Monday, June 30, 2014

Celebrating 116 years of Philippine independence

Note:  This photo-essay appeared in slightly different version in the 20-26 June 2014 issue of the weekly FilAm Star, "the newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America."  The author/blogger is the special news/photo correspondent of the paper in the Philippines.

There were no grand fireworks to watch on the Twelfth of June in the home country unlike in the US of A where ‘Filipinos in mainstream America’ wait for the pyrotechnics to burst and brighten the skies on the night of the Fourth of July.

There was no parade at the Luneta either just like in the old days.  The last one we remember watching was that of the centennial celebration in 1998.

Like in the past, government agencies set up booths at the Burnham Green of the Rizal Park to show their flagship projects and community services (Mga Pampamahalaang Programa at Serbisyo).  The Department of Health, for example, provided free medical, dental and optical services.  Tree seedlings and packets of vegetable seeds were distributed at the Dept. of Agriculture booth. 

The booths of the Armed Forces of the Philippines were a big hit because it allowed visitors to carry high-powered weapons on display (without bullets, of course!).  Many had their selfies with real soldiers with camouflage paints on their faces. Marching bands from various military services like the Philippine Air Force also provided entertainment at the Luneta Grandstand, and silent drills by units from the Philippine Coast Guard and Philippine Marines awed spectators there too.

For those who stayed up to the early evening, they could have enjoyed for free the 30-minute “Martyrdom of Dr. Jose Rizal: Light and Sound Presentation”, which dramatizes the national hero’s final hours using eight sculptural clusters. This presentation is the collective work of National Artists Leandro Locsin, Lamberto Avellana, Lucio San Pedro and Rolando Tinio.  The holiday crowd could also have enjoyed listening to various musical artists in the Harana sa Rizal Park at different performance areas around the park.

The Metro and Light Railway Transits provided free rides 7 to 9 in the morning and 5-7 in the evening for people who wanted to enjoy their holiday in various places in Metro Manila.  The Pasig River Ferry Service also offered free cruises from 6 AM to 6 PM between its operating terminals: Plaza Mexico, PUP, Guadalupe and Pinagbuhatan.

These were some of the events in this year’s 116th commemoration of the proclamation of Philippine Independence, which carried the theme “Pagsunod sa Yapak ng mga Dakilang Pilipino, Tungo sa Malawakan at Permanenteng Pagbabago.”

Early in the day at eight o’clock in the morning, flag-raising and wreath-laying ceremonies were held simultaneously in seven historical sites all over the country led by high government officials:  Plaza Quince Martires in Naga City; Rizal National Monument at the Luneta, General Emilio Aguinaldo Shrine in Kawit, Cavite; Mausoleo delos Veteranos dela Revolucion at the Manila North Cemetery; Barasoain Church Historical Landmark in Malolos, Bulacan; Pinaglabanan Memorial Shrine in San Juan City; Bonifacio National Monument in Caloocan City and Pamintuan Mansion in Angeles City.

These rites were replicated in every town and city in the archipelago.  In my hometown San Narciso in Zambales, for example, the flag rite in front of the municipal building was followed by the laying of floral wreaths at the monuments of  Jose Rizal, Ramon Magsaysay, the Doce Martires (12 members of the town principalia who were executed in April 1898) and the Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor.

President Benigno Aquino III, guest of honor at Plaza Quince Martires rites, extolled the heroism of the fifteen Bicolano martyrs who were suspected of involvement in the Katipunan.  Eleven of them were executed in Bagumbayan in January 1897 barely a week after the martyrdom of Jose Rizal, while four died in exile.

According to reports, some students from the Ateneo de Naga heckled Aquino while he was talking about the pork barrel scam.  “Patalsikin ang Pork Barrel King! Walang pagbabago sa Pilipinas!,’ were apparently heard from the students who deemed that the president failed to fulfil his promise of ending corruption and bringing change to the country.  One of them, Emmanuel Pio Mijares, was arrested.

