Sunday, April 27, 2014

The zing of Zambales: cove exploring and island hopping

Note:  This photo-essay appeared in the 25 Apr - 01 May 2014 issue of the FilAm Star, 'the newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America,' which is published weekly in San Francisco, CA. This blogger/author is the Philippines Special News/Photo Correspondent of the said paper.

The Zambales Mango Festival was held earlier in March but for true-blue Zambaleños, the feast of the golden yellow kalabaw or piko varieties comes around Holy Week.  Between San Narciso and San Marcelino towns is the diversion road informally called the Mango Highway, and at this time, the fruit stalls there are teeming with green and golden ripe Zambales mangoes. The sweetest variety is called Santa Elena grown in Sta. Cruz town, but the supply dwindles fast especially after the choice picks have all been packed for the export market.  It is very seldom though that the locals and the out-of-town visitors specifically ask for this variety.  

 There is more fun in Zambales though than looking for Santa Elena mangoes.  This has something more to do with geography.  The province is hemmed by the West Philippine Sea, and all but two of its 13 towns lie along the more than 100 miles of coastline. On the eastside is the Zambales mountain range with its famous peaks, Mt Pinatubo, which blew its top almost 25 years ago, and Mt. Tapulao, which hosts endemic flora and fauna with new species discovered a few years ago.  

The rugged coasts include beautiful beaches and coves that have become popular destinations of local and foreign tourists and nature explorers these recent years. 

Beach resorts can be stringed from Subic to Sta. Cruz.  Busloads of beach lovers from Manila and nearby provinces usually stop at the Subic resorts.  Surfing aficionados though flock to Pundaquit in San Antonio, La Paz in San Narciso, and some more resorts further north. 

Zambales takes itself as a major surfing area in the country. The almost linear beaches are wont to be rough during some months of the year, creating big waves that surfers love to ride on. Surfing tournaments have been held here.  In the Crystal Beach Resort of San Narciso, surfing tutorials have attracted a growing clientele of this water sports. 

The hub of cove explorations is Pundaquit, the fishing barangay (village) of San Antonio town whose coastal boundary turns around Sampaloc Point, the western tip of the terrestrial arc of Subic Bay.  From here, the explorer can select his cove destination going southward from the nearest,  Anawangin, to the farthest and biggest,  Silanguin.  Between them are Talisayin, now privately-owned, and Nagsasa.  The boatride to Anawangin is 30 minutes; to Nagsasa is roughly one hour; and to Silanguin almost two hours. 

We have gone on a family trip to Nagsasa, going around rocky formations to get there, and getting a distant view of the white sands of Anawangin and Talisayin coves set against verdant green forests, predominantly of agoho trees, on the low mountain sides.

According to the Aytas who manage Nagsasa, there was no sandy beach before Mt. Pinatubo erupted in 1991.  The lahar that deposited on Nagsasa and other coves became their white sand beaches.

The coves were in fact forbidden territory before 1991 when there was the US naval facility in Subic-Olongapo, and a US naval communication center in San Antonio. The mountainous stretch along the coast was the target practice area of the US armed forces, and it was dangerous even for fishermen to come near the shore during military exercises.  Mt. Pinatubo hastened the termination of the US bases in Subic and Clark, but it created new touristic coves along the coasts of San Antonio, Zambales. 

Except for variations in their terrestrial structures, the coves are very pristine:  the sea in varying degrees of blue, white sandy beaches, and rugged low brown mountain walls with curtains of green agoho trees.  In Nagsasa, there is a very shallow stream that curves as it flows to the sea, thus breaking the monotony of the white sandy shore. 

The coves do not have the amenities one expects in places like Boracay or El Nido. In Nagsasa, there are comfort and bath rooms; and huts or tents can be rented.  The Aytas maintain a store for basic necessities, and operate a power generator for a limited time during the night. Definitely, there are no mobile phone signals. 

