Experiencing the Boracay Algae Gloom

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On a homecoming trip to Romblon, I surprised my mother with a stopover to an island known far and wide, inside and beyond the country: one you can categorically love or categorically hate. An island so mainstream in the local Philippine tourism industry that my inner antisocial self hates with passion but one I couldn’t get enough off since my feet got the feel of its world-famous carpet of sand: Boracay

My last Boracay trip was in January 2015 and I initially thought that the beachfront would be littered with dirty beer cans, lost slippers and other traces of debauchery after years of steady growth of commercialism. Yet, I was pleasantly surprised to find it as pristine and iridescent as ever and so I thought of bringing my mom here so she can relax before we continue our trip to an island nearby.

I kind of expected it would be the same beautiful (crowded) paradise as it was in January . Alas, my hopes are dashed with our personal encounter of the infamous Boracay Algae Bloom (and an even larger crowd – the remnants of LaBoracay Party 2015)

The so-called Boracay lumot

The so-called Boracay lumot

Lumot lumot everywhere as far as the eye can see

Lumot lumot everywhere as far as the eye can see

Growing up, I used to hear praises and accolades about this tiny beautiful island. Boracay is the country’s answer to the beautiful Hawaii – our own own paradise island. Aside from boasting one of the greatest beach sands in the Philippines, it is also home to extreme water sports activities and outdoor thrills. Of course, I don’t need to mention how it turns into a mega-crazy place where you can party all night and not ever recall a single thing the morning after. Along with the fame is also the imminent downfall, as they say. After a while, media has shown countless footage and documentaries of how dirty the place is turning to be, how businessmen and investors keep on building their facilities without slightest regard to the island’s natural beauty and how nature is supposedly fighting back by sending legions of green aliens to its shores.

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According to what I found in the internet, the Boracay Algae Bloom is more of a structural problem than an environmental one. The island’s underdeveloped sewage system simply can’t keep up with the wave of business and commercial investments coming in. Locals have been dumping their waste on the sea before it became a top-ranked Philippine destination. Imagine the situation now with onslaught of tourists coming in every year in the last twenty years (and counting)

Boracay nightlife

Boracay nightlife

Look at those babes - the ones standing on top of mountains. Are those windmills?

Look at those babes – the ones standing on top of mountains. Are those windmills?

Still, you can’t dismiss the environmental factors surrounding the issue. With great people comes great trash. It’s the sad, painful truth. Congestion, over-development and the island’s inner resources and facilities unable to cope up with the demand of the industry may spell its doom eventually.

The carpet of sand has an unwanted green layer

The carpet of sand has an unwanted green layer

I’m not saying anyone shouldn’t visit Boracay from now on. All I’m trying to say is that we should be at least aware of the island’s vulnerability. Most of us come to Boracay to enjoy, to relax, to party, to let loose and return to our normal lives refreshed with the sun’s kiss still warm in our skins. We’re like: “But moooooom, it’s hard to think about the environment when you’re having fun!!” Maybe that’s why the algae bloom is seasonally there to remind us of its vulnerability and violating it further wouldn’t do it (or your future trips) any good. Everything you do in the island is connected to how it will turn out to be. Follow the simple rules of not smoking or bringing any food/beverage to the beachfront. If an establishment is violating the rules in favor of profit than human decency, stop patronizing them. Leave nothing, take nothing. Or as I like to paraphrase it: Make love on the sand but don’t leave your condom behind. (this is an expression. Seriously, get a room). Enjoy the beauty, not abuse it. If you love Boracay and is deeply concerned for its future, join or support an NGO for its protection.

((And to the local government unit and tourism department, maybe we should move now from Promoting to Protecting? The success of tourism lies not on making it a worthy tourist destination now, but making it a worthy tourist destination for generations to come.))

Boracay - the face of tourism in this country

Boracay – the face of profit-driven tourism in this country

Shortcuts

“Turn it right! Turn it right!” Kuya Pat bellowed. I promptly turned the steering wheel to the left, the stick on reverse. It was only when the car turned to the wrong direction did I learn that my “right” is wrong.

“What are you doing? I said ‘right’, not ‘left'” he shrilled as if I’ve just run through his foot.

“Sorry” I smiled sheepishly. “I was so focused on stepping the clutch, I didn’t realize I was steering to my left.”

“Do it again.” He ordered.

Beads of sweat fell like pearls on my eyes before I can wipe them away. I was using the office car and I couldn’t waste anymore of its gas on aircon.

