personality,” he said.

Brig. Gen. Jose Angel Honrado, Armed Forces spokesperson, has confirmed the existence of OBL but stressed it had nothing to do with legal leftist organizations.

Cabuay strongly denied accusations of military involvement in the killings and hinted the murders could have been perpetrated by NPA rebels themselves.

Claims all a rehash

Army Maj. Jose Broso, Solcom spokesperson, also rejected claims that soldiers were responsible for the killing of militants in Bicol.

“There they go again. The accusations from the leftist groups were all rehashed and were perpetual charges against the military,” Broso said in a phone interview.

He added: “Why can’t these groups just help in the police investigation to identify the suspects and file the corresponding charges, instead of being quick on the draw with all these baseless and unfounded allegations.”

Broso stressed that the military’s combat offensive was only directed at legitimate targets, the NPA guerrillas.

Killing their own

“The leftists can stage daily protests and rallies. The police antidisturbance units can very well take care of them,” he said.

Cabuay hinted that the killing of activists could have been perpetrated by the NPA themselves in a fit of paranoia similar to the communist purges in the early 1990s.

In late March, Cris Hugo, League of Filipino Students regional coordinator, was gunned down in Legazpi City, Albay, while the wife and 5-year-old son of Anakpawis coordinator Amante Abelon were slain in Castillejos town in Zambales.

In the fourth quarter of 2005, three militant leaders were killed in Central Luzon. The victims included Ricardo Ramos, president of the workers’ union at the Cojuangco-owned Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac City.

In Bicol, poor housewives are No. 1 buyers

10 April 2006
By Ephraim Aguilar
PDI Southern Luzon Bureau

DARAGA, ALBAY—THE WOMAN does not mind the sweat streaming down her face as she picks from a pool of fabrics she calls a “bargain.”

She is another mother shopping for an affordable “find” that would give a touch of elan to her or her kids’ wardrobes. Put another way, she is one of the “worshippers” of the “ukay-ukay” that lurk in profitable corners of this town.


“Wagwag” or ukay-ukay, a colloquial term derived from the Filipino word “halukay,” which means to forage through a heap in search of something, has encouraged the entrepreneurial spirit in a number of shopkeepers here.

Shopowners welcome the lower-incomed to their stores that sell used clothes from countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom.

The stores welcome the “bargain-hunters” seeking clothes for as low as P2 to P10, which cater mainly to the masses. These clothes are usually those that are not displayed in ukay-ukay stores, meaning they are the less standard ones, and are just placed on the “bargain table.”

This table of bargain clothes is always present among ukay-ukay vendors.

Mariel Mapalo, an ukay-ukay owner in Daraga town, about six kilometers from downtown Legazpi City, says most of her customers flock the “bargain table” more than any other set of items in her store, and most people who buy come from the poor.

In Daraga, there are at least 16 ukay-ukay establishments located just alongside the wet market area where the smell of clothes and dried fish mix.

These ukay-ukay are far from the tiangges that, although they sell second-hand products, manage to maintain well-kept stores.

Here, you can even see some pieces of bargain clothes on the soil and the storekeepers do not bother picking them up.

Most saleable

The first thing vendors here would display are blouses, commonly ranging from P10 to about P50, given the fact that most customers are women. Next in line are shorts, ranging from P10 to P50.

“Since most of the buyers here are the masses, we cannot mark up our prices that much,” Mapalo says.

Bags and shoes are the most expensive ukay-ukay items and the least sold. Prices of bags range from P50-P150 while those of the shoes range from P30 to P1,200.

Asked which of the brands are most saleable, Mapalo says people, especially the impoverished ones, are not really particular with the brands anymore.

She adds that seldom does she find famous signature clothes from the bulk delivered to her from Manila.

“In this business, the bulk of clothes are sealed when they are delivered, so you don’t get to choose which items you are going to sell. We rely on fate, hoping that we get the good box all the time,” Mapalo claims.

Katrina Urutia, a fresh graduate from the Bicol University, used to shop at the ukay-ukay here during her college years. Her group of eight would shop during weekends.

“It was the time when new bulks of clothes arrived. That is what they call them bagong wagwag (new releases),” the 20-year-old student recalls. “I had never been particular with the brand. I was after good quality and the overall look and feel.”

Business side

Mapalo, a mother of two children, and who has been in the business for almost eight years now, started with a P2,000 capital, which she loaned from a friend.

Now her daily earnings range from P360 to P5,000, while daily rent for her store is P180. She also has to pay for electricity.

Mapalo adds that her income from the ukay-ukay is only to subsidize their family’s food and other necessities. The schooling of her two children, both enrolled in private schools here, is being taken cared of by her husband’s parents now living in the US.

