Kiddie Memories of Second Grade

Facebook not only brings people closer — finding long-lost friends and acquainting new ones — it also rekindles old memories, as old photos emerge.

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Like this photo of birthday party of Rey Amador Bargamento, a classmate in second grade of Mrs Florita Papin’s Grade 2 Zinnia. From left: Leah Mae Bargamento (Rey’s sister), Michael Almario, April Labagala, Ramir Bargamento (Rey’s brother), Elisa Yana, Rizza Rizada, Rey Amador Bargamento, Genielyn Lirazan, Hazel Magpuyo, Felicisimo Celebrar Jr, Christopher Bermudez, me, Ana Victoria Melgarejo and Michael Monteverde.

Birthday parties didn’t have the fancy decorations (it was held at Rey’s home), elaborate costumes (no masks, hats or special motif) or Bozo the clown to entertain us. We were a behaved bunch, especially under Mrs Papin’s watchful eyes.

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Why Mintal is My Ultimate Home

Today, my folks in the Philippines celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Not only from my college alma mater, but also from the very place I was raised — Mintal, Davao City. It’s already a given that we love Davao Cityclean, ready to extend help and relatively more orderly than many other places in the country. Mintal, as one of the 180 barangays in the city, share the credit the Davao City has earned.

When I was younger and asked where I live, I kind of anticipate the word “mental hospital” once I reply with the name of my barrio. But that’s okay, it does not matter. What’s in a name anyway?

It may be out of one’s apparent loyalty to his roots to choose the place of his origin as the ultimate definition of home, but Mintal offers more than just lip service.

1. Mintal is an education hub. From pre-school to primary school to high school and college, you don’t have to leave Mintal to pursue studies. And the ones found in Mintal are not your ordinary educational institutions. University of the Philippines, Philippine Science High School, TESDA training center and University of Southeastern Philippines are located within or close to the barangay. Not to mention the award-winning programs the barrio has implemented.

2. Basic government services are available. Unlike many other political barangays in the city, Mintal is blessed to have its own police station, fire station, a post office, public market and public library. That makes one think taxes paid to the government are visibly put in use in the name of public service.

3. Mintal respects freedom of religion. While Gaudi’s work in Barcelona awed me, I’ve never been to a place where edifices of different denominations stand one next to the other: Immaculate Conception Parish where I heard mass and served as lector and altar boy in the 90s, Iglesia Ni Criso and Church of Latter Day Saints. There may be difference in teachings, but these churches coexist in harmony.

Ohta_Monument4. Mintal used to be home to a significant number of Japanese people in the past. Evidenced by that unusual structure we used to climb at in fourth grade, there is Japanese presence in Mintal and surrounding areas that it’s being considered a heritage site. A new monument has been erected as further reminder of the friendship of Japanese and Filipinos. As a former scholar of Relief Association of Southeast Asia, I am grateful to benefit the generosity accorded by these generous Japanese people.

5. Talomo river. Although Mintal is a landlocked barrio and going to the beach without leaving its borders is impossible, the presence of Talomo river served as poor man’s version of what outdoor water activity is about. When I was a kid, my father used to bring me here for a quick dip.

6. The hanging bridge. Before reaching high school, one of the attractions I used to hangout with classmates was the hanging bridge located a further away from the old Napocor (now National Grid). While not so spectacular, its old dilapidated structure presents extra thrill to the newbies.

7. It is safe. Mintal is also home to the Philippine Public Safety College — one we often call Napolcom — and training ground for aspiring police officers. We didn’t have alarm clocks at home since we have two effective ones in place: the 5:30am bell at Immaculate Conception parish and the morning jogging drills by trainees of PPSC. Also, Camp San Gabriel located near the present-day University of the Philippines – Mindanao was a thriving community of Philippine Marines, at least until they got reassigned elsewhere. Their presence helped mitigate fears especially in the 80s when the problem of insurgency was a common topic at coffeehouses.

8. Memories. Choosing Mintal as a sentimental favorite is an understatement. My family is there, and Mintal is a place where memories of the past still remains. School fights and embarrassing moments at Mintal Elementary School, Christmas caroling with Rodel Garsuta, John Elmer Capricho and Dennis Danofra, Legion of Mary and KOTAS days at ICP, and countless memorable episodes at Holy Cross of Mintal.