Aquino challenged Filipino voters to“[c]hoose candidates who fight for the interests of the each and every citizen in the face of any challenge. We do not need a leader who can read a script, dance well or sing well.”  Obviously, he was referring to Sen. Bong Revilla whose privilege speech included a song number.

At the Rizal National Monument, Vice President Jejomar Binay reportedly called for a “timeout” from politics, reminding Filipinos to remember the patriotism and bravery of those who fought for our independence. 

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno also touched on the pork barrel scam cases when she spokeat the General Emilio Aguinaldo Shrine.  According to reports, she assured that there will be no shortcuts in resolving these cases, and that the judiciary will always be guided by the Constitution and the Rules of Court in their resolution.

At the Barasoain Church, where the first Philippine Republic was inaugurated on 23 September 1898, the guest of honor was MMDA Sec. Francis Tolentino.  He reportedly emphasized the importance of Malolos Constitution, and also spoke of the threats to our rightful ownership of some islands in the West Philippine Sea.

Senate President Franklin Drilon led the Independence Day rites at the historic Pinaglabanan Shrine, a memorial to the first battle of the Katipunan that started on 29 August 1898.  According to reports, he appealed to the people to keep their faith in their democratic institutions despite the pork barrel scam controversies.

We witnessed the commemoration program at the Bonifacio National Monument.  It was the Caloocan City Mayor who delivered the keynote speech. Theatrical, dance and musical presentations were performed by government employees and public school teachers.

It is presumed that similar flag-raising and wreath-laying ceremonies were conducted at the Pamintuan Mansion and the Mausoleo de los Veteranos de la Revolucion.

 For historical appreciation, Aguinaldo moved the seat of the government from Kawit, Cavite to Pampanga during the war against the Americans. He waved the Philippine flag from the second-floor balcony of the Pamintuan Mansion on 12 June 1899, the first anniversary of Philippine independence.  On the other hand, the Mausoleo was built by the Veteranos de la Revolucion headed by Aguinaldo and inaugurated on 30 May 1920 as a pantheon of the heroes of the revolution against Spain. 

The noise of the 116th anniversary celebration of our independence came from the rallies not only in Metro  Manila but also in some cities in the country, a continuing reverberation of the Million People March to Scrap Pork Barrel on 26 August last year.

The festive colors came from the protest streamers and banners, and from the props such as masks and papier mache pigs of various configurations like the big one with a crown.

One reporter observed that “[a] funny thing happened to marchers protesting against the pork barrel in all forms. Their target turned out to be President Aquino.”  This is evident in the ‘Pork Barrel King’ title given to him.

We were at the Kartilya ng Katipunan Shrine (or Bonifacio Shrine) near the Manila City Hall for the 6.12.14 Protest Against Corruption in the afternoon.  This was put together by 6.12.14 Protest Coalition of various organizations comprising the Scrap Pork Network, Kilusang KonTRAPOrk, and Freedom from Debt Coalition.  Hashtags used for social media communications were #OUCHPinoy, #ScrapPork and #JailALL.

Various sectoral representatives were given the chance to denounce the plunder of government funds through the PDAF or the popular pork barrel.  There was a collective call for the Aquino administration to prosecute the people behind the pork barrel scam, those linked to the controversies including the allies of the president.  “All those involved should be prosecuted and not just a few,” Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo emphasized.

Entertainment numbers were provided by popular singers like veteran activist Heber Bartolome and Jograd de la Torre with their nationalistic and protest songs, and rocker Eli Buendia of Eraserheads fame.

At Liwasang Bonifacio, a “Rally for Accountability” was led by the #Abolishpork Movement. This was joined by militant, civil and religious groups like the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC),  Artista Kontra Korapsyon (AKSYON), University of the Philippines (UP) Faculty versus Pork, Youth ACT Now!, Babae Laban sa Katiwalian (BABALA), and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN). 

