“We just want to be accepted.” — Sama-Bajaus (BRIDGING THE GAP: Unheard Stories from the Lives of the Poor – Part 2)

Click here to read Part 1 of “Bridging The Gap: Unheard Stories of the Lives of the Poor”

Our eventful trip started early and it was getting close to the middle of our first day. That meant it was almost my favorite time of day – chow time! But for some odd reason, I wasn’t feeling too hungry. Maybe because I was already filled with so much food for thought from the first few activities? Whatever it was, I let everything digest as we left the barangay hall of Pahinga Sur, and went off to our next location – their community garden.
FRUITS OF YOUR LABOR. I’m a firm believer of the saying “no hardwork goes unrewarded.” As long as it is pure, consistent, and with good motive, in time you will only find yourself with nothing but positive results.

With the sun shining bright, it was a perfect time to soak up some Vitamin D, and we got to do that while we had a short walk to Brgy. Pahinga Sur’s community garden, owned and maintained by the Pantawid Pamilya beneficiaries themselves.
The beneficiaries can proudly say that their well-kept garden is a product of what they learned during their FDS on Bio-Intensive Gardening.

“We learned how to maintain this garden. We chose what to plant. We do the harvesting. And then we can choose to either sell our produce or we can use it for our own household needs.” – Anna Umandap

This to me, along with the testimonies of some of the other beneficiaries back at the barangay hall, is evidence that the FDS are not only successful, but the beneficiaries are really striving for development to sustain their livelihood.

That brings me to one of the other core programs of DSWD, the Sustainable Livelihood Program (SLP). It invests in building the capacity of people in a community to engage in socio-economic activities, so they can stand on their own. The SLP gives employment facilitation by teaching technical skills, giving occupational guidance and job refferals. For the aspiring entrepreneurs and businessmen, there’s the micro-enterprise development where a capital is given to help start small businesses.
The Project Development Officer of SLPs in Brgy. Pahinga Sur, Kson Lee Piedad, explained how they determined what programs best fit their community and how it has improved their livelihood.

“Actually, yesterday the training for security guards finished. That’s guaranteed employment. They just have to wait three weeks, then our partner agencies will absorb them. When I first started here, we conducted a survey asking what kind of training the majority of them are interested in; if they want to start a business. From there, we formulated possible projects we can do. In 2015, we identified that food and beverages services and security guard training are what they wanted. Only recently, the security guard training materialized. For the food and beverages services, majority want to become waiters. We already have 50 graduates from the food and beverages trainees. The difference is, we don’t force them to enter the agencies offering jobs. We tell them it’s their free will to choose if that’s really what they want, or not. 5-10 out of the 50 entered that industry, while the rest chose other industries, like manufacturing.” – Kson Lee Piedad

Walking back to our van, it was reassuring to know and see that with the guidance of DSWD, the beneficiaries are now able to reap the fruits of their labor on their own two feet.

Like our first stop in Dolores, we were then off to visit another successful project funded by DSWD under the Kalahi-CIDSS program. A two-classroom school building at Macasaet National High School in Brgy. Pahinga Norte, Candelaria.
FROM THE GROUND UP. To get to the top, you must start from the bottom. The pursuit to even just progress can be the most challenging, but when things get tough making you feel like giving up, the most important thing is to remember why you started.

Entering the gate of the school, I immediately sensed that typical rowdy school environment. There were students running around, playing games, while some were in class with their teachers trying to get back their attention, as some students were distracted by us visiting. Students waved at us from the windows of their classroom. I waved back with a smile, thinking how great it is for them to have a place to study, even in one of the poorest and most typhoon-affected areas nationwide.
As told by Anna Umandap, a 4Ps beneficiary who also accommodated us at the garden, the two-classroom building was literally the result of blood, sweat and tears. Especially for Anna, who introduced herself as the barangay-elected Project Preparation Team Head.

“Our community chose between building an open canal, an evacuation center, or this – classrooms. We chose the classrooms for the school… All of the work goes through me. I run and assist. I do the paperwork. I’m the secretary for the barangay… with everything that happens here, I’m the one accountable for.”

Though everyone from the barangay who helped make this project successful, are volunteers, that didn’t mean they don’t get anything in return. As they told us more about what they went through to build the classrooms from scratch, you can tell by the tone of their voice and faces, that it was definitely a test of strength, patience, and will power to continue on.

“To tell you the truth, there were times we wanted to give up. But we thought of all the help [funds and training] given to us. We started it, so we should finish it. No matter what. So that we’ll know that all the hardwork we put in is worth it in the end, all for the future of our children.”

They found out that if they were able to accomplish building those classrooms from the ground up, they are willing to do it again, and more, knowing that everything they do for the community will benefit them in the longrun, even if it isn’t financial support.
Like Mario Gonzalez from the FDS visit at Brgy. Pahinga Sur, education remains the top priority for their entire community. That’s why they prioritized this project: to accommodate more students – their children – in hopes that they too, learn the value of education and perseverance to get them on top of their dreams.

