The Cardoner Volunteer Program

(Published in Dumaguete MetroPost)

I will be leaving for Myanmar on Monday to take part in the first deployment of Ateneo de Davao’s Cardoner Volunteer Program.

Named after the river in Manresa, Spain on which Ignatius of Loyola ruminated, the Cardoner Program is AdDU’s attempt to give opportunities for social formation to its graduates. For one year, the school sends alumni and alumnae to deployment areas to teach, sharing their Ateneo education to the community there. The people in these areas are often very marginalized and underprivileged.

For the program’s pioneering year, there are three deployment areas: Lake Sebu Indigenous Women Weaver’s Association (LASIWWAI) in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato; madaris schools in the Bangsamoro area, and Saint Alyosius Gonzaga Institute in Taunggyi, Myanmar.

The volunteers deployed in Bangsamoro are sent in coordination with the Madaris Volunteer Program, another volunteer program run by the Ateneo. This year has one Cardoner volunteer deployed in Madaris: Education major alumna Rowena Santos.

I am one of three volunteers to be deployed to Myanmar. I go with Precious Kyrie Undag, a BSED Education graduate, and Datu Abdullah Uka III, who like me is an AB English alumnus. Dats and Kyrie both graduated in 2015, making me the elder in the group.

In S.A.G. Taunggyi we will be teaching subjects under the school’s Diploma in Education. Myanmar has a peculiar education system: because the country has, only until recently, been under a military junta, only state owned schools can offer higher education. The Diploma is actually offered off shore by the Ateneo de Davao, with which S.A.G., a fellow Jesuit institution, is in consortium.

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From left: Fr Joel Tabora, SJ, AdDU President; me, my fellow Cardoners Kyrie Undag and Datu Uka, and Ms Yi Yi San of SAG Institute in Taunggyi

The three of us to be sent to Myanmar make a relatively balanced team: my specialization is literature, Dats is an experienced grammar and language teacher, and Kyrie is an education major. Dats’ grandfather Lugum Uka was a Sillimanian who served as editor of its literary journal, Sands & Coral, in 1950. Dats himself is also a writer, with a story published in an international literary journal. Kyrie on the other hand has experience in student journalism, but is most accomplished in student leadership. Most importantly she has a strong grounding in professional education courses, which means we will most likely rely on her to improve our teaching.Together we hope to contribute to SAG with more than just teaching.

Ateneo de Davao’s Arrupe office of Social Formation, which runs the Cardoner Program, is still looking for three volunteers to be deployed to Lake Sebu. Volunteers to be deployed there will teach elementary English, Science, and Math subjects to T’boli children. The project is open to graduates and current faculty of the Ateneo de Davao (for interested applicants contact Karl Ebol, the acting Director of the Program, through kapebol@addu.edu.ph).Arrupe is planning to further expand the number of deployment areas. Possible places where future volunteers may be deployed include the Jesuit schools for IPs in Bukidnon, and Jesuit institutions in East Timor, Thailand and Cambodia.

Myanmar will be a fascinating new world for me: its fresh democracy is still tender from decades of isolation and military control, and has so many unseen wonders (I am particularly excited for the tea, the food, and the Buddhism). But most excitingly, the Burmese literary tradition, while rich and benefiting from a long history of translation, remains alien to the Filipino reader. I very much intend to facilitate an exchange of literatures.

Volunteerism has always been one of my frustrations: as a student I was never able to participate in the many social involvement activities that Ateneo de Davao organizes. I like helping but I hardly appeared like it (I was always vocally critical of empty charity), and even the best of people can be very prejudiced with first impressions. And yet as a student I was very much a literary activist, doing what I could to make the literary art as accessible to as many potential young writers as possible. Time in Dumaguete had killed that writer-idealist in me, but now the opportunity to volunteer in AdDU finally presents itself.  I am thus very thankful.

The Cardoner is so far one of the few steps I know that a Philippine university has taken to reach out to its alumni. More often than not an individual has almost nothing to do with his/her alma mater after graduation (save for the occasional email from the alumni office about the latest dead alumnus). I think our schools should begin reaching out to their graduates, not only for these graduates’ sake but for the schools’ as well. This is something universities might ponder on.

 

 

 

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The Bullets’ Harvest: Politics in Kidapawan after the Shootings

(Published in the Dumaguete MetroPost 29 May, 2016)

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Kidapawan was still tense from the recent shootings when I came home to it on Election Day. The location where the rally of April 1 took place was marked by a large tarpaulin.

It spelled out my hometown’s general sentiment on the incident:

‘Do not disturb my Kidapawan!’

I had an inkling of this feeling from Kidapawanons online even before going home. The blockade had been hurting local business and disrupting transportation in Kidapawan, and yet less than half of the protesting farmers were from the city. They had been protesting against the provincial government in Amas, not the city government, but they chose to stage the rally near Kidapawan’s border with Makilala on the other side of the city from the Provincial Capitol – Kidapawan was literally caught in between. And the city has been dragged to the spotlight against its will since.

