Thursday, March 27, 2008

Albay gov pushes austerity to build rice buffer stocks

By Ephraim Aguilar
Southern Luzon Bureau
First Posted 17:30:00 03/27/2008

LEGAZPI CITY, Philippines--Despite assurances by the government that there is no rice shortage, Albay Governor Joey Salceda, a key economic adviser to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, is implementing austerity measures to generate savings for strategic rice buffer stocks.

Salceda said the Albay provincial government will impose a 10-percent reserve on Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE) and a moratorium on the purchase of information technology equipment and motor vehicles.

To begin April 15, the austerity measures are expected to generate some P16 million to be spent for food security, said the governor.

“The savings generated will be earmarked for a strategic rice buffer. We have to ensure access of poor families to rice,” Salceda said.

However, lawyer Jose Guevarra, assistant regional director of the National Food Authority (NFA) in Bicol, said it is not yet necessary for such measures.

He said Bicol still has 480,000 bags of rice, which is good for 55 days. On April 2, 120,000 more bags from Vietnam are expected to arrive in the region.

“We have no problem with supply, you can see it in the markets. However, long queues might be seen on government rice, not because of shortage, but because commercial rice has increased [in price] to as much as P32,” Guevarra said.

Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap, in a visit to Libmanan, Camarines Sur early this week, said there was no rice shortage, but only an increase in prices of the staple because of hiked fertilizer and oil prices.

"The price of fertilizer has increased by 150 percent while the price of oil in the world market has reached more than $110 per barrel," Yap said.

In Bicol, a ranking NFA official disclosed last year, unscrupulous traders are reportedly able to purchase as many as 1,000 bags of rice from the NFA at a higher price, re-mill this and sell it in markets for a hefty profit.

Yap said the NFA has began investigating officials suspected of colluding with unscrupulous traders.

Gueverra said they will not tolerate NFA employees involved in this anomalous trade but stressed that due process has to be observed. He said there are NFA officials in Naga City who are currently under investigation while their manager has been reassigned.

Earlier this week, the national government ordered the immediate re-licensing of rice traders nationwide.

There are over 3,000 rice traders in Bicol.

Guevarra said the re-licensing is aimed at getting rid of “fly-by-night” traders without affecting the current distribution system.

“The revalidation of license will make it easier to track unscrupulous traders who may be licensed but do not have outlets and stores, or who may have these facilities but have already stopped using them,” Guevarra said.

In terms of rice production, the provinces of Albay and Sorsogon in Bicol are self-sufficient while Camarines Norte, Masbate, and Catanduanes are deficient.

The only surplus area is Camarines Sur, which ranked No. 7 in the 2007 crop year, having produced a total of 560,809 metric tons.

Yap boasted of a 16.3-million metric ton increase in rice production in 2007, which, he said, was a record high.

Monday, March 24, 2008

‘I never told Filipinos to eat less,’ says agriculture chief

By Ephraim Aguilar
Southern Luzon Bureau
First Posted 17:55:00 03/24/2008

LIBMANAN, Camarines Sur, Philippines--Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap clarified here on Monday that he never meant to tell Filipinos to eat less when he urged fastfood outlets last week to offer half portions of rice because of a looming rice shortage.

"I never told Filipinos to eat less," said Yap, who was here in Camarines Sur province to grace the launching of the Church-formed Bicol Sustainable Agriculture Network (BiSAN).

Yap said it is every citizen's responsibility to conserve rice, especially that 25,000 bags of rice are wasted every day, based on a study by the Food Nutrition Research Institute of the Department of Science and Technology.

Yap said it was the National Food Authority's suggestion that he urge fastfood outlets to offer a "half-rice-serving" option to its consumers who cannot consume whole-rice serving.

However, he said, he did not do it because of an impending rice shortage but because conservation would be of big help amid spiraling prices of food commodities.

Yap said there was no rice shortage, but only an increase in prices of the staple as caused by the increase of fertilizer and oil prices.

"The price of fertilizer has increased by 150 percent while the price of oil in the world market has reached more than $110 per barrel."

Senators warned on Sunday that an impending rice crisis might backfire politically if government failed to devise effective solutions to prevent rice scarcity.

Senator Manuel Roxas III on Monday also told the government to "get real" about the rice shortage problem and not to downsize the rice problem, which, he said, should be treated as a "calamity."

Yap, however, said simple market visits would tell if there is really an impending rice shortage.

"If you go to markets, do you ever see food rations and long (queues) of consumers? There is much supply of rice in varying prices and qualities," Yap said.

He also said harvest was increasing and boasted of a 16.3 million-metric-ton increase in rice production in 2007, which, he said, was a record high.

Yap said the NFA had committed 1.1 million metric tons of rice while a contract would be sealed with Vietnam on its commitment to import one million metric tons of rice to the country.

Yap said that despite an increase in harvest, production was still not sufficient, so distribution of rice in the market had to be strictly monitored by the NFA.

He said the NFA had begun investigating all its officials colluding with unscrupulous traders, who re-bag and re-mill government rice and sell it under commercial rates.

He said the country had a rice deficit of around 1.5 million metric tons of rice but was still 90 percent self-sufficient.

The BiSAN, a joint project of the Prelature of Libmanan Development Foundation Inc. and the Department of Agriculture, aims to support Bicol farmers and to promote organic farming.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Yap says GMA has Vietnam vow for rice

LEGAZPI CITY--PRESIDENT Macapagal-Arroyo has secured a commitment from Vietnam to supply rice to the Philippines so there is no cause for concern over reports of a food crisis, Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap said.

Yap said his department’s main concern now was how to keep food prices down.
He said the commitment from Vietnam would help assure enough rice supply.
Early this month, Albay Gov. Joey Salceda, economic analyst and Ms Arroyo’s key adviser, said the country would face a food crisis starting this month, warning it could be “a far bigger disaster than the ongoing sociopolitical crisis.”

Salceda said the increase in prices of food crops was imminent after oil prices hit new highs this month.

Oil struck a record $109.20 per barrel on Tuesday.
Salceda said the price of corn in the world market had gone up by 88 percent, coconut oil by 96 percent, rice by up to 54 percent, soybean by 103 percent, soybean meal by 85 percent, and wheat by 148 percent.

Yap, in a press statement sent to the Inquirer, however, said he did not see the food crisis, which would mean “an absence of food or rationing and food lines.”
He said the DA was confident that the 2008 rice production target of 17.33 million metric tons, which is equivalent to a 92-percent national sufficiency level, can be met.

He added that, based on field reports, palay planting schedules were on track while rains brought by the onset of the La Niña phenomenon would benefit farmers in over a million hectares of land.

He admitted, however, that one area of concern was the spike in the prices of rice as caused by spiraling prices in the world market.

“Demand is growing but supply is not catching up that much because of climate change. We have to accept that climate is really changing,” Yap said. Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Floods isolate 11,000 Catanduanes families

VIRAC, CATANDUANES--LANDslides and floods blocked all access to villages in this province where 11,000 families await aid that would be delivered by a Navy boat.

The Philippine Navy will provide the boat to bring rice and other food items to the families who had been isolated since Monday.

Joseph Cua, governor and chair of the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Committee (PDCC), said the boat would leave the port of Legazpi City in Albay for the town of San Andres.

From there, the PDCC and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) will transport the government-procured rice and food packs to the families.

More rice

Cua said the PDCC was requesting an additional 1,000 bags of rice from the DSWD. The department earlier allotted 400 bags of rice and 400 food packs on Feb. 29. The items were delivered to Caramoran town by a Philippine Air Force helicopter.

Cua said 700 bags of rice had already been delivered to Caramoran and another town, Pandan, last week. The Church radio station Veritas is helping, too.

The government, through the National Food Authority, was selling rice directly to consumers to help prevent a food shortage. “We are in the same situation as Eastern Samar, only that we do not have many casualties,” Cua said.

The governor said he saw for himself the situation in two villages, Sipi and Binanuahan in Bato town, where families were in danger of starving as a result of floods brought by continuing rains since Feb. 16.

Abaca farmers were not able to dry their fiber, while rice farmers failed to dry their harvest of “palay,” he added.

Strong waves prevented fishermen from going out to sea, he said.

Roads closed

Major roads were closed, preventing the delivery of rice to the towns and the capital municipality of Virac.

Ignacio T. Odiaman, district engineer, told the PDCC yesterday that a circumferential road that links several towns had been rendered impassable.

Raging waters from swollen rivers washed out spillways in the towns of Pandan and Viga, while landslides blocked roads in San Andres, Baras and Gigmoto towns.

The PDCC received a report that four houses were buried by a landslide in one village in Gigmoto. In Baras town, floodwaters were a meter deep in the poblacion as of 4 a.m. yesterday.


In two Albay towns, more than 3,500 families have been evacuated and 18 people were reported missing as heavy rains yesterday brought flash floods, less than 12 hours after an earthquake shook the Bicol region and the Visayas, provincial disaster officials said.

Jukes Nuñez, operations officer of the Albay PDCC, said 10 fishermen in Tabaco City and eight fishermen in Tiwi town were reported missing.

A total of 3,500 families in 47 villages in Tabaco were moved to 25 evacuation centers.

In Tiwi, he said, 73 families had already been evacuated as of 10 a.m. One house was reported damaged.

Swollen rivers and falling rocks were also reported in Barangay Joroan. A spillway was damaged in Barangay Nagas.

Floodwaters swallowed a bridge in Malilipot town, blocking the main route to Tabaco. All types of vehicles were barred from passing through the poblacion of Malilipot.

Tabaco Mayor Krisel Lagman, in a mobile phone interview, described the floods in downtown Tabaco as “waist-deep” and the river was just “almost one foot from under the bridge.”

Gov. Joey Salceda ordered the suspension of all elementary and high school classes in the province.

The floodwaters started to rise after a magnitude 6.5 earthquake shook Bicol and the Visayas past 10 p.m. Monday.

Albay is still in a state of calamity after officials warned that many communities are still under threat of landslides and floods.

A 6.5 magnitude earthquake shook parts of Eastern Visayas Monday night although no damage was reported.