To start an ukay-ukay business here, one has to purchase a bulk of ukay-ukay products being shuttled from Manila. A bulk of 46 kilos would amount to P1,800-P4,500 while a bulk of 100 kilos would amount to P8,000-P17,000.

There is a tight competition among ukay-ukay establishments in the market. Some stores drop prices just to have cash to pay bills.

The peak season of sales in ukay-ukay here is December. Low months are August to September.
Mapalo opens her store at around 6:30 a.m. and closes it at around 5 p.m.

Filipino society

Prof. Eddie Balunso of the Bicol University (BU) Sociology Department says the need to change one’s look is one reason why Filipinos patronize the ukay-ukay.

“Some people want to look like their idols and the only way they can afford a similar look is through the ukay-ukay,” Balunso says.

Vendors agree there are more women buying ukay-ukay items than men. Balunso says most of her customers are housewives who buy clothes for themselves and their children.

Dr. Dolly Laguilles, chair of the BU Sociology Department, explains this as the “feminization of poverty,” which means that the women, the predominant ukay-ukay buyers, are the ones affected by poverty firsthand.

Even in ukay-ukays, there is a reflection of class struggle.

“The ukay-ukay caters to all sectors, including the middle class and the well-off. But the poor buy the rejects. Here you can see that there is still the stratification of society even in ukay-ukays,” Laguilles says.

The ukay-ukay, though it serves as a coping mechanism to poverty and helps those who cannot afford to buy expensive clothes, has a downside.

Balunso, who is taking up Master of Arts in Sociology at the Ateneo de Manila University, says the existence of ukay-ukays is detrimental to local producers.

There is a stereotype association of the ukay-ukay to imported items. Thus at work here is the colonial mentality in Filipinos.

However, Balunso says it is not really colonial mentality at work, but simply, the money. Or the lack of it.

Prayer rally supportsmining in Rapu-Rapu

01 June 2006

By Ephraim Aguilar, PDI Southern Luzon Bureau, and Norman Bordadora

AS ENVIRONMENT SECRETARY ANGELO REYES ponders the fate of its Rapu-Rapu operations, Australia’s Lafayette Mining says its project in Albay deserves a second chance despite hefty fines and rehabilitation costs from two 2005 spills that forced the company to suspend operations.

Reyes yesterday held a dialogue with representatives of a fact-finding commission, Lafayette officials, environmental groups and technical experts at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City. He is expected to issue a ruling next week at the latest.

Lafayette officials and consultants laid out the case for the resumption of the company’s Rapu-Rapu mining operations to a generally hostile audience of students, academics and environmental groups who showed their disapproval at some of the company’s statements.

On Tuesday, some 15,000 people from various sectors and communities attended a Lafayette-sponsored prayer rally at the Albay Astrodome in Legazpi City. Their battlecry: “It is better to light a candle for responsible mining than just to curse darkness for past environmental sins.”

People from different communities in Albay and Sorsogon, as well as nongovernment and religious organizations, attended the rally. Doves and 1,000 prayer-laden balloons were released.

“I think everybody who has done a mistake deserves a second chance, as long as the mistake is not something that has caused the world to collapse or has caused death,” said Julito Sarmiento, Lafayette director and corporate secretary.

Fr. Noe delos Santos, rector of the Mater Salutis Seminary in Daraga, Albay, led the prayer and reflection during the rally, but Bishop Lucilo Quiambao of Legazpi said the Catholic Church had nothing to do with the show of support for the mining project.

A fact-finding commission headed by Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes has recommended to President Macapagal-Arroyo the closure of the Rapu-Rapu mine, as well as a review of the 1995 Mining Act. Ms Arroyo has rejected a call to review the mining law, while Environment Secretary Reyes said he would hear all sides first before ruling on Lafayette’s bid to resume operations.

Still viable

Carmelita Pacis, Rapu-Rapu Minerals Inc. environmental management chief, told Agence France Presse the company had spent about P400 million to rehabilitate the open-pit polymetallic mine, on top of paying record fines.

There has been concern in the mining industry about the viability of the project, operations of which have been suspended for seven months, as regulators barred its reopening pending compliance with a tough set of remedial measures.

The Lafayette incident is seen as a test case of the Arroyo administration’s commitment to mining investments, as well as enforcement of environmental safeguards.

“Of course, we still are (viable),” Pacis said on the sidelines of the public forum on the Rapu-Rapu case, adding: “Otherwise we would not be here.”

Pacis said the company had essentially completed compliance with 21 conditions imposed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources for the reopening of the mine, which suffered a spill at its mill site on Oct. 11, 2005 and on its tailings dam on Oct. 31, 2005. Mine opponents alleged the spills killed fish.

