Welcome! I'm Brad, a retired American high school teacher who has been living in Cabanatuan City, the Philippines for more than two years. My adoptive/adopted Filipino family, the Javier-Aldonza-Guevarra-Academia clan, as well as the kind staff at the hotel where I live, have been friends and helpmates to me during this time; thanks to them for letting me describe here their trials, successes, heartaches, celebrations, passions, in order to give American readers an idea of Filipino life. It has, for the most part, been a very enjoyable stay. I'll post at least once a week. Tap the lower floors above for earlier posts, and, as ever, click the pics to embiggen them!

Old Blue Eyes. Stubbornly feral.

2.19.20

February Days

Hello, Mr. Sherwin:

Jane and I are in great need of the car, which we have not driven for four months. Please make all haste in repairing the minor damage; then convey the car to us quickly.

Sincerely,

Bradley Smith

 

The response was from Sherwin's wife Des, second-in-command at the consultancy. "Good Day Mr.Brad Smith .Ok no problem ." That was three days ago. Jheng has texted them several times since then: no response.

 

 

Though without wheels, I visit the duplex four or five times a week, sometimes timing the visit so that I can swing by my rotisserie friend's business and pick up lunch for school-returned children, Jheng, and me. Two orders of sisig and one chicken fill our plates well, the cousins' dog waits outside for scraps, and after lunch I give up the camera to the kids and talk with Jheng -- about COVID-19, about possible daytrips, about Triskelion projects, Taal Volcano, the car, our aches and pains . . . .

Taal (CNN Philippines)

Mayon (Rappler)

Two of those topics are also on the minds of millions of Filipinos. The Taal alarm has been lowered to 2, yet minor earthquakes related to moving magma persist, and the experts say a major eruption may still be in the offing. About 150 miles to the southeast of Taal, Mayon Volcano, also on Luzon, has begun emitting steam and ash again; a glowing at the summit has been seen intermittently over the last two weeks. Mayon erupted in January and February of last year, causing the displacement of about 40,000 people, but was quiet for nearly a year after that. A reawakening now, or merely a burp after the main meal? Scientists don't know. Authorities have it at a level 2.

A Filipino household worker in Hong Kong has tested positive for COVID-19, but no Filipino in these islands has yet tested positive. As mentioned before, three Chinese nationals visiting the Philippines were found to have the disease, and one of them died. If none of these three transmitted the virus to others while staying in the country, it would be surprising, given the high transmission rate of COVID-19. Two of the three visited three cities in the Philippines before they were both tested positive and admitted to San Lazaro Hospital in Manila. An Al-Jazeera reporter was told by the nursing staff there that medical authorities exhibited a lack of transparency, that protective gear for the staff was in short supply, that the hospital was understaffed.

If something like what Hubei Province in China is now experiencing should occur in the Philippines, this would be a sad place indeed, I guess. Medical care is for the most part up to modern standards here, at least in the cities, but according to this Al-Jazeera article, the country has one doctor for every 33,000 Filipinos, and one hospital bed for every 1,121 Filipinos.

 

https://news.abs-cbn.com/news/02/05/20/phivolcs-crater-glow-observed-at-mayon-alert-level-2-remains

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/02/philippines-ill-prepared-grapples-coronavirus-threat-200218004321154.html

2.16.20

Mr. Sherwin

It had been nearly four months since I had seen my car; while I knew there had been a hold-up caused by an insurance company that did not want to make a payout so close to insurance renewal (insurance was free for the first year of ownership), and while I knew car repairs are generally very slow Phlipside, I decided to combine the trip to the mall for chocolates on the 14th with a walk across the street to see Mr. Sherwin, the immigration consultant through whom I had bought the car. You may remember, if you've been following my reports and musings for a while, that back when I decided to get a new car, the banks had a policy of denying loans to foreigners who had not lived in the country for two years. Sherwin procured the loan for me and receives a fee with each payment I make. A middle man for a car loan? Well, a visit outside the country does not count as straight residency here to the banks, and I aimed to visit the U.S. once a year . . . .  So yeah, a middle man.

