Friday, August 29, 2014

Sangbay ni Ragsak (Waterfalls of Happiness)

About an hour's drive from San Fernando, La Union, heading northeast, is a quiet little town called Suyo (Ilocos Sur)--population (August 2014) of approximately 12,000 people. Armand suggested we ride our motorbikes to check-out some waterfalls in Suyo with his friend, Jessie, who is, in turn, a friend of Suyo's Mayor, Samuel "Mario" Subangan Jr. And so, off we rode to Suyo at the crack of dawn on Wednesday, August 27, 2014.

It was a relatively leisurely ride from Rancho Caridad (Nampicuan, Nueva Ecija), which lasted about four (4) hours. The last hour of the trip was the stretch from San Fernando, La Union to Suyo, Ilocos Sur, with the final half-hour traversing good concrete "twisties" until we stopped to take a break at the Mayor's home. Before we knew it, lunch was served and, thereafter, the Mayor lent us his 4x4 and instructed his staff to bring us to Sangbay ni Ragsak, which is Ilocano for Waterfalls of Happiness.

From the Mayor's house, which is right across the munisipyo, it was a picturesque 20 minute ride on the 4x4 (through concrete roads) plus a relatively easy 20 minute trek on foot. Sangbay ni Ragsak is comparable to Pagsanjan Falls in Laguna and Bomod-Ok Falls in Sagada. However, there is no need to "shoot the rapids" (admittedly part of the fun in Pagsanjan) or to trek one to two hours (as in the case of Bomod-Ok) to reach the falls itself. Further, the pools below Sangbay ni Ragsak are ideal for taking a dip, which is exactly what we did when we got there.

Afterwards, we were brought to the eco-tourism pool resort operated by the municipal government, which is clean and well-maintained. It has a couple of rooms that can be rented for P800 per room per night as well as a cottage for an entire family for P3,000 per night. It's surrounded by forest trees and mountains, with only the sound of the nearby spring and the soft wind to relieve the most stressed nerves. Shortly thereafter, we dropped by the Mayor's office to convey our gratitude and appreciation. Although our visit was brief, it illustrates without a doubt that genuine old-fashioned Filipino hospitality is alive, well, and embodied in Mayor Mario and the town of Suyo.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Lolo Bino, President Quezon and Judicial Independence

After the ratification of the new constitution on May 14, 1935, the National Assembly through Commonwealth Act No. 3, reduced the membership of the Supreme Court from eleven to seven. The reduction could have become a full-blown political controversy if not for the decisions of five American court members to resign their posts. The all-Filipino judiciary now had the task of restraining President Manuel Luis Quezon, the dominant figure of Philippine Commonwealth politics.

Unfortunately, the judiciary provided timid resistance to Quezon. The president sought to influence the judiciary through his public pronouncements as well as discreet maneuverings.

In the early years of Lolo Bino's career as a judge in the Court of First Instance in the City of Manila, the case of Cuervo versus Barredo (65 Phil. 290 [1938]) landed in his sala at the time President Quezon was running for re-election under the theme of "social justice".  The issue at bar was whether an employer was liable to pay damages to the heirs of an employee who drowned when ordered to retrieve a piece of log in the river by the employer’s foreman.

Quezon, a consummate panderer to the masses and the original "trapo" of Philippine politics, wanted Padilla to decide in favor of the underdog. However, Padilla of the Court of First Instance ruled that no liability existed due to the negligence of the employee to ensure that he would not drown. True to form, Quezon summoned Padilla to Malacanang and berated him like some errant houseboy. Out of respect for the Presidency, Padilla responded:

"Your excellency, I decided on the case based on my understanding of the law, the dictates of my conscience and, above all, my fear of the Good Lord. If you do not approve of my decision, then I hereby tender my resignation."

Quezon did not accept Padilla's resignation. Instead, he had Padilla assigned to one of the most dangerous judicial posts in the Philippines--the Court of First Instance in the Island of Jolo. This was a veritable death sentence, particularly in light of the infamous Moro juramentados in Jolo, who would murder government personnel (including soldiers and judges) in the name of Islam--Quezon's payback for Padilla's judicial independence.