It was now goodbye Candelaria, and hello Lucena City. We went on to Barangay Dalahican where we got to meet a Sama-Bajau community during one of their beadmaking skills training. This is in line with another project, currently being pilot-tested by DSWD.
ONE AND THE SAME. Tall or short. Black or white. Single or married. Rich or poor. It doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, we are all humans wanting the same thing: to live a happy, purposeful life with the ones we love. They say that you should always be nice because everyone is fighting a battle you don’t know about, and I believe that to be true. This however can be difficult to do, especially when you come across a stranger that is different – an outcast from the rest.

I remember riding a filled jeep one day in Makati City. We stopped at a red light. Suddenly, an unruly juvenile climbed on and hung from the back of the jeep. As he made his way inside the jeep, he left small crumpled envelopes on each of our laps. The jeep driver kept telling him to get off, but he wouldn’t listen. The boy had dark-brown messy hair, streaked with what looked like black car oil. There was dirt all over his body like he’s been getting smoked by vehicles on the road all day. With his barefeet, wearing a wornout oversized shirt, and ragged basketball shorts, he sat down waiting at the back of the jeep while murmuring words I couldn’t comprehend. I saw him start to collect his envelopes, so I quickly put my spare change in and gave it back. The person beside me however, didn’t even touch the envelope so it fell on the floor. The youngster got quite upset upon seeing it, and ended up spitting on the man, slapping his face, while yelling words I couldn’t understand again. With everyone shocked and scared, the kid jumped off the jeep and ran away.

With a negative connotation, they said he was “just another Bajau”.

Though I’ve had similar experiences in my hometown, this particular incident stuck in my mind. I was bothered. Because I knew what happened that day, was just the tip of the iceberg. Behind the actions of that young boy, is a much deeper story waiting to be heard… That’s why I was a bit hesitant arriving at the Little Haus Community Center, where unexpectedly, I was greeted by a group of Bajaus passionately hard at work making bead accessories.

“The government did an assessment. Though it is their [Bajaus] personal choice if they want to go back to their rightful provinces, as much as possible, our advocacy is to welcome them with open arms by providing livelihood programs and interventions.” – Analiza Dano

What our resource person, Ms. Analiza was talking about, is the Comprehensive Program for Sama-Bajau. Its aim is to reduce their vulnerabilities, give access to basic services, eliminate their practice of begging on the streets, and at the same time nurture their rich culture. The beadmaking is just one of the skill trainings being provided. They are also included in the Modified Conditional Cash Transfer (MCCT) program that holds monthly FDS teaching them values, importance of health and education, and strengthening family relations.

Contrary to what many believe, the Sama-Bajau are actually very peace-loving, and highly skilled nomads, particularly in fishing. Hence their tribal name, “Bajau”, which translates to “man of the seas” or “sea gypsies”. Did you know they have a different name, everytime they move to a new area? One of the main reasons why they leave the land they originated from and constantly travel from one place to another is because of pirate attacks. When conflict arises, they do whatever to stay away from it.
“There was a man who was killed and they [pirates] stole his boat. It happened to us. We used to live on our boat. After fishing, we came back to land and they were waiting for us so they can steal our fish and boat. They killed our father. One of our other siblings were killed too. That’s why we left Zamboanga. We were only kids back then, but I still remember it all. We don’t want to go back there…”

That’s what one of the beneficiaries, Magdalena Rosali spoke up about. Their lives depended on a life on the sea. When you take that away, you basically take away their home, their livelihood, and are left with nothing but fear. If these traumatic events are what commonly happens to the Bajaus, it’s no wonder they end up on the streets begging and doing whatever they can just to meet their basic needs.

So how have their lives changed since being under the Comprehensive Sama-Bajau program? Magdalena’s sister Nolima Rosali spoke in behalf of all of the Sama-Bajau there, and said:
“The change wasn’t hard. We learned how to live a better life like everyone here with their support. Just like now, we learned how to make these [bead accessories]. We can sell these and now we have money for our needs. They taught us how to write our names…”

Ms. Analiza shared that before, all of the Sama-Bajau beneficiary’s documents were filled with thumbprints, instead of their names and signatures. Now with the help of DSWD, they have certified documents with their permanent names.

“We learned how to respect other people… We felt a big change in our lives. We used to beg for money all day long and get about P200 daily. Our mother would scavenge. I would use some of the money for my studies. When DSWD helped us, we were given a home so we can study. With your help, my two children are now in school and we don’t beg anymore. Even until now. We’re occupied with what we’re doing here now. That’s why we’re grateful. We’re thankful for all of you.”Nolima Rosali

It was enlightening knowing that these people are now in good hands. After hearing the Rosali sister’s stories, my negative perspective on the Bajau community changed tremendously. I can say that Bajau’s are all just misunderstood. They are vibrant, colorful personalities – just like their sense of style (as seen with Nolima). They are passionate, hard-working, and just love life.
Aside from the beadmaking, the program also trains them to make rugs and rags, rosaries (which are being sold abroad), and bags. Did you know Bajau’s are also known to be naturally effective sales-talkers? It goes hand-in-hand with the crafts they’ve learned to make.

