Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Mistress of Matina

 “Tomas, saan si sniper?”

“Good evening attorney.” Greeted the cheerful head waiter of Big Mike’s Grill.

“Where’s sniper?” Atty. Juanito asked Tomas. The owner of Big Mike’s Grill is Mike Mueller, former Syracuse University standout who played as an import for Anejo Rhum in the PBA  in the late 1980s, Joe Cantada the late celebrated basketball commentator  would give him the moniker the sniper for his accuracy in the three-point range.

“Didn’t you know attorney? He’s in Japan right now, sir Mike is meeting with sir Jimmy there.”

“Ahh ma-o ba. Mingaw ron (its lonely)”

“Its always lonely on a Wednesday sir, but yesterday we were full house, the place was filled with people from ABS-CBN. Last Monday, there were many customers also sir.” Tomas replied.

Big Mike’s Grill is a small bar located at a former residential bungalow in Shrine Hills. The house overlooks the vast Matina suburb. Aside from whiskeys and imported beers, its burgers and steaks are among its best-sellers.

Mike Mueller is currently in a short sojourn in Tokyo, he would be meeting his 33- year old son Jimmy. Mike along with his brother Jack owned a construction business that served US naval facilities in the Asia-Pacific. There is a great demand for their services as the navy was again strengthening its presence in Asia in the face of China’s growing military might.

Jack, a year ago had let Jimmy an engineer by profession managed the company. Jimmy was Mike’s eldest son in his first marriage. Barrack Obama’s Asia Pivot necessitated the expansion of current US navy bases in Japan; Mike was there to help his son in the ocular of their new projects.

The thin-reed Tomas was often called kalansay or skeleton because of his frame but he had an endearing work ethic particularly when serving bar patrons, he was alert, untiring always ready to please the clients, he could exchange a banter or two. Another waiter was Balong, who was hardworking and sociable as Tomas however his poor command of English and even Filipino Tagalog limited his exchanges with clients.

Gemma the waitress is known for her shapely legs, a hit among the male patrons, however she is reticent and shy, staying at the nook, waiting to be called to serve. Gemma’s aunt Flor, is the bar’s cashier and clerk. Flor is the first cousin of Ellen, Mike’s second wife who hails from nearby Digos City.

Ellen met Mike when she was working as a receptionist in a hotel in Singapore where Mike stayed for two weeks. They had a daughter Angela now 13.

“Tomas can I have Big Mike’s sausages and two cups of rice please.” Atty. Juanito placed his order.

“Sorry sir, but Sniper wasn’t able to make his sausages.”

“Ah ganun ba.   Just give me the Porterhouse and two cups of rice.”

“ok sir. Medium rare. Porterhouse. Drinks Attorney?”

“Coke zero muna.”

Atty. Crispin Juanito just celebrated his 50th  birthday a week ago at a grand party at the ballroom of the Marco Polo, Mike, Ellen and Angela attended the lawyer's milestone. It was said the celebration was financed by a wealthy client whose son’s homicide case was dismissed by the court thanks to the deft legal maneuvering of Atty. Juanito who questioned the manner of the arrest and the handling of the evidence.

An hour passed since Atty Juanito ate the last morsel of his meal, when he noticed through the bar’s window the arrival of a red Honda hatchback which parked near his Subaru. A few seconds later, a woman arrived at the bar.

Mona Lisa Acupang wore a white cotton polo and tight-fitting jeans. Long  black hair, almond-shaped eyes and full lips gave her a sensuous aura. One that Atty Juanito noticed when he first met her as a mass communication student tasked to do some research about libel in his law office. Their journalism teacher was Crispin’s sister who volunteered her brother to be Mona’s resource person having defended some journalists on libel cases.

“ You seemed sad?”

“Nothing  Attorney.”

“ I can feel it. I can see it in your eyes, why? Gi-buwagan ka sa imung boyfriend (your boyfriend broken up with you?)”

“Nothing attorney, it’s a family problem.”

Atty Juanito remembered that one fine afternoon at his law office along C.M. Recto Street. Mona confided that her father is suffering from End Stage Renal Disorder, when a person’s kidneys have been irreparably damaged.  The treatment was costly and a possibility that she would have to quit school with the family breadwinner sidelined by the disease ruffled the lass.

“Sige na, patulan mo na. (Come on hit on her) she is young and fresh.” His best buddy Ramoncito a known womanizer who had engaged in dalliances with young women prodded him.

And the affair began, Crispin used the wealth he had amassed from his practice as one of the top lawyers in the city to pamper Mona; he financed her college education, spent for her father’s treatment which included a costly kidney transplant.

He gave her a car  and bought a townhouse unit in a private subdivision in Matina where he kept her and where they had their illicit rendezvous.

But Mona was not like Ramoncito’s girls. Except for her father’s treatment and her education, Mona never badgered Crispin for material things. It was the lawyer who brought her the LVs, the Pradas, the Blahniks, the Apple gadgets. He saw those brands at her wife’s walk-in closet, maybe also Mona would want those things.

“Why here Cris?” Mona asked while looking around Mike’s Grill, it was virtually empty, only Tomas and Flor remained at the bar conversing in dialect.

“It’s been a long time since we went out for a date.”

“Shucks but not here in Davao City.” Mona rolled her eyes in slight disgust. She was careful, Davao is a small city for gossip to spread like a summer grassfire.

“Sorry na. I was careless tonight, would you like to order something?”

“No I’ve had dinner at the house in Agdao.”

