Meeting Mati

Mati, Davao Oriental– We spent our holy week break at this south-eastern part of the Philippine archipelago facing the Philippine Sea and the vast Pacific Ocean. Not coincidentally, this family trip was literally a trip down memory lane, at least for the oldies in the group, since Mati had been part of our family history, my folks having met there and three of us brothers were born in Mati. Unfortunately, we moved to Cotabato City before I would have turned three years old that explains why I don’t have any memory at all of this quaint little town (now city) which I write down as my birthplace whenever I fill out a form that asks for it. This trip to Mati was long overdue, especially for me who have not been back since the day we moved out in the early 80s.

A screenshot of Dahican Beach in google Maps showing its long stretch of white powdery sand, the inviting torquiose sea and the coconut plantations guarding the Dahican Beach

Online Check

Like meeting someone for the first time, I did all the background check on Mati online. Logically, most of the travel preparations were also made through the internet. In this digital age, travel has really become a bliss. Mati government’s official website was not very helpful. It is a literal bulletin board, no more no less. It is not interactive, it does not offer helpful travel information and its directory of restaurants and resorts does not link users to a particular establishment’s website. Fail.

Luckily, bloggers and online travel magazines rescued the otherwise scant information about Mati on the web. This article by Nina Tirol-Zialcita gives not only an exciting and exacting narrative of her travel to Mati but also a montage of great photos. Then there is the soulfully romantic travel story by Nathalie Tomada published in giving both historical tidbits and future prospects of this faraway paradise. And when it rains, it pours! I stumbled on Travels & Interests, Amazing Davao, and tons of tips and tricks to Mati from my award-winning and prolific travel blogger-friend and Davao Oriental-born Olan. Thanks to Google, and to our local bloggers, I found a wealth of travel information about Mati. I also received a long email from my local friend listing all the things I can do- eat, visit, drink- while in Mati. Now these are the kind of links that should be featured in a local government tourism website!


I did my reservations after checking out the most interesting places written about Mati. Considering that we will be traveling as a big group with kids in tow, I deliberately skipped the island camping trips and kept a mental note of where to go next when I will be back in Mati. Belatedly, I discovered (online of course!) Joji Alcantara’s breathtaking photos of and Journeying James’ journey to Waniban Island, a truly secret paradise that attracts a wanderer like a magnet to a steel.

For accommodations, I chose the quiet Tropical Kanakbai that promises a secluded and pampered vacation like no other. Unfortunately, all other days are taken so I just decided to stay here for a day and move to Botona Dahican Beach Resort the next day. I called both resorts, placed my reservations and paid reservation fees through BPI and BDO online. Sweet and no sweat! For our vehicle requirement, Davao has plenty of car rental providers but this one I found to be the cheapest and thankfully reliable.

Eye Ball

Finally the big day arrived. Our driver came 30 minutes before the appointed time. It is a new Grandia, sparklingly clean inside and out. That gives me a sort of assurance that we have a responsible driver with us.

Some three hours later, we were welcomed by the sight of Pujada Bay, and a geological formation popularly known as the Sleeping Dinosaur. After a hearty lunch at my aunt’s place, we proceeded to Tropical Kanakbai, our home for the night.

Kanakbai delivered on its promise. It is located at the far beach end of a coconut plantation. It is quiet (before we arrived), there are plenty of lounge chairs and hammocks hanging between tall trees, the beach is just a few steps away from the guest house, and there’s plenty of space for kids to run around.

