Saturday, 23 November 2013

Nakasendo hike from Tsumago to Magome

Explosion of colors along the Nakasendo trail
Absolutely breathtaking! God was truly on our side when we planned our trip to Japan. As early as May, we - Tonyboy, Jun and Bettina - earmarked the first week of November to visit Baby who made Tokyo her home a few years back and to check out the temples in Kyoto.

The trip became a sort of reunion since it was ten years ago that we (sans Bettina) all climbed Mt. Annapurna in Nepal. Of course being mountaineers, we squeezed in a hike in between to Nakasendo.

The timing was perfect! This is the season when the leaves change colors and when the Japanese flock to the mountains and even to Kyoto to see the leaves, particularly the leaves of maple trees, turn red. The practice is called momijgari, which means hunting of red maple leaves.  So, we were lucky that we confirmed early because when we got there everything was fully booked.

Nakasendo or "path through mountains" is the ancient highway used by the shogunate and the samurais during the 8th century to travel from the imperial capital Kyoto to Edo (now called Tokyo). The road is 533 km long and cuts through the central mountains in the Kiso Valley. There are actually 69 stations or posts along the highway.

Since we allocated two days to hike, we chose the popular ancient post towns of Tsumago and Magome which are the 42nd and 43rd stations.

Our entry point was in Nagiso and exit point  in Nakatsugawa (refer to left map). The train ride took about 3 hours, two hours from Tokyo via shinkansen to Nagoya where we changed trains and took the express train to Nagiso in 55 minutes. Note that we purchased the JR Pass in Manila so we could just hop in and out of any JR line.
One of the trail posts to Tsumago

Nakasendo was surprisingly easy to get to and likewise, the path was easy to hike. At first we were afraid that we might get lost with our DIY (do-it-yourself) plan. And considering that I just recuperated from dengue, I was not too sure that I would be able to hike the distance. Tonyboy was kind enough to load my stuff in his backpack as well as load Bettina's and Jun's too (who had some kind of back problem at the start of the trek).

The trail was well marked with sign posts every kilometer or so and trail maps were readily available at the Tourist Information office at each postal town. The first leg was a 4 km hike to Tsumago and the jump off was behind Nagiso train station. The trail led to rice fields and through the forest which was dotted with maple trees.

bumped into Alfonso  
We got to Tsumago in time for lunch. Being one of the smaller postal towns, the restaurant selection was quite limited and after seeing two or three places, we chose the one where there were lots of people. The menu offered three types of ramen - vegetarian, ebi (shrimp) and a very interesting yam concoction. Expect to shell out as much as Y1,200 per bowl.

While we were having lunch, we were interrupted by a Caucasian-looking fellow who asked if we were pinoys. It turned out that he grew up in Manila and coincidentally enough, is a cousin of a friend of mine and attended the same elementary school as TonyBoy. Alfonso. who is now based in Australia, speaks fluent Japanese and guides tourists, specifically bird watchers and photographers around Japan.
Magome trail

After lunch, we headed out for a bit of sightseeing. We spotted a historical museum and several souvenir shops along the road. We then stopped at the tourist information office to get a trail map to Magome, 8 km away.

The first 5 km of the hike was an easy, gentle ascent to the crest of Magome Pass (2,500 feet in elevation). We passed through forests, waterfalls and stopped to rest at a little hut where we were served matcha (green tea). There were some tourists inside who warned us of the steep climb up to our next stop.

True enough the climb was indeed steep. When we got to the peak, we were greeted with a clear blue sky and a fantastic view of the snow capped Mount Ena. Several photographers were there readying their zoom lenses and waiting for the sun to set.
Mt. Ena behind the marker

After a few snaps, we walked to Magome where we spotted more zoom lens-toting photographers along the road. We found out that the town was celebrating its annual lantern festival that week and thus, there were several tourists

Our accommodation in Tajimaya was a typical ryokan (inn) where the rooms were divided by shoji screen sliding doors, futons laid out on tatami mats and the bath and toilet facilities were shared (separate male and female though). The cost of the room comes with a sumptuous kaiseki dinner and breakfast.