Nagsasa and the other coves are best for camping.  The waters are definitely clean for swimming being so far away from the sewerage of population centers.

The coves can be accessible to hikers and mountain climbers.  For Nagsasa, the starting point for the guided mountain trek is a fast food restaurant in Subic town, and this would, according to the Ayta guides, take from three to four hours because of frequent rests and photo-ops of the trekkers.

Pundaquit is also the most convenient jumping-off place for the Camara and Capones Islands.  A boat ride may not take half an hour to get there.  Camara is all rock, hence, Capones is the preferred destination for camping, picnicking and snorkelling. 

From our beachfront in San Narciso, one has to depart for Capones very early in the morning, preferably before the sun is up.  It takes almost an hour to get there.  The joy of the landing comes in seeing live corals, sea weeds and small colored fishes swimming around, through the clear and calm sea water.   

The early hours are good for swimming and snorkelling.  Capones is a rugged island with sparse vegetation, white sandy beach and rough rock formations.  It’s a must that first-time visitors climb the old lighthouse, more than a century old, built by the Spaniards in the early 1890s. 

Late hour departure from Capones is not advisable since the sea gets rough.  In our experience, we boarded the boat for home as soon as we have finished our lunch.  The better course is to camp overnight, and depart after breakfast and the morning swim. 

Our most recent venture is in Magalawa Island, neighbor to San Salvador and San Miguel Islands, all of them between Palauig and Masinloc towns.  All three are inhabited fishing villages. They have public elementary schools and San Salvador has a high school. 

Magalawa is the perfect destination for beach lovers.  It can be reached from Palauig town by boat in 30 minutes.  One can drive to barangay Luan for the boat that can take you there in about 10 minutes.    

This island is still pristine:  white sandy beach and green vegetation along the coast.  Visitors have a choice between the public swimming area and a privately-owned resort.  

Being a fishing village, there is plenty of sea food to buy for lunch picnics.  At the resort, boats are for hire for whole-day leisurely rides around the island or out at the open sea.  

Definitely smaller than Magalawa Island of Palauig is Potipot Island of Candelaria town.  It is said that it’s sandy beach is whiter than Boracay’s, and that it would take about an hour to explore the whole of Potipot. 

It’s summer, and it’s the best time to explore the coves in southern Zambales, and hop from one pristine island to another starting from Capones in mid-province to Potipot in the north.  May be it’s also time to get a surfboard, learn the rudiments, get thrown off every now and then until the art of riding waves is fully mastered.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Tatak Pinoy Holy Week traditions

Note:  This photo-essay appeared in the 18-24 Apr 2014 issue of the FilAm Star, 'the newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America,' which is published weekly in San Francisco, CA. This blogger/author is the Philippines Special News/Photo Correspondent of the said paper.

The Philippine calendar of public holidays this year includes the three days before Easter: Maundy Thursday to Black Saturday, the last declared as special non-working day.  Those who go on vacation leave starting on Holy Monday, the last week of Lent becomes full immersion time on tatak Pinoy folk religious practices even while having fun in the countryside or on the beach in one’s coastal town, or enjoying the cooler clime of Baguio.
The Pinoy catholic opens his Semana Santa (Mahal na Araw) by attending the church services of Domingo (de) Ramos, or Palm Sunday, with a ramos or palaspas, artfully fashioned from the leaflets of a young coconut frond.  In the San Antonio town of Zambales, people use the fronds of the palm-like pitogo plant found only in the rugged hills of the province, the Cycas zambalensis.

In some places, Palm Sunday rites include a procession of the image of Jesus on a donkey, or the parish priest himself rides a pony to the church, to re-enact the triumphal entry of Jesus to Jerusalem.  In Malolos City, the women spread out their tapis or cloths on the path of the procession. 

The church goer makes sure to have his/her palaspas blessed by the priest. This is brought home and tucked in a prominent house corner; the folk belief is that this can serve as protection against evil spirits. Some people burn part of it to mix with their folk medicine when they get sick.  