Anyway, Sherwin was taking care of the insurance and the repair. Before lunch at the mall I walked out on the huge second-level deck where I could see into the consultancy office across the street; dark, nobody there. It was the same after lunch and shopping. Troublingly, the roof-top billboard and poster advertisements for Sherwin's establishment had been taken down.

I reported this to Jheng after getting back to Fred's, and she got her uncle Sonny to call the Toyota place where the car was being fixed; the Toyota people told Sonny that the car had been released more than two weeks ago. Jheng spent most of the afternoon trying to get Sherwin to respond to her texts. Finally she texted Sherwin that I wanted to get a lawyer to look into the matter: that one prompted a swift reply by Sherwin, who texted Jheng that the car had been slightly damaged in transport after it was released, and he was getting a side-mirror replaced.

Fine. But then the following morning Jheng sent me an online video of a very recent segment of a TV show by a popular group of investigative reporters here in the Philippines -- along with her caption, "Bad news."

Mr. Sherwin confronted by his accusers. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSbOa-7TpTc&feature=share

Gotta hand it to Bitag ("Trap"), the group led by Ben Tulfo that performs surveillance and video-sting operations against perceived scammers and even more dangerous criminals. Members of the group go into the field armed with guns as well as cameras, and the shoot (with cameras)-to-airing time is less than a week.  

Three local public school teachers had been promised jobs in New Zealand by Mr. Sherwin and given contacts there. Sherwin took the teachers' money, more than P300,000 (about $6,000, more than a year's wage to most Filipinos). The jobs did not exist, and Bitag was put in touch with the teachers. Bitag put together some crackerjack footage of the sting, with Sherwin shouting and gesticulating at his young female accusers, who shouted back. In two or three instances, I must say, facial expressions by Sherwin telegraphed "guilty as hell" to this viewer, though I did not understand almost all of the Tagalog and English expressions were rarely used. Bitag has referred the case to the authorities.

 

 

Miss you....

No billboard or posters on the 14th....

Since we viewed the Bitag piece Sherwin has reassured Jheng that as soon as he replaces the mirror the car will be returned. He told Jheng the televised scuff-up with the teachers painted him in a bad light but that he would be vindicated.

Later on Sunday, after a visit to the duplex with a bag of fruit and ice cream. Jheng explained further that Sherwin claimed there was nothing in the teachers' contracts that promised them a job, and that he planned to sue Bitag for defamation. And that Brad should not worry: Brad will get his car (yeah, and I'll take special note of the odometer reading when I get it back). Jheng is leery of this guy, too, of course.

If the promise (and I believe the teachers that a promise was made) were verbal only, it will be a he said/she said matter. My sketchy middle man will walk.

Lordy.

2.14.20

COVID-19

Well, I did notice that for the last 2 or 3 weeks my posts have been mainly about health concerns. Might as well bring up again the bugaboo in the room, which has taken 1,491 lives at this writing -- the thing we're learning to call COVID-19. Nearly everyone it's killed so far have been Chinese people living in China, and among those it's killed is a very good friend of my ex-wife. I knew this woman quite well during my three years in China, back in the 80's: a warm and humorous soul. About ten years ago she visited the U.S., and my ex invited me over to her place when this woman visited her; we had a nice time; the woman and I exchanged gifts. Now I guess she has given me the gift of a greater empathy  -- with the relatives and friends of all those who have died and will die, with all the lives these unfortunate people touched.

An ongoing human disaster on the verge of going global, caused by a few Wuhanites hankering for a taste of pangolin? Something like this appears to be the case.

Would be much obliged to the authorities in the Philippines if their efforts to keep the virus from spreading here pay off. The official death toll in the country stands at three, all Chinese nationals who were visiting the Philippines. As of yesterday, 252 suspected cases in the country had tested negative for the coronavirus; the results for 186 others are still pending. Forty-nine overseas Filipino workers living in Wuhan have been repatriated, and along with the flight crew are being held in quarantine at Clark in buildings that housed athletes of last year's Southeast Asian Games. (News arrived today that Vietnam is quarantining more than 10,000). Air travel between China and the PI was shut down some days ago; more recently Taiwan has come under the same stricture.