The engine sounded like an irritable bear just woken up as I slowly let go of the clutch and stepped on the accelerator. The car lurched hard. The engine didn’t die and I stared down at the steering wheel, forgetting which is right and which is left.

This is just another day for my pre-driver’s license training. After nearly a month, the greatest achievement I ever had is not killing the engine on first gear.

Getting a driver’s license is one of the goals I have to achieve for this year. For some countries, getting your driver’s license is like a battle you need to prepare yourself for. But here in the Philippines, all you need is a money and some guy your friend’s friend knew of and there you have it.

Kuya Pat taught us how to move the car forward and backward, then we’re done, he declared: “You can get your driver’s license now.”

In some cases, you don’t need to actually drive through a test run. I know this guy who was given a hand-out of the answers for the written exam. It doesn’t make sense that you will take an exam you already know the answers for. You might as well abolish the whole thing and save a lot of trees.

I promised to myself that I should basically know how to handle the steering wheel at least before I took the “test”, despite how easy it is to pass it. I don’t know why everything in this country, including the permission to handle vehicle that can potentially kill/hurt someone, is run by money.

Cars these days are automatic, some would say. You really don’t need everything there is to know about driving to get a license. I beg to differ. You should at least develop quick reflexes, learn to control your emotions on the road and know the traffic rules to spare the rest of the people the inconvenience of ramming your car the next post or the sidewalk or even to their own cars.

I’m not saying that driving should be serious. Unless you’re a car junkie or a professional driver, there are hardly any rewards for driving almost everyday in your life (give us better roads or less traffic and everyone would be happier). Driving should be enjoyable and you can do it by not inconveniencing someone on the road.

The car stopped a few inches from the plantbox. Kuya Pat made a twirl with his finger – clockwise. This time, I didn’t think. I steered the wheel to the right and pushed enough gas for the car to slowly ease into position.

And this time, I was right.

To the person who’s right for me: “Please, not now.”

To my future partner/soulmate/Mr. Right/Other Half,

While other girls of my age are dreaming of finding the boyfriends or husbands of their dreams, meeting you at this point of my life terrifies the heck out of me.

It’s not because I’m afraid of falling in love, or being hurt because of love. It’s not because I’m too scared or too naive; I’m 22 years old and I know finding your true love at this age is one of the most wonderful things in the world.

It’s because I’m an immature, spontaneous, vulnerable and laidback 22-year-old girl. I still have so much to learn about life, though meeting you can probably teach me a thing or two, but right now I feel I need to get through this alone.

I want to travel. I want to study and earn my masteral/law degree. I want to learn two foreign languages. I want to go solo backpacking. I want to write a book or a screenplay. I want to have my own car. I want to treat my mom in an overseas trip to Rome and France. I want to be that girl who accomplished half of what she wants to do in her life before meeting you.

I know we’re going to have wonderful adventures together and we’re going to create cool memories. Just that before we meet, I want to feel already complete.

I know you’re supposed to complete me, that we’re supposed to complement each other. I believe in that. It’s just that for me, you are supposed to fill the holes I don’t know that existed in the first place, the hidden gaps and lapses in my life that only being with you can fulfill. You’re supposed to give me that special kind of happiness I never knew existed.

But right now, I am more focused on things that I KNEW would make me happy. I want to feel complete, not depending on how others make me feel, but what I feel about myself.

I have my own goals and dreams. I know half of them will probably be nothing but dreams. I know I’ll have plenty of failures and rejections in store for me. I know I’m going to get hurt and probably along the way, I’ll be wishing that you’re right here with me.

But I want to come through all of this alone. I’m vulnerable and emotional. I tend to latch unto things that make me happy and comfortable. If I meet you right now, I don’t want to be that kind of girl who will wrap herself around you and consider you an emotional blanket.

I don’t want to be that girl whose emotional weaknesses may possibly hinder your own enjoyment of your life, your personal dreams and goals.

I don’t want to be that girl who thinks that love always completes. I have the love of my Creator for that.

I want to be that girl who will be your partner – your co-equal. I want us to look out for each other; seek strength from each other; learn from each others’ experience and life lessons. I want us to have this special kind of love we were unable to find from other people, or from the things we enjoy doing.

I’m excited to meet you, whoever you are, and God knows how I would love to be there if you’re hurting right now. Just now, you have to go through this alone…and I have my own personal battles to deal with.

