Some notes on Imee’s best SOPA ever

 

imee sopa 2014

 

Rosy but grounded. Ambitious but compelling. Elegant but inclusive.

By all indicators, Governor Imee Marcos’ 5th State of the Province Address delivered Aug. 25 at the Plaza del Norte Hotel located on a land area disputed by Laoag City and Paoay has been the best by far.

Riding on the notable transformation of Ilocos Norte in the past few years, the people’s very high morale and sense of pride, and the equally high levels of trust and confidence the governor enjoys from his constituents, Imee urged her people to dream bigger: Ilocos Norte as the country’s best province by 2020. The road map is creatively called IN2020.

More than just the usual detailing of the achievements in years past, the governor clearly spoke on the bright prospects of the future and what all sectors must do to help achieve it.

Let me quote some of the best parts of the speech that lasted 49 minutes and 49 seconds, interrupted 33 times by the audience’s generous applause:

On poverty alleviation

“Poverty in the coastal and mountain zones had climbed up from 21 % in 2003 to 24% in 2010. We responded aggressively—food packs in the lean months, 16,000 scholarships a year, barangay roads, fishing boats, tools, and new agricultural packages. 9.9% laengen ti nabati pay, nasapsapa ngem 2015 nga nagun-od ti MDG, nga mabingay iti marigrigat”

On good governance

“Hindi lihim na nakunsume ako sa sistema ng Capitolyo noon, nagngingitngit sa ilang empleyadong laging absent! Ngayon nagkakaunawaan na kami, at nakatutok ang bawat digital Ilocano citizen, sumbung nang sumbong ng text at tweet!”

On windmill developers abusing nature (and our hospitality)

“Going green is part of our provincial DNA. Last week, we constituted a multipartite monitoring team for renewable energy projects. Ironically, despite their mission to provide clean energy, wind construction sites have not always observed local ordinances on quarrying, coral preservation, and the protection of endangered plant and marine life. In Ilocos Norte, let it be known that even the country’s biggest companies have to comply with the law—the law of man and the law of nature.”

On transforming Ilocos Norte into a learning province

Let us take education beyond the classroom, beyond age and place. Let us convert Ilocos Norte into a learning province, so that every field and beach is a science lab, a Heroes Walk in Laoag or in Bacarra is a library in the park, and Sirib buses become learning movie houses.

On MMSU, garlic, and heritage conservation

Palagay ko panahon na ring pag-usapan ang MMSU.  Our premier educational institution has begun to rethink its role in a quickly-diversifying economy. Originally focused on agriculture and forestry, bigger enrollments are now found in business, engineering, tourism and computer sciences. Our farmers also await from MMSU research and innovation that will impact their lives— when can indigenous Ilocano white garlic be developed into weightier, sturdier, new and more productive varieties?

 The first conservation school in the country has been launched in Paoay CIT-MMSU, to revive the classic trades of carpentry and wood-carving, handloom weaving, bricks and stone masonry. NCCA, Spain’s Escuela Talleres, and the Betis, Pampanga workshops are behind us. We all watched with horror when the Bohol churches fell during the earthquake. Let us be mindful that after Bohol, our province has the most number of colonial churches. And only with long-term planning and fervent prayer can we safeguard them.

And, my personal favourite: On volunteerism

“In truth, 6 years is a very very short time to achieve all that we must IN2020. Government cannot go it alone, we need you to volunteer and assure help in continuing change and transformation. If we can set in motion a virtuous circle of generosity and volunteerism, awareness and participation will ensue, your volunteer work will generate savings for government, which will in turn fund more student jobs, more loans for women, work for tribesmen, fishermen and the handicapped. A virtuous cycle indeed!

“Sa ngayon, iilan ang nagvo-volunteer, mga suki ng kapitolyo sa barangay, Red Cross, ang Chinese Chamber. Lahat tayo ay abala sa trabaho at pamilya. Ngunit hindi ako naniniwala na ang Ilocano ay hindi matulungin. Dahil nakikita ko kayo sa barangay, naghihirap upang mabuo ang ating kalye, ang sipag-sipag ng mga magulang at titser tuwing Brigada Eskwela, at ang malasakit ng mga doktor tuwing kami’y mag-Capitol Epress. Damang-dama pa rin ang mga donasyon ng mga balikbayan sa bawat munisipyo, at maraming Ilocanong kasama kong tumulong sa Tacloban.

“Itan! Tapno awan ti maibati, awan ti maisiasi ken awan ti haan a maikkan iti tulong.”

