Saturday, September 15, 2007

Provincial landmarks of Davao del Sur

A taste of kakanin at Mers
(something for everyone)

Where else in this part of the country can one sample delectable and tempting delicacies, mouth-watering bibingka (puddings made of ground rice, sugar and coconut milk, baked in a clay oven), and a variety of other kakanins if not in Mers?

Conveniently located at the corner of Rizal and Lapu-lapu Streets and just a few meters away from the city hall of Digos City, Mers is the perfect stop-over for leg-stretching and relaxing cramped feet on long-distance trips from Davao City to Cotabato, General Santos or from anywhere else in the South.

Famed for its "bibingka" (rice cakes) whose secret recipe has been handed down for three generations, Mers has already become a byword not only in Mindanao and the country but even abroad.

Dining at Mers can be a welcome treat that promises a different taste that you just can't help but go back for more.

Aside from bibingka, one can relish other diversified kakanins like puto, puto maya (glutinous rice), torta, suman malagkit, palitao, sapin-sapin, bitso-bitso, bico, maja blanca, special casava cake, tupig and others.

Flush these down with gulps of your choice of coffee, tea, milk or milo, softdrinks, and even hot sikwate or hot chocolate.

My favorites are the tupig (ground sticky rice wrapped in banana leaf and broiled) and the bico which practically swims in sweet syrup.

"We opted to go for diversified kakanins to suit the taste of all our clients because there are those who don't like bibingka but likes other kakanin," Zeny, one of Mers' children who took over the business said.

The latest addition to the Mers menu is their puto cheese.
"What makes our puto cheese unique is that you get the real taste of what is advertised. Meaning, if you choose ube, its real ube you will taste," she added.

Mers also offers a selection of turo-turo or "inato" meals to cater to its growing clientele.

To maintain its distinctive taste, Zeny personally conducts a taste-test in the kitchen every day. Mers bibingka as large as a child's grinning face piping hot from the oven are available as early as 5 a.m. By midmorning, Mers display stalls are almost empty.

Mers bibingka easily gained reputation and won the patronage of the residents. Word quickly spread by word of mouth and very soon, Mers opened its doors to customers from all walks of life and from all over the country.

"Mers' bibingka has a taste that is only ours. This is a secret family recipe my mother got from her mother in the early 50's, and this makes our bibingka famous," Zeny said.

Lowly beginnings

Mers is owned by the family of Gumercinda "Mers" Sagolili Cago. The family business started in Carcar, Cebu in the early 1950's.

Mers was the fourth child in the family. Her parents started the bibingka business in Carcar in the early 1950's but Mers moved to Digos in 1973 and started her own bingka business.

Mers has six children, all professiionals but it is Zeny, the chemical engineer who took over the reins after her Mers died in November 2004.

"All of us siblings take turns in managing the family business but its mainly I who is in charge, this is my full time career," Zeny said.

Starting with a P200 capital producing bibingka from 10 kilos of rice daily in 1973, Mers has come a long way and is now using at least two sacks of rice to make bibingka everyday.

Export opportunities

Zeny said they have visions of expanding their market internationally. They have already tied up with Department of Science and Technology (Dost) for market opportunities.

"Our vision is to export to Asia Pacific because there are many Filipinos there," Zeny said, adding that it is not impossible because the shelf life of Mers bibingka can last up to one year if kept frozen.
She added that Mers plans to open a branch in Davao City.

For anyone who wants to eat genuine bibingka that will leave you craving for more, Mers is the answer.


Davao Oriental

On gently rolling hills overlooking the municipality of Mati, Davao Oriental is a huge plantation producing the province's sweetest mangoes, pomelo, ponkan and others.

Menzi Farmers Cooperative (Mefco), formerly Menzi Agricultural Corporation fell under the CARP law in August 1, 1991 under Republic Act 6567.

Of the sprawling 413.86 hectares, 63 hectares are planted to 2,086 mango trees; 110 hectares are planted to 27,000 pomelo trees, 20 hectares are planted to valencia oranges, 18 hectares are planted to King mandarin, 19 hectares planted to poncan, and 110 hectares are planted to coconuts.
To date, 35 hectares remain undeveloped but this is considered for mango plantation under Mefco management. Four hectares of the area is used for the housing units of the employees.

Miguelito D. Angana, Mefco chairman said that aside from the original mango and coconut trees in the area, all the other trees are under the Mefco management.

"When the company became Mefco, all the 138 former employees were absorbed as cooperative members," Angana said.

Angana said they have turned over the 63 hectares of mango plantation to the management of DOLE, Phils. Inc. under a 10-year contract.

"Our annual mango production before was ony 500 metric tons a year. We saw that DOLE could do better, whie we get 30 percent share of the gross income," Angana said.
They expected a profit of P7-8 million from the mango plantation for the whole contract.

"Dole Phils can double the profits we used to get from our exportable Philippine mango (also known as mangga kalabaw)
because they have the latest technology," Angana said.

From the mangoes come delicious by products that are slowly gaining popularity among the local folks and visitors as well.

"We are producing mango puree and mango chips. Although we are only supplying the local needs, we have tied up with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Department of Science and Technology (Dost) to expand our market, improve the packaging and labeling of our products for us to be able to compete in the market," Angana said.

DOST provided technology and processing equipment that could process 200 liters of mango puree daily or roughly 4,000 liters a month and a mango chips dehydtrator (solar dryer) with a capacity of 500 kilograms of ripe mangoes that nets 70 kilogramss after 30 hours of processing.

Angana said the company is not yet earning from the mandarin and poncan as it is still in its pre-operational stage.
Pomelo production, he added, produces 10 tons per hectare per year under normal conditions while the coconut plantation earns an average of 120 tons of copra a year.

Angaya admitted that Mefco is going through financial difficulties following price increase of farm requirements and production cost.

"More inputs mean a higher production cost. This will produce a cascading effect where everything is affected," Angaya said.

Mefco operates solely on its income, derived from proceeds of its products.

In 2003, Mefco poured about P23 million in investments on yet non-bearing trees like the pomelo and mandarin.
The Return of Investments for these products is very slow and will only start coming in after 11-15 years, Angaya said.

Mefco is also suffering from the sting of the El Ni¤o or drought which plagued the province since July last year, reducing the production by 20-30 percent.
ing to issues but the international business community.