There are only 2 guest houses with each guest house having two big bedrooms with large king-sized beds and toilets complete with the usual toiletries found in respectable hotels. The rooms are on the second floor, with a veranda that offers a good view of the landscaped garden, the white sand beach and the deep blue sea beyond. At the ground floor is an open air (minimal walls), open space (no dividers) living room cum kitchen cum dining area. The living room has comfortable couches and satellite TV while the kitchen is equipped with cooking and dining utensils, a coffeemaker (bring your own ground beans though but flowing instant coffee is available all day all night), hot and cold water dispenser, refrigerator- all the works! The biggest surprise was each guest house is assigned with one all-around helper who can cook your meals, do the dishes and keep the place tidy. There is also a billiard table and some gym weights, perhaps for a last minute work-out to get that beach body tone. For kids, a wading pool can be had. It is a good enough diversion to keep the kids happy and wet especially when parents shy away from the heat of the midday sun. Kanakbai is a perfect place for couples in honeymoon, solo travelers on a retreat and big families like ours.

The Botona Dahican Beach Resort on the other hand is a stark contrast. I’m sure Botona had its heyday as a charming little resort but poor maintenance of its existing facilities has deterioted the whole place. But Botona is also sky apart from Kanakbai in terms of fees. So I guess we get what we paid for.

And the Dahican Beach? Wow, the photos can tell you more than the words that I can put in.

All in all, it was a memorable trip down Mati, my birthplace, my home once. In this age of the Internet, travel has become more convenient and people have become more trustful. We trust that the websites we visit are real and not hacks, we trust our bank system that payments will reach the faraway resorts, we trust the van rental service and the designated driver, we trust Google Maps and the mapmakers, we trust the the bloggers and their stories.

The Internet has admittedly changed the way we travel. But some things remain the same, maybe better – we still have trust in humanity.

This is our epiphany.


Silence does not give us Peace

Letters To Mindanao condemn the merciless murder of Cris Bual, land acquisition superindentent of Sagittarius Mines, Inc. who was killed on Friday, 16 September 2011 in Davao City.

The senseless act of taking another person’s life is never ever acceptable- for whatever reason except by legitimate authority and based on a judicial decision of a duly constituted authority.

Violence in any form should be condemned. Barbarism has no place in a civilized society, not in Asia’s most livable city most especially. I am however appalled by the silence from almost all fronts of civil society. No one seems to care anymore. Have we been desensitized by gruesome murders that we are no longer affected when another gunman hits a helpless victim? Is it already an acceptable thing to die violently in front of your own backyard, some few meters away from your family, and in full view of your spouse? If not, then why are you not making any noise? It is one thing to mourn because someone had died. It is another thing to be indignant in mourning because someone was subjected to a violent and senseless death.

In the end, we the living are the ultimate victims. Anyone of us can be the next target. Anyone of us can be gunned down. Anyone can just take our life, and walk away like nothing has happened- without remorse, without conscience. I know because my family had been there. The gunman just walked away, just like  that, as Cris’ gunman did, when my father was shot dead, in broad daylight. In Mindanao.

Silence does not give us peace. It emboldens the evil. It creates a murderous world. It breeds impunity.

Once you’ve been struck by violence, you acquire companions that never leave you entirely: Suspicion, Fear, Anxiety, Despair, Joylessness. The natural smile is taken from you and the natural pleasures you once enjoyed lose their appeal. The citywas ruined…and he would leave it soon. Only, where would they settle now? Where would they find happiness? Where would he feel safe?

Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel, 2010

Condemn the killings. Make noise so that the law enforcers can hear us and will have sleepless nights solving all crimes. Make noise so loud that it can turn the wheels of Justice. Or loud  enough that the perpetrator may be bothered by his conscience. Break the silence so that the mastermind will not feel victorious.

Make noise that our leaders may finally find it in their hearts to listen and protect its people.


Letters To Mindanao congratulates four member-companies of the Coalition for Responsible Mining in Mindanao (COREMin2) for receiving various recognitions during the 57th Annual National Mine Safety and Environment Conference held in Baguio City last month.

Sagittarius Mines, Inc. was bestowed with the prestigious Presidential Mineral Industry Environmental Award (PMIEA) for mineral exploration category, its fourth PMIEA citation since 2004 for overall excellence in operating with the highest regard to the environment, safety and health of its people, and the welfare of the community.  

