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Postcards From The Philippines

Postcards from the Philippines



Mark Nelson


Copyright 2016 by Mark Nelson

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored, or transmitted by any means — whether auditory, graphic, mechanical, or electronic—without written permission of both publisher and author, except in the case of brief excerpts used in critical articles and reviews. Unauthorized reproduction of any part of this work is illegal and is punishable by law.

Table of Contents



Yachtie’s Haven: Bonbonon Bay

Inampulugan Island

The Discovery of the USS Lanikai

The Cata-Al WWII Memorabilia Collection

Everything is Big in Davao

Davao Classic Car Club

A Visit to Corregidor Island

Seeing the Islands on a Banca Safari

The General’s Jeep

Cats and Dogs: A Cultural Perspective

Davao: A New Nightlife Destination

The T’boli of Lake Sebu

The Hellships Memorial

In Search of the Golden Lily

The Pinoy X-Files

Memories of “The Rock”

Manila American Cemetery and Memorial

Gensan’s Tuna Festival

Fort San Felipe, Cavite

Exciting Davao Fashion

Soaring High!

A Taste of Europe in Davao

Bite the Wax Tadpole

“Sow the Wind”: The Massacre at Balangiga

Lettuce in Pain

The Valuable One Peso Coin




For Jennylyn






These twenty-seven short essays were written over a 2-year period and were published in various travel magazines. They are my take on travel and culture.

Yachtie’s Haven – Bonbonon Bay, Negros Oriental

“I swallowed the anchor three years ago and never looked back,” said Australian Nigel Roberts over a cup of morning coffee. Seeing the surprised look on my face, Nigel explained with a smile that “swallow the anchor” is a term used by yachties – those adventurous souls who live for months or years aboard yachts – and means to leave the sea life and settle down on shore.

Nigel is the owner of the Tamboo Sail Inn, nestled on what he calls his “hectare of paradise” at the entrance to Bonbonon Bay, a wind-sheltered basin on the southern tip of Negros Oriental. Australian photographer Kevin Hamdorf and I had arrived that morning, riding down from Dumagette on rented motorbikes. We settled into two of the Inn’s cozy native-style open-air cottages, agreeing to meet later at the bar.

The Inn’s small, inviting bar is a typical yachtie pub fueled by beer and full of sailors spinning tales of ships, storms, pirates and ports, but it’s also an interesting and comfortable place for those “land lubbers” among us.

“The yachtie community here is vibrant, friendly, and colorful with a constantly changing membership,” said Nigel who spent 40 of his 55 years of life at sea, “I’ve seen as many as 35 yachts anchored in Bonbonon Bay but usually there are 15 to 25 in at any one time. With a lot of the yachties coming by here you can really hear some great sailing stories, some of which are even true!”

Ron, an Irish yachtie who lives part of the year in the Philippines and the rest in a 400-year old stone cottage in northwest Ireland told me, “Bonbonon is a most surprising hideaway; the entrance is narrow and not visible until you’re within a mile. It’s a well-protected anchorage and pretty much safe from typhoons. There are 18 foreign yachts anchored here right now.”

Not all the visitors to Bonbonon Bay are yachties. Alex, a Cebu-based French jewelry designer and exporter, and his Taiwanese wife Justine brought their SUV from Cebu on the ferry to Dumagette. They were exploring Negros with no particular plans when they stumbled onto Bonbonon and decided to stay for a few days.

“This place has a kind of Michener quality about it, what we call in French, romantique,” Alex said.

“What I like about it is the informality. It’s very comfortable here and you feel close to nature,” Justine added.

As the golden sunlight changed to pale purple twilight, I joined Alex, Justine, and several others around a long stone table overlooking the beach. The tide was out and the jagged reef across the mouth of the bay was exposed.

In the fast fading light, a young boy and his dog explored small pools of seawater left in the reef by the falling tide, the dog barking excitedly at small crabs scurrying across the rocks. The gleaming white hull of a large boat anchored in the bay picked up tints of tangerine and fuchsia from the setting sun.

Soon we were bathed in the light of a full moon as we recounted the day’s events, made plans for the following day, or sat in the silence of our own private thoughts.

Early the next morning, we awoke to the smell of freshly brewed coffee. Nigel’s wife, Pilar, prepared a huge breakfast of eggs, sausages, bacon, potatoes, rice and toast. Pilar loves to do most of the cooking at the Inn and her specialties include thick toasted sandwiches, spicy curries, her famous Aussie BBQs, and a full range of tasty Filipino dishes.

We left the motorbikes behind to explore the surrounding area on foot. Less than a kilometer down the road was a small fishing village where men were busy patching nets, repairing engines, and preparing their boats for long fishing voyages. Derelict boats beached on the sand told of the hard times facing these fishing families. Several men crouched in the shade of one of the abandoned boats as they ate a breakfast of rice, fish, and tuba, a mild bubbling wine made from coconut sap.

A fisherman, his face weathered and brown from years in the sun, paddled by in a small banca with his young daughter. Sailing silently except for the rush of water over the outriggers, they were on their way to the open sea, hoping to catch enough fish for their family and maybe a few left over to sell.

In the morning low tide, old women were wading in the shallow water, talking and laughing, slowly nudging through the mud with their toes, then reaching down to pluck up shellfish and drop them into their baskets. Amid barking dogs, crowing roosters, and giggling children trudging off to school, we left the village as the road wound up the side of a mountain, the exposed rocks revealing the volcanic origins of this area.

Hugging the ridge of the mountain is the village of Bonbonon, clustered loosely around a Catholic Church. A plaque in the churchyard proclaimed that the Spanish colonists held the first Mass in Bonbonon in 1580. The townsfolk proudly showed us the stone columns of a monastery built around 1700, their tangible connection to a centuries-old history.

Life in Bonbonon is unhurried and colorful in its own down-to-earth way. Old men sat around small tables playing dama while sipping sweet morning tuba, dogs sleeping peacefully at their feet. Across the road, near a lush tree with flaming red flowers, a young mother in a faded flower-print dress hung out her daily wash on bamboo poles, her children noisily playing around her. Shirtless auburn-skinned boys played basketball on a makeshift court scratched out on the concrete road. The only businesses in the village -- a tire repair shop and two small sari-sari stores selling the usual assortment of soap, snacks, cold drinks, and cigarettes.

Just past the village, we stood on a rocky vantage point overlooking the sea approach to Bonbonon Bay. We could imagine that over the centuries, villagers, Spaniards, Americans, Filipinos and Japanese had all scanned the horizon from this very spot, searching for approaching enemy ships. No doubt, many anxious wives had also stood vigils here for their husbands’ long overdue fishing boats.