The transmission rate of the disease is in the process of being revised upward. Recent estimates have placed COVID-19's Ro between 2 and 4 (the Ro value is simply the number of people to whom one infected person transmits the disease, on average). But a study by Los Alamos National Laboratory now puts that value between 4.7 and 6.6.: these numbers have new cases of the virus doubling every two or three days. Can the virus be contained? Despite the stringent measures being taken both inside and outside of China, this highly transmissible cat already seems out of the bag. Most Southeast Asian nations have official cases in the double digits, and the number of official cases tends to be lower, sometimes a good deal lower, than the number of cases actually out there.

The number of fatalities is approaching double the number killed in the 2003 SARS epidemic. And the SARS outbreak lasted four full months; we are not yet two months into COVID-19.

That is the dreary picture I have for you today from this quarter, reader. One likes to think this is really not as bad as it seems to be. Carry on, hope for the best! Yup, it's Valentine's Day and I'm off to find a good box of chocolates for Jheng.

 

https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/health environment/article/3049906/philippines-capas-residents-are-arms-over-quarantine

https://www.rappler.com/nation/251770-doh-report-patients-probed-novel-coronavirus-philippines-february-13-2020

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01L-SktgzXc

https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-51431087

 

Later in the afternoon, box of chocolates delivered. Marielle posing before her junior prom, Mom and Grandmom photobombing. Picture by Jheng.

2.10.20

Lara Is Eleven.

And Michael is fine. His case of dengue lasted eight days, and he is one happy guy now that it's history.

Jheng is feeling much better after putting up with a mucusy cold for three days. She had caught it from her 17-year-old sister Marielle, who was escorted out of her school last week for having a cough and the sniffles. Yes, a "better safe than sorry" attitude has sprung up among school officials due to coronavirus worries here in the Philippines. Jheng had to bring Marielle to a hospital yesterday to get her checked over, and to get the written doctor's permission for Marielle to return to school.

Aaron fixing himself an ice cream sandwich.

Birthday girl.

On Saturday I swung by the NE market for ice cream and the NE bake shop for a cake; Jheng had prepared a big pot of spaghetti and many spring rolls for Lara's eleventh birthday celebration, and I had dessert duty. It was a fun time in the duplex that afternoon, and I learned something new about Aaron: he prefers his ice cream between slices of bread. I insisted to him that it was a grotesque practice, which made him all the happier as he ate his concoction.

Among other gifts, Lara received a watch from nai-nai (mom) and three P100 bills from me; she was a very happy girl that afternoon.

James agreed to drive me back to Fred's. Walking out their door I tripped upon their massive door sill (a guard against flooding) and went sprawling upon the pavement. I'd negotiated that sill hundreds of times before, but I guess you could leave it to me to one day become unmindful of it. The right kneecap was pretty well scraped and bloody. Marielle ran for medicinal alcohol and pads -- I grimaced and shouted while the alcohol was applied, and James drove me off under Jheng's worried gaze. Back at Fred's, I cleaned the scrape thoroughly and got out the peroxide and antibiotic ointment I always keep in the hotel room. As noted before in this blog, infections have a way of starting easily and spreading quickly in the tropics, no matter how seemingly inconsequential the wound.

Two years ago.

Last week.

In my early months in Cab City I picked at a hangnail, and within a couple of days half of my upper thumb puffed out in a rosy ball. I got myself to Good Sam (Good Samaritan Hospital) where the surgeon on call told me he'd have to lance it, but the location and size of the infection ruled out a local anesthetic; would I like general anesthesia? I said ah no thank you. I put my hand on the table, an orderly put his weight on my wrist, and the surgeon, Dr. Bautista, made quick work of the cutting. The squeezing took longer, and as he squeezed the doctor merrily asked me if I wanted to see what was coming out. No, thank you, Dr. Bautista.