One of the two confirmed deaths, Enrico Fabligar, was from Kidapawan, and was only a bystander. And yet the absurdity of his death – a poignant demonstration of how uninvolved Kidapawan was as much a victim as the farmers – was being drowned by the louder ‘Bigas Hindi Bala’ uproar.

‘The losses are huge,’ mayor Joseph Evangelista puts it simply on an interview with online news site Rappler.

 

Evangelista’s handling

Evangelista had to balance the interest of Kidapawan, the demands of the farmers, and the directives of the provincial government, and most of the Kidapawanons I talked to believed the mayor handled the situation as best as he could. City Hall insiders tell me the mayor was functioning as mediator between Amas and the farmers, but the protest leaders were refusing to sit down.

Throughout and after the debacle the mayor was articulating the general sentiments of Kidapawan’s residents. An open letter condemning the city’s negative publicity, penned by his office, stands in front of the city hall and is covered with signatures.

Come May 9 support for Evangelista translated to votes: he was re-elected mayor of Kidapawan with over 46,000 votes, almost the entire voting population of the city. And this in a city which often abstains when a candidate is unopposed.

 

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Blaming Lala

In contrast, at over 25,000 votes the governor of North Cotabato, Emmylou ‘Lala’ Taliño-Mendoza, got just over half of that figure in Kidapawan. Over 10,000 votes from Lala’s provincial capital went to her opponent Lito Monreal, who is virtually unheard of in North Cotabato politics. This was clearly a protest vote against her.

While her term as governor has generally been well received in Kidapawan, the shooting has evidently caused Lala some support in her province’s only city.

‘She had been too bureaucratic,’ ‘she was being inaccessible when she needed to be there,’ ‘she was too proud.’ Along with these murmurs in the city were wild rumours that she had in fact withheld the distribution of relief rice in order to help boost the candidacy of a political ally. The governor had earlier faced allegations in Kidapawan of manipulating the price of rubber, a major product in the province. While the rumours are unlikely, she has undoubtedly gained the tendency to attract unpleasant speculations.

‘She should have just talked to the farmers,’ as one tricycle driver I chatted with put it.

From his tricycle I saw more posters and tarpaulins on Kidapawan’s iconic island of pine trees: ‘Kidapawan loves Peace and Progress.’ ‘No one from Kidapawan was in the rally, but Kidapawan had to sacrifice.’ ‘Do not disturb my Kidapawan.’

 

Tagum the Scapegoat

And one sign hints at the reason why Lala has accrued such ill-will in the city. ‘To serve and Protect,’ it reads, with the subtitle ‘We salute you.’

Luoy ang mga pulis (I feel sorry for the police)’ says manong driver.

My godfather Alexander Tagum, the provincial police director who led the rally dispersal, is a son of Kidapawan. Many of the police deployed – and who were injured – were from Kidapawan. It was not difficult to see why Kidapawanons sympathize with the police – their own sons and daughters – more than the farmers.

‘Alex was used as a scapegoat,’ as one relative put it. Lala earned some flak for the way she handled the shooting, but she did not get as much damage as ninong Alex. Relieved from his post pending investigations, Tagum’s career now faces a bleak future in light of the imminent return to power of the Piñols – he had a verbal tiff with then governor Emmanuel ‘Manny’ Piñol when he was still Kidapawan’s police director. ‘Tagum’s only fault,’ says the relative, ‘is he can be too gentle for a police officer. Hopefully Duterte won’t be too vindictive.’

 

 

The Duterte Factor

The election of the country’s first Mindanawon president complicates post-shooting Kidapawan politics further. The Duterte camp was very much involved in the incident: he is seen as being close with the Left, which has been accused of orchestrating the rally; he has publicly castigated Lala for her handling of the situation; and he has Robin Padilla.

His ties with the Piñol family, through its most prominent member Manny, mean the very idea of him is a key factor in any political situation in the province.

Any bid for public office by a Piñol is consequently seen as implicitly with Duterte’s backing, and with him in the land’s highest post this is a huge boost for the clan. Combined with the potential for being a protest vote post-shooting against Lala, the Piñols are in for a comeback.

In this election they had already made significant gains across North Cotabato: Joselito Piñol successfully transitioned from mayor to vice mayor of M’lang, and Gerardo and Socrates Piñol got hold of seats in Lala’s provincial board.

And most shocking for Kidapawan, Bernardo ‘Jun’ Piñol made a remarkable comeback as Vice Mayor after a few terms in the wilderness since being routed out of his congressional seat some years ago.

Jun Piñol’s election may have been a protest vote for Lala’s handling of the shooting or a show of solidarity with Digong, but the clear victim of his comeback is the defeated incumbent, Rodolfo Gantuangco.