We kept to the tree-lined road as it gently sloped downward, passing by farmers stooped in fields of palay, carefully tending the young rice plants; carts pulled by lumbering carabao, slowly chewing clumps of grass, appraising us with their huge brown eyes; and ruddy-skinned men cutting long, thick stalks of bamboo for houses, outriggers and the thousand other ingenious uses made of this versatile plant.

A rare white carabao, submerged to his massive shoulders in a mucky watering hole, stared up at us. After seeing that we didn’t intend disturbing his respite from the heat, resumed his cool mud bath with a loud snort.

We rounded a sharp corner, and found ourselves back on the shore of the bay in front of the Ne-Ar-Ne Store and Restaurant. We knocked the road dust from our shoes and went into the homey little eatery for cold drinks. At the next table, two Germans, an Italian, and a Swede, all speaking lightly accented English, swapped sailing notes over cups of Pinoy Coffee, steaming strong coffee with a shot of local rum, lightly topped with whipped cream.

Ne-Ar-Ne’s Filipino owners, Nicky and Arlene, started their business many years ago when they would swim out to the yachts offering bananas and fish. Soon they had enough money saved to build a store on stilts over the water and a bamboo jetty running into the bay. Ne-Ar-Ne has been very popular with the yachties over the years. Almost a hundred visiting yachts have their names painted on a wall of the restaurant.

We arrived back at the Tamboo Sail Inn just in time for a dinner of Pilar’s fiery chicken curry and ice-cold San Miguel beer. We spent our last evening in Bonbonon much as we had the night before, talking with the remarkable visitors, watching the striking sunset, and sharing this “hectare of paradise.”

Bonbonon Bay may be reached from Bacolod, Negros Occidental or Dumaguete, Negros Oriental. Philippines Airlines operates daily flights to both cities.

Inampulugan Island

We had to go. A friend told us about a tiny crocodile-shaped island 478 miles from Manila in the Western Visayas. Here, our friend said, the sea is a hundred hues of blue and the lush mountains are teeming with deer, monkeys, and birds. Was this the Philippines that lies beyond the packaged paradise offered to most tourists? We had to go to Inampulugan Island to see for ourselves.

The fastest way to Inampulugan from Manila is to fly to Bacolod, Negros Occidental and then take an outrigger boat, called a banca, to the island. We choose a longer route that would give us a glimpse of Iloilo City and Guimaras Island as we made our way to Inampulugan. Our diverse group of nine adventurers from Britain, Australia, Belgium, the U.S. and the Philippines, met at the Manila airport and took a one-hour flight to Iloilo City on the island of Panay.

We made our way down to Iloilo’s busy waterfront where a flotilla of watercraft was busy loading and unloading people and every sort of cargo imaginable. Refreshment stands and resthouses jammed with boatmen, jeepney drivers, farmers and fishermen lined the streets. We bought ice-cold buko – coconut juice – and roasted cashews and boarded a 40-foot passenger banca to take us to Guimaras Island.

Less than 20 minutes later, we docked at Jordon wharf, where soft-spoken young Edwin from the Costa Aguada Resort on Inampulugan met us. We threw our gear into two waiting mini-vans and sped off through a hypnotizing green sea of mango trees. There are more mango trees on Guimaras than people, Edwin tells us, nearly 150,000.

“The golden sweet fruit grown here has the distinction of being the only Philippine mangoes allowed entry to the United States and several other countries since the island is stringently quarantined,” Edwin said.

About halfway across the island we stopped at a monastery run by a community of Trappist Monks. Seven times a day, bells peal out a call to prayer. The Brothers gather at a modern church with striking stained glass windows and a dazzling tile floor for their dining room, we chatted over a dinner of Bacolod-style roasted chicken. We watched from the resort’s small but well-stocked bar as the setting sun immersed the island first in tangerine then deepening shades of purple. No blaring TVs, no ear-piercing karaoke, nothing broke the peaceful ambiance of our new found hideaway as we made our way back to our cottages for a good night’s sleep.

A fine yellow line of dawn edged over the mountains behind us as we gathered in front of the resort for an early morning trek. Our guide Melvin gave us sturdy bamboo walking sticks, offered a few safety tips, and made sure we had plenty of drinking water. When satisfied that we were ready, he led the way to the start of the trail at the base of the mountains.

The way up was steep and at times the trail drilled through the tropical forest in a sun-shielded green tunnel and at other times brought us out from under the canopy of trees, squinting in the brilliant sunlight. Pitcher plants, orchids, ferns and a hundred other plants for which we didn’t know the names lined our way with colors from subtle fuchsia to palm-frond yellow to deep emerald green. Occasionally, large boulders blocked the narrow trail and we looked for solid handholds as we clambered over them. Melvin had warned us that there might be hungry mosquitoes in some of the damp, dark pockets of the rainforest but luckily, we got only one or two itchy bites. The trail leveled to a gentle upward slope and we stop to rest near a large banyan tree.

Two hours later, tired, sweaty, but exhilarated, we reached the crest of Sea View Hill. We took in a spectacular vista of the Sulu Sea and the neighboring islands. Below us, blue-green seas gently pummeled a gold band of beach ringing green Inampulugan.

The trail back down was less treacherous but just as splendid as the ascent. We picked our way gingerly down the side of the mountain, arriving back at Costa Aguada in about an hour.

Our curiosity about the wonders of the island gave us the energy to keep exploring. The resort has mountain bikes available for the guests, but we chose to hike through the island’s carefully developed and maintained surroundings. Our walk hardly started when the calliope of sights and sounds of the island began. Birds sang from somewhere in the deep forest, frogs croaked in a still lagoon, and smiling children gathered bright flower for a village fiesta.

About two kilometers from the resort, we came to a traditional Filipino fishing village of well-kept old-style bamboo and nipa homes. Most of the houses had a small garden with okra, tomatoes, and the staple food crop camote, a potato-like root. Chickens roamed freely about the yards and the more affluent households had a pen holding one or two pigs.

Smiling children peeked out through bamboo fences on which their mothers had draped freshly washed clothing to dry in the sun. Soon their curiosity overcame their shyness and the children scampered out from behind the fences, calling out the ubiquitous Filipino children’s greeting to any foreigner, “Hey Joe!” The expression came into popular use when thousands of American Army “GI Joes” came ashore during the Liberation of the Philippines. The children posed for photos, laughing riotously when shown their tiny digital images in the camera’s viewfinder.

We soon left the children behind, waving and calling after us, as we followed a ruddy volcanic dirt road that wound down through the village, past a crumbling concrete Second World War era Japanese pillbox, and ended at a wide expanse of wind-swept sand on the tip of the island. Across a broad and shining sweep of water, the distant green island of Negros lay supine across the horizon.

