Monday, October 27, 2014

The Mangal Marine Protected Area Ordinance of Mansalay . . . is still Pending!

I returned to Mansalay on the evening of October 13, 2014 to attend what I thought was the third and final reading (and passage) of the pending Mangal Marine Protected Area (MMPA) Ordinance of Mansalay. I was horrified when I met with the Secretary of the Sangguniang Bayan, Mr. Gregorio De Chavez, on Tuesday, October 14, 2014, and was informed that the regular SB session held last Wednesday, October 8, 2014, did not conduct the second reading of the pending Ordinance. As such, the second reading will only be conducted in the upcoming regular SB session on Wednesday, October 15, 2014. The thoroughly inefficient and wasteful process of the government bureaucracy never ceases to disgust me!

On Wednesday, October 15, 2014, only two (2) members of the SB showed-up. No quorum; therefore, no session. These people are paid and expected to show-up for work once a week. That's once a week and some apparently think its optional. No wonder it takes virtually forever to get the simplest things done in government. There is no sense of urgency even on an ordinance that addresses the most basic human need--food on the table. This cavalier attitude borders on criminal and is a great disservice to the poorest in the community.

Mayor Joel tries to make-up for lost time by requesting the SB to hold a special session on Monday, October 20, 2014, for the purpose of completing the second reading, such that the third and final reading (and passage of the Ordinance) can be accomplished on the next regular SB session on Wednesday, October 22, 2014.

Monday, October 20, 2014, comes along and the special SB session requested by Mayor Joel proceeds. The second reading is done and I am once again perplexed that the provisions not directly relevant to the pending Ordinance (and therefore deleted by Mayor Joel and Lynn of PAGO during the first reading) were reintroduced into the draft document. Another waste of valuable time due to the sheer inexperience of De Chavez (the son), who was imposing on everyone else's time just so he could get a bit more OJT on crafting legislation.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014, the regular SB session proceeds without a hitch. The third and final reading is virtually done without much controversy until the Parking Area provision is discussed. It was as simple as, Mayor Joel asked for it on behalf of the fisherfolks and my family agreed to grant it. I had already cleared the details with Don Pedro Barangay Captain Alan Fabila, who passed a barangay resolution on the matter. I also crafted the appropriate language for insertion into the Ordinance. Between Fabila's barangay resolution and the language in the Ordinance, there was little left to the imagination as to what and where the Parking Area was going to be.

It was alarming to observe that some SB members either did not read the relevant document / provision or appear to have a basic reading comprehension problem. But the one that takes the cake is De Chavez (the son), who introduces and stubbornly insists on the utterly stupid notion that the government should dictate on a private property owner, which would have driven away any bonafide investor as far away from Mansalay as possible. Naturally, the Ordinance did not pass as planned because the inexperienced De Chavez was once again training on the job at everybody's expense.

After the third reading while having a late lunch at Aileen's, Konsehal Gustilo drops by and graciously offers a simple solution to the apparent impasse on the Parking Area provision, negating any provision allowing government to dictate on a private property owner. In short, if Barangay Don Pedro specifies the coordinates of the Parking Area in a barangay resolution, then the Ordinance is done.

Shortly thereafter, Konsehal Gustilo, Cocoy, Ige of Planning  (who brings his GPS device) and I proceed to Don Pedro. Kapitan Fabila and Kagawad Porek accompany us to the vicinity of the Parking Area at Mangal Estate, where Ige takes note of the 50 x 50 meter coordinates of the area using his GPS device. I assist Kapitan Fabila on the barangay resolution and, later, Ige on the illustration attachment to the barangay resolution. I craft a cover letter to the SB proposing the appropriate insertion for the Parking Area provision, which was submitted by Kapitan Fabila to Sec. De Chavez on Monday, October 27, 2014, together with the barangay resolution requested by Konsehal Gustilo.

If, for any reason, the SB does not accept its own proposed solution to the Parking Area provision, then the failure to pass the MMPA Ordinance of Mansalay would fall squarely on the inexperience and stupidity of De Chavez (the son) and the complicity of the SB at large for tolerating such ignorance. The boy is in dire need of some basic schooling on the principles of free-market enterprise and the market-oriented economy.

The boy seems to think that government is the solution to poverty, when the sole role of government is to catalyze the participation of private enterprise in the local economy and then to get the hell out of the way--Singapore is a prime example of this phenomenon. The alternative (and the reality thus far in poor towns like Mansalay) is years upon years of government subsidy, which only perpetuates the prevailing political patronage system that pimps dependency and fuels more poverty.