Mona Lisa was a brilliant student, the most promising among the three Acupang siblings, her father was a mid-level employee of an obscure government agency, her mom tended a small eatery in Agdao.

Her father Pedro Acupang worked hard to have Mona enrolled in Ateneo de Davao, it was to his belief that Mona could easily find a job be successful in it. Her eldest brother joined the army while the youngest Acupang son enrolled in a vocational course.

But Mona aside from being intelligent and articulate had leanings towards the arts, she was a gifted storyteller and writer, in high school she would win awards in essay writing contests. In college she gravitated towards film and video productions. She began working on making short films and joined film festivals. One of her shorts even made it as a runner-up in a national film competition.

“ You seemed not in the mood tonight?” Crispin asked Mona.

Hay, our client had ordered another revision. It was their boss from Manila who ordered it. Deadline is tomorrow.”

“You should be working by it then.”

“Isn’t it obvious.” Mona expressed slight irritation that her precious time was spent on a date with a 50 year-old man.

Crispin knew that Mona would be receiving twenty-thousand pesos for editing a video documentary about a non-government organization building schools in the ancestral domain areas of Agusan del Sur. The amount was pittance for him, equivalent to his retainer’s fee for a big mining company. He offered to give that amount so that she can slack the project off, but Mona refused.

It was not the Mona he knew, the sweet caring college girl, who gave him love, comfort and sex.  He yearned for days when he could go to the house in Matina in the pretext of some business trip. The warm freshly cooked meals, the clean tidy homey atmosphere greeted him in the lovers’ abode which reminded him of his childhood home in Mati.

Crispin was born of lower bracket middle class family in Mati, his father worked in the provincial government while his mother was a public school teacher. A brilliant student much like Mona he received a college scholarship grant in Davao City. Inspired by his distant uncle, a fiscal, he enrolled and supported himself thru law school.

In law school he had a seatmate named Patricia de Lara, a scion of an old wealthy family in Bukidnon. The two became friends and later became intimate partners, against the objections of Patricia’s parents they carried on with their relationship. He passed the bar in 1991, they got married in 1992, they had two children Juris and Malcolm.

Juris is a flight stewardess based in Hongkong, while Malcolm is studying law in Ateneo de Manila. As the years passed the once carefree and adventurous couple became distant and cold. Patricia, a socialite spent more time with personal leisure and with friends belonging to the alta de sociedad.

Crispin saw and felt the palatial Juanito family home situated in an upscale village in Lanang as lonely and unloving.

“ Where is Patty?” he would ask the housemaid who is also his distant niece.

“Didn’t’ she tell you manong? She’s in Hongkong with her amigas.” The maid would answer.

And alone in the bed inside the master’s bedroom he would think of Ramoncito’s prodding to take the chick bait. He had felt unloved. His heart yearned for someone to care and who would take care of him.

And he remembered the time he laid down on the living room sofa in Matina, his head resting on Mona’s lap, she would tell her stories what transpired in school, the films she saw and he would tell of her of his youthful exploits as a probinsyano lad in Mati. They talked and they listened to their stories, their thoughts. All that mattered to him.

“So when will you be visiting Matina Cris?”

“When you are done with your video project Mamon.”


“okay prepare the house then. I really miss you Mamon.”

“Can we talk in the car Cris?” Mona seemed to ignore Atty. Juanito’s expression of affection.

“Sure Mamon.” Cris knew something was important that Mona was wanting to say, a trio of customers had arrived and occupied one table. There was now little privacy.

Inside the Subaru, Mona asked permission for Cris if she could take a 2-month film scholarship in Seoul, which was offered after her first short film about child laborers in Mt. Diwalwal was screened in a film festival in Busan.

“We’ve talked about it Mona, I cannot let you go, I need you here with me, two months is too long.”

Hard rain had started to pour as another group of customers entered the bar just in the nick of time before the downpour.

“I need this break, Cris. This is a great opportunity for me, this is a directorial workshop I need this so much, please allow me, I will return.”

“Mona don’t be a hard-headed fool. We can go to Seoul next month if you want, lets have a vacation there.”

“You don’t understand Cris, I am not looking for a vacation, I am interested at the workshop. You didn’t like me enrolling at the UP Film School, okay fine. But this workshop really mattered to me, please allow me. Babe.” Mona gently pinched Cris’ beer belly.

At her happiest, Mona would call Crispin “babe” a sign of affection which Crispin would crave, it was not always that Mona would call him Babe as he would call Mona, Mamon.

Two months without his beloved Mamon, two months living with a cold and distant socialite.

“Oh sige. I really cannot do anything about your decision, Kelan ka ba aalis? (when will you be leaving?) Cris asked his beloved mamon.

“A month from now. Don’t worry, it’s an all expense paid-trip by the South Korean filmmakers exchange program, and the pocket money, I have saved enough for this trip.”

Atty. Juanito nodded without uttering a word. He reached his hand and stroked Mona’s long black hair, he leaned towards the girl, his lips touching Mona’s lips.

One year  and four months later

“Here you go. Big Mike’s porterhouse and our famous homemade sausages.” Mike Mueller handed out the servings to a middle-aged couple seated at the new Big Mike’s Steaks bar in Obrero.

Located in a commercial-residential neighborhood north of Davao City’s central business district, Big Mike Steaks Bar is jointly owned by Mike and a group of Filipino-Chinese entrepreneurs who were regular clients of the bar at Shrine Hills. They had wanted to make his signature steaks, burgers and sausages more accessible.

tadaaan Happy Anniversary Patty.” Crispin greeted his wife

Hala ka, do you really think I can finish this plate?” Patricia, with her fine Castillian features, stared at the chunk of sizzling porterhouse steak served before her.