One expects to hear chanting of the pasyon during the Mahal na Araw. This tradition dates back more than 300 years ago when Don Gaspar Aquino de Belen translated the Spanish passion of Christ by the Jesuit Fr. Tomas de Villacastin.  Through time, it has been translated into the different dialects.  Ilocanos, Pampangos and Tagalog have their own melodies for the long passion narrative from the Last Supper up to when Longinus was captured and killed after the resurrection of Christ,  which soloists or groups take turn in chanting during a typical pabasa.  The aral (lessons) that follow some narrative sections are also chanted.  In recent years, young singers have been adapting popular tunes as alternate to the traditional melodies.

The Longinus story is the basis of the Moriones folk festival of Marinduque. He is the Roman centurion who pierced the side of the crucified Christ with his lance, and who would come to believe and proclaim that He is the son of God.  In all the towns, masked Morions roam around during the Holy Week in search of Longinus.  As part of the tourism program of the province,  a town is selected each year where his capture and beheading is enacted on Easter Sunday.

The pasyon is also basically the structural framework of two other folk religious rituals: the sinakulo and the prusisyon.

The sinakulo is the theatrical presentation of the passion, death and resurrection of Christ.  In Paete, Laguna, a local theatre group called The Centurion Original has been mounting the sinakulo titled Martir sa Golgotha (Martyr of Golgotha) since 1975 at the town plaza. The first part is staged on Maundy Thursday, and second on Good Friday.  I have seen the first one comprising episodes from the annunciation on the coming of John the Baptist and Jesus up to the Last Supper.  The rest of the passion up to the crucifixion is shown on Good Friday.

The prusisyon (processions) in the Roman Catholic Church are held on Holy Wednesday and Good Friday.  There are many places in Luzon like San Pablo City that are famous for their processions of antique images depicting characters and events in the passion of Christ. These images are either mounted on decorated carrozas or floats, or borne on the shoulders of devotees of particular images. In Paete, Laguna, there are two dramatized features in the procession:  the images of Mary and then of Veronica meeting Jesus carrying the cross at certain stops along the way.

The focal point of the Good Friday procession is the Santo Entierro (holy burial), usually a glass case containing the image of the dead Christ.  Of particular interest are the Santo Señor Sepulcro of Lucban, Quezon, and the Senyor Sepulcro of Paete, Laguna.

Lucban’s antique Christ image is said to be rich with parcels of land and a bank account to its name, and its jewels taken out of the bank vault for the Good Friday procession.  The first time I saw it, I was in awe of the thick antique golden blanket covering the body. 

Barefoot Lucban male devotees pull the carroza of the Santo Señor.  Their frenzy is similar to those of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo on the first Saturday of January.  The Santo Señor takes hours to get back to the church as the menfolk seem to be engaged in a tug-of-war as they try getting to the ropes tied in front and at the back of the carroza, thus slowing down the procession.

Paete’s faithful treat their Senyor Sepulcro like the way northern tribes in the Cordilleras did to the bodies of their dead centuries ago.  The coincidences are rather strange:  the seating and smoking rites of the dead and the woodcarving tradition of the Paete people and the Cordillera tribes spin some kind of ancient cultural thread between them. 

Tradition has the antique Senyor image moved from its niche in the Roman Catholic Church to the home of the caretakers on Holy Wednesday morning.  Said to be from Mexico, it has a dark head and disjointed arms and limbs.  The women wipe the image with a mixture of lambanog and herbs, and then have it seated on an armchair inside a cubicle covered with several layers of bed sheets for the smoking ritual until mid-afternoon.  After that, the image is laid in repose wearing a white gown and covered with a beautifully embellished maroon shroud before the faithful can pay homage. 

 Like in Lucban, it’s also the menfolk who attend to the Senyor.  They carry the Santo Entierro on their shoulders, swaying as they move forward in rhythmic cadence.