Reports in the social media showed that this was preceded by a march to the US Embassy in Manila and a program at Kalaw Avenue where some protesters dressed up like Katipuneros and Katipuneras and carried make-believe bolos and rifles.

Later in the afternoon, the protesters marched to Mendiola with torches.

Present at both the Kartilya and Liwasang Bonifacio rallies was Mae Paner, more popularly known as Juana Change, who had porky faces adorning the front of her kimona and all around the hem of her saya.

The cheer up chants were variations on the theme of accountability.  At the Kartilya Shrine:  Sumagot, Managot, Kundi Lagot! Ouch PiNoy!  At Liwasang Bonifacio-Mendiola:  “Lahat ng Sangkot, Dapat Managot”

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Ferrying up and down Pasig River

NOTE.  This photo-essay appeared in the 13-19 June 2014 issue of the FilAm Star, a weekly published in San Francisco, CA "for the Filipinos in mainstream America."  This author/blogger is the Special News/Photo Correspondent of the paper here in the Philippines.

A trip between Pagbuhatan or Guadalupe and Escolta or Plaza Mexico passes by the Pandacan oil depots.

We cross over the Pasig River each time we take the metro/light railway transits on EDSA and Taft but we’ve never taken a cruise along its 26-kilometer stretch from Laguna de Bay to Manila Bay until last week when we took the ferry boats from the Guadalupe in Makati to three destinations:   Escolta and Plaza Mexico in Manila, and Pinagbuhatan in Pasig City.

At this time, only five ferry terminals from Pasig to Manila are operational in the Pasig River Ferry Service re-launched by Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA).  All the runs to Manila stop by the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) terminal in Sta. Mesa. The ferry service had its test-run with three bus-boats in March, and became fully operational on 28 April with free rides for one week.

The Philippine Postal Office at Plaza Lawton is an architectural landmark along the Pasig.

The ferry service is a joint project of the MMDA, the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) and the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC).  MMDA looks at it as “an alternate mode of public transport for commuters who will be affected by traffic jams expected to be generated by the 15 major infrastructure projects across Metro Manila that will be completed by 2016” especially for residents near the river or for those whose work places are near the river.

The Escolta Ferry Terminal below the Jones Bridge.

This is not the first ferry service on the Pasig.

Magsaysay Lines had a brief operation from 1990 to 1991. Its Guadalupe-Escolta services closed down because of problems that arose from informal settlers along the river banks, garbage in the river and foul odor from the polluted water.

Starcraft Ferry also operated a service from Bambang, Pasig City to Escolta using 30-seater catamaran-type boats in 1996.  It folded up a year later due to the same problems that encumbered Magsaysay Lines.

In 2007, the government revived the ferry service. A private firm, SCC Nautical Transport Services, owned and operated six 150-seater air-conditioned boats serving the stretch from Intramuros to Pinagbuhatan. The service closed down in 2011 because of business losses.

The re-launch this year has a private company owning and operating the boats. A boat can accommodate 28 persons, running 12 knots at most, slowing down to 5 knots along the Malacañang area. From Guadalupe, it can run downstream to Plaza Mexico in about 40 minutes, and upstream to Pinagbuhatan in about the same time.

An old business building in Binondo from across the Plaza Mexico ferry terminal.

Passengers from Guadalupe pay Php 50 in going to any of three destination terminals: PUP, Escolta or Plaza Mexico.  The Guadalupe-Pinagbuhatan run costs Php 45.  The fare for the PUP-Escolta and Escolta-Plaza Mexico ride is Php 30. When we had our rides, the discounts for students, senior citizens, children and persons with disabilities were not in place yet.

When we took the ferry at Guadalupe, three giant billboards loomed over the river.  These feature a popular movie actress in her lingerie with a crown, and “Her Royal Beauty” is printed across two adjacent billboards.