I hope by the time we meet, our creases and dents, our imperfect shapes and curves, would fit us together perfectly.

Until then!

Love,
Immature, spontaneous, Unable-to-love-you-yet Me

What to expect on your first climb?

I was never athletic. Never has and never will be. I like the great outdoors and I enjoy nature more than I enjoy most people. Sometimes though, I do wish that my body would keep up with my soul’s wanton desire to be one with nature.

And what amazing work of nature to get lost in than a mountain? I hold an almost reverent, romantic view for these hulking mass of the earth. I am simply enthralled with their hugeness, their constrained power, the mystery they hide beneath the carpet of green. Ever since I graduated from school, one of the things I must do in my list is to climb a mountain. But for reasons of the other, I wasn’t able to.

So when my bestfriend casually invited me for a dayhike at a nearby mountain in Bulacan, who was I to pass up the chance? It’s time to get up close and personal.

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Mt. Balagbag in Bulacan is a minor climb, just right enough for a climber newbie like me. Eme told me that in a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the hardest, it scored a 2. But believe me if I tell you that when you’re done with this mountain, you would think that someone has done this mountain a great injustice by giving it a measly 2.

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The difficulty 2 mountain will never give you the luxury of a flat, even ground. Mt. Balagbag has a steep terrain, riddled with sharp, huge rocks. It will provoke you with 45° steepness which often bends in a narrow curve. The climbers we are with, who are far more experienced than us, has to stop in every big lonesome tree they come across with just to breathe normally again.

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Another thing you should remember in facing Balagbag is the lack of protection from the sun. The climb would have been a hundred times easier if we hike at night or at dawn. I swear it seems like the mountain is frying you like a good sunny-side egg before it can eat you alive. Good thing the wind picks up every once in a while and it’s more than enough to keep us going.

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Reaching the top is a bit anticlimactic but still memorable. One of my friends, Crisel, kept on saying: “Shit, I can’t believe I made it!” and it’s wonderful how our “I’m dying. Just leave me be..” exhaustion minutes earlier is suddenly wiped out by “Yeah, we can take on everything!” elation.

From the experience as someone who is “devirginized” by a mountain, here are some of the musings I can share on what to expect on your first climb:

* Before anything else, condition your body. Before Balagbag, I jog about two times a week to pump up my cardio. I’m still a little sore two days after the climb but I hate to think what it would be like if I sit on my ass all week, thinking it will be a piece of cake.

* Choose comfortable clothes. If you’re in a dayhike climb, wear shorts with leggings underneath. Stretchable armbands are your bestfriend because you can take them off after the climb. Don’t dress to impress. No matter how good you look, the climb will change your appearance so much, you wouldn’t recognize yourself anymore. Do not wear extra clothings as possible, unless you’re about to climb the likes of Mt. Pulag.

* Rubber shoes may be too hot to wear but you will be thankful with them when the trail before you is a steep slide with sharp rocks at the bottom.

* Bring at least two 500ml of water and/or electrolytes. 80% of your bag is for water bottles.

* In a dayhike, travel light. Your backpack should be smaller than usual. In a major climb, make sure to choose a bag with comfortable shoulder straps.

* Bring caps, sun shades, visor or anything thag will protect your head and eyes from the sun.

* Hike in your own pace, especially if it’s your first time. So what if your hike buddies are far ahead of you? Give your poor body a chance to get in grips with that awful decision you made in climbing a damn mountain in the first place! (You’re not the first person who asked yourself: “What did I get myself into?”)

* If you feel like resting, do so. If you’re breathing hard and your heart feels like it’s about to burst on your chest, DO NOT sit down right away. Lean unto something or continue to stand until it finally subsided to a normal pace.

* On the middle of a steep climb, don’t spend most of your time looking far ahead. It will make you think of how high it is or how difficult it will be to make the turn or reach a point. It will make you tired more than you already are. Focus on your pace and at your progress. Before you know it, you’ve reached the top.

* Going down is just as hard as climbing up. But arguably, more fun!

* The view at the top is always worth the sweat.

* No matter how tired you get, or the regrets you thought while climbing, trust me if I say you will be addicted. The fever you will catch in climbing is no ordinary bug. You’ll experience some feverish desire to climb a mountain if you saw one.

Some geological trivia: Dead/dormant volcanoes are mountains without any neighbors. Usually, ordinary mountains are part of a mountain range or a cluster.

Now excuse me while I plan my next climb for the month of April. Pico de Loro, here I come!