I am glad that the governor urged the people to do their share in catapulting Ilocos Norte to the place where it should be. An extensive volunteerism campaign doesn’t also amount to savings but, more importantly, gives the people a sense of ownership of government programs. The are made to understand their roles not only as beneficiaries but as key actors in development.

*****

Other observations:

Language

There was a marked increase in Miss Imee’s use of the Ilokano language. Unlike before when Ilokano content did not exceed five percent of the entire speech, almost one-fourth of her 5,263-word 5th SOPA was in the vernacular. Here is the actual breakdown: 23% Ilokano, 33% Tagalog, and 44% English. Imee did struggle with speaking lengthy Ilokano, but its the effort to struggle that really counts. Mother tongue and plurilingualism advocates must be very happy with this development.

Attendance and seating arrangement

One thing that struck me was that some young people—youth leaders, provincial scholars, and other achievers—had even better seats than mayors.

Indeed, present were a lot of young people, including over a hundred collegians and some high school students who all looked their best. The oldest attendee was nonagenarian Magdalena Gamayo, the only master weaver of Abel in the country and a National Living Treasure. The audience was touched when the governor had a solo picture with her after the program.

Your karikna with some provincial scholars

Your karikna with some provincial scholars

The set was simple, nothing ostentatious, but very refreshing with a lot of plants in it. It is really green too as many of the stage props are reusable.

Fashion

The governor herself noted that in years past, some people gave more important to fashion than the speech itself. It was not true this year. There were no scene stealers, nothing outrageously good nor abhorrent..

I also noticed that more abel fabric has been used for the gowns. I particularly liked the uniform gowns of the ladies from the Provincial Tourism Office. It was designed by no less than their boss Aian Raquel (I always knew he is multitalented, but I never realized he knows decent fashion design as well). The sleek dress is multifunctional. Made of binakol, the top with structural paired sleeves may be paired with either pants or a short skirt.

Tourism abel

In contrast, a famous personality from Laoag City (not a politician) also wore an abel gown, but it really looked off. Done by a famous designer, the over-imposing top made the thirty-ish beauty look like a a cross between an overloaded ship and an old-fashioned spacecraft. In fairness, she still looked terrific regardless of what she wore. Still, the gown could have been better.

By the way, Imee’s blue gown is an Amor Albano creation. Its design makes a classic terno look contemporary with the play of silhouette and texture.

On a personal note, I wore a modest barong, actually a hand-me-down from my father, which Joel Dul-loog was so kind to repair on very short notice.

After-event food and refreshment

Attendees generally commented that food served at Plaza del Norte this year was slightly better than in past years. A group of provincial scholars remember enjoying the following: banana bread, cream puff, puding a kasla maja ti kolorna, bread a round a babassit nga adda meat idiay unegna, lechon baboy, and chicken a ‘dimi ammo’t lutona. 

A famous Ilocos Norte physician noted that of all the food served, it was only the lechon baka that he really enjoyed. It was unfortunate, he said, that before he noticed the roasted cow, he already had his tummy filled with forgettable pasta, pastry, and other meat dishes.

Me, I was so busog with Imee’s speech. And it was really all that mattered.

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Soon to rise, finally: SM City Laoag

Brgy. Chairman Romulo Bartolome: Landowners have been paid by as much as 30 percent.

Brgy. Chairman Romulo Bartolome: Landowners have been paid by as much as 30 percent.

Tata Pedro shows the property where SM City Laoag will rise.

Tata Pedro shows the property where SM City Laoag will rise.

Along Nangalisan West Highway (right side leading to the airport)

Along Nangalisan West Highway (right side leading to the airport)

The view from the bridge

View from the bridge

View from north of the river

View from south of the river

From a city with small, homegrown groceries and department stores that close at 6:00 p.m., Laoag City in the past couple of years has built a reputation as a retail mecca, with big stores sprouting faster than you can say cheese.. or Sy.

In December 2009, Robinsons Ilocos Norte (San Nicolas technically but is geographically almost Laoag) was the first national retail chain to open in the Ilocos Region. It was followed by three others: SM Savemore in December 2011, SM Hypermart in October 2012, and Puregold in November 2012. Of the four, however, only Robinsons is a full-service mall with a department store, supermarket, cinemas, a food court, an array of shops, and an activity area. To many, the Ilocos mall scene will never be complete without a full, honest-to-goodness SM.

Even before Robinsons IN was built, there have been long-standing rumors that an SM Mall will rise in Laoag City. It has not, as you know, been realized. The search for a parcel of land big enough for the mall’s requirements took a long time. SM apparently wanted to have it in Laoag, not anywhere else, and, naturally, they wanted the place to be accessible. Conflicting pieces of information had circulated about SM having finally chosen a lot here and there, but nothing was credible enough to be believed, or at least for long.