Before dinner, I decided to try out for the very first time the piping-hot onsen inside the female bathroom. It was soothing especially after a long hike under the rain. The onsen is supposed to have healing properties. (Tip: best to soak in the onsen, after dinner, before going to bed).

At dinner, we donned the traditional yukata (kimono) and we were served small dishes in small plates - appetizer, sushi, pickled vegetables, tofu, fish, soup and fruits. The gohan (rice) was served in a wooden bowl.
some sake in our Japanese style room before dipping in the onsen
typical Kaiseki dinner
follow the yellow-dotted paved road
The next day, after breakfast, we set off to Nakatsugawa, 10 km away, to catch the train to Kyoto. The hike would take us to the towns of Shinchaya and Ochiai and finally to Nakatsugawa.

Be warned - this section of Nakasendo is not popular among Western tourists. Most of the hikers we met were Japanese and also the trail signs were in Japanese. We would stop and ask the local residents where to go and they would point to the road and say 'follow the yellow-dotted road.' Thank God Bettina who reads hanzi (Chinese) which is also Kanji (Japanese), could make out the characters and led us to the right direction.

The hike was downhill all the way. The first town Shichaya, 2 km distance, consisted mostly of farmlands. We passed several shrines and  gorges along the way to the next town, Ochiai. As we neared Nakatsugawa, it was getting to look more of a city with more cars and flat roads.

one of the Shinto Temples along Nakasendo
Jun posing infront of one of the gorges
If we continued following the yellow-dotted road, we would probably have ended in the next postal town. There were no signs leading to the train station. Jun decided to randomly knock in one of the homes to ask for directions. Luckily, someone came out to help. He even went out of his way to walk with us to the main road, explaining the tourist spots along the way and finally, directed us to the train station.

boarding the shinkansen
We made it to the train station and had time to get some ramen next door. The trip to Kyoto was much shorter, an hour and a half, 55 minutes to Nagoya and 39 minutes via shinkansen to Kyoto.

Note that the best time to go to Nakasendo is when the season starts to change.  However, be warned. From our experience, this is also when the locals take the time out to witness the changing of the leaves (momijgari) and I'm sure Spring will likewise be busy for the hanami when the cherry blossoms from the sakura tree bloom.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Monster typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan)

As early as Monday Novemer 4, I warned my office e-Group of two impending typhoons. The tile of my email was "in case you're wondering why it's raining - Krosa (Vinta) out, Wilma next and another one...".

I am no meteorologist (although I took a Meteorology 101 course in college). I chanced upon the warning when I was checking out the for the forecast in Japan for my upcoming trip. Senior meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski on November 3 wrote ".. another more threatening storm looks to follow this one for the middle end of next week. The nation's capital of Manila escaped being significantly impacted from Krosa, but the city may fare worse next week.... The second of the two systems will likely be the stronger of the two and ... would mean not only a return of the heavy rain, but also damaging winds."

With that post, I started monitoring the system. Two days later on November 5,  Pydnynowski called the approaching system as a 'monster typhoon' and wrote "The expected track of Haiyan will take it directly over the areas hardest hit by a powerful 7.1 magnitude earthquake that killed more than 150 people in the middle of October."

There were storm chasers already billeted in Tacloban and even CNN's Andrew Stevens was there. The last thing I saw that fateful Friday, was the report of ABS-CBN broadcast journalist on the morning show (clip below) saying that the winds were howl, visibility bad, the roads were empty and the water rising. After that, zilch! News blackout.

Monster typhoon Yolanda, packing 314 km per hour winds , is unprecedented and to date, the strongest storms ever recorded in history. In fact, the highest Philippine Public Storm Signal Warning is up to  #4 which is defined as a very intense typhoon with very strong winds of more than 185 kph may be expected in at least 12 hours. Eastern Visayan, particularly Samar and Leyte, were the hardest hit provinces, with the typhoon making its first landfall at 4 am in Guian. Note that my favorite resort in Guian was completely wiped out.  As of today, the National Risk Reduction and Management Council reported 4,000 fatalities and 1,600 missing.