 TVI Resources Development (Phils.) Inc. was conferred the PMIEA Platinum Achievement Award for Surface Mining Category.

The PMIEA was established under Executive Order No. 399 issued in 1997 to promote the national policy of pro-environment and pro- people minerals development.  The selection committee is headed by the Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources with the secretaries of trade and industry, interior and local government, health, and science and technology as members.  The private sector is represented by the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (co-chair), Philippine Mine Safety and Environment Association and Philippine Mineral Exploration Association.

For multi-sectoral initiatives against occupational and environmental hazards in mining and its related operations, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau recognizes the safest mines in the Philippines that have successfully promoted greater consciousness among government, mine management, and labor to minimize, if not totally eliminate, disabling injuries to the thousands of workmen, while simultaneously protects and enhances mining environment.

Using safety and health compliance data, field validation and overall safety performance, the MGB awarded the Safest Mineral Processing (Extraction Category) to Apex Mining Corporation, the Safest Exploration (Category B) to Sagittarius Mines, Inc. and Safest Mineral Processing – Runner up (Concentrator Category) to TVI Resources Development (Phils.) Inc.

In the same event, the DENR also conferred recognition to mining companies for establishing mining forests within specified areas as part of the expanded “Adopt a Tree, Adopt a Mining Forest Movement”.  The Best Mining Forest Award recognizes mineral firms’ excellence in the management of mining forests, specifically in the areas of development, nursery operations, maintenance and protection, biodiversity consideration, and quality of community involvement,  research  and information campaigns.

Under Exploration Category, this year’s Best Mining Forest was awarded to Sagittarius Mines, Inc. with Silangan Mindanao Mining Corp, a subsidiary of Philex Mining Corporation as third runner-up.

In the metallic category, Philex Mining Corporation (Padcal Operations) and TVI Resources Development (Phils.) Inc. were adjudged first and third runner up, respectively.

These wins only prove that (1) minerals development can be conducted in a strictly responsible manner and (2) Mindanao mining companies lead as models of responsible minerals development in the Philippines.

Kudos and padayon!

Sidetrip: Rizal sa Dapitan

Josephine, Josephine
Who to these shore have come
Looking for a nest, a home,  
Like a wandering swallow;

If your fate is taking you
To Japan, China or Shanghai,
Don’t forget on these shores
  A heart for you beats high.

To Josephine, Jose Rizal c 1890

Visiting Dapitan made me go back to the writings of Rizal, our hero who until now has not found peace for his rightful place in our nation’s history.  Hero or traitor, revolutionary or reformist, God-fearing or atheist, Jose Rizal is no doubt the greatest Filipino who ever lived.

Beside a spacious beach of fine and delicate sand
and at the foot of a mountain greener than a leaf,
I planted my humble hut beneath a pleasant orchard,
seeking in the still serenity of the woods
repose to my intellect and silence to my grief.

Its roof is fragile nipa; its floor is brittle bamboo;
its beams and posts are rough as rough-hewn wood can be;
of no worth, it is certain, is my rustic cabin;
but on the lap of the eternal mount it slumbers
and night and day is lulled by the crooning of the sea.

The overflowing brook, that from the shadowy jungle
descends between huge bolders, washes it with its spray,
donating a current of water through makeshift bamboo pipes
that in the silent night is melody and music
and crystalline nectar in the noon heat of the day

From My Retreat, 1895

Rizal spent his last living years in Dapitan, before he was executed in December 1896.  Aware of the fate that awaits him in Manila, he spent his exile years in Dapitan building a school, a hospital and a water system.  He became the first barrio doctor and barrio teacher.  It is also in Dapitan that Jose Rizal found his one (of many) true love in Josephine Bracken.  It is a pity and a source of wonder that their son Francisco did not survive to live.