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Why I’ve stopped asking God ‘Why’

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I’m a ‘why’ person. As a reporter, my favorite type of questions are the ‘Why’ ones. I would often reserve them to the last, after we’ve gone through the boring facts and figures, details and data, like a dessert after the appetizer and main course. My mentors would often lightly reprimand me that the lead of my news articles are usually long and feature-like; it’s because the ‘Why’ answers are always emphasized in the lead than the popular ‘What’, ‘Who’, ‘When’,and ‘Where’

My other favorite question is ‘How’ if I’m really interested with the subject but let’s talk about that some other time.

Why did you launch this project?
Why did you choose this age group as your target audience?
Why did you say that the youth today is the hope of the future?
Why are you so concerned with this cause?

I like to call ‘why’ questions as questions that allow the readers to focus more on the person than the subject, the ‘who’ than the ‘what’. ‘Why’s’ are personal; they allow you to solve one person’s motives, dreams, fears, history and other interesting tidbits (if you’re a gossip like me, kidding!).

It doesn’t work on God, however.

When I became a Christian, I’ve developed more questions than answers. Like with most people I know, they would usually ask ‘Lord, what is your plan in my life?’ or things like ‘Lord, where will you lead me?’ No I’m not that. I like to get deep and personal. After all, my newfound relationship with Christ granted me the Grace of that freedom. No sir, I wouldn’t settle for just answers in front of me. I’ll be demanding explanations.

My impatience and inherent independence usually bring me in conflict with God’s plan and mine. When things simply aren’t going my way, when I’m sick and frustrated over my own failures and stubbornness to listen to Him, I would demand the ‘Why’ right away. Why me? Why are you making me suffer? Why are you silent?

Why would you let this happen to me?

Why are you letting the innocent suffer?

Why must this person die?

Why are you letting bad things happen to your people?

And as you may have guessed, I received no reply. I thought, ‘I might as well be talking to a wall’

Asking ‘Why’ to God is a habit I have to give up, and mind you, it’s one of those hardest things I have to give up during my early days as a Christian. Still, I overcome it. It’s not because I got tired of asking Him questions. Usually, He would give the answers in the right time. It’s also not because I’ve stopped asking the ‘Why’ questions.

It’s because I’ve been asking them the wrong way all this time. I’ve forgotten the basic rule of journalism that the key for your answers lies on even the slightest revisions of your questions.

Instead of ‘Why are You like this to me?’, I began asking questions like:

‘Why am I like this?’

‘Why am I doubting Him?’

‘Why am I so afraid?’

‘Why am I losing faith now?’

And there, just like that, God would me give the answers. Yeah, I know. It took me ages to realize that.

This is WHY I’ve stopped asking Him why. Because in His grand scheme of things, let’s just face it, the answers to our Why questions are pointless. Instead, giving up our human nature to know ‘Why’ is the ultimate act of submission because you have no say in the matter anymore. It is your own leap of faith. It is defying logic and our own nature to fear the unknown. I’ve learned that the best testimonies of faith come from people who stopped asking ‘Why’.

When I was little and my parents used to bring me and my brothers to those pool trips, my dad would often ask me to ride the water slide. I have no idea where the slide would lead to but still, I didn’t hesitate to jump and slide all the way down, trusting with all my heart that my dad would be waiting at the bottom,with his arms outstretched to catch me so I wouldn’t drown. No questions asked. I knew that my father would be there waiting for me.

And this made me realize that asking too much questions can delay the fun or the wonderful promises He has planned for you. Being a ‘Why’ person has its perks, but when it comes to asking God, those ‘Why’s’ have to go.

To Our Fallen 44

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To our dear policemen who died for their service for the country and the people

Who died to subdue a dangerous man whose explosives may have, one day, burn villages and kill hundreds

Who died fighting an enemy that shouldn’t be.

You have come from different parts of the country, from North to the South

You may have spoken different native languages, raised from different families

You are sons, brothers, fiances, husbands and fathers to those you left behind

But you have fought as one, as valiant sons for our the motherland

You are heroes, in the truest sense of the word

You may never see our tears, our grief, our outrage and demands for justice

We may never know what you lived for

But we will never forget what you died for.

To our fallen 44,

Who lay dying in the fields under the dawning sky

We, the nation promises,

that your brutal, unnecessary sacrifice will be honored,

remembered,

immortalized

and justified.

Rest in peace, our brothers.

