Saturday, September 02, 2006

PLAYING TOURIST IN THE PHILIPPINES June 25-July 27, 2006

In addition to my martial arts activities, this trip was a homecoming of sorts for me. It had been more than a dozen years since my last trip to the Philippines.

I was traveling with my two children, Mitchell, 16 years old, and Paulina, 13 years old, who were on summer break from school. Also with us on this trip were my Mom, and for a short while at the front end of the trip, my sister Cris.

Here is a sketch of the places we were able to visit, as well as my impressions of the people we met and the events we witnessed.

MANILA

As part of our nostalgia tour, we visited Philamlife Homes in Quezon City where we grew up, as well as the University of the Philippines (UP) where my sister Cris attended college, and Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City, where all of my brothers and myself went for either grade school, high school or college.

Later on in the trip, I had a couple of reunion dinners with former classmates from Ateneo. The presence of a beloved freshman teacher in high school, Father Carlos Abesamis, S.J., did not slow down the raunchy reminiscings and good-natured ribbings.

We visited our share of malls in Manila, starting with most of the shops around our first hotel, the New World or Renaissance Hotel. We spent close to a day touring the new Mall of Asia, one of the biggest malls in the world, as well as the church and a casino close by. We had dinner at a few malls and restaurants, including the Eastwood Mall and several Greenhills Malls.

As part of our historical tour, we joined a city tour that included stops at the Rizal Park and the walled city of Intramuros. The last time I visited these two places was probably in my youth way before emigrating to the United States. For either tourists or Balikbayans (returning Filipinos) who have not been home in a while, this is either a must-see or a must-revisit place. They have changed considerably, full of monuments and exhibits and new sights and sounds.

For nightlife, we were able to catch a show by friends called “Men of Blue Blood” (a retro band made up of Ateneans) at the Mandarin Hotel. We did manage one night of hitting a couple of disco bars in Makati. On the surface, while the bars seem to be as plentiful and bustling as ever, the amount of skin bared by the ladies seem to have decreased.

PANGASINAN AND LA UNION

On and off, we probably stayed a third of our time at the ancestral house in Binmaley, Pangasinan (between Dagupan and Lingayen). Pangasinan is north of Manila, about four hours by car.

As usual, my mom had a major construction project going before we even got there, either to renovate or add-on to the house. We took numerous trips to Dagupan and Lingayen either for pleasure or to take care of family business. This included a side trip to Biec, Camaley (part of Binmaley, where my dad was born) where we still maintained some land and fishpond.

Before the storms hit, my kids and I enjoyed many outings to either Binmaley or Lingayen beach, frolicking in the sea and sand, and retreating to the bamboo resthouses when it got too hot or it started to thunder and rain too hard.

Together with the kids, I also took a trip to Poro Point, in the city of San Fernando, province of La Union. From Binmaley, it probably took us a leisurely hour and a half to get there.

Poro Point is one of the Philippines’s many economic development ports. Historically, this port developed as a transit point for ore products of the many mining companies in the Mountain Province.

There we met with a classmate from Ateneo, Jose “Tito” Osias, grandson of the late Senator Camilo Osias. A former director of the Poro Point Development Authority, Tito is still active in trying to attract major business and tourism groups to Poro Point.

Officials of the Poro Point Economic Authority were gracious enough to give us a tour of the existing facilities, which included the port, a Las Vegas-franchised casino called the Fiesta Casino, a beachwalk promenade and open amphitheatre with a magnificent view, a nine-hole golf course and two current tenants—the Voice of America (VOA) and the Philippine Air Force. Scheduled for construction this year are the resort hotel, condominium buildings, business center and sports complex, and the rest of the golf course and other amenities.

The officials then took us to a sumptuous lunch at the casino. During the lunch, we laid the groundwork for my group Tipunan International to establish a Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) or arnis training center as part of its business center and sports complex.

I am excited by this business prospect. We expect the Tipunan martial arts resort training program to commence by winter of next year 2007.

DEATH IN THE AFTERNOON IN DAGUPAN

The two protagonists squared off in the center of the ring. They were of equal build, armed with blades and presumably of comparable skill. One could feel the animosity and tension between them.

At a pre-arranged signal, the combatants lunged full-tilt at each other. Flesh, bones and blade clashed in violent fury. In just a few seconds, one of the combatants lay dead on the dirt floor of the arena, its white and black feathers now streaked with red. Another fighting cock had bit the dust in the arena at the Dagupan City cockpit arena in Dagupan, Pangasinan.

A cockfight in the Philippines is probably one of the most organized chaos you will see in the world. After some ritualistic presentation of the fighting cocks, the betting starts. It consists of bettors placing bets against each other with hand signals, yelling, whistling and clapping to catch somebody’s attention. None of the bets are ever written down on paper. At the bloody conclusion of the cockfight, bets are quickly and quietly settled with money being tossed at or passed down to the winner.

CAVITE

My son Mitch and I traveled to Tagaytay City, Cavite for some intensive training in Filipino martial arts or arnis. We attended the 3rd World Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) Festival, sponsored by a Modern Arnis organization to which we belong, the International Modern Arnis Federation of the Philippines (IMAFP).

There was not much time to play tourist this week. In addition, a typhoon named “Florita” hit about this time.

Other than a couple of restaurants in the area, about the only other place we saw was the SM (ShoeMart) Mall in Dasmarinas, Cavite, where we trained in an open area with spectators in three floors of the mall watching the proceedings.

I found the spectators curious, interested, friendly and polite. The male European delegates talked of young ladies shyly approaching them and making friends. One even received a proposal of marriage.

CONCLUSION

In Manila, it would be an understatement to say there have been many changes. Megamalls seem to have sprouted everywhere. Giant billboards compete for attention in major streets. There are more vehicles but traffic seems to flow faster, thanks to flyovers and one-way traffic. A puzzling innovation was the “coding” system, which bans the use of your car on certain days, based on your plate number. What good is flowing traffic if you cannot use your vehicle anyway?

On the other hand, some places in the provinces are time warps, with structures and places looking unchanged over years, as if time had stood still. In one sense, this is a good thing in the case of beaches, rivers, waterfalls and other natural wonders unmarred by commercial structures and man-made encroachments.

With the purchasing power of the dollar, many things are still bargains in the Philippines. I took advantage of a haircut in Pangasinan which cost me 40 pesos, the equivalent of less than a dollar or approximately 80 cents. My kids splurged on several pairs of cool-looking sneakers made in China, costing about $7.00 a pair.

There were no major political incidents in the country during our trip. I did not feel the political tensions, dire economic straits, massive unrest at the grassroots level and with the military that is supposed to be ailing the Philippines. Maybe the two typhoons that hit while we were there, “Florita” and “Glenda,” cooled off the hotheads. Maybe it was because we deliberately stayed away from Manila except to conduct business or visit friends.

As a writer, historian and economist, I am well aware of the ills plaguing the Philippines. But I saw the good side of the Philippines while I was there, my kids had a fabulous time, and I fell in love with her again.

I shall return.


This article with a photo gallery is included in my e-book “Philippine Odyssey 2006” which also includes accounts and pictures of the 3rd World Filipino Martial Arts Festival 2006” held in Cavite and Manila in July 2006, hosted by the International Modern Arnis Federation of the Philippines (IMAFP). The e-book may be purchased at the online store at www.filipinomartialartsmuseum.com .


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