All processions are usually led by the image of St. Peter with the rooster and key symbols.  The last image is that of the Mater Dolorosa or the grieving Mary, usually followed by the women. 

In many towns, a different procession takes place in the morning of Good Friday:  flagellants and penitents carrying crosses in fulfillment of certain vows even if the church frowns on this folk religious practice.

 Fr Pedro Chirino, SJ (1604) tells us how the early converts in Leyte, Bohol and Cavite practiced their new religion with fervor especially during the Holy Week.  What stuns in his account is that even the children practiced penitensiya.   He wrote that the early Pinoy Christians "were very careful in attending church and devout in confessing, especially during that first Lent; and showed great fervor in disciplining themselves, particularly during Holy Week; in the procession on that occasion there were many who scourged themselves until the blood came, and still others accompanied them, bearing four hundred lights, all preserving great silence and order."

In Barangay Cutod in Pampanga, where the penitensiya has gone to the extreme of crucifixion, there’s no silence and order but hoopla time for both domestic and foreign tourists.

The early bustle of Sabado de Gloria (Holy Saturday) ensues when the church bells come alive again having been mute since Maundy Thursday.  Folk belief tells children to start jumping once they hear the bells so that they can grow faster and taller. 

In coastal towns, people start filling up the beaches before sunrise. When taking a bath on Good Friday was still taboo, the cool morning waters could have felt so heavenly. Many families and high school classes usually hold reunion picnics on this last day of Lent.

The biggest celebration comes early on Easter Sunday.  Those who do not wake up early dawn surely miss the rites of the salubong.  The intended drama is Mary meeting her son who has risen from the dead, with an angel coming down from heaven to lift off her mourning veil, singing in great jubilation with a chorus of other angels, ‘He has risen, as He Himself said … alleluia!’

The folk ritual calls for two processions coming from opposite directions, one with the Mary image shrouded with a black veil, and the other with the Risen Christ in white garments.  In some towns, the Mary procession is all-female, and the Christ procession is all-male.

In our town, a young girl or a boy soprano is hoisted as an angel inside a flower-like cover.  She or he will lead the children’s choir in cheering up Mary and strewing flower petals as the two images meet.  At one point, the big petals spread out to reveal the angel being brought down to remove Mary’s black veil.

The common folk find it ominous when the angel takes a long time in taking off the veil, more so if it slips from her hold and falls down.  Otherwise, there’s loud cheering at the end, and the two images are brought inside the church for the Easter Sunday mass.

 Yesterday, today and tomorrow, the Pinoy commemorates the passion and death of Jesus Christ in various folkways during the Holy Week:  the artful palaspas, the marathon pabasa or pasyon, the theatrical sinakulo and the Moriones, the penitensiya, and the prusisyon of images; and his resurrection through the drama of the salubong on Easter Sunday. 

 Alongside these folk rituals, what should matter though is that the Pinoy Christian deepens his religious formation when he participates in the authentic commemoration of the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday, of the crucifixion and death on Good Friday, of the Easter Vigil after sundown of Holy Saturday, and in the jubilant celebration of the resurrection on Easter Sunday.   


Monday, April 14, 2014

Remembering the valor in Bataan in 1942

Note:  This photo-essay appeared as 'Valor in 1942 Bataan remembered'  in the 11-17 Apr 2014 issue of the weekly FilAm Star, 'the newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America', published in San Francisco, CA.  The author (this blogger) is the paper's special news/photo correspondent in the Philippines.

T.S. Eliot opened ‘The Burial’ of his very influential poetic work ‘The Wasteland’ with “April is the cruellest month.”  He wrote that line 20 years before the Fall of Bataan on April 9, 1942 when the Bataan peninsula was reduced almost to a wasteland by Japanese bombs, and there was no burial for the lost defenders of freedom there.