In 2012, however, news spread that a land area along Brgy 51-B Nangalisan West (south of the river, road leading to Northwestern University) had been identified by SM Prime Holdings and that negotiations with various families that own the property were already underway. It was a difficult process, our informant (a Laoag City elective official) said, because of the usual process of having heirs of families, some of whom are based abroad, sign documents. SM also haggled with the families in terms of price. All of these went slowly but well, our informant said, and groundbreaking rites were expected as early as February last year, in time for the Laoag City Fiesta month. But then there was nothing.

The project hit a snag, our informant said, when officials of a national agency allegedly tried to extort Php 4-Million pesos from SM. Of course, this did not make mall executives happy, and they decided not to pay up. The project was thus derailed.

But all seems well now, says the informant. SM executives apparently sought the help of a top provincial official so they won’t have to lose millions to the alleged extortionists.

Indeed, the green light seems to be on and bright. Brgy. Chairman Romulo Bartolome of 51-B Nangalisan in an interview with this writer said the land developers sought two days ago his permission for the setting up of fences around the property where SM will rise. Furthermore, he disclosed that landowners have already received payments as much as 30 percent. According to Bartolome, the property measures around 9 hectares, 8 hectares of which is within his barangay while the rest belongs to nearby Nalbo. As Brgy. 51-B’s land area is only 28 hectares, over one fourth of the entire barangay will be occupied by SM. The people from the community seem upbeat about this development. Pedro de Lara, 70, a retired firefighter who is now a part-time tricycle driver says he expects a wave of progress in their barangay once SM City Laoag opens.

In the absence of another major snag, therefore, groundbreaking could be held in a few months and by then officials of Laoag City, which is now being increasingly known more for its malls than its sunshine, may finally sing with great joy, to the tune of the SM jingle, “We’ve got it all for you.”

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P-Noy mentions Laoag twice in SONA but has never visited Ilocos Norte as president

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Then presidential candidate Noynoy Aquino in Laoag City, 2010

Then presidential candidate Noynoy Aquino in Laoag City, 2010

NOT ONCE but twice. President B.S. Aquino mentioned Laoag City two times in his State of the Nation Address on July 28 at the Batasan in Quezon City.
First is when he announced that NEDA (which, incidentally, is headed by an Ilocos Norte native and MMSU alumnus—Sec. Arsenio Balisacan) has approved the Laoag City bypass road; second when he illustrated the extent of national highways his administration has built: it can connect the cities of Laoag and Zamboanga four times, he said.

It is quite refreshing to note that Laoag City bears an imprint in the President’s consciousness, yet he has never come here since he became president. I am not sure why, but it could be two things: maybe he thinks Ilocos is hostile ground for him or, in reality, he doesn’t really care enough about this part of his kingdom. To her credit, Governor Imee Marcos has always spoken well about P-Noy, and would share stories about their experiences in congress—they being together in the opposition during the time of Gloria Arroyo.

P-Noy did come to Ilocos though when he needed our votes, and while he did not rank first in the polls here, with Joseph Estrada and Manny Villar besting him, it was not bad. Compared to her late mother who got zero in a number of precincts in the 1986 snap elections, P-Noy got from Ilocanos a good number of votes, and that included mine and, I guess, most of my colleagues in The Ilocos Times who bought his anti-corruption tack: Mitch Esmino, Steve Barreiro, and Jun-B Ramos.

Not only did I vote for P-Noy; I wore yellow for almost two months preceding the 2010 presidential elections. But I have not worn those shirts in a long while. It is odd that he mentioned Laoag twice regarding roads which connect us to the rest of the country while he has seemingly disconnected himself from us since we became part of the body he collectively calls “Boss.”

I may be P-Noy’s boss, but Nora Aunor is my idol. As a Noranian, I was deeply hurt when the country’s one and only Superstar was rejected by Malacañang as national artist. I hope it had nothing to do with Ate Guy’s glorious Ilocos Norte visit and her being declared as honorary daughter. Only a paranoid drug addict would do that.

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Iglesia moments ng hindi Iglesia

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Isang maalab na pagbati sa lahat ng mga kasapi ng Iglesia ni Cristo. Wow, ‘sandaang taon na kayo.

Lumaki akong ayaw sa Iglesia ni Cristo. Noong bata pa ako—nung grade school—tumatawag ako sa radio upang makipagtalo tungkol sa relihiyon at ipagtanggol ang Katolisismo laban sa Iglesia. “Best in religion” kasi ako lagi noon at champion sa mga bible quiz.

