Monday, June 30, 2014

The True Tales of Pedring Rabino, Part 2

June 2014, Barangay Don Pedro, Mansalay, Oriental Mindoro. As I was inspecting one of the barangay roads leading to the farm, Ka Porek recalled that a certain Felipe Pinca or Mang Ipe, whose house just happened to be a few paces away, knew many of the tales of Pedring Rabino. At the spur of the moment, we walked over to the house of Mang Ipe, who was comfortably seated at the opposite end from the entrance. Immediately, Mang Ipe looked familiar. Although advance in years, he had a giving smile and big round eyes with full of life. I later found out that he was a former employee when I was a young boy tagging along with Dad to visit the farm. I remembered that Mang Ipe, who is a diminutive and lanky fellow, had a limp in his stride, which he was born with. Yet, he was one of the few people (another one was Ka Porek himself) who would carry Dad (who was over 6 feet tall) over the river when the current was strong. We asked Mang Ipe what he remembered of Pedring Rabino. He grinned from ear to ear and proceeded to tell his story.

The Amulet of the Enchanted Egret

He said Pedring Rabino derived many of his powers from, among other magical amulets (anting-anting or agimat), the egg of an enchanted egret (mahiwagang tagak). This was no ordinary white egret, a migratory bird that frequented the shores and plains of Mindoro. It was invisible to the naked eye and could only be seen through its reflection on the water . . . and only if it allowed itself to be seen in the first place. As chance would have it, Pedring was walking in a secluded part of town when he came across a clear puddle of water that revealed a white egret nesting on the adjacent tree. He looked up to peek at the majestic bird and saw nothing perched on the branches. Intrigued by this most unusual circumstance, Pedring decided to investigate, climbing the tree while keeping his eyes fixed on the reflection of the nesting egret. At the very instant Pedring hoisted himself on the trunk of the tree, the great white egret took flight, leaving its nest behind. Nevertheless, Pedring continued to climb until he reached the nest and inside the nest was a single black egg, which was as hard as a rock.

The Great White Egret

As soon as Pedring took the egg from the nest, a fierce looking Mangyan with a formidable spear appeared from nowhere and challenged him to a duel. Pedring secured the egg in his mouth and proceeded to engage in hand-to-hand combat. His opponent was not only trying to overpower him but was particularly keen on retrieving the egg, which remained in Pedring's mouth. After several minutes of intense fighting, the Mangyan disappeared as mysteriously as it had appeared--apparently satisfied that Pedring was a worthy keeper of the enchanted egret's egg. As the story goes, this was Pedring's most powerful magical amulet, out of several he reputedly obtained over the course of his life.

The Trial of Ipe

When Mang Ipe was about 15 years old, he already knew about the strange talents of Pedring Rabino. In one of their chance encounters, the young Ipe dared to declare to Pedring that he too wanted the powers of Pedring. In response, Pedring explained that Ipe must have a deep and profound desire for the talent before it is to become his own. Thereafter, Pedring instructed Ipe to follow him through the forest, to look straight at him at all times and to never mind anything whatsoever in the course of their journey.

After confirming that Ipe understood his instructions, Pedring commenced their journey into the forest with Ipe in stride behind him. The two had covered a distance of less than a kilometer but were already well within the forest stand, where many creatures dwelt under the cover of the tropical foliage. Suddenly, Ipe heard a skirmish on his side and he immediately glanced to the left to investigate. When he looked forward to continue his trek, Pedring was nowhere to be found. Ipe called out to Pedring several times but there was no response. He decided to press on, convinced that Pedring was not far ahead. After a few minutes of walking, Ipe stopped dead in his tracks, terrified at the sight of a large cobra a few meters in front about to lunge at him. Without thinking, he turned around and ran back to where they commenced their journey--where Pedring was waiting. Ipe then realized that he had failed a test and would not be granted the powers he sought.

Pedring the Prankster

There was a time when the Island of Mindoro was filled with virgin forests. It was only a matter of time before greedy rapacious loggers and corrupt government officials joined forces to rape and pillage mother earth, leaving her barren in the wake of power saws, bulldozers and six-wheelers.