To doubt God is to doubt one’s own conscience, and in consequence, it would be to doubt everything; and then what is life for? Now then, my faith in God, if the result of a ratiocination may be called faith, is blind, blind in the sense of knowing nothing. I neither believe nor disbelieve the qualities which many attribute to him; before theologians’ and philosophers’ definitions and lucubrations of this ineffable and inscrutable being I find myself smiling. Faced with the conviction of seeing myself confronting the supreme Problem, which confused voices seek to explain to me, I cannot but reply: ‘It could be; but the God that I foreknow is far more grand, far more good: Plus Supra!

I believe in (revelation); but not in revelation or revelations which each religion or religions claim to possess. Examining them impartially, comparing them and scrutinizing them, one cannot avoid discerning the human ‘fingernail’ and the stamp of the time in which they were written… No, let us not make God in our image, poor inhabitants that we are of a distant planet lost in infinite space.  However, brilliant and sublime our intelligence may be, it is scarcely more than a small spark which shines and in an instant is extinguished, and it alone can give us no idea of that blaze, that conflagration, that ocean of light. I believe in revelation, but in that living revelation which surrounds us on every side, in that voice, mighty, eternal, unceasing, incorruptible, clear, distinct, universal as is the being from whom it proceeds, in that revelation which speaks to us and penetrates us from the moment we are born until we die. 

From Rizal’s letter to Father Pastell, c 1890


That was a mouthful from our national hero.  His thoughts on religion remind me of Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, that advances man is part of God, or the concept of at-one-ment.  Being a Freemason himself, Rizal might have already  known “the secret” at that time.

Doing Nothing Can Save the Day

Five days to go before the term of our elected officials comes to an end.  No other place in the Philippines is under a heart-stopping suspense drama than South Cotabato.  No other elected official in today’s government, GMA included, is as anxious to end her term as Governor Daisy P. Avance-Fuentes.

South Cotabato has turned into a real life Pandora of the James Cameron film Avatar.  Only that, in this local version, the Na’vi are not in conflict with RDA Corporation.  As a matter of fact, the B’laans and other IPs in South Cotabato are solidly behind the mining project of Sagittarius Mines Inc.

So who are the bida in this local teleserye?

At the centerstage of course is the dear governor, whose hands hold the power of the pen which can make or break the June 9 passage into ordinance of the South Cotabato Environment Code by the provincial legislators.  Voting 9-1-2 (yes-no-abstain in that order), the provincial board members now awaits the governor’s signature to make the Environment Code a legitimate piece of legislation.

The governor of course can veto the Code, and send it back to SP for their ratification.  Once vetoed by the governor, the law directs the SP to ratify the ordinance by a majority vote, in effect overturning the veto power of the governor.  Such is the beauty of our representative democracy!

Whatever the governor chooses to do, she will surely be embroiled in a bigger and certainly, noisier controversy.  If she enacts the Code into law, she will get the ire of the national government officials and agencies for allowing the local legislators to trample upon an otherwise clear delineation of powers between and among the branches/ instrumentalities of governmnent.  

The most contested part of the Code is Section 22 where open pit mining method is banned in the province contrary to several national laws, chief of which is the Mining Act of 1995.   

Of course, big business and foreign governments will also be terribly disappointed.  The government has spent several million of Filipino taxpayer’s money to attract investors to do business in the Philippines, only to be messed up with such an inter-government fiasco.

Local residents and the Blaans, who have started started to experience commercial activities in their otherwise sleepy town will also be enraged for taking away from them a host of potential and the opportunity to improve their lot.

If however the governor chooses to veto the Code, she will get the wrath of a Catholic church scorned.  By Catholic church, this is mostly the  powerful clergy who relishes to display their power to command the students and teachers of their expensive schools to cut classes and mount a rally…else, get detained after class, get low grades or simply and the most convenient threat:  get burned in hell.

A friendly advice to the governor:  DO NOTHING.

Doing nothing is also a decision, and a less troublesome one.  We must remember that public policy is government’s action or inaction- whatever governments choose to do or not do (Read Thomas Dye, 1984).   In this context, doing nothing is bliss.

