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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Friday, July 30, 2021

entry arrow1:36 PM | The CCP Kaisa Sa Sining Visayas Network Announces the Recipients of the 1st KSSLAP Awards

They finally released the news! I’m honored to be one of the first recipients of the Cultural Center of the Philippines [CCP] Kaisa sa Sining Visayas Network’s KSSLAP Awards, a recognition for artists, cultural workers, and cultural organizations in the Visayas. It’s humbling to be part of this roster, especially since many of them have been people I've looked up to in the cultural work that I do. Thank you, CCP, for the recognition!

The Cultural Center of the Philippines [CCP] Kaisa Sa Sining [KSS] Visayas Network announces the recipients of the 1st KSSLAP [Kaisa Ini sa Sining, Lunsay nga Artistang Pilipino] Awards. Due to the present quarantine and travel restrictions, the KSSLAP Awards Ceremonies will be held virtually this 24-27 August 2021 and will be aired via the CCP FB page in September.

The awardees are Lutgardo Labad (Bohol / theater and cultural administration), Alphonsus Tesoro (Capiz / cultural administration), Marilyn Gamboa (Negros Occidental / cultural administration), Ian Rosales Casocot (Dumaguete / literature), Peque Gallaga (Bacolod / film and theater), Jess de Paz (Tacloban / dance), Dr. Jesus C. Insilada (Calinog-Iloilo / literature and cultural education), Dr. Elizabeth Susan Vista-Suarez (Dumaguete / music), Dennis Sugarol (Cebu / music), Negros Cultural Foundation, Silliman University Culture and Arts Council, Calbayog City Arts and Culture Office, and the Youth Advocates Through Theater Arts (Dumaguete).

The Kaisa sa Sining Regional Arts Centers is a partnership program of the CCP thru its Cultural Exchange Department (CED) that was launched in 2014 and is aimed at strengthening further the CCP’s linkages and cooperation with regional educational institutions, non-government organizations and local government units in order to broaden public participation in the arts, promote and showcase artistic excellence and facilitate a vibrant collaboration between and among communities. In the past seven years, the cooperation and exchanges between and among CCP and the KSS network have become more dynamic. To date, the KSS network has already grown to a total of 56 organizations in 46 areas/communities in the regions: 21 in Luzon, 17 in Visayas and 18 in Mindanao.

The KSSLAP Awards is a recognition for outstanding artists, cultural workers and organizations, was one of the action plans and projects that the KSS Visayas agreed to implement during a KSS regional forum held in Roxas City last 2018. In fulfillment of this plan, the CCP CED facilitated the conceptualization and planning of the project. In the last quarter of 2019, a five-member technical working committee (TWC) was formed composed of key representatives from four KSS Visayas organizations with CED as the lead facilitator. The program guidelines were made and disseminated to all the KSS Visayas network in February 2021. The nomination period was from February-May 2021. The Selection Committee (SC) was formed in May 2021 composed of prominent leaders/artists/practitioners from various communities and sectors in Visayas. The final evaluation and selection were held online on 8-9 July 2021.

The KSSLAP Awards aim to give recognition to deserving Visayan individuals and/or organizations who have exemplified commendable work and services in cultural and artistic endeavors, and have been in the forefront of the research, development, preservation, education and promotion of arts and culture in Mindanao for at least ten (10) years or more. The general criteria indicates that an awardee must have made exceptional accomplishments in creative work, leadership, resource management, education, artist support, audience development, community service, solidarity, and partnership.

Why is it important to recognize the achievements of the artists, cultural workers and organizations in Visayas?

Dr. Anita Illenberger [Former Dean, College of Arts and Sciences, Central Philippine University Iloilo City, former Director of the CPU Cultural Affairs Office, and former President of the Iloilo Arts Council]: “The Ksslap Award serves as an inspiration to fellow Visayans as it becomes a proof of the value of work, gives approval/gratitude for excellent work, embodies a sense of ownership that makes the community become aware of the shared outstanding accomplishments. In time, significant work of art becomes part of the cultural heritage of the region which gives the people sense of unity, sense of belonging, and personal identity to help every generation understand the region's cultural life, values and traditions.”

Rene G. Hinojales [Professor at the University of St. La Salle Bacolod City, former Chair, USLS Performing Arts Department, and Artistic Director-Jean Baptist Dance Co.]: “KSSLAP Awards go out on a limb to acknowledge valuable and commendable contributions of artists, cultural workers and organizations to the research, development, preservation, education and promotions of Philippine art and culture, specifically in the Visayas. Of course, recognition is not going to be perfect, especially when it comes from your peers. It may not always reinforce all the behaviors we are hoping to foster. But it sets a model! It creates that potential — and it fuels the idea that every person plays a role in building a positive world. And that is a powerful thing to recognize! On this first year of KSSLAP Awards Visayas, I trust and expect that this biennial act of recognition has and will continue to help everyone else understand what being exceptional looks like, sounds like and feels like!”

Marianito J. Luspo [Consultant of the Center for Culture and Arts Development, Province of Bohol and Director of the Cultural Affairs and Development Office, Holy Name University, Tagbilaran City]: “Artists and cultural workers are like stars in the night sky. They not only lighten up our otherwise dreary existence, they capture our attention and inspire us to look up to realities higher, more transcendent dimension of human life. Moreover, when we recognize each star, each cluster – Sirius, Betelguese or the Southern Cross – lone artist, independent cultural worker or group, we humanize them, making them easier for us, yet earth-bound fellow travelers, to emulate and aspire for. We therefore congratulate the CCP Kaisa sa Sining Visayas for giving recognition to our outstanding artists and cultural workers in the Visayas. The award will surely go a long way in encouraging our people in dedicating their lives in the pursuit of creative endeavors.”

Chinggay J. Bernardo [CCP CED Department Manager]: “In our four decades of community cultural outreach work, we have experienced the unique and exceptional artistry, dedication and perseverance of many Visayan artists and cultural workers. It is indeed high time to institutionalize an awards program that will give recognition to outstanding achievements of Visayan artists, cultural workers and organizations. The KSSLAP Awards, an initiative of the CCP KSS Visayas network and facilitated by the CCP Cultural Exchange, will serve as an inspiration for the artistic and cultural communities in the Visayas to aim for excellence and do public/community service.“

The 17 members of CCP KSS Visayas network are: Province of Capiz, University of Antique, Central Philippines University [Iloilo City], Municipality of Sta. Barbara-Iloilo, University of St. La Salle [Bacolod City], Negros Cultural Foundation, City of Bago, City of Himamaylan, Municipality of Murcia, Silliman University [Dumaguete City], Holy Name University [Tagbilaran City], Arts Council of Cebu, Calbayog City Arts and Culture Office, University of Eastern Philippines [Catarman, Samar], Leyte Normal University [Tacloban City], City of Ormoc, and St. Joseph College [Maasin, Leyte].

For more information, contact the CCP CED at ccp.ced2014@gmail.com

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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

entry arrow9:53 PM | I Feel Your Pain, ‘Te.

Photo by Eloisa Lopez for Reuters

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entry arrow7:00 AM | Poetry Wednesday, No. 83.


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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

entry arrow4:47 PM | Random Thoughts on Hidilyn Diaz's Win

[1] From “Oust Duterte matrix suspect” to “Congratulations, Hidilyn, the entire Filipino nation is proud of you” in two years. What a flex.

[2] Gratifying to hear the “Lupang Hinirang” while the Chinese flag flew second place.

[3] Filipino women always do the heavy lifting around here. So, go Golda Benjamin! And vote for Leni Robredo!

[4] In a sporting event like an Olympics where participation and support is heavily political, you cannot suddenly erase the political from Hidilyn Diaz’s win just for ... vibe’s sake. Hides brought it up herself in her very first post-medal ceremony interview with Gretchen Ho -- which was poetic justice since both of them were ensnared in that “matrix” kagaguhan in 2019.

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Monday, July 26, 2021

entry arrow10:23 AM | Bliss in Heaven

I’ve been rethinking the idea of bliss in Heaven a lot these days. Many of the people who are sure they’re doing all they can to be there ... are exactly the same people I don’t want to spend eternity with.

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Friday, July 23, 2021

entry arrow10:46 AM | Sad

Had to block a beloved former teacher on FB today. They once taught me the value of asking questions, delving deep, and trying to be comprehensive in our reportage — but perhaps in their anger at current issues, they’ve asked me to abandon the journalistic principles they’d once espoused in my effort to do narrative reportage. I don’t blame them, but incivility in comments [accusing me of being “bayaran” for interviewing the principal figure in the issue] is something I can only take so much. For their sake and mine, unfriending is perhaps the only recourse.

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Thursday, July 22, 2021

entry arrow12:44 PM | Going for Binisaya

Interesting to note: the people in this fight are scrambling to have their missives in English translated to Binisaya, which is amusing. But also makes me sad: why do we feel so inadequate in expressing ourselves, at least writing-wise, in our own language? [I know why actually.]

I sometimes feel the same way, because I really did grow up speaking and writing in English in Dumaguete. And we were really taught, even in the public schools, to consider Binisaya as inferior. [I have a whole TED Talks devoted to this, if you're interested! Click here.]

But when I do put my mind on writing in Binisaya for real, okay ra baya. True, sige ka og consult sa dictionary, but often just to make sure if the word in our head which we are familiar with is actually the right word to use. [It’s a result of us not being familiar with a Binisaya word on the page. Reading actually is just a matter of our brain recognizing the shape of words. And since we don’t usually read in Binisaya, at least for the burgis like me, wala na praktis atong brain sa hugis sa atong mga pulong.]

And Oriental Negrense Binisaya is very different, too, from Sugbuanon or Bol-anon or Kagayanon, so there’s that extra challenge. We call our own variety as Binisayang Binuglas [after Buglas]. And it deserves to be widely studied and used. Or else sige ra magpa-translate kay insecure ‘ta sa atong dila.