Extending a hand in peace

THE peaceful quiet of barangay Bagoinged in Pikit, Cotabato was broken with the arrival of vehicles loaded with medical supplies, medical staff and local government officials arrived to hold a one day medical mission on May 19.
Hundreds of residents trooped to the barangay hall where a medical team waited to serve their medical needs like eye check-up," dental services, operation "tuli" and other services for free. The medical outreach was made possible in coordination with Pikit Municipal Health Office, Cruzada Medical hospital, Midsayap Community Hospital, local government unit, non-government organizations, and Handicap International
Meanwhile, an hour and a half ride onboard a chopper took us to barangay Liangga in Surigao del Sur for another relief operation and medical outreach program on May 24.
More than 300 family-evacuees affected by the armed hostilities benefited from a relief assistance extended by the GOP-UNDP-EC Programme on Rehabilitating Internally Displaced Persons and Communities in Southern Philippines (IDP programme).
The programme, in collaboration with the local government units conducted medical assistance and distributed food packages containing rice, sardines, noodles, milk, dried fish and others.
Recipients of the relief aid were from some of the barangays of San Miguel, Marihatag, San Agustin and Liangga who were earlier displaced by a series of hostility outbreaks between government soldiers and the rebel troops in the area.
Sec. Jesus G. Dureza, Chair of Mindanao Economic Development Council (Medco) and national programme director of GOP-UNDP-EC IDP Programme, said that complementary measures are being done to speed up rehabilitation efforts in affected communities in other areas.
He said the IDP is one of the high-impact strategies in conflict-affected communities, boosting the efforts of the national government in reducing the level of conflicts in some areas in Mindanao through continued peace-building and peacekeeping measures.
"The assistance we give you is just to meet your immediate needs. What we need is for you to attain peace, to be able to work in your fields and live in your houses without fear," Dureza said.
GOP-UNDP-EC IDP Programme is implemented by the Arroyo government through the Mindanao Economic Development Council (Medco) and United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to facilitate rehabilitation and resettlement of at least 10,000 displaced families in Southern Philippines with P203 million funding assistance from European Commission.
The programme carries out assistance pinned on three major components such as relief assistance and confidence-building, rehabilitation and culture of peace and access to justice.

Rizal Park is home for the city’s homeless

The night was getting cold. Mang Tino slapped the mosquito that landed on his arm as he looked up at the clock on the tower above him; 11 o’clock, it says.
He was growing sleepy and yet there was no sign of any of his sons who were supposed to fetch him, thankful to stand up after sitting for so long. He picked up his tin can and jiggled the remaining coins. Only three one-peso coins were left after his younger son got the twenty pesos earlier to buy rice for supper. Three pesos. Not even enough to buy one sorry-looking dried fish. Wearily, he got up, every muscle of his 83-year old body protesting.
Mang Tino is a widowed beggar who works at the Rizal Park every night. He starts at 5 in the afternoon and goes home at 11 p.m. Home is a small shanty in Artiaga Street he shares with his two teen-age sons. Jonas, 17, and Jun, 14, occasionally drives a trisikad to earn money to help Mang Tino buy food. The boys had to earn money for themselves because he had nothing to give them. He couldn’t even afford to send them to school.
At his age, Mang Tino should have grandsons already but he married late and was widowed after just a few years. Mang Tino has been begging in his favorite spot under the city clock tower for three years already. During the Marcos regime, he had been a garbage collector in the city but lost that job when Cory Aquino took over the presidency.
Oftentimes, he falls asleep while sitting down as he waits for generous people to drop coins in his can. Sometimes he collects 40 pesos or more but on rainy nights, he often goes home empty-handed because he would have to take shelter from the rain and people would be too busy seeking shelter to pay attention to an old man’s stretched arm. Christmas is his peak season because people are more generous then.
Mang Tino is forced to stay home on some nights when his kidney ailment and rheumatism attack. Still hoping one of his sons will fetch him, he look around the park, letting his weary eyes roam. His regular “classmates” at the part are still there.
fifty-one year old Badong was still in his place selling balut and penoy. Mang Badong has been selling balut and penoy at Rizal park for 13 years now. He sells from 100-200 pieces nightly. This increases to 300 when there are affairs at the plaza that would gather more people. He starts at 6 p.m. and goes home at 1 in the morning.
Badong has five children, plus two nephews who stays at their house in Washington Stree. Badong pays a nightly municipal ticket of two pesos.
Mang Tino would sometimes envy Badong. How many times he found himself wishing he had the capital too so he can sell something instead of beg, but that remains a wish. Money in his memory is limited to coins. It had been centuries ago since he last touched a wad of bills.
Mang Tino saw his younger classmate Felix of Barangay Busna also preparing to go home. His display of fried peanuts and siopao are almost gone. Felix is the sole income-earner of their family. His wife stays at home and minds their three kids. When people feel like spending more, Felix sells from 00 to 200 pieces of siopao and on nights when there will be affairs in the plaza, he sells 300 and even more. He disposes from three to 10 kilos of peanuts every night. Felix had been in this business for about a year. Like Badong, he also pays a two-peso ticket nightly.
Lynlyn, of SIR Sandawa in New Matina is trying to call customers to have a cup of coffee. She has a painitan where she serves customers. She also sells snacks like softdrinks, puto, puto maya, noodles, bingka, and other delicacies. Lynlyn has three children and is the breadwinner of the family. She opens her painitan at 8 in the evening and she goes home at 8 in the morning- a full 12 hours work without rest. Lynlyn earns a meager income ofP200-300 every night, barely enough to make ends meet.
Mang Tino slowly walked to ask Lynlyn for a glass of water before going home. He saw the stage of the park was almost full. The regular nightly lodgers had settled in for the night, the unfortunates who have no place to call home. Nana Ising, another beggar is already off to dreamland, her feet wrapped in a cellophane to ward off mosquitoes. Her grandson lay curled up beside her hugging a worn-out teddy bear he picked up from the garbage can earlier. The frail old man with deep-set eyes lay curled in one corner of the stage. No one knew his name, but according to Badong, the man had already been there long before he started his balut/penoy business.
Inday, the corn seller had gone home a couple of hours earlier. Business had been brisk for her. It was cold and the nilung-ag nga mais (broiled corn) she sold was hot. She had to go home to feed her two young daughters who were left in the care of a neighbor. She was able to dispose 125 ears of corn tonight. She needed money very badly to buy medicine for the cough of her youngest daughter.
Mario and Dada, the mango-vendor couple had also gone home to Times Beach. Their shanty was due for demolition and they needed money badly, too. They were only able to dispose 120 mangoes for four hours. They had to stop by Dada’s mother in Bankerohan to fetch their three children before going home.
Mang Tino slowly picked up his cane and started the tiresome walk towards his home. He was not so hungry tonight because a kind looking man gave him some left-overs of a packed meal. That would have to do for supper, he decided. His tired body screamed for rest. He would have loved to stretch out and sleep beside several other regular boarders on the stage, but no, he’d developed a trauma already. He had been a bedspacer of the stage before but after his worn wallet containing his night’s meager earnings was picked by some heartless fellow, he would rather walk all the way home, as he does every night save for those nights when by some kind of miracle one of his sons would fetch him on a trisikad.
He couldn’t afford to waste four pesos for fare when his feet could still walk for him. His two sons disapprove of his job but there’s nothing they could do. Mang Tino would not go out begging during daytime because his frail body couldn’t stand the heat, and besides he heard that the city government is out to shoo the sidewalk vendors away from their places. He’d rather beg at night because he believes government officials won’t bother their restful sleep just to shoo them away.
Mang Tino, Mario, Dada, Inday, Nana Ising, Felix, Lynlyn are not just names. They are real people living real lives at Rizal park and their number is growing. Some, like Mang Tino have shanties to go home to, others have found shelter in the stage park. Whether working or resting at Rizal Park, their presence speaks of a multitude of problems that the city is facing, or maybe refuses to face, for the sight can only be witnessed when most of us are comfortably sleeping.