Then again, Gantuangco was practically a political sitting duck. The former mayor of Kidapawan was cast in a negative light by the 8 million peso deficit in the local coffers when he turned over the Municipio to Evangelista. And in the previous election the bid of his brother Nido to unseat Evangelista damaged him both ways: he was seen as disloyal to Evangelista, his running mate, to those who thought it was his plan to make his brother run (and he thereby alienated the Evangelista vote); and he was seen as so untrustworthy his own brother endorsed his opponent as vice mayor.

They now say in Kidapawan that the third casualty during the shooting was Gantuangco’s political career.

‘And now Jun Piñol is poised to run for mayor when Evangelista’s term ends,’ a city hall insider tells me. As Piñol and Evangelista are not the best of political friends, a Piñol mayoralty can be the worst situation for Evangelista’s many projects. This is what is making the people in the Municipio most anxious: Evangelista’s term has seen the city grow rapidly, and a change in administration can waste all the progress. ‘But politicians can learn to be civil,’ notes my insider with hope.

 

Rice among the Bullets

The aftermath of the shooting isn’t entirely bloody for Kidapawan though. Evangelista’s able handling of the situation is a boost for him too, and when his term ends his bid for Amas can be much easier. For all the trouble it had to put up with, the shooting may be a catalyst for Kidapawan to finally see one of its sons elected governor of North Cotabato.

And the return of the Piñols isn’t necessarily a bad thing: a possible Piñol mayoralty, and speculations of a cabinet post for Manny, mean Kidapawan – and North Cotabato for that matter – might get a closer voice to the president’s ear.

At the very least, Kidapawanons admit, the international attention isn’t entirely bad. ‘At least I don’t need to explain where I’m from,’ a friend quips wryly on Facebook. Kidapawan, for whatever reason, is being talked about. And that in itself is certainly a welcome thing.

 

 


Things I will not miss in Dumaguete

(Published in two parts, with some necessary toning down, on the Dumaguete MetroPost starting on 14th December 2014. I reproduce it here uncensored, bring in the complaints! )

Things I will not miss in Dumaguete

Next week I will be leaving Dumaguete, probably for good, and it’s starting to sink in. I’ve just finished my MA thesis (explaining the irregularity of my contribution to this column), and I’m set to go back to Davao.

I’ve been in Dumaguete for over two years: enough time, really, to live a life. And the leave taking has gotten me into thinking about that life here. I have really come full circle with this place, exactly as Tim Montes described in that delightfully insightful essay of his, How to Write About Dumaguete. I began by adoring it as a workshop fellow, got involved with the thrilling escapades of someone in the fortunate crowd when I moved here as a graduate student in Silliman, came to see the place’s annoying realities, learned to abhor even the tiniest detail of it, learned to forgive it its shortcomings, and finally learned to love it again so much that I’m becoming emotional at the thought of never being able to go back.

Dumaguete never was the Neverland for my Peter Pan. On the contrary this was the place where I grew old, and fundamental to that maturity is learning to forgive the world for all its flaws – to let go of what the Buddhists call ‘craving’ and accept things for what they are.

And yet no amount of bodhi seems to liberate me from getting frustrated with some things about this place. These are annoying little things that could easily be made better but that people just leave be, not out of some esoteric urge to remind themselves of the world’s imperfection, but because they’re too lazy to make changes.

When I leave Dumaguete, then, here are the things I will be glad to leave behind:

1. The pedicab drivers. Their default attitude to life seems to be one of irritation, as if your telling them your destination is not where they want to go was an insult to their dignities. The sheer smallness of their worldviews (Lee Plaza to Amigo subdivision is too far for them!) would just be sad if public transportation didn’t rely on them. Pedicabs should be zoned.

2. The cliquishness and elitism of people. This small pond is infested with fish pretending to be big, and how territorial they can be! So called artists, student leaders, whatever title they appropriate for themselves: they unjustifiably hold ascendancy over a field, monopolize opportunities there by limiting it to their close circle of friends, and stifle the emergence of new talent. I once knew this student who was EIC of the student paper, president of at least two clubs, officer in an enumerable others, and was working on getting five awards on his graduation, and yet I cannot for the life of me find a reason why he is given so many responsibilities, he was mediocre at best. Then there’s this student who’s been in college for almost ten years just because he doesn’t want to stop being an active student – oh, I could go on forever.

3. The bad service everywhere. I don’t know what the HRM schools here are doing, employees in the services sector in Dumaguete seem to be poorly trained. Waitresses in Neva’s and 2Story just throwing the utensils on your table. The annoying photocopier along Silliman avenue who treats every costumer as a disturbance. The forever it takes to be served at C&L. That terribly unapproachable old waitress at Chantilly. Even the employees at fastfood chains like Jollibee and McDo seem to be below the standard.

4. The incongruously horrible bathrooms: that cupboard part timing as a toilet at Chowking, that hole they dug at Neva’s first floor, and that horrendous slaughterhouse-style bathroom at Connie’s that would be an ideal place to murder someone. Heck, Poppy didn’t even bother making its own bathroom. These are places in the middle of the city, but they may well be in Outhouse land.