There’s one more Bajau I was able to talk to and I was really moved by what she had to say. Her name is Jasmin. Together with her cute son, she told her story about how hesitant she was to go to school when she had the chance to, with DSWD’s help. She had a hard time because she was teased by other students because of the way she looked, the way she talked… but she was determined to learn. Though she was only able to finish grade 5 in elementary school, she said she’s still thankful for the help she got and would continue studying if she had the chance again. But for now, she chose to stop her schooling to raise and earn money for her son. From being another beggar on the streets, she is now happy with where she is now, being supported by DSWD. The last thing she said was this:
“We slowly learned to stop begging on the streets, because we now know that it’s wrong. We are thankful that we were welcomed here. We just wanted to be accepted. We were accepted here. And we [Bajaus] accept all of you too.”

Before leaving, the Rosali sisters were teaching us some words from their native tongue, Sinama (the language of Sama-Bajaus) and welcomed us back to their “home”. I made sure to buy something they made, just as a small help for them. I bought this rosary that I saw was made by Magdalena. So I showed it to her and her sister Nolima on my way out. They joyfully laughed and said, “magsukul (thank you)!”
Photo courtesy of Godly Camitan.


BRIDGING THE GAP: Unheard Stories from the Lives of the Poor (DSWD Trip to Quezon, Learning Visit) – Part 1

To be honest with you, I’ve been non-stop brainstorming on how I could (or should) approach writing about my extraordinary “Learning Visit – Trip to Quezon Province” last June 29-30, spearheaded by DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development).

In my title for example, I struggled to use the word “poor” to describe the state of the communities we visited. Is it politically incorrect? I had to think hard about it. To some, it may be. But to me, it’s the best unfiltered description. Why should I minimize or sugar-coat it? That’s the truth. We all know that about half of the Philippines is still in poverty. And if reading any of that bothers you, or makes you uncomfortable in the slightest way, then the more I encourage you to continue reading.
I guess what I mean to say in starting this blog, is it overwhelms me that in a short span of two [eventful] days, I’m able to produce infinite things to share. You can’t blame a guy who has minimal knowledge and involvement in social welfare services, immersion in poor communities, and the like. But my fresh experiences, supplemented by inspiring stories of kind strangers from different walks of life led me to countless realizations and discoveries. Essentially, it gave me a change in perspective on myself as an individual, on people, the government, the world in general, and life as a whole.
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. It sounds a bit much. It might sound funny or unusual, but allow me to enlighten you, just like how I was. So bear with me as I gather my scattered thoughts to come up with this: a different kind of article touching themes not regularly seen in my blog, yet I believe is important for anyone and everyone to open their minds and hearts to.

I’m not one to throw a bunch of hard facts, numbers, and statistics, that you can easily search on the web. Instead, I’ll be giving food for thought as I bridge out to you the intangible – moving stories of unique individuals supplemented by my personal highlights, to fill in the social gap formed by a lack of awareness and understanding. I’ll leave it to you to take away whatever deeper sense you can get from this.

*Quotations in this article are non-verbatim, english translations that embody the essence of the actual discourse.

With that said, let’s cut to the chase and get on to Day 1’s first stop: Barangay. Pinagdanlayan in Dolores. It is the home of the pilot project of one of DSWD’s programs, Kalahi-CIDSS (Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan – Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services). The program is a participatory approach aimed to empower residents through engagement in the development of their community.
For the majority of us, health is top priority, just like for the community at Brgy. Pinagdanlayan. That’s why they chose to construct a health center with the generosity of DSWD funding the project back in 2003, and was successfully completed the year after.

I looked outside my window and got a glimpse of the health center as our van slowly came to a stop. My first impression was it didn’t look like much – just another piece of infrastructure. Little did I know, it was a lot more than just that.
In the blue, wearing that shy, yet endearing smile is Barangay Captain Francisca Deliso or better known as “Sally”.  Before being elected as Barangay Captain, she was actually the Barangay Sub-project Management Committee (BSPMC) chair for Kalahi-CIDSS. She had plenty to share about how the entire project transpired, and that’s where I learned how immensely engaged the residents were. From addressing their top needs, planning, designing, to the actual implementation and maintenance of the health center – all for the betterment of their community.
“Actually, I originally wasn’t a volunteer. I’m an OFW. I had no idea that when I’d come back, this [health center project] would be in progress. I didn’t even know what Kalahi-CIDSS was. It was my former husband who was chosen (by the community) to volunteer and lead. The prioritized project was infrastructure. It was good that he was a construction worker, just like all of the other volunteers. But they didn’t expect the project to have an overwhelming amount of seminars, training, and paperwork. That’s where I came in. I became extremely dedicated. Lots of tears were shed. We had countless sleepless nights… But this project materialized to give service to our community’s health problems and we are very thankful for it and the help given to us by DSWD.” – Brgy. Captain Francisca

As she went more into detail of the process they went through, I was astonished by the amount of strength and will power they needed to muster and unite as one community to accomplish the task at hand successfully.
Juncel Reyes is the designated nurse for this particular health center. When asked, around how many people are served on a daily basis, he said that it depends.