Myra Dolina of the Philippine Institute of Seismology and Volcanology station in Palo town, Leyte, said the tremor was located northeast of Catarman, Northern Samar. Fernan Gianan and Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon; and Joey Gabieta, Inquirer Visayas

Monday, March 03, 2008

Salceda: Looming food crisis worse than political one

By Ephraim Aguilar
Inquirer Southern Luzon

LEGAZPI CITY--ALBAY GOV. Joey Salceda expects a major spike in food prices to hit the country in the first quarter of this year, warning it could be “a far bigger disaster than the ongoing sociopolitical crisis.”

In a provincial disaster meeting with Albay mayors here, Salceda said hike in the prices of food crops was imminent after oil hit a new high of $103 per barrel in the world market.

Salceda, an economic analyst, said the price in the world market of corn had gone up by 88 percent, coconut oil by 96 percent, rice by up to 54 percent, soybean by 103 percent, soybean meal by 85 percent and wheat by 148 percent.

He foresees the development would adversely affect food prices in the country and its effects, especially on the poor, would be felt as early as this month.

“At this point, people might not feel (the effects of the food crisis) yet because we are still using our cheap inventory. But once the government has run out of stock, it will be very challenging for the poor,” Salceda said.

He said the looming food crisis also poses a big challenge to the administration – how to mitigate hunger and put more money in people’s pockets.

However, Salceda was confident the administration was focused on addressing the issue, citing the Arroyo administration’s track record of having been able to lower the hunger rate in the fourth quarter of 2007, at the same time self-rated poverty was reported at its lowest level.

“The government, with or without the sociopolitical context, must simply address the food security problem by putting in place additional resources to increase agricultural production,” Salceda said.

The three-term former Albay congressman said urgent countermeasures would have to be implemented like lifting some tariffs on imported food crops, increasing food subsidies; augmenting the budget for agriculture, reducing import duties on soybeans, wheat and corn, and enacting the cheaper medicines law.

“As an economist I haven’t seen this for the longest time where everything is all happening at the same time – rising oil prices, receding US economy and increasing food prices,” Salceda said.

He said he was seeing stagflation, where there are “lower volumes and yet higher costs,” which is risky to the economy.

Salceda told the Albay mayors not to “neglect their social services.”

“Even while the nation is trying to sort out political tensions, local government units must continue to prepare strategies to confront the emerging food crisis,” he said.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Clean water for Albay, but poor griping

17 January 2008
By Ephraim Aguilar
Legazpi City

A MULTIMILLION-PESO FACIlity to deliver clean water from a river to more than 17,000 households in Legazpi City may be a superb idea, but not so for the poor who cannot afford to pay for it.

Philippine Hydro (Phil-Hydro) Inc., which will undertake the P300-million bulk water project for the government-owned Legazpi City Water District (LCWD), will charge consumers P13.50 per cubic meter, or an increase of almost half of the present rate.

This would mean a jump of P198 this year up to 2009 in the existing monthly minimum rate of P135 for a consumption of not more than 10 cubic meters. More increases are scheduled until 2015, when the rate will be pegged at P238.

According to LCWD officials, the rate increases are necessary if the consumers want a quality and stable supply of water.

Water from river

Under the new system called “High-rate Permanent Media Filtration Technology,” water will be tapped from the Yawa River, an 11-kilometer channel where volcanic gullies converge and extend up to the Albay Gulf, instead of from springs around Mayon Volcano.

“Water coming from the Yawa River will pass through embedded perforated pipes that shall serve as a natural filtration system. The new system operates modern equipment that will ensure the required water quality is met before distribution to the public,” says Desiree Michelle Barcelon, LCWD public relations assistant.

She says the spring water is now discolored because of its high iron content. She cited studies conducted by the LCWD and the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA).

It is reddish and smells like fish—characteristics of water from artesian wells that is not potable—says chemical engineer Junel Borbo, a professor at the Bicol University College of Engineering. At higher levels of contamination, it looks a little slimy, he adds.

Barcelon also cites another study showing a periodic scarcity of water due to climatic and topographical changes commonly affecting springs. For example, the erstwhile popular hot springs in Tiwi town in Albay, home to the Chevron geothermal plant, have already dried up, leading to the closure of many resorts.

Biggest in the country

The new clean water technology is the biggest of its kind in the country and the first to be run by Phil-Hydro, says its chief operating officer, Rolando Mangulabnan. It converts surface water, such as that from rivers, into water of “bottled quality,” he says.

PhilHydro is committed to supply at least 20,000 cubic meters of water per day.

“It will be environment-friendly if we stop drilling holes. Surface water, unlike groundwater, is free from salt intrusion. Nowhere in Metro Manila is this US technology used,” he says.

Water from the rivers can be put to good use before it is flushed out to the sea to mix with salt water, says Mangulabnan, who is an environmental engineer and a former agrarian reform undersecretary.

In opposing the project, the Legazpi City Slumdwellers Federation Inc. (LCSFI) claims that no proper public consultation was held regarding the changes in water supply system and rates. The group has 3,000 members, according to the Community Organization of the Philippines Enterprise (COPE) Foundation.

Together with COPE, the LCSFI plans to file a petition to the city council asking for a comprehensive investigation of the project.

“The rate increase is unjustifiable since many of the people here are in the brink of poverty, especially after the series of calamities that hit the province,” says Numeriano de la Torre, COPE’s assistant regional coordinator. He adds that a rate increase is not a solution for an efficient water service.

But Barcelon says a careful study on the city’s water supply situation was made before the LWUA recommended a “justified” increase. Nine of the city’s 33 villages have less or no supply of water during peak hours, while five still do not have distribution lines, she says.

A public hearing was held on Dec. 21 last year to discuss the increase, but only 128 consumers came, she adds.

It was not a public consultation at all, De la Torre says, and the place was not accessible to many people.

According to Barcelon, LWUA representatives were there to listen to the sentiments of the public. “It is only after the public hearing that the LWUA can confirm the increase for implementation. Until now, we are still waiting for the confirmation,” she says.

Gonzalo Gomez, 53, one of the water district subscribers from Barangay Baybay, does not favor the increase. “Due to poverty, no one will be in favor of any increase. Money is hard to earn these days,” he says in the vernacular.

“I will just reinstall our old water pump, if we could no longer pay our water bill.”

Camarines Norte poachers arrested

16 January 2008

LEGAZPI CITY—Police arrested 10 men found poaching off the Calaguas Group of Islands in Vinzons, Camarines Norte, on Sunday.

Supt. Eliciar Bron, Bicol police spokesman, said the suspects were in a commercial fishing boat named Janica and were caught in the act of using fine mesh net, or “buli-buli.”

Fisheries laws ban the use of fine mesh nets and impose fines ranging from P2,000 to P20,000 or imprisonment of six months to two years.

Bron identified those arrested as Wilfredo Lamadrid, 32; Ruel Magat, 42; Johnny Miranda, 36; Jimmy Romero, 40; John Castel, 23; Leo Alvarez, 23; Christian Abasola, 19; Dondon Barcena, 25; and Angel Burce, 21.

The boat captain, identified as Wilfredo Napal, was also arrested.

A certain Joel Rafael owned the boat, added the police, who also recovered fishing paraphernalia and two containers of assorted fish.

Calaguas is two hours by boat from the Vinzons coast. Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon

Rabies feared in 30 dogmeat eaters

13 January 2008

LEGAZPI CITY—Some 30 people from several villages in Malinao, Albay are feared to have been infected by rabies after eating the meat of a rabid dog.

Malinao Mayor Billy Ciriola said that as of Saturday morning, municipal health officials have been busy searching for at least 25 residents of Barangay Estancia and five residents from neighboring villages who reportedly ate the dog meat that proved to be rabies infested.

Ciriola said in a mobile phone interview that the dog has bitten three persons already and municipal health officers “suggested that the dog be slaughtered and brought to the health office for examination.”

However, he said, the health officers did not know that after the head of the dog was brought to them, the villagers butchered the dog’s body and ate its meat.

Ciriola said some of the victims were already brought to different hospitals for observation and antirabies vaccination although there were yet no reports on their latest condition. Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon

Dissolve Comelec by--Cha-cha–Bert G

13 January 2008

LEGAZPI CITY—ANOTHER agenda for Charter change has emerged from Norberto Gonzales, national security adviser, who proposed here that Cha-cha be used to dissolve the Commission on Elections.

In his visit to Bicol Thursday, Gonzales said he wants the “heavily-tainted” Comelec dissolved through Charter change.

“The Comelec has become irreparable. It has to be (replaced),” he said in a press conference.

Gonzales came here to meet with regional directors from various agencies to discuss government corruption and national security.

He added that despite the misgivings of some critics on the idea of Charter change, he is confident that President Macapagal-Arroyo will not use it to seek an extension of term.

Gonzales said a viable option for electoral reform is through Charter change.

“We cannot abolish the Comelec now because it is a constitutional body but there is a need to replace it,” he said.

The Comelec’s credibility is expected to be under public scrutiny again as the 2010 presidential elections approaches.

Asked on what office could possibly take Comelec’s functions, he said he thinks the judiciary can handle the country’s elections better.

He said the Comelec is one of the reasons many of those who have not really won elections are holding elective positions today.

Gonzales said Ms Arroyo does not share his view on electoral reforms through Cha-cha, but that the President believes Cha-cha was good for the country.

Talk of Charter change surfaced again as negotiations for a peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front remain stalled. Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon

Ping to show biz folk eyeing politics: Don’t!

12 January 2008
By Gil C. Cabacungan Jr. in Manila
and Ephraim Aguilar in Southern Luzon

HERE’S A TIP FOR show biz celebrities planning to enter politics: Don’t.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson has advised movie and television personalities not to aspire for public office in 2010 because their show biz magic has waned as seen in the last two elections.

“Artists [from the entertainment industry] have lost their magic. FPJ (Fernando Poe Jr.) is the last. I don’t see any successor,” Lacson said yesterday in a press conference. “After him, movie stars were never the same again.”

Noli-Vilma tandem

Lacson was reacting to reports that Batangas Gov. Vilma Santos, one of the country’s most popular actresses, could be a possible running mate of Vice President Noli de Castro when the latter runs for president in 2010.

Aside from Santos, Senators Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. and Jinggoy Estrada, both movie actors, are also being groomed as candidates for vice president in 2010.

Lacson said the poor showing of celebrities in the last elections, both national and local, was proof that switching from show biz to politics didn’t always work out.

Actors Cesar Montano and Richard Gomez also fared poorly in the 2007 senatorial elections, failing to translate their popularity into votes.