5. The nightmare that is dorming in Silliman. My first ever stay in Dumaguete was in Carson Hall (I was billeted there when I was fellow to Silliman’s workshop). I was horrified to see that the toilet cubicles in the common bathrooms had doors made of cheap steel and were too low for privacy, and the toilets were non-flush. When I first moved here I dormed at Kross Kat, where again the cubicles provided no privacy, the toilets had no toilet seats, and somebody would wash dishes in the shower area so you risked stepping on grains of rice and chicken bones while you bathed and the cleaners don’t clean regularly enough to make that a frequent problem. If you don’t make it before the (pointless) curfew you have to sleep in the street (I ended up doing so twice), and if you don’t have plans during breaks you either find a hotel or again sleep in the street. Worse, they stuff their unremarkable brand of Christianity down your throat. And you pay for all that mind you.

6. The restaurants that charge for water. Nope, forget ‘service’ water, they just want money, even if they have to charge one peso per glass. Hoy Lugaw, that carinderia along Piapi, and many others. Why don’t they just include the expenses for water in their menu pricing.

7. This whole ‘literary capital’ pitch. There are hardly any more writers in Dumaguete, and there certainly is very little chance you can be a writer just here, the publication venues are almost inexistent (thank God for MetroPost!). Needless to say there are hardly any readers – sure, a few Nabokov or Wallace fans here and there, but it’s nowhere near Reykjavik, and you’re never going to be read unless you’re a foreign bestseller. When I was billeted in Carson hall the dorm manager small-talked me and revealed she had no idea what the Silliman Writers Workshop was. Forget sir Sawi Aquino’s ‘Dumas Goethe’ (hardly any Monte Cristo or Werther readers here), a writer friend in Cebu inadvertently gave the better literary nickname for this place: Duma-ghetto.

8. The open sewerage at Amigo subdivision. If in the British countryside you find water voles frolicking in pristine mountain streams, in Amigo mangy rats subsist on the gray, malodorous stuff that flows by the roadside. If you’re unlucky you get to see them as road-kill. Rat paste anyone?

9. The fact that driving a motorcycle while drunk is normal. Yes it’s cute and funny – look at that wobbly motorcycle! – until your mother or your babycakes gets run over by an idiot on a Norkis inebriated by Kulafu along Escaño.

10. The laziness they call ‘being laid back’. No it’s not cute, particularly when it’s getting in the way of being professional. Procrastination isn’t an art here, it’s a tradition. I’ve had students submit requirements weeks after the deadline (and they were shocked to fail, bless them). And it’s made worse by that culture of mediocrity that produces bad service – not only are people slow here, they often end up producing substandard output. This invariably causes that culture of elitist cliquishness: the few people who work normally think they’re geniuses.

In Buddhism one reflects on repulsive things to let go of craving for desirable ones: think of a disembowelled corpse, for instance, to stop your lust. Thinking of all those bad things makes it somehow easier to say goodbye to Dumaguete. But my attachments next week!


Fearful Symmetries

(Published 26th October 2014 in the Dumaguete MetroPost. Coincidentally, sir Sawi Aquino also had a literary title on the same issue, ‘riverun.’ )

 

Fearful Symmetries

Buglasan just ended, and it was roaring. Of course, I mean Amlan’s tiger, in the municipality’s own booth at Freedom Park. The feline, along with the camels that also attracted attention during the parade, are just sneak previews of the next big project from one of the province’s models for good local governance: what will perhaps be one of the biggest zoos in the country. But more on that when I get enough details.

Last week, Dr. Ike Oracion of Silliman’s Research and Development Center wrote in these pages part of a summary of a study on NegOr constituents’ views on the One Negros Region proposal.

Just by discussing quality of life, the study proves to already by eye opening: 69 percent of the respondents are unemployed, and two percent have never been employed.

In terms of perception, only eight percent think they’re not poor (a huge 54 percent think they are), and while 51 percent think their situation has not changed, 25 percent think they’re now worse off. And on comparing the two Negroses, a worrying 46 percent of Oriental Negrenses think of their own province as poorer than Negros Occidental. This is a province that does not think much of itself, and for good reason. The actual results of this crucial opinion poll will be eagerly awaited.

(Although I reiterate my suspicion that the No camp will rely purely on constituents’ ignorance and conservative resistance to change to get the vote, and I hope to proven wrong.)

It is quite surprising, really, that in spite of that more than half of the province thinking it’s poor, and more than half thinking no change has come, that the activism scene is worryingly stagnant in the Negros Oriental.

I come from Davao, and I’ve seen firsthand how students protest against everything – from Justice for the slain student Beng Hernandez to the blocking of Facebook in the Ateneo de Davao’s wifi. Heck, a friend of mine even got jailed for throwing a stone at a policeman while protesting for the rights of the urban poor.

When I came to Dumaguete, I came expecting even more student involvement, what with Silliman’s Martial Law past. But students here turned out to be dangerously-meek, and even when there was a need to stand up for themselves they remained passive.