“Yes you can Patricia, these are the  best steaks in Davao City.  Happy anniversary to you two, the dinner’s tab is on me.”

“What? No, no. no, its too much, I am paying for this dinner Mike.” Crispin protested.

“No Mike and Cris, the bill is on me.” Patricia said letting out a guffaw.

Patricia and Cris later surrendered to Mike’s offer in footing the bill. Mike was happy that the couple was able to save their marriage; Cris and Pat joined a Catholic renewal movement, where they had become active members.

Crispin and Mona broke up a few months after she returned from Seoul. Mona left Davao to work for a big film company in Manila.

“How was your day, Cris?” Patricia asked her husband.

“Well it went fine, apart from a court appearance and a client meeting, I and Berting supervised the youth ministry’s choir practice for tomorrow’s praise and worship.”

“Oh where’s Neneng?

“Neneng is in Manila to visit their daughter studying there, being his prayer buddy I offered if I could help him in handling the youth ministry. I listened to their practice and bought them snacks.”

“Ah ganun ba, I can’t wait to hear the young ones tomorrow. Father Alfred will be officiating the corporal mass.”

“I am sure Father Alfred will be happy with the progress of the youth ministry, they’d be singing great worship songs, eh ikaw, how was your day.” Cris held Patty’s hand.

“Well after the bible-sharing at Sonya’s house, my prayer buddy Agnes and I watched a tagalog movie at Abreeza.

Hahaha, I thought you never watch Tagalog movies.”

“They say it’s an award-winning film. There were many who watched the film, it was beautiful.”

“What’s the title? Haven’t really been updated with the movies nowadays.” Crispin asked.

The Mistress of Manila. The director is a young woman from Davao, and would you believe it was her first film. “

“Ah is that so, Dabawenyos are really good in many fields?”

Magaling na bata, kasi maganda talaga ang pelikula, naiyak nga kami. (a talented kid because the movie was really beautiful, we even cried.) Patricia gushed over the film she just saw that afternoon.

“It’s not often you shed tears over a pelikula Patty.”

Anne Curtis is so pretty and she is so convincing, Christopher de Leon is a terrific actor. Anne plays the querida to Christopher de Leon, she wants to break free but she is beholden to him because of the many things he did for her, then…………”

Atty. Juanito can only nod and smile as Patricia with great enthusiasm tells the plot of the film.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Suitors

It was a quiet Thursday evening at Big Mike’s Grill, a small bar located along Shrine Hills overlooking the southern suburbs of Davao City.

“Here you go, big mike’s favorite grilled homemade sausages.” Mike Mueller placed the hot plate of chopped sausages at one of the bar’s tables, the two customers watched with anticipated glee.

“Wow, you made this yourself Mike?” Andy asked as he quickly placed a piece of the chopped sausage unto his fork and took a bite. “hmmm yumm.”

“Hey you try it.” Mike goads a rather shy looking Francis into trying the serving. Francis takes a fork and tries out the sausage, he puts up a thumb up sign.

“I’ve been doing this way back in the States. Just got preoccupied perfecting those damn steaks.”

Big Mike was known for its steaks and burgers, the clientele range from expats, retired American servicemen, yuppies. Mike’s local golfing buddies also would frequent the place.

The bar used to be a residential bungalow, Inside are nine tables, the bar's interiors appears plain, generic looking, in one part of the white colored wall a 32 inch LED TV is tuned to Basketball TV showing last night's NBA game.

In the left wall are three large picture frames, Mike’s collegiate basketball team in Syracuse, where he played shooting guard and another frame with the Anejo Basketball team where he once played as an import in the late 1980s. Another prominent frame  is a black and white photo of him with his coach Sonny Jaworski.

The name of the bar came from his PBA days when Jaworski would call out his hulking 6’5” import as Big Mike. But to ardent basketball fans who would visit his bar he was known as Mike “the sniper” Mueller, known for his deadly three-pointers.

After Anejo, Mike Mueller retired from professional basketball and worked as a civilian contractor for the U.S. Navy in Hawaii, Six years ago he decided to resettle in Davao with his Filipino wife who hails from Digos. Originally settling in his wife’s hometown, he got bored in Digos and chose the relative excitement of a bigger city.

Mike sat at the table for a small chit-chat concerning the bar’s new menu which involved Mike’s homemade sausages, Andy, a software developer working for a an outsourcing company based in the city is a frequent visitor to the bar.

“Mike, this is Francis. Francis this is Mike he owns the place.” Andy introduces the two.

“So you’re not one of those guys, Andy brings here?” Mike asks.

“This is my first time here, I just came from Andy’s house to look at his father’s pick-up.” Francis answered.

“Ow, you’re buying his dad’s pick-up? Mike asks.

“Yes sir, it’s a great deal. Me and my wife had been looking for a pick-up for our farming business.”

“So you are into farming?” Mike asks

“We grow pineapples at my father-in-law’s farm in Calinan. I used to work in a bank, but decided to become a businessman and a farmer.”

“Boy that’s great, I am currently developing a four hectare farm we recently bought in Toril, it’s planted with durian.” Mike clearly fascinated with Francis' venture.

“He came early evening at the house to look at the pick-up, he liked what he saw, we agreed on the price and asked him if we could go for a chill here and to finalize the transactions” Andy said.

