Friday, December 28, 2012

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Scuba Diving in Casabangan Beach, Mansalay

I spent the week of December 10, 2012 in Mansalay. My objective was to continue my underwater survey of Casabangan Beach. On my previous snorkeling surveys up to about 50 meters from the shoreline (reaching depths of about 20 feet), I simply confirmed what was disclosed to me by one of the former vice mayors of Mansalay. That is, based on a scientific survey of the same area conducted by a Japanese group around the year 2000, about 85% of the corals have been destroyed. It doesn't take a genius to reach the same conclusion by way of ocular underwater surveys, such as the ones I have and continue to undertake at increasing depths.

I completed six scuba dives reaching depths just over 100 feet. Based on the knowledge of local fishermen, I confirmed that there are at least two interesting groups of coral structures between 200 to 300 meters from the shoreline of Casabangan Beach. One is located on the northern part of Casabangan Beach (I have named this "Pedring's Rock" after Ka Pedring, who has been my boat man) and the other is located on the southern part of Casabangan Beach, just past the property line of Mangal Estate (I have named this "Gerald's Playground" after Ka Pedring's eldest son, who has been my "virtual" diving buddy). I say "virtual" diving buddy because, to date, I have scuba equipment for myself only; hence, Gerald snorkels at the surface as I descend to the depths. He keeps track of my position to the extent I remain visible, so that he and Ka Pedring (Gerald's dad and my boat man) are not far from my position. My diving instructor will definitely frown when he reads this!

On my second scuba dive at Casabangan Beach, I noticed a leak at the bottom of my pressure gauge. I was very disappointed as my regulator (Poseidon Cyklon) was brand new and this was just its fourth dive. Although I quickly surmised that it was probably just a defective o-ring, the closest possible shop that could repair it was in . . . Puerto Galera--at least a 3-hour drive from Mansalay. And so I proceeded to drive to Puerto Galera that afternoon to repair the leak. I ended up where most of the dive resorts were located in Puerto Galera, which is in Sabang. I was first referred to Aquaventure but the store was closed the whole week. I was informed that the entire Aquaventure team was on some kind of company off-site in Boracay. Then, I was directed to one end of Sabang, where I met a helpful Brit by the name of Andy, who quickly plugged the leak by replacing a tiny o-ring at the base of the pressure gauge. No charge. He just asked me to convey his regards to Alex, the founder of Philtech Divers, where I purchased my regulator.

An important note on the Poseidon Cyklon pressure gauge. Do NOT turn the pressure gauge when it is pressurized as this will grate or scratch the o-ring, which will quickly result in a leak. You may turn and adjust the orientation of the pressure gauge (in a manner that it is easy to read when you are diving) when it is NOT pressurized, prior to your dive.

In conclusion, while the two groups of coral structures at Casabangan Beach (60 to 100 feet deep) were interesting and promising, they were nonetheless as devastated as the corals found at shallower depths closer to shore. I understand that at the height of "compressor" fishing, even corals at depths of 100 feet were subjected to poison. Another compelling reason to proceed with a marine sanctuary fronting Mangal Estate.

A glimmer of hope. A local fisherman by the name of Benazir claims there is a sizeable sea turtle or pawikan (more than 1 meter long) that resides at a coral cave about 50 meters from the "Lalawigan" shore of Mangal Estate. This will be the subject of my next underwater survey, which will probably be undertaken during the summer months of April and May, when this area is particularly calm and clear. If such a resident pawikan has managed to survive in Mansalay, then that would indicate the local community's basic understanding of the value of preserving and conserving marine resources . . . and, therefore, all is not yet lost.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Which way for the Church?

The idea of a humble Church—a Church that respects the authority of politics and of science while insisting on the autonomy of faith and morals—is one that fits the complexities of modern society. It carves out a continuing role for religion in a world that is becoming increasingly differentiated into separate functional spheres, where the meaning of life is supplied not by a single dominant center but by a plurality of angles. Understandably, it is an idea that does not sit well in societies that believe religion’s social purpose is best achieved when it is able to impose its will on every institution in society.

I think the young Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, expressed this concept very well at a press conference in Rome this year. Explaining the principal message of the recent bishops’ synod on the new evangelization, he said:  “In the message, we find a humble church, admitting that it does not understand everything that’s happening in the world. That it’s confused, that it has suffered, but it also admits its share in the wounds of society…. Humility for the Church is not a strategy; it is the way of Jesus. It is how God manifested himself to us in Jesus, and loved us in the form of Christ crucified.”

This “humble church” cannot be one that imagines itself at war with secular powers.  Neither can it be a Church that expects God to “finish the war for us,” as one bishop recently put it when Congress proceeded to pass the reproductive health bill despite the Church’s strenuous objections. For as long as the Church casts its role in combative terms, I think it is courting defiance. It will be seen as an institution that is so accustomed to wielding total influence that it treats every exercise of autonomy on the part of other institutions as an assault on its authority. But this is just my view as an observer. How the passage of the RH bill will be processed by the bishops themselves when they meet is another matter. It will be worth watching.

I think there will be at least two schools of thought.

One will see the passage of the RH bill in terms of a hostile war against the Church, declared by the state, and led by no less than the President, P-Noy. From this view, this war will be opened on many fronts, and the RH bill is just the beginning. The stance that corresponds to this perspective would be one of militant and critical engagement with the current administration. If this view prevails, it would draw the Church even more into the political arena, binding it more closely than ever to its activist past.