The beautiful model reminds of the woman who appears at night during full moon, the Mutya ng Pasig of National Artist Nicanor Abelardo, which he composed in 1926.  At that time, Pasig must still have been the “lifeline” of Manila and other communities it ran through:  a clear flowing river teeming with fishes, clean for the bathing and the laundry washing on the river bank, the air cool and pleasant for the sailing from the lake to the bay.

Linear park colors from silos, concrete fence and fire trees.
The PRRC gives us this timeline in the river’s transformation from being lifeline to becoming the “sewer” of the metropolis:  increasing river pollution and diminishing fish migration from Laguna de Bay (1930s), decline of bathing by the river (1950s), further decrease of people bathing, washing clothes and using river water for cleaning (1960s), emanation of foul odor and deterioration of water quality to Class C (1970s), total disappearance of any fishing activity (1980s) and declaration of its being biologically dead (1990s).

It’s still summer when we rode the ferry.  Overall, the river is murky.  There is no indication whatsoever of any life in the water in going downstream to Plaza Mexico.  Upstream though at the approach to Pinagbuhatan, we saw plenty of white birds flying low and peeking into the river, diving for fish fries, according to the helmsman.

The smell was initially a bit offensive but this disappeared during the cruise.  The boats are not air-conditioned. What assailed us were garbage accumulations in many parts especially along populated river banks, and the bits and pieces of thrash floating all around.

The banks were cleaner along the commercial properties like oil depots and manufacturing companies and along the linear parks of  Carmona, Valenzuela, Poblacion and Guadalupe, all in Makati; PUP, South Nagtahan, Intramuros and Plaza Mexico, all in Manila.

Colorful houses near the Guadalupe terminal.
We learned that PRRC has joined hands with local government units and other public and private agencies in the relocation of informal settlers along the river banks and esteros, and in the rehabilitation of esteros like Paco (2009), Sañtibanez and Aviles (both in 2013). Esteros are the flowing sources of garbage to the Pasig when the rains come.  Unless ecological solid waste management is effectively implemented in the cities and towns comprising the Pasig River basin, the 47 tributaries carry their garbage as well into the river. 

Despite the smell and the ugly sights at this time, we still enjoyed the photo opportunities we found during the rides, and the prospect of easier access to historical and touristic sites from the ferry terminals.

New riders would gain an insights on the physical linkages of the Metro Manila:  first,  the 14 bridges along the stretch from Pinagbuhatan to Plaza Mexico, and second, the bancas ferrying passengers between river banks, a commuter service that has been going on in the history of the Pasig River.  The commuter bancas cost a passenger Php 5 for the short distance across the river.

Terminal of bank-to-bank commuter boats.
The Guadalupe ferry terminal on JP Rizal St. is a short walk east of the bridge on EDSA.  Going to Pinagbuhatan, the ferry goes under C-5 or Pasig-Makati Bridge, the Bambang and Arsenio Jimenez (Kalawaan) Bridges.   Of interest is passing by the Napindan Flood Control Center where one sees the gates to control floodwaters from the lake.  The destination terminal is several meters away from the Pinagbuhatan Bridge.

Going downstream to Plaza Mexico, the ferry goes under three bridges in the Makati span: Guadalupe,  Estrella Pantaleon and Makati-Mandaluyong Boundary.  Estrella Pantaleon leads to the Rockwell Center. 

Lambingan Bridge connects Sta. Ana, Manila and Mandaluyong where the Pasig makes its U bend.  This is followed by the Pandacan or Padre Zamora Bridge, which spans into Sta. Mesa, and is clearly visible from the PUP ferry terminal.

Before approaching Mabini or Nagtahan Bridge, we were reminded of the no-photography (camera or mobile camphones) rule during the slow-down along Malacañang.  A Coast Guard man comes on board PUP to enforce the ban.  We’ve been figuring out the ‘why’ behind this ban when any tourist can have his photo taken on the avenue behind the White House.