Isa sa mga kapatid ng nanay ko, si Uncle Erning, ay umanib sa Iglesia nang maging nobya niya si Auntie Meding. Tuwing family reunion at magluluto ng tinola si lola, nagtatalo ang mga tito ko kung ano ang gagawin sa dugo ng manok. Ibaon sa lupa, sabi ni ni Uncle Erning, sapagka’t iyon daw ang nakasaad sa banal na kasulatan samantalang ang iba pang mga uncle ko ay gustong ihalo ang malinamnam na dugo sa tinola, dahil ‘yun daw ang nasusulat sa cookbook. Hindi naman seryosong pagtatalo ‘yon, kantyawan lang. Hindi ko na maalala kung sino ang nasunod, pero naaalala ko na laging masarap ang native na tinola, may dugo man o wala, basta’t pinagsasaluhan ng pamilya.

Dati, parang kulto o sindikato ang tingin ko sa Iglesia. Hindi ko sila maunawaan, o baka simpleng ayaw ko lang talaga sa kanila. Ngunit noong fourth year high school ay dumating sa buhay ko si Rona, ang girlfriend kong mabait, matalino, maganda, at Iglesia ni Cristo. Isang mahabang proseso bago niya ako nakumbinsing sumama sa pagsamba. Sinubukan ko pang kumbinsihin siya na upang patas ay makikisamba ako sa Iglesia tuwing Huwebes at sasama naman siya sa’kin sa Simbahang Katoliko tuwing Linggo, ngunit ipaliwanag niyang ‘di talaga puwede.

Maaga kaming pumunta sa kapilya dahil bawal raw ma-late. Hiwalay ang upuan ng mga babae sa lalake at ginabayan ako ng diakonesa patungo sa aking upuan. Hindi puwedeng mamili, hindi tulad sa Katoliko na puwedeng dumiretso sa mga upuang malapit sa electric fan. Napansin ko agad ang kaayusan sa loob ng kapilya. Walang mga batang umiiyak o nagtatakbuhan. Walang nagbebenta ng kandila, at wala ring nag-aalok ng rebulto, popcorn o balloon sa labas. At maayos ang pananamit ng lahat; angkop ang kasuotan sa banal na gawain.

Noong magsimula ang pagsamba, napaka-solemn ng mood; talagang damang-dama ng mga kasapi ang pagkanta at pananalangin, mayroon pa ngang mga lumuluha at umiiyak. Hindi ko man lubos na naunawaan ang lahat, naramdaman ko ang alab ng pananampalataya ng mga miyembro. Hindi kami nagkatuluyan ni Rona ngunit hindi ito dahil sa relihiyon.

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When teachers lead the cheating

NAT jpgIn Philippine society, we look up to teachers as paragons of virtue. They lead us to the realm of wisdom, and let us distinguish right from wrong.

Teaching is arguably a most noble profession. I am sure you have heard of the story of various professionals, all of them Filipino, at the doorstep of heaven explaining to St. Peter why they deserve to enter paradise. “I served the people with all my heart,” a politician enthused. “I built roads, bridges, and buildings, including churches,” said an engineer. A doctor explained how she healed the sick while a lawyer detailed how he brought justice to the oppressed. Then a teacher came forward and proudly said, “Well, St. Peter, I taught them all.”

Impressive answer, indeed. I am not sure though whether heaven’s gatekeeper let the teacher in, for there’s a chance he may have wondered whether the chaos in Philippine society today—the massive corruption, the greed, the thoughtless bickering, and the lack of foresight, among others—are to be blamed on teachers. We already know how politicians betray us, how professionals like doctors and lawyers do not pay the right taxes, how engineers construct substandard structures, and how other professionals do society more harm than good.

This comes to mind after allegations of cheating in the National Achievement Tests hit the headlines earlier this year. Whistleblowers claimed that teachers themselves initiate, orchestrate, and execute the cheating in many creative ways. Cheating incidents have been investigated on by the NBI in some areas, although we know that these happen many place else, if not everywhere. Continue reading

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Ilocos priest also ridicules unwed mothers

photo from the blog My Happy Thoughts

photo from the blog My Happy Thoughts

There was no video clip, no recording whatsoever, but Rose (not her real name) still vividly remembers the incident at the St. William’s Cathedral in Laoag a few years back.

