Monday, May 15, 2006

Blog-O-Rama: Ivan on backpacking & heritage conservation
by Annalyn S. Jusay
Manila Bulletin (15 May 2006)

Ivan is a young man who is well on his way to exploring the country's 7,107 islands and more. His candid and well-written travel journals also give his readers a glimpse of other exotic places in Asia such as Luang Prabang in Laos, Ayutthaya in Thailand and Siem Reap in Cambodia. Far from exemplifying the jetsetting lifestyle of the rich and famous, Ivan is a passionate advocate of backpacking as a cheap and reasonable way to travel. He says travelling need not be expensive. By observing traditions and policies in other countries, the Philippines can preserve its cultural heritage and offer what is best to all kinds of tourists. More in the following interview:

Q. Please tell us something about yourself.

A. I'm a member of the Board of Trustees of the Heritage Conservation Society and a feisty advocate for the preservation of Philippine architectural heritage. I just finished my MBA in UP and am currently working on various projects in Pampanga including heritage and culinary tours.

Q. When did you start to blog? What was your main purpose in blogging? Did anyone convince you?

A. I started blogging during my trip to Kota Kinabalu and Brunei in April 2005. It was my first backpack trip. I guess since so many people would be asking me when I got back home where I went, what I did, etc., I might as well update everyone through a blog. At that time, I wasn't really serious and simply updated the blog when I went around. And I had my MBA studies to take care of so it was really dependent on available time. But my heritage advocacy was very evident even in those early posts.

Then I got to attend a workshop last March on blogging and podcasting as political communication tools sponsored by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. That is when I got serious. By that time, I had already completed my academic requirements and had several trips lined up. So that's how it took off.

Q. Can you tell us more about your advocacy for backpacking and heritage conservation in the country? What do you think is needed to promote this among the general population?

A. People often think that to travel, you need a lot of money. Yes, you need funds to go places but it need not be a hefty amount. And backpacking is one way for you to see the sights without creating a big hole in your pockets. Once people know how cheap travelling can be, backpacking will definitely take off.

On heritage, we have to fight to preserve our heritage primarily for future generations of Filipinos. We must preserve our national identity for our children and their children. Second, for crying out loud, cultural and natural heritage is what foreign tourists come here to see! And when we destroy our heritage, we are bringing down our market value in the multi-billion dollar tourism industry.

Many of our local officials and priests destroy heritage in the name of modernization and progress. Heritage creates local identity. Local identity is a very strong rallying point towards progress. Little do our local officials know that they are actually lowering the standard of living in their area by converting it into an ordinary, nondescript place. As the Filipino proverb goes, "Ang hindi lumingon sa pinaggalingan ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan." You actually think that salawikain would survive this long if it weren't true?

Q. In essence, what do you think is wrong with Philippine tourism? What is good about it?

A. First, we don't know the market. As I mentioned earlier, foreigners travel to visit the cultural and natural heritage of other countries. Would you go to China to visit an SM mall for example? I'd go there to visit the Forbidden City or the Great Wall of China! When we go to Europe, we visit old cities like Paris, Rome, Venice, Madrid, London, etc. and they are all magnificent because of their architectural heritage.

I think policy makers should read this article entitled Finding Heritage Value in The Wall Street Journal about how China is starting to realize that preserving archaeological sites may be a better idea than building shopping malls.

Second is the cost of travelling to the Philippines. Would you believe that the Philippines is relatively expensive to the traveler compared to the rest of Southeast Asia? According to Lonely Planet, you need an average daily budget of US$25 in the Philippines, the second highest in the ASEAN. Compare this to Thailand's US$11 to 15 or US$12 in Malaysia. So we have to bring down the costs of lodging, food and transportation among others.

Since we target mainstream tourism too much, we fail to realize that the bigger market is the budget traveler, the backpacker. You would be surprised with the ratio of foreigners to locals in major tourist cities in our Southeast Asian neighbors such as Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand. The reason they are attracting millions of tourists is because they are backpacker friendly.