Due to poverty and the scarcity of jobs, locals were constrained to work for these criminals and became unwitting accomplices to the destruction of the environment. Pedring was no exception. He was hired as a security guard at a base camp and laydown area of felled timber. Like any regular guy, Pedring had a sense of humor and, on occasion, would inadvertently manifest his unusual talents when he played pranks on the people around him.

One of the monster workhorses of logging is the bulldozer. These machines were used to clear the way into the thickest jungle as well as move timber that could not be accessed by cranes or trucks. However, during the typhoon season, even the bulldozer occasionally gets stuck in the mud, which is like quicksand with just the right combination of soil and rain.

One particularly rainy morning while Pedring was on-duty at his security post, a bunch of his co-workers returned from the woods to secure ropes and as many men as possible to pull-out a bulldozer that was stuck in the thick of the forest. Shortly thereafter, the entire crew, including Pedring, made their way to the bulldozer, which was nearly halfway sunk in a pool of viscous mud. The men proceeded to tie the ropes on the machine and collectively heaved with all their might as the operator maneuvered forward. Again and again, they heaved and hoed but without success. It seemed like the bulldozer would sink deeper the more they tried to get it out of its pit. Nearly at the point of exhaustion, the men concluded that they would have to bring the other bulldozer, which was located in the next town, to pull this one out of its predicament. This was an expensive proposition reserved as a last resort.

At this point, Pedring quietly suggested that all of nearly 20 men pull together on only one of the three ropes attached to the bulldozer. Although everyone was sceptical that this would make any difference, they had nothing to lose. But again, the dozer would not budge. Then, Pedring suggested that only 10 men pull on the single rope. This time, everyone thought he was crazy. The entire crew was spent and had no intentions of wasting what little energy they had left to trek back to the base camp. Unperturbed, Pedring takes hold of the single rope and signals the operator to drive the bulldozer forward. Slowly but surely, Pedring singlehandedly and effortlessly pulls the monster out of its muddy pit, much to the amazement and disbelief of the rest of the crew.

At another time, the base camp inventory was filled with logs. On this day, Pedring was alone at his post as all of his co-workers were either cutting more trees in the forest or delivering logs to the saw mill. One such load was about to leave the premises. As Pedring opened the gate, the truck driver and the pahinante (driver’s helper) waved goodbye and headed toward their destination.

About halfway through their trip at a popular junction, which had stalls of tuba (fresh coconut wine), the truck driver could not help but notice a familiar face. It was Pedring Rabino. How on earth could he be here, when he was the same person who let them out of the base camp less than an hour ago? The conscientious driver thought, if Pedring is getting wasted on tuba at the junction, then no one is guarding the base camp and too many things can be stolen there in the absence of a security guard.

As it happens, another six-wheeler was on its way back to the base camp along the same route. When the two trucks met on the road, the driver instructed his helper to hitch back to the base camp and to guard the same in the absence of Pedring. In less than an hour, the truck had arrived at the base camp and the pahinante could not believe his eyes. There to open the gate was the same person he just saw at the tuba stall, Pedring Rabino.

The Grievous Tale of Eddie Aceron

It was a day of celebration for Eddie Aceron of Bulalacao. His new bahay-kubo had just been built with the help of his neighbours in the tradition of bayanihan. Naturally, there was plenty of food and liquor for all to partake, and Eddie himself had one too many servings of alcohol for his own good—for Eddie had a dark and violent side when he was under the influence of alcohol.

When the festivities were over and the neighbours had returned to their homes, Eddie, who was now extremely drunk, decided to take a walk towards the center of town. Along the way, he chanced upon Pedring Rabino, who was a dear friend of Eddie’s grandfather. Hence, Eddie knew of Pedring’s feats of strength.

As in many unfortunate instances of drunkenness, a perverse notion came across Eddie’s mind, which was to test the anting-anting of Pedring. He challenged Pedring to a fight, which Pedring refused to dignify, seeing how Eddie was not in the right frame of mind. Nevertheless, Eddie felt insulted and this fuelled his resolve to fight Pedring, even as Pedring was trying to reason out with Eddie.