“We feel that our company has complied with all 21 conditions,” Pacis told the forum.
The Australian parent puts Rapu-Rapu’s proven ore reserve at 5.85 million tons of 2.5 grams per ton of gold, 28.1 grams per ton of silver, 1.2 percent copper and 2.1 percent zinc.


The lone dissenter to the report of the Rapu-Rapu Fact Finding Commission wants the government to allow the test run of the P1.4-billion polymetallic project to settle once and for all the issues surrounding the Lafayette mining operations.

“I wish to stress that, for lack of any specific data or clear factual basis, I am not prepared to condemn Lafayette or the project. In the same manner, I am also not prepared to completely exonerate it for the incidents,” RRFC member Greg Tabuena said in his dissenting report.

Tabuena, a former forester, has served as consultant to several firms and has participated in environmental impact assessment studies.

In his report, copies of which were distributed among members of the media at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources dialogue with commission members and Lafayette representatives, Tabuena voiced his misgivings about the conduct of the fact-finding study.

He said the Bastes Commission “appeared to be prosecutorial” while conducting the investigation.

“The foregoing discussion only shows that further data gathering, which should be reliable and unbiased, should be conducted by credible organizations who are proven experts in the area,” Tabuena said.

“It would not be amiss for me to recommend further that Lafayette’s request for a test run for its operations, under strict scrutiny and observation by the proper authorities and private experts, be granted by the DENR.”

Not fair enough

Tabuena said the function of the commission was to determine facts based on accurate and scientific data in an objective and impartial manner. The commission was tasked to investigate the effects of the mining operation on people’s health and environmental safety in the municipality of Rapu-Rapu in Albay, and the towns of Prieto Diaz, Gubat, Barcelona, Bulusan and Bacon in Sorsogon.

“I, therefore, cannot affix my signature and stake my name and professional reputation in the said report. I cannot, with a clear conscience, conclude that the commission has been fair to all interested parties and that the report was indeed an impartial and objective one,” Tabuena said.

Tabuena said no connection had been established between the Rapu-Rapu mining spills and the fishkill in Sorsogon. With AFP report

Comelec proclaims Legazpi mayor rival winner; mayor says he’ll appeal to SC

01 June 2006

LEGAZPI CITY—THE COMMISSION on Elections has proclaimed the rival of the sitting mayor of this city as the winner of the 2004 elections but Mayor Noel Rosal said he would file an appeal at the Supreme Court.

In its May 29, 2006 decision, the Comelec en banc affirmed the decision of its second division that Michael Victor Imperial was the duly elected mayor of Legazpi City with 33,861 votes against the 31,673 votes of Rosal.

The ruling was made on a pre-proclamation protest filed by Imperial against Rosal questioning the results in 520 voting precincts, citing alleged various irregularities.

The decision en banc also said it found that some ballot boxes and ballots had been tampered with.

But the Comelec said a deeper investigation is needed to prosecute the perpetrators of the fraud.

At least 400 members of the Legazpi City Public School Teachers and Employees Association Inc. (Leciptea) branded the Comelec decision as an affront to their dignity because it portrays them as part of the fraud.

“We cannot just accept the results which are contrary to what we have shown during the May 2004 elections. The ballots were honestly and painstakingly counted ... in the presence of all the poll watchers of the different parties ...,” said Fe Dolot, head of the Leciptea.

“How will our pupils, their parents and the whole country react now? We will be tagged as cheaters,” Dolot added.

She said the Leciptea is planning to seek help from the Commission on Human Rights.

Dolot said she was not aware of the Comelec’s basis for coming up with the decision en banc but clarified that the teachers were not singling out any commissioner or election official for the decision. Ephraim Aguilar, PDI Southern Luzon Bureau

Bicol public schools need 1,700 teachers

23 May 2006

LEGAZPI CITY—OFFICIALS OF the Department of Education in Bicol said each classroom in the region could accommodate as many as 70 to 80 students to cope with the expected increase in enrollment when classes are expected to open June and the teaching force is short of 1,700 in the region.

“It is a perennial problem. It will result in bigger classes to maximize the manpower we have,” said Valeriano Garcia Jr., DepEd regional planning unit chief.

Garcia pointed out that the shortage of teachers was mainly due to the scarcity of government funds to afford the hiring of more educators to address the increasing demand of students in the region.

“We lack classrooms. We lack books. We lack teachers. But the root of all these is the fact that our government is poor so we don’t have a choice but to make our resources fit,” Garcia said.

Enrollment is projected to increase by 2 to 3 percent this coming school year, both in the elementary and secondary levels, Celedonio Layon Jr., DepEd Bicol director, said in an interview with a local newspaper.

