HEAR THE SONG OF A BATTERED VIRGIN

Travel

HEAR THE SONG OF A BATTERED VIRGIN

1 Comment 14 May 2014

By Ana Maria Lykes

THERE was once was a fair maiden who lived on the edge of Panay Island. She was so pure that sea creatures fearlessly sunbathed on her bosom. Her eyes were so pristinely blue that mystical fishes swam in them. Then came enterprisers and explorers, plundering her bounty and beauty. More and more of them came, crowding her and driving away the wondrous creatures. Her sighs are drowned out by loud chatter and merriment.

Will we ever hear Boracay’s song again?

“She’s sinking,” laments a local as bikini bunnies with henna tattoos and hair braids chitter past. These women aren’t the only ones overwhelming Boracay. Last year over 1.36 million tourists have trampled her white sands, leaving trash and destruction. Then there’s the mushrooming of establishments pushing too close to her shores. McDonald’s and Starbucks sit as shamelessly as the scantily-clad sunbathers on the beach. Construction is limited with a 25-meter setback, but many structures are sitting happily by the water.

“If more and more establishments are put up here, there will be no more open spaces left. We will lose Boracay,” airs Glenn Sacapaño to the Philippine Daily Inquirer. The Task Force Redevelopment head and Island Administrator complains about the fast-paced and almost mindless development. The continuous expansion in Boracay doesn’t follow any urban planning and now narrow roadways and lack of parking are also troubling the island.

With no more room near the shore, hotel operators turn to the hills fronting the beach.

With no more room near the shore, hotel operators turn to the hills fronting the beach.

Overdevelopment is not the only thing that the island is facing. The country’s pride is postcard pretty, but what many do not see is the dirt that she hides. Boracay is overcome by trash and flooding. According to reports, the sewage system is constantly clogged and even on some sunny days, the poorly built roadways are flooded. On the seafloor, irresponsible fishermen and thoughtless tourists leave a boneyard of coral reef stumps at their wake.

And while many marvel at her skirt of gloriously white sands, they are unaware that she is quickly eroding due to climate change, reckless constructions, and irresponsible tourism. The erosion is so severe in certain parts of the island that sewage pipes have been exposed.

Eventually this can lead to even more serious problems as leakage can gravely contaminate the island’s water. Acute gastroenteritis is already becoming one of the leading illnesses of Boracay due to water contamination.

She mourns her denuded shoreline, cleared of her beloved coconut and palm trees. Overhead, fruit bats are skittering nervously, facing extinction due to the frenzied noise from the nonstop parties and construction.

Amidst all the noise, there are a handful who hears her call. Reaching out a helping hand, the President had mandated a redevelopment plan for the island. The Presidential Task Force, composed of representatives from the Department of Tourism, Department of Justice, Department of Environmental and Natural Resources, and Department of Interior and Local Government, in cooperation with the local government unit of Malay town and the Department of Public Works and Highways, is enforcing the demolition of illegal structures that do not comply within the 30-meter easement regulation or do not have Environmental Certificates of Compliance. About 300 illegal structures, including seawalls and embankments, are expected to be closed down and demolished.

Volunteers comb the shoreline during the launch of ‘Sama Ka, Let’s Protect Boracay’ clean-up drive.

Volunteers comb the shoreline during the launch of ‘Sama Ka, Let’s Protect Boracay’ clean-up drive.

The program does not seek to shut down the thriving tourism completely and has reassigned areas for business. Over 123 hectares have been allocated to new investors, spreading the concentration of commercial zones to other areas. A comprehensive land use plan was designed to accommodate at least 2 million more visitors by 2018. New ports and roads will be constructed with the help of the Philippine Tourism Authority and a PhP200-million investment. Manila Water is also working to improve the water and sewerage system.

Aside from government efforts, private organizations are also pitching in. The Sangkalikasan cooperative launched the Code Blue project to revive the island’s coral reef system by planting 5,000 “reefbuds” on Boracay’s ocean floor. Code Blue is said to be the most extensive artificial reef project in the Philippines so far.

