Rabies vaccinations al fresco at Ospital ng Lungsod.

Rabies vaccinations al fresco at Ospital ng Lungsod.


"Annus Horribilis"

The title of this short posting is Queen Elizabeth II's characterization of 1992, a year in which much misfortune befell her and her family. It almost certainly will become an apt moniker for 2020 -- not for a house of royalty but for the house of homo sapiens. We'll get through the pandemic, or the vast majority of us will get through it; and we'll line up to get our vaccinations probably in the early months of 2021. But in the meantime few of us will be untouched by tragedy within the family or among friends, governments will be rocked, economies will be hamstrung . . . .

Jheng has already lost a Triskelion brother, a nurse who worked at Cabanatuan's general hospital, to COVID-19. If that weren't enough to shake her, Cabanatuan's general market, the source of income for so many people in the city, burned to the ground last night.

Up in San Jose City, I'm not without my own sense of misfortune. For the last few days my wifi company cannot seem to keep the download speeds of its subscribers above .50, and I can no longer tutor online.

World on fire. (photos sent by Jheng)

World on fire. (photos sent by Jheng)


Have Food, a Place to Rest My Head, A/C, and Gin . . . .

So I have no complaints. The days are a little dull without friends nearby (though I text with Jheng, Larry, Sonny, and others often) and quarantine checkpoints 2 kms. to the south and 1/2 km. to the north pretty well box me in, travelwise. The dispensation afforded to me by my vaccination card will get me into the city tomorrow and Thursday: I'll stock up further at the supermarket on these days, see what's open and what's not, visit with Larry's family. The bill for Mama Luz's monthly medicine comes due soon, and Larry and I will visit the Cebuano remittance center together to wire Jheng more funds.

Larry was at the Ospital ng Lungsod when I arrived with Joel; he chatted with Joel while I awaited my turn on a seat -- there were seven bitten folks ahead of me. The injections were given outdoors under an awning, and there was a pleasant breeze. The doctor and nurses, all women, were themselves breezy and kind, making faces as they studied the bite wound, chatting with Larry and me after the injections. Yes, in the Philippines, apparently, there are two injections per treatment, one in each arm -- small ones, and needles haven't bothered me since my preteens, anyway.

I'll be back there tomorrow, Thursday too.

The Valeriepieris circle. (Science/HowStuffWorks)

The Valeriepieris circle. (Science/HowStuffWorks)

At this writing -- to move on to a virus that is much more on the minds of everyone these days (that virus for which a vaccine will not be available and mass-produced any time soon) -- things look pretty bleak worldwide. Europe is getting swamped with COVID-19 cases, the United States inundated. The U.S., which may become the world's poster boy for how not to respond to a pandemic at the federal level, has almost 125,000 confirmed cases. The hot spots right now -- New York City, New Orleans, Chicago, and Detroit -- are already seeing hospitals under a heavy strain, with the apex of their caseloads at least two weeks away. Cities in states like Florida and Mississippi, where the governors have refused to impose social-distancing constraints, are good candidates for near-future hot spots.

As the seasons change, countries below the equator, where autumn has arrived, find themselves saddled with their own health crises. South Africa, Australia, and Brazil have seen sharp spikes in cases over the last week.

The quick rise in the number of cases in tropical Southeast Asia came as something of a surprise to me. In an earlier posting, I misused "exponential" -- whenever the R0 of transmission is over 1, the rise will be exponential, and the rising curve of COVID-19 cases throughout Southeast Asia has been exponential. What I meant was the doubling effect was taking a very long while to complete. That is, until the last ten days or so, which have seen pretty steep rises in the number of cases throughout Southeast Asia. It perplexed me, but then I remembered that circle on a world map I saw some years ago. It is the smallest circle to encompass more than 1/2 of the world's population that can be drawn on a world map. However hot it is here, where the population density is higher, disease is transmitted more readily, eh? The Philippines now has more than 1,000 cases. But cases per million stand at 10 currently, while c/m in the U.S. stand at 374; it's a pretty sure thing that heat slows this thing down, but heat is not the only factor in play . . . .

Life is pretty dull under quarantine, yep. If Duterte decides to extend it another month or two, it will be okay by me, though. Whatever hardship and stress I experience pales beside what my sons Bart and Jeff, Jeff's wife Anna, and my ex-wife in MA, as well as my brothers and their families in CA and MA, are experiencing now.

Stay safe, please, loved ones and friends.


Dog Bit Me

I'm pretty fond of all domestic animals, but I had made no move to pet this one. As I was walking away from the sari-sari store next to FDB, the dog of the store owners jumped up and chomped down on my right leg. Two puncture wounds, from which blood flowed pretty freely. The son of the transient home's owner, Joel (pronounced "Yoal") has been bitten a few times, and was aware of the protocol, learned from a seminar he was asked to attend after one of those bites: wash thoroughly with soap, then hold the wound under running water for 30 minutes. After that, get the wound to a hospital.

Joel took me to the Ospital ng Lungsod where we discovered the animal bite clinic vaccinated only on Thursday and Monday afternoons. The doctor said it was okay to wait a day for the first injection because of the long incubation period of rabies. Joel took me back to FDB, where I assured the owner of the dog I would pay for the injections (it's the custom here for animal owners to pay for the care of anyone bitten by their animals).

Joel will drive me in tomorrow for the first shot; I'll drive myself in next Monday and Thursday for the second and third shots. During that time, the store owner's dog will be under observation. If it's fine after ten days, the third shot will be the last; if it's not fine, I'll be in for one or two more injections and the dog will be in for far worse.

The vaccine is no longer administered in the quaint way you may have heard of: huge needles to the abdomen. It's a single shot each time in, usually in the arm. Side effects can include headaches and nausea: so body o' mine, welcome the forthcoming serum please without complaint.

Jheng and the children are well back in Cabanatuan, though a certain amount of cabin fever has set in. Have been able to send money to them with the help of Larry and a remittance service; Jheng can leave the duplex by herself and buy a week's worth of food for her side of the duplex at the local grocery store.

Mapahamak na aso. (Damn dog.)

Mapahamak na aso. (Damn dog.)


Settling Down

Just finished handwashing clothing for three days and feeling pretty proud of myself. I text with Jheng, plan classes, and read during the day, mostly; some evenings I meet online with students; early mornings I take a walk on the wide shoulder of the Maharlika down past the city entrance and back.

The day before yesterday Larry sent a video introducing a Chinese doctor who had discovered a "shield" against COVID-19: pour hot water over lemon slices and let it steep for a while; drink a cup of this a day. I'd forgotten razors on my supply run the previous day, so I had more than one reason to shop again. At the checkpoint on the way in the folks obviously wanted to see the pass that barangays are currently issuing to residents; lacking one, I played dumb. Two of the quarantine cops discussed the matter with each other, and then a third came up to my window with a thermometer. The temp was normal, and they waved me through. Another temp checker at the entrance to Walter Mart further confirmed my afebrile condition, and soon I was collecting more canned meats and biscuits, tracking down the razors, and bagging two kilos of lemons in the produce section.