Around the point of the island, we came to a small cove where fishermen were scraping, painting, and making repairs to their boats. Nearby a small boy, dark-brown from the sun, laughed at the antics of tiny sand crabs as he mischievously tried to catch them. The boy’s younger sister played quietly in the sand, perhaps imagining a beautiful princess in her sand castle rescued by a handsome prince. The boy, now tired of crab-chasing, shouted to his sister and they dashed hand-in-hand into the water, splashing and laughing.

We planned to return to the resort by following the coastline but the sandy beach soon gave way to rugged rock outcroppings where villagers had laid out fish to dry. Finally, the way became impassible as waves crashed over the route ahead. We found a little-trodden pathway leading away from the shore and back to the resort, passing first through the riding stables pasture. The horses have adapted well to the tropics – one stood contentedly eating the sweet white meat of a coconut that had fallen from one of the nearby trees.

Our evening conversation in the dining room turned to some of the folk legends of the island. One in particular caught our interest. For over a hundred years, the people of Inampulugan have reported seeing bright flying objects traveling in the night sky from Inampulugan to Guimaras Island. The UFOs sometimes hover for several hours over the small neighboring island of Nagarao before proceeding to Guimaras.

“Some of the older folks believe that this is the vessel of the spirit creatures living on the islands between Guimaras and Negros,” said Edwin.

From the comfort of lounge chairs on our veranda, we watched as the sun drop out of a cloudy sky to plunge into the sea, turning the water from blue-green to black. With the Southern Cross shining brightly overhead we spent the next few hours enjoying the starry night sky and sipping mango shakes – but were disappointed that none of Inampulugan’s legendary UFO’s appeared!

The next morning, as the incoming tide drove delicate white foam onto the beach, we set out in sea kayaks to explore the southwestern coastline of the island. Running several hundred meters down the shoreline, the jagged roots and gnarled trunks of a mangrove jutted up from the surface of the sea. This shallow wetland protects the coastline from erosion and provides refuge and nursery grounds for fish, crabs, shrimp, and mollusks. The Philippines has about 50 mangrove and mangrove-related species but, as in the rest of the world, they are increasingly threatened by coastal construction and pollution. It was heartening to see this unspoiled sea forest being preserved.

The sliver of a late afternoon moon was rising as we made our way back to Costa Aguada where we enjoyed the now familiar sunset from our verandas and passed another quiet night.

The following morning it was time to return to Manila. Inampulugan Island had met all our expectations and leaving was hard but we were already planning a return trip for trekking, swimming, to meet more of the friendly people – and we still had to see those UFOS!


Philippine Airlines operates daily flights to both Iloilo and Bacolod. For more information on the Costa Aguada Resort, call (63) 896-5422 or (63) 752-3688.


The Discovery of the USS Lanikai

“It’s the Lanikai!” shouted scuba diver Robbie Homan as he broached the surface of Subic Bay, Philippines. With these three simple words, a 57-year-old mystery was resolved.

In early 2004, after a local diver reported seeing the remains of a wooden vessel at the mouth of Triboa Bay, a small inlet on Subic Bay, divers went to investigate. What they discovered was the final resting place of the schooner USS Lanikai, a ship that had one of the greatest sea adventures of the Second World War and whose location has remained a mystery for more than five decades.

Lanikai’s colorful career began in 1914 and spanned a third of a century. The two-masted 150-ton schooner, originally christened Hermes, was built in Oakland, California for the Pacific copra trade.

In 1917, at Honolulu, she was commissioned USS Hermes and served the U.S. Navy until sold in the mid-twenties. Renamed Lanikai, she ranged the mid-Pacific under various owners in search of pearls and fish for the next two decades.

MGM Studios purchased her in early 1937 and millions of moviegoers saw Lanikai in the John Ford movie Hurricane starring Jon Hall and Dorothy Lamour. After filming, MGM used her as a yacht, ferrying studio executives and movie stars around southern California. She was sold in 1939 to E.M. Grimm of Manila.

Lanikai’s most exciting and dangerous adventure began on December 2, 1941 when President Roosevelt directed Admiral T.C. Hart, Asiatic Fleet commander, to “charter three small vessels to form a defensive information patrol . . . to observe and report . . . Japanese movements in the west China Sea and Gulf of Siam.”

One of the ships chartered was Lanikai. The terms were simple -– the Navy would pay one dollar a year for Lanikai, which was to be returned in like condition on completion of service. The ship’s owner was out of the Philippines so Luzon Stevedoring Company representative Charles Parsons facilitated the turnover.

The schooner’s 12 Filipino fishermen were hastily sworn into the Insular Force and issued white hats and uniforms. The rest of the crew consisted of six U.S. Navy chiefs and petty officers with Lieutenant Kemp Tolley as skipper. Lanikai was armed with an ancient three-pounder that had last seen service in the Spanish-American War and a pair of World War One vintage 30-caliber machine guns.

On December 8, 1941, Lanikai was waiting at the entrance of Manila Bay ready to start her mission at first light. However, news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor arrived and Lanikai was ordered to return to Cavite.

Lanikai’s real mission according to Tolley was to provoke the Japanese to sink her and provide a reason for the United States to enter the war, a thesis that has been hotly debated over the years.

Whatever her original mission, it was now moot and Lanikai joined the Philippine Inshore Patrol. With the fall of the Philippines inevitable, Tolley sailed from Manila Bay to take Lanikai out of the way of the Japanese. With the exception of PT Boats, Lanikai was the last surface ship to leave Manila and survive. Her perilous odyssey south to Australia took her through 4,000-mile of waters dominated by the Imperial Japanese Navy.

After the war, Lanikai came back to the Philippines to be repaired at the U.S. Navy base at Subic Bay for return to her original owners. She had survived a typhoon in the movies but wasn’t so lucky when a real typhoon struck Subic Bay in February 1947 -- Lanikai went to the muddy bottom of the bay. In the flurry of post-war activity at Subic Bay, Lanikai was all but forgotten.

In 1992, the U.S. Navy base at Subic Bay was turned over to the Philippine government and placed under the jurisdiction of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA). The SBMA regulates diving on the more than 25 known wrecks in the bay, ranging from a Spanish gunboat; cruiser ex-USS New York; numerous LCUs, LSTs, and Japanese transports; and Japanese and American aircraft. These wrecks make Subic Bay a diver’s paradise and the bay is widely used by dive shop operators throughout the Philippines for training and certification.

When the SBMA received the report of a wooden wreck near Mooring #11 at the mouth of Triboa Bay, they asked Robbie Homan’s Subic Bay based dive company, Masterdive, Inc., to investigate.