“Some days we serve about ten. On other days, it depends. For example when we have recruit monitoring, we try to accommodate them all as much as possible, sometimes reaching about one-hundred kids. And in some cases, we are the ones who go to them.”

Alongside him is midwife volunteer Rovelyn Locus, trained to assist in other work at the health center. Other midwives like her are the volunteers who help with the maintenance and operations. When we asked about how far their service can extend for the community, they explained their limitations.
5“The most common cases here are acute respiratory infections or loose bowel movement. When it’s the rainy season, that’s when more service is needed. Delivering a baby can actually be done here in our facility. However, as much as possible we try to bring them to the main health center, because medication and equipment is more complete there. We are on-call everyday. Our midwives give contact numbers to those expected to give birth within the expected month, so they can easily call and be prioritized at the main health center when the time comes.” – Nurse Juncel Reyes

The main health center is only a ten-minute ride away, according to Nurse Juncel. The fact that they are always on-call, goes to show how much they care about giving the best service to their community, without expecting anything in return.

Though again, it may not look like much, their health center has demonstrated its capability to go beyond its main purpose of serving numerous people in need of healthcare, and in time has evolved into a “safe haven” for the community.8
“I have six kids. They’re grown up now. My youngest is turning nine-years old… When my children aren’t feeling well, I know I can always bring them here. It’s here that I can trust and rely that they can find out what’s wrong when I can’t treat them myself.”

That’s what local resident Nancy Magpantay testified when I chanced upon talking to her. She was with her friend and other local resident, Marites Brudente. They, together with their husbands were part of the successful construction of the health center. Marites added:

“We’re just grateful that this health center was built here – near to our place – because the old one is much farther and not easily accessible. It’s a great relief for us. We can always bring our kids here for their checkups. Sometimes we stop by here just to relieve ourselves of stress. I can talk to people here. It somehow gives us a sense of comfort and security.”
I later on found out that some of Nancy and Marites’ children are beneficiaries of DSWD’s social protection and human development program, Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program or “4Ps”. Basically, the program supports the health, nutrition, and education of children (zero to 18 y/o), with a monthly conditional cash grant to poor families. The conditions, including monthly health checkup of children, school attendance, and monthly Family Development Sessions, are all in the direction of helping alleviate poverty and improving their livelihood. (Click here for more information about the 4Ps.)

“Though sometimes, it really isn’t enough for our everyday needs, it’s still a big help from our government. It’s more than we can ask for and we are grateful for it.”Marites Brudente

“The programs taught and pushed us to improve our livelihood. How to make a living for ourselves, to earn more, and meet our family’s everyday needs.” – Nancy Magpantay

Before saying goodbye to them, I asked them to look into the future, and the two agreed, “if the community were to have another project to materialize, a new high school closer to us would be great, especially for our kids.”
This community in Dolores may be considered as “poor”, but it seems to me that the resident’s healthy, happy, and genuine smiles prove otherwise. That to me, is true wealth.

Candelaria was our next stop, specifically the Barangay Pahinga Sur hall. We arrived just in time to witness one of the components of the 4Ps going on Family Development Sessions (FDS). This happens once a month for the parent-grantees. They’re educated on several topics like budget management, responsible parenthood, children’s rights, disaster preparedness, etc.
THE VALUE OF EDUCATION. Truth be told, there are people who are fortunate enough to have a formal education, yet take it for granted. On the other hand, there are people starving for knowledge, but cannot even afford the basics of human needs – what more, a complete and proper education? I believe that we are always a student, whether inside the walls of a classroom, or outside, under the roof of a barangay hall, perhaps?

After observing their FDS, we were given the chance to ask the 4Ps beneficiaries about their thoughts and experiences on their monthly sessions as a parent-grantee and how it has affected their family households.
“It’s been five years since I’ve been attending these FDS. Personally, I attend for the added helpful knowledge they teach. One of my most significant learnings from the FDS is how to prevent child abuse, because I’ll admit, before I became a member of the [4Ps] program, I would sometimes result to physically hurting my children. But after, I learned it’s wrong and eventually I was able to prevent myself from doing it again. I noticed it made a positive effect on them because they became more obedient.”Leah Manalo

Majority said the reason why they attend is to learn how to properly care for and nurture their families, to pass down their knowledge to their children so they can live better lives. They also mentioned what government agencies they learned about and can ask help from in times when they need it the most, like for healthcare, student scholarships, etc. Being under the 4Ps, their voices are heard. They’re able to get the medical attention they seek, even when they don’t have any money. Unlike before, they wouldn’t be accommodated at all. They became a priority, and that to them is one of the biggest help they’ve received from DSWD and its programs.

Amidst all the women participants of the FDS, was a “thorn among the roses”. He was a scruffy yet jolly looking man who immediately captured my attention with his positive aura. I decided to talk to him to get to know the story behind his big benevolent smile. His name is Mario G. Gonzales – a father of four who values his family and education more than anything.