Poe, in his first and only shot at politics in 2004, lost by a million votes to President Macapagal-Arroyo, who has yet to disprove allegations of manipulating the election results.

Trial balloons

Some sectors, including former President Joseph Estrada, had claimed that Poe could have won, even with the alleged cheating, had the opposition taken a united front in 2004.

Lacson, who ran for president that same year, has disputed Estrada’s claims.

Lacson has also declared his intention to run for president in 2010, depending on his ranking in the surveys.

“All of the possible candidates in 2010 are just trial balloons or posturings. We will continue to rely on our surveys at least until the end of this year to help us make our final decision,” Lacson said. “If I am not in the top five in the surveys, I will not run even if 2010 is important for me because this is my last term. Campaigns are very tiring.”

While he has not held any discussions with a potential running mate, Lacson cited Sen. Jamby Madrigal as a possible partner.

“Jamby will make a good vice president because she has been consistently with the opposition,” he said.

Lakas talks with Legarda?

In Legazpi City, Sen. Loren Legarda said yesterday she would not return to the Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (CMD), the party she belonged to when she topped the 1998 senatorial elections.

Ray Roquero, executive director of the Lakas-CMD, said there were ongoing “private and informal” talks between the party and Legarda’s camp.

He said some of the Lakas leaders were very supportive of Loren rejoining the party.

Lawyer Raul Lambino confirmed in a story published in the Inquirer on Wednesday that negotiations were ongoing between Lakas and Legarda.

This was denied by Legarda, who was in Albay province yesterday for a roundtable discussion with local leaders, academicians, and environmentalists on climate change.

No, thank you

“I am flattered and happy [with the invitation to return to Lakas] but there are no talks, private or informal,” she said. “I am with the NPC-opposition, I shall stay with [the party] until 2010 but I thank the other parties for always considering me as a strong presidential contender.”

Next to former Sen. Jovito Salonga who topped the senatorial elections three times, Legarda is the only candidate to land No. 1 in the senatorial race twice. She is seen as a major contender in the 2010 presidential race.

She told local leaders in Albay that she would spend the next 24 months serving the people and addressing urgent needs before thinking about the presidency.

At the roundtable discussions yesterday, Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, a known ally and economic adviser of President Macapagal-Arroyo, introduced Legarda as the “future president of the Philippines” eliciting some noise from the audience.

‘She will win’

Asked what he thought of Legarda, Salceda said, “I think she will run and I think she will win.”

The Lakas leaders’ pronouncements on Legarda came in the wake of deposed President Estrada’s invitation to Vice President De Castro to join the opposition, which is bursting at the seams with viable presidential candidates.

De Castro, who ran with President Macapagal-Arroyo and who has remained loyal to her, is considered the strongest administration presidential candidate to date. But he remains an independent.

Asked to comment on De Castro’s tag as the strongest administration presidential candidate to date, Legarda said, “Well, good luck to everybody who wants to run.”

Tight race

De Castro and Legarda were in a tight race for vice president in 2004.

The Nacionalista Party is pushing its president, Senate President Manuel Villar while the Liberal Party is promoting its president, Sen. Manuel Roxas II, as possible standard-bearers of the administration party.

Both, however, are identified with the opposition even as their respective parties are members of the administration coalition in the House.

Lakas is slated to hold a national directorate meeting on Monday and Tuesday to discuss its plans for 2010.

Bicol congressman denies owning Ferrari: How I wish

11 January 2008

LEGAZPI CITY—ALBAY REP. AL FRANCIS Bichara said he did not own a Ferrari.

“How I wish. It’s a dream car,” said Bichara, who denied owning four of the 81 luxury cars seized in Makati last month.

Bichara, who flew to Albay yesterday from Manila, clarified that the cars he owned were two Jeep Cherokees, both of which were 1995 models, a Jaguar and a Volvo. He earlier denied owning a Lamborghini.

He said some of the cars he owned were bought second-hand.

Bichara said he purchased one Cherokee for only P300,000 and that he brought home the Jaguar after his stint as Philippine ambassador to Lebanon. He acquired the Volvo in the Philippines.

The Land Transportation Office said the congressman’s cars were legitimately registered.

Bichara said LTO chief Reynaldo Berroya erred in saying he owned a Ferrari as published in the Inquirer on Thursday.

The congressman said he had brought three of his cars to the high-end repair shop in Makati City last November for their annual maintenance check.

‘Character assassinated’

“I was just a regular customer in that shop but since I happened to be a politician, they are dragging my name into the false controversy,” Bichara said.

He added that the Presidential Anti-Smuggling Group (PASG) had violated his rights.

“I am being character assassinated here,” said the lawmaker, who called members of the PASG “publicity-hungry vultures.”

Bichara said he had talked to President Macapagal-Arroyo, warning her about what the PASG was doing. “I’m sure many others are complaining about the PASG.”

“You cannot just barge into any shop and impound all the cars there,” he said.

Bichara said that, noticeably, the PASG and the LTO were embroiled in a dispute, with the former accusing the latter of involvement in the smuggling of cars at the ports.

What’s wrong with LTO

Bichara said what was wrong with the LTO was that when the cars were cleared it no longer asked how much in taxes was paid by the owners to the Bureau of Customs.

“The problem lies with customs. When taxes for these cars are under-declared, that’s what the government has to watch out for,” Bichara said.

“Some of the cars seized (in the raid) were old cars, like my Cherokee, whose original owner, if you trace its history, is a consul. I could probably be its third or fourth owner.”

Berroya on Wednesday said a check of LTO records showed 47 of the seized cars had legitimate registration papers while 13 had not been issued license plates and 22 had no records. Reports from Ephraim Aguilar and Jaymee Gamil, Inquirer Southern Luzon

Albay solon owns 4 of 81 hot cars seized in Makati

10 January 2008
By Jolene R. Bulambot and Jhunnex Napallacan
Inquirer Visayas
and Ephraim Aguilar Inquirer Southern Luzon

CEBU CITY—A CONGRESSman from disaster-stricken Albay province owned four of the 81 luxury cars, including a Ferrari, that were seized in Makati City last month on suspicion these were smuggled.

But the Land Transportation Office (LTO) said the congressman’s cars were legitimately registered.

Albay Rep. Al Francis Bichara owned four of the cars, including a Ferrari, that were seized during a raid on a repair shop in Makati by the Presidential Anti-Smuggling Group (PASG), according to LTO head Reynaldo Berroya.

Berroya, however, said there was nothing irregular in the registration of the congressman’s vehicles.

Bichara represents the second district of Albay, a province still reeling from devastation wrought by Typhoons Milenyo and Reming and mudslides from Mayon Volcano.

Bichara is known in his district as a collector of vintage cars.

“I collect junk and restore them. That’s what I do,” Bichara said. “I will not allow (the PASG) to destroy my reputation.”


Bichara reacted strongly to reports that he owned the four cars, calling members of the PASG “publicity-hungry vultures.”

The congressman admitted he owned only three of the cars that were at the Makati auto shop during the raid for maintenance.

“It is just like I am trusting my doctor for the maintenance of these cars. But it does not mean that when a criminal is found inside the hospital, the rest of the patients are criminals, too,” Bichara said.

He said some of the cars that he owns were bought secondhand.


Bichara said that he bought a Cherokee for only P300,000 and that he brought home a Jaguar from his stint as Philippine ambassador to Lebanon.

He also said he owned a Volvo, which he bought in the Philippines. He said he didn’t own a Lamborghini.

“Why are they going after the third and fourth owners of these cars? I am not a smuggler. I have documents to prove I have acquired these cars legally and locally,” Bichara said in a mobile phone interview Wednesday noon.

The PASG conducted the raid after receiving reports the vehicles were smuggled into the country.

Berroya said not all of the vehicles, including those of Bichara’s, were illegally registered and these could not have been smuggled.

47 cars not smuggled

Berroya said a check with LTO records showed 47 of these cars had legitimate registration papers.

LTO records, he said, showed that businessman Iñigo Zobel paid P8.7 million in taxes for a 1997 Ferrari, businessman Ricardo Tan Jr. paid P6.7 million in taxes for a 1999 Mercedes Benz, and businessman Joel Montana del Rosario paid P3.4 million for a 2000 BMW.

Zobel’s Ferrari was among the vehicles found at the Auto Sports 24 Corp. on Chino Roces Avenue that the PASG raided last Dec. 20.

Berroya did not say how much taxes Bichara had paid for his Ferrari and three other luxury cars that were seized in the PASG raid.

Berroya said the LTO did not issue the license plates of 13 of the 81 seized cars and did not have records of registration of 22 others.

He said the LTO had asked the PASG to submit documents on the seizure for further verification.

Six of the seized cars came from Cebu, said Berroya, who kept his post as LTO chief despite an order issued by President Macapagal-Arroyo replacing him with former Philippine National Police chief Arturo Lomibao.

“How can these be smuggled when they were legitimately registered and they are owned by prominent personalities?” said Berroya.

“It’s unfair to say majority of these cars were smuggled and the initial findings will even say that only six of these came from Cebu. There is no basis yet to say these were smuggled,” he said.


Berroya came to Cebu to witness the turnover at the LTO office in Central Visayas. Alex Leyson, sacked LTO Central Visayas chief, was replaced by Raul Aguilos.

Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza removed Leyson after he was linked to the illegal registration of smuggled cars in Cebu.

Leyson said he had nothing to do with the irregular car registration and welcomed the investigation because it would clear his name.


The relief of Leyson, was not a punishment but a move to allow the investigation of irregular vehicle registrations in Cebu, according to Berroya.

Five LTO offices in Cebu province face investigation and the heads of these offices were ordered to answer allegations of irregularities in vehicle registration.

Car dealers in the city had complained that some of the cars that they sold could not be registered because the registration papers that bore the chassis numbers of the new cars were issued to cars that did not come from them.

Berroya said the LTO planned to revise the registration system by having this centralized at the LTO office in Quezon City, instead of allowing registrations in regional offices.

Plane overshoots Masbate runway due to strong winds

03 January 2007
43 passengers, 4 crew shaken, but none hurt
By Ephraim Aguilar
Inquirer Southern Luzon

LEGAZPI CITY—DUE TO STRONG winds, an Asian Spirit plane overshot the runway and smashed the airstrip fence as it landed on the Masbate City airport Wednesday morning.