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entry arrow12:25 PM | Statement on the Reclamation Project from Concerned Writers and Artists of Dumaguete

We, the concerned artists and writers in Dumaguete City, stand against the railroading of the 174-hectare reclamation project. An undertaking of this magnitude—one that can cause irreversible and catastrophic damage to interconnected ecosystems—should not only undergo public scrutiny, but careful and thorough deliberations from experts across different sectors as well.

We stand with fisherfolks whose livelihoods rely on what the seas have to offer and whose work provides the daily sustenance of several communities in the city.

We stand with those in coastal communities whose homes are now threatened by private encroachment.

We stand with environmentalists, marine biologists and scientists—those who tirelessly study and conserve marine biodiversity; those who have worked so hard to rehabilitate and protect Dumaguete’s coastal features; those who do the thankless job of educating us now about the complex entanglements of such delicate ecosystems.

We stand with residents of Dumaguete who now face yet another wave of gentrification and displacement—for who else would be able to afford the skyrocketing property value and increased cost of living once these condos and malls are built?

We stand with policy-makers who say yes to development but not at the expense of the environment.

We stand with lawyers and law practitioners who use their expertise to unpack and explain in detail the potentially exploitative nature of the JVA—something that the elected officers should have done for their constituents, even before agreeing to it.

We stand with the students, youth groups and young professionals in Dumaguete who went all the way to organize a massive show of opposition; to let their voices be heard since they are the ones who will inherit the problems created by this generation.

We stand with Bughaw, the lone pygmy blue whale who sometimes lingers off the coast of Dumaguete, and all marine lives who also call the waters of Negros their home.

There is more to development than just sci-fi utopian aesthetics. The future that we should be aiming for is one that is sustainable and climate-resilient; a future that is inclusive and equitable. Lest we forget, environmental protection is vital to a successful economic development.

Art does not exist in a vacuum—it is grounded and informed by the socio-political struggles of our time. As such, we strive to commit in illuminating, critiquing and challenging injustices that impact our society and immediate community. We call on fellow artists, writers and cultural workers to register your dissent and speak up against the 174 Reclamation Project.


Xteve Abanto, visual artist [new]
Edlyn Abrio, visual artist
Bea Bianca Acas, theatre artist
Annabelle Adriano, writer
Michael Angelo Alano, cultural worker
Stanley Alcala, filmmaker
Merlie Alunan, writer
Andrew Alvarez, filmmaker and musician
Cesar Ruiz Aquino, writer [new]
Kristoffer Ardeña, visual artist
Simon Anton Diego Baena, writer
Andy Bais, theatre artist
Bea Banzuela, photographer
Lendz Barinque, writer and filmmaker
Theodore Boborol, filmmaker
Luigi Borromeo, photographer
Raffy Cabristante, songwriter [new]
Urich Calumpang, photographer
Zhel Calumpang, visual artist
Hersley-Ven Casero, photographer and visual artist
Ian Rosales Casocot, writer
Ramon Adonis Catacutan, visual artist
Kenneth Catipay, theatre artist
Dyck Cediño, visual artist
Nikki Cimafranca, theatre artist
Elsa Victoria Coscolluela, writer [new]
Maverick Rainier Cuello, photographer
Sharon Rose Dadang Rafols, visual artist
JR Dalisay, videographer [new]
Tara Eunice de Leon, writer
Ludendorffo Decenteceo, theatre artist
Angelo Delos Santos, visual artist
Jeauel Deen Diagmel, visual artist
Elle Divine, visual artist
Dan Dvran, visual artist and fashion designer
Hemrod Duran, visual artist
Jean Claire Dy, writer and filmmaker
Paul Benzi Sebastian Florendo, photographer, filmmaker, and visual artist
Cil Flores, visual artist
W Don Flores, visual artist
Denniz Futalan, photographer
Sigrid Gayangos, writer
Michael Aaron Gomez, writer
Ma. Isabel Gutang, visual artist
Bret Jackson, film actor and musician
Maya Jajalla, filmmaker
Jana Jumalon-Alano, visual artist
Francis James Kho, filmmaker
Mark James Kho, filmmaker
Junsly Kitay, theatre artist [new]
Flomil Rey Labarento, visual artist
Irma Lacorte, visual artist
Susan Severino Lara, writer
Kenzo Laxina, photographer
KM Levis, writer
Cheenee Vasquez Limuaco, dance artist
Amiel Lopez, writer
John R. Lumapay, theatre artist
Jessica Lupisan, visual artist
Frances Makil Ignacio, theatre artist
Ben S. Malayang III, writer
Faye Mandi, visual artist
Steven Michael, visual artist
Grace Monte de Ramos, writer
Andre Snoopy Montenegro, photographer
Krystann Dave Morong, visual artist
Alana Narciso, writer
Vic Nocete, dance artist
John Macklien A. Olandag, writer
Jean Henri Oracion, photographer
Dessa Quesada-Palm, writer and theatre artist
Jirah Martweven Palopalo, theatre artist
Chanel Pepino, visual artist
Paul Pfeiffer, visual artist
Onna Rhea Cabio Quizo, visual and theatre artist
Ted Regencia, writer
Lina Sagaral Reyes, writer
Dominique Kylene B. Roleda, writer
Sarah Jean Ruales, visual artist
Totem Yap Saa, visual artist
Jean Aldemer Seroje Salgados, writer
Paola Salutin, visual artist
Ra'z Salvarita, visual artist
Yudi Santillan III, writer
Lakambini Sitoy, writer
Jomar Allan Solania, filmmaker
Danilo Luces Sollesta, visual artist
Ned Solis, photographer
Lorie Jayne Soriano, musician and filmmaker
John Fergus Lloyd Stevenson, photographer and filmmaker [new]
Sonia B. SyGaco, writer
Elaine Tacubanza, photographer
Rojan Bungcasan Talita, theatre artist
Anthony L. Tan, writer
Cristina Taniguchi, visual artist
Earnest Hope Tinambacan, writer, musician, and theatre artist
Iris Tirambulo, visual artist
Renz Torres, writer and filmmaker
Rowena Tiempo Torrevillas, writer
Risa Mei Tubio, visual artist
Joshua Umbac, writer
Danielle Ureta-Spontak, writer and filmmaker
Mariana G. Varela, visual artist and filmmaker
Junelie Velonta, writer
Joel M. Villanueva Jr., writer
Alex Villarino, visual artist
Lyde Gerard Villanueva, writer
Shareen Anjali Bael Warad, filmmaker
Babbu Wenceslao, visual artist [new]
Katrina Yaco, filmmaker


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Wednesday, July 21, 2021

entry arrow10:03 AM | Killing My Darlings

About three years ago, I wrote a very long essay about words and the divinity and creativity we attach to them—and I kind of liked it, although something about it felt askew even then. [Even my first reader said so.] I tried submitting it to some publications, but no one bit. [In hindsight, I’m glad no one did.] So I let it sleep for a while. This year, I revisited it, and felt that it was the beginning section that sagged—although it contained several points that were later threaded throughout the rest of the essay. I breathed deep, and decided to “kill my darlings.” I excised the entire beginning, and reworked the later threads. It worked! Now it is going to be published in a very prestigious—and paying!—literary journal.

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entry arrow7:00 AM | Poetry Wednesday, No. 82.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2021

entry arrow3:49 PM | The Privilege of Psychotherapy

Just got back from Mercury, and its mental health journey time! Truth to tell, I think one of the reasons why it took me a long time to go to therapy was that I knew it was going to be financially demanding. Psychotherapy remains a privilege, sad to say. There’s the counselling itself, and then the medicine — I take one for my ADHD, one for my depression, and an occasional one for my anxiety — and they are not exactly cheap. [Nor are they over-the-counter medications!] And the ultimate letdown: this is not covered by my health insurance! Apparently, if I got my sources right, the first mental health act legislation in the Philippines was only officially signed into law and was enacted as the Republic Act No. 11036 on 21 June 2018 — but its provisions [like inclusion in medical insurance?] has yet to kick in? [Enlighten me if I’m wrong.] Truth to tell, I finally did this for me sometime in May this year because it was either this, or I die or wither away. I reached a fatalistic point when asking for help could no longer be denied, and I'm glad I did. Many people have been very helpful in this journey — although many others were or remain ... “whatever.” [I don’t care, but I know you and I will not forget.] I’m bent on winning this battle, because I know I still have a lot to contribute to the world, and there are people who love me [although I might doubt that once in a while in my lowest point]. Seek help, if you can. This has been an unprecedented scourge within the pandemic itself, and if you feel you need help, please seek it out because people do care.

ADDENDUM: Somebody just messaged me that I could apply for a PWD card, and get discounts! I didn’t even know!

ADDENDUM #2: Ever since I
ve gone public with my mental health journey, so many of my friends—who I didn’t know were going through similar struggles—have also opened up to me, sharing important information, becoming a community actually. It helps to know I’m not alone.

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entry arrow1:05 PM | The Cataloguer of Deceit on Strange Horizons

Aaaaand IT’S FINALLY OUT! My new speculative fiction piece set in Hinirang, “The Cataloguer of Deceit,” is finally out on Strange Horizons! The magazine is one of the best and most sought-after sites for speculative fiction out there, and so hard to get into. I was jumping for joy and out of astonishment when they accepted my story last year!

Read the story here.

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Sunday, July 18, 2021

entry arrow7:53 PM | Notes on a Growing City, Part 3: Development and What We Know

It’s important to listen. Development [and everything else] in a community falls flat on its face when “listening” does not occur and when the culture of the place is not taken in due consideration.

I will try to illustrate this crucial element of culture with two examples.

Let’s start with the opening of Robinsons Place Dumaguete in 2009. Even before the mall opened its doors on November 23 of that year [timed to coincide with the annual fiesta], the city was divided between two groups of people: those who believed Dumaguete did not need a mall, and those who were eager for it because it felt like an aspirational marker—that Dumaguete was joining the ranks of bigger cities with their franchised shops and centralized shopping. But there really was no strong opposition to it, except when environmentalists pointed out that it was being built on marshland, which necessitated a change in the design into only two floors, and the foundation subsequently changed and reinforced. [This explains the cracks all over the place after just one earthquake.] Dumaguete mostly looked at the plans, shrugged, and let everything be. I was eager for the movie theaters myself; it had been several years since Dumaguete had a working movie theatre—Ever was now a shopping center that declared itself a mall, Park became UniTop, and UltraVision burned down on 5 January 2010 and never got around to fixing itself.