I dropped off one of those kilos with Larry and headed back to FDB. That evening online I saw that the WHO had announced there was no scientific evidence that lemons could keep one from getting the virus. I passed that on to Larry, and after some back and forth we agreed we'd still drink this tea; our diets had little vitamin c, and lemons have scads of vitamin c. The concoction is very tart, but not disagreeable.

Life is, well, not very lively these days. But life needs to be this way for everyone, and for an extended period of time, if we are to flatten the curve: it seems the successes in China and South Korea have made this clear. Like you, American readers, I've seen the news stories from beaches in Florida where young people crowded together for spring break. And I've heard the noises the president is making about relaxing prohibitions meant to distance people from one another once this two-week period has ended  . . . But I've also seen (haven't you?) what the inside of an Italian ICU looks like these days. I don't want that for hospitals there, or for hospitals here.

Home, till the Philippine government lifts the quarantine.

Home, till the Philippine government lifts the quarantine.

Me lemons.

Me lemons.



A Happy Landing

Jheng didn't join me on the trip north. She had read that cars with more than a driver were not being allowed to proceed; also, she has a head cold and it's noticeable -- something the quarantine police would certainly frown upon. I set off close to noon yesterday -- up through Talavera, where I had attended Charles's wedding last year; through the Science City of Munoz ("The Ricesponsible City"); and on to San Jose City (city of onions, garlic, and corn, but not rice). Was stopped at three checkpoints where face-masked but surprisingly kind people in uniform looked over my passport, read the letter Fred's manager had written for me, and sent me on my way. Noticed on the road that several cars had passengers . . . .

In SJC I would check in at the Al Bien first, then go to see my friends Larry and Lori. The Al Bien's door was padlocked; the sign on the glass read "Closed Due to COVID-19." Great. I wondered about the other hotels in the city. At Larry and Lori's, after much elbow bumping, I handed Larry the keys and we set off to check out other hotels, which were all closed. Larry said this development was very recent and unannounced. I remembered a "Rooms for Rent" sign I had seen near the southern entrance of the city, and we drove there. A couple showed us sparsely furnished rooms that lacked a/c; I said thanks but I really needed air conditioning, and they suggested we go just a little farther down the road to FDB Homes, where some of the rooms had a/c. At FDB Homes the owner, a man named Philip, greeted us. He had closed down his establishment, but said he was willing to take on a foreigner in distress for the duration of the quarantine.

Yes, luck was on my side. Philip is quiet and pleasant; his two sons and their families live with him on the premises -- two large buildings side by side containing large rooms with three bunkbeds each. Such places are called transient homes in the Philippines; they cater to itinerant workers, often construction workers, who are in town to do a job. I set up shop in a downstairs room with no windows, but found my wifi was not getting a strong enough signal for me to commune with my handful of Chinese tutees; now I'm in a room on the second floor, and with the help of an extension cord I've set the wifi up outside on the porch. The connection seems stronger; the test is at 4pm, when I meet with Max and Sara online (most of my "classes" are on the weekend).

The air conditioner in my new room is old but powerful; there's no hot water  (that's okay, I need to wake up in the morning); and I can entertain comfortably five overnight guests. The upstairs room, with its porch, is larger than the one I slept in last night, and P50 more expensive: or P900 a night (about $18).

It's come to this: I'm a bed spacer, possibly a horny bed spacer.

It's come to this: I'm a bed spacer, possibly a horny bed spacer.


San Jose City, Here I Come

The decision was taken out of Fred's hands. On the 17th, the honorable Myca Elizabeth V. Vergara, mayor of Cabanatuan, ordered that the city's hotels be closed. Scramble time. Jheng discovered through Larry that hotels are not closed in San Jose City -- so, hoping that the mayor there will treat more kindly the hospitality industry during this quarantine, tomorrow I drive north to the Al Bien Hotel in SJC. I'll bring the desktop, clothing, necessary sundries.

Papa larry called me he talked to his cousin uncle Jhun remember the policeman?he said it's not easy to go out in cabanatuan because the checkpoint will ask you a certificate of residency in sanjose

Ah shit. Let's hope the letter from the manager will get me out.

But Lawrence told me that i can go with you and drop you in san Jose because i have identification that address in there..then i will go back here in cabanatuan

I see. But then I won't have a car to get food...

He's chatting now the DILG director here cabanatuan and he said we can exit now as long as i have I'ds.

I see. But then I won't have a car to get food...

As much as possible now if you can get out of cabanatuan much better because they didn't know what will happen in the next day

Yes, but how will I eat in SJC with no car to get food?

Papa larry will help you..but still it's in your decision

I see. He'll take me to the supermarket for weekly supplies?

Yeah it's not a problem they willing to help you of course Just get a certificate or waver in Fred's now

Right. I'll come by your place tomorrow.

You can't re schedule your appointment?papa larry and Lawrence said much better if you can exit now in cabanatuan...

No, I can't.

Aww That's bad

They have days filled with these interviews. If I can't get out of Cab City, then it is up to the Cab City government to find a place for me here. 

 Hope so..we will just try tomorrow Chat Conversation End Type a message...

Above is the most recent text thread with Jheng. The "appointment" mentioned at the end is a phone interview with someone at the embassy in Manila: I'm applying for social security (the big 6-2 is April 24th). He calls Fred's at 8am tomorrow.

Jheng makes it seem as if leaving Cabanatuan were like breaking out of Sing Sing. Well, like her, I have no experience with mass quarantines. In two or three days, I'll let you know how it went.




Satellite shot of Luzon. (Wikipedia)

Satellite shot of Luzon. (Wikipedia)

Happy St. Patrick's Day. An hour or so after I finished yesterday's posting, a flurry of texting from Jheng informed me that the entire island of Luzon, with its 55 million+ souls, would be placed on an "enhanced community quarantine" starting at midnight on the following day and lasting until April 17. Restaurants, government offices, schools, malls, stores, any number of establishments where the public gathers will be closed. Public transportation will be shut down. Supermarkets and pharmacies will remain open, and households are to designate one person to shop for weekly supplies of food and medicine.

I dropped by the duplex this morning and picked up Jheng and Mama Luz, then drove them over to the Savemore market, where they bought a week's supplies for their side of the duplex.

That errand completed, I was entering Fred's when Ruth, the manager, called me over to the reception desk. Apparently a decision has not yet been made, but Ruth's aunt, who is Fred's sister and the overseer of Fred's Cabanatuan property, told Ruth that the family might close down Fred's Hotel for the duration of the quarantine. Ruth told me she would inform me once a decision is made. Well peachy keen dandy. 

I've found online a furnished, 4-bedroom house for rent in Barangay Kapitan Pepe, a good part of the city. P20,000 a month -- about $400. Throw in electricity and water, and it would be about what I pay now at Fred's. Texted Jheng with a copy of the advertisement, to see if she is interested. Yet I'm friends with Fred's 15 or 16 staff members, with the family that runs the sari-sari across the street, with some of the trike drivers here . . . . I hope they decide to stay open.


Flatten That Curve!

