Monthly Archives: December 2014
A hotel promo and a sudden whim to go out of the Metro for the weekend brought us to the province up the north – a historic little province called Bataan. My bestfriend seemed to understand my fetish for old houses and structures, historic churches and historical markers so one day, she surprised me that she already booked a hotel room for the two of us in a price we can both afford at a hotel in Balanga.We got more than we bargained for, because the hotel sits literally at the center of the Plaza Mayor, sandwiched between the grand City Hall and an even grander-looking Robinson Mall at one side.
I’ve known Bataan from history books as a site of the infamous Death March during the World War II, when the Imperial Japanese forces overwhelmed the last stand at Corregidor and made the prisoners of war march to their death from Bataan to prison camps spread across Luzon. Thousands of Americans and Filipino soldiers either died out of exhaustion, dehydration, torture or the desire to escape (they were shot on the spot). Even today, markers are spread on the street and main highways, commemorating the ordeal that marked the dark age of Japanese rule over the archipelago.
Our first destination after we reached the hotel is the St. Joseph Cathedral or the Balanga Cathedral. Just a few seconds walk from our hotel, we already reached the doors of the church. Since it’s Sunday, we are lucky that there aren’t any holy masses and we are free to roam around and inside the church. I quickly took notice of the historical marker placed on the side of the wall, meaning the Balanga Cathedral is one of the country’s national cultural treasures. I’ve been around churches for so long now, not entirely out of religious reasons (I consider myself a Protestant ), but because of my love for history and anything old. Catholic churches are the town’s cultural crown jewel – you can trace a place’s history through the consecration of the churches. As I keep saying, if you want a glimpse of a town’s history, visit their churches.
Next stop, we went to the Dambana ng Kagitingan at Mt. Samat. It is a giant memorial cross placed on top of the mountain which commemorates the heroism and courage of joint Filipino-American soldiers as they stood their ground to the waves of Japanese attack during World War II.
You can either walk on foot or take a tricycle going to the top. A tricycle ride is strongly advisable for city bums like me (travelling on foot would take you an hour and a half). On the other hand, a tricycle ride would cost you Php100.00 per head, one-way only, and you’d get to the shrine after 30 minutes.
Tourists can go up as high as to the left and right side of the cross through an elevator which costs around PHP10.00 per head. At the top awaits a magnificent view of the whole Bataan peninsula and the rugged mountain range of neighboring provinces. You can also catch a glimpse of the top of Mt. Mariveles, a dormant volcano beside Mt. Samat that nearly covers all Bataan.
It is an amazing feeling to behold the 90-ft cross standing proud and mighty against the elements. Yet its sheer size and grandiose is nothing but a humble, simple gift for our heroes who fought for our motherland even when the odds are against them. Visiting here made me realize how important it is to be reminded by their sacrifices to protect the liberty they valiantly fought for. Times may have changed now and our former enemies are now our strongest allies, but forgiveness doesn’t have to equate to forgetting. It’s no different than spitting on the graves of our heroes.
For dinner, we ventured to the Balanga Night Market where we got to taste one of the tastiest, juiciest sisig and grilled squid ever. For just Php135.00, we are served with two meals plus two rice. I’m not sure if the Night Market is for Christmas time only, but if you’re looking for an affordable meal, it doesn’t hurt to inquire about it to the locals.
The locals in Bataan are also the friendliest and most helpful people I’ve encountered. They are always quick to help you out and offer you points of interest. Some of the people we met didn’t take advantage of our apparent clueless-ness of the place and offered the best price for the services, like the tricycle driver in Mt. Samat.
The next day, we traveled to the West Nuk Beach at Morong, Rizal, at the farthest point of Bataan, to check out the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant. I’ve always wanted to have a tour inside the first and only nuclear plant of the country. It is now called the White Elephant of the Philippines, as useless as any non-functional power plants can go, and the government is spending millions of pesos just to maintain the facilities. Now, it is a tourist sight and people can walk inside the power plant with a tour guide.
Unfortunately, the staff is having their Christmas Party when we arrived. That means no tours for us 😦 The only silver lining we got after taking the grueling trip from Balanga to Morong (Php55.00 each for the hour and a half ride) is that we got to frolic on the calm waves of West Nuk Beach. We didn’t stay long though because we have to catch the check-out time of our hotel.
We bought some Araro Cookies with cashew nuts for pasalubong at the Robinson’s Mall in a rush. Tinapa is Bataan’s own specialty too. The Gabi Ice Cream is also a well-loved specialty and you can try it at Orani, a town before Balanga.