It’s important to note that management for most of the divisions of Robinsons Dumaguete [the grocery, the movie theaters, etc.] remains elsewhere—Bacolod, in particular. They hired locals to man the most immediate areas of supervision, but major decisions were executed somewhere else. [This includes what movies got shown on the three screens they had!] Still, when Rob opened, we welcomed its presence in our midst—like an oddball suddenly marking its arrival in a community that regarded it with a mixture of bemusement and a desire to see a “mall” [how cute!] become successful in the context of Dumaguete.

I remember walking in on opening day—and was gutted with an immense and immediate sense of disappointment, which I later learned was shared by so many other people. This is it? we all shook our heads. Mao ra ni sya? The cavernous two-story space was just a simple L-shaped thing—usa ka tuyok, humana na. That alone did not bode well for Dumagueteños from the start; we felt insulted and patronized by a langyaw’s underwhelming offering. Coming from three centuries of Spanish neglect in favor of Cebu, Iloilo, and Bacolod, we were [and still are] nursing a grudge. In a previous installment of this series, I discussed the notorious pickiness of Dumaguete people—and the mall was a disappointment in that regard right from the get-go. But still, local businesses were game enough to welcome it, opening satellite stalls and branches inside the mall, essentially replicating the business landscape of the city in the microcosm of the new shopping place. (Within a year, most would close down those branches.)

And contrary to popular belief, the mall did not displace local businesses—the city itself in its smallness was already a kind of a strip mall, and certainly more accessible, and “not far.” This proved consequential for some stores: National Bookstore had a thriving branch in Portal West along Silliman Avenue—but abandoned it in favor of a spot in Robinsons. Foot traffic dropped.

What does this say about the Dumagueteño? That we love our “downtown”—and our thriving concept of it lies within the space of the Spanish colonial tradition of “encircle and protect,” which was naming the streets surrounding and threading through the poblacion after saints [e.g. Calle Santa Cecilia (old name of Silliman Avenue), Calle San Jose, Calle San Juan, Calle Sta. Catalina, and Calle Sta. Rosa] and after Spanish rulers and personalities [e.g. Calle Alfonso XIII (old name of Perdices Street), Calle Maria Christina, Calle Colon (old name of Cong. Lorenzo G. Teves Street), Calle Cervantes (old name of Mayor Joe Pro Teves Street), and Calle Real (old name of the national highway now known as Veterans Avenue and Mayor Ramon Pastor Teves Street)—although some streets retained their original descriptive names [e.g. Calle Marina (old name of Rizal Avenue)]. Beyond this space of “encircle and protect” are the “nether regions” of Dumaguete—which is why, even until the 2000s, many places like Bantayan, Daro, Piapi, Motong, Calindagan, Banilad, Pulangtubig, and many others remained in the minds of many locals as being “too far.” Certainly, Robinsons Place in Calindagan was “too far.”

But the parking story is even more representative about “development without listening or taking note of local culture.” A few days after Robinsonsplace opened, management banned motorcycles from their parking lots, insisting that these were reserved only for four-wheeled vehicles, with the thinking that “motorcycle parking was messy.”

The mall management asked people with motorcycles to park along the street or in nearby empty lots—which was a complete misreading of Dumaguete culture. Dumaguete, at least at that time, meant motorcycles. For many years, we were even given the moniker of “Motorcycle Capital of the Philippines.” The ill-advised mall policy was an inconvenience for a population that went around in motorcycles, and not cars. So while the mall parking lot remained mostly empty, the byways of nearby streets were choked with motorcycle parking. And then, several weeks later, the foot traffic in the new mall dropped precipitously—and management scrambled to address this, one of which was to reverse their earlier policy of banning motorcycles from their parking lots.

“By then,” biologist Richard Pavia remembered, “people were already fed up—and realized Rob was not the ‘mall of malls’ that it was promised. It was also too far from the city center, and was in reality an ‘epithelial mall’—meaning it occupies a large area, but the stores are only along the inner periphery. In my honest opinion, going to the mall was not worth the trip. Their parking policy already showed they did not do their research on Dumaguete culture.”

* * *

There was also the case of Frontrow Entertainment bringing the controversial play M Butterfly to Dumaguete in 2019. By and large, it was a successful staging in terms of enthusiastic public response—but it was the first time a theatre company dared put on a production that lasted for several days in succession on a Dumaguete stage, including matinees. Considering the capacity of the Luce Auditorium, the ambitious staging required patronage [e.g., ticket sales] that had to go beyond Silliman University, which co-sponsored it, and even beyond Dumaguete—possibly enticing audiences from the nearby towns and even the nearby provinces.

This required marketing of such precision.

And the production’s marketing staff, flown in from Manila, did their work—but mostly patterned their techniques on how things were done in bigger cities, like Manila or Cebu, one of which was holding a press conference.

Dumaguete locals who do events know this by heart: press conferences do not really work in Dumaguete. They only work in two specific contexts: beauty pageants and politicians making revelations about a policy or a controversy; and sometimes a restaurant opening—but even this is not a guarantee that something will be written about it for print or broadcast. When a press conference was scheduled for the M Butterfly cast and creative staff in Robinsons a day or two before the premiere of the play, nobody came. “But we contacted the media ourselves!” the marketing staff told us. And I remember thinking: If only you asked us if this was feasible.

Another case of langyaw who do not do their research on Dumaguete culture.

* * *

In the proper categorization of heritage items, this type of culture is what we call “secret knowledge” which is under the category of “intangible culture.” Intangible culture is defined by the UNESCO as the practice, representation, expression, knowledge, or skill consisting of nonphysical intellectual wealth. This includes local languages, folk beliefs and superstitions, festivals, rituals, songs and musical compositions, dances, local technologies, local sports and games, literary arts, culinary arts, local jokes, local healing arts, and of course, secret knowledge.

What is “secret knowledge”? It is difficult to define, but perfectly easy to demonstrate. It’s essentially the knowledge of the practical variety that is shared by many in a cultural community that everyone subscribes to and believes in, without it being properly defined or delineated in studies or books. These are things “we just know,” and pass on to the next generation through sheer osmosis.

In Dumaguete, for example, we “just know” that we demand our goods to be cheap but without sacrificing high quality. A dish in a restaurant that costs more than P150 is already “very expensive.” [KRI famously built a thriving restaurant culture by starting off with all the dishes in its menu not costing more than P99. When chef Ritchie Armogenia was asked by visitors from Manila why he priced his dishes so low, he answered: “You don’t know Dumaguete.”]

Other things:

We “just know” that Bantayan is “far,” and the barangays traversed by Larena Drive are “bukid na man na.”

We “just know” that if you’re downtown and you want to catch a tricycle going to Piapi, you will have to flag one down at the corner of Union Drug, if you come from Lee Super Plaza, or at the corner near Jo’s Chicken Inato, if you come from Portal West.

We “just know” that when we tell tricycle drivers we want to go to Orchids or Bricks or Golden Rule, they know exactly where we want to go, even if these are currently non-existent landmarks.

We “just know” that pedicabs and tricycles are one and the same—although they’re really not. [A pedicab is technically something you “pedal,” like a put-put—but we don’t really care.]

We “just know” that the remedy for fevers is Mirinda Tru-Orange with raw egg thrown in for good measure.

We “just know” that “L” differentiates us from the Binisaya of more powerful centers of culture in the region, especially Cebu—and we relish that “L” in our pronunciation of things.

We “just know” that restaurants along the Rizal Boulevard are for tourists and expats, and if you want the real Dumaguete deal, you had to go restaurants somewhere else visitors would not know about—like Qyosko, or Hayahay [although this one is increasingly becoming known], or Manang Siony’s.

We “just know” there is a huge community of expats in our midst, which we tend to ignore—and are surprised when our visitors are themselves “surprised” to see “so many foreigners” in Dumaguete.

We “just know” that when it comes to doing things, it can be a fine balance of pleasing the four major universities in town. [“Pang-Silliman ra man na,” “Pang-Foundation ra man na,” etc.—and the loyalties can run deep, and can even spill over to strange contentiousness.]

We “just know” that even though Siquijor is a completely separate province, it’s still part of our landscape of what “home” means—even among Siquijodnons themselves.

There are so many other kinds of secret knowledge only people who have stayed in Dumaguete for years and years would come to know in all their strange nuances.

But above all, we “just know” that central to our identity as Dumagueteños is the easy access to both sea and mountain. Straddled between Bohol Sea to the east and Cuernos de Negros to the west, Dumaguete worships the icons of both: the Rizal Boulevard is our temple to the sea [and the frame to our idea of sunrise], and our regular hikes to Mount Talinis is our pilgrimage to the mountain gods. To attempt to destroy both, even in small ways, is a stake through the very heart of what “we know” about being Dumagueteño.

When the Philippine National Oil Company [PNOC, now the Energy Development Corporation or EDC] attempted to encroach in 2003 on the natural bounty of the Lake Balinsasayao Natural Park—which is essentially the colorful front door of Cuernos de Negros—for the reason of “geothermal exploration,” which required cutting more than half of the area’s forest cover, we rose in arms and protested, and we won.

We already protested an earlier attempt at reclamation by the Philippine Port Authority of the sea off the Rizal Boulevard in 2007—and we also won. Now that another, and more pervasive, reclamation project is underway, there’s no denying the vehemence of the opposition. It’s essentially sacrilege, and this partly explains the anger towards the plan.

In our hearts, this “Smart City” reclamation is perfectly anti-Dumaguete, given what we know about ourselves and our community. This is an unsolicited proposal from another langyaw which somehow gained traction among the powers that be, and this feels very much like an invasion into the heart of ourselves.

I shall continue this essay in another installment.