First, Homan conducted a side scan sonar survey of the area. Some gun turrets, an LCU, and a Japanese service boat were known to be in this area but there was one sonar return that did not correlate to any of these previously explored objects.

Homan, who has studied the history of all the wrecks in Subic Bay, knew at once this was something unusual but never considered that the object could be Lanikai. Official U.S. Navy records indicated that the ship sank near the mouth of the Boton River, over two miles from this site. It was time to go into the water for an up-close look.

Homan described what he saw, “Lanikai is sitting upright in 125 feet of water, the bow slightly up. All the wood is badly deteriorated, of course, but about two feet of the hull, with planking, is still visible. The big timbers of the ribs are still intact and the keel protrudes from the badly damaged bow of the wreck. A large Danforth anchor and a pile of chain near the bow may have come off a ship moored here and destroyed the bow area. The engine, pumps, generators and the aft gun mount are clearly visible and there are many artifacts strewn around the wreck site.”

In addition to the silt that has settled over the wreck during the last 57 years, several inches of sandy volcanic ash from the 1991 eruption of nearby Mount Pinatubo covers Lanikai. However, Homan’s crew was still able to recover about 20 artifacts including brass portholes, hatches, lamps, fire extinguishers, and a Coca-cola bottle. Probably the most exciting find for the divers was the Lanikai’s wheel.

“It’s a real thrill to see these things in Tolley’s photographs and then actually hold them in your hands,” said Matt McGeechan, one of the divers.

Masterdive and SBMA divers made a dozen dives over the next eight days and photographed and documented the location of artifacts before bringing them to the surface.

“We didn’t do any real excavation, just removed those items that were resting on the bottom or just partially buried. No doubt, there are many more artifacts buried in the muddy bottom that will have to wait if a proper expedition is ever mounted. All artifacts we recover will be on public display at the new SBMA Historical Center,” Homan said.

Back at Masterdive’s bayside shop, Jaime Velarmino eagerly awaited each return of the dive boat as Lanikai surrendered her artifacts and they were brought back for inventory. His father, Hilario Velarmino, “Cooky” to the crew, was one of the fishermen on Lanikai when the Navy chartered her. He was sworn in as Cook First Class and, according to Tolley, could produce a feast using just his little oil drum stove on the deck of the schooner. Velarmino’s uncle, Baldomero Belarmino, was also a Lanikai crewmember who made the historic voyage.

“I was very excited when I heard the news that the Lanikai was found. My father and uncle loved the ship and told us many tales of their cruise to Australia. Lanikai came to mean a lot to all of us children. My father and uncle kept in touch with Admiral Tolley through the years. My son is named Kemp in honor of the Admiral,” said Velarmino, a retired local Police Chief.

With the recovery operation complete, the SBMA opened the site for the many other divers in the area to explore and enjoy.

Retired Philippine Navy Captain Victor Mamon, Annapolis Class of 1961, is SBMA Senior Deputy Administrator for Operations. Mamon says that, “the discovery of Lanikai is of great historical importance. The SBMA strictly enforces the rules governing diving in its controlled waters and prohibits the removal of any artifacts from wrecks. We feel confident that the Lanikai will be protected.”

Another chapter of the Lanikai’s story is now known. As she continues to rest on the bottom of the bay the fascination with her continues and one thing is clear -- this is still not the final episode of the little schooner’s tale.

President Roosevelt and the Secret Mission of the USS Lanikai

In early 2004, after a local diver reported seeing the remains of a wooden vessel in Subic Bay, Philippines, divers were sent to investigate. What they discovered was the final resting place of the “spy ship” USS Lanikai. This discovery has rekindled serious questions about this small ship’s rightful place in history.

Kemp Tolley was surprised when his orders came down. The young U.S. Navy Lieutenant had only been in Manila for two days, after serving three years with the Yangtze Patrol. In late 1941, in the face of the advancing Japanese military machine U.S. forces in China, including the Yangtze Patrol, were being withdrawn to the relative safety of the Philippines. Now, Tolley was being given command of his own ship, the USS Lanikai -- very unusual for such a young officer.

Tolley was further surprised when he discovered that the President of the United States had personally directed the ship’s mission. On December 2, 1941 President Roosevelt had ordered Admiral T.C. Hart, Asiatic Fleet commander, to “charter three small vessels to form a defensive information patrol . . . to observe and report . . . Japanese movements in the west China Sea and Gulf of Siam.” Each ship, Roosevelt directed, was to be manned by Filipino sailors and commanded by an American naval officer. Furthermore, each vessel was to be armed to give it the minimum requirements of an American “man of war.”

One of the ships chartered was the Lanikai. Tolley thought it highly unusual for a President of the United States to be giving such detailed orders for what seemed a routine mission but Tolley was a naval officer and his orders were clear: take command of the USS Lanikai at the Cavite Navy Yard, “arm her with one cannon of some kind, one machine gun, provision her for a two-week cruise, get a crew aboard and be ready to sail in 24 hours.”

When Tolley arrived at Cavite he saw that his new ship was not exactly a ship at all, the Lanikai was a windjammer, a two-masted interisland schooner. Built in 1914 in Oakland, California for the Pacific copra trade, the 150-ton schooner was originally christened Hermes. In 1917, at Honolulu, she was commissioned USS Hermes and served the U.S. Navy until sold in the mid-twenties. Renamed Lanikai, she ranged the mid-Pacific under various owners in search of pearls and fish for the next two decades.

MGM Studios purchased her in early 1937 and millions of moviegoers saw Lanikai in the John Ford movie Hurricane starring Jon Hall and Dorothy Lamour. She was sold in 1939 to E.M. Grimm of Manila.

The schooner’s 12 Filipino fishermen were hastily sworn into the Insular Force and issued white hats and uniforms. The rest of the crew consisted of six U.S. Navy chiefs and petty officers with Tolley as skipper. Lanikai was armed with an ancient three-pounder that had last seen service in the Spanish-American War and a pair of World War One vintage 30-caliber machine guns

On December 8, 1941 Lanikai was waiting at the entrance of Manila Bay ready to start her mission at first light. But news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor arrived and Lanikai was ordered to return to Cavite.

Her original mission now moot, Lanikai briefly joined the Philippine Inshore Patrol. With the fall of the Philippines inevitable, Tolley sailed from Manila Bay to take Lanikai to Australia, out of the way of the Japanese. With the exception of PT Boats, Lanikai was the last surface ship to leave Manila and survive.

After the war, Lanikai came back to the Philippines to be repaired at the U.S. Navy base at Subic Bay for return to her original owners. She had survived a typhoon in the movies but wasn’t so lucky when a real typhoon struck in February 1947 -- Lanikai went to the muddy bottom of the bay.