Why don’t I see Sillimanians, or students from whatever university or college, rallying in front of Freedom Park demanding resolution for the fact that NegOr is one of the poorest provinces in the country?

Are we not standing up to fight for our rights because we are voiceless and poor (subaltern, to use the Gramscian term)? Or are we voiceless and poor because we don’t stand up and fight for our rights – complacent, to use the honest term?

And that takes us to Mong Kok, on the Kowloon Peninsula in Hong Kong. A great shopping district, well it was until the Hongkongers staged one of their demonstrations there. Protesters there demanding unscreened universal suffrage may well be in another planet from the famer in upland Guihulngan: typically affluent and stable Harry Kung is fighting for the right to vote without having his candidates screened by China; while manong Juan dela Cruz, who has the right to suffrage, nevertheless uses it to vote for the funniest candidate, and just laughs away the fact that his children have to make do with kamote, salt, and candlelight. All of a sudden Filipino optimism becomes sinister complacency.

And more evidence of collective Filipino stupidity: the case of Jennifer ‘Jerry’ Laude (observe the deliberate placing of names there – I respect self determination).

A veritable expert in gender studies in Silliman (I won’t quote her without permission) observed that Filipino social media sympathy to Jennifer was low, not because she was a transgender, but because she was killed while being unfaithful to her German boyfriend.

Impressive tolerance for the third gender, you may think, until you realize it’s just plain old chauvinism: we’re tolerant of men being unfaithful lovers, but for women (actual or otherwise), que horror!

But where we stop acting like civilized people and begin behaving like mobs out of a Medieval witchhunt is in how we treat the suspect, Pemberton. Poor guy’s already judged a murderer (homicide really, but what do we care?) by a whole country before the court’s verdict, and he has to deal with the fact that he was caught with a transgender woman – imagine the taunting in our homophobic and notoriously rat-friendly prisons!

And I daresay that the concept of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is hardly taught in Philippine schools, for Pinoys it’s ‘guilty until proven innocent.’ Suspek = Salarin in Filipino popular legal consciousness.

A wonder, really, that in spite of this lynching tendency that China would envy, our justice system is still in the gutter.

And back in Binay’s Paradise: a televised debate between the Vice President and Senator Antonio Trillianes IV is in the making.

This square off, organized by the KBP and slated within the next two weeks, will inevitably be about the allegations thrown against Binay (you don’t see people in the Philippines debating on fiscal policy, do you?).

Now for the real politik here: this is a risky move on both sides. His reputation already tarnishing, Jejomar may suffer even more with this one – Trillianes The Fort, after all, has that no-nonsense image of fighting against bad governance that we see in Ping Lacson and Miriam Santiago (minus Ping’s Kuratong and Miriam’s looney vibe, plus a whole lot more sexy), and he could prove to be a devastating silver bullet for The Dark Lord.

But on the side of Operation SN 2016, this is more publicity for Nognog, and bad publicity, as we say in spin doctor academy, is still publicity. It’s not difficult for our Venerable Pandak, small and postcolonially-complexioned as he is, to look like the victim in a televised debate against a former military man (‘huwag po, mamang sundalo!’). And he might really go full frontal here (eew, Binay’s own words).

I suspect the Liberals had not much say here, seeing as Trillanes is a Nacionalista, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they have planned damage control already.

In any case, I wish Nognog all the luck with all this maneuvrings, may The Fort be with him.


Return Roundup

(Article published in the Dumaguete MetroPost 19th October 2014)

 