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[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

entry arrow5:39 PM | Hinay-Hinay

Maghinay-hinay ra ko, please. I’ve already written 5,500 words on the subject pero grabe ka kulang gihapon, mao nang nahimo syang series. I’m slowly putting in pieces for a wide-ranging analysis nga kaya nako. In Part 1, I began by using cultural context and history. In Part 2, I’m trying to put in various examples of public works projects throughout history, with different purposes and different outcomes — with a bit of personal confessions. Wala pa gyud ko kaabot sa reclamation itself. I’m taking my time because I am realizing the issue is sooo complex — not just environmental and economic, but also cultural and political, including new inputs like an unbelievable Chinese incursion behind the scenes, the powerful opposition from so many groups even including the BTS Army, a specific entry of a particular urban planner I cannot mention, etc. I’ve always believed in journalism that takes a stand, but arriving at it by not seeing things in black and white, by being able to see the nuances, and by being able to connect all the widespread dots. Ganahan ko maka-answer sa “why,” a question thats often left out in journalism. Ngano mang isog kaayo ta sa plano? [Pero naa pud uban nga sige’g “Change is essential to progress.” Tinuod ba?] Ngano mang na-entertain man ni ni Ipe nga plano? Unsa sa Dumaguete og sa pagka-Dumagueteño naka-resulta aning isyuha? Kapoy baya, pero feeling nako kinahanglan.

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[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

entry arrow2:47 PM | Notes on a Growing City, Part 2: A Brief History of Public Works Projects

Almost all significant—and by significant, I mean “large and ambitious”—public works projects come parceled with fervent opposition and heartbreak.

When the Eiffel Tower—that wrought-iron lattice tower on the Champ de Mars in Paris, France—was built by engineer Gustave Eiffel in 1887-1889 for the 1889 World’s Fair, many of the country’s leading artists and intellectuals criticized its design, but were mollified only by the promise that it was a temporary structure scheduled to be torn down and scrapped by 1909. But the “eyesore of Paris” soon became a global cultural icon of France, and one of the most recognizable structures in the world.

Imagine Paris without the Eiffel Tower.

When New York’s Central Park was built in 1857 [and completed in 1876], the plan necessitated 315 hectares of land—and one of the first casualties of the project was the majority-Black settlement named Seneca Village, the properties of which were seized through eminent domain and were thereafter razed and demolished. At its peak, the community had 264 residents, three churches, a school, and two cemeteries.

Imagine New York without Central Park.

The people who cite these examples are of this kind of thinking: build the damn thing anyway, regardless of the opposition—ultimately these projects will become so much a part of the landscape that people will learn to love them.

* * *

Most times, though, many of these projects seem to be designed with clear-cut winners and losers, with the line often cutting across economic and racial divides—and the losers being the minority and the disenfranchised and the winners the fat cats in the city who could care less about the plight of the poor and the lower middle class.

In the 1930s, the neighborhoods of Palo Verde, La Loma, and Bishop of Los Angeles were thriving communities made up of predominantly Mexican-American people in what is now known collectively as Chavez Ravine. It was a cherished community, one of the few places in Los Angeles where Mexican-American families could buy property and build wealth, given the racist policies restricting land ownership then. In the late 1940s, the city unfairly dubbed the entire neighborhood as “blighted,” which allowed Los Angeles to evict its residents with the purpose of “building a public housing project”—with the residents promised little to no compensation at all for their properties. They fought a decades-long battle to preserve their community, and were subsequently red-tagged as communists in the Red Scare politics that was predominant in the 1950s. The city’s plan for the housing project collapsed in the face of opposition, but this did not stop Los Angeles from continuing on with the evictions. The area of Chavez Ravine was eventually used to build the Dodgers Stadium.

The same thing happened with Filipino-Americans in San Francisco in the 1960s. Many of them lived in Manilatown, which contained affordable places to live in, especially the small and cheap rooms of residential hotels. One such hotel was the International Hotel or the I-Hotel along Kearney Street, where rents went for less than $50 a month in the 1960s. During the 1920s and 1930s, thousands of seasonal Asian laborers came to reside at the hotel, and a community—10-block strong—soon was built around it, composed mostly of Filipino-Americans. But San Francisco had other plans: they wanted to push for the “Manhattanization” of the downtown area, and this included demolishing Manilatown. The community was slowly cleared, with the I-Hotel remaining as one of the last strongholds. Its tenants fought to save the hotel, to fight for their right to affordable housing as well as to preserve the last vestige of Manilatown. The fight went on for a decade, until one violent night in 1977. In the early morning of August 4, riot police began to physically remove tenants from their homes, despite the 3,000 protesters outside attempting to barricade the hotel. Within six hours, all the 55 remaining tenants were evicted, rendering them homeless. The bigger tragedy was that the city never went ahead with their original plans for the area—the hotel remained vacant for two more years before it was finally demolished. [There is a silver lining to this story though: a new I-Hotel was completed on the very same spot in 2005—this time with affordable housing in mind for its renewal. It now contains 105 apartments for housing seniors—with the initial occupancy determined by lottery, and with the remaining evicted living residents of the original I-Hotel given priority. It also houses a community center and a historic display commemorating the original hotel, Manilatown, and the continuing struggle for affordable housing in increasingly expensive San Francisco.]

* * *

But sometimes these public works projects invariably encroach a little bit too much into the natural environment.

When the Sydney Opera House was constructed in 1958, its foundation was built on top of Bennelong Point, a former island in the Sydney Harbor, known to the local Gadigal people of the Eora nation as Tubowgule. It was a small tidal island that largely consisted of rocks, and features a small beach on its western side.

Imagine Sydney without its opera house.

When the National Mall of Washington, D.C.—which today includes in its entirety the U.S. Capitol, the reflecting pool, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and various museums, galleries, and monuments important to American history and culture—was first conceptualized in 1791, the decades-long construction built on the former course of the Tiber Creek going to the Potomac River.

Imagine D.C. without the National Mall.

But the two examples above were also incursions into space that had fallen into environmental neglect: Bennelong Point was a miserable pile of rubble deposited from the construction of nearby Fort Macquarie, and the Tiber Creek had become a wasteland called the Washington City Canal, an open sewer deposited with sediments and waste. One could argue that the public works projects built on top of them actually made proper use of environmentally degraded space. A lot of people would give these projects a pass.

But what about those public works projects that are blatant in their sheer and massive remaking of vast swaths of the environment—often for the bad, but touted for the good in something else?

The Three Gorges Dam in China, completed in 2006, was designed to generate total electric generating capacity of 22,500 MW and to increase the Yangtze River’s shipping capacity. It was also heavily touted as instrumental in reducing the potential for floods downstream, which could possibly affect millions of Chinese. After completion, China regarded the project as a “monumental social and economical success,” but the construction of the dam erased many towns and cities in the process, flooded archaeological and cultural sites, displaced about 1.3 million people, and caused significant ecological changes, including increased risks of landslides. Was the economic benefit worth it for the untold damage to the environment and to local culture?

There are many, many others—disasters of incomprehensible scale that descended on various public works projects, often industrial in nature. It is in the light of these possible dangers that people have become increasingly aware of protecting their communities from projects touted as “beneficial”—often free!—when the hidden costs are actually insidious. Beware of the “beneficial” and the “free,” we soon learn: remember, as the quip goes, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.”

Keith Schneider, writing for National Geographic in its 20 November 2017 issue, recognized that that people now are ready to fight “development” that actually prove detrimental to their communities: “Though few recognized it at the time, 2011 may mark a turning point for the era of building mega energy and mining projects around the world, according to experts. That year, a series of natural disasters energized civic resistance to giant projects. At the same time, alternative and renewable energy technologies have evolved as cheaper, safer options. And more traditional industrial projects that have moved forward have tended to be smaller scale. / In March 2011, an earthquake and tsunami destroyed the 41-year-old, 4,700-megawatt Fukishima Daiichi nuclear power station in northern Japan, one of the 15 largest nuclear electrical generating plants in the world. /Seven months later and 3,000 miles east, two more mega energy projects failed in India. Early in December a large group of farmers and activists, supported by a Himalayan state government’s concern about fisheries and flooding, barricaded access roads and shut down construction of the $1.6 billion, 2,000-megawatt Lower Subansiri hydropower dam on the border between Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. On December 31, 2011, along the Bay of Bengal coast in Tamil Nadu, Cyclone Thane wrecked the $2 billion Nagarjuna oil refinery as it was nearing completion. Operations at the hydropower dam and the refinery never resumed.”

“In the years since, a number of mines, mega power plants, and other huge industrial infrastructure projects have failed around the world,” Schneider continued. “A series of ecological, social, market, and investment forces have aligned on six continents to foil industrial developers who want to tear at the Australian landscape for coal, drill through Arctic ice for oil, move villages out of Himalayan valleys for hydropower dams, scrape South American mountainsides for new mines, divert rivers in South Africa to cool power plants, clear forests to mine Alberta sands for oil, construct a new nuclear plant in South Carolina, and race across the countryside with new pipelines to transport liquid fuels.”

* * *

People do fight back—even when they know that the people they are fighting are powerful figures capable of railroading their public works ambitions by any means, and often ruthlessly.

In 2007, outrage from Dumaguete locals—led by fierce opposition by Silliman University and its alumni—halted the plans of the Philippine Port Authority to reclaim parts of the Dumaguete shorefront in order to expand its port capacity.

In 1974, the National Power Corporation [NAPOCOR], upon the instruction of then dictator Ferdinand Marcos, began sending survey teams in specific locations in the Mountain Province, and soon the Chico River Dam Project was hatched. The dam was intended to generate hydroelectric power—but opposition began to mount. In May 1975, more than a hundred papangat or village elders from Kalinga and Bontoc created a federation led by Macli-ing Dulag—the first time the Bontoc and Kalinga joined intertribal forces—to oppose the construction of the four hydroelectric dams that they knew would deluge many Kalinga villages, including sacred burial grounds and rice terraces. They considered the project a threat to their residences, their livelihood, and their culture. They declared themselves ready, even for armed resistance, to defend their ancestral territory.