“I’m here because my wife is an OFW. She’s a domestic helper in Singapore. Eversince we became part of the 4Ps, I’ve been the representative for our family here. We do what we can to help each other and our family. While she works abroad, I also try to make a living here as a tricycle driver. At the same time, I take care of our kids.”

If you think about it, Mario juggles three roles: being the father and mother figure of the family, while trying to make a living for himself as a tricycle driver. There’s no denying that he exceeds the embodiment of what a good parent should be. Because of the circumstances he is in and through the FDS, he learned what gender equality means.

“Just because I’m a man, doesn’t mean I can’t stay at home to raise my children or take care of our food for the day. The same goes for my wife. Even though she’s a woman, it doesn’t mean she can’t be the main breadwinner of our family. I confirmed that learning here.”

He went on and told me more about how their life changed from before being part of the 4Ps, until now.
“Our life was hard. I didn’t have my own tricycle. But I was determined to get one of my own. I needed to help support my children’s education. I knew they were intelligent kids and saw so much potential in them to excel in school. That’s why we work hard to try to get them all to finish school. My wife and I were unable to finish our education and only reached highschool. I remember, we got married at such a young age, with our first child who came when we were still in highschool. We tried working in Manila, where my wife is from. I worked as a guard. It didn’t workout for us so we moved back here. Fortunately we were part of the surveyed families who later became part of the 4Ps. That’s when my wife landed a job abroad, while I was able to learn about educational scholarships offered by the government. They knew we were struggling. That’s why I’m so proud of my kids for getting all three scholarships. Everyone here knows how proud I am. I knew it when I saw their potential.”

You can see it in his eyes, how genuinely happy he was with how far they’ve come, while he continued telling his story. He now boasts of his children’s academic achievements. His two youngest children are still in school. His second child will be graduating soon, while their first child now works as a public school teacher in their barangay. He constantly expressed his thankfulness for the help DSWD and the 4Ps has given them, but he also emphasized an important point, that became my main takeaway from his story.

“Determination and motivation to strive for more means you shouldn’t just rely on what’s being given to you. Don’t stop there. You can take the help being given – big or small – but continue to pursue your dreams. We should persevere. I always tell young ones to prioritize your education before anything, so you can make your dreams come true. My dream is for my kids to finish school and to create a better life for themselves – not relying on anyone. We’re getting old. All I want is for them to have a brighter future.”
I couldn’t leave the place without getting some sort of visual memory of this inspiring man, so I asked Mario if we could take a photo together. He thanked me and said he needed to go home to prepare lunch for his family. He waved goodbye with his signature warm smile, and drove off on what he now proudly calls his own “dream” tricycle – the result of his hardwork, tough love, and perseverance.

Photo above, courtesy of Godly Camitan. Click here to see her blogs from this trip.
And to think this was only half of what happened during the first day.

Like I said, I’m overwhelmed… yet, enlightened. – BOXFACE

New Perspectives: DSWD Learning Visit 2017 (Quezon Province, Calabarzon)

June 29 & 30.
A short video documentation/teaser of what I experienced at the 2-day trip: DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) Learning Visit, 2017.

Read more about it here: https://jaccarlos.wordpress.com/2017/…

I could go on and on about what transpired during this trip, but for now I’ll let this short video, with the help of the inspiring people I met, do the talking.

Thank you to the amazing staff of DSWD Region IV-A for this overwhelming and enlightening experience!

*Full vlog/s and blog/s on this trip, to be posted asap.

DAY 2: Baguio City Hits

Check out what went down on our first day in Baguio City if you haven’t already, by clicking here: DAY 1: Baguio City Hits

Second Surprise. After an eventful first day in beautiful Baguio City, we wanted a bit of a more laid-back day. Nothing too much, too extraordinary. Just some quality time with the family. This day we were also checking out of the Hotel Elizabeth to stay at the home of Benguet State University’s President’s place – a past co-worker and friend of my parents.
We started our day off right, of course with our complimentary breakfast buffet. Honestly it was the smell of the unlimited crispy bacon I was originally going to dive into, but there are so many choices that I just had to try everything! Some of the food they served were salad that you can make on your own, beef tapa, sunny-side up eggs, fried rice, assorted bread, french toast and many more!

We then packed all of our stuff and got ready to leave. We were already checking out and our van arrived, so we headed out of the lobby. As we were escorted by the hotel’s manager and lobby men, they all of a sudden stopped our parents (with my dad arguably questioning them) and began to sing… “Happy Anniversary” while bringing out a special dessert plate just for the two love birds! We were surprised as well, because that wasn’t arranged by us. We suspect it was secretly favored by some of our parents co-workers who had already left Baguio. A startling, yet sweet surprise indeed! Thank you Hotel Elizabeth for the exceedingly great accommodation.