One surprise was Luang Prabang in Laos which was so remote, I think Sagada is many times more accessible. But lo and behold, it was teeming with tourists! There was a nearby waterfalls and there were more than a thousand foreigners who paid US$1.50 just to enter. And to think we have more majestic waterfalls in the country. But I have yet to see one that could attract that much foreigners.

The DOT will have to realize that the backpacker is a powerful market. You would be surprised that Americans, Canadians, French or Australians go for the US$5 a night accomodations with just the basic bed and electric fan, and a common shower. Others would even opt for dormitory rooms. For meals, its street food served by hawkers. That's why we have to strive to keep street food clean. The DOT will have to endeavor to create established backpack trails if it wants to attract the tourists which visit our neighbors in the droves. I'm willing to help them if they need it. I have more to say about our need to catch up but I suggest you visit my blog instead and click on the international destinations in the blog index.

Q.What is the best thing that blogging has brought you since you started? Have you received any memorable feedbacks from your readers?

A. Blogging made me more observant of the places I visit. That is why I learn more lessons when I go around. It's fun and encouraging when you find out people read what you have to say. Many comments let you know that you are not alone in your beliefs and advocacies.

Q. What are your observations of the Philippine blogosphere?

A. It is booming! Although there are those who simply blog about their daily routines, there are many who have a lot to say. I hope that more Filipinos read local blogs or better yet, start their own blogs.

Q. Do you think travelling and blogging go together? Do you think blogging will help your travelling, and vice versa?

A. Definitely! I'm happy that I blogged about my trips since I could go back and visit those old entries to remind me about what I did, where I went, etc. It also reminds me of the lessons learned which I hope to apply locally in the future. As I said, blogging made me more aware, observant and appreciative of the things I see, do and experience. And travelling helps me blog since if I don't travel, I have nothing to write about.

Q. What do you think are the qualities of a good blogger?

A. A good blogger should be consistent with regard to topic and content, and frequency of updates. Second, he or she should be opinionated. If what you write about is just your daily routine, you'll bore people to death.

Q. Your online/blogging habits.

A. I'm online for as long as there is a computer and an internet connection.

Q. Plans for your blog.

A. Maybe a new layout, but I'm happy the way the current one is going. You could visit other heritage blogs I manage for the Heritage Conservation Society like "ICOMOS Philippines" ( and "The Gabaldon Legacy" (

For comments and inquiries, write to

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Manila: Mounds, magnates and mausoleums! A Manila Chinese Cemetery walk

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Check out Ivan ManDy's walking tour of the Chinese Cemetery at
Old Manila Walks. There is one on Sunday, May 14, 2006 at 2 p.m.

I visited the Chinese Cemetery together with the Manila North and La Loma Cemeteries way back in February. Check out Tomb raider adventures in Manila's necropolis.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Mountain Province: Close to nature in Sagada

Since we're on the topic of the Cordilleras, I might as well write about my trip to Sagada in the Mountain Province. It was New Year's Day of 2004, I drove straight to Baguio City after a family reunion in Tarlac. There I met up with my SSEAYP batchmate Jonathan Tambol who would accompany to Sagada the next day. So I stayed at their place for the night.

The next morning, we took a mini-bus to Sagada from the bus station near the market. Driving was out of the question given the distance as well as the condition of the roads to Sagada. Buses leave only in the morning since it's dangerous driving to Sagada when it gets dark. The trip took about six hours along a zigzag road which offered great views of vegetable terraces. Along the road is the highest point along the Philippine Highway System. But just like most of our attractions, the sign was neglected. Sigh! I remember visiting the highest point of the Taiwan Highway System in 2003 and the marker was an attraction in itself with a viewing deck where one could marvel at Taiwan's snow-capped mountains. I guess the photo shows how neglected our own marker is.