This early opposition forced Marcos to temporarily halt the project in 1975, but soon issued Presidential Decree No. 848 in December of that year, where he constituted the municipalities of Lubuagan, Tinglayan, Tanudan, and Pasil into a “Kalinga Special Development Region” in an effort to neutralize the opposition by militarizing the area. Various units of the Philippine Constabulary as well as the Philippine Army Brigade were brought in to suppress opposition. This resulted to the tribal leaders being incarcerated regularly. On 24 April 1980, armed forces opened fire on Macli-ing Dulag at his home, and killed him instantly. The public outrage was considerable. Dulag’s murder since then became a turning point in the history of Martial Law, because for the first time since the press crackdown since 1972, the mainstream press confronted the issue of the military’s arrests of civilians under martial rule. It also became a landmark case concerning ancestral domain issues in the country.

The Chico River Dam Project was eventually shelved a few years later.

One of my heroes is Jane Jacobs, the American-Canadian journalist, author, and activist who led a very successful grassroots efforts to protect New York neighborhoods from the massive public works projects envisioned by Robert Moses, a powerful developer and public official known as the “master builder,” who was responsible for much of the contemporary infrastructures in the city. Jacobs’ views of a vibrant city were influenced in equal measure by urban studies, sociology, and economics. In her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities [1961], Jacob argued that “urban renewal” and “slum clearance”—terms banded about by Moses in his effort to remake the city in what he called a “progressive” manner, actually did not respect the needs of the city-dwellers themselves. What Moses wanted was a community of highways, readily accessible by cars—and if that meant demolishing neighborhoods to make way for a new highway, so be it.

Jacobs was appalled by that idea, and set forth her theory of urban planning that has only gained increasing currency everywhere in the world today. She envisioned neighborhoods that were walkable, that had parks, that housed thriving communities in spaces that were a good mix of residential and business zones. Most of all, in direct opposition to Moses’ car-centric city, she envisioned neighborhoods that were mostly free of cars, and were dependent on public modes of transportation. Designing public spaces for people and not for cars was part of her vision.

When Moses set about overhauling Jacobs’ Greenwich Village neighborhood by planning to build a highway through it, she took to the streets, she took to the media, and she took to the people themselves—and soon was instrumental in the eventual cancellation of the Lower Manhattan Expressway. Moses’ plan would have passed directly through an area of Manhattan that later became known as SoHo, as well as part of Little Italy and Chinatown. She was so vehement in her opposition that she was arrested in 1968 for inciting a crowd at a public hearing on Moses’ project—and was often ridiculed by city planners, mostly male, who called her a “housewife” who did not have a college degree or any formal training in urban planning.

But time has been kind to Jane Jacobs and her ideas. Her concepts of urban planning have been acknowledged as truly revitalizing of urban communities. She is highly regarded today, a significant influence for later generations of urban planners and designers. Today, her ideas of thriving neighborhoods which respect the dwellers in them are being used by many cities all over the world—including her native New York, Seoul, Tokyo, Bogota, Barcelona, and many others. Increasingly, cities have begun turning highways into a combination of pedestrian walks and parks, especially around city centers. They have also began building parks in vital centers in the urban sprawl, complete with trees and streams, and revitalizing patches of forests and riversides within the city. And Robert Moses’ car-centric idea of urban planning is no longer considered the best way to develop cities. Economists have noted that communities with busy car traffic have businesses that suffer invariably; they’ve since discovered that communities where people walk contribute considerable foot traffic that lead to people going into shops and thus supporting the local economy.

Who makes a city, and determines how it must be shaped? Its political and business leaders? Its urban planners? The only correct answer is its people.

* * *

In 2016, when Felipe Antonio Remollo ran for city mayor and unveiled his plans for a walkable Dumaguete with his vision of turning Perdices Street into a pedestrian park, I was reminded of the vision of Jane Jacobs and that thrilled me. The gambit felt impossible but I also thought: it was time to usher Dumaguete into becoming a city of the future without having to pass through the urban messes of bigger cities like Manila or Cebu.

Ipe clearly loved Dumaguete, had ambitious plans for it—which reminded me of his first try as City Mayor between 1998 and 2001, where he embodied a vibrant community about to enter the 21st century, and where he first unveiled his city center plan, as well as the plan to incorporate Dumaguete into a bigger Metro Dumaguete with Bacong, Sibulan, and Valencia. It was necessary to include our neighboring towns into the general developmental make-up of Dumaguete, since they were [and still are] communities that contribute to the large daytime population of the capital.

In his current administration, Ipe wanted to remake the public market into a kind of public mall. He considered sports as a vital part to the development of the city—and slowly, Dumaguete was becoming a favorite host city for many of the country’s premiere sporting events.

He considered local arts and culture and heritage and history as sacrosanct, seeing them as vital factors in making Dumaguete truly world-class. He saved the Presidencia from decades of neglect (who knew it was designed by the great architect Juan Arellano?—we found out only when he took over as mayor), and partnered with the National Museum to restore it and make it a regional museum showcasing local heritage and history. He made Burgos Street a walkable artery connecting three heritage centers: the Rizal Boulevard, Quezon Park, and the campanario. His plans for Quezon Park, City Hall, and its environs [especially the Old Spanish District] were promising, often making me wish these plans were going to happen as soon as possible.

Under his guidance, tourism flourished—and the City Tourism Office itself became the presiding hub for three working committees under the Hugkat Commission banner: one for arts and culture, one for heritage, and one for tourism development. In 2019, we managed to pass a groundbreaking Culture and Tourism Code, which laid out the structures and the plans for better management of these vital sectors in the city. We were pushing to make Dumaguete a UNESCO Creative City.

“I don’t want Dumaguete to remain a gateway to other places,” he once told us. “I want Dumaguete to be the destination.”

What’s not to love?

I could understand the city’s difficulties in many vital matters that continue to bedevil—like its waste management problem and its traffic problem. But these headaches were decades in the making, issues mostly ignored by city leaders who come and go with every election cycle—and the solutions clearly required also years of untangling and sometimes cunning leadership. I knew Ipe was capable of that. The story goes that in the early 2000s, he wanted to change the fencing around Quezon Park to accommodate parking, which could help in the decongestion of city streets. The City Council, composed mostly of opposition leaders, did not agree. Ipe reportedly submitted another plan, to augment and improve the sewage around Quezon Park—and this the Council approved. When the sewage project was finished, it also came with moving the fences around the park to provide enough space for parking. I’m not sure if this anecdote is true—but the first time I heard it, I laughed. “That’s visionary thinking,” I said.

In the context of the pantawan, and then the bigger People’s Park, and now the “Smart City” reclamation island we’re now battling over, I am of course troubled.

Do we really need this new reclamation push? My gut instincts say “no.” And I’m saddened that it had to come from Ipe because I do believe in his dreams for the city [except this one]. I’m just thankful that we have a political culture in Dumaguete where you can register dissent even in opposition to somebody you know [a friend, even], without your dissent and your passionate opposition becoming a liability. In many other places today—some close to Dumaguete—dissent seems impossible, and silence is often assured by the threat or specter of death.

Who makes a city, and determines how it must be shaped?

I still say people, and to be more precise: a properly consulted population. In Dumagete, we do have people with the same vision with the likes of Jane Jacobs and the fiery steadfastness with the likes of Macli-ing Dulag. We also need our leaders, yes—especially in the interest of having someone at the helm to lead us into the shaping of our city. But we need to qualify that as “leaders who listen.”

I shall continue this essay in another installment.

[Photo: Rizal Boulevard in the 1940s from my personal collection]

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[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

Saturday, July 17, 2021

entry arrow2:06 PM | Notes on a Growing City, Part 1: Dumaguete on the Verges of Growing

On 13 July 2021, the Philippine Statistics Authority released the results of the new census. For Dumaguete City, it tallied a new population figure of 134,103 as of May 2021, roughly a 2% increase from the old census of 2015, when Dumaguete registered a figure of 131,377 people.

I’m not an economist, so I won’t even dare go into deep interpretive mode about the nuances of population growth in connection to the economy—but even the most casual observer of these trends would know that the index of growth [whether of an increase or decrease] in the population of a place bodes something significant to the economic status of that place, and in a sense also measures the attraction of that place to potential economic migrants and investors. Simply put, one goes where the money goes.

Mall developers and business franchises, for example, take note of specific population markers before they decide to open branches in a new locality. When Robinsonsplace Dumaguete opened on 9 November 2009—twelve years ago—it significantly meant that Dumaguete was now big enough to sustain such an all-encompassing business enterprise as a mall.

At least, this is how numbers talk.

But I’m sure these businesses do not really take into account the cultural readiness of a place and the specific mindset of its people when they decide to go ahead and stake their claim on new territory. Sometimes businesses fall flat on their faces because of this.

Take note, for instance, the local hospitality industry. Business people in Dumaguete know there is a dire need for new hotels and new restaurants in our fast-growing city, which has been catering to a significant increase of tourists and business people coming to town for conventions and what-not. There is also a native population with a comfortable middle class that has money to spare and boredom to dissipate. You would think that any new restaurant and any new hotel would have a surefire entry into the city, given these factors. But not always.

I remember two recent restaurants who tried to make their mark in Dumaguete—and ultimately failed: there was Tree Hive Food Hub along Veterans Avenue and there was Chapters Café along Calle Sta. Catalina, both of which opened their doors in 2017. Their respective structures were gimmicky and Instagrammable—one was a multi-story space built like a tree house, and the other was a wonderland of books—and they were designed in such a way that was sure to entice customers. And when they first opened, they sure did attract hordes of people.

But ultimate success in Dumaguete is measured in terms of the long game that is governed by local idiosyncrasies, and locals invariably rejected both. Tree Hive Food Hub and Chapters Café just did not jibe with the Dumaguete mentality and notorious pickiness—both had bad food wrapped in shiny gimmick the proprietors must have thought could hoodwink the locals, a no-no for the Dumagueteño, and the gimmicks themselves [which made good Instagram posts] were so shallow, the picky Dumagueteño could easily see right through them. (We are so picky that I remember one Manila-based music producer once claiming that if you find success in Dumaguete, you’re sure to find success elsewhere in the Philippines.) We may be “gentle” and all that—but we are secretly vicious in selectively embracing anything that tries to join our community fabric.