Memories of the Manili Massacre

Memories of the Manili massacre just won't die. At least for the relatives of the victims and for Barangay Captain Teng Addie Nagli in Barangay Manili in Carmen, Cotabato.

As a seven-year old child then, Nagli has only the faintest memories of that fateful day of June 19, 1971 when he survived a grenade blast in a mosque full of people but the pain remains. He lost both his parents and more than a hundred other relatives and neighbors.

"The community was called for a meeting inside the mosque at dawn by PC Captain Langgam," recalls Nagli. He said men, women and children braved the rain and biting cold to be able to attend the meeting.

"We had no idea that the supposed-to-be peace and order meeting would snuff the lives of many of our relatives and neighbors," Nagli said.

He narrated that when all the people were inside the mosque, the armed men bolted the men's entrance but kicked open the women's entrance.

Nagli said the armed men ordered his father to go out and surrender his guns and other firearms.

"Wala man mi mga armas ug wala mi mai-surrender. Gidala nila akong papa sa among balay duol ra pud sa mosque ug nakadungog mi ug buto. Gipusil nila akong papa (we had no firearms so there's nothing to surrender. They brought my father to our house a few meters away from the mosque and then I heard shots. They killed my father at close range)," Nagli recalls.

Nagli said that Captain Langgan then told the people inside the mosque to call on their God and pray because they would all be killed.

"Gilabay nila ug granada ang sulod sa mosque. Mura ko ug milupad 10 inches gikan sa salog ug nakit-an nako ang parte-parte sa lawas sa mga tawo nipilit sa kisame sa mosque (They lobbed a grenade at the mosque and I felt myself lifted from the ground. Then I saw body parts stick to the ceiling of the mosque)," Nagli added.

Nagli recalled that he was shielded by the others who were nearer to the grenade, thus he was spared from death. He however sid that he could not forget the stench of the ankle-deep blood which flooded the floor of the mosque to his dying day.

"Ang ako lang mahinumduman init kaayo ang dugo ug nadat-ugan ko ug daghang mga lawas mao nga wala ko makita sa mga sundalo (all I can remember the blood was so warm and bodies heaped all over me so the soldiers did not see me still alive)," Nagli recollects.

He added that when the armed men were no longer around, he saw all the dead lying in a pool of ankle-deep blood. There was a child with a hack wound on the head; an old man with a dagger still stuck to his right waist," Nagli added painfully.

"This is where I cried. I'll never forget what I saw till the day I die. Even up to now when I think about it my heart tightens. Mora'g maka-revenge gihapon ko (It makes me want to take revenge) because the wounds of the incident is till here," Nagli added.

He also said that the incident triggered the war to erupt between the military and the Muslims.
"Justice has not been served to us until this time, so it's not that easy to forget," Nagli said.

Charred Remains

The group of media practitioners from Davao City headed towards the burial site beside a big kaymito (tar apple) tree which stands guard as a silent witness to the massacre
three decades ago.

Only the charred, waist-high remains of the mosque walls stood as a mute reminder that beneath the grassy patch lay the bodies of 72 people who were killed in a heartless massacre.

Hadja Hafia Joy, chairperson of the Socsargen state revolutionary committee and an ex-Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) combatant was unable to contain herself and wept as the memories of the massacre and the loss of her loved-ones engulfed her.

"Hindi basta-basta maaalis ang sakit na nararamdaman namin. Ang mga Muslim ay hindi dapat pinapatay na parang mga hayop (it's not that easy to erase the pain that we felt. Muslims should not be killed as though we're animals)," Joy said.

She added that what added to the pain is that the Christians helped the military in the pursuit against them without even digging into the roots of the conflict.
Joy said she can relate to the pain because few days after the Manili massacre, hundreds of Muslims were slaughtered in a similar incident inside a mosque in Malisbong, Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat.

Glimmer of Hope

For about three decades after the massacre, the people of Manili have been left on their own to face both man-made and natural calamities. The Manili residents suffered more clamities in the following years, like the infestation by rats and locusts, the El Nino, and the "all-out-war" of 2000 that burned their only school building and another mosque.

The barangay of Manili, which is just about 10 minutes motorcyle ride from the main highway seemed isolated from rest of the world and did not receive any assistance from the government.

They fought their own battles and only got a taste of assistance when Government of the Philippines/ United Nations Multi-Donor Programme (GOP-UNDP) came and offered development assistance to war-affected communities right after the signing of the GRP-MNLF Final Peace Agreement in 2001.

Rehabilitation started in 2001 with the help of the GOP-UN/MDP3. Eighty (80) housing units were constructed and distributed to residents in Sitios Bual, Kanaman and Center. A Barangay Development Planning was conducted to address the community's needs in August 2002.

The Multi-Donor Programme has identified Manili as a Relief and Rehabilitation community and consequently a Peace and Development Community (PDC). As a PDC it has undergone community organizing and capacity-building activities.

Peace and Development Advocate (PDA) Eddie Yap said that the community had just had training on Early Warning and Disaster Preparedness conducted by the Relief and Rehabilitation component of the GOP-UNMDP3 in August 2002. They were able to put into good use what they had just learned.

Presently, there are already 163 PDC's in 15 provinces in
Mindanao and replication plans are underway in the provinces of Davao del Sur, Sarangani and Western Mindanao.

Yap said that the 163 PDC's are all doing successfully well in their respective areas. With 1,500 PDA's working hand in hand with the residents of the 163 PDC's, transformation from socio-political government to peace and loving advocates is not hard to attain.

The pain may not be totally erased from the memories of the living relatives of those who perished in the Manili massacre but with the assistance and guidance of the GOP-UNMDP, their lives must go on.*

Ilianons: Home at Last

The guns are silenced, each one sealed and safely locked away, hopefully forever. The stench of gunpowder permeating the air is replaced by the sweet aroma freshly-pressed sugarcane tubes passing though the newly-installed Muscovado processing facility that would bring a big change to the lives of the 1,280 residents living in 227 households in the area.

Gone are the days when peace of mind and body was a remote fantasy as residents of this farm in Matalam, Cotabato go to sleep with the fear that anytime during the night, war will erupt and send them off from the comforts of their beds and drive them away from their homes.

The wounds of war had been healed. Ilian has successfully shaken off its images of its being a war zone. The days spent in evacuation centers engulfed in fear, loss and deprivation of freedom and all earthly possessions remain but a memory as residents get up from the ashes of a bitter and war-torn yesterday.

Farmers can now plow their fields and plant their crops without having the burden of carrying their guns on their backs to protect themselves from the enemy.
Now, one can see crops and vegetables creeping around the houses as each household take part in planting sustainable crops that would augment the economic stability of the family.