Art Appreciation. Benedicto Cabrera, or  “BenCab” is a well-renowned master of contemporary Philippine Art. His paintings and prints have been widely exhibited internationally and he was won numerous awards throughout his career as a fine artist.
The BenCab Museum, situated on 6 Asin Rd., Benguet (15 minutes away from the Baguio City Center) is a way of bringing arts closer to the people. It houses a wide collection of the artist’s work, plus other work from Filipino contemporary masters and on-the-rise artists. Going there was our main agenda for the day, so as a family of art enthusiasts and craftsmen, we were all excited to check it out! It’s been a long time since we’ve all been to a museum too.
I won’t show you much of the artwork shown because you have to see it in person to fully appreciate it. But many of the artwork represents the filipino culture, history, and the museum is also filled indigenous/tribal sculptures and woodwork.
Aside from the artwork, there is a museum shop where you can purchase souvenir items, books and arts & crafts materials. There’s also a small cafe called Cafe Sabel which is at the bottom floor of the museum, overlooking a relaxing view of the forest and pond on the exterior. They boast of their organic menu and food for the soul, where some of the ingredients are actually from BenCab’s farm! Sadly, we didn’t eat here. But I will tell you, the ambiance is so chill and relaxing.

And of course from the Cafe, you can walk down to the pond and garden where you’ll see some of the organic farm produce. This area also showcases indigenous architecture, a river that runs through the property, a hill & forest with an eco-trail, and housing that is the home of farm animals and other livestock.

For more information about the BenCab Museum, visit: http://www.bencabmuseum.org/

Sadly once again, the weather did not cooperate and the rain began to fall. Good thing we were pretty much done at the museum. From here on, I didn’t take much photos anymore, so I guess I’ll fast-forward to our third morning in Baguio and also the day we left to go back to Makati City. But before that, here’s a photo of a retro 80’s-vibe rain jacket that I was able to get for a steal, at P25 only! Yup, that’s what I was talking about when we went to the Ukay Night Market during our first day in Baguio City.
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Anyway, after about a 6-hour deluxe bus ride back to Makati (where I first experienced using an extremely convenient yet tricky-to-use washroom inside a bus), we had a late lunch. We then went and attended mass at St. John Bosco Parish, which is where my parents got married – perfect for their anniversary. Did a bit more ukay-ukay hunting and I managed to get something nearby (another jacket if you’re wondering… yes, I love jackets). Had dinner at Greenbelt 5, and then to top off the entire weekend-long fam-jam/celebration, we did our last surprise for our parents. We made them a scrapbook/coffee table album of all their recent photos together. Yes, printed photos are better than digital.

I couldn’t have imagined a better way to celebrate my parents anniversary. Everything was a success, and just another memorable experience with the family to treasure. ‘Til our next trip!

Do you know any other cool spots to go in Baguio City? Let me know so we can check it out the next time we go there!

DAY 1: Hitting Up Baguio City Hot-spots

May 2017. When you can’t handle the excruciating heat of summer, everybody knows that one of the best places to go is Baguio City, where pine trees are abundant and the fresh cool air can ease your summer stress. However, that reason was only a bonus for our trip because our main mission was to surprise our mom (in collaboration with our dad) for their 29th wedding anniversary – May 28!

My three siblings and I left Makati City in the evening. We caught a bus at a DLTB Terminal in Cubao, leaving for Baguio at 9pm which allows us to arrive early morning, just in time before our mom wakes up. It’s about a 6-hour commute, more or less, with stops in between for bathroom and/or snack breaks. We were asleep the entire ride though.
After a smooth ride, we arrived at Baguio and was greeted by the natural coldness as we stepped out of the bus that matched the air conditioned bus we were on. It’s like we never got off the bus! Several vendors welcomed us, offering the signature “strawberry taho” of the area and of course we had to have some. After a few minutes, we were picked up by our dad’s driver who brought us to the hotel our parents were staying at for a week-long work event.

Hotel Elizabeth was the name of the posh and picturesque place we stayed at. I won’t go too much into detail about the accommodation and amenity details, but if you’re planning a trip to Baguio and feel you have an above average budget, then I definitely recommend the Hotel Elizabeth.
Guests have full privilege of the hotel’s gym, a strong Wi-Fi connection that reaches all around the hotel, plus a complimentary breakfast buffet, and just a short walk from the area will lead you to small shops and a market that may interest you. If you’re looking to go to the tourist spots like Wright Park, Mines View, or the well-known Session Road – the more lively area filled with restaurants, cafes, bars, thrift shops, and basically the best nightlife/chill spot – all you need to do is ask for assistance from the guards at the hotel lobby to get you a taxi. It’s not too far away so you won’t need to pay too much for the ride.

For more information about Hotel Elizabeth, visit: http://www.hotelelizabeth.com.ph/he

Back to the surprise! Our dad sneaked out of their room while our mom was still fast asleep. It was about 4am, and our dad met up with us at the lobby and brought us up. We all snuck in, bounced on her bed, and SURPRISE! Mission accomplished. She had no idea we were all there for their anniversary weekend. Little did she know, the whole weekend was laid out already for us to enjoy!