The plane’s 43 passengers, 7 of whom were children, and four flight crew members were shaken but none of them was reported injured, said airport manager Josefina Nuñez.

Nuñez said the airport’s communication facilities were functioning well, only that the winds were strong and beyond man’s control.

Air transportation officials have suspended all flights until the accident is completely investigated.

Nuñez said the Air Transportation Office (ATO) in Manila was sending an investigating team to the island to verify the cause of the accident and assess its damages.

She added, in a mobile phone interview, that a rescue equipment would also be sent from the ATO central office to clear the disabled aircraft.

The cost of damage had not yet been estimated but Nuñez said part of the runway fence was destroyed.

In a photo of the accident sent to the Inquirer, the plane’s right wing appears to have protruded to the national road behind the fence and almost hit side-street stores and houses.

Nuñez added that the aircraft’s right propeller, nozzle, right and nose wheels were destroyed.

The plane is a YS-11 type of aircraft, which can carry 64 passengers, and is about 26 meters long and 9 meters high with a wingspan of 32 meters running at a cruise speed of 454 kilometers per hour.

The Asian Spirit is an airline operating domestic and international tourist services linking Manila and Cebu with 24 domestic destinations in support of the trunk route of other airlines.

Donsol paintings impart lessons

03 January 2007

THROUGH THE PAINTBRUSH, A GROUP OF artists in this town found a way to help protect and preserve the environment and the local heritage.

For visual artist Bats Elarmo, painting the canvas with colors in his front yard is a better medium for him to effectively express his views on environment conservation.

Elarmo says while he paints, he welcomes onlookers from among his neighbors and passersby along San Jose Street here, where he lives. And from there, a forum begins, even with no one talking.

Whenever he paints, Elarmo says he believes the spectators behind him do not just watch, but also react—quietly or noisily.

He is part of the group “Artists for Environment” or “ArtE,” which was formed in 2005 with the mission of reminding and moving people by means of art to take care of the environment.

Saving natural wonders is an agenda for the people of Donsol, who have come to rely on ecological tourism to alleviate poverty in the third-class municipality.

Having the most recorded whale shark sightings than anywhere else, Donsol’s popularity as the “whale shark capital of the world” continues to grow.

Elarmo says the ArtE members draw inspiration from the butanding (whale shark), for which their hometown is known.

The idea of forming the ArtE came during the town’s annual mural painting contest at the Butanding Festival held every April.

The contestants who joined the event in 2005 later formed a group which was then called “Garasapgasap,” a Bicol term that denotes roughness.

Murals in town

“We were a group of 10, mostly out-of-school youth who could not afford college education,” says Elarmo.

Murals are noticeable masterpieces in the town proper of Donsol.

And they have a common message: To preserve the whale shark by protecting its habitat from illegal fishing and other forms of marine destruction.

In the coastal village of Dangcalan, where the Julia Campbell Ecology Center was built, murals painted by high school students on concrete fence stand as examples.

One work shows a school of fish and other marine creatures, like the butanding, holding placards as they protest illegal fishing.

Emmanuel Climaco, 18, one of the members of ArtE, says he started painting when he was 5 years old using a piece of stick as paintbrush and the soil as canvas.

He claims he was inspired by the success of other artists who also started painting as a hobby until they developed it into a craft now appreciated by many.

Climaco’s membership in ArtE prompted him to paint “Today’s tycoon, tomorrow’s pauper,” an abstract painting on climate change.

Last June 26, Climaco painted “Ozone,” which speaks about the depletion of the ozone layer due to harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

Elarmo says the talks given by environment groups like Greenpeace and community projects by individuals like Julia Campbell, who lived in Donsol briefly, helped foster environmental awareness among the artists.

Campbell was a US peace corps volunteer assigned in Bicol. She was murdered in Batad village in Ifugao province, where her body was found in a shallow grave on April 18 last year.

Her undertakings as peace corps volunteer, including her environmental projects and reading program for children, are recorded in her blog,

Campbell built a marine ecology center named “Bahay Kalikasan” (Nature House) at the coast of Barangay Dangcalan.

It serves as a community center on environmental protection where seminars on environmental science for children and solid waste management for adults are held.

Heritage preservation

Another artist, Cesar Gueta, a native of Monreal, Masbate, paints heritage sites in Albay—like old churches and old houses, to help preserve their value.

Gueta, 36, is an instructor at the department of architecture in Aquinas University in Legazpi City.

In an exhibit on Dec. 1-10, 2006, entitled “Life paintings: My heritage, your heritage, our heritage,” Gueta displayed 34 artworks he painted in one year.

Gueta says he was inspired to paint heritage-related themes when the Aquinas University College of Arts and Sciences pioneered research work on heritage houses.

“In the research, our school used digital documentation of the sites. I thought it would be a good idea to convert the photographs into paintings to help gain more interest from people,” Gueta says.

Among the heritage sites he has painted is the Our Lady of the Gate Parish in Daraga, Albay, an 18th century baroque church on a hill offering views of the Albay Gulf and the Mayon Volcano.

He also painted the famous Cagsawa belfry and ruins, where many people taking shelter during Mt. Mayon’s 1814 eruption died, and the parish church of San Juan Bautista in Tabaco, Albay, which was built in the 19th Century.

He also painted the ancestral house of renowned poet Angela Manalang-Gloria in Tabaco City, where historical markers were recently placed by the National Historical Institute, the Rosales and Nolasco houses in Camalig town—all of which are “bahay na bato” (stone houses) probably built in the early 1900s.

Also among Gueta’s favorite subjects are marketplaces.

He says these, too, can be considered part of heritage.

“But now with the fast-rising malls and modern bazaars, traditional marketplaces have become less popular. It will be good to preserve them, too, through my paintings,” Gueta says.

Most of the Bicol artists are continuously seeking avenues to popularize their works.

These painters say that the lack of support from the government and a appreciation from the people can be a drawback but since they paint for a cause, just like a waning heritage or some endangered fish species, they all persist to survive. Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon

NPA kills man tagged in activist’s slaying

15 December 2007

LEGAZPI CITY—CALLING IT THE SERVING of “revolutionary justice,” the New People’s Army in Bicol on Friday claimed responsibility for the killing Wednesday in Ligao City of the bodyguard of a former Albay governor.

The victim, identified by police as Expedito Ribaya, was driving a pick-up truck and was on his way home after attending a meeting at the Bahamas Irrigators Association, of which he was president, when he was shot several times in the body.

Florante Orobia, spokesperson of the NPA in Albay, said Ribaya was one of those behind the murder of Bayan Muna provincial coordinator Rodolfo Alvarado last year.

He said Ribaya was killed in an “arrest” operation conducted by guerrillas Dec. 12.

In an e-mail press statement, Orobia said Ribaya was supposed to face trial after his arrest but since he was heavily armed, the team of rebels decided to shoot him.

Orobia said a “deep investigation” conducted by the NPA’s Santos Binamera Command proved that Ribaya directly conspired with military death squads in killing Alvarado, who was a Bayan Muna party-list nominee.

He said Ribaya served as a lookout.

Alvarado, 53, was shot by a lone gunman aboard a motorcycle on New Year’s Eve last year.

Orobia said while Ribaya was one of the bodyguards of former Albay Gov. Fernando Gonzalez, he was also an active military agent.

Along with Southern Tagalog and Central Luzon, the Bicol Region is one of the areas in the country with the most extrajudicial killings from the time President Macapagal-Arroyo assumed office in 2001. Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon

No end in sight for delay in school repair

22 December 2007

LEGAZPI CITY—NO QUICK end is in sight for the repair and construction of schools that were damaged and destroyed by successive typhoons in Bicol as the Department of Education said it lacked P850 million more for the projects.

The DepEd regional office received P1.2 billion to build and repair the schools.

But Celedonio Layon, DepEd regional director, said that as of Dec. 15, 203 classrooms were still under construction and 792 were being repaired under the Bicol Calamity Assistance, Emergency Response project of the national government.

Eight school buildings have yet to be built and 107 others have yet to be constructed, he said.

Cost of school damage and destruction was estimated at P2.4 billion, although it wasn’t clear how the figure was arrived at.

Layon said the lack of funds meant only that not all schools would be repaired.

He said the DepEd had not requested additional funds.

President Macapagal-Arroyo, in a speech at the regional peace and security assembly in Masbate on Dec. 13, scolded education officials after learning that the school rehabilitation project was unfinished a year after the typhoons struck.

“Our goal now is to finish the rehabilitation of schools, up to what the funds will allow, before end of March in 2008,” Layon told the Inquirer.

He said that as of Dec. 15, 73 percent of ongoing school construction had been completed.

Damaged schools that have not been demolished to clear lots for new schools were counted as uncompleted repair work, he said.

The project was also hounded by bidding failures and fighting between government soldiers and communist guerrillas.

Layon said some contractors were being forced by rebels to pay taxes. This report has yet to be verified, however.

At a resettlement village in Taysan, a makeshift structure still serves as classroom for students displaced from their school in Barangay Padang, a lahar zone.

The grade school pupils have to endure the heat from iron sheets that served as roofing.

Without concrete flooring, the classroom would turn muddy during rainy days. Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon

Newly healed lives for survivors of ‘Reming’

03 December 2007
By Ephraim Aguilar
Inquirer Southern Luzon

LEGAZPI CITY—TO THE REFUGEES IN transit shelters at the Taysan resettlement village here, the flowers abloom around them showcase yet another facet of their new lives after Supertyphoon “Reming” struck on Nov. 30 last year.

The refugees, whose next of kin were among the dead and missing, can again afford to smell the roses a year since hurdling the dreary and ash-covered landscape in the villages of Albay after that mournful day.

The date marked one of the worst disasters to ever strike the province. Lahar from Mayon volcano buried thousands of people and homes.

Youths would meet up in groups to sing and play the guitar. Some played basketball. Mothers gathered to enjoy conversations during afternoon siesta. Others grow vegetables in small patches of land next to their houses.

The Taysan resettlement site cradles more than 300 displaced villagers from the lahar zones in Barangay Padang, one of the worst-hit in the city.

The “bayanihan” system can be observed as the refugees build houses where they will settle before Christmas.

Others were busy dismantling their old shanties which they had occupied for more than 10 months after being displaced.

Women are busy tending the sari-sari stores that thrive in the community. Some families set up stores in front of their newly built homes.

Some refugees sell charcoal and root crops at the site for a living.