All in all, I think I only spent Php1,000.00 for the activities and the fares for our 2-day stay. Excluding the hotel stay, of course. I would highly recommend staying in a less luxurious place, or in a house of a friend or a relative. Of course, you have to take note that the tour fare in Bataan Nuclear Power Plant is not counted in my breakdown of expenses, though it is recommended to have the tour with a group so you can share the package fee.
* Bus Fare (Cubao-Balanga) P200.00
* Jeep (Balanga-Diwa) – P17.00
* Tricycle (Diwa -Mt. Samat) – P100.00
* Entrance Fee – P20.00
* Elevator Fee – P10.00
* Tricycle (Mt. Samat-Diwa) – P100.00
* Jeep (Diwa-Balanga) – P17.00
* Mini-bus (Balanga-Bataan Nuclear Power Plant) – P65.00
* Bataan Nuclear Power Plant Entrance Fee – P20.00
* Entrance at West Nuk – P120.00
* Picnic Table – P60.00 (P30.00 each)
* Mini-bus (BNPP-Balanga) – 65.00
* Bus (Balanga-Manila) – P200.00
So all in all, Bataan is one of the most affordable out-of-town trips I’ve had. If you’re a fan of history or you just wanted to venture out of the Metro and visit a nearby province to relax, Bataan should be on top of your weekend getaways.
Last 2012, I was part of the media entourage who went to Las Casas Acuzar in Bagac, Bataan. It is a man-made park filled with heritage houses uprooted from different parts of the country; houses that are decaying in their original location. They are henceforth transferred in Bagac for recreational viewing and preservation. You can check out my article here.
When I first came to Davao, I had a limited time to explore the city on my own and visit the places I’ve always wanted to check out. One of them is the Philippine Eagle Center, the home for the country’s national and majestic bird, the Philippine Eagle. It is one of the largest eagles in the world, endemic to the Philippines. But due to deforestation and human activities, their numbers dwindled out, making them one of the most critically endangered creatures in the world.
I had a strange fascination with the Philippine Eagle for some time. Its appearance, to say the humblest, exudes pride and nobility in every way. It can grow to 3.35 ft (1 meter) and has a wingspan of 6-7 ft. Its talons are large and menacing enough to claw through the meat of a full-grown monkey (it is also called the Monkey-eating Eagle). When it is angered or it wants to emphasize its territory, its shaggy mane draws up like those in a lion’s. Its brown feathers camouflaged the color of the people, and the fact that it’s only found nowhere else in the world except here further qualifies it a national symbol.
So that’s why when I returned to Davao, I promised to myself that I have to go here, even if it means having to go by myself if I have to. I’m staying in a missionary’s house in Toril, near the SM City Davao, and I only have to take one ride going to Calinan. Davao transportation is slowly transforming like that in Manila; shuttle and van services are beginning to dominate the road going to far-away areas. In my case, I took a van which costs around Php 40.00. I asked the driver to drop me to the “Philippine Eagle” since I’m new in the city and he actually did! Now, I don’t know if drivers in Manila are just being trolls or quite forgetful; either reason you can’t rely on their promise that they will drop you off in your destination.
After dropping off to Calinan, a busy town center, motorcycles and pedicabs are already waiting there for visitors to go to the Eagle Center. I agreed to settle the fare to Php 20.00. Anyway, it is a 5-kilometer ride away from the marketplace, and we have to pass difficult, dusty road to get to the Center.
The Eagle Center has a small crowd of visitors during that overcast, slightly drizzly afternoon. Before entering PEC, a guard will charge you a Php10.00 entrance for adults (Php5.00 for kids) in the entrance. The fee is just for the entrance to the Davao City Water District, a small park of sorts where you can have picnics and enjoy some of the park’s kiosks.
The entrance fee for kids and adults are different in PEC. Adults like me (18 years old and above sigh) has to pay Php100.00 for the tour of the whole area, while kids or youth (18 years below) can buy their entrance fee for Php50.00. Of course, proceeds will go to the conservation and breeding of the eagles of the Philippine Eagle Foundation. I think it’s just a small amount you can shed compared to the large difference the Foundation is trying to make.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature currently estimates the number of Philippine Eagle to be just around 180-500, making them one of the most critically endangered animals in the world. Killing or poaching an Eagle is a criminal offence in Philippine law but they are mostly captured for zoos. Deforestation, mining, exposure to pesticides that affect breeding, and human activities are the major contribution to its nearing extinction.