After the war Tolley, who eventually attained the rank of Rear Admiral, wrote that the Lanikai’s stated mission was just a cover for the real mission: to provoke the Japanese to sink her and provide a reason for the United States to enter the war. Reconnaissance was already being conducted by a much more capable platform, Navy seaplanes, and the results reported to Washington. Tolley also believed that Admiral Hart seemed to recognize from the beginning the sacrificial purpose of the Lanikai’s “reconnaissance” mission.

If Tolley was right, why would Roosevelt want to enter the war? Roosevelt believed that the Axis plan of world domination threatened American security. He thought that it was crucial to enter the war against Germany as soon as possible but he knew that the American people opposed such a war.

Consequently, Roosevelt had to devise a way to galvanize public support behind a declaration of war with Germany through the “the back door,” by creating an armed incident with Japan. Roosevelt’s Secretary of Interior Harold Ickes reflected the Administration’s view on the war when he confided in his diary, “For a long time I have believed that our best entrance into the war would be by way of Japan. . . . And, of course, if we go to war against Japan, it will inevitably lead to war against Germany.”

But as Secretary of War Henry Stimson wrote in his diary on November 25, 1941, “The question was how we should maneuver them into the position of firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves.”

Roosevelt formulated a secret plan to send three small ships from the Philippines on a so-called reconnaissance mission straight into the path of a Japanese naval task force that was then steaming in the South Chin Sea. The Japanese, no doubt, would have taken the “fish bait” and blown them out of the water -- providing Roosevelt's needed incitement to war.

The sinking of the Lanakai, technically a man-of-war, could be presented to the American public as being far more momentous than it actually was. Newspaper headlines would scream, “American Warship Attacked and Destroyed by the Japanese – American and Filipino Sailors Killed!” The loss of the Filipino crewmen would help whip up war fever in the Philippines, where there was strong resistance to a war with Japan.

If, as some historians claim, Roosevelt had foreknowledge of the Japanese plan to attack Pearl Harbor, did he hope the Lanikai would provide the requisite incident before the Pearl Harbor attack could take place and save the Pacific Fleet and American lives? In the absence of any specific documents presenting a “smoking gun,” we can only speculate about the Lanikai narrowly missing her role in American history as the ship that started World War Two.

The Cata-Al WWII Memorabilia Collection

Head bowed, hands clasped, 80-year-old Porferio Cata-al quietly chants a Buddhist prayer of solace for the spirits of soldiers killed in battle. A devout Catholic, he ends by making the Sign of the Cross.

“A Japanese priest taught me that prayer in 1986 when I turned over the remains of fourteen soldiers that I found in the mountains. The priests cremated them at the Filipino-American-Japanese Amity Shrine in Sagbang. The ashes went to Sokoni Shrine in Tokyo, which commemorates Japan’s war dead,” Cata-al said.

In May 1945, Cata-al was a Private in the Filipino guerilla movement when Japanese troops took to the mountains around his home town of Valencia, Negros Oriental and clashed with U.S. and Filipino forces. He has spent the six decades since scouring the battlefield for relics to add to his private museum.

Housed in Cata-al’s modest two-story home, the museum is crammed from floor to ceiling with artifacts of the Japanese Imperial Army and a smaller array of relics of the U.S. Army. Many of the artifacts are in surprising good condition – a box of Japanese hand grenades, buried for half a century, appears brand new.

The collection’s most poignant artifacts are the bullet-riddled canteens, mess kits, and radios that are silent testimony to the ferocity of the encounter. Outside are artifacts too big to fit in the house, including several massive thousand-pound bombs dropped by American B-25 bombers. An adjoining garage houses a complete U.S. Army Jeep.

“At my age I find it hard to go to the mountains like I used to do but my son Felix is carrying on the search,” Cata-al said, “Sometimes a farmer will bring me some object that turned up while he was plowing.”

The museum is located at the seven-kilometer marker on the Dumagette – Valencia Highway. There is no admission charge to see the collection; however, there is a drop box for donations to help defray operating costs.

Everything is Big in Davao

Aside from being the world’s largest city in terms of land area (sprawling across 244,000 hectares), Davao also boasts of the Philippines highest peak, Mount Apo. This inactive volcano, with its spectacular views, lush forests, sulfur pillars, majestic waterfalls, and untamed rivers, is known as the “grandfather of all mountains.” During a four-day trek up Mount Apo you may see the tiny falconet, the Mount Apo mynah, or the endangered Philippine eagles that live in its dense forests.

Even if you’re not the adventurous type you can still see the eagles at Davao’s Philippine Eagle National Center, nestled in the foothills of Mt. Apo in Calinan. This is the home of dozens of eagles including Pagasa, the first Philippine Eagle to be born and bred in captivity.

Davao’s rolling hills and fertile valleys produce an incredible variety of fruit – pomelos, mangosteens, bananas, and durian – which may be bought at the many fresh fruit stands and markets in downtown Davao and at Magsaysay Park, located beside an authentic Muslim fishing village with Badjao houseboats and stilt houses.

Davao is one of the country’s largest producers of cut flowers including the Queen of the Philippine orchids, the exquisite waling-waling. The more popular gardens to see this and the many other species of orchids are the Yuico Orchid Gardens in Greehills, Derling Worldwide Orchid Corporation in Dumoy, the Puentespina Orchid Gardens along Cabaguio Avenue, and Eden Park. The Malagos Garden Resort in Calinan also has a butterfly sanctuary and an exhibit of the works of National Artist Napoleon Abueva.

Davao’s religious diversity is represented by its many Mosques and Christian and Buddhist houses of worship. A 10-minute drive from Davao City proper through scenic mountain roads brings you to the Shrine of the Infant Jesus of Prague, an expansive garden of chapels, retreat houses and picnic huts. The Shrine is a popular Catholic pilgrimage site and near by Jack’s Ridge Restaurant offers spectacular views of Mount Apo and Davao City.

Set among candle trees and bamboo is the largest Buddhist temple in Mindanao, the Lon Buddhist Temple. This temple houses a magnificent Buddha and features Italian marble slabs, carved wood panels illustrating the life of Buddha; and lofty halls.

Davao also has its huge malls – SM, Gaisano, and NCCC – but the best handicrafts, antiques, tribal artifacts, Indonesian batik, and traditional Muslim brass items are found at the Aldevinco Shopping Center on C.M. Recto Avenue.

Only 15 minutes by boat from Sta. Ana Wharf brings you to Samal Island with its white sand beaches, resorts, and countless diving and snorkeling sites. The cottages of the premiere resort, The Pearl Farm, sit on stilts over the Gulf’s blue water or are perched on a hillside with a sea view. The area around Kaputian has three ancient burial caves of the Kalagan and Isamal tribes and the residents of the Muslim Fishing Village often perform Muslim dances and music.