A major change was brought about when the government of the Philippines-United Nations Multi-donor Programme (GOP-UNMDP 3) and Mindanao Land Foundation, a non-government organization turned-over the P761,000 community-based Muscovado Processing Facility to Ilian Moro Farmers Association in Barangay Ilian on May 19 this year as an act of sustaining its peace agreement.

The Muscovado project is "a response to the peace and development plan that would strengthen the call for peace and development," said Winston Camari¤as, UNMDP project coordinator.

In Wednesday's visit to the area, Ilian barangay captain Cutin M. Idtug told Australian Ambassador Ruth Pearce that the barangay folks had been given training for sugarcane planting and brown sugar production provided by the GOP-UNMDP 3 and the Technical Educations Skills Development Authority (Tesda).

In addition to this, Ilian farmers were also given trainings on non-farm livelihood activities but most of all, they received trainings in culture of peace, which, according to Idtug is the most worthwhile because it helped the farmers understand the importance of peace.

Looking at the still and quiet barangay of Ilian, one would never guess that this very place had been the center of conflict between the military troops and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MNLF), and between the MNLF and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) from the early 70's to 1996.

Bordered by Barangay Natutungan in the north and barangay Kilada in the south, Ilian is a typical farming barangay of Matalam, Cotabato covering 684-hectares of sugarcane, rice and corn fields.
Ilian was declared as a Peace and Development Community (PDC) by the Selatan Kutawato State Revolutionary Committee on September 5, 2000
Of the whole area, 205 hectares is planted with sugarcanes, 208 hectares planted with planted with corn, 101 hectares for rice and the rest are for bio-diversified plants and crops of bananas, coconuts, mangoes and Gmelina trees, and other sustainable plants.

Ilian is only accessible by land transportation from Matalam the during good weather but when the water level in Marber river which cuts Ilian from the nearest barangay road rises, Ilian is cut-off from the rest of the barangays.

"This area where the MNLF is based became a no man's land for several years," MNLF commander Aladin Datu Dima Ambel Al-haji of the Selatan Kuwatawo State Revolutionary Committee told Sun.Star in an interview on Wednesday.

Ambel said he was only 26 years old when war erupted in Ilian in 1973.

"There is no war between Christians and Muslims. The war is only between the MNLF and the government," Ambel said, adding that they now look at the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as their brothers.

"We now support the government, and right now we need more ammunitions- not to fight the soldiers but to fight poverty, dahil ito ang pinakamatinding kaaway ng lahat (this is everyone's biggest enemy)," Ambel added.

Ambel added that they had already surrendered all their firearms to the government as a sign that they embraced the
peace building programs.

Ilian barangay captain Cutin M. Idtug said that the only counterpart of the people in their place is their unity.

"The most important trainings we received had been those on the culture of peace. The peace that we have here is because of those trainings," Idtug said.

He added that before the war, Ilian residents were a very sad and displaced people but now they are happy and every household has taken part in the biggest development which is the capacity building of the people.

Idtug said the economic status of the 227 households in Ilian have greatly improved through the project-capacity building.
"I would like to thank the joint effort of the Australian and the Philippine government for understanding and seeing the needs of our community," he added.

With funds streaming in from the GOP-UN MDP3, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) with the local government units, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), and the Special Zone for Peace and Development (SZOPAD), the Ilian residents picked themselves up from the ravages of war.

Ilian qualified for development support through the assistance programs of the GOP-UN MDP 3 and these is largely due to the initiatives of its two peace and development advocates (PDAs) who are non-MNLF combatants who offer voluntary service as mobilizers of the PDC.
The PDAs, who are Idtug and Zainuddin Mamangkas worked closely with the government officials and the local government units in the peace advocacy.

"Because of the assistance of the GOP-UN MDP Phase 3, the warn-torn area of Ilian is growing and improving," Idtug said.
He added that because of their perseverance, they were able to build 205 core shelters from the P9 million fund from the DSWD. Ilian was also able to access P850,000 from the Islamic Fund and constructed two mosques and a Madraza or a muslim school.

From the P820,000 funding from the Department of Labor and Employment, Ilian residents were able to construct a warehouse to reduce the cost of post harvest damages for their crops, and solar drier and other equipment.

From the Presidential Social Fund of P250,000, they were able to build a school building to cater to the educational needs of the little children, a barangay health center and a barangay hall from the P140,000 funds provided by Senator Gringo Honasan and from the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA).

Today, Ilian is a far cry from the barely-recognizable barangay six years ago. The tall grass and thick shrubs that covered the entire area were replaced by crops. The residents who were used to fleeing at the sound of a gunfire finally acquired peace and returned home to start anew, glad to be home at last.*

In and out of a drug den

The 'restaurant we were heading for was located somewhere in the center of a slum area in the city. We had to pass through several houses on stilts and accessed by way of crudely-built bridges. I shuddered at the filthy surroundings- not to mention the sickening odors emanating from the houses built so close to each other and the murky water below us.

Had it not been for my burning curiousity, I wouldn't have set foot in such surroundings, and besides, it took all their power of persuasion for for my two companions Jet and Ces, to prod me to accompany them on this illegal expedition.

Jet knocked on a closed door, gave a passwork and it was opened by a sharp-eyed woman. She gestured towards me, a newcomer. After my companions assured her that I posed no danger, she let us into the one-room house. Everything was in a disarray. A curtain served as a divider. Two smutty-looking boys were playing in a corner of the house whlie a baby was crying lustily in a hammock, calling for the attention of its mother who at that time was entertaining customers-us.

After some whispering she handed a transparent packet to Jet which contained a whilt crystalline substance. I peered at it closely and had my first sight of shabu. Jet sat on the lone bench and prepared the paraphernalia needed for a single session. I watched wide-eyed with curiousity as Jet and Ces started to sniff the stuff, my heart pounding out of fear should police materialize and discover the 'restaurant'.

I used 'restaurant' because immediately after we left, a couple of young men came inwith the same purpose, and as Jet explained, the customers frequent the place as often as they need. The whole session lasted less than five minutes.

Before we left, I found the guts to ask the woman if she was not afraid of being arrested for her illegal business. She looked me in the eye and said she had no other option. Her husband had been in jail for more than a year after he was arrested by police when he delivered shabu to a customer.

"Look at these kids. What will I feed them if I will stop this business? I know no other way to earn money,"

As we headed back to the terminal, Jet and Ces began to be very talkative and alert. I was told the feeling of being 'high' would last for six to seven hours. depending on the dosage and the immunity of the system to the substance. If one is a frequent user, there is a need to increase the dosage and "high" period is shorter. i couldn't weait to observe them when the effects of the substance would face- a phase they call "low bat". (low battery)

I'm talking about that "crystal-llike, money-draining substance that had sent thousands of men and women to jail, broken so many lives and families and crushed so many hopes for a bright future. It is aptly described as a 'rush to crash'.

It's generic name is methampethamine hydrochloride or "shabu". Excessive use of this drug can produce addiction and when stopped, the user will experience withdrawal symptoms.