Right after the typhoon, tension was palpable as people were starting all over again, much like chickens scratching for whatever grains they could scoop from a barren and deserted land.

The villagers were then fixing the shanties and tents that had served as temporary shelters, queuing for food rations and goods from relief agencies, painfully retelling the tragedy each time journalists visited them for interviews.

It is a different story today with the refugees living new lives.


Getting up was the most difficult thing for Anna Añonuevo, whose house was swept by lahar flows at the height of the super howler.

Floodwaters from gullies of the volcano washed away her parents and three siblings. Their bodies were never recovered.

Añonuevo, 23, the youngest in the family, was the sole survivor.

She finished college in March with a degree in education.

“My parents were not there to see me receive my diploma on stage. But I knew they were happy,” she said.

She said it was her father’s dream for her to become a teacher and she was determined to pursue it in return for her parents’ sacrifices.

Helping hand

A noontime variety show chose Añonuevo to be one of its beneficiaries and she was given cash gifts for her to start all over again.

She was able to buy new clothes and pay for the medication of her injuries.

In the hardest time of her life, her best friend’s family welcomed her to their house. She has been staying there for 11 months. It was where she spent her first Christmas without her family.

Rose Valladolid, 21, said taking Añonuevo to her home was like having a sister since she was an only child.

“Ana has been a very good friend who has helped me a lot, too. My parents know her and we all decided to help her. The tragedy made our friendship deeper and stronger,” Rose said.

Now, Ana is busy overseeing the construction of her house awarded to her through the core-shelter assistance project of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

A new chapter

Trauma counseling and stress debriefing sessions conducted by missionary volunteers were a big help for Ramon Balderama, 29, so he could heal emotionally.

Balderama tried to save his wife, his 4-year-old daughter, and 2-year-old son from the raging lahar but failed.

“I was mad at God for a while for allowing my wife and my children to perish in the tragedy and letting me live without them,” Balderama said. “But later I understood and accepted that it was all part of God’s test.”

Balderama found comfort from a friend he met at the resettlement site. That friend later became his wife.

Despite criticisms, they got married at the Taysan village chapel on Feb. 28.

His wife Lita, 24, lost her mother, two sisters, and two nephews.

“It was the reason I easily empathized with (my husband’s) situation. We both lost our loved ones and we were there to care for each other after the tragedy,” Lita said.

Balderama said he would never forget his wife and children who died, and that he still missed them a lot.

But, he said, he felt blessed that he now expected a new baby. Lita is 6 months pregnant.

“People may not understand our decision [to get married], but this is probably God’s way of giving us a new life after the tragedy that hurt us deeply,” Lita said in Filipino.

Youngest survivor

Not many people might know it, but Mercy Arquero’s child could be the youngest yet undocumented survivor from the lahar in Padang.

Her fifth daughter was in her womb when she was swept off by lahar. She was then 4 months pregnant.

She lost her year-old baby, two other children in the flood.

In May, Mercy gave birth to her baby. She named her “Mayonisa” after the volcano.

“I thank God I delivered a normal and healthy baby,” Arquero said.

For Ana, Ramon and his wife Lita, Mercy and Mayonisa, the wounds brought by the November tragedy may take time to heal, but they hope to draw strength from their newly healed lives.

‘Pinangat’ traders keep Albay town on tourism map

02 December 2007
By Ephraim Aguilar
Inquirer Southern Luzon

CAMALIG, Albay—If huge fast-food chains have “drive-through” outlets, this town has its own version.

But instead of hamburgers and fried chicken, it sells the town’s famous native delicacy—the pinangat.

Lurking in profitable corners of this town are stores along the main highway, where travelers passing by could simply stop and buy pinangat.

Pinangat—Camalig, Albay’s town product—is a famous native vegetable cuisine cooked in coconut milk mixed with select spices.

Its main ingredient is the taro leaves, which is gabi in Filipino and natong in Bicol.

Rolando Nicerio, 38, is one of those entrepreneurs who make pinangat more than just a household delicacy. He creates a product even tourists can enjoy.

He is the owner of the thriving Dad’s Special Pinangat that he put up in 1999.

Nicerio says he started cooking pinangat when he was 12.

He lived in his aunt’s house, who was a home economics teacher and, at that time, a maker and seller of pinangat.

“I learned to cook pinangat by helping my aunt prepare the orders. At age 12, I could already cook pinangat alone,” Nicerio says.

A management graduate, Nicerio told himself after finishing college that he wanted to put up his own business since searching for employment was like a wild goose chase.

Nicerio did not have second thoughts that it was pinangat-making that could earn him a living since it was a craft that he knew very well.

He was also encouraged by the cheap raw materials that would not require him a very big capital.

In 1999, the year he started his business, the ingredients were very cheap, he says.

Coconut was only P2 to P3 per piece while taro leaves cost only P80 per sack.

He could cook 70 to 80 pieces of pinangat from a budget of P500 and earn more than P1,000 in return.

The pinangat was then being sold at P25 per piece.

“I started cooking 30 to 50 pieces of pinangat and sold it in my house. After a week, I was making around a hundred pieces of pinangat every day,” Nicero says.

Now, after storms ravaged coconut plantations in Bicol late last year, a piece of coconut costs P12 to P15.

Nicerio says he only used coconut from Bicol for his pinangat since this variety produces a sweeter milk.

Meanwhile, a sack of taro leaves now costs P480. The pinangat is now being sold at P30 per piece.

Nicerio would get coconut from his relatives who planted coconut at the foot of Mayon Volcano.

Quality control

Nicerio says what makes his pinangat special is that he cooks it himself.

He says cooking pinangat is a meticulous craft and that he wants to make sure his product is consistently good.

There are two kinds of pinangat traders in Camalig—those who cook their products themselves and those who only sell what they have bought from pinangat-makers in the villages.

Nicerio says if the trader sells only what he cooks, he has easier control of the product’s quality and sanitation.

The first thing he does in cooking pinangat is sort the gabi leaves by choosing only the good ones.

He says the good variety of gabi for pinangat-making are the soft ones, those that grow along streams of fresh water.

Pinangat’s other ingredients are garlic, ginger and pepper.

Nicerio also adds shrimp, chicken, pork, or dried fish—depending on the choice of the customers.

Pinangat is sold either frozen or fresh, spicy or classic.

Nicerio cooks pinangat in firewood because, he says, it gives a better and more inviting smell for his pinangat.

Improved packaging

Nicerio says packaging evolved through the years since pinangat was becoming widely recognized as a town product.

Before, he says, customers would not mind if the pinangat was wrapped in a plastic bag. But now, since more tourists buy pinangat, they have to wrap it in a foil, then in a plastic or styrofoam.

Nicerio, who is also president of the newly formed Pinangat-Makers’ Association, says the Department of Trade and Industry in Albay has been helping them improve the packaging of the town product.

The DTI gave the association for free 35,000 designed boxes labeled “Camalig Pinangat.”

It also bears “nutrition facts” in the glossy packaging, which made the local cuisine marketable even in malls and more presentable as gifts or pasalubong.

However, the new packaging increased the price of pinangat since each box would cost P7.

Early traditions

There are no exact accounts in Bicol history that show the origin of pinangat.

However, Legazpi City Museum curator Dr. Erlinda Gonzales-Belleza says abundance of taro leaves had been depicted in the famous Bicolano epic “Ibalong.”

There was a scene in the epic wherein a wild boar attacked the “linza” plantation of folkloric hero Baltog, who was believed to be first settler in the land.

The line goes: “To Bicol (Baltog) came pursuing a fierce wild boar, which by nighttime destroyed his linza plantation.”

Linza is a root crop from the taro plant, Belleza says.

Nicerio says pinangat was originally cooked as what is presently known as laing in earthen pots natively called koron or palayok in Filipino.

Laing is a simple dish of taro leaves cooked in spices and coconut milk mixed with meat or seafood.

In the passing of time, Nicerio said, the natives thought of improving the way the food is garnished to make it more presentable to visitors.

“The natives learned to wrap the mixture in gabi leaves and tied it with dried coconut leaves,” Nicerio says.

The pinangat has also been known to have medicinal benefits since the ingredients are herbs, says Nicerio. Every serving is Vitamin A-rich and has a good patronage among Chinese buyers.

Export potentials

Nicerio says pinangat is saleable since it is a delicacy unique to their town. It is easy to market locally since the industry is already well-known.

“Buyers from other places would troop to Camalig only for our pinangat,” he says in the vernacular.

Nicerio says he also saw great export potentials in the pinangat. He says the pinangat can keep long for as long as it is kept frozen.

Frozen pinangat is also served as a sandwich spread.

Sales peak from November to June.

He says most of his buyers are people visiting Bicol during the Christmas and summer seasons.

During the week, there are more buyers on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Nicerio, who would soon open a restaurant in Camalig, also accepts orders from Metro Manila.

The payment is done through money transfer and the pinangat is delivered a day after the order is placed.

Dad’s Special Pinangat also sells bottled Bicol Express—chilies and other ingredients cooked in coconut milk—for P75 each.

Camalig is a developing agricultural town of around 13,000 hectares east of Daraga, Albay at the southern part of Mayon Volcano.

For inquiries: 0916-8463923

‘Reming’ survivors recall dead kin, move on

02 December 2007

LEGAZPI CITY—CANDLES were lit and church bells were rang simultaneously in Albay province as people remembered their departed loved ones on Nov. 30, a year after the tragedy caused by Supertyphoon “Reming” that killed more than a thousand people.

In his homily during a Mass at the Albay Capitol, Msgr. Ramon Tronqued stressed the importance of remembering not only the victims of Reming and what the typhoon had caused them.

Tronqued, parish priest of St. John the Baptist Church in Tabaco City, said those who have made a difference in the people’s lives should be remembered just as well.

The Mass was attended by provincial government officials and employees.

“The persons responsible for why we are here, or who we are now and what we are now,” he said, referring to the thousands of people who shared so much concern and solidarity after the typhoon.

“And because of that, we knew that we were not alone and we would survive. Because of them, we saw the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

He asked the people not to forget all those who helped as life was almost back to normal in Albay.

“The best way of not forgetting is by being witnesses and continuing to do the good deeds of others,” he said, adding that this was the best way of remembering and saying thank you.

The prayer, Oratio Imperata for Deliverance from Calamities was also read by Cedric Daep, head of the Albay Public Safety and Emergency Management Office (Apsemo).