Andy’s dad is selling sold his 2009 Ford Ranger, Francis saw Andy’s for sale post on a Facebook page and immediately contacted him. For Andy, there were a dozen private messages on his account inquiring about his father’s black pick-up but when he saw Francis’ message, he was surprised and piqued. Andy decided to ignore the other messages and only replied to Francis.

Five years ago, Andy and Francis had courted the same girl.

For a moment the topic between Mike, Andy and Francis was the black Ford Ranger pick-up which Andy’s family is selling. The reason for sale -Andy’s elder brother an engineer working in the Emirates has gifted their father with a brand new 4x4 Isuzu D-Max pick-up. The elder brother was the dad’s favorite and showered him with affection, the brother reciprocated the father’s love when he struck it rich in the Middle East through material gifts.

“I hope he comes over and visits your father, it’s different from giving gifts. When was the last time he visited the country” Mike said.

“About six years, he got so many projects there but he plans to come over next Christmas and spend about  a month here.” Andy said.

Andy remembers it well, after his near-fatal suicide attempt, having broken with his long-time girlfriend Mara. When his brother came to personally talk him out of it. Six years his senior, Kuya Tonyo served also as his closest friend and boyhood idol. Whatever Kuya Tonyo says he listens and follows much to the chagrin of their parents.

The following year, Kuya Tonyo played matchmaker he asked his college buddy  John to match his cousin Isabel with Andy after learning through social media that Isabel a few months back had broken up with her boyfriend.

Andy remembers their first blind date, his Kuya Tonyo sent money into Andy’s bank account to answer for the expenses during the date which consisted of a dinner at Marco Polo and coffee at the Matina Town Square.

“Excuse me I had to go over to my friends’ table, was nice talking to you guys, hope you’d enjoy the food.” Mike excused himself as his golfing buddies’ had arrived and settled at a table in the edge of the bar.

“Ey thanks for the time mike.” Andy pats Mike’s firm broad shoulders.”

“Nice food, the sausages were great.” Francis shakes Mike’s large hands.

“Thank You and congrats with that pick-up, you’re one lucky guy.” Mike winks at Francis.

Andy and Francis called out the waiter to order another round of beer, Andy was  near tipsy, he taps Francis arm on the table.

Bay, do you remember five years ago?” Andy asks tapping Francis arm.

“About Isabel?” Francis answers knowing that topic would be touched upon during the night.

“Isabel Mae Lee. The love of our lives then.” Andy places his right hand on his chest gently pounding it.

Tagal na nun. It’s been years bay” Francis tries to downplay Andy’s actions.

“Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten her?” Andy stares into Francis’s eyes.

“No I didn’t”

“You know, I was really angry, when you entered the picture. I felt I was really doing great until you came along.” Andy said giving out an awkward laugh.

“You two were exclusively dating?” Francis asked, a bit uncomfortable with Andy’s questioning.

“We were going out on dates, that was just it. How did you come to know her?” Andy took a gulp of beer and ordered a plate of sisig. The supposed a-few-bottles-of-beer at Big Mikes had took a different turn.

“I met her at the hospital, where she used to work as a nurse. I was admitted for dengue and my room was one of her  evening rounds. She was a caring nurse who would find time to talk and comfort her patients, I remember she would cheer me up during her rounds. I  was awfully sick that time.  After discharge, I asked for her Facebook account and added her up. We would chat often after that, I guess that’s how it started. Francis reminisced.

“Yeah she is really malambing, her friends would say many men would misinterpret her being so sweet and caring as something else and end up falling for her.”  Andy said.

Isabel Lee,  was born in Cebu to a mestizo Chinese father and a mother who hailed from Davao, Her parents separated when she was 8, her mother took the children to her hometown.

The two would recall how Isabel would talk glowingly about her mother who ventured into several businesses just to support her three children.  Her fervent dream of going to the United States is to work as a nurse to help her mom.

“Francis, do you remember, when her mother was a computer supplier for a government project and there was a delay in the payment, she was not able to take the college exams because the school did not honor the promissory note. Whenever she tells that story tears would flow from her eyes.”

Ay oo. I remember that. It’s a sad story, good thing that their I.T, business prospered and they were able to get many projects, I heard her mom is a bigtime supplier with projects even in the Visayas.” Francis said.

But even her mother’s business successes didn’t change Bel’s outlook in life. She yearned for the day when she would be in the US and work hard enough for her mom to retire.

“That is why she is careful entering into new relationships.” Andy said.

“I heard she has lots of suitors.” Francis asked.

Daghan jud. It’s not surprising.”

Her fair complexion she took from her mother but her chinita eyes showed her Chinese lineage. Bel was above average tall, long-legged and svelte, during her college days she used to dabble in ramp modelling so she could have extra money to spend for school, however she stopped when her boyfriend Gary disallowed her.

“I think Gary was her first boyfriend.”

“Who is Gary?” Francis asked.

“Gary Natividad, he’s a doctor now, he was an intern at Davao Doc when they met, she was a student nurse then” Andy said.

“She never tells me about her ex.”

You never really talked a lot when you’re together?” Andy asked

“Well when we’re together, I am always the one who talks a lot, it’s not that I love to talk about myself, but she always asked me questions about myself, so I end up talking about me and she would just intently listen, sigh that’s what I missed about her.”

“ Really, it would be the exact opposite for me. She would talk more about herself, especially her ex, perhaps because I came at the time when she had just broken up with Gary.  But yeah she is a sweet and caring person; she always asked me if I am ok na. If I had moved on. I guess she helped me moved on.” Andy said.