I have been reading the unpublished memoirs of two Filipino veterans of the Second World War:  one was able to escape when Bataan fell, and the other became a prisoner of war (POW), one of those who marched day and night from Mariveles or Bagac to Camp O’Donnell in Capas, Tarlac.  
Defender A recalled the first week of that cruel month when Japanese planes relentlessly bombarded their positions.  Army trucks were either loaded with the dead and wounded soldiers, or carried reinforcements to the front line.  He could even remember that there was a strong earthquake on the night of April 5.  Four days later, his unit in Mariveles was ordered to dismantle, destroy and dispose their guns and ammunition:  the US military forces have surrendered.

His officer gave them a choice: proceed to the concentration camp or escape.  He and several comrades decided to flee since their province Zambales is near, just north of the peninsula. On the night of the 9th, they took advantage of the dark, changed into the civilian clothes and shoes they were able to keep since their enlistment in December 1941.  The next day, they joined fleeing civilians, and as camouflage, they helped carry loads and exchanged what they have such as the anti-malaria yellow pills for food and other basic needs.  They too were harassed by Japanese soldiers who took away watches, jewelries and other valuables from civilians.  

They passed by prisoners of war being formed into columns of 4 or 6 individuals, and saw the atrocities being inflicted on the weak and the sick: slow marchers were bayoneted or shot, and left behind.

They reached their hometown safely even if Japanese sentries accosted them on the road several times.  Their alibi that they were college students going home even elicited kindness once: they were given ten bags of sugar.

Sometime in September 1942, he recalled, all the escapees were asked to register so that they can be issued a safe conduct pass or identification card.  POWs were also being released from the concentration camp in Capas, and the survivors started to arrive in their town.  

Defender B was with the 75,000 Filipino and 10,000 American soldiers that arrived in Balanga from Mariveles on April 11.  He would survive the ordeal of the death march on the 128-kilometer road to Capas. 

He remembered that early in the morning of April 3, Good Friday, the Japanese launched a massive military offensive with infantry assaults, artillery shelling, and air bombings.  The soldiers were constantly on the move without transport, hungry with their kitchen gone and drinking water when they came upon a river or stream.  At noon of April 9, he saw three civilian trucks with soldiers waving white Ilocano blankets, the flags of surrender.

His unit proceeded to Mariveles where they were lined up as POWs. The Japanese were enticing the Filipinos soldiers still hiding to come out and go home.  As the prisoners grew in number, so did the Japanese guards who confiscated their valuables.  The caricature of the enemy soldier displaying two watches in his forearms was true.

There was scarcely food and water during the death march. Sometines they would be given a ball of rice.  Kind civilians offered them food on the road sides, which caused commotion and disorder in the ranks.  The Japanese guards kicked away food and drinks left by the people on the road for POWs to pick up.

He remembered a stockpile of unthreshed rice, which quickly vanished with marchers grabbing handfuls as they passed by.  He pounded what he got with a stone, carried them in a sock to cook hurriedly during a pause in the long march.  He experienced chewing cane pulled from a sugar cane field, and taking three chicken eggs from under an abandoned house by the road.

The POWs would dash to an artesian well or to running faucets, and go back to their lines with their water canteens sometimes barely full.  But thirsty POWs would drink from canals even if there were floating corpses upstream.

There was always the bayonet of the enemy to get rid of the tired and sick caught resting under trees. Those who were still of good mind escaped death by resting under road culverts where the guards could not see them.

Before they reached San Fernando, Pampanga, where they were loaded on box cargo trains for Capas, Tarlac, he saw how some civilians took advantage of them especially those who still had money to buy food.  He described how the POWs were cheated of their money.  But there was one occasion he fondly remembered: the people of Bacolor gave them cooked rice and a piece of fried chicken or milkfish.

Defender B stayed at Camp O’Donnell until he was released in October 1942.  At one time he served in the water detail, which afforded him opportunity to take a bath in the river before they brought back the water containers to the camp.  He also got assigned to the burial detail, which required them to carry stinking cadavers to the burial grounds.   

