paid to travel

i don’t really know what possessed SMTD to send a team to agusan del norte to look into the PICOP situation, particularly why he thought that having lawyers there would do the investigation/inspection any good, and i confirmed this when i found myself an utter waste of government money, providing no more than youth and exuberance to the otherwise pointless and purposeless trip. the older folks in the team were themselves in a bind. what the hell were we supposed to do in that corner of mindanao anyway?

i actually went to butuan a day ahead of everyone else. our itinerary was revised at least twice and i was informed too late of the changes. so i zoomed to butuan city without prior notice and just sort of showed up at the regional office to say: where’s your guest house? i could’ve been a complete sham, really, but i was taken to a nice room with airconditioning, and when dinnertime arrived, the RED sent one of his henchmen to fetch me, and this guy asked: “andyan ba si attorney?” no one else had checked in that day, and i was obviously alone in the room which had 8 beds. “ako po yun,” i said, and he whispered something in cebuano about me being too young to be a lawyer. at the RED’s house, we had a lot of crustaceans and shrimp, 2 of my most favorite seafood. the following day, it was pretty much the same thing. for the next two days, i was feted in less-than-royal circumstances, but with certainly enough generosity, i might tend to overestimate my own importance.

the actual investigation, or whatever you might want to call it, was conducted on thursday morning, which was a really foggy day (apparently, butuan is usually foggy, so much so that flights get delayed due to poor visibility), a day after the rest of the team arrived. we were told that we’d travel to bislig city in surigao del sur. it was a town i do not recall hearing about previously, but its name conjured images of a place torn apart by extreme poverty, and a particularly dangerous insurgency problem. the stretch of road leading to bislig from butuan alternates from being really well paved to really rough, and there were parts when stockpiles of cut falcata trees lined the highway. these are a species of fast-growing trees, harvested from tree farms in the area. along the way, we had breakfast in a town called san francisco, in agusan del sur, in a restaurant which was built almost entirely from one mammoth of a dau tree estimated to be 350 years old when it was felled in 1989.

in bislig, we had a lunch meeting at the congressman’s house. we had another meeting in the CENR office nearby. contrary to what i initially thought, bislig doesn’t resemble afghanistan by a long shot, but what baffled me really was how it attained city status. bislig bay, which faces the philippine deep, is a sorry-looking body of water. the highway lies along the beach, and although it stretches for kilometers, the beach is dyed brown, and the murky color extends about 30 to 40 feet into the bay.

when the investigation was finally over, we were invited to have dinner at the PENRO’s house. there were around 9 of us, but the PENRO prepared for an army: he had a lechon, pinapait, kinilaw, grilled fish, sinampalukan, among many others. we managed only to eat around less than 1/4 of the huge pig, and i was hoping he’d have it chopped for us to take home. that didn’t happen, but we already had our boxes of dried fish. these local officials are far too generous. and the generosity is hugely because the central office people i was with were former colleagues and schoolmates at the UPLB college of forestry. i just happened to be there, and the gifts spilled over to me.

the following day, friday, work was over and i had occasion to focus my energies on my camiguin trip. i was dropped off at the bus station, and i took a brief bus ride to balingoan. from there, the summits of the many mountains in the island were already visible. it was a hazy afternoon, and the peaceful ferry ride was only over an hour. after staying in benoni longer than i should, i had myself whisked to mambajao where i stayed in kan-anan sa camiguin. the upstairs floor had a few very basic, uninspired rooms servicing visiting salesmen, and i took one for two nights. i was able to do what most tourists in camiguin might do: very early in the morning i went to see white island off the northern tip of camiguin. it had the shape of the letter ‘U”, with the base stretched out. from the island, which really is just an exposed, sandy shoal where enterprising locals have built sheds, mts hibok-hibok and volcan-daan were visible. it was not a very sunny morning which was good and bad at the same time. good for the skin, but bad for photography.

i also hired a scooter to take me around the island, and through it i managed to visit the ardent hot springs, the sunken cemetery, the stations of the cross in volcan-daan, the santo niño cold springs, kitawabasan falls, and even the PHIVOLCS station leading up to the space between hibok-hibok and mt mambajao. up there, i sort of said: i own that mountain, or this mountain is mine, but my driver failed to appreciate the joke. more than a few times, strangers have spelled my surname as though it were the volcano which last erupted in 1951. i’d write about these places in greater detail but i plan to write an article about it so i would rather not reveal my observations too early.

the following day, sunday, i took the second ferry out of the island, and reached butuan city with more than enough time for my 12.35 flight. on the plane, i identified the islands below with the map that i had in my hand. the resemblance of the drawings with the varied shapes which appeared below tufts of clouds was uncanny! cartography is just such a cool thing. i like maps. i reached manila 20 minutes ahead of schedule. yeah, PAL likes to point that out.
yup. that's the main reason i joined the DENR. i mean, i'm settling for pay that's less than half what i used to get, but the experiences and travel opportunities more than make up for the lost income. the downside is that when i'm out there on my excursions, i usually have to settle for really cheap accommodations and only the most basic things. yeah, but it's cool and i'm liking it. :D