The actual enrollment figures in school year 2005-06 were 890,472 in the elementary level and 334,813 in high school, or a total of about 1.2 million enrollees in the different public schools in Bicol.

Last school year, the region lacked only 769 teachers, which was lower by almost half this year.
Layon said the DepEd’s solution to the problem of lack of teachers was to make full use of every classroom to fit in 70 to 80 students.

“This is the way to accommodate all the impoverished students in public schools even if we lack classrooms and teachers,” he added.

DepEd regional officials met on May 16 to discuss preparations for the opening of classes.

Also discussed in the meeting, the officials said, was the enforcement of a DepEd memorandum that strictly prohibited the non-acceptance of poor students during enrollment who cannot afford to pay school contributions and miscellaneous fees immediately.

Every year, students face the problem of increasing costs of education as schools increase tuition every time classes open.

In Central Luzon, at least 36 private colleges and universities are raising tuition and other fees by 3 to 20 percent for school year 2006-07, a report from the regional Commission on Higher
Education on Tuesday showed.

Most of the approved increases went beyond the 7.6-percent national inflation rate set by the
National Economic and Development Authority this year.

The report said 21 other schools were seeking an increase of 3 to 15 percent. The CHEd has disapproved only one application due to the late submission of requirements. Ephraim Aguilar, PDI Southern Luzon Bureau with a report from Tonette Orejas, PDI Central Luzon Desk

‘Caloy’ casualty in Bicol feared big waves

15 May 2006

By Ephraim Aguilarand Michael Jaucian
PDI Southern Luzon Bureau

LEGAZPI CITY--ONE OF THE 27 people who died when the motorboat Mae-Ann 5 sank at the height of storm “Caloy” didn’t want to be at sea because he was afraid of big waves.

The man was Wilfredo Magdaraog, who was actually a bus inspector of Lobrigo Bus Lines but was temporarily assigned as an inspector on the Mae-Ann 5 by its owners, who also owned the bus firm.

“My father’s boss said he would be working on the boat for only one week but it had already been one month and he (the boss) would not let go of him,” Annabelle, eldest daughter of Magdaraog, told the Inquirer between sobs.

The outrigger, which plied the Masbate-Pilar route, sank on Friday morning.

The overall storm casualty toll compiled by the Inquirer from official sources and from its correspondents in the field stood yesterday at 37. They included 10 people who were killed by falling trees and walls or who were electrocuted elsewhere in Bicol and the Visayas.

Annabelle, 29, said in a mobile phone interview that her father had long been asking his boss, Lobrigo, to transfer him back to his regular assignment as a bus inspector.

But she said his employers kept him on the boat in a temporary assignment.

“He had a fear of the big waves that they would encounter from time to time,” the daughter said.

The Mae-Ann 5 had been anchored at the Masbate port when Caloy struck.
Seeking cover

Fearing that big waves might batter the vessel, the captain told the passengers that they would seek a safe place to dock.

About one kilometer from the port, however, the boat collided with a fishing banca filled with clams, causing it to capsize, surviving passengers recounted.

Many passengers died immediately after the boat overturned.

As of the latest count, 27 bodies had been recovered, according to Chief Supt. Victor Boco, Bicol police director and Regional Disaster Coordinating Council chair.

“At around 2 a.m., while the passengers were asleep, we heard the boat’s engine running and we noticed the boat was sailing away from the port,” survivor Gary Tagayom said.

Upside down

“Suddenly, the boat was hit by big waves, turning it upside down. My two children and wife died,” he said.

The management of the shipping line earlier advised the passengers to sleep on the boat as they could not yet sail.

Ramil Kilat, another survivor, said that between 2 and 3 a.m., the captain told passengers that they had to get away from the port to avoid the big waves, which could slap the boat against the dock, wrecking the vessel.

It was while the boat was sailing away that the disaster occurred.

Clinging to a rope

“It happened so fast. All we knew was that the boat had already capsized,” Kilat said.
Some of the passengers, clinging to a rope, were able to scramble to the other boat carrying the

“I was one of those who held on tight to the rope. I was able to transfer to the other boat, a smaller one,” Kilat recalled. “I thought it was already my end. Thank God, I’m still alive.”

Floodwaters have begun to recede in many of the affected areas but some places in Southern Luzon still remained without power and communication.

In Oriental Mindoro, authorities declared a state of calamity in the City of Calapan.

Aid from Malacañang

Saying that it sympathized with the victims of Caloy, Malacañang yesterday gave its assurance that the government would provide them assistance and support.

“President Arroyo is personally on top of the situation in seeing to it that the national disaster plan is on track to minimize loss of lives and damage to property in the wake of typhoon Caloy,”
Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said.