The prayer, which has been recited since Oct. 28 in all the churches in the Legazpi Diocese, was said to have helped in the change of direction of typhoon “Mina,” which was expected to hit the Bicol region last Nov. 24.


In Barangay Padang in Legazpi City, Shaina Ferrer silently sat near a grotto at the lahar site here as she lighted a candle and uttered a silent prayer.

This was the 6-year-old girl’s way of remembering her grandparents and 2-year-old cousin who were swept away by torrents of lahar at the height of Reming.

The whole neighborhood in this small community of survivors amid a rocky wasteland also marked a day of remembrance.

Padang is one of the villages in the southeast quadrant of Mayon volcano, where the crater rim is lowest and much volcanic debris had been deposited in the past eruptions.

It became a pathway of the lahar when floodwaters overflowed from the original gullies that flushed out water to the Albay Gulf.

Ten households heard Mass in a nipa hut that they had built for the occasion.

The families specially prepared food that they shared with one another.

Isidro Santander Jr., a village councilor, said his two children and wife died in the tragedy.

He said they did not want to remember the tragedy but only how they lived happily as one family before the typhoon wrought havoc to their lives.

Now, Santander lives with his two other children who survived.

Moving on

Fr. Rommel Antiquera, of the St. Vincent Ferrer Parish in the neighboring village of Bigaa, said some of the about 70 people who attended the Mass came from the hilly resettlement site in Barangay Taysan.

“We must spend time loving our families for we never know when they will be gone,” the priest said.

Felizardo Arienda, 35, said most of them had already moved on and accepted the tragedy that struck their village.

In Daraga town, lighted candles, orchids and makeshift markers adorned the deserted spot where a home used to stand only a year ago in Barangay Busay.

Friends and relatives quietly paid their respects to Daisy Llaguno and her family who were among the many chilling casualties of Reming in the village.

Daisy, her four children, and seven others were trapped inside their house when volcanic rocks and debris coming from the slopes of the Mayon volcano were triggered by the typhoon, causing a deadly mudflow.

The two-story house was completely washed out. Half of the house was recovered in neighboring Barangay Binitayan in the aftermath.

Only two bodies were recovered of the 12 that took shelter in the house: that of the family maid, and in her arms, the third Llaguno child, April.

They are survived by the family patriarch, Ariel Llaguno, who was abroad when the tragedy struck his family.


As early as 9 a.m. Friday, Daisy’s eldest sister and neighbor, Norma Montero, 45, was already lighting candles and keeping a personal vigil on the spot.

She was joined by three of Daisy’s co-teachers and friends from the Pag-asa National High School in nearby Legazpi City.

Being neighbors, Norma and Daisy were close sisters, with the former being the eldest and the latter being the second child.

Norma recalled how kind and dedicated ‘Dais’ was to her children, saying “she wouldn’t have left them behind.”

“All I can offer now are prayers and these flowers because Dais liked plants,” Norma said, motioning to the two pots of orchids near her feet.

She said she wanted Daisy to know that she loved and missed her.

“I would also like to say sorry to her for not being able to recover all of their bodies,” she said.


Dariel, or “Din-din,” the eldest of the Llaguno children, would have been a graduating student today at the Philippine Science High School in Camarines Sur.

Her friends and classmates also visited Busay Friday morning, holding a memorial on the spot where Din-din once lived.

They lit candles and put up a tiny flag using barbecue sticks and an empty shampoo sachet.

Norma said that Ariel had once again returned home from Qatar Thursday.

In honor of his wife and children, he attended the memorial Mass held Friday morning in neighboring Barangay Pandan, where most of the Busay residents have been relocated.

“He has accepted the loss and is doing fine,” Norma said of her brother-in-law.

A Mass was also held Thursday in Legazpi City by the faculty and students of the Pag-asa National High School, where peace for Daisy and her family was prayed for, said Nannette Llaguno, 37, Daisy’s co-teacher and sister-in-law.

“We simply have to move on, otherwise, the agony of losing loved ones will crush us,” Norma said.

In Guinobatan town, about a hundred Reming survivors, all wearing white shirts, gathered at the Our Lady of Assumption Parish Church to attend a Holy Mass celebrated by Fr. Dave Ramoso.

At least 41 colored photos mostly taken in the town during and after Reming are also displayed in a photo exhibit entitled “Reming’s shadow remains” at the Social Hall of the town from Nov. 30 to Dec. 9. Joanna P. Los Baños, Ephraim Aguilar, Jaymee T. Gamil, Inquirer Southern Luzon

‘I hate you, Mina’text jokes circulate

26 November 2007
By Ephraim Aguilar
Inquirer Southern Luzon

LEGAZPI CITY—I hate you, Mina.

This was part of a popular text joke that circulated among Al-

bay residents yesterday after Typhoon “Mina” suddenly changed its course.

The full text joke was: “I hate you, Mina! Ano ba talaga? Saan ka ba talaga? MINA-luya, MINA-kusog, MINA-uran, MINA-paros! Ano daw kun MINA-layas ka na sana! (Where are you really, Mina? You slow down, you gain strength, you bring rains, you bring winds. What if you just go away!)”

“Mina” is a Bicol prefix added to a verb to denote an action in the present tense.

Mina was also fondly nicknamed “Ara Mina” by some residents.

When Albay folk sent text messages to radio shows to ask about the latest weather update, they would say, “Kumusta na si Mina (How is Mina)?” referring to the typhoon as if it were a person.

Coping mechanism

Dolly Laguilles, sociology professor in Bicol University here, said the text jokes were the people’s way of coping with the stress caused by preparations to avoid the typhoon’s wrath.

“You see the humor of the Filipino? It’s a good coping mechanism as long as it maintains respect toward other people,” Laguilles said.

She, however, lashed out at the comment made by a male radio announcer, who on Saturday morning compared Mina’s erratic behavior to that of a woman.

“He was saying it was typical for Typhoon Mina, just like a woman, to change her mind,” Laguilles said.

Sexual innuendo

She added that jokes were circulating through text messages that Mina could not move “dahil napapatungan pa siya ni Lando (because Lando was on top of her).”

Lando hit the Visayas before Mina did.

“It was a sexual innuendo. Women are always subjected to [this] in macho conversations,” Laguilles, a feminist, told the Inquirer in a mobile phone interview.

Although male names were now being used to name typhoons, she said, gender bias still prevailed as reflected in the sexist comments and jokes.

She added there was a need to educate people to be more gender-sensitive.

Human traits

Laguilles said it could be the “baransagan” (name-calling) culture that made it easy to associate typhoons with people.

“No mother would want to name her children Reming or Sisang,” she said.

She noted that people easily associated Typhoon Mina with Ara Mina, a popular celebrity.

But more than that, Laguilles said, typhoons were also believed to have a quality of “spontaneity” just like human beings.

She said typhoons could be associated with emotions of people who could go into a frenzy or who could get angry.

Not all that bad

Laguilles said a Bicol historian once wrote that the typhoons that frequented the Bicol peninsula were not all that bad.

She said the historian, whose name she could not recall, wrote something like this: “The Bicol region was abundantly blessed with natural wonders, God had to invent typhoons to balance everything.”

Typhoon spares Bicol

25 November 2007
‘Mina’ lingers at sea, veers north to Aurora, Quezon
By Alcuin Papa, TJ Burgonio, Ephraim Aguilar and Jaymee Gamil

WHAT WAS FEARED TO BE “SUPERTYPHOON MINA” changed course early yesterday and veered toward the provinces of Aurora and Quezon, appearing to have spared the Bicol region.

At noon, around 96,000 evacuees from coastal villages and flood-prone areas in Albay province were given the go-signal to return to their homes.

With the 11 a.m. weather bulletin showing little change in Mina’s course, the Albay Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council issued an advisory to local government units and disaster coordinating councils telling them to send the evacuees home.

The credibility of Pagasa’s forecasts was once again questioned after it reported a change in the typhoon’s track.

At a media briefing yesterday morning at the Office of Civil Defense in Camp Gen. Simeon Ola, Albay Gov. Joey Salceda expressed his continued faith in the weather bureau.

But he said he was strongly recommending the upgrade of Pagasa’s forecasting equipment. (See “What went wrong” on Page A6.)

Mina (international name: Mitag), still packing maximum winds of 175 kilometers per hour and gustiness of up to 210 kph, changed track and swirled from west to northwest at around 5 a.m., heading straight for northern Luzon.

It was forecast to make landfall between Aurora and Isabela tonight. Based on its earlier track, it was expected to hit Catanduanes last night.

“The change in track was an offshoot of its interaction with Typhoon ‘Lando.’ Since Lando exited in the west, Mina tended to move northwest,” Pagasa weather forecaster Christopher Perez said in a phone interview.

Perez said Mina had “swirled into a weak stirring movement.”

“That’s why it was almost stationary for the past 12 hours,” he said.

This morning, the typhoon is forecast to be 210 km southeast of Casiguran, Aurora.

In its 5 p.m. bulletin yesterday, the weather bureau Pagasa said Mina remained almost stationary over the Philippine Sea, some 180 km east northeast of Virac, Catanduanes.

Signal No. 3 remained in effect over Catanduanes and Camarines Norte.

Camarines Sur, Albay, Quezon, Quirino, Aurora and Isabela were placed under Signal No. 2, while Sorsogon, Romblon, Marinduque, Oriental Mindoro, Batangas, Laguna, Rizal, Bulacan, Nueva Vizcaya, Ifugao, Kalinga, Mountain Province and Cagayan remained under Signal No. 1.

But Mina is still expected to bring stormy weather to the Bicol region, Perez said.

“Within the next three days, the eastern parts of the Visayas and Luzon should expect moderate to heavy rains, with gusty winds in Bicol and northern Samar,” he said.

In Legazpi City, Cedric Daep, executive officer of the Albay Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council (PDCC), said around 70,000 persons who were evacuated from lahar zones around Mayon Volcano still had to stay in government-run shelters until further notice.

Even Anthony Golez, spokesperson of the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) and deputy administrator of the Office of Civil Defense, said “the worst was not yet over” for Bicol.

“Let’s wait for the typhoon to leave the Philippine area of responsibility,” he said in a news conference at Camp Aguinaldo.

Golez also said President Macapagal-Arroyo had ordered the “preemptive evacuation” of tens of thousands of residents of coastal and mountainous areas in Aurora and Quezon.