It all happened very quickly when Eddie managed to grab a hold of Pedring, who offered no resistance whatsoever. Eddie pushed him to the ground face forward, drew his balisong and stabbed him several times at the back. Pedring lay bloodied and lifeless as Eddie withdrew to return to his newly erected house and sleep-off his horrific deed.

The following morning, Eddie realized what had happened and proceeded to his grandfather’s house to confess his terrible actions that resulted in the death of a close family friend. Upon reaching the threshold of his grandfather’s home, Eddie stopped dead in his tracks and shuddered at the sight of Pedring Rabino having coffee and pandesal with his grandfather—alive and well as if nothing had happened the day before.

Pedring glanced in the direction of Eddie and motioned him to come forward. Reluctantly, Eddie approached the two men, who calmly but firmly censured Eddie for his whimsical and murderous behaviour. Then, Pedring left Eddie with a stern warning, “If your grandfather was not my friend, you would be dead by now. You may not be so fortunate the next time you pick a fight.”

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Mansalay Master Tourism Development Plan

At a glance, Mansalay's Master Tourism Development Plan (courtesy of TagBalay Foundation)

June 24, 2014, Mansalay, Oriental Mindoro. Today marks an important milestone in the history of Mansalay. This afternoon, Alain Maulion, team leader of TagBalay Foundation, presented to local government officials and other concerned citizens, Mansalay’s Master Tourism Development Plan. It highlights the abundant natural beauty from “Ridge to Reef” of Mansalay and its surrounding environs as well as the rich cultural heritage of its Mangyan communities. As Mr. Gregorio De Chavez, the Secretary of the Sangguniang Bayan of Mansalay, eloquently observed, the Plan has rekindled his awareness of the multitude of God-given blessings of Mansalay that have the POTENTIAL to improve the quality of life of every individual in the municipality.

The operative word is “POTENTIAL” for, as the saying goes, “ideas (even brilliant ones) are cheap”. It is in the earnest, diligent, collaborative, tenacious and focused pursuit and execution of an idea whose time has come that determines its success. And indeed, the time has come.

First, Mayor Joel Maliwanag (modesty aside) is a young, dynamic, educated, articulate, foresighted and people-oriented individual. Most importantly, his heart in the right place. He humbly admitted during the presentation that developing the tourism sector in Mansalay is an old idea that has been discussed at length over the years with little tangible results (again, talk is cheap). So, as Mayor, he allocated the necessary resources to hire a team of experts and professionals to develop and articulate a comprehensive and executable plan, which is the Master Tourism Development Plan of Mansalay. This serves as the roadmap of the tourism sector of Mansalay; that is, from Point A today (where there is little tourism in Mansalay) to Point B 20 years from now (hopefully sooner, where Mansalay is a world-renowned tourist destination like Boracay—only better, particularly in terms of sustainable environmental practices). The seed to action has been planted by Mayor Joel. In the parlance of physics, he has commenced the conversion of POTENTIAL to KINECTIC energy. It’s time for action!

Second, one of the critical ingredients of a successful tourist destination is ACCESS. This has been achieved by the completion of the national road from San Jose Airport, Occidental Mindoro to Mansalay, Oriental Mindoro just over a years ago. Today, it takes only 1.5 hour by car or shuttle van or express bus to travel from San Jose Airport to Mansalay. Moreover, the regular flights from Manila to San Jose Airport take less than an hour. This places Mansalay well within the 2 to 3 hour “sweet spot” of tourist destinations in the Philippines. This critical transportation infrastructure is available to Mansalay today. Each day that Mansalay fails to take advantage of this infrastructure is a wasted opportunity. There is no time for delay!