With so much to do and see it’s great that Davao has a mild year-round climate making it a most enchanting destination at any time!

Davao Classic Car Club

On sunny weekends, members of the Davao Classic and Sports Car Club (DCSCC) climb into their gleaming Camaros, Corvettes, Mustangs and other classic cars and take to the highways of Mindanao in a scene that looks straight out of ‘70s Southern California.

The classic car enthusiasts of the 20-member DCSCC are dedicated to the preservation, restoration, and enjoyment of cars built before 1972. However, the members do more than polish and admire their cars. In addition to the frequent road trips around Mindanao, many of the cars are raced on Sundays at the Club’s own drag strip in Davao, Speed City.

Drag racing is growing rapidly in the Philippines, and Speed City is one of the best drag racing strips in the country. The strip, which boasts of a brand new Port-A-Tree timing system, draws racers from all over the country to go head-to-head with the Club’s “muscle cars.”

If you enjoy the deep-throated roar of big block engines, you’ll love getting a close-up look of the classic cars of the Davao Classic and Sports Car Club.

A Visit to Corregidor Island

Sixty years ago one of the most hard-fought battles of World War II took place during the retaking of Corregidor Island at the mouth of Manila Bay. In December 1941, the Japanese had fallen upon Pearl Harbor and then moved against the Philippines. Corregidor, popularly known as “The Rock,” was the last outpost to fall, surrendering in May 1942. The Japanese held Corregidor, and the Philippines, for three years.

The retaking of the island began on January 23, 1945, when American planes dropped hundreds of tons of bombs on the Rock. Daily strikes continued through February 16, the day paratroopers swung down from the sky onto the island. The surrender finally came on March 2, 1945.

Today, Corregidor is a virtual tropical paradise only 45-minute from the hustle and bustle of Manila. Visitors come not only for the rich history but to swim on beaches set against towering limestone formations, trek along jungle nature trails, mountain bike, camp, fish, or just to stargaze in the clear night sky.

The fastest and most comfortable access from Manila is the Sun Cruises catamaran ferry that departs from the terminal on Roxas Boulevard. If coming from Subic Bay, check with Waterline Banca Safaris for details of their regularly scheduled tours.

After a scenic 26 miles ride across Manila Bay, visitors are met at the South Dock by tour guide Mr. Pablito Martinez. Martinez, in his 30 years of guiding tourists around the Rock, has acquired an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the island and its history.

Nearby, a statue of General Douglas MacArthur stands at the bomb-twisted Lorcha Dock ruins. It was here that MacArthur boarded a PT boat to Australia and from there sent his famous message: “I shall return.”

The tour’s first stop is at an area called Topside, where the island towers 680 feet above the sea. The ghostly ruins of Mile Long Barracks, the Headquarters Building, and the other structures on Topside, with their twisted metal and shattered concrete, show the intensity of the rain of steel Corregidor endured as it became the heaviest bombed island in the Pacific war.

Next, it’s on to Battery Hearn to see the biggest guns on the island. When first test fired, every window on the island was shattered. Nearby Battery Geary delivered hundreds of rounds against the enemy until a direct hit on its powder magazine threw the massive twelve-inch mortars hundreds of yards across the landscape.

Standing on the highest part of Corregidor’s west side is the Pacific War Memorial, built as a joint project of the Philippine and United States governments in 1968. At noon on May 6 – the day Corregidor fell – a single shaft of sunlight shines through the Memorial’s specially designed dome to illuminate a circular marble altar. Located at the rear of the Pacific War Memorial is the Eternal Flame of Freedom, a large steel sculpture symbolizing the Flame of Freedom burning eternally.

One of the most recent additions to Corregidor is the Filipino Heroes Memorial with 14 murals depicting heroic battles fought by Filipinos from the 15th century up to modern times. A statue of a Filipino guerrilla stands nearby.

Japanese war veterans and their relatives regularly visit the Japanese Garden of Peace Park. The small park features a 40-foot stone Buddha, a Shinto Shrine, and other memorials dedicated to peace and reconciliation.

The morning passes quickly and at noon visitors enjoy a buffet lunch of Filipino favorites at the Malinta Hotel. The outdoor dining area has a breathtaking panoramic view of Manila Bay and overlooks Malinta Hill.

“In 1922 the Americans drove a shaft directly through the hill, creating Malinta Tunnel,” Martinez explains. “The tunnel was designed to house huge quantities of ammunition, food and supplies, and an underground 1,000 bed hospital. Malinta Tunnel also served as the seat of the Philippine Commonwealth Government under President Manuel Quezon.”

After lunch, the tour enters the restored main tunnel to watch as the lights dim and the vividly staged Sound and Light Show recounts the wartime history of Corregidor with life-size mannequins and a dramatic soundtrack. At one point, the lights flickered and chest-thumping thunder echoed down the length of the tunnel simulating the noise of the bombardment. Just a few seconds of it makes one marvel at how the defenders of The Rock withstood it for months.

For those that remain overnight, the Malinta Hotel offers a Sunset Tour to Battery Grubbs on the western side of the island to witness a spectacular sunset. The group then goes on to a Night Tour of Malinta Tunnel to explore the innermost laterals of the tunnel’s 1,000-bed hospital.

The hotel also offers an Island Boat Tour that circles Corregidor and the other outlying fortress islands; a specialized camp training program; teambuilding programs; group camping area; and much more. Check with the hotel’s Activity Director, Edward Gurion, for details.

The clean, crisp air and the natural beauty of Corregidor is reason enough for a visit to this tropical gem in Manila Bay but one also develops a deep sense of respect for the men and women on all sides during those trying times sixty years ago.

Seeing the Islands on a Banca Safari

Sprawling across several sun-drenched latitudes lie the roughly 7,100 islands of the Philippines, the exact number at any given moment depending on the whims of Mother Nature. A volcanic peak occasionally pushes upward to breach the surface and form a tiny island while coral islets erode and disappear beneath the waves.

Scotsman Bruce Curran is a seasoned mariner and persistent dreamer whose 20-year love affair with the Philippines has led him throughout most of this fragmented chain of islands, islets, and reefs on his sailboat Cape North. These voyages have resulted in a recently published coffee-table book entitled Combing the Coral Carpet.

After running his sail boat aground on a hidden reef trying to get in close to a spectacular beach, Curran hit upon the idea of traveling through the islands on a shallow-draft motorized outrigger boat, the traditional Filipino banca.

“Large bancas are comfortable, very seaworthy boats, having considerable width for lazing and relaxing on trips,” says Curran.