Since mini-buses leave Sagada in the morning as well, you will have to stay in Sagada for at least two nights if you plan to take public transportation from Baguio City. When we arrived in Sagada, first thing we did was look around for cheap lodging. We found one easily for PHP100 a night per person. After resting a bit, the cold mountain air was so conducive for an afternon nap, we went for a hike to the hanging coffins. Perched on beautiful limestone cliffs dotted with occasional pine trees, these coffins are treasures of Sagada. We went to bed early that night to rest for our visit to nearby Sumaging Cave the next morning.

To enter the cave, you had to get a guide from the Municipal Hall of Sagada. Although we could have gotten a guide just for the both of us, it was going to be quite expensive. So we opted to wait for another group who would be willing to share in the expenses. I think we waited about 30 minutes or so for a group to arrive and good thing they had a pick-up truck so we didn't need to walk to the entrance of the cave. Hehe! The fee for the guide includes the lights for the cave.

Things to remember when you visit Sumaging Cave: (1) you will definitely get wet so wear light shorts and a crew neck t-shirt; (2) no jackets since that would be a hassle when wet; (3) it is best to wear slippers or sandals since at some point in the cave you will take them off and walk barefoot for better grip; (4) make sure you have a waterproof bag for your camera; and (5) celphones and other unnecessary items are best left in the vehicle. The formations inside are awesome. But remember to keep your focus since one mistake and you could fall deep down.

There is also a pool inside where you could swim in but it was January 3 so imagine how cold the water was. Brrrrrrrr! There were times we had to slide down the limestone formations. And at times, the openings were so small, our guide had to teach us how to maneuver into them properly. But the trip was definitely most worth it.

We were back in town just in time for lunch. During the afternoon, we went back to bed again. Hey! The very reason I went to Sagada was to relax and enjoy the mountain air since I was quite stressed after a very hectic December due to the Giant Lantern Festival among others. Hehe! In fact, I had a fever before driving up to Baguio. And for some reason, it was gone as soon as I got to Sagada. During the visit to the cave, I actually saw Daks Quinones, a brod of mine, who was with his friends. They invited us to join their group after dinner for a drink or two and we did. But we didn't stay up too late.

We were up early the next morning at 5 a.m. since there was a limited number of mini-buses and seats were scarce. If we got left behind, we would have to stay another night. We weren't the only ones waiting for a bus. But after much waiting, we finally got seats and were off to Baguio again arriving shortly after lunch.

In the evening, we met up with another SSEAYP batchmate Edwin Antonio who was taking around Rose, another SSEAYP batchmate who was visiting from Indonesia. We had dinner. Then it was off to the Mansion House. After going around, I was off to Pampanga. Now that it's so hot in Manila, maybe I could consider visiting Sagada again.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Baguio: Saving Baguio before it's too late

It was two straight days of road trips for me. I just got back from Baguio City last night where members of the Heritage Conservation Society met with the management of Teachers' Camp and DepEd to discuss the restoration of Roxas Hall, the first in a large complex of heritage educational structures in Teachers' Camp that we all hope to restore by the centennial of the camp in 2008.

The van passed by for me in San Fernando at about 6 a.m. and we were off to Baguio. Along the way, we saw sad sights. Two of the best preserved examples of municipios along MacArthur Highway, in fact I feel they were the ones with character, were renovated beyond recognition. Shame on the municipal governments of Moncada, Tarlac and Villasis, Pangasinan for destroying the unique character of their municipal halls and thus, the identity of their communities. Elections are fast approaching and we all know that LGUs are rushing to complete as many projects as they can, no matter how useless, to beat the election ban on projects. I wonder why? Hehe! I had seen the same structures the previous day when Ryan Tan and myself drove to Villasis, Pangasinan. From Rosales, we went to Cabanatuan City and along the way, I saw another sad sight. Let me add to the shame list Guimba, Nueva Ecija which replaced a charming early-American period wooden presidencia with a concrete structure! These ignorant local officials don't realize the damage they are creating.