Third, another critical ingredient of a successful tourist destination is PEACE AND ORDER. Not too long ago, Mansalay was a hotbed of communist insurgents, terrorizing the people and holding back the economic progress of the town. My parents themselves were victimized severely in Mansalay. After pouring blood, sweat, tears and plenty of money (nearly bankrupting my father) transforming essentially barren land into a flourishing forest reserve with prime species such as narra, teak, among others, these communist bandits violently invaded our property, killed two of our employees and proceeded to cut down all the trees for profit. Although this and other violent communist-related occurrences remain a historical stigma of Mansalay, these scenarios will hopefully not be repeated, particularly with the presence of an AFP battalion in town. However, the AFP will eventually transfer their battalion to another hotbed of communist or Muslim insurgents and inadvertently allow these lawless elements to return. Substantial investments in tourism mean jobs and a better quality of life for the people, who will less likely fall prey to the poverty-driven propaganda of these so-called communist rebels. Let’s not wait for history to repeat itself. Let’s act now!

Fourth, the private sector is waiting to be deployed. While the “easiest” tourism projects are those that could be developed by the local government unit using government funds (e.g., at a cost of P1 to P2 million, the Mangyan Museum to be located in one of the Mangyan enclaves to showcase the cultural heritage of the Mangyan communities), government funding is limited. There is only so much the government (local, provincial and/or national government) can accomplish with its meagre resources. Hence, it is more important for the local government unit to harness the substantial resources of the private sector with nothing more than the power of the pen; in other words, local legislation that will not only enable but attract the private sector to invest in the tourism sector of Mansalay. For example, a private company is ready to invest P5 to P6 million on a mangrove walkway leading to a Mangyan burial site but not until this project is formally etched in a municipal ordinance.

In the same way that the telecommunication sector, the power sector, the water sector, among other critical sectors in the national economy, have attracted billions of dollars of private investments in the Philippines due to enabling legislation (i.e., deregulation, privatization, among other landmark legislations), the local legislative body (the Sangguniang Bayan) must be responsive to private enterprises in the tourism sector. It’s a choice between some “mom and pop” tourism establishments (which is OK) or hundreds of millions or even billions of pesos of investments in tourism infrastructure over the next 20 years that will transform, strengthen and secure the economy of Mansalay.

Let’s step back for a moment and look at a couple of “big picture” items:

1.       The Western Tourism Corridor of the Philippines may be enumerated as follows: Tagaytay and Taal Lake, Batangas > Anilao, Batangas > Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro > Boracay, Iloilo > Coron, Northern Palawan > El Nido, Palawan > San Vicente, Palawan > Puerto Princesa, Palawan. If each of these tourist destinations were stepping stones in a pond, you will observe a large gap between Puerto Galera and Boracay, requiring another “stepping stone”, which highlights the strategic location of Mansalay, Oriental Mindoro, not only as another major tourist destination but also as the epicentre of three existing major tourist destinations; namely, Puerto Galera, Boracay and Coron. It stands to reason that as the tourism sector in Mansalay reaches a certain critical mass, the development of the Wasig Airfield into a tourist destination airport (much like the Caticlan Airport for Boracay) would eventually be justified and completed, thereby cementing Mansalay’s rightful place among the definitive tourist destinations in the Philippines. The point is, now more than ever, Mansalay should exploit its strategic geographical location, while Puerto Galera, Boracay and Coron have not yet completely ruined their environment (some say Puerto Galera and Boracay are already ruined) and are still considered attractive tourist destinations.

The Western Tourism Corridor of the Philippines and
Mansalay at the epicenter of Puerto Galera, Boracay and Coron

2.       Current confidence in the Philippine economy is at an all-time high. Apart from the country’s strong annual economic growth since 2012, the sovereign credit-rating of the Philippines achieved an investment-grade for the first time in its entire credit history in 2013. Furthermore, as recently as May 2014, Standard and Poor’s Rating Services again upgraded the country’s credit-rating one more notch above investment-grade. These gains are largely attributed to P-Noy’s fight against corruption in government or Daang Matuwid, albeit on a selective basis by some accounts. In any case, both the local and the international business community, including those in the tourism sector, are in the mood to increase or to place new investments in the country. However, the next presidential elections is less than two (2) years away and all the goodwill and confidence that P-Noy has gained from the business/investment community may be lost if the next President pardons the senators implicated in the PDAF scam (much like GMA pardoned ERAP shortly after he was convicted of plunder). The investment appetite for the Philippines appears healthy today but what happens after the next presidential elections is anybody’s guess. Mansalay should exploit this limited window of time to jump start its tourism initiative by eliciting the support of the private sector while P-Noy is still the President.