The decision of Padilla at the Court of First Instance was affirmed by the Court of Appeals. Quezon lambasted the court rulings as one that was made by “seventeenth century judges interpreting twentieth century laws” (Guevarra 1999, 451). The public pronouncement was made before the Supreme Court rendered its decision on the highly-publicized case. The Supreme Court did reverse the decisions of the lower courts, but Justice Laurel strongly rebuked the president’s antics during and after the Cuervo case.

During his "tour of duty" in Jolo, Padilla sentenced a number of prominent Muslims to death and personally attended the executions of the same. Yet, he would take daily walks along the beach without the protection of any bodyguards. Many years later, when his son, Tito Bing, attended a hearing in Jolo, he noticed one picture frame in the hall of justice (which has since burned down). It was the picture of then Judge Sabino Padilla, who was apparently beloved by the local Muslim community due to his judicious and fearless decisions in court. At the wake of Lolo Bino, many Muslims travelled from Mindanao (including Jolo) to Manila to pay their last respects. 

Quezon had his way with the Court in a lot of cases. In his memoirs, Justice Malcolm (1957) commented that Quezon “had his prerogatives confirmed by the Supreme Court” (p. 131). Justice Isagani Cruz and Cynthia Datu (2000, 89) remarked that during the period “executive intervention was so widely known.” Quezon almost always had his way with the Court. It was said that “Ozaeta (Quezon’s Attorney-General) never won in the Supreme Court, but Quezon never lost” (Ibid., 90).

Monday, August 4, 2014

Oyster Heaven

I googled this picture of oysters but the ones I ate were at least as meaty as these.

I love a hearty serving of fresh meaty oysters, simply blanched in boiling water for a couple of minutes. This also makes it easier to pry these suckers open with a sharp knife (blade should not flex). WARNING! You will probably slice your finger one way or another if you are not extremely careful. Be sure the sharp side of the knife blade is pointed away from any part of your fingers, hands, legs or body when opening oyster shells. Doused with vinegar and onions, you are all set to slurp, slurp, slurp.

Last Saturday (August 2, 2014), my friend, Armand Bernal, invited me to visit his first cousin, Fernando "Pando" Bernal, who lives in Rosario, La Union--about an hour northwest of Rancho Caridad by car. His inducement was . . . fresh oysters. Say no more. It so happens that the younger brother of Pando, Eric Bernal (who lives in Manila), was visiting his brother. So, Armand, who lives in Mocada, Tarlac, was invited for a family reunion of sorts.

Given the extensive coastline of the Philippines, I wonder why fresh high quality meaty oysters are so hard to come by in the Philippines. After surveying the coral reef of Casabangan Bay in Mansalay and learning about its destruction, alongside the destruction of 95% of the coral reefs in the Philippines (alongside the destruction of the 15 million hectares of forest stand in the country--now estimated at less the 2 million hectares, if that; alongside the over-exploitation of the marine resources in the country, which is aggravated by the poaching of endangered species by Chinese fishermen), it all boils down to the overpopulation of ignorant and uneducated people, who just keep taking and taking from the environment without giving back--until the natural environment has nothing more to give. Then, these people turn to the government for subsidy, which the government extorts from taxpayers like me.

Apparently, one can purchase oysters from the public market of Sto. Tomas, La Union. However, they are reportedly run-of-the-mill. The ones delivered to Pando's home, which is located on a two-hectare property in Rosario, La Union (the neighboring town southeast of Sto. Tomas), along the national highway, were oysters grown for home consumption. These were not for sale but given to friends and family on occasion. I was fortunate to partake of these "special" oysters, which were the best I had in all my life. These are grown along the coast of an islet (separated by a sandbar that appears and disappears according to the tide) across the fishhook-shaped bay of Sto. Tomas--see the Google Map below. This counts as one of my treasured discoveries near Racho Caridad.