“I remembered the time, when I saw my ex-girlfriend’s photos on Facebook  with her new boyfriend, I told Bel about it, how I felt. It was on a date, she took out her phone and asked the waiter if he could take our picture, she put her arms around me so the photo looked liked we were a couple. She posted it on her account and tagged me on her photo, my friends got curious even my ex, the next morning I received a message from her, asking me if she is my new girlfriend and expressing happiness for me. Man, Bel was game.” Andy recalls laughingly.

“Why did you not become a couple?” Francis asked.

“Because of you hahahaha. Seriously after her breakup with Gary Bel became too prudent in going into relationships. She enjoyed our dates but cannot commit. Bay, I tried everything to change her mind. But she was deadset.” Andy answered.

“Me?? Hahaha, but sorry about that bay. I only knew when I was told by a common friend, that you were going out with her, you were not yet a couple, so I took my chance.  Well the thing with Bel is when I’m with her she makes me feel that I am the only man in the world.” Francis said.

Uy what do you mean by that?”

“Her attention is fixed unto you. She would avoid distractions, keep her phones in her bag and listen intently to you. Those kind of stuff.”

“So why did it not prosper?” Andy asked.

“Well honestly, I hope you won’t get angry, I am telling the truth, Bel told me she liked me.”

“What putang ina bai, is that true so what happened? You two were M.U.?” Andy was surprised by the revelation.

“But, yeah she was dead-set in not committing into a relationship. She told me about her dream of going to America, working there, settling there and having a family.”

“Since she likes you,  did something happened between you? You lucky guy?” Andy asked, feeling mischievous and the same time envious.

“Hmmm, we kissed. There was one date, I tried to make a move, I kissed her, she kissed back. Then she pushed me away and said no. I dropped her off at her house. That was the last time I saw her, she never replied to my messages, never responded to my invites. One day got a message from her, she said sorry and told me we should stop seeing each other, saw her once in Gaisano Mall, wanted to approach her but she was with you. I never got the chance to talk to her before she went to the States”

Sayanga uy, you nearly got into first base. Me, I was friendzoned” Andy said laughing.

Bitaw Andy if she would have chosen either one of us, it would have been different, she would have been still alive.” Francis stared into Andy’s eyes. Andy replied with a nod and drank his beer.

Four years ago Isabel realized her dream of going to the United States. There she met and later married an Americano. One day Isabel was found dead in her home in Vermont.

“Addict yung asawa.” Andy describes Bel as a victim of physical abuse a year after their marriage. Her husband Dwight was  heavily addicted to meth, a condition which he hid till a  year into their marriage.

“Grabe it was all over the news,. It happened a month before my wedding. I was shocked, couldn’t even think straight for days.” Francis recalled.

“Her husband was already suffering from psychosis an effect of his addiction. Bel hadn't known really that guy including his addiction, I heard it was a whirlwind romance, that guy swept her off her feet.” Andy said.

In one of their violent fights, Isabel Lee-McGill finally had enough and threatened to file for divorce, Dwight went inside their room took out his pistol and shot Bel multiple times. A responding police officer was also killed when the husband resisted arrest and engaged the police in a shoot-out. Dwight is now serving double life sentence in a Federal penitentiary.

“So sad, how she was so careful in giving out her heart, only to end up with a monster.”

“What can we do, Francis, that was her choice, sometimes life is a like a bet. We gamble with the choices we make.”

Andy took a last sip of his near-empty beer bottle and signalled to the waiter for the bill.

Mike seeing Andy’s signal to his waiter excused himself from the already boisterous conversations with his golfing buddies to rejoin Andy and Francis.


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Exploring Talikud Island, Davao's newest island getaway

Isla Bonita beach

Talikud Island (Spanish spelling Talicud) is the second largest island in the Davao Gulf second only to Samal Island. At 2,900 hectares it is home to picturesque stretches of white sand beaches, limestone caves and pristine coral gardens.

Relatively unexplored by the tourist crowd compared to the neighboring Samal Island, Talikud is a gem waiting to be discovered. Recognizing the island's potentials, businesswoman Araceli Ayuste of Punta del Sol Group of Companies and who is also one of Davao Region's tourism primemovers, has invested in developing the island as a major tourism destination initially putting up the Talikud Island Tours.

Talikud Island Tours helps develop the island's major tourism sites, creating a tour package for visitors. The company has drawn up a tourism circuit utilizing major attractions located along the island's 17-kilometer circumferential road which will be soon be upgraded as an all-weather concrete road.

Still underdeveloped for tourists, Talikud currently has 8 resorts which can accommodate about 60 persons in one given time.

Aboard the MV Stingray, a motor boat which can hold up
to 40 persons.

Araceli's son, Francis Pe Benito, our tour guide.

one of the meals prepared by the chefs at MV Stingray
The Tour

Ms. Ayuste and her son Francis along with an entourage of local media mostly journalists and photographers met at the Sta. Ana wharf in Davao City, our jump-off point for the day-long tour. Talikud is about 15 kilometers away from Davao City and 1 kilometer away from the larger island of Samal. Our vessel is the 45-seater MV Stingray and aboard the vessel is a retinue of chefs which prepared sumptuous breakfast for the group.

We would be docking at Mansud wharf which is near the Mansud Wall a popular spot for scuba divers. Normally for tourists and visitors, the official entry point to Talikud is the Sta Cruz pier where accredited habal-habal (motorcycle) drivers will take visitors to the tour.