In his weekly newspaper column, Bunye said that the government was prepared for any contingencies, now that the rainy season was here.

“All hands of the national and local governments are on deck to check and warn of disaster-prone areas, provide relief and rehab to affected communities, assist stranded commuters and keep an eye on the prices of essential commodities,” he said.

Hazardous billboards

Bunye said that Ms Arroyo, concerned with public safety, also wanted the giant billboards in Metro Manila to be inspected by authorities after several of them were damaged by the storm.

He said the President had ordered the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority to coordinate with the Departments of Transportation and Communications and Public Works and Highways as well as local authorities to check the billboards “that could pose a serious threat to the public during strong typhoons.” With reports from Luige A. del Puerto and Madonna Virola, Gerald Querubin and Marlon Ramos, PDI Southern Luzon Bureau

Pili nut: More than just for eating

08 May 2006

LEGAZPI CITY—TAGGED AS THE Philippine’s almond, pili is at par with the macadamia nut of Australia, considered by many as a “the prime edible nut.”

Rosemarie Diaz-Battung, owner of the 70-year-old Albay Pilinut Candy factory in Old Albay District says the nuts are used for the delicacies but the fiber covering the nutshell can also be eaten.

“The shell is also a good material in firing our antique ovens,” she added.
The Department of Trade and Industry here says pili (Canarium ovatum) is now considered as the country’s most important export nut.

Owing to its abundant supply in Bicol, especially in the province of Sorsogon, the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) declared Sorsogon as the “commodity champion for pili” while the Department of Agriculture referred to pili as “flagship commodity” for the region.


Among places like the Southern Tagalog, Southern Visayas, Southern Mindanao and Caraga province, Bicol is a major pili producer.

The region accounts for 82 percent of national pili production, the bulk of which comes from Sorsogon, said DTI-Bicol.

Under the agency’s “One Town, One Product” (Otop) program, pili was identified as the banner product of Sorsogon City and the municipalities of Irosin, Bulusan and Sta. Magdalena in the same province.

An average pili tree bears fruit six or seven years after planting, with certain varieties producing flowers, three to four years from planting.

However, it is only in the seventh or eighth year before the tree produces around 1,000 to 1,500 nuts.

Pili trees vary in their fruit-bearing capacity, with the older ones giving more fruits.
A poor bearer produces 500 fruits or less while heavy yielders each gives from 3,000 to 5,000 fruits during the season.

An average tree produces 33 kilos of nuts in one year.

In Bicol, the pili harvest season begins in May and ends in September with the peak July. In the Visayas, particularly Samar, harvesting is in October.

Pili fruits are harvested when fully matured. The maturity index for pili nut is the full purplish black pulp of the whole nut.

Harvesting is done once a week or twice a month by climbing the tree and using a bamboo pole with a wire hook.

A scissor-hook-type pole was developed by the Bicol University College of Agriculture and Fisheries here to equip gatherers with a better harvesting device. The device has an average picking capacity of 25.54 kg per hour—higher than the traditional method.

Proper post-harvest handling of the fruits ensures good quality and a longer shelf-life of the nuts.

Non-food applications

The only known fruit oil of commercial importance in the world market today are olive and palm oils but the pili kernel is another oil source with a big market potential as pili oil is good in the manufacture of soaps, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.

The pili shell can be burned as fuel and the charcoal can be used to decolorize sugar, purify air and water, eliminate jet fumes in airports and be used as either a filter or deodorizer.

The shell can also be pounded and mixed with plastics to be fashioned into crafts and decorative and souvenir items.

Shell granules are good sandblasting agents for power generators, an inexpensive replacement
for the apricot seed hulls which are imported and costly to obtain.

The pili testa or seed coat like coir or sawdust can be used as a potting material for growing plants such as orchids and anthuriums.

The pili resins, also called “Manila elemi,” can be used as fixative for perfumes, and for the production of lacquers, varnishes, adhesives and pharmaceuticals.

The pili timber is classified as hardwood and can be turned into furniture items and wood panels.
Pili trees, strong and resistant to strong winds, are known to be good avenue trees owing to their good form and cool shade. They are used to line highways, parks and playgrounds. Unlike deciduous trees, they do not shed their leaves, which means that an area lined with pili trees will remain clean and free from dried leaves.

Market and economy

Local food processors absorb almost all of the supply of pili here in Bicol.

However, according to the DTI, the Philippines is able to export pili nuts to the United States,
Hawaii, Germany, France, Great Britain, Japan and China.

Here in Bicol, pili provides additional income to some 13,435 farmers with an average of 10 pili trees in their farms and to the laborers hired as harvesters.

The processing industry generates employment for people such as traders, processors, assemblers, factory workers, storekeepers and other services in the industry.