Anyway, we arrived in Baguio at about 11 a.m. and went straight to Teachers' Camp which was in full bloom. It was such a charming place except for the area which was lent to the Philippine Sports Commission (I heard they renovated a heritage structure without the permission of the Teachers' Camp mangement), and that ugly new building beside Roxas Hall which I heard GMA just inaugurated this Holy Week. For crying out loud, let's keep the character of Baguio City's green and white architecture alive, especially in well-preserved areas like Teachers' Camp!

Our architects have for months been making an assessment of the state of Roxas Hall (right) and we made a brief tour of the structure to inspect all the deterioration they found and the work which needed to be done.

After the tour, we proceeded to Cafe by the Ruins where Councilor Galo Weygan was going to meet us for lunch to discuss the proposed restoration of the Dominican Hill. The ruins here refer to what's left of the home of the owner of the cafe which was bombed during the Second World War. The cafe is a perfect mix of art and pocket gardens that you woudn't even notice that the busy street is just outside. For lunch, I had camote soup and chicken with coconut milk and basil, accompanied with lassi, a yogurt drink which is mixed with fruits, strawberries in my case.

Councilor Weygan asked us what could be done to the structure on Dominican Hill. Gemma stressed that unless they have the extra funds to spend, they have to make heritage commercially viable and self-sustaining. Which is why, instead of the museum the City Government of Baguio was thinking of, we proposed that it be used again as a hotel (it was a hotel before) with a lot of outdoor cafes which non-guests could also visit and enjoy given the magnificent views of Baguio from the hill. We were going to visit the site later in the afternoon after we finished our meeting at Teachers' Camp.

One of the things discussed as well was the pending Baguio Heritage Ordinance which I heard was already passed on second reading. It aims to preserve what is left of the unique fabric of Baguio City and its character architecture (green roofs and white or brown walls) by convincing existing homeowners whose homes can be seen in heritage view areas such as Kennon Road, Teachers' Camp, Camp John Hay among others, to paint their houses green and white. We must remember that each place on earth has a unique character (towns in the Philippines are losing theirs thanks to the ignorance of local officials and priests). When you see white houses on cliffs beside blue water, you know you are in the Mediterranean. It should have been that when one saw green and white houses and buildings harmoniously mixed with lush pine trees, he knew that he was in Baguio City. But that is not the case today since the city's most imposing landmark is no longer the Baguio Cathedral or Burnham Park; it is now SM City Baguio! Sigh!

I think Henry Sy should read this article in The Wall Street Journal about how China is starting to realize that preserving archaeological sites may be a better idea than building shopping malls. I remember this article well since I got to read it during my first few weeks in UP MBA thanks to the free issues of The Asian Wall Street Journal.

Anyway, on the way out of the cafe, we bought some bread to take back home to Manila. I got some blueberry muffins, basil bread, camote bread and carrot cake. We were then off to our meeting back in Teachers' Camp.

After the meeting, we met up with Councilor Weygan at Baguio City Hall which is another heritage landmark of the city. At the base of the building was the signature pink Baguio stone which once became a fad in Manila. We then proceeded to Dominican Hill from there.

The hill was very near the Lourdes Grotto. The setting was just excellent! From the gate, we could see that the old structure on the hill used to be very stately and elegant. Indeed, the Dominicans selected the best sites for their buildings. But after continuous looting, we all knew that the site needed massive restoration work.

We could all imagine however what it would look like when completed... a charming lobby with a fireplace, outdoor cafes at the roof deck and the sides of the building serving local food and coffee, three floors of comfortable rooms and a magnificent view of the surrounding areas. The photo below was taken from the spacious roof deck of the building. Check out Melvin Pawataran's photos of Dominican Hill.

After the brief visit, it was back to the lowlands for us. I had wanted to stay in Baguio since I had forgotten it was still summer thanks to the cool temperature. It would have been such a charming city had previous local officials protected the unique cultural fabric and character of the city. Today, we no longer smell pine trees but exhaust from jeeps and other vehicles. But it is never too late since there is still a lot than can be preserved. Baguio City should prevent another SM disaster from happening again by controlling the achitecture, height and colors of new buildings, ensuring that they are in harmony with exisitng buildings, by making sure that no more pine trees are chopped down (SM City Baguio had to chop down hundreds of pine trees FYI) and by convincing existing homeowners to repaint their houses greena and white or use local stones on the walls such as Baguio pink, Kennon gray and Irisan white.