My father was already working as a federal employee at the US naval station in Cavite when war broke out.  His best friend Pantaleon Cawagas was in the Philippine Army, one of POWs that marched to Capas.  This war survivor became a well-liked public school teacher.  

He was honoured by his son-in-law Sonny Busa, chairman of the board of the Philippine-American Foundation for Charities, Inc. (PAFC), and granddaughter Maera at the25th Annual Bataan Memorial Death March at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico on March 23.  Maera carried her grandfather’s name during the marathon event.

If Cawagas lived longer, he could have joined the 13 Bataan survivors present and witness the start and completion of the two marathon events: the full route of 26.2 miles and the shorter one of 14 miles.  The longer route enabled the participants to experience what the soldiers of 1942 endured, while the shorter one was for those who wished only to memorialize Bataan.

Busa considers the memorial march as “the most meaningful manifestation of the special American-Philippine relationship.”  This year, there were “ 6,500 Americans and Filipinos [who] braved the sands and heat of the New Mexican desert to march all or part of 26 miles to honor the heroes of the Bataan Death March where thousands of Americans and Filipino soldiers died in the defense of freedom on April 1942.”

The Philippines has been paying tribute to the heroes of Bataan and Corregidor since 1980 when April 9 became a national day of observance, and reaffirmed as “Araw ng Kagitingan” (Day of Valor) in 1987.

 The Philippine President usually leads the national commemoration with ceremonies at the Dambana ng Kagitingan (Shrine of Valour) on Mount Samat, Pilar, Bataan, which was completed and inaugurated in 1970.  The shrine consists of a colonnade with an altar, an esplanade and a museum; and a Memorial Cross towering 92 meters from its base.

Travellers are reminded of the extreme sacrifices of the war heroes by markers denoting each kilometer that the marchers hiked on their way to Camp O’Donnell  in Capas, Tarlac.  At the Layac junction in Dinalupihan stands a monument commemorating the first line of defense of the Philippine USAFFE forces against the Japanese invaders.

In our town, the war veterans organized the provincial chapter of the Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, and erected a memorial to honor those who perished.  To keep alive historical memory among the post-war generation, they inscribed: “As units of the USAFFE (United States Armed Forces in the Far East), we engaged and held at bay for more than four months the invading Japanese Imperial Forces in the battlefields in Bataan and Corregidor during World War II, thus delaying the enemy’s timetable for the conquest of South East Asia and giving the American forces time to regroup in Australia.”

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

‘Peace-tahan’ at Mendiola: signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro

 Note:  This photo-essay appeared in the 04-10 April 2014 issue of the FilAm Star, 'the newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America' published in San Francisco, CA, with a shorter title: 'Peace-tahan at Mendiola.'  This author/blogger is the Special News/Photo Correspondent in the Philippines of the said paper.

The crowd gathered in front of the Mendiola Peace Arch on 27 March was made up of groups representing Muslim communities and organizations in Metro Manila and Luzon, and a contingent of maritime cadets from Marawi City.  The gathering was described as a Bayanihang Bangsamoro, a ‘peacetahan sa pirmahan ng Bangsamoro’, a peace festival during the signing of the comprehensive agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB).  This actually started with a vigil the night before.

This was one occasion where all the men and women leaders of the delegation were given a chance to speak.  They graciously expressed very briefly their hopes for peace in Mindanao and for Sharia Islamia in Bangsamoro.  One speaker was introduced as a sultan residing in Pasig City.  In jest, he quipped that sometime in the future there would probably be sultans all over the country, many of them residing outside Mindanao.  Of course, this elicited laughter since everyone is aware that the core territory of the proposed Bangsamoro is the existing Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). 

Green appears to be the color of Bangsamoro; hence, the use of green balloons and green pennants One large group had GMAT printed on their green shirts. GMAT means Greenhills Mall Association of Traders, or something like that, which led me to ask in good humor if they closed their stores to come to Mendiola and celebrate the signing of the CAB.  Similar trading groups came from Luzon provinces like Zambales, Batangas and Bulacan.