This year the non-profit organization Boracay Foundation Inc. launched the Coral Reefurbishment Project to protect and restore coral reefs. It has also launched a mangrove rehabilitation program through massive tree planting. Mangroves help prevent erosion and improve water quality by filtering sediments. The non-profit organization is involved in many programs including environmental forums and regular beach clean ups in their mission to preserve and restore their beloved paradise.

The continuous expansion in Boracay doesn’t follow any urban planning and now narrow roadways and lack of parking are also troubling the island.

The continuous expansion in Boracay doesn’t follow any urban planning and now narrow roadways and lack of parking are also troubling the island.

Mangroves grow extremely slow, and it will take years for the coral reef to recover, but even then, Boracay can never go back to its former glory. Back when, according to many wistful locals and the few nostalgic purists who had the privilege of walking on her then uncorrupted shores, there were only a handful of cottages that stood on the beach, illuminated by gas lamps and a thousand stars. This was back in the ‘70s and ‘80s when beautifully dark- skinned Atis, the first settlers in the island, played on her sands truly white as snow.

It was in the 1800s when Aklan locals Lamberto Tirol and Sofia Gonzales discovered the island and cultivated her with coconut trees, tobacco, and marijuana. But the marijuana was for medicinal purposes. Back then the intoxication was to be had from her untainted beauty.

In the ‘70s, Hollywood set foot on the island, shooting Too Late the Hero and opening the doors for foreigners. Before that Boracay was a backpacker’s best guarded secret. Jens Peter, a German writer, also wrote a book introducing the virgin to the world as the most beautiful island in Asia. Before long, people were coming in droves to feast on her.

But just like scarred women, she is beautiful and remains to be one of the world’s most admired jewel. The New York Times may have called her “a tropical convenience store fully stocked with jet skis, resort pools and hangovers”, but many are willing to overlook that because she still maintains corners and curves that allow her children to bask in the blessings of the sun in peace.

She continues to be hailed as one of the most romantic islands in the world and one of the top islands by Travel + Leisure. Not surprisingly, she is also part of the magazine’s top 10 party beaches. Trip Advisor and other travel authorities constantly praise her. But all that acclaim means nothing to her. When the blaring music continues till dawn and the sun paints a rosiness on her horizon, she endures to sing her haunting pleas that only a few could hear.

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DRAMA ON THE HIGH SEAS: LOVE, PASSION AND BETRAYAL

Migration

DRAMA ON THE HIGH SEAS: LOVE, PASSION AND BETRAYAL

2 Comments 06 May 2014

By Maribel Castillo

 

WHILE on a cruise to Alaska, my husband and I met many Filipino workers — now hailed as modern-day heroes of the Philippines — who endure many months at sea to support their families and help keep the nation’s economy afloat. alaska cruise4_550alaska cruise maribel2_550alaska cruise-maribel4_550Comprising almost half of the ship’s staff, Filipinos work as waiters, chefs, retail clerks, spa staff, fitness directors, cruise ship entertainers, lifeguards, production managers, host staff, kitchen staff, cruise ship bartenders, cruise casino workers, security workers, beauticians, excursion organizers, customer service representatives, deckhands, even as ship doctor. Manuel Carlos was the handsome Filipino maitre’ d at our favorite Italian restaurant of the Norwegian Sun. Here is his story.

THE plot is familiar, reminiscent of the teleseryes so popular among Philippine TV viewers. Manuel Carlos (not his real name) was one of seven children of a petty bureaucrat and a homemaker from Binangonan, Rizal. His mother often resorted to creative ways of stretching her husband’s meager earnings to feed and raise a brood of seven. “We were so poor that my parents could not afford to give us an allowance while we attended high school. I walked to school every day so I could save on jeepney fare,” Manuel recalls. “In December, when all my schoolmates got new clothes for Christmas, I had to make do with khakis, the single pair of pants that I would wear every day the entire school year until I outgrew it.”

Early on, Manuel’s mother urged her children to seek their fortunes elsewhere. “Hangarin ninyong lumayo upang kayo ay umasenso”. This is the sorry lot of the poor and the lower middle class in the Philippines. For many, there is only one way to pull themselves out of the rut of poverty. They must tear themselves away from all that they hold dear: family, friends, familiar surroundings, country.