September 28, 1918: the Philly Liberty Bond parade. (New York Times)

September 28, 1918: the Philly Liberty Bond parade. (New York Times)

Some American news outlets are retelling a cautionary tale concerning the Spanish Flu of 1918-20, a pandemic which killed between 20 and 50 million people worldwide according to most estimates. It's a tale of two cities: St. Louis and Philadelphia. Just two days after discovering cases of the flu within their city, St. Louis officials put a stop to public gatherings; shut down theaters, schools, churches, the courts, libraries, the trolley system. Philadelphia's response, just as severe as St. Louis's, was nonetheless two weeks behind the response of St. Louis. And during those two weeks Philly hosted a war bonds parade which drew 200,000 Philadelphians together into a steaming mass of spectating humanity. Within a week Philadelphia's hospitals were overwhelmed with flu cases; later on, I've read, residential neighborhoods were suffused by the odor of overripe bodies as families waited days and days for overwhelmed morticians to take away their loved ones.

The upshot of these differing responses was that St. Louis had a per capita death rate due to flu that was less than half the rate Philadelphia experienced.

Had chicken tinola for lunch in the restaurant at Fred's, then took a walk through the surrounding neighborhood. Massachusetts schools have been shut down "for three weeks," the NBA is on hiatus, and new virus checks at airports in the U.S. are causing huge snarl-ups. In the Philippines, meanwhile, the Duterte administration has locked down the 13,000,000 inhabitants of Metro Manila, several provinces have banned incoming non-residents, and schools were closed a month before summer break. The neighborhood didn't look any different; even in the afternoon heat I like this walk. Big changes are afoot on the macro-scale, though, eh?

I'm going to read more about the Spanish Flu of more than one hundred years ago, see what else there is to learn from the health crisis that our current-day health crisis may eventually rival in its scope. The cautionary tale that begins this posting is plain in its lesson: a governmental response that is fast and severe can mitigate the disease's spread. Slip-ups in such a response are punished. Severely. In the modern parlance, government-imposed measures designed to increase social distancing will, with a little luck, flatten the curve on the graph line that traces the number of confirmed cases. The flattening of the curve -- which, without government intervention, would rise exponentially and peak at some crazy-high level -- will not only save lives; it will help prevent the health care system from becoming so overburdened that many die from a lack of manpower and machinery: as happened in Hubei Province, as is happening now in Italy.

Back to the U.S. Its graph line is a match for Italy's line a week or ten days ago. Governmental response so far has been mainly a patchwork of closings and restrictions at state and local levels; there is something of a vacuum at the federal level, despite the response team that Trump put together. The money allocated by Congress will be helpful -- if the administration acts quickly with it, and if those actions are shaped by the science involved. That Trump himself continues to downplay the seriousness of the situation is, for me, unnerving. I've read of parties being thrown with numbers exceeding restrictions placed by a governor or a mayor; the beer of choice at these parties is Corona. Could happen only in a Murca whose president regularly contradicts his top science advisors, eh?

In the Philippines there may be overreaction, and this is good. With a population roughly one third the size of the U.S.'s, the islands now have 140 confirmed cases (the U.S. has 3,782 at this writing). Cases per million of the population stand at 1.3 (for the U.S. 11.4). There is much to be said for the flattening of a graph line that is not rising exponentially, too. The shut-downs and bans are doing some harm to the economy here, but Duterte and provincial leaders are taking a "better safe than sorry" approach to this, and Filipinos seem to be behind them. 

Given the possibility that a mutation of this virus that is able to thrive in tropical heat may be in the offing, I'll take the Duterte response over a Trumpian response anytime.


That Being Said . . .

The WHO finally declared a COVID-19 "pandemic" yesterday. This only after eight countries report in with more than a thousand confirmed cases and fifteen other countries report more than a hundred. The Italian health system, regarded as the second best in the world by WHO, after that of France, is overwhelmed; in the northern part of that country, hospital ORs have been turned into COVID-19 treatment units, and doctors are tasked with deciding whom to try to save and whom to deny life-saving treatment due to a lack of respirators and other equipment.

We do need to carry on, there should be more stories about carrying on out there, as I crowed in my last posting . . . but country o' mine, US of A, Murca, you seem to be doing too little too late, with regard to this emergency! Test kits in the millions should have been on line weeks ago; makers of protective gear should have been compelled to produce 24/7 weeks ago. But you're not only late out of the gate: the president seems to be trying to mislead the people concerning the danger on their doorstep. This is not like the flu; this kills at least ten times more often than the flu kills. A vaccine will not be produced "quickly." And this virus is not "contained," as some White House officials have recently suggested.

The "alternate reality" concerning the coronavirus that is being disseminated by this administration is a political exercise that is sure to backfire in the coming days. To the extent that it prevents a part of the electorate from making adequate preparations and following safe practices, it is a very dangerous exercise.

Just saw this: meetings of top officials in the executive branch concerning the coronavirus were designated as classified yesterday. Really. For one thing, several experts without security clearance now cannot attend these meetings. For another, what the American people need from their government right now is not confidentiality, but transparency.


Nasty virus, you aren't even alive: just a complex mish-mash of biochemicals. (NBC News)

Nasty virus, you aren't even alive: just a complex mish-mash of biochemicals. (NBC News)

The Philippines does have a rising number of confirmed cases; that number, according to worldometer.info is now 49, and Jheng yesterday told me there is one confirmed case in our province, Nueva Ecija. But the spread rate of the virus here, and throughout the tropics, is relatively flat compared to that of countries in temperate latitudes. The "*cluster*, *cluster*, *boom!*" effect does not seem to be playing out down here. Worldometer.info now includes the number of cases in countries per/one million of the population, and a quick scan down these numbers reveals the virus's difficulty in making serious inroads in tropical countries. In Italy, to start in the north, 206 people per million of the population are infected (today); in Norway, 116; in Spain, 49; in the U.K., 7. In Thailand, on the other hand, the number is .8; in the Philippines, .4, in Cambodia, .2; in Indonesia, .1. The U.S. today has 4 per million of the population infected -- it is a number, I fear, that will go up quickly, and soon.

The disease's slow spread in the tropics, however, suggests that the coming northern hemisphere summer will diminish transmission in the north from a fast burn to a slow burn, don't you think? Hopefully to a very slow burn . . . .

As for me, these days I'm washing my hands for 20+ seconds whenever I return to my room from downstairs or outside; I'm wary about where I put those hands; I'm getting plenty of sleep. And, for sure, I'm carrying on. You carry on too.


Against the Promulgation of a Bunker Mentality

It's something of a comfort for me to see construction involving an enlargement of the house across the street from Fred's. Ten or twelve men are gainfully employed by a family making an investment toward a brighter future.

The image is a counterirritant for me. The online news, the TV news, the newspaper news these days is all about isolation, contraction, closing down. There is not enough about carrying on, you know? 


On the Doorstep of Philippine Summer

This was a first for me: a security guy took my temperature as I entered the SM Mall today. The world's on edge thanks to COVID-19, of course. South Korea, Iran, and Italy are awash in cases of the virus; in dozens of other countries, cases are on the rise. In the country that has its name on my passport, the state of Washington is in the middle of an outbreak, and many other states, including my home state of Massachusetts, have confirmed cases.

But the Philippines continues to report only three confirmed cases -- all visiting Chinese nationals. I wonder whether the transmission of COVID-19 is stunted in the tropics, where in the lower elevations the weather is always warm or hot. Hong Kong and Malaysia are the only tropical places with more than 50 cases; HK is, of course, Chinese, while Malaysia, with its large Chinese population, has a great many people traveling to and returning from the country hosting the COVID-19's epicenter -- particularly in the time of the Chinese New Year.

