Bulan’s “Blood” Sand


     Weeks ago, incessant rains claim at least 20 lives and left over a thousand families homeless in Bulan’s adjacent towns of Magallanes and Juban as well as barangay San Roque, Bulusan. A great mass of earth denuded by loggers (I’m not sure if they are “illegal” loggers since both the laws of rebel NPA and infidel PNP tolerate rape of our forests) collapsed and buried the Barangays of Incarisan in Magallanes, and certain barangays of Juban.


    In Bulan, barangays San Vicente and Managa-naga, flood waters rose to a record high of at least 4 feet deep. The “elite” Immaculate Conception subdivision (built along historic Banuang Daan River) was practically underwater when the continuous rains of February rose to a little less than 5 feet deep eroding the river bank together with the several houses built alongside.


    The same was true with the over-rated Villa Las Palmas subdivision which looked like a lagoon after heavy rains poured over the province. The Villa Las Palmas experience, however, was not a surprise to many. The area is a natural catch-basin for Sta. Remedios rainwaters and the nearby Calomagon and San Juan highlands. Many even wondered why this place was converted into subdivision when even on ordinary days the area is easily flooded due to its low location.


    Heaven forbid! But Bulan may just be another disaster-stricken town at the rate our coastline is being shaved-off of our precious margaha sand.


    Incidentally, Fr. Josefino Bayto Chavenia or Fr. Chubby (pronounced “Choo-by”)’s first death anniversary was remembered last March 9, 2008. That day fell on a Sunday the Gospel of which is about death and resurrection – a coincidence that seemed to tell us what Fr. Chubby died for: standing up for what is right even if it meant losing his life.


    Fr. Chubby knew he has a failing heart. But this he kept from those he loves. Having a heart ailment for years already, he did not talk about it. It did not even stop him from joining, nay leading, his parishioners to a “heart-straining” rally to protest the reopening of the Lafayette Mining operations in Rapu-Rapu, Albay.


    That year, March 9, 2007, Fr. Chubby braved the long march around Sorsogon’s capital. He marched with the farmers, the poor, the lay people and Sorsogon’s professionals. Sadly though, along with Fr. Chubby’s death so was Sorsogon’s mass actions against what ails our country today.


    Corruption in grand scale abounds. Government leaders with no shame at all parade their loot as though they’ve won it from a lottery. Calls for reform or resignation are continuously ignored.


    Under the scorching heat of last year’s summer sun Father Chubby offered his life – to save our environment from the pillage of greed-driven individuals and their equally greedy partners in government.


    He heeded his bishop’s call to stage a mass action in Sorsogon to protest the ongoing mining by foreign nationals in the island of Rapu-Rapu in Albay. Little did Fr. Chubby know, however, that a much the same pillage of our environment is happening in his own hometown of Bulan.


    Yes, this quiet little town of Bulan is being shipped to China by its very own Papay and Mamay!


    And it happened just when everybody thinks Guiming De Castro bought the town already, because of his “rumalayas na kamo sa Bulan caper”.


    Well, we were all wrong. Guiming and Rosa de Castro are actually selling Bulan, tons by tons – at the expense of our very own safety.


    In late 2006, ALEXANDRA MINING VENTURES purportedly secured an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to engage in quarrying of magnetite sand along the northern coastal barangays of Bulan, one of which is barangay Namo.


    In one of its operations last year, Alexandra Mining shipped a total of 2,907 metric tons to Jingtang Gang, China on board M.V. “Pine Pia” and the cargo is consigned to one Wong Tai General Merchandize Ltd. of Wan Hai, Hong Kong.


    Sorsogonnews checked the credentials of Alexandra Mining and found it to be holding office at No. 39 Carmel Subdivision, Project 6, Quezon City and, just like Geming’s supposed contractor of the bus terminal, Alexandra Mining is, conveniently, a “single proprietorship” owned by one CESAR ESTAYAN DETERA.


    Magnetite sand is commonly known in Bulan as margaha. The beaches of Pon-od, Inararan up to Danao are covered by this magnetic sand, believed to have been carried by the waves to the shorelines from the sea. Those of us who studied grade school in Bulan must have participated in a science experiment where we discovered margaha’s magnetic qualities. Remember the speckles of margaha “dancing” on top of a sheet of paper as magnet is moved from corner to corner of the paper?


    Articles in the web place the selling price of margaha in Nevada, U.S.A., ranges from $40 to $52 per kilo or Php.1,600 to Php.2,080 per kilo. If you care to compute how much 2,907 metric tons of margaha cost, roughly, it would be P6M. Considering that Alexandra Mining ships margaha to China on the average of 3,000 metric tons per quarter, Bulan would have had earned millions of pesos, too, from fees and taxes levied and assessed from Alexandra Mining.