Late last week I woke up one morning with two bug bites inside the left elbow which irritated me during the day. The next morning I woke up with a swelling the size of a small pancake at the site of the bites. Very warm to the touch. I decided to wait for a day, and within 24 hours the swelling had gone down. Now there are two bumps where the bites had been, but the arm seems fine (and the leg, two days out, is free of infection).

Kind readers in temperate climes, the living is fine here in the Philippines, but if you come for an extended stay, expect occasional eruptions of the flesh. Doctors in the cities, in respect to this, seem to be very competent.

2.4.20

Uncertain Times

I'm fine; the stomach bug is only a queasy memory to some members of Jheng's family and me. But Michael, Jheng's cousin, has tested positive for dengue fever. Dengue is a life-threatening illness in its relatively rare severest form, and a very painful, debilitating slog in its common form. It cannot be spread from person to person; Michael was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and got drilled by the wrong mosquito. Without complications, the illness lasts 3-10 days. He makes regular trips to the hospital to get his blood drawn for platelet counts; the most common complication of the disease occurs when platelets crash. He's being cared for at the duplex by his parents Bernie and Des, by his wife Marie, and by his three lovely little daughters.

Michael in healthier times.

The world's attention, of course, is riveted upon a different scourge: the unfolding tragedy of the 2019-nCoV coronavirus. "Pandemic" is what some folks on TV, including some health authorities, are calling it, although it does not yet have the solid footing on more than one continent that a pandemic by definition needs, it seems to me.

It's highly communicable, with a transmission rate (Ro) between 3 and 4 (the average flu bug is in the 1.5 range), and lethal in more than 2% of infected cases. The official death toll is closing in on 500, but evidence is mounting that Chinese officials are under-reporting coronavirus deaths, maybe by a great deal.  Disconcerting, to say the least.

You may have read that the one coronavirus death outside of China so far occurred in the Philippines. This was the husband in a couple recently arrived from Wuhan who so far are the only two officially identified cases of coronavirus in the country; more than 80 patients are currently "under investigation," however, including, if Jheng's scuttlebutt from her hospital-worker friend is correct, an 18-year-old Filipina recently arrived from Hong Kong who is being held in isolation at a Cabanatuan hospital.

To the south, Taal Volcano continues to spit and rumble. The experts seem certain about one thing: they don't know whether the mountain is getting ready to erupt . . . or settle down to another period of dormancy.

Uncertain times, indeed. Going out now to get some fruit for Michael.

 

https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

 

 

1.30.20

*burp*

Stomach bugs are the worst. Turned out Janiah had one. She passed it on to Marielle, then to me. Don't have the least interest in tapping out sentences right now. So . . . 

PIC DUMP

1.26.20

2019-nCoV, The Taal Decision, and Trump

Had a good Jheng-cooked meal at the duplex on Jheng's birthday yesterday. The girls confiscated my camera early and took snaps of each other while Mama Luz watched TV and Jheng and I talked about the return of the car, among other things. My sig/other liked (or made a good show of liking!) the bracelet of freshwater pearls I'd found at the mall; she was sporting it on her wrist when I thought it best to leave so that she could get some sleep (she has one week left at the night market).

This morning she texted me that Janiah had a fever. We both hope it's not the urinary tract thing again. 

Could it be that coronavirus so much in the news today, 2019-nCoV? Very, very unlikely, reader. There are just three suspected cases in the country, two on Palawan and one on Cebu, both islands far away from this location -- and unlike those two islands, Cab City is not a Chinese tourist destination. 

The advent of this virus was untimely; by the time the Chinese government started "locking down" the cities where it was spreading, tens of thousands of people living in those cities had already departed for hometowns to celebrate the Chinese New Year. The city of Wuhan is the epicenter of the coronavirus -- more specifically a seafood and wildlife market in Wuhan, where Chinese medical authorities believe, based on the number of patrons who became infected early in this event, the cross-species jump of the virus was made. I taught in Wuhan for three years as a twenty-something long, long ago. Met my first wife there. I still communicate with one person who befriended me in Wuhan (besides my first wife), but he no longer lives there, and I would like to know what life is like there now, how other friends I knew are faring in a city "locked down."