Mansud wharf
Sta. Cruz wharf

For P350 per person, accredited Habal-Habal drivers can take visitors to the tour.

The tourism circuit map

The 4x4 Kia 2700 vehicle which can transport visitors to the different parts
of the island.

First Stop: Baga Cave

Our first destination was Baga Cave in Barangay Linosutan, still largely underdeveloped, the cave is located inside a coconut farm. According to local lore the cave is a long subterranean chamber that leads to Davao mainland. We were not equipped for a spelunking expedition nor had the time to explore the cave, which has a waterfalls inside. This stop is recommended for the more adventurous explorers.

The underground chamber is likened to be the lungs or baga of the island. hence the name of the cave.

Cutting a trail towards the cave

At the mouth of Baga Cave.
2nd Stop: The Giant Balite Tree

After Baga we proceeded to the giant Balite Tree  (Ficus Indica)  along the roadside at Barangay Cogon. Folklore has it that the tree is the home of the giant snake Bakunawa who is said to swallow the sun and the moon. During lunar and solar eclipses, the residents of Barangay Cogon would make a noise barrage around the tree imploring Bakunawa to release the sun (solar eclipse) or the moon (lunar eclipse).

Locals believe that the tree is the doorway of the engkantos (spirit beings), an old tale is of the mischievous kid named Jolito who would climb the Balite Tree and prank unsuspecting passers-by. One day while climbing the Balite Jolito was ushered into the world of the engkantos and it took a known island healer named Mang Ete to bring back Jolito using age-old rituals to appease the engkantos.

3rd Stop: The Faithhealers Camp

Mang Ete, the healer who helped rescue Jolito from the engkantos, had his cave also in barangay Cogon, the place is now known as the Faith Healers camp.

Talikud then had no access to western medical facilities and Mang Ete's cave served as the island's de facto hospital. People flocked to Mang Ete so that they can be cured of various ailments. Surrounding the cave, Mang Ete planted herbal plants like Lagundi, Panyawan, Katchubong and TawaTawa. Mang Ete died in the 1970s and another healer took his place, he died just a month ago. According to Ms. Ayuste another healer is expected to reside in the camp and continue what Mang Ete has done decades ago.

Mang Ete's cave

Inside the cave is a cauldron where the healers mix, cook and prepare their healing oils

The Faith Healers Camp is a two-hectare property owned by the Talikud Island Tours. The area was rehabilitated with added facilities such as comfort rooms, foot path and a herbal garden .

Some of the stops in the island tour like the Faith Healers' Camp has clean and decent comfort rooms for visitors.

4th Stop Lupa Surga

The coast of Lupah Surga

A strip of coast located in the southern part of the island. Lupa Surga in Indonesian means Forgotten Paradise. It is said that shipwrecked Indonesian seafarers from Marore Island settled in the place and married some locals. A camalig or storehouse for fishing implements are among the remnants of the Indonesian presence.

Ms. Ayuste is planning to rebuild the camalig which would serve as a museum that will showcase the culture and the traditions of seaside communities prevalent in the region. Among items to be shown include fishing gears, sea craft such as the baroto.

A hut once owned by an Indonesian mestizo lies inside the property, the lay-out of the house is distinct from regular huts nearby, perhaps the only standing monument to the old Indonesian presence in the island.

The hut once owned by an Indonesian mestizo

A typical Indonesian Moslem house, the ground floor serves as a storehouse or camalig, where animals are also kept. The upper portion of the house serves as the living quarters.

The coves of Lupa Surga are dotted with caves, one of the caves is named the wellness cave as visitors can stay inside the cave for a spa-like experience.

The Wellness Cave
5th Stop Isla Bonita Resort

If you want sea and sand, then this is your stop adjacent to Lupa Surga. Perhaps one of the most picturesque beaches in Davao. La Isla Bonita Resort is sometimes placed in the latter part of the tour since most visitors will just stay and bask in its beach. The pictures will tell you why

The beach is also a nesting ground for sea turtles

The frontage of La Isla Bonita

La Isla Bonita serves island delicacies to its visitors (from left) coconut crabs, kinilaw and grilled native chicken

Las Isla Bonita has a cottage which can comfortably accommodate about eight persons, the company is currently expanding the resort to cater to a growing clientele. Along the shores are cabanas. The 160-meter white sand beach and its clear turquoise waters is an alluring site to visitors.

6th Stop Dadatan Bat Conservation Park

To preserve the bats living in the cave which are being hunted by the residents for food, the Talikud Island Tours company purchased 18 hectares of land surrounding the bat Cave in Barangay Dadatan, conservation measures were put in place to protect the two species of fruit bats inhabiting the caves (Geoffroy Rousette and Spelaea) which numbers to hundreds of thousands.

The place is slowly being developed with the construction of restrooms, a visitors' pavilion and a view deck. However unlike the Monfort Bat Cave in Samal, visitors in Dadatan will have to trek a winding forest trail to view the bat cave which resembles Bruce Wayne's bat cave.

The start of the forest trail to the bat cave

7th Stop: Dadatan Mangrove Garden and White Sand Bar Beach Resort

Along the shores of Barangay Dadatan is a mangrove area which is home to the century old Black Mangrove which is also found in Malacca Malaysia and in Florida in the United States.

The Bat Park and the mangrove ecosystem are interrelated as the nocturnal bats are the best known pollinators of mangroves whose flowers bloom only on night-time.