Return Roundup

Two months! Academic preoccupations, as well as an unexpected writing slump, have prevented me from contributing to this column for what has become an unacceptably long time.
But the world does not stop for one, and indeed the past two months have been very eventful. So, to make up for the long absence, and to keep ourselves updated, here’s a roundup of news from me, the city and province, and the country.
First off, I’m dropping the ‘Karlo’ on the written page and adopting my mother’s maiden name for a double-barrel surname. I don’t know why but ‘Antonio Galay-David’ sounds more dignified. But people can and probably will continue calling me ‘Karlo.’ Oh, writer’s idiosyncrasy.
Now that that’s off our plates, to more respectable writers: I would like to extend my belated congratulations to Dr Cesar Ruiz Aquino for winning Poet of the Year in this year’s Nick Joaquin Literary Awards. I always dislike it when people talk about themselves in congratulating others, but I’ll be hypocritical this time: sir Sawi is a mentor and teacher for me. I might have contributed to this win, as I goaded him to submit poetry to Philippines Graphic (from whence the entries for the NJLA are taken) to win the award. Of course other writers might have similarly encouraged him, but I like to think I’m important.
On the local front, it seems election fever is beginning to kick in. Dumaguete Mayor Chiquiting Sagarbarria and Provincial Board member Erwin Macias are among the first to express their intention to run for the same Congressional seat, that of the province’s second district. Current congressman George Arnaiz will be vacating the seat as he reaches his last term. Now I am no expert in Negrense politics, but the announcements are very revealing: Macias’ brother Vice Gov Mark is from the same party, the NPC, as Chiquiting, so this will prove rather complicated for the Vice governor. While Mark has already expressed support for his brother, there are deeper issues fermenting beneath the public displays. Since the board member has said he would run under the electoral slate of Governor Degamo, can this perhaps be Macias’ way of bargaining with Degamo to finally show support for Mark’s advocacy of the One Island Region? And there are more important questions that these announcements beg to be answered: who will Mayor Chiquiting endorse as his successor in Dumaguete? What of Congressman Arnaiz after his term ends? And, most intriguingly, who, if any, will run against Degamo? In any case, we must all update ourselves on these maneuverings, we don’t know if our interest may be affected by their turnouts. Let us be informed voters!
And speaking of our interests, the campaign for a One Negros Region seems to be gaining even more momentum. In my classes in Silliman I required my students to read up and take a stand on the question, and the issue still proves divisive. One main concern most students raise is the cost of building regional offices that this proposal, if adopted, will incur. But it seems the Movement has offered a response to that concern by taking up the NegOr Chamber of Commerce’s suggestion to use provincial infrastructure in the event of the formation of a region. Info dissemination on the Movement is also gaining pace, and I look forward to getting a copy of that leaflet in Bisaya. (For both sides, I would very much appreciate it if I would be emailed materials on the movement). But without being biased for either side (this is a decision for Negrenses to take, and I’m from North Cotabato!), I must say that the campaign is not looking good for the No camp: we have an active, mobilized team of advocates for the Region, with two assertive proponents in the persons of Macias and NegOc Governor Marañon, and just a status quo of stubborn reactionism in NegOr against it. Unless the No camp becomes more proactive and more positive in the debate Negrenses will either vote Yes if it’s put to a referendum or vote No for all the wrong reasons. A public debate should be livelier than this. And it does not help that our governor is neither for nor explicitly against the move, simply demanding for assurance that the proposal is beneficial is not being very proactive.
To University news, NORSU President Don Real has been suspended for 90 days following the alleged irregularities on the funds allocated for the speech lab in the Bayawan campus. In his absence Dr Peter Dayot, the university’s VP for Administration, is OIC. While I believe Dr Dayot can execute the duties of President with ability, I have made no secret of my fondness for Real in these pages. In his time as President he tried to start NORSU’s hitherto inexistent artistic scene. I cannot imagine him engaging in anomalies that will compromise the hard work he has begun. But truth knows no friends, and we should all await the results of the investigations. My thoughts are with Real’s family, who must be finding this unwanted publicity difficult. Not everybody has forgotten that one is innocent until proven guilty.
On the National scene, trouble in Binay’s paradise. The Vice President has been walking on a tight rope over his relationship with the President: one main factor why his ratings are anomalously high is because, along with his own core of support, the Aquino magic has rubbed on him, making him not an unattractive prospect for Aquino loyalists. With operation Stop Nognog 2016 (God that’s catchy) in full swing and Noynoy not doing anything about it, Nognog, I mean Binay, seems to have lost his patience for him. The recent attacks against Malacañang might have been a miscalculation – at a crucial time when his ratings are dipping he risked alienating that smudge of Aquino magic on him, and the least he’s sure of gaining thereby is to appeal to the still marginal cynicism against the current government. The visit to Malacañang may have been damage control, but we are yet to see if it will work. And Mar’s role in Operation SN2016? Bide his time, it seems. While Binay makes a fool of himself, Mar appears to be quietly doing his job. Binay may be looking attractive to the Cynical wing, but Mar invariably gets the moderate vote.
One thing is sure here though: the Liberals have shown a level of solidarity and efficient coordination that make the fragmented opposition, three of which leaders are in jail, look unreliable – Erap has hardly defended Nognog, I mean Binay. But for that (we need a strong team to run this country) I’m leaning Liberal.
Mar is still my default candidate. Unless Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte runs for President, that is. In any case, I’m voting a federalist.
Next week (unless something else of interest grabs my attention), I talk of Hong Kong, activism, and the Federalist cause.


The Rollin’ Pin

(Published 28th July 2014 in the Dumaguete MetroPost. I have since received free macaroons and calamansi juice for it!)

 

2014-07-17 14.41.19

The Rollin’ Pin

One of the reasons why I haven’t been able to write for this column for some weeks now is the arrival of a new dessert place here in Dumaguete.

The Rollin’ Pin, located just a stone’s throw away from Silliman University, is perhaps Dumaguete’s first French patisserie. The place has been serving as a distraction for me and fellow creative writing majors for the past month. And if there’s anything you should know about writers, it’s that while we love writing, we love food more.

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But I love writing while eating!

Having just opened this tenth of June (that’s just over a month), The Rollin Pin is a newcomer in Dumaguete’s pastry scene (dominated admittedly for decades by Sans Rival), but already, it’s proving to be a presence.