Here is an eyewitness video (12:24min) taken by a storm chaser (

And here is a rare footage (1:30min) taken by a community development worker of the storm surge that destroyed the house next door in seconds:

Currently there is an outpouring of support from everyone, from all walks of life, locally and internationally -embassies, corporations, celebrities. Even my neighbors have pitched in to help. In my apartment building, there is a huge balikbayan box stationed in the lobby to drop off donations.

It's been two weeks and now the focus is how to rebuild the cities. I caught the interview of Joey Salceda on TV where the interviewer was insisting on fault finding and he said 'move on na tayo.' lets think positive.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Dengue or chikungunya?

aedes aegypti, the primary vector for dengue (from internet)
Head pounding, excruciating joint pain, high fever and chills. Both are symptoms of either dengue or chikungunya and both are viral infections transmitted by the Aedes mosquito.

Of the two, dengue can be more treacherous and even fatal. According to a WHO impact report, the incidence of dengue in the last 50 years, has increased 30-fold.  The report stated "An estimated 2.5 billion people live in over 100 endemic countries and areas where dengue viruses can be transmitted. Up to 50 million infections occur annually with 500,000 cases of dengue hemorrhagic fever and 22,000 deaths mainly among children."

my bedside companion  
In the Philippines, the Department of Health reported 44,207 cases with 193 fatalities from January to June this year, a 1% decline compared to 51,597 cases last year. The number of cases though is still considerable compared to elsewhere in Asia where dengue outbreaks were reported.  Wall Street Journal cited 14,363 cases logged in Singapore with 5 fatalities; Today indicated 21,453 cases in Malaysia with 45 fatalities; and, Thomson Reuters Foundation reported more than 136,000 cases in Thailand, the largest concentration were in Bangkok and Chang Mai, with 126 fatalities.

As for me, I really have no idea where I got bitten. The incubation period of dengue takes 4 to 10 days and symptoms develop 3 to 14 days after.  It was Dra. Rosete, our office clinic doctor who warned me to go to the hospital right away if my fever doesn't subside and to have my blood tested for both dengue and chikungunya.
friends cheered me up (photo from Lilo Gutierrez)

So the very next day, on October 19, shivering and feverish, I went to St. Luke's pathology department for a
complete blood count and to test for Dengue NS1. The initial finding for Dengue NS1 Antigen was negative. Seeing that my platelet count was relatively low at 170,000 (the normal count is 150,000  to 400,000) and my fever was 40.9, the doctor recommended that I be confined in the hospital for further observation.

For three days, my fever was hovering between 40.1 to 40.9 and my platelet count was steadily dropping. When the fever broke, rashes appeared and the platelet count started declining rapidly to 99,000... up to 46,400. That's when my attending physician, Dr. Popeye, confirmed it was dengue. I was on standby for blood transfusion in case my platelet count dropped to 10,000.

this made my day
Dr. Popeye said that there is no specific medication for dengue. He advised to just sit it out by taking lots of fluids and resting. I was on round the clock intravenous fluid and twice a day blood tests. I took the 'lots of fluids' to heart and drank lots of fresh coconut water and tawa tawa tea, a herbal medicinal herb that is growing in popularity for its reputed anti-viral properties and aids in hydration.

Warning to all, the Aedes mosquitoes are out there and prevalent throughout the day when the sun is out. This is contrary to hearsay, that they are out during twilight hours - this is, dawn or dusk. Believe me, dengue is truly debilitating. I was confined in the hospital for a week and it took me more than two weeks to recover.