There is a visitors' pavilion which juts out to the mangrove swamp plus clean, decent shower and comfort rooms are available in the area. This is often called the merienda stop as visitors are served with native delicacies as afternoon snacks. The mangrove swamp is a perfect place for landscape photographers particularly during low-tide when you can loiter around the swamp.

You can go boating in the area and if you have time available a few meters offshore is a sand-bar perfect for taking a dip and swimming. Boat ride is pegged at P100 per two persons good for one hour, P50 is charge for every excess hour. Sadly the group didn't have the time to explore the sand bar.

The Dadatan Mangrove sand bar (photo taken from the Talikud Island Tours Facebook Page).

Future Destinations

Other stops in the tour being developed is the Rock Shelter Village which contains the remains of shell middens or  ancient deposits of shells and animal bones which indicates sites of early human settlements. Archeological findings from the shell middens found in Talikud Island dates the settlement to 2,930 B.C.

Another tourist attraction being eyed is Long Beach located at the left side of Sta Cruz Wharf. If developed, Long Beach can attract tourists to its beach similar to Babu Santa which is a pit stop for Island Hopping tours.

Long Beach just beside Sta Cruz Wharf

How To Reach Talikud:

From Davao City, commercial passenger boats that ply Davao to Talikud route are docked at Santa Ana Wharf. Upon disembarking at Talikud's Sta. Cruz Wharf looked for Talikud Island Tours accredited habal-habal (motorcycle) drivers. Tour package is pegged at P350 per person. Tour policy is for two persons per motorcycle.

For other specialize tour packages, you can inquire with the company (Talikud Island Tours) you can reach them through their facebook account Talikud Island Tours (email address talikudislandtours@yahoo.com), you may call them at 286-8621 or at 09257212754. The office address is at 186 Tinikling corner Sakuting Streets, New Lanzona Village, Matina, Davao City.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Mindanao Filmmaking: Beyond the Horizon

Pasuon (short film, Nabunturan)

The growth particularly the increase in the number of films and film festivals in Mindanao is a no longer an ominous sign but rather a stamp that the artistic movement has established a firm foothold and hopefully it would realize into a full-blown film industry.

Take for example the Mindanao Film Festival which I had headed since 2012. Three years back in my first foray as festival director we had 34 short films featured as entries, the following year we had 55 films then last year MFF screened about 70 films.

Most of the films are coming from other provinces and regions, for example Nabunturan, Socksargen (South Cotabato, Koronadal, Sarangani and General Santos), Northern Mindanao and Zamboanga filmmakers have made it a point to have their annual December pilgrimage to Davao City to have their films featured at the mecca of Mindanao filmmaking -Gaisano Mall Cinema 6.

Apasol (short film, Zamboanga City)

Aside from MFF we had a number of younger film festivals organized in the regions. We had Cinemagis in Cagayan de Oro, CineMo in Iligan City, Nabunturan Independent Film Exhibition or Nabifilmex in Nabunturan, Compostela Valley Province, Salamindanaw International Film Festival  and the Lantawan Socksargen  Film Festival in Socksargen.  I am hoping that Zamboanga or Western Mindanao who also have an active filmmaking movement could organize their own film festival in that part of Mindanao.

The presence of these film festivals augurs well for these filmmakers as it provides more venues for them to show their films and expand their audience. For example Joe Bacus from Cagayan de Oro has entered his short film The End of War in the Mindanao Film Festival, The Nabifilmex, and Salamindanaw where it won the Gold Durian Prize for Best Mindanao Short Film.

BTS "The End of War" (short film, Cagayan de Oro)

Same with films from Nabunturan like Nilusak which are also entered in the MFF and the Lantawan film festival.

In 2014, we were tapped by the Mindanao Development Authority to create an international film festival focusing on the BIMP-EAGA countries (Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asean Growth Area), it was to be timed for the BIMP-EAGA  IMT-GT (Indonesia Malaysia Thailand Growth Triangle) Trade Fair and Business Leaders Conference held in Davao City.

We came up with the first East Asean Film Festival (EAFF) held at the Cinematheque Davao, the small film festival was participated by films from Mindanao, Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei,  border regions which also had a thriving regional filmmaking movements. There are plans of holding the second EAFF in Kota Kinabalu with our Sabahan counterparts initiating the move.

Salamindanaw International Film Festival also featured 11 Asian short films in its Asian Shorts Competition. With the exception of a short film from India most of the films entered are from Southeast Asia. The city of Makkasar in Sulawesi was represented in the film festival held in General Santos City.

Singapore based online-based film portal Viddsee has also shown interest in partnering with Mindanaoan filmmakers it recently featured the MFF Best Film winner “Pasuon” in its site.

The recent initiatives of overseas linkages particularly the neighboring filmmaking movements in the fringes of Indonesia and Malaysia will definitely be a game changer, this will be a beginning of a dream for an intra-Asean cinema, Mindanao audiences will get to watch a short film from Malaysia and Indonesian audience will get to watch a film from Nabifilmex or Cinemagis.

These are indeed exciting times for the Mindanao filmmaker.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

A trip to Contra Costa; Baganga and Cateel

During the Spanish times, the eastern coast of Davao Oriental was called Contra Costa, these are the towns facing the Pacific Ocean. The provincial capital Mati (which was declared in finality by the Supreme Court as a city in 2011), Tarragona, Manay, Caraga, Baganga, Cateel and Boston are collectively called as Contra Costa or East Coast during the American period ( a term which still exists today).