Thinking I have an edge, in terms of contracting the virus, over an alter-me living back in Massachusetts is a little comforting; the Who yesterday revised its global mortality rate for the disease upward to 3.4%, and both alter-me and I are smokers over the age of 60. But I'm not downright sanguine about my chances. The number of patients "under investigation" and getting tested in the Philippines hovers around 600. At the mall, I thought I felt a little feverish dizziness as I stood still while the security guy pointed his temperature gun at my forehead; the thing beeped and he stared at it for a moment, then smiled and waved me in, though.

Earlier in the day I had dropped by my rotisserie friend's shop to pick up some lunch for Jheng, the children, and me, but found that plan dashed; the road-widening operation had reached his storefront, and he was temporarily closed. The road-widening is getting closer and closer to the duplex; before long my friends and loved ones will have an attenuated abode, thanks to this project (for more on this, see 9.20.19, second floor). 

I drove on to the duplex and suggested we go to Ben's for lunch. This place has not only very tasty halo-halos but also a reasonably priced lunch menu -- oh, and see some of their whimsical decor above, along with my favorite seven year old,  Janniah Angelica Academia (alias BAY-bung). I had a tunafish sandwich, the girls had tocino, Aaron had hotdogs, Jheng ate a gloppy-looking spaghetti and tuna dish, and Mama Luz, who I think had already eaten, just nursed a halo-halo. Halo-halos for the children, several orders of fries.   


For the past three months hot-hot weather has been on hiatus. Early morning temps can be as low as 19C (66F), while afternoon temps very rarely get above 31C (88F). Rain has been in very short supply, which is common in the "winter" months, but these months have been drier than usual. If afternoon thunderstorms don't kick up before June, parts of Luzon will be on a drought footing, as happened last year. 

Out and about, I've been untroubled by heat these past few months: not having the car during most of this time presented problems due to logistics, not discomfort. In the coming weeks, though, I'll be very glad I have an air-conditioned Avanza. In April and May, afternoon temps in the 34-38C range (93-100F) are common, along with high humidity. Standing still for five minutes outdoors, I'll feel the sweat start to run. (If that coronavirus is having trouble moving about on these islands now, it may have to vacate the premises then.) More on the Cabanatuan climate can be found in the basement archive at 2.25.19.

Summer break for the children is April 3 to June 3.


Day Trip

I picked up the car from Sherwin -- a car with a glued-on side mirror and a scrape on the driver's-side door unattended to. He had just yapped my ear off about those "#%*&@!# teachers" (I understood less than half of it), then presented me with this! It seems he hadn't reinsured the car before driving it out of the shop and into an accident, afterward spending four weeks doing the side mirror job himself. It is insured now, and the scratch is not glaring; I'll find out what a body shop can do with it. Sherwin, you have made me restart my shit list, a list I haven't kept for many a moon.

Yesterday, Tuesday, was a school holiday -- commemorating the People Power movement that toppled the Marcos regime in 1986 -- and Jheng and I the night before had decided to take the family to Camp Paraiso, a resort high in the Sierra Madre. The online pictures of tiered swimming pools in a woodsy setting had certainly won me over. At 9am we set out -- Mama Luz, Lola Dana, James, Marielle, Lara, Jiannah, Aaron, Jheng, and I.

Stopped at a bridge for pix. (photo by Jheng)

Stopped at a bridge for pix. (photo by Jheng)

The resort is a few kilometers beyond Bongabon, an onion-growing town which sprawls along some foothills of the Sierra Madre, to the northeast of Cab City. Leaving Bongabon behind, we were in 2nd gear territory, noticing occasionally, by the sides of the road, piles of debris that had been pushed there after landslides. Up, up. Rock faces, earth faces, dense forest. We encountered few cars on the way, but when we reached Camp Paraiso, cars were parked outside the entrance uphill and downhill; the parking lot was full, and a man told us the resort itself was full. He suggested waiting or following the road 4 kms. farther to another resort which may not be full. School holiday: of course the resorts would be hit hard.

The group and I decided to push on all the way through the mountains on Rt. 112, then make our way to the seaside surfing town of Baler (Bah-LAIR) which I had driven to with Larry, Lori, Jheng, and the kids four and a half years ago. Everyone was excited about traveling to the ocean, and after another hour of up and down, the switchbacks pulling us this way and that, we were finally on fairly level ground. An hour later we entered Baler.

Jheng had found a resort on the ocean near some interesting rock formations; as the resort had no restaurant, we stopped at an all-you-can-eat buffet place, also on the water, which offered, for P200 a grownup (about $4.00) and P100 a child, a long table of fish dishes, chicken dishes, and pork dishes, as well as a small mountain of rice. After lunch I stood in the yard at a fence behind the place with the children, a cigarette dangling from my lips. We were staring at the waves coming in.

It's hard for many folks living in other countries not to think of Filipinos as "ocean people," but one of the reasons we traveled to Baler during my first trip to the Philippines was that Jheng's kids -- aged 7, 4, and 1 at the time -- had never before seen the ocean. Living on the 15th largest island in the world, inland, can cause one to have as much familiarity with the wide open sea as a resident of St. Johnsbury VT has, you know?

(Photos above by Zheng, Marielle, and me.)

(Photos above by Zheng, Marielle, and me.)

As the pictures above suggest, the resort Jheng found was situated in a beautiful place. Also, it was both inexpensive and uncrowded. Mama Luz and Lola Dana mainly stayed at the bungalow we rented overlooking the shorefront. James and I spent much time in the pool, often with the children, but we had our walkabouts. The ladies -- Jheng, Marielle, and Lara -- were more adventurous than we, clambering about the rocks and staring into tidepools where they found small, black starfish. Big waves and sharp rocks kept us out of the ocean. At one point near the end of our stay James called to me to take his photo. The polio survivor had climbed the nearest rock formation to a shelf about 30 feet high! I whirred the telephoto of my little Sony and got off a decent shot.

We left about three hours after we had come and drove up Ermita (Hermit's) Hill, which overlooks the Baler waterfront. As we stood on the lookout deck, Marielle noticed a large bird with a huge beak in the trees below; it looked something like a toucan but was brown and gray. Alas, James scared it off trying to get close to take a picture of it. We took in the islands and the rock formations, the fishing boats and lush forest, then started for home.

We spent more than twice the amount of time on the road than we spent in Baler, but I think we all felt it had been worth the long drive. Jane took over the wheel for the trip home. We ate at the Jollibee's in Rizal and pulled up next to the duplex a few minutes after 9.


February Days

Hello, Mr. Sherwin:

Jane and I are in great need of the car, which we have not driven for four months. Please make all haste in repairing the minor damage; then convey the car to us quickly.


Bradley Smith


The response was from Sherwin's wife Des, second-in-command at the consultancy. "Good Day Mr.Brad Smith .Ok no problem ." That was three days ago. Jheng has texted them several times since then: no response.