Skyview & Makati-Mandaluyong Bridge.
After Nagtahan, veteran Manila visitors would readily recognize the foursome of Ayala, Quezon, MacArthur and Jones Bridges.  There’s a parallel bridge to Quezon bridge, the LRT-1 bridge connecting Central Terminal and Carriedo Stations.  One would not miss the island whose tip seems to touch Ayala Bridge: the Isla de Convalescencia where Hospicio de San Jose is located.

The Escolta ferry terminal is at the foot of Jones Bridge, right side, while the Plaza Mexico terminal is about 300 meters away on the left side.

Thus, our ferry travel log on the Pasig includes historical notes on the Isla de Convalescencia where the Hospicio de San Jose took permanent residence since 1810.  We caught sight of the spires of the National Shrine of Saint Michael and the Archangels on Malacañang grounds.  We read that this is popular among Roman Catholic betrothed couples because they can have their pre-wedding confirmation and baptism, if needed, here all in the same day. 

Commuter boat loading passengers going to opposite bank.
From the Escolta terminal, this ferry traveller took a memory stroll down Escolta St. before proceeding to Sta. Cruz.  We could have walked to Binondo/Chinatown too.

Intramuros is accessible from Plaza Mexico where stand the commemorative monuments to the fourth centennial of maritime trade between Mexico and the Philippines and the galleon trade. 
Plaza Roma is a short walk away for a visit to the Cathedral, Fort Santiago and other historical places inside the walls of Old Manila.

It may take some more time before ferry service on the Pasig becomes as popular and busy as that on Chao Prya in Thailand or the Star Ferry in Hongkong.   From fellow riders, we gathered that one issue is the fare, which is more expensive than public land or train transport to students and ordinary folks.  Then there’s the problem of garbage, and we noted that the ferries we rode on stopped a few times because of garbage obstruction.

In Junto al Pasig (Along the Pasig), the national hero JP Rizal wrote of boys who, after a quarrel, decided to prepare for the procession of the Virgin of Antipolo along the river.  In this play, Rizal composed a chorus for the boys, which, according to the historian Wenceslao Retana, was last sung by the Ateneo de Manila students in 1904 when the fluvial procession passed by the banks at San Pedro Makati. 

It may take years before the river becomes a lifeline again, when everyone can sing Rizal’s chorus of “pretty Pasig, pretty river” in seeking “beauty, peace of heart and mind” and “happiness for the soul beset with duty.”

Another commuter boat terminal.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Express trip under the shadow of Mayon & Bulusan volcanoes

Note:  This photo-essay appeared in the 06-12 Jun issue of the FilAm Star, 'the newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America,' published weekly in San Francisco, CA,  This author/blogger is the paper's Special News/Photo Correspondent in the Philippines.

Mount Mayon from the left side of the Daraga Church. Woman figure shows her carrying red sili, said to be the Bicolano's favorite spice.

Our first option was to take the Bicol Express to Legazpi City, Albay, and the return trip on board one of the deluxe sleeper buses that ply the Maharlika Highway non-stop to Manila.

We did not know that the Philippine National Railways had cancelled all train services “due to ongoing repairs” and, as they implored, for us to bear with them until the Mayon Limited and the Bicol Express get running again.  For now, it’s only their Metro Commuter that keeps their choo-choo of “a storied past, a challenging present, and connections to the future” chugging along the rails from Tutuban to Laguna.  PNR, in fact, has not deleted their press release about resuming their Bicol runs “starting March 16, 2012.”

Thus, we flew to Legazpi, taking advantage of the budget promo of one local airline company. Our destination actually was barangay Tongdol of Irosin, Sorsogon to represent the family in a civil wedding. This would formalize a union that has already borne the marrying couple two young sons. The thirtyish groom was our personal driver more than a decade ago.

Bulusan Volcano from the wedding venue in Tongdol, Irosin, Sorsogon.