The boy seems to think that private sector participation is something to be tolerated. Well, I've got news for you. The only truly sustainable source of economic progress is private sector participation (which should be welcomed, embraced and celebrated) and, in the case of this inexperienced boy, it's not because of the supportive efforts of government but in spite of the obstructive behavior of government. Until this idiot is properly schooled, he should be kept as far away as possible from potential investors in Mansalay, particularly in his capacity as a member of the SB.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Apo Reef, Occidental Mindoro and Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro

Apo Reef, approximately 56 kilometers west of Apo Reef Club Resort, Calintaan, Occidental Mindoro
My road trip started around 7 a.m. on Sunday, September 21, 2014. In addition to my usual clothing and toiletries, my Vulcan was loaded with my scuba equipment, which fit nicely into my large backpack placed on top of the backseat and saddlebags--and secured by a bungee net. I rode from my home in San Juan, Metro Manila to the Port of Batangas, hopped on a RORO to Calapan and proceeded to traverse the entire stretch of Oriental Mindoro until I crossed over to the mountain forests of Magsaysay, Occidental Mindoro and finally to the plains of San Jose City.

Apart from three small bridges under construction in Pinamalayan and Gloria, a short stretch of winding road through a hill heading south to Manaul, Mansalay, and a few other patches of bridge/road construction along the way, the entire stretch of road to San Jose was really quite decent. I arrived in San Jose at around 8 p.m. but I could have arrived before sunset (and saved myself the trouble of riding through unfamiliar mountainous winding roads in an evening thunderstorm) if I hadn't taken too many rest stops along the way. Live and learn!

Upon arriving in San Jose, I noticed that the town was barely lighted. There was no electricity. My thoughts immediately shifted to my evening accommodations in the absence of air-conditioning, which was not a pleasant proposition. I was surprised at my hotel (Jazmine Royale Hotel), which had a sizable electric generator to run the air-conditioning units of the hotel rooms--no extra charge! My room and bath were clean and had a hot shower. There was adequate parking for my Vulcan and there was a security guard outside the entrance of the hotel for the night. The rate was reasonable at P900 per overnight stay.

On Monday, September 22, 2014, my final leg from San Jose to Calintaan, where Apo Reef Club Resort is located, was also quite decent, with only about 3 kilometers of rough road towards the end of about an hour ride before turning left into a short access road to Apo Reef Club Resort.

Approximately 420 km from Point A (San Juan, Metro Manila) to
Point B (Apo Reef Club Resort, Calintaan, Occidental Mindoro)--
a picturesque motorcycle ride that is doable in a single day
I was informed that P-Noy visited Puerto Galera just a few weeks ago (end of August 2014) and the word on the street is that the illusive road from Abra de Ilog to Puerto Galera, a mountainous and treacherous stretch in excess of 20 kilometers that will close the only remaining gap of the circumferential road around the entire Island of Mindoro, will finally be constructed. Indeed, I look forward to the day that I can comfortably cruise around the entire Island of Mindoro on my Vulcan without worrying about some stretch of rough road that'll destroy my motorbike. If the promise is kept, then this completed circumferential road becomes a reality just before the end of P-Noy's term in 2016 and the Island of Mindoro will join the ranks of other Philippine islands with completed circumferential roads, including Marinduque, Bohol and Panay.

For those who are not passionate about traveling by motorbike, there are regular flights from Manila to San Jose City, Occidental Mindoro (less than one-hour flight duration), where you can be picked-up and brought straight to Apo Reef Club Resort (about a one-hour drive from San Jose City Airport). In this scenario departing from Manila, you are comfortably settled at the definitive gateway of Apo Reef in about two hours.

Michael Roos (mobile number: +63-917-825-2599), the Swiss proprietor of Apo Reef Club Resort, is a relatively recent pioneer in the eco-tourism sector primarily showcasing Apo Reef to both the international and local scuba diving communities. Yet in just a few years, he has managed to set-up a comfy resort managed by a hand-picked team of service-oriented personnel. His room rates (basic electric fan rooms and very comfortable air-conditioned rooms) include dinner and breakfast buffets, which (surprise! surprise!) are prepared by a very competent and well-trained cook. The food was delicious, which is usually NOT the case in less-developed rural settings such as Calintaan.