Though without wheels, I visit the duplex four or five times a week, sometimes timing the visit so that I can swing by my rotisserie friend's business and pick up lunch for school-returned children, Jheng, and me. Two orders of sisig and one chicken fill our plates well, the cousins' dog waits outside for scraps, and after lunch I give up the camera to the kids and talk with Jheng -- about COVID-19, about possible daytrips, about Triskelion projects, Taal Volcano, the car, our aches and pains . . . .

Taal     (CNN Philippines)

Taal (CNN Philippines)

Mayon  (Rappler)

Mayon (Rappler)

Two of those topics are also on the minds of millions of Filipinos. The Taal alarm has been lowered to 2, yet minor earthquakes related to moving magma persist, and the experts say a major eruption may still be in the offing. About 150 miles to the southeast of Taal, Mayon Volcano, also on Luzon, has begun emitting steam and ash again; a glowing at the summit has been seen intermittently over the last two weeks. Mayon erupted in January and February of last year, causing the displacement of about 40,000 people, but was quiet for nearly a year after that. A reawakening now, or merely a burp after the main meal? Scientists don't know. Authorities have it at a level 2.

A Filipino household worker in Hong Kong has tested positive for COVID-19, but no Filipino in these islands has yet tested positive. As mentioned before, three Chinese nationals visiting the Philippines were found to have the disease, and one of them died. If none of these three transmitted the virus to others while staying in the country, it would be surprising, given the high transmission rate of COVID-19. Two of the three visited three cities in the Philippines before they were both tested positive and admitted to San Lazaro Hospital in Manila. An Al-Jazeera reporter was told by the nursing staff there that medical authorities exhibited a lack of transparency, that protective gear for the staff was in short supply, that the hospital was understaffed.

If something like what Hubei Province in China is now experiencing should occur in the Philippines, this would be a sad place indeed, I guess. Medical care is for the most part up to modern standards here, at least in the cities, but according to this Al-Jazeera article, the country has one doctor for every 33,000 Filipinos, and one hospital bed for every 1,121 Filipinos.





Mr. Sherwin

It had been nearly four months since I had seen my car; while I knew there had been a hold-up caused by an insurance company that did not want to make a payout so close to insurance renewal (insurance was free for the first year of ownership), and while I knew car repairs are generally very slow Phlipside, I decided to combine the trip to the mall for chocolates on the 14th with a walk across the street to see Mr. Sherwin, the immigration consultant through whom I had bought the car. You may remember, if you've been following my reports and musings for a while, that back when I decided to get a new car, the banks had a policy of denying loans to foreigners who had not lived in the country for two years. Sherwin procured the loan for me and receives a fee with each payment I make. A middle man for a car loan? Well, a visit outside the country does not count as straight residency here to the banks, and I aimed to visit the U.S. once a year . . . .  So yeah, a middle man.

Anyway, Sherwin was taking care of the insurance and the repair. Before lunch at the mall I walked out on the huge second-level deck where I could see into the consultancy office across the street; dark, nobody there. It was the same after lunch and shopping. Troublingly, the roof-top billboard and poster advertisements for Sherwin's establishment had been taken down.

I reported this to Jheng after getting back to Fred's, and she got her uncle Sonny to call the Toyota place where the car was being fixed; the Toyota people told Sonny that the car had been released more than two weeks ago. Jheng spent most of the afternoon trying to get Sherwin to respond to her texts. Finally she texted Sherwin that I wanted to get a lawyer to look into the matter: that one prompted a swift reply by Sherwin, who texted Jheng that the car had been slightly damaged in transport after it was released, and he was getting a side-mirror replaced.

Fine. But then the following morning Jheng sent me an online video of a very recent segment of a TV show by a popular group of investigative reporters here in the Philippines -- along with her caption, "Bad news."

Mr. Sherwin confronted by his accusers.    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSbOa-7TpTc&feature=share

Mr. Sherwin confronted by his accusers. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSbOa-7TpTc&feature=share

Gotta hand it to Bitag ("Trap"), the group led by Ben Tulfo that performs surveillance and video-sting operations against perceived scammers and even more dangerous criminals. Members of the group go into the field armed with guns as well as cameras, and the shoot (with cameras)-to-airing time is less than a week.  

Three local public school teachers had been promised jobs in New Zealand by Mr. Sherwin and given contacts there. Sherwin took the teachers' money, more than P300,000 (about $6,000, more than a year's wage to most Filipinos). The jobs did not exist, and Bitag was put in touch with the teachers. Bitag put together some crackerjack footage of the sting, with Sherwin shouting and gesticulating at his young female accusers, who shouted back. In two or three instances, I must say, facial expressions by Sherwin telegraphed "guilty as hell" to this viewer, though I did not understand almost all of the Tagalog and English expressions were rarely used. Bitag has referred the case to the authorities.



Miss you....

Miss you....

No billboard or posters on the 14th....

No billboard or posters on the 14th....

Since we viewed the Bitag piece Sherwin has reassured Jheng that as soon as he replaces the mirror the car will be returned. He told Jheng the televised scuff-up with the teachers painted him in a bad light but that he would be vindicated.

Later on Sunday, after a visit to the duplex with a bag of fruit and ice cream. Jheng explained further that Sherwin claimed there was nothing in the teachers' contracts that promised them a job, and that he planned to sue Bitag for defamation. And that Brad should not worry: Brad will get his car (yeah, and I'll take special note of the odometer reading when I get it back). Jheng is leery of this guy, too, of course.

If the promise (and I believe the teachers that a promise was made) were verbal only, it will be a he said/she said matter. My sketchy middle man will walk.




Well, I did notice that for the last 2 or 3 weeks my posts have been mainly about health concerns. Might as well bring up again the bugaboo in the room, which has taken 1,491 lives at this writing -- the thing we're learning to call COVID-19. Nearly everyone it's killed so far have been Chinese people living in China, and among those it's killed is a very good friend of my ex-wife. I knew this woman quite well during my three years in China, back in the 80's: a warm and humorous soul. About ten years ago she visited the U.S., and my ex invited me over to her place when this woman visited her; we had a nice time; the woman and I exchanged gifts. Now I guess she has given me the gift of a greater empathy  -- with the relatives and friends of all those who have died and will die, with all the lives these unfortunate people touched.

An ongoing human disaster on the verge of going global, caused by a few Wuhanites hankering for a taste of pangolin? Something like this appears to be the case.

Would be much obliged to the authorities in the Philippines if their efforts to keep the virus from spreading here pay off. The official death toll in the country stands at three, all Chinese nationals who were visiting the Philippines. As of yesterday, 252 suspected cases in the country had tested negative for the coronavirus; the results for 186 others are still pending. Forty-nine overseas Filipino workers living in Wuhan have been repatriated, and along with the flight crew are being held in quarantine at Clark in buildings that housed athletes of last year's Southeast Asian Games. (News arrived today that Vietnam is quarantining more than 10,000). Air travel between China and the PI was shut down some days ago; more recently Taiwan has come under the same stricture.

The transmission rate of the disease is in the process of being revised upward. Recent estimates have placed COVID-19's Ro between 2 and 4 (the Ro value is simply the number of people to whom one infected person transmits the disease, on average). But a study by Los Alamos National Laboratory now puts that value between 4.7 and 6.6.: these numbers have new cases of the virus doubling every two or three days. Can the virus be contained? Despite the stringent measures being taken both inside and outside of China, this highly transmissible cat already seems out of the bag. Most Southeast Asian nations have official cases in the double digits, and the number of official cases tends to be lower, sometimes a good deal lower, than the number of cases actually out there.