Curran leased a 17-meter banca, the Lenz Meret, and plotted a route that wound through the islands some 630 km from Luzon to Marinduque, Romblon, Mindoro, and ended up on Palawan. He equipped the boat with a radio and navigation gear and soon was ready to begin the expedition.

As the first rays of dawn edged over the surrounding mountains, the Lenz Meret’s engines coughed to life and she sailed out of the bustling port of Lucena City. Aboard were nine foreign and Filipino friends and acquaintances of Curran, including Jeremy Cliff, Cliff’s daughters and wife, Caroline. Along to document this odyssey was Curran’s long time friend and collaborator on Combing the Coral Carpet, photographer Kevin Hamdorf.

After a smooth crossing of the Sibuyan Sea and with sunset fast approaching on the first day, the intrepid voyagers came ashore on the island of Marinduque and soon were relaxing around a swimming pool at a beach resort near the town of Santa Cruz. Soon they were bathed in the light of a full moon as they recounted the day’s events, made plans for the following day, or sat in the silence of their own private thoughts.

The next day the banca hugged the Marinduque coast on her way down to the next overnight stop, the capital city of Boac. Nets rigged across the outriggers allowed willing banqueros to get as close as possible to the pristine water and gave an unobstructed view of the blue-green sea gently pummeling the gold strand of beach on the distant shoreline.

At Boac, the travelers explored the city’s narrow streets lined with Spanish colonial era buildings and, on a hill in the center of town, a stunning church built in 1792.

The following morning found them back aboard the banca sailing for the tiny island of Romblon. On the way, the travelers spotted many secluded beaches that rivaled the famous white sands of Boracay, and stopped when the impulse to swim and snorkel struck them.

Romblon, protected by two Spanish forts, was a waypoint for treasure-laden Spanish galleons on the Manila – Acapulco route. The Lenz Meret anchored in this historic bay and Curran and his group came ashore for dinner and an overnight stay. No blaring TVs, no ear-piercing karaoke, nothing broke the peaceful ambiance of their newfound hideaway.

The longest leg of the entire journey was planned for the next day – 157 km from Romblon to San Jose, on Mindoro Island. With fair winds and following seas, the banca made good time across the open ocean, even allowing for a late lunch stop on a secluded sugar-white beach free from any transient tourist footprints. The banca passed closely by small islets and reefs where no man-made shapes intrude on a landscape that is unnamed, uninhabited and, in many cases, unexplored. By sundown, the Lenz Meret was lying off the busy city of San Jose.

After a few hours stop the next morning for snorkeling and swimming at Dongon Reef, the travelers continued their journey to Sablayan on the west coast of Mindoro. Here they replenished supplies before setting out for Apo Island for a full day of scuba diving. That evening, as the setting sun immersed the island first in tangerine then deepening shades of purple, the travelers gathered around a blazing driftwood fire on the beach. With the Southern Cross shining brightly overhead, they spent the next few hours enjoying the starry night sky.

At the end of the last day of the trip the travelers stayed at the first-class resort Club Paradise on Dimakya Island north of Palawan. From here, some of the travelers, constrained by the necessity to return to work, flew back to Manila. Others stayed on to enjoy the area’s scenery, diving, and beaches.

After another equally exciting banca adventure through the western Visayan Islands of Iloilo and Negros, Jeremy Cliff became captivated by the concept of banca safaris. He also saw the business potential and joined Curran and Hamdorf to form Waterline Leisure Banca Safaris.

Cliff brings many years of solid, real-world business expertise to the enterprise. After graduating with Masters Degrees from England’s Oxford and Edinburgh Universities, Cliff’s first job took him to North Sumatra. It was here that a fascination with Asia started that has yet to dim.He recently retired from Shell Oil after 27 years in a variety of high profile positions including Managing Director for Shell Philippines Exploration, the upstream element of the giant Malampaya Gas-to-Power project, which so far is the largest foreign investment in the Philippines.

I caught up with partners Cliff, Curran, and Hamdorf in Puerta Princesa and asked them some questions about their new business venture:

What is your outlook on the future of tourism in the Philippines?

Cliff: The Philippines is definitely undersold as a tourist destination. Most potential foreign customers are worried about the security position. This provides an easy ‘cop out’ for foreign operators (with undersold holidays elsewhere in the world) to avoid getting involved in the Philippines. Recommendations presently come by word of mouth. When the veil is eventually withdrawn from the Philippines, we are all sure that its position as tourist destination will flourish. We hope to be part of that unveiling!

What is Banca Safari all about?

Curran: The idea speaks for itself; A ‘safari’ is a Swahili word for journey, now taken to mean an adventure trek. A Banca Safari is an ‘adventure trek’, essentially island hopping by traditional Filipino marine transport, namely the Banca.

How is Banca Safari unique?

Curran: The concept is a fresh one, and so far unique. No doubt there will be others that would wish to replicate the idea, but we believe we have the ‘first mover’ advantage in terms of proven routes, proven vessels and locations – and insights sufficient to purpose-build our own bancas.

How will you grow the business?

Cliff: In a word – carefully! The concept is a great one, and needs to be matched by excellence in delivery. We still need to explore more routes, fine-tune the ones that we have, and find the best vessel for the job. The initial phase of cultivating the market has been done largely by word of mouth. We will gradually move into more targeted marketing, to customers within and outside the Philippines. In the longer term, the major growth area is obviously in foreign tourism.

Where do you operate the trips to now and what are future destinations?

Hamdorf: Current routes involve Palawan, Mindoro, Negros, Cebu, and Bohol. Many other routes are under consideration for testing to add to this portfolio. To be frank, with over 7,100 islands, the Philippines archipelago offers a virtually unlimited number of safaris.

What kind of person takes the trip?

Curran: A prerequisite has to be somebody that is comfortable with sea travel. They shouldn’t mind getting their feet wet. They should like to meet local people and see places BEFORE the tourist routes have caught up with them. They should not expect 5-Star accommodation all along the route, but delight in the variety of resorts that have already been established on the routes.

What can a guest expect on a trip?

Cliff: Great adventure, great scenery, good company, incredible opportunity for swimming, sunbathing, meeting interesting people and overall getting to a different pace and possibly longer lasting better balance in life.

I know. It happened to me!

The General’s Jeep

One evening Don West was watching TV in his home in Olongapo when a picture of General Douglas MacArthur riding in a Jeep in Leyte flashed across the screen. West thought that there was something oddly familiar about the Jeep in the picture. Fortunately, he was recording the program and as he rewound the tape and played it again, he realized with a start what had caught his eye – the Jeep the General was riding in was the very same one now sitting in West’s garage!

West, a retired American serviceman and owner of the General’s Gym in Olongapo, has been involved in the fascinating hobby of collecting and restoring military Jeeps for the past seven years. In addition to the General’s Jeep, he has bought and restored two other wartime jeeps.