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Show More ‘Fun’ Videos in the Philippines

As I was watching America’s Funniest Videos shown at TVB Pearl last Saturday, I felt that this type of show should be a good fit for Philippine audience.

Being a fun-loving nation, whose latest selling point in the tourism front ‘It’s More Fun in the Philippines’  obviously parlayed on the light-hearted disposition of Filipinos, we are definitely looking forward to having fun. In our culture, this is easily manifested. Some barrio fiestas have carabao racing, miss gay pageant and of course, food which binds all walks of life in celebration. I grew up listening to Yoyoy Villame and Max Surban and their songs filled with humor and reality. I watched Kulit Bulilit, Home Along Da Riles and Bubble Gang, all of which share a similar theme.

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But I was wondering why has Philippine television continue to be awe-struck with reality shows, game shows and recycled soap operas that operate with different cast of characters. There are contests about cooking the best food, losing the most weight, talents getting most votes, and game shows that are just about guessing and leave audience nothing to think about. They’re fun at first but soon they’ll wear out their warm welcome.

With AFV, it’s a proven winner. And I wouldn’t say otherwise if it’s been on air for 23 seasons to date. As more Filipinos have access to all sorts of recorders, notably smart phones and CCTV cameras, there are more opportunities to showcase why ‘It’s More Fun in the Philippines’. We’re not just showing the tourist attractions in the country, we are also showing the innate attributes of a fun-loving people.

Maybe the Department of Tourism can partner with a local TV station whose format is to find a funny video of a typical Filipino life: in the market, in the bus station or shopping malls. It easily relates to the Filipino audience, apparently low-budget and promotes the country in a light-hearted manner. Since Filipinos are also known to be creative people — at least when poking fun at more serious matters — there could be plenty of this type of videos submitted, especially if cash prizes are offered.

I hope someone will at least try to take this concept into reality.

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Philippines to FIBA World Cup Spain 2014

One proud moment for every Filipino fan is to see his or her team punch the ticket to the world’s biggest stage of basketball competition. 

At the FIBA Asia Championship held at home soil, the Philippines’ withstood early deficits to win games against some of Asia’s top national teams. Beating the likes of Kazakhstan, Qatar and eventually conquering arch-rival Korea en route to FIBA World Cup in Spain next year, ending the world basketball championship drought was made even more special as it was done in front of die-hard fans.

Although yielding in the finals to mighty Iran, the Philippines put a gallant fight until losing steam amid presence of Iran’s mobile big men, notably Hamed Hadadi who was declared tournament Most Valuable Player, and losing Marcus Douthit to injury. The outcome of the tournament has made the Philippines stand among the best  Asian basketball teams.

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Pack your bags, we’re going to Spain in 2014!

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Good Times at Philippine Consulate in Hong Kong

While I hear many Filipinos have bad experience with Philippine embassies and consulates in various places, I can’t necessarily say the same thing with Hong Kong’s post.

Slow processing of requests, indifferent staff or simply unable or unwilling to attend concerns of nationals are often the root cause of animosity towards Philippine consulate or embassy staff.

A friend in Sydney thinks Philippine consulate staff over there act like gods and work at their own pace — slow and inefficient. A schoolmate in Singapore laments the poorly organized passport renewal process, which saw applicants form a long line outdoors, and left many of them give up meals just to keep their positions.

With over a million Filipinos, Saudi Arabia may have been among the most heavily-critized posts. From failure to assist abused domestic helpers to hard to reach hotlines, staff and officials often receive such harsh words from frustrated Filipinos.

In some cases, fed up citizens have taken their complaints to another level. When a Filipino domestic helper in Hong Kong tried to seek advice from a Labor Attache for employer abuse, she was met with stern reply that prompted one of her friends to record the whole conversation. The incident prompted local Filipino groups to voice their displeasure at how officials treat overseas Filipinos, more popularly known as OFWs, the widely-acclaimed modern-day heroes. Although many might wish to label the government officials and diplomats as the same, some complaints also get acted upon. Erring officials get recalled from their posts.

Personally, I think it’s unfair to pin the inefficiency of the system towards the staff who are tasked to implement them. If the Overseas Employment Certificate — a document that proves legitimacy of a Filipino working abroad, thereby granting him travel tax exemptions — is clearly a time-waster. But it still needs to be part of a vacationing worker’s experience, and going ballistic in front of the counter attendant over matters beyond his or her capacity doesn’t help at all.