So, what exactly does the private sector need? For starters, the Master Tourism Development Plan should immediately be approved by the Sangguniang Bayan. It’s a no brainer and it sends a powerful signal to private enterprises that Mansalay is ready for business, particularly in the realm of tourism. More specifically, the Mangal Marine Protected Area (MPA) ordinance should also be passed by the Sangguniang Bayan. It’s another no brainer, yet it’s been vetted to death for over two years. Enough talk and get it passed—read “It’s the Environment, Stupid!” My family has committed to Mayor Joel the commissioning of no less than Palafox to master plan a world-class eco-friendly (Palafox would not agree to do it any other way) resort complex on our property—after the MPA ordinance is passed. Thereafter, we would entice major real estate developers to execute the Palafox master plan—again, after the Palafox master plan is approved by the SB. In short, the SB needs to step up their legislative efforts to promptly address the needs of investors and the aspirations of their constituents. No more dribbling or dicking-around with investor and livelihood-friendly ordinances.

In what seems like another lifetime, when I was a private power developer in Southeast Asia for a multinational energy company, I travelled extensively to Vietnam to develop at least one substantial power project that would entail a direct investment in the country of between US$1 to US$2 billion. After about 18 months of earnest discussions with ranking government officials, it became apparent that they were stringing us along without any urgency of entering any binding agreement. Thus, I pulled out and Vietnam had one less substantial private power investor to rely on for additional power generating capacity.

If not for my personal friendship with Mayor Joel, which is on its second generation and counting, I would have pulled out of Mansalay as well. My family is just as content to keep our property as a forest reserve in perpetuity. If the SB is serious about tourism in Mansalay, there is no time or place for ignorance, politicking or idle talk—just sound, responsive and prompt investor and livelihood-friendly ordinances. The time is here and now; otherwise, it’s hasta la vista, baby!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Ambassador of Germany visits Rancho Caridad

With Rolf, Thomas (Ambassador of Germany) . . . and the Fascination

It is not everyday that a foreign dignitary visits Rancho Caridad. On June 6 (Friday), Rolf sends me an unusual text message stating that the Ambassador of Germany will be visiting the farm on Saturday and it would be ideal if I could be there to meet him. Indeed!

I left my condo in San Juan mid-Saturday morning riding my Vulcan and arrived at the farm before noon--thanks to the opening  of the TPLEX (Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway) up to Rosales, Pangasinan (since Holy Week of 2014), which makes for a pleasant ride to Rancho Caridad. It so happens that Rolf was not far behind. He arrived as I was entering the gate of the residence. Not long afterwards, the Ambassador, Herr Thomas Ossowski, arrived as well. He was driving his own vehicle and overshot Nampicuan. He was nearly in Cuyapo when Rolf called to guide him back to Rancho Caridad.

Surprisingly, Thomas was NOT driving a German car. It was a Jeep Wrangler--made in the USA. Later in the afternoon, when I showed him my Kawasaki Vulcan, he mentioned that his Harley Davidson Sportster (also made in the USA) is arriving in Manila at any time. I teased the Ambassador that he is not a very good salesman for the highly coveted German cars and motorcycles, which are available to the Philippine luxury market. I had a good laugh when he commented (quite truthfully) that cars made in the USA are much less expensive than cars made in Germany. That said, I suspect all of the official vehicles of the German Embassy are made in Germany.

Of course, boys will be boys and we must play with our toys. Thomas is an avid recreational aviator and he was interested to fly the planes of Rolf--both the single-prop Fascination and the glider/sailplane. Rolf was able to take him up on both aircrafts; however, the were no thermals that afternoon resulting in a brief glider flight above Rancho Caridad.

We had a pleasant and relaxing afternoon of stories and conversation overlooking the airstrip while nibbling on Joyce's signature potato salad and homemade kimchi. Before dark, Thomas took his leave but not without an open invitation to return and fly at Rancho Caridad.