Personally, as a native born Dumagueteño, I knew both those places were doomed from the very start. You would think that as a writer, I’d take to the book gimmick of Chapters Café like a charmed customer, and think it a worthwhile addition to a place that likes to think of itself as a “city of literature.” Nope, I found the food excruciatingly bad, like Frankenstein pieces put together to resemble a dish, and the whole book thing was extremely tacky. The book titles they selected to adorn their space were so much of the bargain bin variety any bookworm would immediately know this café was just using books for decorative purpose, and nothing else.

They failed.

Why am I going on about this when what I really want to talk about in this space is the reclamation issue in Dumaguete, which has consumed much of the city’s attention of late—even extending as far as national and international coverage in media?

Because I want to contextualize what “growth and development” means for Dumaguete—which is not always what and how our businessmen, and apparently also our politicians, understand it. For the businessman, growth and development means profit. For the politician, it means political will and legacy. (Some people would also say it means under-the-table kickbacks for these people.) For most of the locals, however, growth and development means a measured step forward with all good things considered, always with due diligence and not just a matter of money or political force.

And above all, it means not changing the fragile fabric that makes Dumaguete “Dumaguete.”

The city is still small enough for most of its population to know there is a certain thing that makes something “Dumaguete”—and when that something feels false, we are only too ready to reject it. Often we do this in a subtly done exercise of plainly ignoring this “langyaw” of a thing, with the hopes that our inattention will make this langyaw go away—but when push comes to shove, we can be vehement in our opposition. This is what is happening now.

I started this essay with the new figures in our 2021 census because I thought it was uncanny that the reclamation issue—which first came to light in July 7—would burst forth in roughly the same time frame. The thing to take from this coincidence is that Dumaguete is indeed growing, and with growth comes new and often uncomfortable reckonings with regards our infrastructures, our changing economic models, and crucially, our way of looking at ourselves.

We are growing: Does the city’s basic services—water, food, waste disposal, transportation, etc.—reflect that growth with its requisite new demands?

We are growing: Does the city still think of itself as fast urbanizing place with new economic considerations? (Which can be hard when nostalgia for the “rural” Dumaguete of yore is still very much entrenched in our idea of place.)

We are growing: How does the city see itself now? Are we still a “University Town?” Are we still the “City of Gentle People”? Are we still the “Cultural Center of the South”? All of these are precious identities for most locals. In what way does a new branding like “Smart City” change our prior expectations and our old identities? Will it be for the good, or for the better?

* * *

The thing is, Dumaguete has an interesting history of public works projects affecting the local identity and the local economy, going as far back as the Spanish colonial period. For the longest time—throughout most of the Spanish period, in fact—we were the ultimate backwater country and so economically depressed. We were right smack in the middle of two towering economic centers in the Visayas—Cebu to the east, across Tañon Strait, and Iloilo (and Bacolod) to the west, across the Cuernos de Negros and Mount Kanlaon. Dumaguete was negligible and economically unimportant—and what’s more, adding to that economic depression was the fact that we lacked the infrastructure to participate in the trade flourishing all over the Visayas.

Historian T. Valentino Sitoy once wrote in Kabilin:

“Except for the sugar plantations of the elites in Bais and Tanjay, the provincial economy had long suffered from numbing lethargy since the Spanish regime. In 1904, the industries of Negros Oriental were ‘next to nothing,‘ said Governor Demetrio Larena. The few that existed were small home industries for local consumption, such as the weaving of textiles, fish nets, mats, hats, baskets, and sacks (bayong) for sugar packing. There was some cigar- and cigarette-rolling. But the pillow- and mattress-making, which in Spanish times was a ‘great industry’ exporting 100,000 to 200,000 pillows annually, had now atrophied for lack of demand. The only hopeful new industry was carpentry, for most of the carpenters in the province had been employed in the construction of the first buildings of Silliman Institute, particularly what is now Silliman Hall.”

Sitoy continues: “Moreover, business in Negros Oriental in 1904 was in the hands of foreigners, with 78 stores owned by the Chinese, two by Americans, and two by Spaniards, while only about six little more than sari-sari stores were owned by Filipinos. The Chinese dealt with all sorts of merchandise, including groceries and canned goods, dry goods and textiles, wines and liquors, drugs, medicines, perfumery, etc., and nearly monopolized the buying of local agricultural products, such as copra, corn, sugar, tobacco, abaca hemp, kapok, etc. The American or Spanish stores sold only groceries, beverages, and stationery.”

Sometimes, political shenanigans especially by those in powerful positions have led to the economic stagnation of Negros Oriental. When the plan was laid in 1890 to separate the island of Negros into two provinces so that the ignored eastern side would have more chance at political autonomy and economic vitality—the government in Bacolod divided it not according to proper geographical consideration, but according to what pieces of the economic pie would be more favorable to those in power. They took the Cuernos de Negros as the demarcating line for most of the length of the island—and then, right at the point of Mount Kanlaon, suddenly shifted the demarcating line towards the east, leaving the vast agricultural fields (and haciendas) of San Carlos, Calatrava, Toboso, Escalante, and Sagay still in the hands of the Occidental side when they are clearly in the Oriental side (and Cebuano-speaking to boot). What we inherited in the Oriental side was a rocky landscape with some excellent spaces for agriculture in Bais, Tanjay, Siaton, Bayawan, Sta. Catalina, Canlaon, and Vallehermoso—nothing compared to the bounty of the Occidental side.

What about Dumaguete? While being the most populous town in the eastern side of Negros—which made it readily the capital of the new province—it also has the smallest land area in the whole of Oriental. It does not boast the same agricultural stronghold of places like Bayawan, Siaton, Canlaon, Bais, and Tanjay—but Dumaguete’s saving grace was unique, and it came with the Americans. With Silliman Institute founded in the town in 1901, Dumaguete surged forward as a cosmopolitan-minded locality, its treasures being its educated people and its carefully cultivated arts and culture scene, which gave way to a city that knew how to transform itself into a genteel place that was economically vibrant not because of agriculture and industry, but because of its people.

This is Dumaguete.

Still, you can only do so much with “people.” The local economy was so bad throughout three centuries of Spanish rule, and even straight on into the early years of the 20th century with the Americans now in control of the archipelago… until the pier was built in 1919.

Before the pier was built, ships and boats bearing people and trade barely took note of Dumaguete as a vital stop in regular routes. “Commercial traffic was also slow, a carry-over from earlier days, as Dumaguete was off the main shipping lanes,” Sitoy wrote. “Though there were steamers from Cebu every two days, and two others every week from Iloilo, those from Manila sometimes came only once in twenty days.”

The pier—the first major public works project undertaken by Dumaguete—carved into the Dumaguete shoreline, but also brought with it a steady stream of economic progress. Later, Mayor Ramon Teves Pastor and the town leaders after him set out to develop the Dumaguete beachfront into what we now know as the Rizal Avenue [or Boulevard], previously called the Marina.

The seaside stretch, which invariably destroyed the natural beach front (concrete over sand) and moved the small beachfront community to somewhere else, was the second major public works project in Dumaguete, with the new road connecting with the other arteries in town, including Calle Sta. Cecilia [now Silliman Avenue], Calle Sta. Catalina, Calle San Jose, Calle San Juan, and Escolta [later Alfonso Trese Street, and now Perdices Street]. This was a profound undertaking in all actuality, and invariably changed the pace and the outlook of Dumaguete. We cannot think of Dumaguete anymore without thinking of the Rizal Boulevard—it has become an icon—but it started as a visionary project that probably had its naysayers back in the day.

I shall continue this essay in another installment.

[Photo: the Dumaguete shoreline with Silliman Hall in the background in 1905]

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Friday, July 16, 2021

entry arrow1:18 PM | Patience, Rebirth

I love the grass at the East Quadrangle in Silliman campus a week after it’s mowed.


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Thursday, July 15, 2021

entry arrow8:46 PM | Sandwich Love

The s.o. came by the office to give me this fantastic sandwich from Pan-Q for dinner!

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Wednesday, July 14, 2021

entry arrow7:00 AM | Poetry Wednesday, No. 81.


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Tuesday, July 13, 2021

entry arrow2:29 PM | Remembering Dennis Teodosio

I think the last time we saw each other, I was trying to bring your play Gee-gee at Waterina to Dumaguete, years and years ago, in 2007. I was grateful that Tanghalang Pilipino was finally able to bring it in, in a double bill with Chris Martinez’s Welcome to Intelstar. Your play was something I loved—I think I staged-read the part of Gee-gee once?—and I wanted to share its crazy queerness with Dumaguete. But we must have seen each other many other times, in the Palancas, for example, or for assorted literary stuff that required me to be in Manila. The first time we met was in Iligan in 2002, where we were fellows—and together with Glenn Sevilla Mas, we were notorious for postponing a workshop session because we wanted to watch Miss Universe. That was how persuasive we were as a trio. During the pandemic, I sometimes dreamed of someday going to Myanmar. “I could see Dennis again,” I told myself. Alas, it was not meant to be. Farewell, Jose Dennis Teodosio. Your passing was much too soon.

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Monday, July 12, 2021

entry arrow6:14 PM | Gyrenz

It feels right that the gyra, the deadliest cat in the world, is also the cutest cat there is. Makes so much sense.

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Sunday, July 11, 2021

entry arrow11:30 PM | A Smart City is an Informed City: Preliminary Thoughts

A 174-hectare reclamation project, dubbed “Smart City,” has been slated to be constructed along the Dumaguete shoreline. A signature campaign against the plan was slated today, July 11, at 3 PM in front of Bethel. It was planned in haste because the agreement between the LGU and the developer will be signed on Monday, July 12.