Perez said that “by Sunday, we should expect stormy weather over northern Luzon, and moderate rain in the Bicol region.”

“On Monday, when the typhoon is already off the coast of Ilocos Sur, it will be stormy in the Ilocos region, with light to moderate rains in other parts of Luzon,” he said.

Metro Manila will be cloudy, with rain showers and occasional gusty winds.

New evacuations

Close to 100,000 people are set to be evacuated from coastal areas and riverbanks in Aurora and Isabela.

OCD administrator Glenn Rabonza told reporters yesterday that based on information from local officials, 54,000 people will be evacuated in Isabela and another 40,000 in Aurora.

Isabela Gov. Grace Padaca, who took a call from Ms Arroyo during a meeting of the NDCC yesterday afternoon, said most of the evacuees were from the coastal areas of Palanan and Dinapigue towns.

Rabonza said preparations for Mina’s coming were “very good” despite its change of course. He said military units and assets in areas likely to be affected by the typhoon’s new path had been mobilized.

Mina has displaced more than 1,000 families in three provinces in the Visayas.

Reports reaching the regional office of the Department of Social Welfare and Development in Eastern Visayas revealed that the displaced families, representing 5,615 persons, came from various towns in Northern Samar, Eastern Samar and Biliran provinces.

At-risk residents

According to NDCC spokesperson Golez, more than 200,000 evacuees in Bicol will have to remain in evacuation centers.

“The President has instructed the NDCC to take precautionary and preventive measures. Provincial governors have been alerted, and all contingency plans are in place,” Golez said.

He said Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr., the NDCC chair, had relayed Ms Arroyo’s instruction to regional disaster officials in the Ilocos, Cordillera, Cagayan Valley, and Central and Southern Luzon, as well as the Armed Forces.

Golez said the new round of evacuations would start with residents of coastal areas at risk from storm surges, and people living along riverbanks and on mountain slopes threatened by floods and landslides.

“The evacuation is taking place as of the moment… We are looking at around tens of thousands [of residents],” he said, adding that government agencies as well as the AFP Northern Luzon Command had been mobilized.

Pagasa director Prisco Nilo said the weather bureau had prepared two scenarios for Mina—one, that it would slam into the Bicol region, and the other, that it would head for Aurora and Quezon. (See Box.)

“Now, Pagasa has informed us that the storm would follow the second scenario,” Golez said.

2 weather systems

Nilo said a weakening high-pressure area northwest of the country near Hong Kong, and Lando, which left the country last week, was pulling Mina north, while another high-pressure area trailing Mina over the Pacific Ocean was also pushing Mina northward into its new course.

The change of course was detected at around 4 a.m. yesterday, Nilo said.

“[The two weather systems] modified the environmental systems surrounding the typhoon, changing its movement,” he said.

According to Nilo, Mina will gather strength as it approaches land and weaken when it hits Aurora and Isabela tonight.

After making landfall, Mina is likely to cut through the provinces of Quirino, Nueva Vizcaya, Ifugao, Mountain Province, Benguet and Ilocos Sur, he said.

The storm is likely to exit Ilocos Sur by noon tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Magat Dam in Isabela and Angat Dam in Bulacan are continuing to release water to prevent overflow.

Binga and Ambuklao Dams in Benguet have likewise released water into San Roque Dam in Pangasinan.

AFP’s focus

The AFP spokesperson, Lt. Col. Bartolome Bacarro, also announced that the military leadership had declared a suspension of military offensive operations (Somo) effective at noon yesterday against communist rebels in the entire Luzon, including the Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan) area.

Bacarro said the Somo was declared “to support the government’s disaster preparedness, to proactively mitigate and respond to anticipated destruction to be brought about by Mina and to allow the AFP to focus on its disaster-response role in the areas affected by the typhoon.”

Decreasing pressure

In Legazpi City, Lilian Guillermo, weather specialist of the Pagasa-Legazpi station, said the decreasing pressure in northern Luzon was the main factor that triggered Mina to change course.

Guillermo said that if Mina did not change course the whole of yesterday and maintained its 11-kph speed, the closest possible distance it would have from north of Legazpi would be almost 200 km this morning.

She said Mina’s radius was around 350 km, so it could still bring rainfall and winds to Albay.

On Friday, Mina was moving westward and was expected to hit the Bicol region at dawn yesterday.

Albay residents were expecting to feel Mina’s impact early yesterday, but there were only isolated rains and moderately strong winds.


Salceda apologized to local families and businessmen for the short-term disruption of their livelihood, but said it was the price to pay for a “zero casualty” target.

He said the preemptive evacuation had already cost at least P19 million.

A total of P5.4 million was also released by the Albay provincial government to the provincial health office for the emergency purchase of medicines.

“The current supply of food packs for 34,000 is still up for distribution. It was a commitment,” Salceda said.

No additional evacuations had been undertaken as of 5 p.m. Friday.

The PDCC said there were 156,000 persons (or 32,344 families) from over 90 affected Albay villages staying in different shelters as of Friday night. With a report from Joey A. Gabieta, Inquirer Visayas

‘Mina’ roars toward Bicol

24 November 2007
Massive evacuation before storm called ‘unprecedented’
By Jaymee Gamil and Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzonand TJ Burgonio in Manila

WITH “MINA” THREATENing to turn into a supertyphoon, tens of thousands of people yesterday streamed into schoolhouses, barangay halls and church grounds in the Bicol region to avoid its wrath.

“This is an unprecedented move,” Albay Gov. Joey Salceda said of the massive evacuation. “While before, evacuation was being done during and after the typhoon had struck, now we are doing it days before the typhoon reaches us.”

Mina roared toward Bicol with sustained winds of 175 kph and gustiness of up to 210 kph, prompting warnings from the weather bureau that it could wreak heavy damage once it landed.

A typhoon with maximum winds of 215 kph is classified as a supertyphoon.

“It looks headed in that direction,” Pagasa weather branch chief Nathaniel Cruz said, when asked if Mina could develop into a supertyphoon like “Reming” that killed 734 people and caused massive damage in Bicol and Southern Tagalog in November last year.

At least two people yesterday drowned in floods in Buhi and Caramoan towns in Camarines Sur triggered by heavy rains.

By 5 p.m., Mina had slowed its approach from 9 kph to 7 kph, delaying its expected landfall in Catanduanes today by several hours.

This could bode ill for the country, according to experts at the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa).

“No other weather system, like a high pressure area, is pushing it, that’s why it has slowed down,” senior weather specialist Robert Sawi said. “But once it hits land, it will be more destructive because the rains and winds will last longer in one area.”

Cruz said: “[If it’s slower], the onslaught of the strong winds will take more time in an area. Structures, trees and crops that will be subject to strong winds should be our concern.”

At its current speed, the typhoon could hit the southern part of Catanduanes tonight.

Metro Manila is expected to have cloudy weather with isolated rainshowers, according to Sawi.

Rescue at sea

The Coast Guard said 30 of 55 Filipino fishermen had been rescued after their boat sank due to bad weather off Pag-asa Island in Palawan late Thursday night.

It said it had deployed a search and rescue team and was coordinating with the Chinese maritime authorities to find those missing.

“The China Maritime Coordinating Center informed the Coast Guard about the incident around 10 p.m.,” spokesperson Lt. Armand Balilo said.

In Cebu, MV South Pacific ran aground but its 50 passengers and 19 crewmen were later rescued, the coast guard said.

State of calamity

Relief officials have stepped up evacuation of threatened areas in Albay, Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte, Sorsogon, Catanduanes in Bicol and Marinduque.

Albay has been declared under a state of calamity. A similar declaration remained in force in Catanduanes.

As of 11 a.m., the Bicol Office of Civil Defense reported there were already 16,978 families or 195,247 persons evacuated in the whole region.

Albay had the biggest number of evacuees followed by Camarines Sur, with 7,404 families; Camarines Norte, 484 families; Catanduanes, 356; and Sorsogon, 304.

Camarines Sur

The provincial disaster coordinating council in Camarines Sur reported that as of 12 noon Friday, there were 8,096 families or 37,590 persons evacuated in 16 towns.

Gov. Luis Raymond Villafuerte ordered the distribution of food packs to evacuees in 34 centers before the situation worsened.

Evacuation continued in all coastal and lakeside areas using military and local government unit trucks.


People were fleeing more than 90 hazard-prone villages in Albay.

The provincial government said it was targeting the evacuation of around 654,000 persons, 236,000 of whom were categorized as “on-site evacuees” to be housed in government-run shelters.

The remaining 418,000 persons were expected to relocate to stronger houses nearby or on safer grounds.

These “off-site” evacuees would still be given access to relief goods.

At least 141,600 people were being force-evacuated on or before the 8 p.m. Friday deadline.

Salceda’s priorities

Salceda said the priorities for evacuation were those living in flood-prone areas near river channels, gullies, and those in the eastern seaboard of the Albay gulf.

Places covered by the eastern seaboard are Tabaco and Legazpi and the towns of Tiwi, Malinao, Malilipot, Bacacay, Sto. Domingo, Manito and Rapu-Rapu.

Meteorologists said the northern areas of the eastern seaboard were particularly at risk from storm surges.

Some 44,913 people living in lahar zones had also been prioritized for evacuation by Thursday night.

Public and private schools, barangay halls, chapels and churches served as common temporary shelters for the evacuees.


At least five villages in four towns of the province have remained impassable since Thursday owing to landslides and rockfalls.

Catanduanes Gov. Joseph Cua said relief items consisting of 1,000 bags of NFA rice and boxes of sardines could not be transported to at least 2,000 families housed in evacuation centers province-wide.

More than 200 passengers bound for Catanduanes were stranded at the Tabaco International Port.


Fearing a repeat of the supertyphoon that hit Sorsogon last year, thousands of residents streamed to various evacuation centers.

Residents along coastal villages secured their boats—a precious possession among fishermen. Fishing boats were either kept inside the owner’s houses or carried to evacuation centers.

As of Thursday afternoon, the city disaster coordinating council recorded around 20,000 evacuees at various centers.

Mayor Leovic Dioneda said they expected more evacuees and might carry out a forced evacuation should the situation worsen.


People living in coastal and low-lying areas and riverbanks and those living near dams and landslide-prone places had been asked to evacuate.