Related to the upland heritage, the Rice Terraces of the Cordilleras may be removed from the UNESCO World Heritage list. The article came out recently in SunStar Baguio. Take note of what the municipal engineer of Banaue said under the subtitle Emergency meetings. It is that type of ignorance in the guise of practicality which continuously destroys the heritage of the Philippines.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Pampanga: El Circulo Fernandino, keeping up with social tradition

The City of San Fernando, Pampanga is host to many festivals, events and traditions. Every Good Friday, people flock to San Pedro Cutud to witness the reenactment of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ by several penitents. Along the route are hundreds of flagellants. In the afternoon, elegant heirloom carrozas and santos are taken out for the largest Good Friday procession in Pampanga which goes around old San Fernando (check out some photos here). In October, there is the Piestang Tugak (Frog Festival) which was first held in 2003 when I was still City Tourism Officer of San Fernando. Throughout the years, it has attracted the crowds and the media with its padwasan (frog-fishing), frog cooking contests and other unique activities. It is now a much-awaited event of San Fernando.

In December, there are the Sinukwan Festival and Pampanga's week-long celebration of Aldo ning Kapampangan (Pampanga Day) commemorating the birth of the country's oldest province, and the Giant Lantern Festival, which I have already discussed in another entry. And then there is May 30 and the San Fernando fiesta. And to start off the celebrations is the El Circulo Fernandino annual reception and ball which was held yesterday night.

It is indeed the most prestigious social event in Pampanga where, as in the olden days, women would flaunt their best jewelry, gowns and ternos, and men would elegantly dress in their best piña barongs, and dance the night away. El Circulo Fernandino is the oldest surviving social club in Pampanga. Formed sometime in 1920, it was an organization for the social elite of San Fernando. Its precursor was the La Gente Alegre de San Fernando (The Merry Folks).

According to John Larkin in his book The Pampangans, “a new phenomenon, town and provincial social clubs, which sprang up in the early American years, demonstrated how the native upper class flourished under the new regime. These organizations, exclusively for the elite, provided among other things an opportunity for young single adults to socialize with and meet others of the same age and class.”

Larkin later mentions, “the Pampangan elite, a greater number of them emulating late nineteenth century patterns of behavior, turned their attention to peer group organizations, politics, and extra provincial activities. They resolved many if their economic and political problems by banding together into various agricultural organizations and political parties. The trend toward forming upper-class social clubs for amusement also continued. Such groups as the Young Generation in Macabebe, the Kundiman in Angeles, and the Circulo Fernandino in San Fernando were all patterned after organizations formed in the early American years.” Also worth mentioning is the fact that when the town of Santo Tomas was still part of San Fernando, the Thomasian, an organization which organized the annual Sabado de Gloria Ball, was formed. The ball is the oldest uninterrupted social event in Pampanga.

El Circulo Fernandino organized annuals balls and receptions to achieve this end. All of it however stopped as a result of the hostilities during the Second World War. After the war, the organization again resumed its social activities. But the annual receptions were halted again in 1987.

It was only in 1997 that the organization decided to revive its annual receptions under the presidency of Engr. Angelo David and Dr. Leticia Cordero-Yap. The El Circulo Fernandino Foundation, Inc. was born as a result of this revival, transforming the organization from a strictly social-status club to a socially-involved organization.

On its 86th year, El Circulo Fernandino is the most-awaited annual social event in the province of Pampanga, where the crème de la crème meet. As part of keeping up with Filipino traditions, the immortal dance classic, the rigodon de honor, is performed by the prominent citizens of the City, men in their best piña barongs and women in dazzling and colorful ternos.

I've been part of this tradition for the past four years now and it is a really fulfilling experience knowing that you are continuing an old tradition initiated scores ago by your own forefathers.
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