I sought out to interview the young ones and many of them were not born in their parents’ hometowns in Mindanao.  They are the generation whose parents were uprooted by decades of armed hostilities there and settled in Manila and other parts of the country where they are engaged in some economic activity like selling and trading. They have grown up in other regions outside of Mindanao, which they have visited at least once so far.  They speak in Pilipino although they use their local dialects at home.  These young people may see the end of war in Mindanao and enjoy the promise of peace and Sharia Islamia in Bangsamoro.  
There is still a long way to go on the ‘roadmap to the Bangsamoro entity’.   The Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) is scheduled to submit the draft of the Basic Law for deliberation in Congress this year, which President Benigno Aquino III reportedly will signify as urgent.
The proposed law may not have easy sailing in Congress even if the CAB signing has been hailed as a great step in the peace process.  These four Annexes of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB, signed 15 October 2012) are expected to be thoroughly examined in the legislature: transitional modalities and arrangements (27 February 2013); revenue generation and wealth sharing (13 July 2013); power sharing (08 December 2013); and normalization (25 January 2014).  According to reports, Senate Majority Leader Allan Peter Cayetano had said that there is going to be a “complicated” legislation, and Senator Antonio Trillanes IV had expressed ‘guarded optimism’ since they have not yet seen the details of the CAB.

The roadmap indicates “if needed, proposed Constitutional Amendments” in the proposed Basic Law.  Any amendments would certainly entail intense discussions and public hearings in Congress, and may spawn debates in the social media and public forums. 

The roadmap scenario calls for the passage of the Basic Law and a referendum on the proposed Bangsamoro territory this year; the termination of the ARMM and the setting up of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), the interim ministerial government, in 2015; and the establishment of the elected ministerial government after the May 2016 elections.  Other formalities in 2016 will include the signing of an exit agreement and the dissolution of the BTA and the Third-Party Monitoring Team (TPMT).

A good friend who is with the network of women engaged in action on 1325 (the United Nations resolution on women’s participation in peace and security issues), and who attended the signing ceremony in Malacañang, had this to say: “Yes, it's a long way to go but [the CAB] is a crucial first step.  Murad said in his speech this afternoon that the Bangsamoro will not be monopolized by MILF. He said that the agreement is for all including MNLF and indigenous peoples. The CAB has very good provisions. We all have to do our share in implementing them. ... [W]e consulted women on what they wanted integrated in the CAB and many of the provisions reflect our proposed text/language.”

A Muslim friend in the academic community is not as enthusiastic.  He said that “what is needed is not peace but development in the Bangsamoro. Peace will follow once there's development.”  

Others too have expressed some reservations on the prominence of Malaysia as principal facilitator in the peace negotiations.  For example, these two historical clouds: the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Sabah issue. 

In my researches on the history of our town, I have come across manuscripts about the fear of the government authorities in Zambales when Moro boats were seen off the coast of the province during the Spanish colonial times.  There were petitions to the Governor-General in Manila to approve the purchase of boats and converting Capones Island as a defense outpost against the possible attack of the Moro pirates.  
It’s been a long time since I met my first Moro: the itinerant vendor who came from far away Mindanao to sell pearls and other precious stones in our town in Zambales.  Several years later, as a freshman in the University of the Philippines, newfound Muslim friends introduced me to the durian, which I loved at first bite despite the unpleasant smell.  In my sophomore year, I saw how religiously my Muslim Tausog roommate in the dormitory recited his daily prayers.  I had worked with a Muslim lawyer who became a commissioner in the COMELEC and is the current secretary of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF).

My brother-in-law, fresh from the Philippine Military Academy in the late 1970’s, went to war in Jolo.  During his years of service in the Armed Forces of the Philippines, peace was elusive in Mindanao.   

May the historical transformation of Moro to Bangsamoro bring about peacetahan, finally,  in Mindanao.