A DTI research quoted Richard A. Hamilton of the University of Hawaii and also a macadamia breeder who said the current status of pili is equivalent to that of macadamia some 30 years ago, by far the clearest indication that the pili nut has a great potential of developing into a major industry. Ephraim Aguilar, PDI Southern Luzon Bureau

RP’s next tourist destination now in Bicol

29 April 2006

By Ephraim Aguilar
PDI Southern Luzon Bureau

BACACAY, ALBAY—Smoothly rising as the next tourist destination in the country is the Misibis Resorts, Estates and Spa, a 20-hectare prime commercial and residential estates complex nestled in an island facing the Pacific.

The resort complex has a wide stretch of fine white sand and a scenic view of the Sula Channel—a salty river in a lake’s clothing that links the Albay Gulf and the Pacific Ocean.

The Misibis Resorts, Estates and Spa recently launched the Amalfi Condotels.

The project, a billion-peso amenity, is one of the highlights of the resort development of Misibis, a barangay in the Cagraray Island here, which began two years ago.

“Amalfi” is an Italian word which means “a place that offers a beautiful view of the sea.”

And very true to its name, the Amalfi Condotels—a hotel and condominium combined, the first of its kind in Albay—offers a soothing view of a clean, world-class beach in Cagraray.

The Amalfi is founded on the concept of bringing people to a relaxed lifestyle, from the hurly-burly of the city life to a serene living headed out of town, where one can experience fresh breezes and a picturesque panorama everywhere one turns—displaying the splendor of nature.

This place, one can suitably call a second home, is about 11-hour drive from Manila or a 45-minute plane trip and about an hour-and-a-half drive from the Legazpi City Airport.

Last April 9 was the groundbreaking and first concrete-filling and unveiling of the miniature perspective or diorama of the condotels.

The Amalfi is a nine-structure “condotel” composed of seven blocks of three- to six-story condominiums and two hotels worth at least P1.1 billion.

Architectural design

Every room will be flexible to the taste and creativity of the resident since it has no permanent divisions. With a divider or two, the resident can freely determine space allotment and design for the studio-type interiors.

Amalfi’s architectural design is said to beautifully blend with the natural landscape.

Avoiding the splash of bright colors, RMJM Philippines, the architectural company handling

Amalfi, will be careful to use only soothing tones that will maintain the tranquil mood.

Made different from the common, big city skylines, the structure will have no precise rectangular shapes from the top of the building to the bottom.

The L-type and V-type design of the condominiums will stand harmoniously with the slopes of this seaside property and will help achieve a restful ambiance and an unobstructed view of the ocean.

All materials used in the construction of the “condotels” are meant to complement the splendid outdoors and to maintain the natural atmosphere of the resort. Such materials are the slate walls, ceramic tiles, steel railings, natural tones and wooden structures.

Motor vehicles will be limited to designated areas only to minimize noise and pollution in the complex. Instead, Amalfi will be accessible via golf carts.

Strongest points

Cagraray island can be a perfect hub of tourism since it is nearest to the region’s entry points and is surrounded by seven other wonders of ecotourism in Bicol. Among these are Mayon Volcano, the world’s most perfect cone-shaped volcano; the butanding, the largest and one of the most gentle fishes in the world also known as the whale shark and lurking at the waters of

Donsol town in Sorsogon; and the Sula Channel, the site where the Spaniards used to hide their galleons during typhoon and which until now is a strategic hiding place of vessels during tropical storms.

Others are the Manta Rays, the world’s fifth largest fish, which can be found in between the waters of Ticao Island in Masbate and Bulan town in Sorsogon; the Boiling Lake, which is a naturally heated water from beneath the earth; the underground river, consisting kilometers of stalactite and stalagmite formations; and the Vera Falls, located on a secluded nook of Mt.

Mayon, about 122 meters above sea level, a natural paradise of forest and clear-cascading waters.

All these made Misibis Land Inc. president and chief executive officer Elizalde “Zaldy” Co confident to invest a tremendous amount of money in Cagraray.

Tourism economic zone

Co and Philippine Economic Zone Authority Director Lilia de Lima signed a memorandum of agreement on March 3 certifying Misibis as a tourism economic zone.

This certificate of registration has granted Misibis exemption from import duties and taxes on imported machinery and equipment and income tax holidays for four years, and later, exemption from national and local taxes, except real property taxes on the land owned by the developer.

Earlier, President Macapagal-Arroyo, through Proclamation 998 signed last Feb. 14, designated parcels of land totaling an area of 196,743 square meters for use by Misibis as a special economic zone.

Government support

In a speech during the Amalfi launch, Rep. Joey Salceda of the third district of Albay pledged his support to what he called a “history-maker” project.