The other school of thought will read this RH episode as but an integral part of the wrenching transition of Philippine society to modernity. Far from being a call to war, the RH bill passage would be received as an invitation to institutional self-reflection, whose starting point is humility. Shedding an arrogance acquired from previous political victories, it sees the secular state not as an enemy but as a friendly neighbor with different concerns, and hopefully a partner in the enterprise of ending the scourge of poverty and violence. This humble Church, serene in the embrace of its faith, may lose some of its temporal privileges in this transition, but it cannot be humbled.

Which way then for the Catholic Church? It is difficult to say. The Church in the Philippines has played a major role in the evolution of the Filipino nation. Its influence survived the anticlericalism that served as one of the major impulses in the war of independence against Spain. To that extent, unlike Mexico, for example, our country did not become a fully secular society. While the modern principle of church-state separation is enshrined in all our constitutions, its enforcement has been minimalist, in deference to the dominant culture permeated by Catholicism. The Church thus never left the public square in the Philippines, where it always occupied a special position among the other institutions of society. But, now and then, it finds itself fighting a rear-guard battle against an increasingly assertive state.

In this regard, it would be useful to revisit the Church’s role in the post-Marcos years. It was the Church’s activism in the two Edsas—first in 1986 against Marcos, and then in 2001 against Estrada—that greatly boosted its political capital and inclined it toward greater encroachment into government territory. A Church like this—which was instrumental in the rise to power of two presidents, and whose intervention during moments of political crisis continues to be desperately sought—can hardly be expected to suddenly become reticent in the use of its influence, particularly in matters that bear directly on its pastoral function. That is why a militant stance will appeal to those who believe that the Church is under attack.  Only a humble Church that can find its way through this moment of disappointment without being burdened by a feeling of betrayal can avert the perils of a protracted conflict.

It is refreshing to see a president rise above his family’s personal affinities with the Church in order to help push a piece of legislation that he believes, rightly or wrongly, will be good for the country. One can imagine the kind of pressures to which he was subjected. But he, too, can do a lot to temper triumphalist noise on the RH side, and reassure resentful voices on the other side, that together depict the passage of the bill as a resounding defeat of the Church.

This is not a war of institutions, but an adjustment in the relations among autonomous spheres.

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Saturday, December 8, 2012

Road Trip to Tacloban

This has been my longest motorcycle trip to date--nearly 1,000 kilometers from Manila to Tacloban one-way. After exiting the Sto. Tomas exit along the Star Tollway, we traveled on mostly standard two-lane/two-way national roads through some beautiful scenery along forest parks and sea shores. We took only one roll-on, roll-off (RORO) boat ride to cross the San Bernardino Strait between the port towns of Matnog and Allen.

At the RORO Port of Matnog before crossing the San Bernardino Strait

Towards the end of our journey to Tacloban, we crossed Samar to Leyte via the picture-perfect San Juanico Brige--see below.

Many thanks to Kawasaki Leisure Bikes, which organized the road trip as the 1st National Kawasaki Leisure Bike Owners' Meet. Around 12 Kawasaki Leisure Bike owners (including myself) came from Manila/Luzon, 10 from Cebu/Visayas and 10 from Mindanao. Kawasaki sponsored our stay (two nights) at The Oriental Hotel Leyte, a relatively new and well-appointed hotel resort adjacent to the MacArthur Leyte Landing Memorial. I was pleasantly surprised to find a hotel/resort of this quality in this part of the country--a real gem! To learn more about The Oriental Leyte, visit

During the one day that all the Kawasaki Leisure Bike owners were in Tacloban, we rode mostly along the coastline of Leyte and Samar, stopping at a couple of beach resorts to have merienda and lunch. We returned to The Oriental in the afternoon to hang-out at the beautiful hotel resort. We capped-off the evening with a dinner party with live entertainment and a raffle that won me a motocross helmet. Folks, it doesn't get any better than this. Below are pictures of the beach resort in Samar where we had lunch. It's a small version of Vietnam's Halong Bay.

The return trip was more eventful than I would have liked. Somewhere between Catbalogan and Calbayog in Samar Island, my bike slipped and fell as I was banking right on one of the "twisties". Admittedly, I was getting comfortable executing the twists and curves of the road to the point that I pushed my bike to its performance threshold. My bike (now down on its right side, sliding along the asphalt road) hit a wooden cart, which, in turn, hit a bystander. Shortly after picking myself up from the fall, I was grateful for my minor injuries (the worst of which was a sprained left thumb) and was impressed with the patience and helpful support of my co-riders, who took care of attending to the injured individual and securing my damaged bike--maraming salamat guys! This allowed me to focus on bringing the injured individual to the hospital. The doctor at the Samar provincial hospital indicated that the injury was probably not serious but, to be sure, requested an x-ray. This was done the following day and the wife of the injured individual informed me later that, after reviewing the x-ray, the doctor gave her husband a clean bill of health. Thankfully, this accident had a good ending for everyone!

With my damaged bike loaded into the Kawasaki truck that accompanied the group from Manila, I spent the rest of the return trip to Manila inside an air-conditioned vehicle--also courtesy of Kawasaki intended to accommodate at any point in time any rider who may be unable to complete the rest of the road trip. In spite of my accident, I was probably more disappointed in my inability to complete the return trip to Manila. My consolation was the thought of the next Kawasaki sponsored road trip next year, which I have every intention of completing from start to finish.

The next task at hand was to assess the damage to my bike and to repair the same as soon as possible. During my next visit to the Krib a couple of days later, the list of parts that needed to be replaced was already prepared. After a 5 minute ocular review of the same with Obet, I approved and paid for the repairs. Two days later, my bike was like new. Kudos to Kawasaki for the impressive inventory and availability of spare parts. Of course, we all appreciate the prompt and reliable service of Kuya Obet!

Until our next road trip . . . keep on ridin'!