Some of the side effects of using shabu includes changes in sex drive, impotence, diarrhea, dizziness, dry mouth, exaggerated feeling of well-being, feeling of unwellness or unhapiness, restlessness, sleeplessness, stomach/intestinal problems, rapid/irregular heartbeats, tremors, unpleasant taste, worsening of tics and Tourette's syndrome (severe twitching). Twitching can't be controlled that's why most users of this drug are into chewing gums.
The drug menace has victimized so many young men and women. Last year drug-related cases of violation of Republic Act 6425/9165 ranked 5th out of the more than 8,000 cases received by the Davao city prosecution office with 268 cases.

Kadayawan from behind the scene

LIFE for the people behind the kadayawan festival is not all wrapped in glamour and profit as what people imagine. What is hidden from the public's view is that behind the fanfare are only a small group of dedicated people exerting efforts and experiencing frustrations that were just taken for granted.

According to former Kadayawan sa Davao Festival Inc. (KDFI) President Froilan G. Ampil in an interview, the City Government handled the previous kadayawan festivals prior to 1995.

Ampil said Mrs. Fe Ayala, proprietor of Eden Nature Park in Toril, Davao City once asked Mayor Rodrigo Duterte in jest why he won't give the festival management to them, the flower people.

Mayor Duterte did, and through an executive order, entrusted the management of the festival to KDFI on December 1995 mostly because he was not happy due to alleged "anomalies" (note quotation marks), which kept on occurring every year in the management of the festival.

Ayala invited Ampil to join the KDFI although he is not a flower planter to put system into the operations of the program and to look into the funds to be generated.

"KDFI handled the kadayawan festival for the first time in 1996. The following year we saw the festival really grow. We invited outsiders to join the festival. Participants from as far as Tacurong, Sultan Kudarat and Placer, Surigao joined the celebration," Ampil said.

Due to political considerations, Ampil withdrew from presidency in 1998 and stayed on as a member of the board.

Squabbles, which Ampil did not elaborate, existed within the group. Despite the squabbles, an election of officers pushed through in the year 1999 where Id Acaylar emerged as president while Mrs. Dolly Soriano was the chairperson.

Ampil took over the presidency of the foundation again for the year 2001-2002 with Acaylar as chairperson.

Ampil lamented the fact while the KDFI was given the task to handle the festivities through an Executive Order issued by mayor Duterte, they are not getting enough support.

"Siguro, our expectation is that we will be treated as their partner and therefore should be granted more (stressed) benefits than the usual event organizers. Parang lumalabas na private organizers kami," Ampil said.

"Some government agencies are looking at us as a private group. We are indeed a private group but under the mandate of the mayor," Ampil added.

"I said only SOME government agencies. Most are cooperating with us, but there are still some who can not see that what we are doing actually is for the city as mandated by the mayor," he added.

Ampil said it's also unfortunate that the private sectors who ultimately benefits from the festival are at times not cooperative, most especially in funds contribution.

He said they had to rely on Manila companies to provide funding for the festival.

"The money we receive for the budget is from national offices, like Smart, SM in Manila, and others. From Davao we only receive very small amounts like P500 - P1,000," Ampil lamented.

Among the hardships the foundation suffers is that during other celebrations like Araw ng Davao, business establishments in the city easily shell out huge amounts while KDFI is having a very hard time soliciting funds.

"Maybe because we do not request the mayor to sign our letters and it makes a great difference," Ampil said.

The foundation is not spared the usual deluge of allegations regarding money matters. Recently, they had been accused of not filing financial statements before the Securities and Exchange Commission plus a hundred and one other allegations, which, unfortunately they weren't even given a chance to present their side.

Ampil said the City Council even invited him to answer some questions on taxation concerning the income from the booth rentals at the Agro-trade fair at SM Park.

"Taxable daw yung booth rentals (The booth rentals are taxable). That is basically donation because whatever excess money we make out of that is spent also for the festival," Ampil said.

He added that they are following the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) law on foundations that they can only use 30% of their earnings for administrative expenses.

"Akala nila maraming pera ang foundation, 30 percent from earnings yan ha, not from the gross budget," Ampil clarified.

"Ang iniisip ng tao, yung P8 million na budget, may kurakot na naman. Eh, wala namang pera. Eight million is the budget and not the cash component," he added.

He explained that the P8-million budget for the kadayawan festival is not all in cash component. They do exchange deals with other companies to meet the budget. Some publishers gave them advertisement spaces, while some gave plane tickets, foods, and other deals.

The funds solicited for the kadayawan festival goes to pay for prizes for the different contests, as well as other expenses. At the Agro trade fair, an entrance fee of P2 for children and P4 for adults is collected but for students with ID, entrance is free.

The foundation has to pay for electricians and five security guards who are on a 24-hour duty at the trade fair. They also pay for their food, and if the Davao City Police Office and the traffic division will add more forces as requested, the foundation has to feed them. Ampil said they are also paying P60,000 for four toilets at the Agro-trade fair from August 10-24 (15 days).

"We have to pay for electricity, water, communications, and even the flags decorated at the trade fair, we spent at least P7,000 for that," Ampil said.

The foundation only collects an annual fee of P750 for each of the 160 members who are basically flower growers.

Not all members pay at same date so collection won't be in lump. Membership to the foundation is also open even to non-flower growers as long as one is from the original Davao province.

Ampil said they are not receiving any salary or incentives for their work. The officers generate fundings but they don't receive commissions on solicitations.

The sad truth, according to Ampil, is that there is only a small group of people working for the Kadayawan festival.

"That's the life behind Kadayawan. The festival is growing and whoever will take over must continue that," Ampil said.

Because the foundation can't rely on the foundation for political reasons, they started the home bio-system in 2001, developed and proposed by Mr. Jose Nobleza Jr, member of Kadayawan DFI.

The system basically deals on the "preparation of an indigenous micro-organism solution for enhancing the composting properties of biodegradable matters".

The foundation tied up with the public schools because of the solid waste management act prescribed to educate the students on waste management.

The home biosystem is anchored on the principle that each house or home should start a solid waste management, it's their responsibility as a family, because if family head (father or mother) will not accept solid waste management, then lets forget all about the garbage that we have.

Ampil said of the 15 schools that joined the contest, most if not all are earning because of the vegetables they are growing out of the home biosystem.

Ampil said the municipality of Davao del Sur had adapted the home biosystem as their official solid waste management program.

"We're slowly gaining grounds outside Davao City, the only thing we lack is actually private funding," he said.

On August 20, a congress of all practitioners of the homebio system will be held at the Matina Town Square from 8 am-5 pm where they will be talking about the practices, problems they encountered, and sharing of ideas about the program.

This week, with Chairperson and City Tourism Officer Id Acaylar and President Susan Durano at the helm, the people will once again witness the kadayawan festival, a celebration of life and thanksgiving, in all it's splendor.