With respect to the main offering of the Resort (i.e., scuba diving at Apo Reef), Mike or Mickey (as he is called by his team) has what I call a "mini-liveaboard" that brings you out to Apo Reef on the morning of the first day and brings you back to the Resort on the afternoon of the second day. That means you get to sleep overnight on his mini-liveaboard dive boat under the skies of Apo Reef. Unfortunately, his mini-liveaboard dive boat was still being repaired during my visit, so we were brought to Apo Reef by his speed boat (about an hour trip each way) on each of the two days we went scuba diving--returning to the Resort to sleep overnight. We dove 3 times each day or a total of 6 dives in 2 days.

Admittedly, the first day of diving was a bit disappointing. The marine life just didn't seem to be in the mood to display themselves. The second day was much more rewarding. We were even treated to delightful "stroll" with a sizable clan of dolphins halfway towards Apo Reef. Click the following link to view the film clip on YouTube: Dolphin Encounter.

Yes, I saw plenty of fish--big, small and different schools of fish. White tip sharks were common. Saw a gray reef shark and an eagle ray briefly and from a distance. Sea turtles not as frequently as I would have expected. Coral conditions were quite ordinary compared to the ones I saw in Apo Island, Dumaguete, although this may not be a fair comparison given the much larger area of Apo Reef of Occidental Mindoro compared to Apo Island of Dumaguete. All in all, my dives in Apo Reef are still some of my best dives, right alongside those in Apo Island and Balicasag. It was a bit surreal to have Martin as our dive lead. You see, Martin is a blond and blue-eyed Swiss, who appears more suited as a Ski Instructor in the Swiss Alps rather than a Scuba Diving Instructor in the Philippines ; ) I'm looking forward to returning to Apo Reef Club--this time on their mini-liveaboard overnight at Apo Reef.

Highlights of Apo Reef Dives (1)
Highlights of Apo Reef Dives (2) -- watch for the eagle ray towards the end of the film clip
Highlights of Apo Reef Dives (3) -- pretty and relatively shallow wreck dive

From Calintaan, I returned to Mansalay to attend to the pending marine protected area ordinance that was tentatively scheduled to pass on Wednesday, October 1, 2014. In the absence of Mayor Joel, who was out of town over the weekend, I decided to proceed to Puerto Galera, where I dove 3 sites on Sunday, September 28. My first dive at the Canyons was quite memorable. It was definitely the strongest drift dive I've done so far--not for beginners or the faint hearted. The current was quite strong such that we surfaced in the "open blue" halfway to Isla Verde! Our dive lead was Beat, another Swiss Dive Instructor (apparently quite common in the Philippines), who is associated with Sea Rider Dive Center of Mark Narvacan, Proprietor. I found out that one of our diving buddies in Planet Dive, Prandy Yulo, is also a regular patron of Sea Rider. Looking forward to diving with them again!

Puerto Galera Dive Sites
The rest of my stay in Mindoro was focused on the pending marine protected area ordinance of Mansalay. I attended the first reading (Wednesday, October 1) of the draft ordinance and we made great progress on the draft to the point that the draft for the second reading (Wednesday, October 8) was, in my opinion, ready for passage. I am returning to Mansalay on Monday, October 13 to witness and assist, if necessary, the third reading and the passage of the Mangal Marine Protected Area Ordinance on Wednesday, October 15.

I introduced this concept to the municipal government as early as May 2012. Assuming the ordinance is passed on October 15, that's 2 years and 5 months in the making of a simple ordinance that should have taken only a few weeks to pass. Unless the Sangguniang Bayan (SB, the local legislative body) drastically improves its response time to private investment initiatives, Mayor Joel's aspiration of Mansalay as a major tourist destination is doomed to fail! The SB needs to be violently whipped into shape from a stodgy unresponsive bureaucratic body to a lean, mean and ultra-responsive legislative machine!

On Tuesday, October 7, I returned from Mansalay, Oriental Mindoro, my scuba mask, snorkel, mobile phone, credit cards, driver's license, ATM card, scuba license and a few hundred pesos in cash stolen--right under our noses in the beach cabin in Casabangan. It left a bad taste in my mouth after a fun and fruitful two-week sojourn in the Island of Mindoro. In spite of all my family's efforts to help the Municipality of Mansalay launch a truly world-class tourism complex, some low-life shithead, who has nothing better to do, prostitutes his miserable soul to the devil by stealing my stuff that's of little use to him. It only cements the notion that the tourism complex we have in mind should be tightly secured to keep the hoi pollio out other than to provide much needed employment. Our mantra is to reel-in reputable institutional investors/locators to create jobs for the local community.