Here are three tips to avoid dengue -  (1) Use insect repellent regularly  I actually prefer using citronella, a natural insect repellent than those containing DEET and other chemicals.  If I venture to unusual places, I put the insect repellant stickers on my clothing for added protection; (2) Get rid of all water-holding containers in your home, patio, garage and garden including your pet's water bowl. That's where the mosquitoes lay their eggs; and (3) Strengthen your immune system by eating well, logging 7 to 8 hours of sleep, exercising and drinking lots of water. According to the doctor, my immune system must have been compromised and thus, vulnerable to dengue.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

7.2 magnitude earthquake in Bohol, call for help

Gai's post on October 15
The first time I heard of the news that fateful day was when I saw Gai's post at 8:40 am  of a 'very strong' earthquake in Cebu and noted a very slight one in Siargao where she's currently based.

She wrote "My boyfriend called me ... narrating what was happening as they were occurring - the lamps, mirrors were rattling, the water in the glass was jumping, things were falling off shelves."

An hour later, I watched on TV, Philippine Institute of Volcanology (Philvocs) director Renato Solidum explaining that the earthquake was tectonic in origin and occurred about 8:12 am. The magnitude was 7.2 on the Richter scale with Bohol as the epicenter, and the depth was 33 kilometers. Intensity 7 was felt in Tagbilaran City, Bohol and Cebu City while Intensity 6 in Hinigaran, Negros Occidental and Dumaguete. He added to expect aftershocks. As of yesterday,  823 aftershocks were recorded.

Intensity VII  (source: Philvocs intensity scale
Intensity, according to Philvocs, is a measure of how an earthquake was felt in a certain locality or area. An intensity 7 is destructive (left image) where most people are frightened and run outdoors, heavy objects and furniture topple, old or poorly built structures suffer considerable damage.. and landslides are observed. Note that magnitude is a measure of the motions recorded by a seismograph.

The last 7.9 magnitude earthquake happened 21 years ago on July 16, 1990 with the epicenter in Nueva Ecija.

The latest update from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) indicated that the death toll has reached 156 (144 in Bohol), 374 injuries and 22 missing. Out of the total 631,809 families affected, 9,359 families were displaced. A total of 2,066 houses were damaged in both provinces; 20 bridges and four roads are still not passable in Bohol.  75% of the power supply in Bohol has been restored. In terms of cost, a total of P75 million worth of damaged roads, bridges and flood control was reported in Cebu (P17.6 million) and Bohol (P57.5 million).

Bohol's historic 1795 Loay  church  
source @tonycruz
At least nine centuries-old churches were damaged. The Heritage Conservation Society said in a statement that the earthquake "destroyed significant heritage landmarks in Bohol and Cebu, causing total destruction or significant damage to the churches in Baclayon, Dauis, Dimiao, Loay, Loboc, Loon and Maribojoc in Bohiol, all National Cultural Treasures or National Historic Landmarks; and the Sto Niño Basilica and Cebu Cathedral among others in both provinces".

Emma, a friend who owns a resort in Bohol, sent out a plea on Facebook yesterday before the arrival of  President PNoy and Vice President Binay. She wrote: "We are all safe and sound in Panglao Island after experiencing non-stop aftershocks all over Bohol. We are very sorry for the rest of Bohol and hope the media will deliver the message to concentrate not on the heritage structures but to the people who are victims of the quake. There are more damages in the hospitals and evacuation areas esp inlands and highlands. Please visit the rest of Bohol including northern part as we have not heard of what's going on that side. Bohol needs assistance esp Carmen, Loboc, Baclayon, Maribojoc, Loon, Catigbian and other inland/highland areas. I am sorry to hear that some people are more concerned about the arrival of Pnoy and Binay. We are very pleased but please 'wake-up'!!!"

Right now, she is organizing a medical mission and relief drive for the hard hit towns of Loon and Maribojoc. She is accepting help and donations either in cash or medicine and to drop off  items in her home at 66 Ecology Village Gate 5 in Makati (next to Alphaland) or to text Denise at +917 820-2081.  Courrier companies JRS and LBC are delivering said items to Bohol. She plans to bring food, medicine and relief goods to these towns this weekend.