The document embedded below is the plea to stop the project, signed by National Scientist Angel Alcala, Silliman President Betty McCann, former Silliman President Ben Malayang III, Enrique Oracion, and biologists Hilconida Calumpong, Rene Abesamis, Janet Estacion, and Robert Guinoo.

For the full text, go here.

For information about the project, go here.

For commentary by lawyer Golda Benjamin to understand the legal nuances, go here.

To sign the Change.org petition, go here.

This is the Smart City plan that was released by the Office of the City Mayor to media last July 8, Thursday — which for me remains an under-reported story that only came out as pubmats in Facebook pages and short news articles in our weekend newspapers.

Did we seriously get the full picture, or kuryente lang? Part of me feels this story is a failure of communication from all concerned — and that we also need to dig deeper, question more, report more comprehensively. Above all, no haste. I feel the urge to do an investigative report, to be honest. [If I have time, I will.]

Dumaguete has an interesting history of public work projects affecting the local economy, going as far back as the Spanish colonial period: we were the ultimate backwater country and so economically depressed —

Until the pier was built in 1919.

And then Mayor Ramon Teves Pastor set out out to develop the beachfront into what we now know as the Rizal Boulevard. We need perspective, also informed by history.

Some well-meaning people, for example, are decrying the “loss” of the Rizal Boulevard because of the “Smart City” development. I totally agree — but I also cannot help but think that the entire Rizal Boulevard was also a public works project carried out by the then town that destroyed the natural beach front, concrete over sand.

Do we need more land and reclamation projects? Nope, we don’t.

(Honestly, there are better projects. Like developing the Banica riverside besides building concrete walls. [If Iloilo can do it with their river, so can we.] And what happened to the Perdices Street development plan circa 2016?)

I think just want perspective. We’re romanticizing a place — which I love! — which probably bedevilled Dumagueteños in the 1920s, and which most certainly dislodged the beachside community, only for richer people to build their “sugar houses” along the new Marina [old name of Rizal Avenue].

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Saturday, July 10, 2021

entry arrow1:03 PM | Food is Love

A shot of the s.o. preparing his super delicious roasted pork.

Renz is so good at the kitchen. [For some reason, the boyfriends I get tend to be great cooks. One was actually a chef. This is good for someone like me whose idea of cooking is take-out and boiling water.] But Renz is the greatest. He’s a keeper.

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Friday, July 09, 2021

entry arrow11:32 AM | Writing the Artistic Dearly Departed

This opportunity for obit writing for the Cultural Center of the Philippines is such a humbling task. I’m learning so much about fantastic artists and cultural workers I didn’t even know before. [Like Rey Paz Contreras, who should be a National Artist for Sculpture.] And gaining huge respect for those I know only superficially. [Like the comedian Shalala Reyes.] I’m regularly kicking myself for being ignorant about them before they died. You also sense the struggles they went through just to do their work, often with the paltriest of recognition. Sometimes, in our research, the obits one finds online, if any, are so shallow [mostly consisting of embeds of social media posts by friends] — and one sadly realizes there really is no tradition of comprehensive obituary writing in the country. I’m glad CCP saw fit to devote an entire project to this.

You can find the Hanggang sa Muli website here.

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Wednesday, July 07, 2021

entry arrow1:10 PM | Tell the Truth Day

Today is Tell the Truth Day, an important reminder to be honest. But we also need to know that honesty without compassion or empathy is just cruelty. Read this wonderful article here.

And since today is Tell the Truth Day, a confession: often being in therapy is revisiting your old demons and apologizing to people you’ve hurt or done wrong because you were going through an undiagnosed mental condition. It’s not easy, but it helps.

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entry arrow12:06 PM | A Brief Break

I took a break yesterday from the world. I went home to ponder things and sleep. I slept for a long time. When I woke up today, I had no answers still, but I feel a renewed sense of trying again. I’ll accept it.

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entry arrow7:00 AM | Poetry Wednesday, No. 80.

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Tuesday, July 06, 2021

entry arrow12:00 PM | The Ravages and Rages of Moral Twitter

I’m reading an essay about the YA book industry and the rages of Twitter from Nicole Brinkley, and I keep nodding and nodding. This particular passage encapsulates something I’ve always wondered about for some years now:

“This scrutiny and demand for perfection [in the cultural text] is infinitely higher for marginalized authors, who are often the target of the most critical segments of their own reader communities. Black authors must be perfect representations of Blackness despite the wide range of Black experiences. Queer authors must be out of the closet, in a neatly labeled box, for their queer representation to even be considered acceptable.”

So true! So many examples! The worst critics of gay movies are gay people — they were the ones who complained the most about the “imperfections” of shows like HBO’s Looking, among others. And the way they have demonized pathbreaking older shows like Queer as Folk, which were so important for queer people of my generation and helped us forged a more visible identity! The worst critics of Filipino representation in mainstream media are Filipinos. Take a look at those taking potshots at Netflix’s Trese.

Brinkley aptly described the whole sad phenomenon this way: “The notion of perfect representation [has] been weaponized.”

There is no such thing as perfect representation.

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entry arrow7:00 AM | Couples

Today is International Kissing Day! It is a secular celebration of kissing, and is all about showing your love and improving your health! To celebrate that, I’m sharing a music video of “Sayaw Ta, by Hope Tinambacan, which features a bunch of Dumaguete couples  including Renz and me!  dancing and kissing, and what-not.

[Note: These are not all romantic couples. There are also mothers and sons here.]

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Monday, July 05, 2021

entry arrow11:49 PM | Vaccine Envy, Part 2

First part, here.

In Contagion, the 2011 film by Steven Soderbergh that gained notoriety in our times as an unlikely prophet to the current pandemic [it was subsequently watched by millions, especially in the beginning months of 2020], the virus-ravaged world the film depicts starts going back to normal when a vaccine is finally found to be successful in combating the fictional MEV-1. By this time, the pandemic’s death toll in the story has reached 2.5 million in the U.S. and 26 million worldwide. [As of this writing, COVID-19—our real-life equivalent of the film’s MEV-1—has an official death toll of 3.98 million worldwide out of 184 million cases, including 605,000 dead in the U.S. and 25,149 in the Philippines.]

In the Matt Damon starrer, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] awards the vaccinations by lottery based on birthdates. I kept thinking about that.

Vaccination by birthdates decided by lottery.

And in fact, I’m not the only one who found that detail fascinating. On 2 February 2021, The Guardian reported that the United Kingdom’s health secretary Matt Hancock was obsessed with the film’s prescience, and “constantly reminded advisers … to heed the movie’s depiction of the complexities of an international race for limited vaccine supply.” According to the report, Hancock kept referring to the film’s ending, which made him aware from the very start that, “first, the vaccine was really important, [and] second, when a vaccine was developed we would see an almighty global scramble for this thing.”

The report went on: “Hancock was particularly struck by a scene in which a lottery based on birthdates is used to ration supply—not as a policy prescription but as an indication of how precious the vaccine would be.”

What is now going on, given this race to hoard vaccines, is what experts have termed “vaccine nationalism.” Dr. Amir Khan defined “vaccine nationalism” in a 7 February 2021 article for Al Jazeera as something that “occurs when governments sign agreements with pharmaceutical manufacturers to supply their own populations with vaccines ahead of them becoming available for other countries.”

Dr. Khan wrote: “According to a new report, published in the British Medical Journal, the U.S. has secured 800 million doses of at least six vaccines in development, with an option to buy about one billion more. The U.K. has purchased 340 million shots: approximately five doses for each citizen. Although, on the surface, it may seem these countries have ordered more doses than they need, the truth is many of these orders were put in during trial phases of the vaccines when they did not know for sure which vaccines would be successful. Essentially, countries like the UK have put their eggs in several baskets, which has now proven to be a good idea.” Khan also echoed W.H.O. Director Ghebreyesus’ plea from August 2020: “Whilst there is a wish amongst leaders to protect their own people first, the response to this pandemic has to be collective.”

The Guardian article also quoted Ian Lipkin, Columbia University’s director of the Center for Infection and Immunity and chief scientific consultant on Contagion, about the importance of finding the right formula for distribution, equitable for all the world: “The whole idea [of the film] was to try to inform people about what they needed to anticipate. We have to vaccinate the entire world, there’s absolutely no question about that. As long as there is a population that has not been vaccinated, there is a high likelihood that this thing is going to continue to evolve. So, people who don’t understand or appreciate that—it’s not only unethical, it’s also not in your self-interest.”

If we take away “vaccine nationalism” as a factor in distribution, the question remains: How do we exactly go about vaccinating people?

What system must be followed?

Is Contagion’s birthday lottery proposal a good plan to follow?

Lipkin also gave some insight—this time for Telegraphabout the vagaries of distribution: “Once you have covered the priority groups, health workers and the most vulnerable, and you try to roll it out to the remainder of the population, there has to be some acceptable and equitable way to do that. You could use a random number generator, or you could select birthdays as we did in the film. We used birth date lotteries for the [military] draft in the United States—who was going to go to fight and who wasn’t. This is obviously a different kind of lottery.”

No one, as far as I know, is doing the birthday route for COVID-19 vaccination.

What seems to be the system most nations are going for is distribution via groups stratified by age, occupation, and medical risk. In the Philippines, this stratification covers the following:

A1 includes frontline workers in health facilities both national and local, private and public, health professionals and non-professionals like students, nursing aides, janitors, barangay health workers, and others.

A2 includes senior citizens aged 60 years old and above.

A3 includes persons with comorbidities not otherwise included in the preceding categories.

A4 includes frontline personnel in essential sectors, including uniformed personnel and those in working sectors identified by the IATF as essential during the ECQ.

A5 includes indigent populations not otherwise included in the preceding categories.

B1 includes teachers and social workers.

B2 includes other government workers.

B3 includes other essential workers.

B4 includes socio-demographic groups at significantly higher risk other than senior citizens and indigent people.

B5 includes the Overseas Filipino Workers.

B6 includes other remaining workforce.

And finally, C includes the rest of the Filipino population not otherwise included in the above groups. As of this writing, we’re covering A4 in many places, including Dumaguete.