    But there’s the rub!


    Barangay Namo does not receive a single centavo from Alexandra’s margaha quarrying. The quarry operators even exploit barangay folks and children by paying them a measly pay of 80 centavos for every kilo of black sand they haul from the shorelines to Alexadra’s dump site, some 300 meters away.


     Sorsogonnews also managed to photograph the quarry site and saw that most of Bulan’s heavy equipment service Alexandra Mining’s operation from day one to this day. Had the rental for these equipment, like the backhoe in the picture, been properly charged and collected, Bulan’s coffers would have been enriched by at least P720,000 per quarter.




     A check made with Bulan’s 2008 Annual Budget, however, reveal no such income from an obviously profitable undertaking. In 2006 (the year Alexandra Mining started its operation in Bulan), the municipality of Bulan, under the auspices of Rosa De Castro, reported a measly sum of P479.00 pesos as taxes collected from “sand, gravel and other quarry products”.

    In Rosa’s approved annual budget this year (2008) income estimate for quarrying is unimaginably placed at P20,000 only –  a stark contrast to the annual 24 million pesos Alexandra Mining is profiting from margaha! Pira na milyon an nawawara sa taxes and fees na dapat bayadan san paghakot san margaha pakadto sa China!

    Since Bulan’s heavy equipment are being used, it is also surprising that Bulan has no income estimates for its rentals. Or is it just a scheme to keep us in the dark as to the real income of our municipal government so they can go on with their unhampered misuse of the people’s money?  

    Curiously, Bishop Arturo Bastes of the Diocese of Sorsogon and most of the Sorsogon clergymen who decried the La Fayette Mining in Rapu-Rapu, Albay are all quiet as to this latest environmental fiasco. Bishop Bastes, who practically pushed Fr. Chubby to death with his ephemeral environmental concerns, has suddenly fell deaf and dumb to what’s happening in his Diocese. Or, to say the least, to what Fr. Josefino Chavenia has died for!

    Their eerie silence is truly disturbing, reminiscent of a decadent society lending credence to allegations of bribery reaching the portals of the temple. 

    With neither drums nor trumpets, Fr. Chubby did his “good sheperd” job. He offered his life if only to save his flock from environmental disaster. I just hope he did not die in vain or we will all be heading to eternal damnation. The least we could do now is to “expose society’s wounds to the light” so the culprits may be brought to justice.

     Or margaha could just be Bulan’s “blood” sand.



 God Didn’t Make Instant Coffee

   Over breakfast the other day, my wife was so pissed off on the reported “disappearance” of ZTE broadband controversy witness, Rodolfo Lozada, Jr., upon his arrival at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

     She was so disappointed at the way the “wheel of justice” is turning in our country. She said the bad guys seemed to get away with their “evil” schemes while the good guys continue to suffer.

     My wife was complaining at what she termed as “circuitous” process of bringing law breakers to justice. She could not understand why the Supreme Court had to stop the Senate from arresting Secretary Romulo Nery when the Senate merely wanted the NEDA Secretary to appear before the Blue Ribbon Committee and tell everything he knows about the NBN-ZTE deal. I had to explain to my wife that that’s how justice is administered; it’s a slow process of listening to all sides and painstakingly “sifting” every data to come up with convincing evidence.

     I was of course enjoying my usual cup of sinara na kape (brewed “barako” coffee) as I listened to her. Then, as the aroma of coffee filled my nostrils, I said,     

     “You know, Vyks (that’s short for “Vicky”), God did not make instant coffee. He gave us instead a coffee tree to plant, a fruit to harvest, to dry, to roast, to grind. A water to boil, to evaporate, to condense, to drop on roasted coffee, to extract the best tasting beverage from coffee. All these hustle, to perk our every morning that God gave us.”

     I almost lost my lunch that day when my wife told me to start pounding the palay and make some rice!

     In the early Friday morning of February 8, however, we woke up to the angelic confessions of a man who refused to be drowned by the dark. Jun Lozada came out, miraculuously unscathed, with a firm resolve to be with the light! He went on with his confessions to the Senate and bared his soul. Not even Miriam Defensor could becloud the issue with her “credibility testing one, two, three. . ”. Jun Lozada, like the Jedi that he is, spit it all out as though “The Force” was really with him. He came out “with the courage of the truth”, and came out truly triumphant.

     At the breakfast table, my wife quipped again, “That was one quick “brewed coffee”, huh? It all happened in less than 24 hours, from Jun Lozada’s abduction in the airport to his Senate appearance”, then she asked, “Do you think there is a Jun Lozada in Bulan who would finally bring light to the Bulan Bus Terminal scam?”        