Today there are nearly 2,000 cases of the virus in China and 55 deaths caused by the virus. Almost all who have died were over 50 and had compromised immune systems. And that, as far as I can see, is good news. Another coronavirus, called SARS, killed nearly one in ten of the people it infected in Guangdong Province back in 2003. This 2019-nCoV virus doesn't appear to be nearly as deadly as SARS; it remains to be seen just how communicable it is, though. My son Bart will have a number of questions posed to him in our upcoming conference call; he earned a Ph.D. studying the flu virus.

(CNN Philippines)

In other news, the Taal danger level has been dropped to 3; people are officially allowed to return to their homes in the 14 km. danger zone, while two towns remain off-limits. Hoping this does not turn out to be a mistake. More than 300,000 had been evacuated, and the next time it seems as if the volcano will erupt and the danger level is advanced to 4, there will almost certainly be more reluctance on the part of the inhabitants to move.

A couple of days ago the newspapers had stories of high-level discussions concerning the possibility of making the 14 km. zone permanently off-limits, of  resettling  zone occupants to other places on the island. I just hope that clear science and not expediency was behind this decision to lower the danger level.

 

As for Trump, he's got to go. The FCC needs to be much more of a watchdog. Term limits in the legislature need to be rammed home. Citizens United brought about legalized bribery by the rich and powerful in politics; overturn the verdict. Abolish lobbyism. Create a system whereby politicians do not have to spend any time at all raising money. This won't turn into a rant; was as concise as I could be, eh. And as for Trump, he's got to go. For him and his ilk, the ends justify every means -- and those ends are not good for you or me. The means are abhorrent.

 

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/coronavirus-death-toll-canada-wuhan-symptoms-virus-latest-a9302016.html

https://www.latimes.com/science/story/2020-01-24/china-coronavirus-panic

https://cnnphilippines.com/news/2020/1/26/Taal-lowers-alert-level.html

1.22.20

Year of the Metal Rat

It does not seem a very auspicious moniker for the upcoming year (then again, I was born in the year of the Earth Dog), but Jheng (who was born in the year of the Fire Horse) turns 30 on the same day we usher in the Metal Rat (that is, the 25th), so I determined to combine a trip downtown for a car payment with a search at the mall for a suitable gift, distracted enough on the ride over, pondering what Jheng would like, to point the camera into the light.

 

Sausages and mac and cheese for lunch; much scrounging around at the mall before ultimately choosing a gift; and a deposit of P18,000 at Pinoy World Assist, where the woman rep said a wonderful thing: the car will be ready on Monday.

Jheng's local barangay Triskelion chapter has a goal of collecting enough food for the feeding of 200 Taal Volcano evacuees for two days, and she's busy with them. The U.S. has gifted the evacuation centers with P5,000,000. And as I type this, the Philippine House of Representatives is holding its plenary session at the Batangas Convention Center (just outside the danger zone) to show its solidarity with Batangans.

The volcano itself is quieter, and fewer quakes are being recorded (there have been well over 600 in the last ten days). There has been some criticism by provincial politicians directed at the scientists at Philvocs: they want Philvocs to lower the danger level so that local businesses can open. The vice mayor of Talisay, on the north shore of Taal Lake, publicly encouraged town citizens to return to their homes, later saying of the leader of Philvocs, "Siya ba ay Diyos?" (Is he God?) This man is now in trouble with the Department of the Interior and Local Government (a metal ruler to the back of his hands, please, DILG). A spokeswoman for the scientists responded that Philvocs was "firm in its science." Magma is very close to the surface, and a destructive eruption may be imminent. Danger Level 4 will not be lowered; businesses in the 14 km. zone will be sanctioned if they open.