The number of fatalities is approaching double the number killed in the 2003 SARS epidemic. And the SARS outbreak lasted four full months; we are not yet two months into COVID-19.

That is the dreary picture I have for you today from this quarter, reader. One likes to think this is really not as bad as it seems to be. Carry on, hope for the best! Yup, it's Valentine's Day and I'm off to find a good box of chocolates for Jheng.


https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/health environment/article/3049906/philippines-capas-residents-are-arms-over-quarantine






Later in the afternoon, box of chocolates delivered. Marielle posing before her junior prom, Mom and Grandmom photobombing. Picture by Jheng.

Later in the afternoon, box of chocolates delivered. Marielle posing before her junior prom, Mom and Grandmom photobombing. Picture by Jheng.


Lara Is Eleven.

And Michael is fine. His case of dengue lasted eight days, and he is one happy guy now that it's history.

Jheng is feeling much better after putting up with a mucusy cold for three days. She had caught it from her 17-year-old sister Marielle, who was escorted out of her school last week for having a cough and the sniffles. Yes, a "better safe than sorry" attitude has sprung up among school officials due to coronavirus worries here in the Philippines. Jheng had to bring Marielle to a hospital yesterday to get her checked over, and to get the written doctor's permission for Marielle to return to school.

Aaron fixing himself an ice cream sandwich.

Aaron fixing himself an ice cream sandwich.

On Saturday I swung by the NE market for ice cream and the NE bake shop for a cake; Jheng had prepared a big pot of spaghetti and many spring rolls for Lara's eleventh birthday celebration, and I had dessert duty. It was a fun time in the duplex that afternoon, and I learned something new about Aaron: he prefers his ice cream between slices of bread. I insisted to him that it was a grotesque practice, which made him all the happier as he ate his concoction.

Birthday girl.

Birthday girl.

Among other gifts, Lara received a watch from nai-nai (mom) and three P100 bills from me; she was a very happy girl that afternoon.

James agreed to drive me back to Fred's. Walking out their door I tripped upon their massive door sill (a guard against flooding) and went sprawling upon the pavement. I'd negotiated that sill hundreds of times before, but I guess you could leave it to me to one day become unmindful of it. The right kneecap was pretty well scraped and bloody. Marielle ran for medicinal alcohol and pads -- I grimaced and shouted while the alcohol was applied, and James drove me off under Jheng's worried gaze. Back at Fred's, I cleaned the scrape thoroughly and got out the peroxide and antibiotic ointment I always keep in the hotel room. As noted before in this blog, infections have a way of starting easily and spreading quickly in the tropics, no matter how seemingly inconsequential the wound.

Two years ago.

Two years ago.

Last week.

Last week.

In my early months in Cab City I picked at a hangnail, and within a couple of days half of my upper thumb puffed out in a rosy ball. I got myself to Good Sam (Good Samaritan Hospital) where the surgeon on call told me he'd have to lance it, but the location and size of the infection ruled out a local anesthetic; would I like general anesthesia? I said ah no thank you. I put my hand on the table, an orderly put his weight on my wrist, and the surgeon, Dr. Bautista, made quick work of the cutting. The squeezing took longer, and as he squeezed the doctor merrily asked me if I wanted to see what was coming out. No, thank you, Dr. Bautista.

Late last week I woke up one morning with two bug bites inside the left elbow which irritated me during the day. The next morning I woke up with a swelling the size of a small pancake at the site of the bites. Very warm to the touch. I decided to wait for a day, and within 24 hours the swelling had gone down. Now there are two bumps where the bites had been, but the arm seems fine (and the leg, two days out, is free of infection).

Kind readers in temperate climes, the living is fine here in the Philippines, but if you come for an extended stay, expect occasional eruptions of the flesh. Doctors in the cities, in respect to this, seem to be very competent.


Uncertain Times

I'm fine; the stomach bug is only a queasy memory to some members of Jheng's family and me. But Michael, Jheng's cousin, has tested positive for dengue fever. Dengue is a life-threatening illness in its relatively rare severest form, and a very painful, debilitating slog in its common form. It cannot be spread from person to person; Michael was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and got drilled by the wrong mosquito. Without complications, the illness lasts 3-10 days. He makes regular trips to the hospital to get his blood drawn for platelet counts; the most common complication of the disease occurs when platelets crash. He's being cared for at the duplex by his parents Bernie and Des, by his wife Marie, and by his three lovely little daughters.

Michael in healthier times.

Michael in healthier times.

The world's attention, of course, is riveted upon a different scourge: the unfolding tragedy of the 2019-nCoV coronavirus. "Pandemic" is what some folks on TV, including some health authorities, are calling it, although it does not yet have the solid footing on more than one continent that a pandemic by definition needs, it seems to me.

It's highly communicable, with a transmission rate (Ro) between 3 and 4 (the average flu bug is in the 1.5 range), and lethal in more than 2% of infected cases. The official death toll is closing in on 500, but evidence is mounting that Chinese officials are under-reporting coronavirus deaths, maybe by a great deal.  Disconcerting, to say the least.

You may have read that the one coronavirus death outside of China so far occurred in the Philippines. This was the husband in a couple recently arrived from Wuhan who so far are the only two officially identified cases of coronavirus in the country; more than 80 patients are currently "under investigation," however, including, if Jheng's scuttlebutt from her hospital-worker friend is correct, an 18-year-old Filipina recently arrived from Hong Kong who is being held in isolation at a Cabanatuan hospital.

To the south, Taal Volcano continues to spit and rumble. The experts seem certain about one thing: they don't know whether the mountain is getting ready to erupt . . . or settle down to another period of dormancy.

Uncertain times, indeed. Going out now to get some fruit for Michael.







Stomach bugs are the worst. Turned out Janiah had one. She passed it on to Marielle, then to me. Don't have the least interest in tapping out sentences right now. So . . . 



2019-nCoV, The Taal Decision, and Trump

Had a good Jheng-cooked meal at the duplex on Jheng's birthday yesterday. The girls confiscated my camera early and took snaps of each other while Mama Luz watched TV and Jheng and I talked about the return of the car, among other things. My sig/other liked (or made a good show of liking!) the bracelet of freshwater pearls I'd found at the mall; she was sporting it on her wrist when I thought it best to leave so that she could get some sleep (she has one week left at the night market).

This morning she texted me that Janiah had a fever. We both hope it's not the urinary tract thing again. 

Could it be that coronavirus so much in the news today, 2019-nCoV? Very, very unlikely, reader. There are just three suspected cases in the country, two on Palawan and one on Cebu, both islands far away from this location -- and unlike those two islands, Cab City is not a Chinese tourist destination. 