Maybe we are just good at looking at mistakes, but often fail to offer ‘sensible’ suggestions. (The emphasis is aimed at those who offer ridiculous ideas.)

Over the years, I have ocassionally visited the Philippine Consulate in Hong Kong to renew my passport, to apply for OEC or get documents notarized. In my recent visits, I observed than staff are more approachable and speak more politely. In short, they’re easier to deal with, despite their apparent hectic day at work dealing with people who may be carrying frustrations at work and regional personalities into the Consulate office.

Just today, my wife and I went to apply for e-passport, we found ourselves waiting for our turn at a small room with data capture machines. One of the staff was out for a while when Consul General Noel Servigon came in and asked us about our appointment schedule. Apparently, wanting to ensure our appointment should go as scheduled, he called on another duty officer to take over the vacant machine.

And while waiting for my wife’s turn to finish photo taking and with documents in hand outside of the room, one female officer proactively called my attention and advised me promptly on where should I go next. Sometimes we just need to appreciate these little gestures and not just when someone responds to our call.

Overall, I am impressed.

Surely, there are still people who will find the operations less than impressive or staff members less approachable — I might observe them personally in the future — but I see good progress going on. Whether consulate folks underwent customer services seminar or just acted out of good intentions to serve Filipinos in Hong Kong better, I see the improvement and keep up the good work.

We acknowledge the improvement and soon I hope I’ll hear similar feedback about Philippine consulates and embassies elsewhere.

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Philweb Memories

In not so distant past, I was one ambitious monkey attempting to dive into cyber space at the dawn of the Web. By the time I was officially enrolled in the industry, the unraveling of dotcom bust already took place a dozen timezones behind. But I was glad it happened that way. Otherwise, I could be cultivating a career quite different from what I have now.

After finishing Computer Engineering at UIC, working there wasn’t exactly my plan. However, maybe because I thought it was the safest route to start a career, I’d further my learning by doing BOTH teaching and programming or I was eager to recoup the educational investment I made with my alma mater (yes, I thought about it), it wasn’t a difficult decision to extend my stay at the University.

But after three years, I thought it was enough. So by June 2000, I left UIC at the time when the new school year is starting. (School calendar in the Philippine education system starts in June.) I remembered talking to the school president S. Ma Assumpta David and trying to be firm with my decision. I thought she respected it and didn’t offer to persuade me to stay.

Two weeks of homestay and curtailed income passed before I got a confirmation I was offered a job in Cagayan de Oro City, a good six hour bus ride from Davao City — along the way passing by the house of my future wife. I have relatives in the city where I could stay. And I thought that my journey of hundreds (or thousands of miles) should begin with this step, no matter if it’s more than just a single one.

Thanks to Rizza R., a childhood friend and neighbor who referred me to the job, and an employee leaving the company, I got in. Interestingly, I realized that this reunion marks another milestone between me and Rizza. We went to the same grade school together. We were classmates in high school. And we took the same course in UIC. Now, we’re colleagues. I also came to know a few more in the office. Candice C., Shelley S., Roy Y., Meg V., Kent, D., Alex, Chui O., Edward N., Sir Chavs and Jimmar R. Our office was at Fr. Masterson Avenue, in the third floor of a building called White House because of its immaculate white painting that stands out of the neighborhood.

We’re only about ten people in the office, so it was really an intimate group. We shared lunch together. My aunt Flora prepares packed lunch so I had no problem waking up early and cooking my food. But at times I just want to try what colleagues want to have for lunch. I remember buying mongo at a house located near the office. At work, it’s not unusual to play MP3 from a PC with Winamp; we only got to play what we want to hear. During this time, downloading music through Napster was still prevalent.

In my effort to be with the family every week, I take the Rural Transit bus on Friday nights and arrive in Davao at about 7 in the morning the following day. As I get home, I hit the bed immediately and wake up at about 11, just in time for lunch. I know I had only a few hours left before I pack my things and make the return trip to Cagayan de Oro. By Sunday afternoon, I am already at Ecoland terminal waiting for my bus to leave Davao.

After work, we sometimes hang out at a friend’s house or we ate dinner together. We played Starcraft a lot! I guess we had a lot of plans that time, like going to the beach or other type of adventure. Unfortunately, they didn’t materialize because I was recalled to the Manila office. I thought the move was killjoy. But I realized this was the reason I left UIC.