Jaime Barbosa, Marinduque provincial administrator, said classes in all levels were suspended and provincial personnel were sent home early.

At least 500 passengers were stranded at the Allen port in Northern Samar after the Coast Guard barred all sea craft from leaving port.

In Pililla, Rizal, some 3,000 residents of a village lost their water supply after a landslide damaged pipes that carried water from the upland to taps in mountainside homes.

Houses in Barangay Niogan were cut off from the main water source, the Batlag creek, after a rush of mud, boulders and water rumbled down a hill around 7:30 a.m. yesterday, local officials said.

Stronger than ‘Lando’

Pagasa’s Prisco Nilo said late yesterday afternoon that Mina had not moved.

“We are having difficulty in projecting where it will hit. But our projection is toward Bicol Region,” Nilo said in a briefing at the National Disaster Coordinating Council in Camp Aguinaldo attended by President Macapagal-Arroyo.

Ms Arroyo noted that Mina was three times stronger than Typhoon “Lando,” which cut across the Visayas region a few days ago.

“It would be worse if we don’t take strong measures,” Ms Arroyo said.

Nilo said Mina was expected to be off the coast of Oriental Mindoro by Sunday morning and past Mindoro by Monday morning.

Target: Zero casualties

Bernardo Alejandro, chief of the Bicol Office of Civil Defense, said most of the evacuees, came from villages in Camarines Sur and Albay near the foot of Mayon Volcano, where the threat of lahar loomed.

“The evacuation is ongoing ... We are hoping to meet our target of zero casualties,” Alejandro said.

Public Storm Signal No. 3 was raised in the provinces of Catanduanes, Sorsogon, Albay, Burias Island, and the Camarines provinces.

Signal No. 2 was raised in southern Quezon, Polilio Island, and the provinces of Marinduque, Romblon and Masbate.

Signal No. 1 was raised in the Mindoro provinces, the rest of Quezon, Batangas, Laguna, Rizal, Aurora, Isabela, Quirino, and the Calamian Group of Islands.

Pagasa said the storm’s winds would be felt in Metro Manila.

Metro Manila was last hit by a supertyphoon in late 2006, when “Milenyo” downed power and communication lines and billboards along major roads in the metropolis.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said military units in Bicol as well as Metro Manila had been alerted. With reports from Bobby Labalan, Fernan Gianan and Gerald Gene Querubin, Inquirer Southern Luzon; Joey A. Gabieta, Inquirer Visayas, and Margaux C. Ortiz, Tarra Quismundo and Alcuin Papa in Manila

1M Bicol folk told to flee

23 November 2007
13th storm expected to hit land tomorrow
By Ephraim Aguilar and Jaymee Gamil, Inquirer Southern Luzon and TJ Burgonio in Manila

THE 13TH STORM TO menace the Philippines this year bore down on the Bicol region yesterday, prompting provincial authorities to order mass evacuations in various areas with a combined population of close to a million.

Albay Gov. Joey Salceda said more than 600,000 people were targeted for evacuation in his province, while Bicol civil defense chief Raffy Alejandro said another 200,000 needed to be moved out of harm’s way in Camarines Sur.

But the evacuation was proceeding at an apparently slow pace.

As of 5 p.m. yesterday, only a total of 9,437 families—or 45,923 people—had been evacuated in Albay, records from the Albay Disaster Coordinating Council and the Office of Civil Defense showed.

Another 2,275 people had fled to evacuation centers in Camarines Sur and 1,125 to shelters in Sorsogon, relief officials said.

“We cannot prevent disasters but certainly we can undertake measures to prevent the loss of lives and reduce damage to property,” said President Macapagal-Arroyo, who flew back home on Wednesday night after attending a summit of Southeast Asian leaders in Singapore.

Signal No. 2

Tropical Storm “Mina” gained strength and developed into a full-blown typhoon yesterday as it swirled nearer to land, packing winds of 140 kph, with gusts of 170 kph.

As of 4 p.m., it was hovering over the Philippine Sea and could hit Catanduanes by Saturday, weather bureau experts said.

Aside from Catanduanes, Storm Signal No. 2 has been raised over Sorsogon, Albay, Burias island, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, southern Quezon and northern Samar.

Signal No. 1 was raised over Romblon, Marinduque, Batangas, Laguna, the rest of Quezon, Aurora, Rizal, Oriental Mindoro, Masbate, western Samar, eastern Samar and Biliran island.

‘Forced evacuation’

Salceda said that although Ms Arroyo’s order was for “a preemptive evacuation” of threatened areas, “what we are actually doing now is a forced evacuation of residents in lahar-prone areas.”

Those refusing to leave their houses would be made to sign a waiver that they chose not to be evacuated, he said.

If they refuse to sign the waiver, police will be authorized to put their names down on the blotter, he added.

Memories of “Reming”

The threat from Mina came almost a year to the day after Supertyphoon “Reming” ravaged the Bicol and Southern Tagalog regions with 195 kph center winds.

Reming killed 734 people, mostly in Bicol, and injured more than 1,000. It wrecked or damaged more than half a million houses.

“We have not yet recovered from Reming and now there is another typhoon coming,” one Albay resident said on television.

Hundreds of people who lost their homes during Reming are still homeless up to now, staying in cramped evacuation centers.

Back-to-back cyclones

Mina threatened the Bicol area shortly after Storm “Lando” pummeled the Visayas region, killing 11 people.

Vicente Manalo, senior Pagasa forecaster, urged residents on the path of floods and lahar from Mayon Volcano to evacuate.

Cedric Daep, head of the Albay provincial disaster coordinating committee, said residents of communities near the slopes of Mayon and those living near river channels were the first to be moved out.

Areas prone to mudflows or lahar include parts of the cities of Tabaco, Ligao and Legazpi and the towns of Guinobatan, Camalig, Daraga, Sto. Domingo and Malilipot.

Residents in the towns of Oas, Libon and Polangui, tagged flood-prone, were also ordered to flee.

Families in danger areas of Legazpi, Tabaco, Tiwi, Bacacay, Malinao, Malilipot, Sto. Domingo and Manito will also have to be moved out, Salceda said.

Children, women first

The governor warned that families living on the coast were at risk of storm surges. People living in houses made of light materials also must go, he said.

Salceda said women and children were the first to be evacuated while male members of the families were allowed to stay behind to watch over their houses until Storm Signal No. 3 is hoisted and then they must leave, too.

He said he had asked Ms Arroyo to release at least P67 million for Albay to buy food and water for the evacuees.

The province has run out of medicines, according to Dr. Julian Salazar, assistant provincial health officer.

Salceda said he had ordered prices of basic commodities monitored to prevent traders from taking advantage of the impending disaster by jacking up prices.

Misery, elsewhere

Classes have been suspended and public schools will be converted into shelters for the expected flood of thousands of evacuees.

As of 5 p.m., evacuation was still going on in the threatened provinces.

Salceda said 62 percent of the 53,000 people living in lahar-prone areas had already been evacuated.

He said more than 10,000 families still had to be moved out of flood-prone areas.

Pagasa said that even if Albay would not be directly hit, heavy rains and strong winds were still expected in the province.

As of 3:30 p.m. yesterday, the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council of Camarines Sur listed 32 flooded barangays in the towns of Magarao, Caramoan, Buhi and Bato.

Camarines Sur Gov. Luis Raymund “LRay” Villafuerte Jr. ordered forced evacuations in flooded and landslide-prone areas.

Evacuations were also going on in Sorsogon.

In Catanduanes, sea travel has been suspended, stranding hundreds of people in ports.

In a report to the regional disaster council, Catanduanes Gov. Joseph Cua said heavy rains had made “all water conduits overflowing and hillsides more prone to soil movements.”

Major roads in Catanduanes remained impassable following landslides and rockfalls triggered by Lando, Cua said.

The Viga national section road and some roads leading to and from Virac, San Miguel, Viga, Payo, Bagamanoc, Pandan, Caramoran, Pangsabloyon, Bato, Baras and Gigmoto were either closed or hardly passable due to landslides, he said.

In Camarines Norte, flooding has cut off the route along Maharlika Highway at Sitio Namunakan, Barangay Daguit, in the town of Labo.

Arnel S. Ferrer of the Public Safety Office and Emergency Management Office reported that the flooding was caused by heavy rains since Tuesday that made the river swell and spill over to the highway, stranding buses plying the superhighway to Bicol, the Visayas and Mindanao areas.

Mindoro also suffers

In Oriental Mindoro, the municipal council of Naujan declared the entire town under a state of calamity after knee-deep floodwaters brought by incessant rains inundated at least 16 villages.

Senior Supt. Agrimero Cruz, Oriental Mindoro police director, said the affected villages were mostly farming communities.

Despite the stormy weather yesterday, Ms Arroyo hopped from one city to another in Mindanao to inspect areas devastated by Lando and to check on preparations for the approach of Mina.

Upon her arrival late Wednesday from Singapore, she headed straight to Davao City on a Learjet, spending the night there.

Yesterday, she first flew to Cagayan de Oro City then proceeded by helicopter to Iligan City, Surigao City and Tandag in Surigao del Sur.

In a speech in Iligan City, she asked local government units to use 5 percent of their budget as mandated by law for typhoon preparations to minimize the loss of lives and damage to property.

More radars needed

Ms Arroyo also said she had directed the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) to install additional Doppler radar stations in Central Visayas and Mindanao so that it could monitor and provide prompt and accurate weather advisories.

A Doppler radar is a key forecasting tool to detect the location, direction and speed of a typhoon, and to predict its path, among other things.

It uses radio waves to create pictures showing the location and intensity of precipitation, allowing scientists to measure the motion inside storms.

Public Works Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. ordered the activation of his office’s disaster preparedness plan.

DPWH regional director Orlando Roces said he had already deployed heavy equipment and maintenance crews in critical areas to respond to emergencies.

Almost P36 million worth of palay and corn were lost due to damage wrought by Lando, prompting the Department of Agriculture (DA) to offer assistance to affected farmers.

The DA Central Action Center said that palay losses amounted to P18 million while corn losses were estimated at P17.44 million. With reports from Michael Lim Ubac, Margaux C. Ortiz, Riza T. Olchondra, in Manila, and Juan Escandor Jr., Romulo Ponte, Bobby Labalan, and Marlon Ramos, Jaymee T. Gamil, Inquirer Southern Luzon and Richel Umel, Inquirer Mindanao