Lessons about strawberries

A story of perseverance in the mountains

Strawberries do not grow on trees but on the ground. This is what I learned when I visited barangay Baganihan in Marilog District a few days ago to take a look at this fruit that Mindanaoans consider as a novelty whose price is way above the range of most pockets.
But it won't be long before this fruit most of us tag as "dollars" (expensive) will be sold at wallet-friendly prices after the city government showed intertest to support its cultivation and production.
The promise of a profitable income from strawberry cultivation enticed farmers in Marilog to shift from vegetable farming but the road is not paved with roses for them.
Baganihan kagawad Bilma M. Fuertes, chairman of the Baganihan Agri-Eco Ventures Cooperative (BAVC) formerly the Maharlika Multi-Purpose Cooperative (MMPC) at Sitio Epol, Barangay Baganihan said that they went through hard times experimenting with the strawberry cultivation.
"Many vegetable farmers turned to strawberry cultivation and after our first harvest, we were very elated for strawberries sold at P250 per kilo. Alas, the strawberry plants refused to yield anymore fruits. We were discouraged," Fuertes said.
Seeing the needs of the farmers, Strategic Development Cooperation Asia (SDCA), a foreign funded non-government organization consulted three experts to assess the strawberry potentials in Epol in 2003.
SDCAsia program adviser Ivan Idrobo with the Davao Project team provided the strawberry farmers with the necesary technical knowledge to cultivate and process strawberries.
Edwin Balaki, Dole executive conducted the initial assessment.
"In Epol, the yield is only 1.3 tons/hectare, way below average of 10 tons/hectare in Benguet," Balaki said. He added that both places showed similarities in weather, elevation, soil type and other factors that is conducive to strawberry cultivation.
Farmers underwent a series of lectures which gave them helpful tips which included studying diferent types and climactic requirements of strawberry plants. They were also taught the basics of land preparation, runner segregation, establishment of nurseries, proper way of picking, transplanting and planting, fertilization and irrigation, mulching, pruning and disease and insect control, proper harvest and post-harvest practices, farm record management.
After the SDCAsia intervention, the farmers realized that their poor harvest was due to not following right techniques in strawberry cultivation.
"Strawberries are very sensitive plants. They have to be cared for and pampered like a baby everyday," SDCAsia team member Manny Quisol said.
"By building the community's image and ensuring that everybody produces good quality products, they improve their competitiveness and increase individual earning potentials," Marian Boquiren, SDCAsia program manager said.
SDCAsia also saw to the needs of the farmers after harvesting. SDCAsia food technologist Chin Nobleza taught them the right processing of the strawberries to jams, marmalade and syrup.
They were made to undergo training on Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) where they were made to observe the right procedures in strawberry processing, like working in a clean environment, sanitation, use of gloves and hairnets, sterilization, and others.
"The trainings made a great difference for us from the planting time up to processing," Fuertes said.
Fuertes said that they are fast gaining popularity after they joined trade fairs and motorists plying Davao-Bukidnon route now make it a habit to stop to buy strawberry jam, marmalade or syrup, or fresh strawberries.
To date, BAVC has only 34 members but the recruitment for membership is ongoing in order to come up with a sufficient supply of strawberries and make it competitive in the market.
"We require members to maintain at least 500 hills (plants) of strawberries, undergo seminars on Good Manufacturing Processes, processing and production seminar, and deliver at least 30% of harvest to cooperative per harvest," Fuertes said.
Jun Salvaceon, one of the strawberry cultivators started with 100 hills (plants). He planted more and reached 2,500 hills which yielded a harvest three kilograms every other day only.
"After the SDCAsia trainings, I was able to harvest six to seven kilograms every harvest, which is every other day," Salvaceon said.
Truly, proper trainings and knowhow and a lot of perseverance can spell the difference between success and failure.
For orders, runners for strawberry propagation, or for a taste of fresh strawberries, drop by Foggy Mountain Garden at Epol, Baganihan in Marilog, or contact Kagawad Bilma Fuertes through cell number 0919-536-2048 and 0926-841-1293.

Life in Pikit refugee camps

TRY to picture moving in with four families having four children each cooped in a 10-by-15 foot government-donated tent, with the tents spaced barely three feet away from each other. Is the idea appealing?

This is the scene that will meet you if you visit one of the evacuation centers in Pikit, Cotabato. The tents were spread on a dry, parched land, away from the shelter of trees or any building.

The refugees became the direct recipient of the sun's infernal heat. (I experienced the heat firsthand, having toured the area in the heat of the 12:00 O'clock sun in my most unsuitable sleeveless shirt and hatless head).

Since the onset of the war between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the government forces last February 8 which forced the civilians to flee from their homes, these refugees suffered living in the crude tents, spreading sacks and empty cartoons on the ground to sleep on. They have to bear falling in line to get the food rationed by the Department of Social Welfare and Development once every two days. The food ration consists of five kilos of rice, three cans of sardines and three packs of noodles.

If you've got a big family, it's your problem to budget that food to fit your family. They can't even gather vegetables to add to their food because the land all around them yields nothing but weeds. One can solve the shortage of rice by adding lots of water to make porridge when cooking, but that presents another problem.

Water is very scarce. This particular refugee camp housed more than 900 families. To meet the needs of these 900 families, a solitary water pump was installed and the local firetruck supplies only one firetruckful of water every morning but many refugees complained of stomach ache after drinking the water supplied by the firetruck. Water is never enough for these people.

You'd better not ask about the state of their comfort rooms. If there are six members in your family and you have to wait while someone else is using the comfort room, I'll leave you to imagine what a dozen toilet bowls can do to cater to the needs of more than 3,000 people.(not to mention the scarcity of water) They are fit to be renamed "discomfort rooms".

The evacuees continually battle with their own enemies - dust, flies, illnesses and heat during the day. Mercifully it hasn't rained yet. If it rains, we'll have thousands of "floating" evacuees in this center and that's a grim prospect.

At night, they fight the hordes of mosquitoes that attack them. Some said they just employ their palms to swat the mosquitoes. They have no electricity. They use candles and oil lamps, and pray that the tents will not catch fire one night.

The Pikit gymnasium housed another 192 families. The bleachers, stage and floor were littered with sacks and bundles of personal belongings, human bodies, hammocks and a lot of other things. The gym is one chaotic world of squealing and squirming kids. Unlike those in the tents, these refugees have the advantage of having a roof above their heads but they lack privacy.

A medical team is deployed in the centers to cater to the immediate medical needs of the evacuees. Topping the charts in illnesses is cough and cold, followed by fever, lose bowel movement, toothache, allergy and others. To keep the chidren busy, the daycare teachers in Pikit conduct afternoon classes where children are allowed free use of crayons, modeling clays, pencils and colored papers.

Asked what message they would like to extend to President Arroyo, the refugees said they are praying for this war to end because they want to end their suffering and go back to their homes. Some of them said they missed their coffee very much.

"Alam mo naman na nagkakape kami kahit tanghaling tapat. Wala namang kape sa ration namin (You know we drink coffee even at noontime. Coffee is not a part of our ration here)," one man said.

These evacuees may be able to go back to their homes and resume their normal way of life, but the bitter memories and scars left as a result of the war will stay with them forever.

(February 20, 2003 issue Sun.Star Davao)

Honey, are you lonesome tonight?