For medicine and supplies, she needs: Mefenamic acid 250 and 500mg. Salbutamol nebules, paracetamol bioflu, captopril, ORS oral rehydration salt, ibuprofen, loperamide, buscopan, kremil s, betadine, band aids, hotpacks, gauze pads, plasters,rolling bandages, pnss for flushing, cold and hot packs, alcohol, examination gloves, masks, triangular bandages, cotton, serc, antihistamine, syringe, dextrose and needles, etc.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Pinky Amador performs Piaf classics at Sonya's Garden

Oh la la is all I can say about last Saturday night at Sonya's Garden where everything was transformed into Paris for the dinner concert of  BFF Pinky Amador aptly billed as "La Vie en Rose".

Clang Garcia who organized the event said she got inspired  after watching Pinky play the role of the legendary Edith Piaf onstage. She said that  "It was my first time to see Pinky perform during Piaf and I thought it will be nice to bring the romance of French songs to Sonya's Garden."

It was truly La Vie en Rose that night. The venue was bursting with the scent of flowers. And of course, the star of the evening - Pinky - was in her best form. She belted out all my favorite Piaf classics such as Padam, Padam (The sound of his, her Heartbeats), Mon Dieu (My God) Mon Manege a Moi, (You're my Carousel), C'est a Hambourg (It's Hamburg), La Belle Histoire d'Amour and dueted  A quoi ca sert l'amour (What is Love) with Sandino Martin.

Pinky and Sandino sing A quoi ca sert l'amour
I must admit that when I met Sandino that morning, I thought he was too young to be the balladeer paired with Pinky for the concert. Well I had to eat crow that day because when I heard him rehearsing Autumn Leaves with a very deep voice, I had to ask who it was. He played the role of Theo Sarapo, the last husband of Piaf and thus, perfect for their duet.

After the concert, I actually encouraged him to do more singing stints. He said that currently [at 23 years old] he would like to focus more on acting and to finish his thesis for his Theater Arts degree in UP.
Kat and Clang in their French attire

Cocktails were served at 6pm and dinner which featured Sonya's signature dishes immediately followed at 7pm.

The first course was salad with freshly picked mixed greens from her greenhouse served with assorted add-ins such as nuts, egg whites, fresh fruits, vegetables and fresh fruits. The second course was pasta with different topping choices of fresh sun-dried tomatoes, ratatouille, mushroom, black olives and capers The third course was salmon belly and rosemary roast chicken. The last course was dessert of chocolate cake, banana and langka (jack fruit) turon and sweet camote.

Sonya supports local organic products 
The wine du jour was Vino de Coco, a coconut nectar wine brewed in Tacloban.  The wine uses the fresh sap from the flower of the coconut tree. According to Clang, "It is very rich in minerals and nutrients; even if you finish a bottle, you will not have a hang over the following day." We didn't finish bottle but we didn't experience any hangover the next day.

It was good that we stayed overnight. The next day I picked some fresh greens from the garden - lettuce, arugula, coriander and basil - and threw everything in the blender together with saba, mango, cucumber and ginger and made a green blend juice for breakfast. Then, we  pampered ourselves in the spa with Sonya's signature massage (a combination of tuina, shiatsu and swedish), facial massage using rice and hair spa using fresh aloe vera from the garden.

If you're free this Saturday, October 12. If you're free, do wear your berets and head out to Tagaytay and catch the final show!  For info, call (0917) 533-5140.
Clang Garcia with Sandino

Sonya's signature salad

spacious rooms at Sonya's Bed and Breakfast

full support from Pinky's classmates
with the mom and sisters of Sandino
The grand dame of  Sonay'a Garden signing her book 

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Metro Manila film finally screening in Manila

Metro Manila poster in Paris
Ever since I saw the posters of the film Metro Manila strewn all over Paris last July, I've been badgering Jake Macapagal to let me know when the film will be released in Manila.