Davao Oriental is said to be the last frontier of Davao Region, the SUDOPARIM (Surigao-Davao Oriental Pacific Rim) coastal highway built during the term of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has made traveling convenient and much easier. Thus attracting many tourists to explore the varied attractions of Davao Oriental which include beaches, waterfalls and quaint towns.

In 2012, a rare powerful typhoon visited and devastated a large swath of the contra costa particularly the towns of Baganga and Cateel. Though it has largely recovered, the place still bears the scars of that great tragedy.

I together with a group of friends from Ike Pono decided to visit Baganga and Cateel for the weekend, we came across several popular spots in the areas.

Dahican Beach


Mati is the gateway to the province, if you can spare a few hours you might as well explore the city. You can go to the famed Dahican Beach with its eight-kilometer white sand beachline is one of the city's come-ons. Recommended pit-stops include the Subangan Museum, one of the largest and most modern museums in the region and the White-House inspired Provincial Capitol perfect for photo-ops and speaking of souvenir photo-ops the view deck at Badas overlooking the sleeping dinosaur formation is considered a de rigueur for visitors.

Subangan Museum Mati City

The Provincial Capitol


Three towns away from Mati City is the coastal town of Baganga. Our weekend group decided to use the town as the base for our trip since this is the hometown of our travel companion Tito Frine Fuentes. We stayed at Balyan Beach Resort situated in Barangay Lambajon. The resort has clean and decent accommodations, (rooms with toilet and bath)

Balyan Beach Resort

Contra-Costa is known for their abundant sea food.

One popular attraction in Baganga is Carolina Lake, a tidal lagoon situated in Barangay Salingcamot, 15 minutes away from the town proper. A popular picnic spot for locals, it is still underdeveloped with a few rickety cottages perched on one side of the lagoon. The cool clean brackish water is a perfect place to dip during harsh summer days. Typhoon Pablo has destroyed much of the lush vegetation surrounding the lagoon.

Locals consider Carolina Lake as their secret paradise 

With JJ and Tito Frine

San Victor Island is a three-hectare island off the coast of Barangay San Victor. There's a 5-minute boat ride from the shore of the barangay to reach the island which is owned by the Diocese of Mati. Part of the island shoreline is a white sand beach, perfect for leisure swimming, San Victor reminds you of Mati City's Waniban Island or Camiguin's Mantigue Island.

San Victor Island

The island used to be heavily vegetated until typhoon Pablo toppled most of the trees, in some parts of the beach the fallen tree-trunks provides a picture-worthy landscape. Pictorials like engagement sessions are held along its shores.

For visitors there are cottages and tents for rent, toilet and bath facilities are also available in the island.

The Baganga Sunrise Boulevard located in Barangay Dapnan about 10 minutes drive from the town proper is potent reminder of the impact of typhoon Pablo. The once lush mangrove forest now looks like a wasteland.

The provincial government shelled out P5-million to develop the area into a 750-meter linear park, there are playgrounds, concessionaires area, restaurants and coffee shop, a tourist information center and a promenade.

Must-try Dinuguan at Pakalz Place, a small eatery
located in Baganga town proper.


Adjacent to Baganga is the town of Cateel, the main purpose of our journey is the town's most famous tourist spot, Aliwagwag Falls. It is considered by hydraulic engineers as the tallest watefalls in the country with over 130 tiers of cascading falls. And I tell you the 5 hour trip is worth it once you've seen the majestic Aliwagwag which can be viewed along the highway.

Unlike some tourist spots which are found in very remote areas, the beauty of Aliwagwag is much accessible, one can view its grandeur along the highway.

Along with the Baganga Sunrise Park, the province has developed Aliwagwag into a fully-functioning eco-park.

Footbridges, stairs, tables, cottages, toilets and bathrooms, concessionaire area, adventure facilities (an 680-meter zipline and the monkey bridge) were constructed within the peripheries of the park but not obtrusive enough as to destroy the view of a pristine forested waterfalls. Again typhoon Pablo plowed into the once lush forests surrounding Aliwagwag.

Entrance fee to the Eco-Park is around P50 for adult and P10 for children, the park is dotted with tables which you can rent for P75 (large tables) or P50 (small). Fees for zipline is P300 and P200 for the money bridge. Footpaths will take you to around the park and friendly staffs will guide you to vacant tables.

Each falls has natural pool where one can go swimming, there are shallow pools fit for children and there are deep pools perfect for the more adventurous adults.

The Monkey Bridge at the upper limit of the eco-park

foot bridges for easier access
Linear footpath helps visitors access the different parts of the eco- park with ease

Cottages along the banks

The Tourism Highway

In the olden times, Contra Costa or the East Coast was remotely connected to Davao City, it used to be reached by barge plying the route from Sta Ana Wharf in Davao City to ports in East Coast towns. Then roads were built during the Marcos era. It was only recently when these roads became an concrete-all weather highway network. Former President Arroyo started the Sudoparim road during her term and was continued by President Benigno Aquino III who also initiated a convergence program of the Department of Tourism (DOT) and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) called TRIP (Tourism  Roads Infrastructure Program) this allowed for the construction of roads to tourist destinations, a prime example is in Dahican Beach.

To complement these roads, Davao Oriental Provincial Governor Corazon Malanyaon also initiated a tourism development program focused in key attractions such as the Aliwagwag Eco Park, Baganga Sunrise Boulevard and the Subangan Museum in Mati.

Roads and tourist facilities have attracted a growing number of visitors in the Contra Costa areas, as traveling there is safe and convenient.

A view of the Cateel River along the Sudoparim highway