CLOSE your eyes. Imagine that you will not be seeing your spouse, children, parents, friends and relatives for the next six months. Try to feel what it would be like to wake up alone in a strange land each morning and face strangers as you go to work to earn dollars to send back home.

"The harshest enemy for all Filipino Overseas Workers (OFWs) is loneliness and when this strikes, everybody, male or female, rich or poor is vulnerable and powerless. Kaya mo ba 'to?" Mindanao Cordinator of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines-Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, Lito Abadilla asked participants of a Pre-departure Orientation Seminar (PDOS) recently.
Abadilla said that 98 percent of the families of OFWs are not prepared and are not aware of what the real situation is about going abroad.
"We have seen firsthand the damages loneliness create when it strikes, whether in the partner who went abroad or the partner left in the Philippines," Abadilla, who had been abroad for quite a number of years said.
"What shall it profit a man if his money is overflowing but his home is shattered and broken?" he challenged. "Talk it out with your partner before going abroad. Discuss your coping mechanisms, like financial matters, rearing the kids and most of all, the sexual aspect."
Abadilla said the element of trust and assurance should be established with both couples. He said the first three months abroad is the most crucial, a survival period that requires a person to be tough, firm and strong.
"Before one of you leaves, revive your sweetheart days and closeness, be a friend and help your partner to resist temptation by strengthening your relationship. Create fond memories that each of you will remember when loneliness strikes," he said.
One more warning, Abadilla said, "Never, never leave for abroad if you have unsettled conflicts with your partner because this would only pave the way to give in to temptations and eventually lead to more broken homes."
Abadilla added that the success of those abroad lean greatly on the families that is left here.
Everyday, he said an average of 3,500 Filipinos go out of the country to work abroad, two Filipinos go home in crates (coffin) while another one comes home without problems anymore, a candidate for the mental hospital.
"OFWs walk on a very thin line between shattered dreams and success. If this thin line snaps, the OFW will be transported to the other side where problems no longer exist. He or she becomes a candidate for the mental hospital," Abadilla said.
Why do Filipinos work abroad?
Lourdes Dulatre, of the Mindanao Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) Multi-purpose Cooperative (Momco) said there are four motivations that push people to go abroad.
"High salaries of employees abroad, the high rate of unemployment here, adventure or exploration, and development of economic and social well being push the Filipinos to go abroad," Dulatre said.
She said that everybody wants to seek greener pastures, especially with the economic crisis the country is going through now to give their families a brighter future.

Among the problems the OFWs face abroad are starvation, sexual harassment and rape, withholding of salaries, illegal termination, violation of contracts, and other forms of abuses, on top of loneliness.
"To these hazards, the OFW stands helpless alone just to be able to send precious dollars to families back home," Dulatre said.
Having lived abroad for more than 20 years, Dulatre said she has seen first hand all the sad plight of OFWs who lost hope and got desperate because instead of receiving inspiring letters from home, all they get are discouraging letters.

"One advise please, don't write 10-page letters to your kins abroad asking for this and that or dumping all the problems on them because they might commit suicide)," she said.
She urged family members to write inspiring letters instead so that the OFW will have something to hold on to fight the daily battles of working in a strange land.
Rey T. Elaya, Overseas Workers Welfare officer said that to support the OFWs whom they consider as the unsung heroes, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (Owwa) has come up with several programs to support both the OFW and their families.
Elaya said that among the programs the OFW can avail from the Owwa are: insurance benefits, dismemberment, total disability and burial benefits, credit programs, loans, skills and employment scholarship programs, education for development scholarship programs, social services, repatriation and reintegration programs, worker's assistance and on-site services.
"In addition to the above-mentioned programs, Owwa also offers psycho-social and HIV/Aids counseling, conciliation services, medical and legal assistance and other outreach programs," Elaya said. To date, Elaya said that there are over 2.2 million Owwa members around the world.
"On an end note", Elaya said, "we want you to come back to the Philippines alive, high spirited and successful despite all the risks and hazards."

Davao Teen Center: A haven for Distressed Souls

Last month, I picked up someone...and something!

This was what was playing in 18-year old Rick's mind as he nervously sat on the couch across the peer counselor inside the small room. For sometime now he had suspected that he had picked up 'something' painful and unpleasant from a woman whom he picked up from the street and had sex with a couple of weeks ago.

He had been sexually active since he turned 15 but this was the first time he experienced something painful and he was scared. Afraid to tell his parents and his friends about his suspicions, he silently bore the burning and excruciating pain he feels every time he urinates, until close examination showed a yellow discharge from his sexual organ.

Terrified now, he didn't know where else to go and whom to turn to, until a friend mentioned something about the Davao Teen Center that lends a listening ear to anyone who feels the need to unburden their problems, and offers advice to troubled individuals.

Rick found solutions to his problem at the teen center. He was able to spill his problems with ease. Kind and understanding counselors referred Rick to a clinic in the city which specializes in the treatments of sexually-transmitted diseases (STD).

Kara is another case. At the age of 13, she is already sexually active but she was curious and had so many questions in her mind about sex. She also feared getting pregnant because she was not yet ready to face the risks and the responsibilities.

Lacking the courage to voice out her questions to her parents or teachers, she discovered the teen center and tried dialling their number. There she found satisfying answers to the questions she had been afraid to ask.

At the Teen Center, friendly and accomodating counselors man the telephones to entertain calls from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. everyday.
The DTC is a special project of the Family Planning Organization of the Philippines (FPOP) under its Development and Family Life Education for the Youth.

The idea of establishing the DTC started in 1987 when a training and counseling session were conducted after the conceptualized livelihood project was not pursued.

Youth volunteers were then trained in disseminating adequate information regarding the concerns of adolescents including the consequences of pre-marital sex, early marriage, drug addiction, boy-girl relationship, homosexuality, sexually transmitted diseases and other concerns related to adolescents' fertility and sexuality.

After the training, the FPOP considered the need to put up a center where counseling sessions for teenagers can be held.
DTC coordinator Joel Salonga said the budget for the over-all operation of the center comes from the International Planned Parenthood Federation, which is based in London.
For this year, Salonga said their budget is P882,000. The amount, Joel added, already covers the activities in the center and the salaries for the staff.

The DTC operates with three regular staff, 15 peer counselors and 20 peer educators.

"All our volunteers here are college students. Some are from the Holy Cross of Davao College, University of Mindanao, Ateneo de Davao University, Davao Doctors College and Brokenshire College. They are really volunteers as what the word volunteer connotes," Salonga said.

Salonga said the DTC aims to clear doubts, ease the worries and answer questions of a teenager regarding reproductive health issues, career planning and other topics that can be discussed by trained peer counselors.
Salonga said they are merely counselors who listens and give advice to teenagers seeking their assistance.

"During the counseling, we don't tell our clients to do this or that. We try to picture to them the consequences of their actions. For instance, in the case of teenagers who wants to have an abortion, we give them options and tell them what teh consequences are if they wanted to go on. We allow them to think and decide on their own," Salonga said.