After three months,  the film is finally here and I got the chance to watch it at the prescreening last Thursday, October 3 at SM Aura. :-)

The film is not your typical dark indie film depicting vulnerable, impoverished urban poor and leave you depressed after. It's actually a heart-wrenching thriller about a farmer Oscar Ramirez (played by Jake) who moves to Manila with his family and children to try their luck and ends up getting blackmailed into doing a heist.

At the special screening (from left) Jake Macapagal,
Sean Ellis, John Arcilla
British Sean Ellis must be some wunderkind when he was young for he directed, co-wrote (together with Frank Flowers), co-produced (together with Celine Lopez) and was the sole cinematographer of the film. He said that the idea for the story came about in 2007.  He witnessed two armored truck drivers arguing in the streets in Manila with guns wearing kevlar helmet and one of the guys kicking the truck in frustration.

The film's cast include stage veterans John Arcilla as Ong (the senior officer), Ana Abad-Santos as Ong's wife, Ruben Uy  (co-employee) and indie film actress Althea Vega as Mai Ramirez.
proud of Jake with (from left) Bettina, Vanessa and Jason

The film first premiered on January 20, 2013 at the Sundance Film Festival where it won the Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic.  Yesterday, the film won the Critics Award at the Hamburg International Film Festival. The film is also the United Kingdom's official  entry for best foreign language film for the  86th Academy Awards.

Incidentally, there are two other Filipino-themed films nominated in the Oscars - Transit  (Philippines) and Ilo Ilo (Singapore).  There are 80 nominees which will then be shortlisted to nine and then the final five will be announced on January 16, 2014. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this film (and of course Transit) makes it to the final five. The Oscars is set on March 2, 2014.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Hayop na Degustation at Pepita's

Alain in the foreground in blue with a bunch of happy gourmands
Since Alain was in town, Gai herded the troop to indulged in a lechon degustation at Pepetia's Kitchen.

Note that this is my second lechon degustation in a week's time. The first was last Saturday at Aleth's with Greek Chef Anthony (with Kat and Jemgie). Yes, I know gluttony is a sin but it's hard to resist an invite to a lechon degustation.

Anyway, Hayop na Degustation is Dedet's new 12-course -  10 new dishes and two lechon de leches. We were the second batch to try her creative and yummy concoctions.

The meal started with a welcome drink called Pepita's Magic Potion which is cotton candy served in a cocktail glass with a shot of lambanog infused with dayop juice.

Bettina enjoying her Magic Potion
The second dish was pork rind tendon chips with her special sinigang na gabi dip.
Tendon chips with dip
The third was my favorite which Dedet dubbed as  "hiplog," short for hipon (shrimp) and itlog (egg). The egg is actually salted red egg sauce.

The fourth was another favorite, a bone marrow with oxtail marmalade and a special salt which is mixed with chicharon.
Bone marrow 

The fifth course was called salad surprise. She served micro greens with flowers and on the side, homemade cashew butter, yogurt cheese and a watermelon salt. The salt was the surprise because it pops in your mouth. She used pop rock candy which  I used to love when I was a kid.

Salad Surprise
The sixth was called Sipit sarap  a crab's claw cooked in deadly taba ng talanga, the orange-colored crab roe.
Sipit sarap
The seventh she called Lucky You, the noodles with garlic and basil oil. (No photo taken). Dedet said that this dish has no 'Hu Wow'  moment but it will prepare the guests to the next dish which is another favorite. The eight dish was called Lambada, spicy lamb  cooked in tomato sauce.


The night was her Cheers Palate cleanser tamarind sorbet.
cheers palate cleanser

And finally, what I was waiting for - her Lechon de leches! She has several stuffings to choose from - the Pinoy has four stuffing choics - sisig rice, salted red eggs with garlic and anchovy, binagoongan rice, laing rice and bicol express rice   For the french, it's stuffed with truffle rice.  We chose the Lechon na Maalat (salty Lechon) which is stuffed with rice, salted egg, garlic and anchovies.