Behind the patisserie is French pâtissier Antoine Timothee Rolin. Antoine is as young as his pastry shop (no, not a month, he’s in his 20s), and he has all the restless creativity of that youth. Only The Rollin Pin can thus claim to serve French pastries baked by French hands. And what works of imagination they are!

It seems that the process of making pastries for Antoine begins in his daily walks to the Dumaguete Market. He not only goes there for supplies, but for inspiration. A fruit he’s never tried to use, a local ingredient not usually used for sweets, whatever catches his eye can give him ideas as to his next creation. From there he will begin baking his new idea, and it will be part of the day’s display at the Rollin Pin.

That The Rollin Pin’s selection of pastries relies entirely on Antoine’s unpredictable imagination makes the pastry shop a place full of gourmet surprises. You really do not know what will be on display each day, or even if there will be anything new later during the same day. No other pastry shop – no restaurant I daresay – changes its serving as much as The Rollin Pin does.

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If you find yourself frequenting the place, you’re bound to meet Armegyn Maglenti, Antoine’s girlfriend. She serves as the place’s manager, and chatting with her will add a new dimension to appreciating the pastries. But even she cannot predict what the patissier will come up with next.

Antoine and Armegyn were originally from Cebu (ultimately not Antoine of course, he’s from France). Having cooked for various restaurants in China and France, Antoine found himself working in Cebu for a French themed restaurant there. But he decided to quit and, with Armegyn, started Chez Ton Ton, a French restaurant in Oslob that catered to its whale shark drawn tourists.

But Antoine’s restlessness drove the two to seek new places, and they found themselves in Dumaguete. Leaving the management of Chez Ton Ton to a relative, they set off to start The Rollin’ Pin.

The plan to start The Rollin’ Pin was a very personal one for them. The name itself, an obvious pun on the patissier’s surname, shows that.

When I first came to the place I noticed how irregularly shaped some of the pastries may be. I was with one of the early converts to the place, the young poet Arkay Timonera, and you’ll hand it to a poet to explain why eloquently: a uniformly shaped set of pastries would only show that they’re machine made, irregularities in the pastries hint their handmade origins. You know that the patissier personally rolls every croissant, personally fills every tart, personally spreads every roll with icing.

The decision to start The Rollin Pin was thus not simply a money making venture – the place is far too personalized, far too creative for that. It was to start a relationship with the people of Dumaguete that’s unique between artisan and appreciator.

And I’m not saying platitudes here: they really do respond to customers’ reactions. One of The Rollin Pin’s signature pastries, the macaroon, can be a bit expensive for student budgets. At forty pesos each it’s a luxury. One customer suggested they bake smaller ones so students can try, and a few days later Antoine came up with macaroons at half the price.

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Perhaps one of the things that may turn people off about The Rollin’ Pin is that, the price. In cheap Dumaguete where only the pedicab drivers are overpriced, the pastries can be quite heavy. Its location near Silliman can also highlight that, as the pastries are far from student budget. But it’s really only expensive for Dumaguete standards – as someone from the city I know how cheap their pastries really are already. A macaroon will fetch you seventy to a hundred pesos each in Davao, but at forty pesos The Rollin Pin is attractively affordable.

Which isn’t to say Antoine and Armegyn are staying in their pedestals. They’re coming up with ways to let students with tight budgets try some of the pastries. There are the smaller shots at forty pesos for shots that usually range from sixty to ninety. There are the petit fours versions of the desserts at just fifteen pesos. Just recently they even served tiny croissants at five pesos each. And a discount system, by which a student can get ten percent off with a valid student ID, is in the works. All of a sudden Silliman’s ID policy starts making sense!

Bargain shots at art food are something I’ve never encountered in Dumaguete before, because you can really consider what Antoine is doing art. While his output is mostly orthodox French pastry, he’s delightfully edging into what can only be considered Filipino-French fusion. Now that is something I have never heard of, much less imagine in pastries. So far he has used mango, a rare ingredient in French cuisine, extensively, and in his take of the traditional Riz au Lait he used sticky rice instead of the risotto variety. Most innovatively perhaps he has used kangkong in tarts. I am excited to know how far he will develop in this!

The pastries you ask? I can fill this article with recommendations, but at the top of the list is that piece of innovation up there: the creamy kangkong tart. It’s a savoury tart with a sweet dough crust, but while it’s innovative it’s also ridiculously delicious. I think it feeds my social climber needs perfectly: the delightful balance of crispy sweet dough crust and the creaminess of the sauce is fancy enough to feed my more bourgeois palate, while the tagabukid in me is fulfilled with the deliciously familiar flavour of kangkong and garlic. I also love their homemade ice cream: being a devout strawberry worshipper my favourite flavour is easy to predict. I also loved the sticky rice series – The Rollin’ Pin has given me new ways of deepening my strawberry spirituality with the strawberry sticky rice (imagine strawberry flavoured champorado!) The fruit tarts I also love with some whipped cream on top.