A very dear fraternity brother working in the city was off for the weekend with his family in Pio Duran.  He lent us his service vehicle and his driver for our Bicol sojourn.  He also gave us the key to his house in Daraga where we had a good sleep before the long haul to Irosin in the morning.

The driver knows the Bicol road system like the back of his palm, which made zipping through the Albay and Sorsogon towns under the shadow Mayon and Bulusan volcanoes, respectively, hassle-free and very relaxing .  He cued us on the interesting places we should see along the way, and he’d ask every now and then if we’d like to stop at what he thinks are beautiful sights to capture with our camera.  

We departed Daraga after the Sunday morning mass at the antique town church.  We took the national highway up to Sorsogon City.  Since we would be stopping by Bulusan Lake, he went another way, the coastal road that strings the town of Bacon, Prieto Diaz, Gubat, Barcelona, and Bulusan, from where we veered toward Irosin, the only inland town of Sorsogon, after cooling off at Bulusan Lake. All in all, we traversed around 160 kms of paved roads, some parts gravelly, with thick, lush green plants on our right, and the blue of Albay Gulf and the Pacific Ocean on the left.  There were portions where we drove under the canopy of branches of trees planted on both sides of the road. There was one instance when we stopped by the beach to chat with children enjoying the ankle-deep ocean waters at low tide.

Transporting pamaypay to the market (left). Pamaypay in various colors (right).

Fans, hats and sleeping mats.  Before hitting Sorsogon, we passed through barangay Bascaran of Daraga, where many hauling trucks were waiting to load, or were being loaded with Bicol region’s iconic handicraft products: pamaypay (fans), kalo (hats) and banig (sleeping mats). 

Bicol is endowed with indigenous flora for the raw materials of handicraft makers: karagumoy (Pandanus simplex) for hats, bags and mats; anahaw (Livistonia rotundifolia) for fans; and buri (Corypha) for hats.

What caught our fancy were the fans painted in several colors. We talked to one seller who actually collects from the weavers their unpainted products, which he then paints following the orders of the bulk buyers.  We learned from him that the demand could go as high as 10,000 pieces during the peak season.  

Nature tripping.  Rising 7,500 feet above sea level, Mayon Volcano was a looming presence during our tour of the Legazpi City and nearby Albay towns. It was the picturesque greeting card we saw from the window as the airplane descended for landing.  The sky was cloudless when we arrived; it was truly magayon (the Bicol word for beautiful) and passengers couldn’t help but pause for a selfie with the nearly perfect cone as background.

Bulusan Lake.

We noted that Bulusan is a hot subject these days. The volcano is not about to rumble and blow its top. The grumbling is from the anti-geothermal groups in the neigboring communities. We noted opposition to tap geothermal steam in the area for electric power.

 Bulusan volcano is not as high and majestic as Mayon but it sits in the heart of the national park named after it, a forest land teeming with flora of many different species.  

The park’s main attraction is Bulusan Lake, around 2 kilometers in circumference and 335 meters above sea level (masl).  We had our lunch break here surrounded by forest trees, shrubs and ferns, the green waters of the lake in view, and cicadas chirping all around.  Actually, the park management is tempting visitors to conquer all three lakes in the park: Bulusan, Aguingay, higher at 940 masl, and Blackbird’s, highest at 1,565 masl.

Young Bicolanos on their way to their favorite fishing sports by the bank of Bulusan Lake.

We could have gone trekking around the lake using the pathway of concrete slabs flanked by thick green foliage from various flora, which the guides said would not take an hour to complete. Kayaking on the placid green waters was another cool option.

We trekked part of the way though by joining a group of young men with fishing rods on their way to their favorite fishing spots.  We found some men on small boats casting their fishing nets a short distance away from the bank. 

Fisherman paddles his boat to a spot where he will cast his net.

While waiting for the young men to boast of a squirming catch on their lines, we spent some time with a honey collector nearby as he extracted sweet syrup from beehive fragments.  He said that this is one of the things he does for a living: roaming around the forest to smoke out beehives for the sweet honey.