The advent of this virus was untimely; by the time the Chinese government started "locking down" the cities where it was spreading, tens of thousands of people living in those cities had already departed for hometowns to celebrate the Chinese New Year. The city of Wuhan is the epicenter of the coronavirus -- more specifically a seafood and wildlife market in Wuhan, where Chinese medical authorities believe, based on the number of patrons who became infected early in this event, the cross-species jump of the virus was made. I taught in Wuhan for three years as a twenty-something long, long ago. Met my first wife there. I still communicate with one person who befriended me in Wuhan (besides my first wife), but he no longer lives there, and I would like to know what life is like there now, how other friends I knew are faring in a city "locked down."

Today there are nearly 2,000 cases of the virus in China and 55 deaths caused by the virus. Almost all who have died were over 50 and had compromised immune systems. And that, as far as I can see, is good news. Another coronavirus, called SARS, killed nearly one in ten of the people it infected in Guangdong Province back in 2003. This 2019-nCoV virus doesn't appear to be nearly as deadly as SARS; it remains to be seen just how communicable it is, though. My son Bart will have a number of questions posed to him in our upcoming conference call; he earned a Ph.D. studying the flu virus.

(CNN Philippines)

(CNN Philippines)

In other news, the Taal danger level has been dropped to 3; people are officially allowed to return to their homes in the 14 km. danger zone, while two towns remain off-limits. Hoping this does not turn out to be a mistake. More than 300,000 had been evacuated, and the next time it seems as if the volcano will erupt and the danger level is advanced to 4, there will almost certainly be more reluctance on the part of the inhabitants to move.

A couple of days ago the newspapers had stories of high-level discussions concerning the possibility of making the 14 km. zone permanently off-limits, of  resettling  zone occupants to other places on the island. I just hope that clear science and not expediency was behind this decision to lower the danger level.


As for Trump, he's got to go. The FCC needs to be much more of a watchdog. Term limits in the legislature need to be rammed home. Citizens United brought about legalized bribery by the rich and powerful in politics; overturn the verdict. Abolish lobbyism. Create a system whereby politicians do not have to spend any time at all raising money. This won't turn into a rant; was as concise as I could be, eh. And as for Trump, he's got to go. For him and his ilk, the ends justify every means -- and those ends are not good for you or me. The means are abhorrent.






Year of the Metal Rat

It does not seem a very auspicious moniker for the upcoming year (then again, I was born in the year of the Earth Dog), but Jheng (who was born in the year of the Fire Horse) turns 30 on the same day we usher in the Metal Rat (that is, the 25th), so I determined to combine a trip downtown for a car payment with a search at the mall for a suitable gift, distracted enough on the ride over, pondering what Jheng would like, to point the camera into the light.


Sausages and mac and cheese for lunch; much scrounging around at the mall before ultimately choosing a gift; and a deposit of P18,000 at Pinoy World Assist, where the woman rep said a wonderful thing: the car will be ready on Monday.

Jheng's local barangay Triskelion chapter has a goal of collecting enough food for the feeding of 200 Taal Volcano evacuees for two days, and she's busy with them. The U.S. has gifted the evacuation centers with P5,000,000. And as I type this, the Philippine House of Representatives is holding its plenary session at the Batangas Convention Center (just outside the danger zone) to show its solidarity with Batangans.

The volcano itself is quieter, and fewer quakes are being recorded (there have been well over 600 in the last ten days). There has been some criticism by provincial politicians directed at the scientists at Philvocs: they want Philvocs to lower the danger level so that local businesses can open. The vice mayor of Talisay, on the north shore of Taal Lake, publicly encouraged town citizens to return to their homes, later saying of the leader of Philvocs, "Siya ba ay Diyos?" (Is he God?) This man is now in trouble with the Department of the Interior and Local Government (a metal ruler to the back of his hands, please, DILG). A spokeswoman for the scientists responded that Philvocs was "firm in its science." Magma is very close to the surface, and a destructive eruption may be imminent. Danger Level 4 will not be lowered; businesses in the 14 km. zone will be sanctioned if they open.

The numbers evacuated from the danger zone continue to rise.

Danger zone residents are being evacuated by both government workers and private citizens. (Philstar.com/Efigenio Toledo IV)

Danger zone residents are being evacuated by both government workers and private citizens. (Philstar.com/Efigenio Toledo IV)


​"Hindi paba sumasabog." (Do not explode.)

The above was just seen by me in the comments column of the live feed of Taal Volcano on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G1xr_4Wb7zo). The government bureau Phivolcs reported an hour ago that earthquakes (most quite small) continue at a high frequency, and that levels of sulfur dioxide in the vicinity of the volcano are rising (sulfur dioxide separates from magma when magma is close to the surface). In addition, most of Taal Island is rising, bulging apparently with pressure from below, while the northeastern flank is subsiding.

The lake in the crater evaporated days ago, but for several days the volcano has been relatively quiet, with puffs and occasional jets of smoke, but no fireworks. Philvolcs is keeping its alarm level at 4, and warns that something dire may be only a hop, skip, and a jump away.

Fourteen towns around the volcano have been evacuated and are on lockdown, and people residing within 14 kilometers of the crater have been advised to move away for the time being -- the farthest a pyroclastic flow has traveled, in previous Taal eruptions, was 14 kms. back in the 18th century. An estimated 150,000 people have moved; more than 60,000 of those are now living in evacuation centers. The population within that 14 km. radius is 459,000, however.

Volcano refugees. (CNN)

Volcano refugees. (CNN)

The "sit and wait" quality of this is unnerving to me, though my loved ones and I live far from the danger zone. Today I had a trike driver take me to the NE Crossing fruit stand, then up the Aurora road to the rotisserie guy, then farther up the Aurora road to Jheng's place, where the children had just arrived from school for lunch. Roasted chicken and sisig, but Jheng would not join us. There's a stomach bug going around, and she seems to have met up with it. Yuck-o. Hope you're well again very soon, dear.

Must talk with Aaron about how he should not shoot a camera into the light.




Taal Update

Since the initial phreatic boom, Taal Volcano has remained very active; Alert Level 4 is still in place. Yesterday a lava fountain shot up an estimated 1,500 feet into the sky, and ashfall has been continuous for three days. As far as I know (and I scan PI media every few hours) that one traffic death is still the only death attributed to the volcano.

Phivolcs is an institution within the DOST (Department of Science and Technology) whose job it is to monitor volcanic eruptions and mitigate their effects. I'm following their twitter feed, and most of their tweets over the past few days have reported earthquakes -- several hundred in Batangas Province, none very large, have been recorded. It is these quakes, combined with fissuring that is occurring throughout Batangas, that has led Phivolcs to warn that there is a great deal of magma movement beneath Lake Taal, and that a major eruption in the coming days or weeks is a real possibility.

One of the fissures, a crack nearly 3 kms. long, has left some streets impassable and a number of houses damaged.

One of the fissures, a crack nearly 3 kms. long, has left some streets impassable and a number of houses damaged.

The government hopes to move 200,000 people in a mandatory evacuation; more than 30,000 as of now have been moved either to shelters or to relatives outside the danger zone.

Of the 33 Taal eruptions recorded since the 16th century, the eruption of 1754 lasted seven months; the deadly eruption of 1911 lasted three days. Of course, no one knows how long this one will last or how deadly this one may become.