Manuel Carlos is one of those wanderers, among the growing number of OFWs (Overseas Foreign Workers) who are fortunate enough to land a job abroad. Manuel works with one of the world’s large fleets of luxury ocean liners. He is a veteran of the sea, having worked with Norwegian Cruise Lines for 15 years now.

A marketing graduate, Manuel started out as a detail man for a pharmaceuticals firm in Manila. Heeding his mother’s advice, he did a brief stint in Saudi Arabia as a bank clerk. Back in the Philippines, married and with a growing family, Manuel realized he would never be able to send his kids to college on a clerk’s income.

Noted for their hospitality and friendly disposition, Filipinos excel as waitresses and chambermaids on cruise ships.

Noted for their hospitality and friendly disposition, Filipinos excel as waitresses and chambermaids on cruise ships.

So, with hope in his heart, he endured the long lineups in a narrow alley close to the recruiter’s office in Intramuros, hoping to land a job – any job – with one of the cruise lines. Like many others before him, after two long months of patiently waiting in line by the recruiter’s office, he landed his first contract with Norwegian Cruise Lines. In 1994, he started out at the lowest rung of the ladder, working as a mess man in NCL. Manuel spent the next 10 months at sea, catering to the whims of vacationers who dined and wined on board ship as if there were no tomorrow. The hours were long, the pace gruelling and the nights lonely. But he was ecstatic. For the first time in his life, he had savings, and with it he satisfied the elusive dream of owning his own car. “I never imagined I would be driving my own car. I couldn’t even afford jeepney fare when I was a student!”

Several contracts later, Manny realized his family needed more stability. His family was growing. His wife Shirley had borne him three children. He decided to take the plunge and make the ultimate Filipino dream a reality. With his savings and proceeds from the sale of his car, Manny bought a small plot of land in a residential subdivision in Binangonan, Rizal. With his status as an OFW, Sam joined the government’s PAG-IBIG housing program and obtained a half million-peso housing loan, which was released in three batches after submitting photos of ongoing construction. The house was finally completed when Manuel was back at sea. He could barely believe his good fortune until his wife sent snapshots of the two-level, three-bedroom concrete house. He was, at last, a homeowner.

Filipinos are in great demand around the world for their musicality and singing prowess.

Filipinos are in great demand around the world for their musicality and singing prowess.

The years with NCL have been a financial godsend to Manuel, Shirley and kids. Manuel eventually rose up the ladder. He was promoted to the post of assistant MD (Maitre’d). His children are all enrolled in private schools, Manuel declares proudly. Chelsea, 19, is a nursing student at Far Eastern University. Matthew, 17, is a computer science student in Taytay, Rizal. Nathan, 14, is still in high school.

On the surface, all seemed well. But the long months at sea, away from the warm embrace of family, had taken its toll. Young, good-looking and virile, Manuel succumbed to passion and started a four-year affair with a Filipina waitress on the same ship. The relationship bore him a son, now 6 years old. At the time, Manuel basked in his notoriety as the ship’s Pinoy Casanova. Temptation was rife. There were many other lonely women workers on board ship. He started a liaison with another co-worker, with whom he also conceived a child. His two paramours were locked in bitter combat. Sadly, his second lover miscarried.

Back home, his wife Shirley shed many tears, but could not break off with Manuel because she had no income and would be unable to support herself and the children without her husband’s remittances.

It was Chelsea, his eldest daughter, who found the guts to tell him to his face: “You have made my mother miserable. She cries every day. Don’t show your face to us. My father is dead.”

This was Manuel’s wake-up call. He agonized for several weeks trying to sort his life out. That’s when he decided to become a Born-Again Christian. He made a decision to cut off his extra-marital relationships. Twice a week, after his last shift at 11 PM, he joins the Christian fellowship on the ship and spends two hours reading the Bible. He now preaches how to tread the straight and narrow to his fellow workers. He says he has found the courage to resist temptation.

Manuel has now mended the rift with his family. His wife Shirley has been magnanimous in her forgiveness. When Manuel comes home for his 2-month vacation, she will welcome his young son by his paramour into her home. The boy is the spitting image of his father, a reminder of his past transgressions, but also a symbol of the healing that has started to repair family ties broken by the tough challenges posed by being an absentee husband and father.

 

 

 

 

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