Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

With P-Noy’s laid-back style, even yellow media now hint of nostalgia for GMA’s hands-on management; flying on a ‘zip line’ over Lake Sebu (in my dreams!)

I didn’t think I’d see this happening.  In view of the “disappearing act” of President Aquino when the massive floods hit Central Luzon, I detect a slight hint of nostalgia nowadays even from rabidly yellow media for Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s hands-on style in crisis. In fact I was at a gathering recently and some people recalled how she virtually pitched tent at Camp Aguinaldo during Ondoy’s onslaughts last Sept. 26, 2009 and in succeeding days.
I remember that episode well because the late Press Secretary Cerge Remonde recalled to Cecile Alvarez and me later in our dzRh program that when he arrived at the Palace that morning as Ondoy raged, he learned that GMA had already hurriedly left to catch the MRT to Cubao with just an aide---before the swirling currents on EDSA would forbid any form of travel.  Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro fetched her from the station in an Army 6X6 truck and took her to the National Disaster Control Center in Aguinaldo where she and Cabinet members were to camp out.  
Cerge recalled that after GMA’s visit to Marikina at around midnight of Sept. 26, he called up Secretary Teodoro’s wife, Nikki, to ask if she could send food as they were all roaring hungry---and Nikki managed to get it through.  In succeeding days the DSWD was well-prepared to cope with the magnitude of Ondoy, whose half a day’s rainfall was equivalent to that of five years!  Secretary Espie Cabral’s DSWD bodegas were able to more than cope as far as Northern Luzon. 


In our dzRH program last Oct. 2, Cecile Alvarez and I wanted to know from Dr. Carlo Arcilla, director of the UP’s National Institute of Geological Sciences, how the mining industry can assuage the concern articulated by former Sen. Nene Pimentel. Not too long ago, in answer to my query, Pimentel said, “I’m not anti-mining, but I want to know why some foreign companies cease to be good corporate citizens when they get here.” My first instinct when I heard Nene was to say, e kasi baka medaling ma-corrupt ang law-enforcement agencies ditto.” 


Dr. Arcilla had a more scientific answer.  He said that enforcement of mining laws and regulations can be done, and the primary agency is the Mines & Geosciences Bureau (MGB), whose people are the “police of mining in the same way that foresters are the police of the forestry sector.” He lamented, however, that government geologists are paid salaries that are only 1/5 or 1/10 of those employed by private mining firms, so they end up being pirated. In fact, he noted that there’s only one MGB official in Surigao and he gives orders to himself, as there’s no one else.
Arcilla also cited that geology as a degree course is hugely underrated, as it produces only about 30-40 people, compared to 30,000 nurses every year, when ironically Filipino geologists are grabbed right away abroad because of their good training and command of English.  He stressed that there’s a bright future for geologists and that once the mining industry picks up here full-scale, graduates would be quickly absorbed.

Dr. Arcilla noted the bright future of mining, citing as example that if every family in China were to be furnished a kitchen sink, the world’s production of nickel would have to double right away---and Ph is the closest source of nickel to China.  He also stressed that 100 years ago Sweden, Canada and Australia were far poorer than Ph, but now they are so prosperous, but also enforcing mining laws strictly, and that Chile’s poverty is only 8 percent now due to its mines. I noted, however, that despite the bright prospects for mining here the industry is meeting resistance from some sectors. So how does it propose to solve this problem?
Arcilla said he does not believe that, as oppositionists put it, it’s “Mining or Food.”  To him it should be “Mining AND Food”---let mining pay for food, health, education, etc., adding that to establish credibility the mining companies have to police themselves and throw out their bad eggs. Then too, he stressed, as we noted in the recent dialogue on Sagittarius Mines’ application in Koronadal called by Gov. Arthur Pingoy, scientists are not good communicators, compared to those opposing such activities.  And what’s worse, he quipped, is that “hindi namin alam na hindi namin alam.”

In mid-1994, just before my husband retired as commander of all Mindanao, I was able to join him in a 20-day trip that started from the SouthCom headquarters in Zamboanga City and circled all around Mindanao---from Davao to the Pacific coast to the Surigaos and Agusan and then north through Bukidnon, Cagayan de Oro and Iligan and down the Zamboangas.  In those days Mindanao was still so peaceful and the most disturbing episode was the kidnap of American bible translator Charles Walton in Basilan by Muslim elements. But we were not able to go through Cotabato, so I was quite glad to join other media for a visit to South Cotabato for that multisectoral dialogue on mining. The Socsargen area (SC, Sarangani and General Santos City) is so progressive, thanks to Dole Plantation, the largest pineapple plantation in the world, in the shadow of Mt. Matutum in Polomolok, and the thriving Fish Port in GenSan where one can see  huge tuna fish coming in on the shoulders of robust pier hands and witness fun haggling among buyers.


Gen. Cunanan had meant to take me to Lake Sebu while he was SouthCom Commander, but he never got around to it, so that when SC’s pretty first lady, Annabelle Garcia-Pingoy, invited media to visit it with her, we jumped at it. Lake Sebu is just beautiful and still so pristine with its verdant forests, calm lakes and seven waterfalls. In my younger days I would have probably dared to try the fun thing at Lake Sebu---the “zip line”--- where you’re strapped onto a seat dangling on a metal wire 182 meters from the riverbed and you zoom with lightning speed above the various waterfalls (P300 per ride) to the other side of the lake.

Another must at Lake Sebu is to try its grilled tilapia (I’m not a tilapia eater, but there I finished everything! That’s how good it was).  My only hope is that the local government would be able to restrict the proliferation of fish pens growing it on the lake. Annabelle Pingoy also related how a katutubo one day came around with this strange little animal with bulging eyes that he had never seen before;  the next day he came around with two more, and this was how SC’s tarsiers were discovered (move over, Bohol!). Today there’s a breeding station for them in the forests, says Annabelle, and one day perhaps they’d make their debut for the tourists.

South Cotabato is so rich not only in God-given minerals but also in various  indigenous cultures that are still well-preserved, such as those of the T’boli and the B’laan tribes. I was happy to note from Dr. Glenn Bisnar, DepEd’s Program Supervisor for Region XII, that indigenous T’boli weaving of its tinalak remains very much a living art (also the cultural emblem of the province) and being imparted to younger generations by no less than Lang Dulay, the National Living Treasure Awardee, and haute couture designer Randy Ortiz, Manila-based but proudly born in SC,  who fashions the fabled tinalak into modern creations. 

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