Cagayan de Oro was a favorite city of mine. As a kid, we go for summer vacation prelude to the exciting Bohol adventure. For some reason I remember urging my mother if I could study high school there. But the idea was frowned upon, and now I can’t imagine why I made that absurd request. Apart from meeting my relatives (mother’s side), my job in Cagayan de Oro also gave me the opportunity to meet my aunt Sylvia a few years before she died of cancer.

In the office we built this e-commerce suite called e-Padala. I thought the system was promising (Oracle database and competent Meg V. as DBA) but the execution was poor. Procedures were lax at best (not scalable, no strict coding practice and a nightmare system to take over, from an incoming I was asked to move to Manila to finish things.

While it wasn’t my first time to go to Manila, I was still mesmerized by its size. I was with Meg and Sir Deck P. reassigned in Philweb in the posh Enterprise Tower in Makati. Staring at tall buildings was overwhelming — not that they’re taller than Hong Kong skyscrapers — and you’d feel you’re a small dot in a big organization. No longer the easy going lifestyle I enjoyed at the White House. In Manila, you have to hurry up. Even if our office is just one jeepney — or a ticycle if you wake up a bit late — ride away.

Our staff house was located along Estrella Avenue, near Rockwell. It wasn’t big (in fact we were crowding in the rooms), but good enough for newcomers in the city. It has air conditioning unit that’s loud enough to wake you up at night. (I have to say many of my house mates snore in their sleep, so if you’re among last to hit the bed, good luck.) My stay at the Estrella staff house also revealed Metro Manila’s weakness. One of the strongest typhoons in the year left Manila flooded and us unable to leave the staff house. Ironically, as water was everywhere down the street our faucet couldn’t produce a drop of water. We had to rely on bottled water as tap water has become an unreliable source. This reminds me of Davao City, where water flowing out of our tap is safe for drinking and buying bottled water was considered a crazy idea. And we seldom experience waterless faucets too.

In the morning colleagues just rush to the bathroom and head to work in a hurry. Many of us just take our breakfast on the road, or at the fast food area (notably Jollibee) of The Enterprise Tower. For dinner I usually eat at the fastfood at Landmark on my own. This made me miss my mother’s cooking. I was always told that in Manila, every move you make costs money. I guess having this dinner instead of enjoying the company of family members and homemade cooking is part of it. From a predictable life at the UIC campus in May to a new layer of freedom in CDO in July and a chaotic Manila in September, this is the break I’ve been waiting for.

If I accomplished something, it was not seeing the beta version of e-Padala but in landing another job at Zurich Insurance at nearby Citibank Tower. When I told Sir Chavs via instant messaging that I have something to share by the time I return to CDO in October, he already understood I was leaving. I did not only bid farewell to colleagues I only got to work with for two and a half months. I also had to bid goodbye to my aunt Flora and uncle Lito as I packed my clothes and take the evening bus trip to Davao.

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Philippine Olympic Boxing Hero Needs Help

Do you remember Leopoldo Serrantes? If so, then good. He is the 1988 Seoul Olympic flyweight boxing bronze medallist who brought honor to the Philippines and ended the medal drought which struck the country for 24 years.

An enlisted man in the Army, he is now suffering of lung ailment and needs help. He needs a wheelchair and an oxygen tank, the Philippine Star reports. This should not be a big request from someone who used to fuel the resurgence in Philippine boxing in the Olympics. Let’s remember he was the one who started what Onyok Velasco ended. In 1988 Serrantes virtually won the bronze medal by beating his third opponent, someone from Morocco. He lost the semifinals game against a Bulgarian, thereby certifying the third place honors.

In 1992, the Philippines won another bronze medal courtesy of Roel Velasco, in Barcelona, Spain.

In 1996, Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco claimed the Philippines’ second Olympic silver medal ever. The first one was won by Anthony Villanueva, in Tokyo Olympics in 1964, losing to a controversial fight against a Soviet Union fighter. That was the last medal won by the Philippines until Serrantes came into the ring.

So if the Filipino people had much love for Manny Pacquiao, let this love never fade whether he is a world champion or an aging, incapacitated boxer. Aside from Pacquiao, we have other heroes. They don’t want to be in the spotlight. They only need to be taken cared for in times when their bodies don’t cooperate much longer.