For after your battle has ended,

ours will continue.

And we will never stop

We will never rest in peace

Until we bring justice

On your grave

On 25 January 2015, three platoons of the elite SAF police squad ventured into the guerrilla enclave of Tukanalipao,Mindanao, Philippines, with the goal of detaining high-ranking, Jemaah Islamiyah-affiliated, improvised-explosive-device experts Zulkifli Abdhir and Basit Usman. The SAF troops were then ambushed by a group of the Moro Islamic liberation Front militants, suffering heavy casualties. Running out of ammunition, a dozen of surviving policemen attempted to withdraw. At the same time, rebels belonging to BIFF gathered from nearby villages, immediately engaging the retreating law enforcement agents. The militants overpowered the remaining policemen, later killing the wounded and firing multiple bullets into the corpses of the slain. A total of 44 SAF officers were killed, while rebel casualties amounted to at least 5 killed and 10 wounded. According to a government source, one of the bomb makers was already arrested when the ambush took place; his whereabouts is currently unknown. A MILF spokesman accused the SAF squads of initiating the firefight, claiming that the rebels acted in self-defense, and proposed the continuation of the peace process. The Philippine government and MILF are currently under a peace agreement for the upcoming creation of Bangsamoro or an Islamic State in Mindanao. After the incident, many of the citizens are having second thoughts if the Bangsamoro state should come into fruition in the hands of these militants.  Related links: http://www.interaksyon.com/article/103776/govt-deeply-saddened-by-pnp-saf-milf-clash-in-maguindanao http://www.rappler.com/nation/81883-pnp-saf-maguindanao-terrorists

Debunking the ‘Love Just Happens’ Mystery

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I am a person raised by books. To say it inflicted tremendous positive effects in my overall growth as an individual is an understatement. Reading opens your mind and broadens your understanding of the world and people in general. However, you cannot base your whole worldview on books alone. We have something we call life to learn lots from.

One of those misconceptions of human emotions I got from books and films is that ‘Love just happens naturally’. That love is a mysterious force that drives two people together. That some sort of inevitable ‘hand of fate’ is at play. That resisting love is futile and hopeless. That you are destined to fall in love with someone and there’s nothing you can do about it.

From the beginning, even before I experienced falling in love, love presents an interesting concept for me. What drives us to love someone? Is love just a concoction of pheromones and brain chemicals and we are completely under control of its effect in our body? More importantly, can we control who we are going to fall in love with?

An article from the New York Times piqued my interest one boring afternoon. It is: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/11/fashion/modern-love-to-fall-in-love-with-anyone-do-this.html?_r=0. It is a clinical approach of falling in love with someone and teaching your body, brain chemicals, etc. to feel something for a person. It then concludes that: Love didn’t happen to us. We’re in love because we each made the choice to be.

The article may be a subject for more open-ended arguments, case-to-case situations of people falling in love without the brain knowing about it, or reminding that this doesn’t speak out for everyone. Well, it did to me. I’ve been haggling myself why I can’t establish a romantic relationship with anyone, and why the mysterious force hasn’t been at work in my life.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve fallen in love quite a few times in my life. Some are unrequited, some are promising but have to be cut off for plenty of myriad reasons, some have no chance of working out at all. And all those experiences, I thought I’ve never been truly in love. Because in books, it’s either the hero or the heroine loses his/her mind over a love interest and that, it doesn’t make sense. I’ve never lost my mind over someone. In fact, I knew exactly why I like him. I made the choice and decision to be more than just friends, not because I couldn’t help it.

To look at love in a clinical point of view can be boring. I mean, where’s that mysterious force that binds us together for all eternity? Well, it set the record straight. We can be in control of our emotions. There is a big chance we can fall in love with someone if we willed it. If we get our hearts broken, we all have the guts to move on and look for someone more worthy of our affections. I guess what they say is true. The more you mature in love, the less exciting it gets. But hey, it all depends on perspective. It’s your choice what to believe and what to live. ‘Love happens’ or ‘you let love happen’, it’s a matter of enjoying love as it is.

It raises one point though. If we fall in love by choice, we also fall out of love by choice. It eventually completes a perfect circle.

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Because you are part of the village that raises children.

The author is a Thai-Filipina who writes wild stories as porn and sacred ones as the Bible. She's been writing random things about everything since she was 5. She is an advertising and marketing practitioner, an observer, a speaker, an aspiring performing artist and writer.

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