Young as they are, Salonga believes they are capable of giving advice to an individual of their age. Salonga said they have gone through trainings and information education before they become counselors.

Salonga said the DTC trains every year at least 20 people, who are interested to become counselors. The five-day training, he added, would involve education on adolescent reproductive health and discussions on basic counseling.

Salonga said the DTC receives a minimum of three walk-in clients and 10 callers everyday seeking for advice and information about the center.

Salonga said the client can request if he or she wants to talk to more then one counselor.
"There are clients who are embarassed to talk about their porblems especially if it's STD (sexually transmitted disease). We also have clients who do not have ideas that they have STD . We informed them about the disease and the symptoms and he went to see a doctor," Salonga said.

Salonga, however, said the DTC would not be able to know what happened next to their client after the first counseling session because they do not oblige the client to come back to the center for follow-up sessions.

It is up for the client to come back to the center for another counseling session.
"But we don't think we are not effective counselors because the clients come back to thank us. From these people nga mobalik, we consider ourselves effective counselors," Salonga said.
The peer counselors at the DTC also have monthly evaluation among themselves to check whether or not they have been sound in giving pieces of advice.

Dr. Flordeliza Posadas, a psychologist, supervises the evaluation activity of the peer counselors.
The DTC staff also goes school to school to promote their peer counseling program.

However, Salonga said they are having difficulty in introducing the center in schools and universities run by nuns.

Salonga said they are getting the impression that the DTC promotes practices that are against the values imbued by the school.
"We do not promote pre-marital sex, abortion or drug addiction in the center. We just provide our clients the information they needed be it on sexuality, fertility, gender, fertility and other topics," Salonga said.

Among the common concerns and problems the peer counselors at the DTC encounter include sexual activity, drug addiction, STDs, misunderstanding in boy-girl relationships and peer pressure.
The DTC may be composed of unexperienced individuals but they are trying to prove they can contribute a lot to the community that is slowly changing the youth into a better citizens of the country.

Behind cold bars of jail

[] A young man looks back at one bloody night that would forever change the course of his and his brother's life

ALL he wanted was to borrow money from his uncle Diosdado for fare to go home to Sigaboy in Davao Oriental. He failed to get a single centavo but instead got a deluge of painful words too bitter to swallow which prompted his vision to get dim. Harsh words that would forever darken the future of the two people who are yet starting to live their lives.
Chemuel (surname witheld because his brother, also sentenced to 72-year prison term), who will be turning 22 on January 19 will be 132 years old by the time his 110-year prison term will be finished, while Elbuin, his 16-year old brother will be 88 after serving his sentence.
In addition to the sentence, they are ordered to pay the heirs of the victims P1.7 million.
Although the brothers maintained a nonchalant attitude when the judgment was read before them at the sala of Judge Wenceslao Ibabao of Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 33, Chemuel confessed that deep inside, he was afraid to be sentenced with death.

In an interview at the Ma-a city jail, Chemuel said that when darkness fell on the night of September 11, he did not have an inkling that before morning comes, something will happen that will alter the course of his life.
"I used to work for my uncle before, doing odd jobs around the house. My mother, who is the first cousin of Uncle Diosdado's wife Evelyn used to work for them too, so I'm no stranger to the house," Chemuel narrated.
He said when he tried to borrow money for fare early that evening, his uncle berated him. He also said that it was not the first time that his uncle rammed unpleasant words up his throat, but he silently bore everything.

"My brother Elbuin and I were in the sala that night but we could not sleep. Unexpectedly, my uncle, 55-year old Diosdado Lacorte who is a retired army sergeant went out, probably to go to the comfort room. Suddenly, all his cruel words earlier reverberated in my ears, deafened me and filled me with extra force. Before it, I had already struck him with the pipe," Chemuel narrated.

"I was horrified when I saw the first spurt of blood from uncle's head and I don't know how but the next thing I know, I had smashed them all with the pipe," he continued, enumerating his aunt Evelyn, 48; son-in-law Julius Villarmia, 21, and 9-year old grandson Kenneth.
"My vision dimmed, all I know was that I kept on attacking them with the pipe," he said.
Chemuel also admitted they attacked Diosdado's daughter Grace Lacorte-Hashiogochi; her Japanese husband Tamutso; and Julius' daughter Maria Carmela Beatriz, 3 who arrived from the casino just as they were leaving because they had no choice. Luckily, the three survived.
"Tamacho and I struggled for possession of the pipe but he overcame me because my strength was already spent," Chemuel added.

Chemuel denied allegations that he and his brother were under the influence of drugs when the incident occured.
"News reports said we were under drugs. That's not true because we don't even drink or smoke,!" Chemuel adds. His denial was supported by the negative results of the drug test conducted by the Philippine National Police (PNP) Crime Laboratory 11.

Reminiscing the past
Chemuel added that this will be the most bitter christmas for him as he will be away from his family, locked behind bars.
"Every Christmas before, we have a family reunion, but now its a different story. I'm here behind bars and my brother is at the rehab center, " he sadly narrated. He could not stop his tears from falling down his cheeks.

Chemuel said his father left them when he was still 9 years old. From then on, he automatically took over the responsibility over his three younger brothers. From Davao Oriental, they transferred to Toril, Davao City where they resided until that fateful night.

Charges downgraded

The brothers asked the court to enter into a plea bargaining agreement to downgrade the charges from murder to homicide in order to avail of a lower punishment, thus escaping death penalty by two degrees.
Prosecutor Jose Garcia who heads the prosecution panel said there was no opposition to the plea-bargaining agreement from all parties so the court granted the brothers' pleading. The court granted the brothers' plea and downgraded the charges to four counts of homicide, three counts of frustrated homicide and theft, instead of murder.
"We got the money from uncle's pocket because we knew we need it," Chemuel said.
The two brothers were arrested at their grandfather's house in Barangay Calumpang, General Santos City two days after the incident.
He narrated that he and Elbuin were at the beach contemplating what to do next when they saw their faces pasted on the TV screens, tagged as suspects of a bloody massacre that would fill several pages of newspapers and aired over TV and radio stations for weeks.

"We were asleep in my grandfather's house in Calumpang, General Santos City when the police immediately swooped on us at dawn, but actually we were about to surrender," Chemuel said.

Resigned to fate
Regretful as the brothers are, what's done can't be undone but Chemuel has not lost hope that someday, he will once again be able to roam the streets freely.
"I have already accepted my fate, I will just do my best here in jail," Chemuel resignedly said, wiping his tears with his hands.

Jail Officer 2 Edwin Naidas told Sunstar that Chemuel has been obedient inside the city jail since his detention.
"Chemuel is obedient and submissive here," Naidas said.

Separated forever
The two brothers will be separated from each other by the cold bars of jail for a whole century because Elbuin was already transferred to the Davao City Rehabilitation Center (DCRC) in Bago Oshiro, Davao City where he will undergo rehabilitation under the guidance of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) until he reaches the age of 18.

A few days from now, Chemuel will also leave Davao City and be tranported to the Davao Penal Colony (Dapecol) in Davao del Norte to serve his century-long sentence.*