Taal Volcano

First an update of the situation of the Dumagats on the Kaliwa River. The day after I wrote the entry below, philstar global reported that a Dumagat leader has announced that the government agency pushing forward the building of the Kaliwa Dam had manipulated community members to approve the project in a manner that violated the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act of 1997. The agency is accused of using both intimidation and bribery at the meeting, and one hundred individuals have written to the chairman of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples to protest the assembly and to ask the chairman to invalidate the decision that was reached. There will no doubt be more on this later; will try to keep you up to speed.


(En24 News)

(En24 News)



Yes, another volcano on the island of Luzon has awoken: Mayon last year, Taal this year. I clicked back and forth to various PI media sites as the news started coming in yesterday. Taal emitted a gigantic plume of ash yesterday afternoon, causing authorities to evacuate more than 23,000 people from lakeside areas near the volcano. Flight operations at Manila's international airport were suspended yesterday, and remain suspended today. The type of eruption, I learned, was a "phreatic explosion," which occurs when a sudden infusion of magma turns the water table to steam, and the steam bursts forth, spewing with it ash, rocks, and volcanic bombs. Many of these phreatic explosions were recorded on Mt. St. Helens shortly before the devastating 1980 Plinian St. Helens eruption. (Plinian eruptions are driven directly by magma and can contain deadly pyroclastic flows. Yes, I am learning some things about vulcanology, these days.) One is dead and three injured in a car accident blamed on the ashfall: ash was reported falling over a broad swath of central Luzon, including Metro Manila (60 kms. away from Taal).

Early this morning, lava started spewing out of the cone. The Seismology Bureau has declared Alert Level 4 -- i.e., that a very dangerous explosive eruption is possible in the coming hours or days. An eruption-spawned tsunami warning has also been issued; the volcano sits in a caldera filled by Lake Taal, which has an average depth of 330 feet.

Taal Volcano in more peaceful times. (Wikipedia)

Taal Volcano in more peaceful times. (Wikipedia)

There are 27 active volcanoes in the Philippines, and quite a few on the island I call home (Cabanatuan is not near any of them). Of the 27, Taal Volcano has been rated the second most active -- it was edged out by Mount Mayon. Taal is also certainly one of the deadliest volcanoes in the country: the official toll of the 1911 Taal eruption is 1,335 lives, though many more than that are thought to have been killed.

As with the Kaliwa Dam issue, I'll keep you apprised of Taal developments. I'm well, Jheng's well, and the kiddos, back in school, are all well. Jheng's mom, Luz, continues to ail -- the doctor says it's her body's reaction to one or more of the drugs she is taking -- and of course, she's dealing with grief after losing Montero.

We've delayed taking the children to the cemetery; Jheng wants to wait until the car is returned.









The Sierra Madre, the Dumagats, and the Kaliwa Dam

The Sierra Madre's highest peaks top 6,000 feet. Situated on the east coast of northern Luzon, it is the longest mountain range in the Philippines.

The Sierra Madre's highest peaks top 6,000 feet. Situated on the east coast of northern Luzon, it is the longest mountain range in the Philippines.

Metro Manila covers 620 sq. kilometers and has a population of  12,877,000. Its population density, then, is more than 20,000/sq km. From Manila Bay, if you head north into the central flatlands of Luzon, which include the city of Cabanatuan, the density of human souls remains high, more than 1,000/ sq. km. in most areas.  Now drive over to the east coast. There, the population density is less than 30/sq. km. in most areas. This is because the east coast of northern Luzon hosts the Sierra Madre, a mountain range that stretches north-south for some 400 kilometers.

The Sierra Madre contains the largest rain forest in the Philippines, as well as several nature reserves and national parks. The New People's Army, with its on again-off again communist insurgency, is known to have hideouts there. The mountain range is also home to the Dumagat people, one of the many minority groups in the country.


2 photos by Kim David/Shutterstock

2 photos by Kim David/Shutterstock

The Dumagats are a subgroup of the Aeta (Eye-tah) or Agta, which was among the first populations of people to settle in the Philippines, arriving from Australia and possibly the Solomon Islands. Paleontologists think they traveled here by land, back when there was a land bridge between Australia and this area more than 30,000 years ago. Today, the Dumagats are the last group of hunter-gatherers in the country, living off the natural bounty of the rain forest and the nearby seashore. Big caveat here: while many have kept their cultural practices and traditions, deculturalization is well under way. Throughout much of the last century, wild pigs, deer, and monkeys declined in number in the forest as the slash-and-burn farming and the logging operations of outsiders increased; as well, the privatization of coastal property barred the Dumagats from many foraging and fishing locales. So many of them took up jobs offered by the lowlanders, many started practicing the slash-and-burn farming they learned from the lowlanders, and many simply relocated outside their ancestral homeland.

Eastern Rizal Province borders Metro Manila, while its western reaches stretch back into the Sierra Madre and contain many Dumagat/Remontado communities (Remontado is the name given to people of mixed lowlander and Dumagat race). Government administrations going all the way back to Marcos have wanted to push ahead with a dam project along the Kaliwa River in western Rizal. But these endeavors had to be shelved due to logistical or financial insufficiencies combined with the outcry and well-organized protests of the Dumagat people. In recent years, with the skyrocketing of Metro Manila's population and the onset of more severe than usual seasonal droughts, the need for another reservoir to serve Metro Manila is more urgently felt than ever, though. In March, April, and May of last year, rotational water interruptions occurred due to record low levels in the existing reservoirs. People had to line up with various receptacles for the arrival of fire trucks or water company carriers to satisfy their most basic need. And they were not happy about it.




President Duterte to the rescue. In the middle of last year he landed a Chinese company capable of building the Kaliwa Dam and signed a whopping loan agreement with the government of China. Five of the six Dumagat communities along the affected portion of the river announced they would not agree to the project, despite government promises of generous assistance in their relocation. The Dumagats held firm, and they had their eco-advocates in Manila, as well as national laws concerning the protection of indigenous peoples' homelands, to back them up. Duterte fired back, saying he would use the presidency's "extraordinary powers,"and "outright police power," to make sure the project went forward. Also, he warned the courts not to issue any restraining orders when the work began. It seemed like a big fight was looming.

(Leandro Miguel Novero)

(Leandro Miguel Novero)

Then a few days ago the government announced, out of the blue, that it had reached an agreement with the Dumagat communities for their relocation. It assured the public that the communities had not been coerced in any way. Details concerning this agreement have not yet been made public.

Environmental NGOs in Manila are not happy with the news, I'm sure; they have concerns about the dam that go beyond the rights of indigenous people in the Philippines. Due to the recent collapse of large dams in Vietnam and Myanmar, the World Commission on Dams has recommended that due to the weather extremes caused by climate change, dams the size of Kaliwa should no longer be built. It has been pointed out, too, that the site of the dam is not far from an active fault. A sudden Kaliwa Dam collapse would likely kill many thousands of people living downstream.

With the Dumagat agreement, though, there doesn't seem to be anything that could now stop the construction of the dam. It is expected the dam will be completed sometime in 2022, after which it will provide Metro Manila with 640 million gallons of processed water per day.

The Kaliwa River. (Rappler)

The Kaliwa River. (Rappler)





https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2019/10/21/1962094/denr-issues-ecc-kaliwa-dam-project https://greenconvergencephil.com/no-to-kaliwa-dam-sign-the-petition-now/




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