There were three other babies to be baptized that day and the priest asked for the fathers to gather in front. When the priest saw that the young woman was alone with her son, he asked where the father was. Rose, a single mom, said there wouldn’t be anyone. Laughing sarcastically the priest asked, with the whole congregation listening, “Apay, awan kadi isuna idi inaramidyo dayta?” (Why, wasn’t he there when you did it?) The priest went on to publicly scold Rose, who was left by her boyfriend even before she knew she was pregnant. The young woman, made to feel ashamed of herself, was on the verge of tears while the priest, insisting that a father is needed to raise the child, did not begin the ceremony. It was then that Rose’s uncle stepped forward and asserted, “I’ll stand up for this child.”

This incident, dear karikna, is not an isolated case. I have personally talked to other sources who have confirmed this priest’s habit of shaming single mothers. And there are surely other members of the clergy who do the same and prefer judgment and condemnation over God’s overflowing grace, love, and compassion. One priest, also from the diocese, made another woman cry on a day that should have been her happiest moment. Impatient about the wedding running a few minutes late, the priest began the ceremonies even when the bride was yet to arrive. The bride cried a river and ruined her make up, and not because of joy.

As for Rose who felt the hurt rushing back to her upon learning that a teenage mom was similarly shamed in Cebu, she only wishes that no person would be subjected to the same public humiliation she went through. But because there was no viral video to upload and no outrage from the public, this priest who is currently assigned in a garlic-producing town in southern Ilocos Norte, remains unlike Cebu’s Fr. Romeo Obach who has publicly apologized, and even more unlike Pope Francis who finds no difficulty saying, “Who am I to judge?”

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Tale of two Cebuanos: one good, the other despicable

Two Cebuanos are in my consciousness these days. One brings forth inspiration; the other, indignation.

Let’s talk first about the good one.

When I was growing up, my dad used to tell me that he is not particularly fond of the Sto. Niño. “Why pray to the child Jesus when you can pray to the adult one?” he asked rhetorically. My mother, a daily communicant, thinks otherwise. Not only does she have images of the child Jesus prominently displayed on our home altar, she actually had me dress up like a Sto. Niño during a novena mass at Church: I held a sceptre on my left hand and a globe on my right. I barely remember other details of that event, but I do recall my mom telling me that she prays that I may become a good boy like the child Jesus. From then on, Sto. Niño and I became faithful friends.

Me and mom: I was the smallest Sto. Nino.

Me and mom: I was the smallest Sto. Nino.

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That friendship was fortified when I attended college at San Beda where the community has a special devotion to the Sto. Niño of Prague. Dedicated to him, our annual college fair and frolics is highlighted by a procession in the Malacañang vicinity, and a grand mass at the football field. Even after I graduated and began working, I’d go back to Mendiola every third Sunday of January to join the Pista ng Sto. Niño sa San Beda. Also, I’d go to the feast of the Sto. Niño in Tondo where the family of my good friend Weng de Jesus lives. The Tondo fiesta is the liveliest I have been to, with processions, parlor games, and drinking sprees happening in every nook and corner of the district. I have also been fortunate to visit the Sto. Niño in Cebu and in Iloilo where the country’s grandest festivals are held.

It is always a joy being in the company of my beloved friend who constantly makes me feel loved and at peace. During times of great trouble, I visit him and feel comforted. I am assured by his gentle smile that everything is going to be okay; after all, he’s got the whole world in his hands.

Last week, as the pilgrim image of Sto. Niño de Cebu visited various towns of Ilocos Norte, I was amazed by the very strong devotion Ilocanos have for the child Jesus. The queues to the image were constantly long as people from all walks of life came to pay homage. At the St. William’s Cathedral, I was particularly struck by a couple who stood in line behind me: they are probably in their seventies. The old woman man walked very slowly while her husband was aided with a cane. They politely asked if I could take their picture. I took the camera and did as asked, the Sto. Niño smiling in the background. Then I asked them if I could also take their picture with my own camera, for I wanted to capture that touching moment, and probably share the story of their piety with others. They graciously agreed.

 

photo by Joel Dul-loog

photo by Joel Dul-loog

Both the old and young venerate the Sto. Niño. But why pray to the child when you can go directly to the adult Jesus? Our special affinity to the Sto. Niño is probably because we see the best qualities of humanity in childhood: that of innocence and purity, of carefree fun and adventure, of meekness and humility, and, ultimately, of pure and unadulterated love. Never mind that the cruel and oppressive Spaniards brought the historic image here and forced their religion to us. It is interesting to note that the image of a spiritual child runs across Oriental religions, specifically in Hinduism’s Krishna.

Now, let us talk about the other Cebuano, the despicable one. Continue reading

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