I think one of those factors for its dwindling numbers is its complex reproduction. Philippine Eagles are inherently monogamous – they seek just one partner for life (see, even in the animal kingdom, the faithful ones are dwindling), and they only breed 1-2 eggs for every two years. They won’t breed again until their baby is old enough to take care of itself. It also takes years for an eagle to sexually mature, and sadly, only few survive to breed in the jungle.
The park is small and you can easily navigate around for just 2-3 hours. Aside from eagles, you can see rare species of birds that can be found not just in the Philippines but also in Southeast Asia and India. If you’re still not tired of seeing crocodiles being interviewed on news, you can check out the Estuarine Crocodile at one point in the park. There is also a wide variety of waling-waling (Queen of the Philippine Flower) in the area you take a picture of! The park mostly features endemic creatures in the Philippines, like the Silvery Kingfisher, Pinsker’s Hawk Eagle, Philippine Brown Deer, Giant Scorps Owl and the Philippine Warty Pig.
But one can’t deny the main attraction is this badass over here: Pag-Asa (Filipino word for Hope). He is the first eagle bred in captivity back in 1992 (we are practically the same age!) and now, he finally had his first chick hatched (Mabuhay) last year! Mabuhay is also bred in artificial insemination, a long, tedious process facilitated by the eagle keepers and biologists in the foundation. Still, I am hoping that the day will arrive that Eagles wouldn’t find it hard to breed in the wild, without human intervention whatsoever.
Upon leaving the park, I bought some souvenirs from the Foundation. There are stalls outside the park selling the same items but I wanted to show my support to the preservation through my own little way. The items are a bit more expensive, but like I said, it’s a small price to pay for the survival of these eagles.
The Philippine Eagle is more than just an attraction or a national symbol – it’s an advocacy. After the tour in the park, I made it a lifelong plan to dedicate myself in contributing for the preservation of these wonderful creatures. I’ll make it a mission to advocate the Philippine Eagle as more than icon, but a testament of how everything about the Philippines isn’t hopeless at all. Our country may be facing quite a number of difficulties right now- from natural disasters to government incompetence, lack of education and poverty in rural areas- but just like the Philippine Eagle, we can have that chance to rise again. Everything may be quite helpless and bleak now, but always, let us remember there is Pag-asa.
The Philippine Eagle Foundation is a private, non-stock, non-profit organization dedicated to saving the endangered Philippine Eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) and its rainforest habitat. Organized in 1987, it had before that time been operating as a project undertaking research, rehabilitation, and captive breeding. Staffed by highly trained and dedicated personnel, it has today evolved into the country’s premiere organization for the conservation of raptors. For more information, visit this website: http://www.philippineeagle.org/foundation/
HELP SAVE THE PHILIPPINE EAGLE AND OTHER PHILIPPINE WILDLIFE!
Sometimes I question myself why I write. Do I write for fun? Or for the hell of it? Or that I just have to do it because I’m lofty enough to regard myself as such. Sometimes, I have selfish reasons. I want myself to be heard and the people to listen to me. Sometimes, I convince myself through empty words and platitudes. Writing, in itself, is ego-inflating.
When I write, I throw away the conscious part of me, the insecure, ugly side that’s clings into my skin like a thick aroma of weakness and falsehood. Sometimes, I never write at all, content with my thoughts and ideas left unheard, unspoken, betraying the craft with just a shake of a head and thinking that it’s not worth of a word.
Words come easily to me when I write. I prefer email than voicemail. I like texting more than calling. I can have a personal conversation face-to-face with a friend and think about more comforting words to say when I face a blank paper. I would have enjoyed the time when people write letters for each other, never mind the inconvenience of late response and distance. Words that travel a great distance are priceless.
Sometimes, I’m envious of those writers who knew what words to say to express themselves. Sometimes, I even think that I write just to prove that I can write as well as they are. Sometimes, I write to prove to myself that I can write as well as I think I do.
Sometimes, I write to release the stress and exhaustion after a long, hard day, un-poetic day. Sometimes, the thing that causes so much stress and exhaustion is writing itself.
I often question myself why I write, but I’m finally realizing it doesn’t matter at all. More than an art or a craft or a science or a hobby, writing is an unpardonable vice of my life; a constant part of my existence. To deny it is to deny living. Whenever I am plagued by the question of why I write, or the urge to write, I try to think of a scenario where I cannot write anymore.
And that is something I cannot imagine living without.