Lechon na Maalat

And for the second lechon, we ordered the Mailena de Leche, stuffed with spanish chorizo and taba ng talangka rice.
Mailena de Leche
Her cholesterol sweeper is oatmeal in white chocolate.
cholesterol sweeper

And the last item was the pinoy dessert, cassava brulee.
  • Pinoy dessert

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Chato finally got hitched!

the bride and groom
Have you every seen a "Keep Calm and Carry On" poser? Well, that's my sister in action.

Last Monday, I got a text message from her asking if I was free for lunch on Wednesday. Of course I can't say 'no' to lunch. However, when I found it out it was all the way in Palms Country Club in Alabang, I had to ask what the compelling reason was. To get there from work, I have to travel about 20-km from Pasig and brave the Wednesday Baclaran traffic.

Note that in Manila, Wednesday is usually referred to as 'Baclaran day' where devotees [like me] pay homage to the National Shrine of the Mother of Perpetual Help in Pasay and thus, cause traffic along EDSA, the major thoroughfare.

There was a long pause before she replied and finally answered "I'm getting married."

her rose covered wedding case
I couldn't dare miss her wedding so I made it on that special day braving the Baclaran traffic and all.

It was a small gathering of immediate family and close friends. We were in full force and my sister's 'chestnut' riding friends were all there. Jon, the groom, who belongs to a large family was not complete. I asked his sister why they were only a handful and she said that it was such a short notice that they couldn't rearrange their schedule.

Oh well, at least my sister looked happy! Cool as she is, she managed to bake her own wedding cake for the occasion. Congrats sis and may the two of you be blessed with another 17 years of togetherness. 

Thursday, 29 August 2013

The One Million People March in Luneta

Juana Change 
To celebrate National Heroes Day last August 26, we (Madonna, Ninfa, Jiggy and I) together with 80,000 or so of my countrymen marched to the Quirino Grandstand in Luneta to protest against the misuse of over P10-billion (about US$220-million) pork barrel in a period of ten years.

The pork barrel is slang referring to [wiki] 'the funding for government programs whose economic or service benefits are concentrated in a particular area but whose costs are spread among all taxpayers."

In the Philippines, it is referred to as the discretionary funds allotted to politicians for spending on priority development projects at the local level. We're talking about funds amounting to as much as P200-million (or US$4.4-million) to each senator and P70-million (or US$1.54-million) to each congressman.

The fund was scrapped during the Marcos regime and reintroduced during President Corazon Aquino's term in 1986 and was then called the Countryside Development Fund. It was later changed to the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

Signed petition to end pork barrel 
The petition (right photo) was filed by Peachy Bretaña in It calls for (1) the abolition of the pork barrel system; (2) account for all spent pork; and, (3) investigation and punishment for all guilty parties.

The pork barrel scam is actually not new. PCIJ in a report filed in 2005 "Billions in farm funds used for Arroyo campaign" bared that the P3B released by the Department of Agriculture to fund farmers' fertilizer needs and bankroll community irrigation projects, was allegedly divested to the presidential campaign of President Arroyo in 2004. As of this day, the controversy has not yet been resolved.

This new pork barrel scam involves businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles working together with senators and congressmen to divert their pork barrel to fund ghost projects' specifically, to non-existent foundations and non-government organizations (NGOs).

It was Benhur Lim Luy who exposed the fraudulent activities of her second cousin and employer. Click here to view the timeline starting from the six-part series expose of Philippine Daily Inquirer on July 12 to her surrender on August 28. To date, more whistleblowers are coming out and hopefully, aside from naming names, help build evidence to start the prosecution.

Photos taken during the One Million People March:

Thumbs down and say "Oink Oink Oink" to protest

Akbayan placard

Some protestors were in costume
Madonna with a protestor

Jograd dela Torre's version of Price Tag called 'Kawatan'