Historical and spiritual detours.   Our quick Bicol trip gave us throwbacks to history starting with our departure point: the Church of the Nuestra Señora de Porteria (Our Lady of the Gate) on top of a hilltop in Daraga.  This church is more than 200 years old, and it was declared a Cultural Treasure by the National Museum in 2007 and a Historical Landmark by the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCAA) the following year.

Cagsaua ruins. Early this year, Albay province held Dos Siglo to commemorate the second centennial of the destructive Mayon eruption in 1814.

It has been painted with lime coating to protect the exterior side from further erosion.  The church facade and bell tower are rich in sculptured ornamentations like saints and other religious symbols, which are properly identified in the documentation of the preservation project.

This antique church reminded us of the ruins at Cagsaua, result of the violent eruption of Mayon on 01 February 1814.  As told by the historical marker on the ruins, the people of Cagsaua opted in July of that year to incorporate themselves with Daraga.  Hence, Cagsaua today remains a part of Daraga.  Early this year, Albay celebrated Dos Siglo to commemorate the destructive volcanic eruption two centuries ago.
Another candidate for declaration as heritage site is the church of Barcelona, Sorsogon, which  was built in 1874.  Across from it on the other side of the road are two ruins of stone buildings--the presidencia and the school—that date back to the Spanish colonial times.   According to popular stories,  Spaniards of yore gave the town that name to keep alive their memory of their city of origin.

The centuries old Daraga Church, a National Cultural Treasure.

When we returned from Sorsogon, we revisited Guinobatan, Albay to look for food items. In the search, two monuments caught our special photographic attention:  the Rizal Monument at the town plaza park and the Christus Regnat (Christ the King) monument facing the Church of the Assumption. 

We found the design of the pedestals closely similar.  The four women figures at the base of the monuments gave us the thought that these two works could have been designed and built by the same artist or group of artists.

Because of similarities in structure esp. with the four women figures, the Christ the King and Rizal monuments in Guinobatan appear to have been designed by the same artist or group of artists.

The standing allegorical women at the Christ monument are named after the cardinal virtues of Justicia (justice), Fortaleza (courage), Prudencia (prudence) and Templanza moderation. On the the hand, the four Rizal women are seated. The three that we were able to discern symbolize the arts, education and justice.

Culinary treats.  The theme of the welcome arch of Sorsogon province is seafoods symbolized by the crab, shrimp and mussel sculptures there.  A big crab is also atop the rest area building at Pepita Park, Sorsogon City.  Sad to say, there were no seafood meals during our dash through the province.

A giant white rooster along the road in Irosin. Across the street is the San Pedro barangay hall with a statue of the saint in front of it.

There was also nothing spicy in the wedding/fiesta menu, none of the traditional regional fare of laing and the so-called Bicol Express. 

The groom had a 100-kg pig butchered for the occasion, which an all-male cooking brigade headed by the popular village chef transformed into several dishes at the temporary kitchen in the backyard.  There was chicken and ubod cooked in coconut milk but this was not an entree in the menu.  It was served for dinner, and this was our first taste of this Sorsogon dish.

We watched closely the tutongan, where a live charcoal was embedded in the platter of grated coconut to produce smoke from the burning portion.  The set up was covered for some time so that the grated coconut would acquire the smoky smell and flavour.

The grates were then mixed with the pig’s blood, filtered out and pressed to extract the coconut oil. The diced pork meat was not sautéed but went directly into the mix of blood and coconut oil for the cooking.  Tutongan sa dinuguan was truly a culinary delight, and we had several helpings of it during the dinner.

Back in Albay, we had to hie off to Guinobatan for the thumb-size longanisas of garlicky or spicy red flavours.  Several packets of both flavours plus the pili nuts, sweetened and salted, made up our limited airplane baggage for the customary pasalubong for the family back home in Manila.

Town signage under construction.