Do I hear anything from “Pacquiao Siamese twin” Lito Atienza, Chavit Singson or Miguel Arroyo who grabbed the limelight supposed to be Manny Pacquiao? Hopefully they will.

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Congratulations: Southern Mindanao Prisaa Team

Davao Region has emerged as a powerhouse in collegiate sporting scene when it finished second overall among competing private colleges and universities in the Philippines.

Had it won its finals games in women’s basketball and women’s volleyball, Southern Mindanao would have been the champion. Anyhow, the achievement was tremendous and I congratulate the team for the job well done.

Region Gold Silver Bronze Total
Western Visayas 71 75 61 207
Southern Mindanao 61 52 50 163
Central Visayas 47 30 56 133
Calabarzon 33 40 30 103
Region 1 (Host) 26 29 20 75
NCR North 10 0 0 10
Region 5 7 22 7 36
NCR South 6 4 1 11
Region 3 3 7 27 37
Region 12 1 4 3 8

Source: Sunstar Davao

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Wowowee Death: Sad Ending

It is painful to see the photos of dead men, women and children lying on the ground after a gruesome stampede killed more than 80 people in Manila early Saturday. For some reason, people have risked lives to join a noontime gameshow I got fond of watching during my vacation in the Philippines last December.

I featured the joys of seeing the happy faces of hopeful contestants of Wowowee last December. Even if the host isn’t my favorite, the happiness, if only material, he brings to contestants — winners or losers — is invaluable. For in a country where many citizens live in less than US$2 a day, getting a shot at winning big prizes by answering simple questions is a matter of hard work. Hard work in the sense that one has to overcome the rowdy crowds, discomforts at queues and occassionally the pushing and wrestling with fellow hopefulls before getting into the official list of participants. That’s before they dig their brains or perform wild guesses to questions asked later.

So the road is indeed bumpy to attain those dreams. But Saturday’s gory ending was too much to bear. With one irresponsible prank’s message causing massive commotion, it sowed fear to everyone. Everyone should be afraid. After all, the crowd gathered in the venue ULTRA was hoping to earn something to assure something is on the table and prolong their existence, not take it away.

Relatives looking for their beloved can be seen sobbing while examining the dead. We thought that at the end of the show another lucky person will be added in the rags-to-riches hall of fame.

Many stampedes happened before: football games, bridges falling apart, etc. I guess this is a more sad experience. People did not try to come to Wowowee to enjoy the entertainment; they came to try to see if they can win some money or other giveaways. It’s not just what they want. It is what they need — to survive.

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Being Proud of Filipino Creativity

I found one link in our company intranet blog posted by Dwayne, our Creative Director about the Filipino ingenuity. It is a very heartwarming story that I never hesitated to post my comments about it.

While Filipino contribution to the world hasn’t been prominent (talk about Wright brothers and Isaac Merritt Singer from America, Austrian Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Russia’s Vladimir Kosma Zworykin and Ivan Pavlov, Britain’s Britain’s Richard Trevithick, Italian pizza or India’s curry, Swiss cheese and French wine) Filipino workforce is more widely-known for dedication to job, creativity and appreciation for work.

Photo shows a weaving shop filled with busy Pinoy workers weaving some creative products, most of which will find their way to the glitzy boutiques of Parish, London and Tokyo. It’s true that many Filipino ideas have been sold to and patented foreign companies for mass use. This is mainly attributed to the failure of the government to support such product which could have benefited the Filipino people by generating jobs, boosting investor confidence and retaining the honor to the name of the inventor rather than the wealthy conglomerate.

And even if the government is often at the receiving end of endless blaming, many of its agencies work hard despite the usual problems such as logistics and camaraderie among its people. One of which is CITEM which serves as facilitator among manufacturers and buyers. The result has once again proven that Filipinos don’t need expensive machineries to come up with quality design. Especially in the furniture world, the work of hand has dominated the ones that are built by machines; a clear indication that nothing beats the old hand.

In a country more known for its domestic helpers and chaotic South than skilled laborers and serene beaches, this news is definitely a shot in the arm, an inspiration that shows little-known hardworkers share the dream of a prosperous nation, and not just the overseas Filipino workers.

PHOTO CREDITS: William Gordon. Originally published at core77.com.

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