The numbers evacuated from the danger zone continue to rise.

Danger zone residents are being evacuated by both government workers and private citizens. (Philstar.com/Efigenio Toledo IV)

1.20.20

​"Hindi paba sumasabog." (Do not explode.)

The above was just seen by me in the comments column of the live feed of Taal Volcano on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G1xr_4Wb7zo). The government bureau Phivolcs reported an hour ago that earthquakes (most quite small) continue at a high frequency, and that levels of sulfur dioxide in the vicinity of the volcano are rising (sulfur dioxide separates from magma when magma is close to the surface). In addition, most of Taal Island is rising, bulging apparently with pressure from below, while the northeastern flank is subsiding.

The lake in the crater evaporated days ago, but for several days the volcano has been relatively quiet, with puffs and occasional jets of smoke, but no fireworks. Philvolcs is keeping its alarm level at 4, and warns that something dire may be only a hop, skip, and a jump away.

Fourteen towns around the volcano have been evacuated and are on lockdown, and people residing within 14 kilometers of the crater have been advised to move away for the time being -- the farthest a pyroclastic flow has traveled, in previous Taal eruptions, was 14 kms. back in the 18th century. An estimated 150,000 people have moved; more than 60,000 of those are now living in evacuation centers. The population within that 14 km. radius is 459,000, however.

Volcano refugees. (CNN)

The "sit and wait" quality of this is unnerving to me, though my loved ones and I live far from the danger zone. Today I had a trike driver take me to the NE Crossing fruit stand, then up the Aurora road to the rotisserie guy, then farther up the Aurora road to Jheng's place, where the children had just arrived from school for lunch. Roasted chicken and sisig, but Jheng would not join us. There's a stomach bug going around, and she seems to have met up with it. Yuck-o. Hope you're well again very soon, dear.

Must talk with Aaron about how he should not shoot a camera into the light.

https://edition.cnn.com/2020/01/17/asia/taal-volcano-philippines-fatal-attraction-intl-hnk/index.html

https://news.abs-cbn.com/news/01/20/20/magma-rising-phivolcs-say-taal-volcano-steaming-big-eruption-still-a-possibility

1.15.20

Taal Update

Since the initial phreatic boom, Taal Volcano has remained very active; Alert Level 4 is still in place. Yesterday a lava fountain shot up an estimated 1,500 feet into the sky, and ashfall has been continuous for three days. As far as I know (and I scan PI media every few hours) that one traffic death is still the only death attributed to the volcano.

Phivolcs is an institution within the DOST (Department of Science and Technology) whose job it is to monitor volcanic eruptions and mitigate their effects. I'm following their twitter feed, and most of their tweets over the past few days have reported earthquakes -- several hundred in Batangas Province, none very large, have been recorded. It is these quakes, combined with fissuring that is occurring throughout Batangas, that has led Phivolcs to warn that there is a great deal of magma movement beneath Lake Taal, and that a major eruption in the coming days or weeks is a real possibility.

One of the fissures, a crack nearly 3 kms. long, has left some streets impassable and a number of houses damaged.

The government hopes to move 200,000 people in a mandatory evacuation; more than 30,000 as of now have been moved either to shelters or to relatives outside the danger zone.

Of the 33 Taal eruptions recorded since the 16th century, the eruption of 1754 lasted seven months; the deadly eruption of 1911 lasted three days. Of course, no one knows how long this one will last or how deadly this one may become.

 

 

https://www.rappler.com/nation/249357-phivolcs-advisory-taal-volcano-status-january-15-2020

https://cebudailynews.inquirer.net/281502/unfolding-crisis

https://twitter.com/phivolcs_dostref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor

1.13.20

Taal Volcano

First an update of the situation of the Dumagats on the Kaliwa River. The day after I wrote the entry below, philstar global reported that a Dumagat leader has announced that the government agency pushing forward the building of the Kaliwa Dam had manipulated community members to approve the project in a manner that violated the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act of 1997. The agency is accused of using both intimidation and bribery at the meeting, and one hundred individuals have written to the chairman of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples to protest the assembly and to ask the chairman to invalidate the decision that was reached. There will no doubt be more on this later; will try to keep you up to speed.