As a way of showing his support to Bicol tourism, Salceda said he had initiated, as head of the House committee on appropriations, the P150-million land acquisition at Barangay Alobo in Daraga town where the Southern Luzon International Airport will be built. It is expected to improve the accessibility of tourist destinations here.

He added that a P270-million bridge connecting Sula and Misibis will be built not this year but very soon.

Albay Gov. Fernando Gonzalez said the government had invested a large amount of money in the roads and infrastructure to help develop and promote Misibis as a tourist spot.

In her visit to the beaches here in May last year, President Arroyo said it was one of her agenda to make Bicol one of the popular tourism destinations in the country after Boracay in Aklan, for the region has potentials to boost of economic tourism zones.

Good returns

Gonzalez said the local government expects significant investments in Misibis. He believes that its development is a “sure-win” venture.

“It will open the doors to other investments. And it will help the province in employment generation,” the governor added.

Currently, at least 100 residents of the Cagraray community have been employed by the resort development project, according to Vitchie Ubaldo, operations manager of the Misibis Resort, Estates and Spa.

In a press conference, Co said they expect 7,000 tourists every month. But they will be operational yet next summer when the coffee shops and the initial phases of the condotels have been completed.

By 2010, he said, Misibis will be fully operational.

Added amenities

In its soft opening by April 2007, other projected features of the resort are a cozy entry lounge and coffee shop, poolside sunken bar, restaurant and bar, free-form infinity pool and deck, spa and health clinic, 50 condotels, souvenir shop, recreational facilities and equipment, business center, and additional 15-room villas.

By April 2008 there will be additional 50 condotels, chapel, helicopter rides, basketball court, function rooms, convention hall, tennis court and lap pool.

By April 2009, there will be additional 25 condotels.

And from 2010-2015 there will be an airstrip, golf course, farm lots, flora and fauna collection, fishing lagoon, outdoor amphitheater, cultural heritage center and museum, bowling lanes, driving range, forest park and trail, campsite, canopy walk, equestrian ranch, and marina and yacht basin.

Bicol’s treasured abaca earns RP dollars

24 April 2006

By Ephraim Aguilar and Fernan Gianan
PDI Southern Luzon Bureau

DARAGA, ALBAY—ABACA IS A wonder plant as far as Med Vallejo-Villanueva and husband Shel-don are concerned.

The thousands of workers who have helped make the couple’s Shelmed Cottage Treasures a successful abaca craft enterprise in the Bicol region over the past decades would agree.

The Vallejos, from Med’s grandparents to her parents, are among the pioneers in the abaca industry here. Shelmed started after Med’s parents, Antonio Vallejo and Leticia Punsalan-Vallejo, decided to quit and pass on the business to Med and Shel-don when the two got married in 1973.

P3,000 capital

Med, a teacher, and Don, a mechanical engineer, were probably the youngest exporters when they went into the production of abaca placemats and doormats.

The couple, who put up P3,000 as initial capital for Shelmed, later expanded their products into rattan and buri furniture, baskets and other handicrafts made from abaca fiber.

From three employees from the old Vallejo company, where Sheldon used to work as a technical assistant, Shelmed grew to an estimated 60 full-time employees, 1,200 in-house artisans and a community support base of 2,500 families at present.

Currently, Sheldon is president of Shelmed and Med is the executive vice president with Mesh, the couple’s eldest daughter who handles marketing, representing the fourth generation of the Vallejos in the abaca export industry.

A big number of abaca workers in the countryside continue to earn a living from the company’s ventures into the export of abaca handicraft, paper pulp, furniture pieces, cordage, the most saleable abroad, according to Med.

Fibercrafts, like handbags, carpets, pouches, mats, floral accessories, wrapping material, wall paper, houseware baskets, bins, sotrage containers, lighting fixtures, votive candles, curtains, coasters, hot pads, napkin rings and novelties are very much in demand, according to Mesh.

Exporters continue to fulfill an increasing demand for abaca products by the overseas market whose interests are sustained due to continuous enhancements in materials and innovations in the finished products by producers like Shelmed.


Med says a major challenge to the abaca exporters is the attempt by developed countries to manufacture a synthetic material with similar properties to the abaca fiber.

“Abaca, an earth-grown material, is being challenged by the existence of other products that are also “earth-bound” and less expensive to produce in countries where exporters have better government support,” she adds.

Marlon Rebancos, public information officer of the Daraga-Albay-based Fiber Industry Development Authority (Fida), noted how the area being planted to abaca has become smaller.

She explained that due to the low price of the fiber in the local market there have been lesser people venturing in the production of abaca.