Oh and they don’t just serve pastries. They also have sandwiches, salads, and breakfast meals. For the sandwiches Armegyn recommends the Tuna Wasabi and Nori sandwich, while I recommend the delightful croque madame salad, a croquet madame sandwich (bacon, emental cheese, and an egg) in a bed of lettuce, tomato, and onion with pesto dressing. The patissier himself recommends his chocolate coulant, crispy chocolate shell with oozing chocolate inside, served with crème brulee and ice cream.

And what’s next for The Rollin Pin? You’ll never really know what comes into Antoine’s mind! In the works is a change in the sandwiches selection, a peach melba offering, and a lunch menu. With Silliman’s Founders coming, there’ll be rich opportunities to innovate.

And I with my decadent palate I’m praying for a strawberry flavoured cream puff to come out soon.

 

 


Matters under the radar

(Published in the Dumaguete MetroPost 22nd June 2014)

 
No, this is not about Bong Revilla’s privilege song number.

Because, as I wrote about JV Ejercito’s pending political dynasty bill a few weeks ago, there are other, more important, and more pressing matters on the legislative table that run the risk of being ignored because of all this pork barrel brouhaha.

First, and closest to my heart, is the Rubber Industry. In recent years the price of Philippine rubber has been plummeting as a result of bad practices in the sector. Many Filipino rubber producers hid rocks inside rubber latex blocks to increase their weight or mix bark into cup lumps to increase their volume. This has seriously damaged the reputation of Philippine rubber. As it stands there is no action I know of being done on this matter both in Congress and in the concerned departments. I appeal to the more sensible of our legislators (particularly Sen. Cynthia Villar and Rep. Mark Llanandro Mendoza, chairs of their Houses committees on Agriculture and Food) to look into this matter and see what can be done. The rubber industry is dear to me – I finished college thanks to the rubber trees my grandfather planted in Kidapawan.

Then there’s the growing clamour for a One Negros Region here in sugarland. From the fringe call it was some years ago, the movement has gained such momentum that it now calls for National attention. Ordinary folks here in east-side Negros may see this as an issue that does not concern them (because there are no song numbers?), but this affects us a lot: with a Negros Region, we don’t have to go all the way to Cebu to process our PRC or NBI or other department business on the Regional level, and with the cities of Kabankalan and Mabinay being proposed as Regional centres the move will boost their economy. We’re hoping for an Executive Order, but a law would also be welcome.

And on this note let me digress and say that I’ve been flirting with the idea of voting for Mar Roxas for President if he ever decides to run. The guy’s track record as a legislator (the law on equitable education and the one on giving the lowest of conflicting prices to costumers) and as a minister (he did start the BPO boom, though he was only DOTC for a while many airports now have wifi, and he’s doing something to fight the growing coconut plague in Luzon) are impressive, and it would be no exaggeration to say he had laid the groundwork for our current economic growth. If he does something stupid with this Negros Region deal, though, I might get turned off. If he begins singing ‘Call Me Maybe’ I will change my mind completely.

But back to legislation. Another important matter that went under the radar was the Senate inquiry into the country’s abominably slow internet connection. Led by senator Bam Aquino, the inquiry sought to address the anomaly that we as one of the highest users of the internet also have one of the world’s slowest connection and one of the world’s most expensive. It is serious enough that, according to a recent feature by the BBC, it hinders our growth as a regional hub for technological advancement. The inquiry’s first hearing last May only began scratching the surface: the National Telecommunications Commission only labels internet connection as a value added service and not as a basic service, as per a 1936 law (a pre-War law governs our internet good heavens). This means it is outside of the NTC’s regulation and is only market-governed. Providers then say there is not enough infrastructure to accommodate the number of internet users (read: cost cutting) leading to congestion (read: Enrile downloading porn) and consequently slow connectivity. Additionally, they claim that some LGUs (I hope Dumaguete is not one of them) charge very high fees, leading to higher prices and less money for infrastructure expansion. The most pressing task now is for the legislature to stop showbizzing and begin working on amending the telecommunications law to make internet a basic service that the NTC may regulate it. Another hearing for the inquiry is set for July, and here’s to hoping Jinggoy doesn’t distract it with his rendition of ‘Paalam Kaibigan.’

Finally, the problem with Fisheries. Last Tuesday the European Commissioner for Fisheries has warned of a possible ban of Philippine export of fish into the European Market if it does not fix its fishing regulations. As it stands our fishing industry is mired with illegal practices, and our produce contaminated by unmonitored catches. The EU is a big market, and this yellow card is cause for alarm – imagine the billions in revenue we will lose, and the many fishermen who will suffer from the decrease in demand. The revelation of this regulatory inadequacy is also worrying for the environment, as current practices may be unsustainable (I’m not living in a world with no bangus, no thank you). Congress must look into this matter as soon as possible, or our fishermen will suffer, our coffers will lose needed revenue for continued public service, and I may not get a chance to eat kinilaw again.

With all these serious matters on the legislative table, doesn’t it make you wonder why you voted for Bong Revilla in the first place?