 

(En24 News)

(DW.com)

Yes, another volcano on the island of Luzon has awoken: Mayon last year, Taal this year. I clicked back and forth to various PI media sites as the news started coming in yesterday. Taal emitted a gigantic plume of ash yesterday afternoon, causing authorities to evacuate more than 23,000 people from lakeside areas near the volcano. Flight operations at Manila's international airport were suspended yesterday, and remain suspended today. The type of eruption, I learned, was a "phreatic explosion," which occurs when a sudden infusion of magma turns the water table to steam, and the steam bursts forth, spewing with it ash, rocks, and volcanic bombs. Many of these phreatic explosions were recorded on Mt. St. Helens shortly before the devastating 1980 Plinian St. Helens eruption. (Plinian eruptions are driven directly by magma and can contain deadly pyroclastic flows. Yes, I am learning some things about vulcanology, these days.) One is dead and three injured in a car accident blamed on the ashfall: ash was reported falling over a broad swath of central Luzon, including Metro Manila (60 kms. away from Taal).

Early this morning, lava started spewing out of the cone. The Seismology Bureau has declared Alert Level 4 -- i.e., that a very dangerous explosive eruption is possible in the coming hours or days. An eruption-spawned tsunami warning has also been issued; the volcano sits in a caldera filled by Lake Taal, which has an average depth of 330 feet.

Taal Volcano in more peaceful times. (Wikipedia)

There are 27 active volcanoes in the Philippines, and quite a few on the island I call home (Cabanatuan is not near any of them). Of the 27, Taal Volcano has been rated the second most active -- it was edged out by Mount Mayon. Taal is also certainly one of the deadliest volcanoes in the country: the official toll of the 1911 Taal eruption is 1,335 lives, though many more than that are thought to have been killed.

As with the Kaliwa Dam issue, I'll keep you apprised of Taal developments. I'm well, Jheng's well, and the kiddos, back in school, are all well. Jheng's mom, Luz, continues to ail -- the doctor says it's her body's reaction to one or more of the drugs she is taking -- and of course, she's dealing with grief after losing Montero.

We've delayed taking the children to the cemetery; Jheng wants to wait until the car is returned.

 

 

https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2020/01/09/1983428/dumagat-leader-disputes-mwss-claim-community-support-kaliwa-dam

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-51086961

https://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/iq/249123-things-to-know-taal-volcano-alert-levels

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Active_volcanoes_of_the_Philippines

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taal_Volcano

1.8.20

The Sierra Madre, the Dumagats, and the Kaliwa Dam

The Sierra Madre's highest peaks top 6,000 feet. Situated on the east coast of northern Luzon, it is the longest mountain range in the Philippines.

Metro Manila covers 620 sq. kilometers and has a population of  12,877,000. Its population density, then, is more than 20,000/sq km. From Manila Bay, if you head north into the central flatlands of Luzon, which include the city of Cabanatuan, the density of human souls remains high, more than 1,000/ sq. km. in most areas.  Now drive over to the east coast. There, the population density is less than 30/sq. km. in most areas. This is because the east coast of northern Luzon hosts the Sierra Madre, a mountain range that stretches north-south for some 400 kilometers.

The Sierra Madre contains the largest rain forest in the Philippines, as well as several nature reserves and national parks. The New People's Army, with its on again-off again communist insurgency, is known to have hideouts there. The mountain range is also home to the Dumagat people, one of the many minority groups in the country.