“This will mean that there will also be lesser lands tilled for abaca production,” she added.
The export market

Fida records showed that the Philippines dominated the world’s abaca export market, account for 83 percent of the supply, with the United States as the country’s biggest market for its cordage and raw fiber.

The Bicol region’s major markets for its raw fibers are the United Kingdom, Japan, and China while markets for its fibercrafts are the US, Germany, Japan, Australia and Europe.

In 2005, the Bicol region’s consumption of abaca reached 14,225 metric tons, 93.87 percent of which were used in pulp production, 5.33 percent in cordage, and .80 percent in fibercraft.

The country’s average annual production from 2001-2005 is 65,676 metric tons with Bicol’s annual average production placed at 11,750 metric tons.

In the region, 42,813 hectares are planted to abaca with average production per hectare at 383 kilograms.

The current market price for fine quality abaca fiber is P46 to P48 a kilo.
Catanduanes, with the biggest area planted to abaca at almost 22,384 hectares, remains the biggest abaca-producing province in the region and in the country.

The province supplies 20 percent of the abaca fiber production of the Philippines and accounts for 60 percent of Bicol’s fiber.

However, the impending ban on the gathering and trading of abaca leaf sheaths or “bakbak” to be imposed by the government soon is cause for worry by handmade paper makers, abaca processors and traders in the province.

In the Bicol region, about half of the 44 abaca-processing handicraft makers use abaca leaf sheaths or “bakbak.” In Catanduanes, small and medium enterprises, which include handicraft firms, generated $341,000 in export sales and P6.2 million in domestic revenues.

Existing processed abaca industry players include nine handmade paper makers, 11 using handmade paper products and combinations and two concentrating on the production of carpets and abaca “pinukpok” textiles.

Executive Order No. 502, signed by President Macapagal-Arroyo last Feb. 2, 2006, has banned the harvesting, gathering, buying, selling and mutilating of matured and young leaf sheaths of abaca plants (Musa taxtiles Nee) for commercial purposes.

The leaf sheaths form the solid mass that is the stalk or stem of the abaca plant.

The EO stated that the unabated harvesting of “bakbak” is slowly decimating the existence of abaca and threatens the source of fibers, known all over the world as Manila Hemp and contributing an average of P4.5 billion in revenues throughout the country.

The gathering of the raw material, the EO added, has aggravated the spread of abaca viral diseases by mechanical means and the transporting of the “bakbak” to other areas.

Perfecto Sambajon, officer in charge of the Fida in Catanduanes told the Inquirer that the removal of “bakbak,” widely practiced in Gigmoto and other towns, exposes the inner layer of the abaca plant.

With the removal of more than two layers of leaf sheaths, the plant’s growth would be affected and fiber production reduced.

The spread of abaca viral diseases has moved Fida to implement disease control and eradication projects and rehabilitation of affected areas.

After these preventive and suppressive measures against viral diseases in abaca, Rebancos added that perhaps after two to three years, there will be an increase in production.
Plight of traders, workers

Former Gigmoto vice mayor Edwin Tolledo, however, disputed Fida’s contention that the gathering of “bakbak” is detrimental to plant growth.

Tolledo, who has shipped 20 truckloads of dried “bakbak” to processors based in Angeles City, buys the raw material at P7 a kilo from more than 200 gatherers composed mostly of women and children.

Each truckload contains at least 4,000 kilos of “bakbak” which he sells to the Angeles processors for P17 to P20 per kilo to be used as bed covers, wall decorations and other items geared towards the export market.

He said that the gatherers in Bato and San Miguel deliver as much as 300 kilos of dried leaf sheaths every two days, the proceeds of which go to their daily needs and to pay off microfinance loans.

“It would be foolish for me to buy young leaf sheaths which are still wet,” Tolledo said, adding the “bakbak” is normally removed by the abaca farmer prior to stripping.

Two other buyers of “bakbak” operate in Gigmoto and Pandan towns, buying the material from abaca farmers for P4 to P6 per kilo while a Tabaco City-based buyer collects the material via a roving cargo truck for the same price.

On the other hand, Simplicio Mendoza, president of the Catanduanes Producers Association, lamented the ban, arguing that the “bakbak” would now be allowed to rot away instead of being used in handmade paper-making as well as for decorative accents in handicrafts.

Belen Tenoria of Summit Handmade Paper & Handicraft said that while she uses only a small amount of “bakbak” for the manufacture of brown paper, it would be impractical for the government to completely prohibit the use of the raw materials especially as she plans to venture in wall décor production.

For her part, Lynn Molina, who has been making gift items for five years under her own Lynn’s Arts & Crafts, suggested that the government should instead concentrate on developing skills and providing financing for abaca farmers so that they could exploit to the fullest the many uses of abaca.