Sidetrip: Lake Sebu

I was only 15 years old when I first got to know of a place called Lake Sebu.  I went there on an Earth Science class field trip to conduct a field laboratory study that involves analyzing soil and water conditions of the lake and its surroundings.  I don’t remember what the analyses were, but I remember that Lake Sebu and the Seven Falls are sights of awe and wonder, a place for tranquility and a paradise of enchantment.

So when the opportunity to see Lake Sebu came, 15 years after, I got excited.  The opportunity came with a free lunch.  Literally.  The excitement doubled.

From General Santos City, we took a 2-hour drive through the National Highway past the municipalities of Polomolok, Tupi and the City of Koronadal.  It was my first time to enter the inner (and upper) side of Koronadal as most of the time, I only see the city from a two-way perspective:  the left and the right sides of its wide national highway.   We then drove up further to the upper Alah valley municipalities  of Banga and Surallah before finally reaching the quaint little municipality of Lake Sebu. 

Lake Sebu is a 564-hectare natural lake sitting at an altitude of 3,000 feet above sea level.   It is also the name of the municipality whose entire 92,450 hectare land area is proclaimed as a protected watershed area by the national government.   There are two more lakes in Lake Sebu (the municipality) – there’s a small lake called Lake Lahit, which is the first lake to welcome visitors of Lake Sebu.  The other one is Lake Seloton, reputedly the deepest of the three lakes.  Lake Sebu, of course is the biggest among the three.  The T’boli and Ubo tribes are natives of the area.

We had our lunch in Punta Isla Lake Resort.  It was more of a feast actually, where everything served was a tilapia-inspired dish.  Lake Sebu is known for its sweet and juicy tilapias.   We had the floating restaurant all to ourselves.  The highlight of the meal was not the meal itself but the glimpse of T’boli culture shared to us by young T’boli folks through their drum (made of real deer skin), kulintang, and several meaningful ritual dances that include a monkey dance.  We were told that T’bolis believe that monkeys are our ancestors, that is why they are revered.

I had a great time in Lake Sebu.  Too bad we didn’t have had enough time to visit the Seven Falls.  I heard that access to the falls have been made easier, plus there is now a zip line for adventurous tourists who want a breathtaking view of the falls from the sky.

Road Trip Through Muslim Mindanao

This may not be the best time for a road trip across Maguindanao and Lanao provinces but what the heck, this might be my one and final chance.

Few weeks ago, I found myself traversing the island of Mindanao starting from General Santos City in Southern Mindanao up northwest to Pagadian City in Zamboanga del Sur…by land! 

From Gensan, I took an airconditioned Husky bus to Cotabato City for P260.00.  I was early at the Gensan Bus Terminal because I was told that there are only few airconditioned buses  and that it was best for me to take the earliest bus that usually departs at around 8AM.  So I was there a few minutes before 8, excited and ready but the bus that was scheduled to take off was undergoing repair.  Still, like the rest of hapless folks out there, I waited.

The bus arrived at the terminal at past 11AM.  It was the turn around bus from Cotabato City.  It was Friday and there were plenty of passengers.  A few minutes after warming my seat, we were off to our first stop:  Koronadal City.  And because it was Friday and it was the first (and only) airconditioned bus to leave that day, the passengers easily filled the bus.  Some were already standing when we stopped by Koronadal.

Most of the passengers were government employees from regional offices that were once located in Cotabato City.  A few years back, Koronadal became host to these regional offices.  Many of the employees found themselves dislocated by the transfer.  So they take the early day off on Fridays to be home safe in Cotabato City before sunset.  I assume that they also leave noon time on Mondays from Cotabato City and arrive in Koronadal before 5PM.  That means they are at work on their desks from Tuesday to Thursday only.  This makes a good case study on efficient government service but I won’t dwell on that.