 

2 photos by Kim David/Shutterstock

The Dumagats are a subgroup of the Aeta (Eye-tah) or Agta, which was among the first populations of people to settle in the Philippines, arriving from Australia and possibly the Solomon Islands. Paleontologists think they traveled here by land, back when there was a land bridge between Australia and this area more than 30,000 years ago. Today, the Dumagats are the last group of hunter-gatherers in the country, living off the natural bounty of the rain forest and the nearby seashore. Big caveat here: while many have kept their cultural practices and traditions, deculturalization is well under way. Throughout much of the last century, wild pigs, deer, and monkeys declined in number in the forest as the slash-and-burn farming and the logging operations of outsiders increased; as well, the privatization of coastal property barred the Dumagats from many foraging and fishing locales. So many of them took up jobs offered by the lowlanders, many started practicing the slash-and-burn farming they learned from the lowlanders, and many simply relocated outside their ancestral homeland.

Eastern Rizal Province borders Metro Manila, while its western reaches stretch back into the Sierra Madre and contain many Dumagat/Remontado communities (Remontado is the name given to people of mixed lowlander and Dumagat race). Government administrations going all the way back to Marcos have wanted to push ahead with a dam project along the Kaliwa River in western Rizal. But these endeavors had to be shelved due to logistical or financial insufficiencies combined with the outcry and well-organized protests of the Dumagat people. In recent years, with the skyrocketing of Metro Manila's population and the onset of more severe than usual seasonal droughts, the need for another reservoir to serve Metro Manila is more urgently felt than ever, though. In March, April, and May of last year, rotational water interruptions occurred due to record low levels in the existing reservoirs. People had to line up with various receptacles for the arrival of fire trucks or water company carriers to satisfy their most basic need. And they were not happy about it.

 

(news.abs-cbn.com)

President Duterte to the rescue. In the middle of last year he landed a Chinese company capable of building the Kaliwa Dam and signed a whopping loan agreement with the government of China. Five of the six Dumagat communities along the affected portion of the river announced they would not agree to the project, despite government promises of generous assistance in their relocation. The Dumagats held firm, and they had their eco-advocates in Manila, as well as national laws concerning the protection of indigenous peoples' homelands, to back them up. Duterte fired back, saying he would use the presidency's "extraordinary powers,"and "outright police power," to make sure the project went forward. Also, he warned the courts not to issue any restraining orders when the work began. It seemed like a big fight was looming.

(Leandro Miguel Novero)

Then a few days ago the government announced, out of the blue, that it had reached an agreement with the Dumagat communities for their relocation. It assured the public that the communities had not been coerced in any way. Details concerning this agreement have not yet been made public.

Environmental NGOs in Manila are not happy with the news, I'm sure; they have concerns about the dam that go beyond the rights of indigenous people in the Philippines. Due to the recent collapse of large dams in Vietnam and Myanmar, the World Commission on Dams has recommended that due to the weather extremes caused by climate change, dams the size of Kaliwa should no longer be built. It has been pointed out, too, that the site of the dam is not far from an active fault. A sudden Kaliwa Dam collapse would likely kill many thousands of people living downstream.

With the Dumagat agreement, though, there doesn't seem to be anything that could now stop the construction of the dam. It is expected the dam will be completed sometime in 2022, after which it will provide Metro Manila with 640 million gallons of processed water per day.

The Kaliwa River. (Rappler)

http://www.ethnicgroupsphilippines.com/2016/12/19/the-agta-tribe-of-the-sierra-madre/

https://theculturetrip.com/asia/philippines/articles/the-aeta-the-first-philippine-people/

https://www.bulatlat.com/news/3-34/3-34-dumagat.html

https://news.abs-cbn.com/spotlight/multimedia/slideshow/10/29/19/revisiting-the-dumagats-of-kaliwa-river

https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2019/10/21/1962094/denr-issues-ecc-kaliwa-dam-project https://greenconvergencephil.com/no-to-kaliwa-dam-sign-the-petition-now/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proposed_Dams_in_the_Kaliwa_River_watershed

https://www.rappler.com/nation/243699-dumagat-leaders-reaction-duterte-kaliwa-dam

https://www.gmanetwork.com/news/money/economy/721368/kaliwa-dam-project-has-indigenous-people-s-approval-says-mwss/story/

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