Since we all had empty stomachs, of course the first thing on our agenda was to take advantage of the breakfast buffet which was great! That is, after we snoozed for a bit. And then, we went on to our first location – Mines View Park, found in the outskirts of Baguio City.
It’s a pretty busy tourist spot, but worth going to. There are many souvenir shops you can stop by at. You can also have your picture taken with these huge St. Bernard dogs or ride a horse. However, I honestly don’t recommend doing this because sadly, the horses don’t seem healthy and taken cared of. On top of that, they’re even colored to look like unicorns! I don’t know what was going on in their minds…

What we did was just go to the viewing deck where you’ll find a breathtaking landscape view of mountains, trees, and the cloudy blue skies.
One thing that was actually really cool was when we tried wearing the Baguio tribal outfits! The locals will allow you to wear them with the headgear, accessories and everything so you can take that perfect souvenir photos – the Baguioenos way. I think we rocked it. They were pretty comfy too, if I may add.
We then went off, got some souvenirs on the way out, and of course got some more strawberry taho. Next up on our agenda was to stop by Camp John Hay – one of the most popular tourist attractions in Baguio.

Camp John Hay is known for it’s luxurious and hospitable accommodation, surrounded by the beauty of nature. Though we only stopped by the strip of shops nearby the Camp, I’ve been in and around The Manor of Camp John Hay already last year, and it was definitely one of the best places I’ve stayed at in the Philippines, by far!

For more information on Camp John Hay, visit: http://campjohnhay.ph/about.php

And we also paid a short visit at The Philippine Military Academy (P.M.A.) where we rode on some legit tanks! Of course it was just on display, but it was really cool.

Around this time, it was coming close to lunch. We were all pretty hungry already. Plus, the weather looked like it was going to rain, so we went and found a place we heard of called “Oh My Gulay” (Oh My Vegetables) at the rooftop of a building along Session Road!DCIM100GOPROGOPR0415.JPGDCIM100GOPROGOPR0415.JPG
Oh My Gulay (OMG) Artist Cafe is an indoor tropical garden with a quaint tribal vibe that easily puts it on the hot-spot radar of Baguio. It has artwork all over the place… well, the whole cafe looks like a work of art to me! And let’s talk about their menu for a hot minute.

I have to give props to the creatively made menu, especially with the clever and humorously fitting names like the “Anak Ng Putanesca”, “Heneral Luna’s Punyetang Shitake” and the “Ceasar Asar Salad” we ordered. All of their dishes names are playfully stamped with piece of filipino history. Aside from that, it’s a vegetarian and vegan’s place to be. hence the name of the place. Everything tasted great, all for a very affordable price! That’s why I highly recommend you check this place out if you haven’t already
As I mentioned, this cafe is on the highest floor of a building in Session Road, so keep in mind that there are no elevators and just a small yet tight flight of stairs going up to the fourth floor to this hidden gem.

It was a long day and it began to rain kinda hard, so we decided to go home and relax for a bit. After freshening up, we went out to SM Baguio, grabbed a bite to eat and had some cold beer to match the cool evening breeze.

If you didn’t know, Baguio City is known as the “Ukay-ukay” (thrift-shop) Capital of the Philippines. So we took our chance at the Harrison Rd. night ukay market which starts at 9PM and goes on ’til midnight! It’s amazing what treasure you’ll find there, all for prices that won’t make much of a difference to your wallet. I’ll show you some of the finds we got in Day 2 of our Baguio City hits!


If you’re looking for a nature trip that involves a boat ride across a beautifully blue lake, and a heated hike on the 2nd most active volcano in the Philippines to get to one of the most majestic and picturesque views of it’s famous crater lake… then what are you waiting for?

You need to plan your trip for the Taal Volcano Tour – pronto!

First-Time.  A joint celebration was planned with two of my closest friends whom I haven’t hangout with or seen for centuries. I knew we had to do something a bit out of the ordinary (atleast for us), because Karl Loresca, recently just passed his CPA licensure exam, Niko Malacad had his birthday last May 22, and I’ll be having my birthday on June 11. Just a few days before our set date, we decided to try something new, rather than our usual guy’s night out and do the Taal Volcano Tour!

Fast forward to the day of our trip, none of us had much sleep. We planned to leave early from Los Banos at 5am to avoid the hottest time of day. We had a few problems (like friends who couldn’t make it last minute and a means of transportation), but fortunately it got fixed on the day. After meeting up and having breakfast in Calamba, we were off to Talisay, Batangas!Processed with VSCO with c1 preset
From Calamba, it was about a one-hour road trip (without our detour) passing through Tanaun to the lake shore town of Talisay, Batangas. You’ll notice there are many boat stations once your arrive at Talisay. Though our contact person did not show up, we managed to find our meeting spot and that’s where we parked our vehicle and got our boat.