    “Nothing is impossible with God,” I retorted.


Family Day 

      Christians celebrate “family day” today commemorating Joseph’s triumphant liberation of his family from King Herod’s “death squad”. The latter searched for Baby Jesus whom the oracle foretold to be the King of all Kings. Afraid of the awesome powers this “new-born” King may have, Herod ordered the killing of all infants on site, hoping to stop this infant-King from challenging his reign.

      Acting like a good father of the family, Joseph saved his family, Jesus and Mary, from the onslaught of a desperate king.

       It is from this heroic stand that Filipino families draw its inspiration in taking care of every member of its family. From Joseph’s example we came to regard fathers (or mothers) as the protector of the children who’s always concern is the welfare of the family. Thereafter, civilizations affectionately use the term “father or mother” to mean protector, inventor, provider, savior, succor, etc., etc., ad infinitum, whenever it refers to a person or a person’s act of benevolence.

       Quite interestingly, tagaBulans refer to Mayor Baby De Castro, as “May” and to her first gentleman as, “Pay”, perhaps with so much hope that their  chosen “surrogate parents” will deliver them from all hunger or at least tide them over to brighter future.

        With the operation of the new bus terminal in Fabrica, however, De Castro’s “surrogate” children are reconsidering the use of this moniker. “Padusa ugang ini si Rosa”, says one disgruntled commuter who complained of the higher fare he had to pay a tricycle ride from the poblacion to the terminal.

       A businessman who arrived from Manila expressed a similar gripe. After loading his luggage on the tricycle, its driver would not leave until there were at least four passengers, saying a single passenger’s fare could not pay for the gas a trip to the poblacion would consume. To the dismay of the businessman, he had to wait for another hour till another bus arrives so his (tricycle) driver could gather three more passengers.

       Porters who live in the poblacion also complain of the added expense of paying for their daily trip to Fabrica and back home.

       “Kada pagkadto mi sa terminal mapamasahe kami sin P14.00, iban ini sa kikitaon mi sa pag-baggage, kun may makontrata kami na pasahero. Kaso lang, kada naabot na bus, halos tulo o lima man lang an nagaarabot hale sa Manila, pagbabarahinon mi pa ini na mga baggage boys. Kun wara suwerte, mauli kami wara ngani kita, naggagastos pa kami sa pamasahe magdayo lang sin pag-baggage”, said one porter, “Samantalang san yadto lang sa poblacion an barabaan san pasahero, baklay lang nakatrabaho na kami”, he added.

        “Hanggang alas-otso man lang an arabutan san hale si Manila, pagkatapos sini wara na biyahe, balik naman kami sa poblacion basi maka-baggage naman sin mga epektos na indidiskarga san mga trak sa mga panindahan”, another one explained, “Diyo-diyo na ngani an kita namo, iibanan pa sin pamasahe makaabot lang sa Fabrika, nano an luwas namo? Rutoy! Marasapa ini si Pay mao ni May kay inpapasakitan ugang kami. Padusa talaga ini si Rosa, an sadiri lang nira an iniisip”, he concluded.

         In civil law, a person’s diligence is always equated to that of a “good father of the family”. Meaning, a good father of the family will always think of his children’s welfare over and above his own. But in the case of this controversial terminal, the conjugal concern of these “mother and father” of Bulan seems to be for their own family only, unmindful of the hardships their project has brought to the people especially to those who could barely survive their hand-to-mouth existence.

      Bad enough that our local government could hardly provide new jobs and/or opportunites for the growing number of starving families in Bulan, Her Highness Marie-Antoinette would rather “give them cake” or worse an overpriced Centralized Bus Terminal the only discernible benefit of which is raising the real estate value of De Castro’s agricultural land.

       And if you think that is all, this P80 million peso infrastructure project will soon be the exclusive private property of Geming and Rosa De Castro the moment they (Geming and Rosa) themselves decide to use this property for purposes OTHER than a bus terminal. A condition they so conveniently slipped right under the noses of our honorable members of the Sanguniang Bayan (with the exception of only one, Kagawad Roberto “Bobby” Que) providing for the reversion of the “donated” property to its original owners, the heirs of Manuel G. De Castro, foremost of whom is Geming and Mayor Rosa De Castro.

       In the spirit of the season, I tried to desist from writing a “gloomy” piece like this.

       However, we all know that Jesus Christ, who was sent by His Father, came not to sing praises to those who are comfortably entrenched in power, but to expose them as mere pretenders to the throne. His mission is to teach them that real power comes not from exploiting the weak, but in serving the needy. In giving rather than receiving. In making us all realize, that a good father of the family does not “abuse his children so as not to demoralize them”.

        May we all have a meaningful new year!