From Koronadal we passed through the Sultan Kudarat and Maguindanao provinces.  In Sultan Kudarat, there was the vibrant town of Isulan and the surprisingly busy Tacurong City.  Four-lane highway all through-out, wide and concrete without the bumps.  Stalls, restaurants and other forms of enterprise abound along the road.  Signs of progess, I must say.

This draws a sharp contrast to the towns in Maguindanao.  There, it was quiet, eerily quiet.  The houses are closed, most stores are closed, even the transport terminals are on a stand still.  There were lots of government infrastructure in the area, very new but empty– public markets, transport terminals, health centers and the palatial provincial hall and town halls.  Then there are those roofed cubicles (these are housing projects not larger than 2X2 meters that are made of flyboard and a GI sheet for a roof) that lined up the highway. 

At past 2Pm, we arrived in Cotabato City where I stayed for a night before leaving again the next day for Pagadian. 

The trip the next day was more comfortable, thanks to the rented Mitsubishi Strada and to nice guy George, my reliable driver for this second leg of the journey.  We left Cotabato City at 7:30 am after a quick breakfast of the city’s famous balbakwa. 

It was my first time in more than 10 years to take the road to Parang, Maguindanao.  I never thought that the place would remind me of things from my childhood- the bridge in Simuay that once serve as our signpost that says we are near Pahm Resort, our favorite R&R place way back then.  It also reminded me of my many times in Polloc, Cotabato’s wharf where my father who once worked for Sulpicio Lines would never miss a Tuesday night working in the port to oversee cargo and passenger loading to M/V Cotabato Princess.  We passed by a barangay named Making and it suddenly occured to me that I have been to this place before.  It had been otherwise buried in my memory but seeing the place again brought me back to my 6th grade where I attended the regional Boy Scouts Jamboree in Making, Parang, Maguindanao as a senior scout fresh from completing the 12th Asia-Pacific Jamboree in Mt. Makiling, Laguna in 1991.  That was the connection.

Past those towns are roads that lead to Buldon, the former stronghold of Moro Islamic Liberation Front where Camp Abubakar is located.  Remember Erap’s all-out war?  This was the place.

Going further north is the Province of Lanao del Sur.  I say this place is mystical and deserves a lot more of my time to examine and experience its quiet charm.  But all I had was a quick glimpse.  Too bad I didn’t even see the lake.

Lanao del Sur borders Lanao del Norte to the north, Bukidnon to the east, and Maguindanao and Cotabato to the south. To the southwest lies Illana Bay, an arm of the Moro Gulf. Found in the interior of Lanao del Sur is Lanao Lake, the largest lake in Mindanao, where the Maria Cristina Falls, the largest waterfall in the country is located.  Marawi City, the Islamic City of the Philippines is its capital.  Then there are the quaint little towns of Malabang and Balabagan, where former Supreme Court Justice Jose Abad Santos was killed by the Japanese Imperial Army in 1942.  The national highway linking the two Lanao provinces is named after him.

Going further north is Sultan Naga Dimaporo in Lanao del Norte, the last town I guess before finally reaching Tukuran of Zamboanga del Sur.  At past 11 in the morning, we found ourselves taking our lunch at Mang Inasal Chicken house in the newly-opened Gaisano Mall in Pagadian City.

That was a long and tiresome travel.  Bt it was neveretheless priceless.  Most people who have lived in Mindanao all their lives have never ever tried to take this road less travel, literally.  I was glad that this trip went well and ended without incident.  Although I felt exhilarated by the scenic Illana Bay and the coastal towns surrounding the Moro gulf, by the wonderful tunnel that cuts across a hill, by the Muslim children playing and walking in their traditional garb, by the surprisingly new and wide roads that looked like it was only built yesterday, the feeling of fear and the thought of mishap never left me. 

Roads are supposed to connect people and ideas, promote exchange of culture and trade, and become avenues for communication.  I hope that the road that leads to Pagadian City, from this southern city in South Cotabato (and all other road networks in Mindanao) will serve as our people’s expressway for peace, prosperity and development.