Boat Ride.  They say “the more, the merrier”, and that saying applies here as well, not only because it’ll be more fun, but because your contribution share will be less, haha. The boat costs P1,500 (negotiable + 6 persons max) going to the Taal Volcano town proper and back. For the price, I think it’s worth it for the 20-minute boat ride across Taal Lake. You get to really appreciate the waters and scenery. Don’t be shy to talk to the local boat driver. They can answer all of your questions about the history of Taal lake/volcano, and everything around.
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Upon arrival at the Taal town shore, you’ll be greeted by locals to assist you in getting off the boat. Plus, what felt like a “paparazzi” photo taken by another local with a DSLR camera, who will then offer you your photo laid out and framed for P350 (with the soft copies free). I got to have the soft copy transferred to my phone. A bit pricey, but a pretty good souvenir nevertheless. Also, don’t worry about your boat ride back. They wait for you after your hike to bring you back.
More locals will welcome and greet you as you proceed to the center of the town. You’ll notice a small cafe as well where you can purchase some snacks and drinks before heading up to hike. I’m not sure about the prices because we went straight ahead. I’m guessing it’s on the pricey side as well – like everything else offered there, but it’s best to check it out yourself.
Just a short walk from the shore, you’ll see the small town center where you pay a Taal
tourist fee of P100/person
. I’ve read in other blogs that an environmental fee of P50/person has to be paid as well, but we didn’t have to do that. It might be a good idea to note though, just in case. You’ll then be asked if you’d like to have a trekking assistant for P500 to go with you and your group to be guided during the hike. This is optional, and so we decided to go without one – a bold move for us.  Another option for the trip is a horse ride for another P500/person going up to the top and back down, but again, we opted to just walk. We highly recommend you do this as well, not only because it’s good exercise, but because I honestly felt sorry for the horses. They looked frail and almost being abused, having to carry a big weight on there backs, going up and down the volcano.

Hiking Tips. Keep in mind that you will be hiking on an active volcano, so on top of the normal heat of the scorching sun, is the literally steaming hot sulfuric grounds you’ll be stepping on.

  • Wear comfortable, light clothing/shoes, and a hat (or anything to protect your face from the sun) to make the hike easier on you. Sadly, one of my friend’s pair of shoes had to R.I.P. because it was so hot, the ground melted the bottom part of his shoes, so we found it flapping on the way down.
  • Bring sunscreen to avoid getting sun burnt, a towel/handkerchief/wet-wipes, and alcohol, obviously to wipe off all your sweat and the dirt you’ll get all over your body as you hike.
  • Bring lots of water to keep yourself hydrated. Trust me, you’ll need it! There are 14 stations marked by large crosses planted in the ground to guide you all the way up to the top. Some stations have locals selling fresh buko juice, water for P50, and gatorade for P100. Pretty expensive, which is why it’s better to bring your own drinks.
  • Be careful of the steep parts of the trail and passing horses to avoid accidents. You might find yourself sliding, so move slow on the steeper parts especially going down. The horses don’t stop, so be mindful of your surroundings so you don’t bump into any of those poor things.
  • Don’t forget to stop, take in, and appreciate the landscape views of the area.

I almost got a heat stroke and was practically dying from catching my breath during the hike, probably because I’m not as fit as before. But after a good 45 minutes to 1 hour hike, you’ll finally reach the top!  You’ll know you’re almost there once you reach the area where there are a lot of the rest stations with locals offering more drinks and some souvenir items like shirts and hats.

A few more steps up, and you’ll finally get to see the breathtaking view of the Taal volcano crater and inner lake! You’ll see more souvenirs being sold, and you also have the option to golf for an additional P50/person. Apparently the balls are eco-friendly, so hitting them into the crater lake is all right (I hope). We didn’t do this however, as well as the other optional entrance to the red lava area for P50/person which is what I believe to be a bit more of a walk, but a great photo-op location.

Fun Facts. The crater lake’s area is about 2 kilometers, which is also about the distance of the hike (one-way). The volcano stands at 311 meters or 1,020 ft. tall, which actually makes it one of the lowest volcanoes in the world, yet one of the deadliest based from its history. It is also unusually distinct of being the world’s only volcano within a lake within a volcano within a lake within a volcano. If you don’t get it, it’s okay. I didn’t get it at first as well. Here’s a more detailed explanation: “The largest lake is inside a large volcanic (Taal) caldera that was produced hundreds of thousands of years ago by a catastrophic eruption by a super-volcano. Inside the lake is a smaller volcano and lake with a small island topped by a relatively new volcanic crater.

We went up to the viewing tower and of course had our victorious photo-op. Because it is an active volcano, if you look into the crater lake from the top, you’ll actually see bubbles and underwater vents emitting sulfur. It’s the perfect reward just looking at the majestic heart of Taal Volcano, after a tiresome hike. It makes it all worth it.

And that pretty much ended our extraordinary adventure! What happened afterwards is a whole other story on its own so I’ll end this blog here. In conclusion, we definitely recommend the Taal Volcano Tour to those who aren’t afraid to get dirty, sweat buckets, have a relatively affordable budget to spend, and are looking for a rewarding adventure to remember!

Click here to watch a Minute-Montage of our Taal Volcano Trip!