But vaccine prioritization in the Philippines has also taken in another factor: prioritization by regions, which means supplying the vaccines first to specific areas in the Philippines deemed an “emergency,” especially with surges in COVID-19 infections. In February 2021, when the vaccination program was first unveiled, the prioritized regions came as follows, in order of COVID-19 burden: NCR, Calabarzon, Davao Region, Cordillera Administrative Region, Eastern Visayas, Central Luzon, Cagayan Valley, Western Visayas, Northern Mindanao, CARAGA, Ilocos Region, Central Visayas, Soccsksargen, Zamboanga Peninsula, Bicol Region, Mimaropa, and BARMM.

By June 2021, however, new realities of COVID-19 surges in certain places have disordered this priority list by regions—something Philippine Daily Inquirer journalist Cristina Eloisa Baclig aptly called “the shifting sands of vaccination in the Philippines.” She wrote in her report: “Metro Manila and the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Rizal, Laguna, Pampanga, Batangas, Cebu, and Davao now compose a new geographical grouping that authorities called NCR Plus 8 for pandemic response purposes,” and that “a surge in infections outside the capital is redrawing the mapped strategy.” That redrawing has become a constant pressure and an endless challenge—and sometimes politics comes in to suggest further shifts in the prioritization.

In that Baclig report from 11 June 2021, we get the general picture of the national effort at vaccine distribution: “According to the National Task Force [NTF] Against COVID-19, around 64 percent, or 6,580,000 doses, of total vaccine supply were procured using the P72.5 billion allocation for the vaccination plan. Several manufacturers, led by China’s Sinovac, had already delivered vaccines to the Philippines resulting in these brands being available: Coronavac by Sinovac [7,500,000 doses], AstraZeneca [2,556,000 doses], Pfizer-BioNTech [2,472,210 doses], and Sputnik, the Russian vaccine by Gamaleya Research Institute [80,000 doses]. NTF data said that as of June 7, at least 8 million doses had already been distributed nationwide.”

By 29 June 2021, we get this update from Inquirer’s Krissy Aguilar: “[The] vaccine deliveries expected [are the following]: 5.5 million doses of Sinovac; 1,170,000 doses of AstraZeneca arriving between July 5 to 12; 250,800 doses of Moderna arriving on July 12; 500,000 doses of Pfizer arriving on July 12; 4 million doses from COVAX; 800,000 to 1 million doses from the U.S. government; and 1.1 million doses donated by the Japanese government… According to the Department of Health, over 10 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine had been administered as of June 27. More than 2.5 million individuals were already fully vaccinated—that is, they have received two doses.”

As of July 2021, there are more than 111 million Filipinos.

Given the disparity between vaccination rate and total population, can herd immunity ever be reached? Herd immunity could indeed be achieved if 85 percent of populations were vaccinated, also taking into consideration the emergence of the Delta variant first detected in India in February. But in a report posted on 21 June 2021, the U.K.-based think tank Pantheon Macroeconomics said that the Philippines would be among the last to reach herd immunity: “The relatively slow pace of vaccination in the Philippines implies that early 2023 probably is the best the archipelago can hope for.”


Is peace of mind only possible in 2023?

So when I got the call from the City Health Office while I was preparing to do work in the afternoon of June 25, I knew I had to jump at the chance. Waiting was no longer an option, I thought. This call was a promise to some semblance of peace of mind.

Actually, I got two calls.

First, it was a male voice who intoned with some authority: “Can you be here at Robinsons Place Dumaguete before 4 PM?”

I said yes.

“Good,” the voice said. “We will be waiting for you, sir.”

“What should I bring?”

“Bring a medical certificate, if you have one with you. And bring your own ballpen.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

“Okay, then. See you!”

I must have danced the jig in my office.

And then my phone rang again.

This time, it was no longer an unknown caller: it was Gem, the City Health Office frontliner who was my guide and angel when I went through COVID-19 in December and had to isolate myself.

“Hi, Sir!”

“Hi, Gem! Long time no hear.”

“Sir, we’re calling about your vaccination—”

“Yes, I just got the call a few minutes ago!”

“You did?”

“I did!”

“Oh, that’s good! So you’ll be going to Robinsons Place later today?”

“I’m ready to go! Will you be there?”

“I’ll be at the office—but there are other CHO people there who will help you!”

I said my thanks, and then immediately called up the significant other to tell him the good news. We already planned for this: he was going to drive me to the vaccination center, he was going to document every single phase of the process, and he was going to be my yaya in my post-vaccination state—whatever that meant. I already surrendered to the inevitability that I was going to get Sinovac, and I’d read up on its reported side effects: injection-site pain, fatigue, diarrhea, and muscle pain—most of which would be mild, and last only for two days.

Going to get my first jab felt like a birthday.

I arrived at the vaccination site close to 4 PM. At Robinsons Place’s Movieworld—which made me think of all the movies I had missed (was this their way of making us nostalgic enough for the old normal so that we’d opt for getting vaccinated?)—I sensed a controlled busyness: beyond the reception desk, you could see people milling about among the carefully distanced chairs, but there was a certainty of process in the atmosphere—something I’d quickly get acquainted to.

At the reception, I had to give my ID to check against their list of appointments made for the day—the policy of no walk-ins remained enforced “to prevent chaos”—and once that was done, I was handed a clipboard filled with forms, five in all, including a procedural checklist and sign sheet, a general information sheet that also tackled allergies and comorbidities, a health declaration screening form in Filipino, an informed consent form, and a health assessment algorithm form. Filling out the forms took the longest time. Then someone began giving us an orientation—what COVID was all about, how vaccination can help, and what the process was in getting one in the center. There was Phase 1—getting your vital signs, then Phase 2—getting counseling, then Phase 3—getting a final go-over by the physician on duty, then Phase 4—getting the vaccination, and then Phase 5—getting monitored post-vaccination. Each phase was marked by a desk manned by people from the City Health Office, and consists of a trail that looped around the area of the Movieworld lobby, with the Movieworld arc being both entrance and exit. I eyed the “photo op” area at the exit with its “I Got My Vaccine Today!” slogan emblazoned in red.

“I am definitely doing that,” I told Renz.

“But you’re not a joiner,” Renz said.

“Well, this is also about fighting misinformation. Me posting my photo on social media might convince some people they could also go for this. This is a bandwagon I’m joining in,” I said.

My number was finally called, and I headed towards the Phase 1 desk, and had my temperature checked, my blood pressure checked, and my blood oxygen saturation level checked. All my vital signs were normal. I chatted a bit with the health workers at this table—but only just enough: there were other people waiting their turn. The process felt smooth.

At Phase 2, the health worker on duty scanned my forms, and took me through a questionnaire, making sure I knew what it was I ticked and wrote down in my sheets, and making sure I knew I was getting Sinovac. “I’m fine with it,” I said. “The best vaccine is the one that’s available,” I intoned the common—but informed—line.

I actually preferred some other brand of vaccine—but now was not the time to be choosy.

“How many times have you gone through this exact questionnaire?” I asked the health officer at the Phase 2 desk.

She laughed. “What priority number do you have?”

“I’m #265,” I said, quickly looking down at my forms.

She laughed again. “That means I’ve given this whole spiel 265 times today already.”

“Oh, dear God,” I said. “How’s your voice?”

“I lost my voice last week!”

“Are you okay?”

“We’ll be fine.” She laughed again.

At Phase 3, at the very end of the Movieworld lobby, I waited to get my final consultation with the doctor on duty. He was alone in his little table, surrounded by dim light, and he looked like a forbidding figure in a mystical quest, the quiet mage who got to determine your fate. He soon motioned for me. I quickly sat in front of him—and got a battery of medical questions, most of which I could not remember now. All I could remember was the comedy of our consultation: with both of us in our garbs of face masks and face shields, we could barely make out what the other was saying. It was a whole conversation filled with, “Come again?” and “What was that?”

But I got through that—and then sat in wait for Phase 4: vaccination proper.

I’d seen the viral videos circulating: the one in Makati, where the health worker on video doing the injection did not in fact plunge the injection’s plunger, hence unable to deliver the content of the vaccine into the vaccinee; and the one in Brazil, where health workers were accused of using empty syringes—a scandal that had given rise to the term “wind vaccinations.”

As I sat in my chair waiting for the jab, Renz knew what to do: document the entire procedure, including the plunging of the injection. But I also did my part, just in case: I watched the nurse on duty take a vial, inject the syringe inside to take in the vaccine, and then do that preliminary plunge into the void to get rid of air, sprinkling tiny liquid droplets in the process. My paranoia assuaged, I waited for the bite of the needle to pierce my arm.

It was the usual needle prick pain.

But in my thoughts, this one felt eventual: I just had my first dose, my thoughts raced. I have the COVID-19 vaccine running in my veins!

For sure, it was just the first dose.

But it was one step closer to achieving the elusive peace of mind I’d been seeking for so long in this long season of the pandemic.

I thanked the jabber, and went to take my place in Phase 5—the final monitoring post-vaccination. I was told this could take as long as thirty minutes. They were going to observe if I was going to get adverse reactions to the vaccine—and in the meantime, they’d check my vital signs once more: my temperature, my blood oxygen saturation level, and my blood pressure. Then a few minutes later, they’d check everything again.

“How many times are you going to check my vital signs?” I asked.

“Twice, sir. But actually before, we used to follow the protocol of checking at least three times.”

“This means then that I’d be getting out of here early?”

“Yes, sir.”

Fantastic. Everything in less than an hour.

Many of the nurses on duty were former students of mine—which felt nice.

One of them, Jake, finally came up: “Sir Ian! This is your vaccination card.”

“Thank you, Jake. I’m glad to see you here.”

“Congratulations on your first dose, sir! Your second dose will be scheduled on July 30. The City Health Office will call you to remind you about your appointment, and also whether there will be changes in the venue.”

“Fantastic! Can I go now?”

“You can go now,” Jake smiled.

And I went, to satisfy my post-vaccination donut munchies, but not before I got my “I Got My Vaccine Today!” photo op.

To be continued…

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