West is frequently invited to take part in parades and fiestas and many local brides and beauty queens, as well as congressmen and mayors, have ridden in the General’s Jeep.

“The Jeep is a real part of the Philippines’ rich history. Its simple, tough design gave the Jeep a legendary reliability in the field and was beloved by the troops. Bringing an icon like this back to its former glory is very satisfying and also a lot of fun,” said West.

West is not alone in his enthusiasm for Jeeps. The popularity of Jeep restoration and collecting is growing nationwide. Clubs exist in almost every part of the country including Bulacan, Pampanga, Cebu, and Davao. The clubs regularly hold rallies and meetings, attracting dozens of the vintage military vehicles and hundreds of Jeep aficionados, many dressed in World War II uniforms. Enthusiasts hold lively conversations in great detail about the history of the Jeep, how to tell which Jeeps are most original restorations, and a dozen other topics.

As any Jeep fan will tell you, the Jeep was born in response to a U.S. government proposal for a military multipurpose vehicle. The American car manufacturer Willys won the initial contract in October 1941 and the Jeep model MB went into production.

With America’s entry into World War II, production demands required another contractor and Ford Motor Company began building Jeep model GPW based on the Willys MB design. Willys and Ford went on make 650,000 Jeeps during the war years.

Exactly how the little workhorse ended up with the name Jeep is still a mystery. A common misconception is that the name Jeep was derived from a slurring of the letters “GP”, but the word Jeep was in common usage as early as 1938 – two years before the first jeep appeared.

Surprisingly, there seems to be a regional preference in the Philippines for particular models of Jeeps: the wartime Willys MB and Ford GPW, known locally as MacArthur Jeeps, are extremely popular in Cebu while Bulacan and Nueva Ecija Jeep owners favor the post-war produced M38A1 Eisenhower Jeep.

Jeep collecting in the Philippines can be more than just an enjoyable – but expensive – pastime, however. It can also be a lucrative investment. A dilapidated Jeep purchased for PHP 60,000 can go for up to $20,000 abroad after restoration. Locally, restored Jeeps bring as much as PHP 300,000 depending on condition. Because of its unique tie to history, Don West rightfully considers General MacArthur’s Jeep as priceless.

In the Philippines, the unpretentious military Jeep evolved in a popular cultural icon – the jeepney. The first jeepney was an ordinary military surplus Jeep with the rear panel cut open, a rear step, and simple seat cushions placed over the rear wheels. Soon, the Jeep chassis was extended to accommodate three seated passengers on each side, making room for eight paying passengers. The demand soon outgrew the local supply and surplus Jeeps and spare parts from U.S. Army disposal depots in Europe and Asia were imported. Thousands of Jeeps rolled into the Philippines until government regulations in the late sixties made it uneconomical to bring in surplus vehicles.

Today there are more World War II Jeeps in the Philippines than in any other country in the world. Buyers from around the world purchase parts from local companies that buy up vehicle parts and ship them to Australia, Europe, and the U.S.

Stashed away in a bodega somewhere in the country is the rusting hulk of a military jeep, resting undisturbed during the six decades since World War II. To the Jeep devotees of the Philippines a find like this is more exciting than discovering a cache of the fabled Yamashita’s Gold.

Cats and Dogs: A Cultural Perspective

A few nights ago, I was watching one of the “expose” programs on a local television station when they presented a segment on some people out in the province that regularly dine on cats. I know that dog eating is fairly common (but getting less so each year) but I didn’t know that there were cat-eaters in the Philippines.

This program got me thinking about the fundamental difference in the way that Asian and Westerners view dogs and cats. Most Westerners see these animals as adored companions and would be revolted at the thought of eating Fluffy or Spot. Though some cats and dogs may actually “work” (e.g., guard and guide dogs, mousers), those tasks are considered as secondary to the animals' real role in life -- being dearly loved members of the family.

On the contrary, Asian societies generally consider these creatures as unproductive and consequently having little value. In most of Asia, where food has usually been scarce and can not be wasted on animals that don't earn their keep, people don't share the Western admiration for cats and dogs. They aren’t used to thinking of them as pets -- at best, just ignoring them and at worse, seeing them as nothing more than the ingredients of a tasty stew.

In these countries, pet keeping didn’t develop the same way it did in the wealthier Western countries. People here usually keep birds, crickets, or other small creatures that consume very little food.

In the movie The Sandpiper, the first thing the Boxers do when taking over a city is shoot all the Westerner’s pet dogs and cats. The Boxers were infuriated that these animals were fed better than the average Chinese. Whether this is based on historical fact or not, I do not know, but it does illustrate the cultural difference in attitude towards pet dogs and cats.

Davao, A New Nightlife Destination

Davao has plenty of reasons to be at the top of everyone’s list of must-visit places -- golden beaches, rich cultural diversity, dazzling festivals -- but there’s another aspect of Davao that alone is worth the trip: fine international cuisine and a vibrant nightlife.

The Marco Polo Hotel’s Executive Chef Eduardo Tuazon uses the area’s profusion of luscious fruit, vegetables, and fresh seafood to create original interpretations of contemporary cuisine. Just walking into his Café Marco sets ones expectations high. It’s bright and inviting with a treasury of delicious food awaiting the guest.

An example is the carnival of the senses that Chef Eduardo calls The Seafood Frolic –- roast tandoori prawn on minted fruit pearls with a tantalizing cashew and pomelo emulsion; tataki of tuna on soba noodle salad splashed with a soy-mustard vinaigrette; and a lemongrass-infused salmon roll in a red curry paste. Mate it with a good wine and top it off with a honey, mango and ube cocktail and you have a meal fit for visiting royalty. And the good news is that two people can dine very well at the Café Marco for under PHP 2,000.

Tucked away on the ground floor of the Marco Polo, the Eagle’s Bar is a great spot to drop in for a late night cocktail or a glass of wine before. On the weekends, patrons gather for an enjoyable evening of live music by Jenny and join the fun by singing along with Raul at the piano. For a treat try the Eagle’s Bar’s unique Jelly Shot (PHP 48), layers of vodka-infused fruit Jello whose punch gets more intense as you near the bottom!

At his cozy little Paseo de Habana restaurant, Claude’s Le Café de Ville, Chef Claude Lavazza Le Neindre takes advantage of his European heritage to offer authentic French and Mediterranean home cooking. His dishes are sensible and seemingly simple at first taste but as you savor them they reveal intricate layers of flavor including newly picked home-grown herbs. Highly recommended are his Lamb Chop Vert Pré (tender Aussie lamb chops with garden-fresh vegetables and sautéed potatoes, PHP 675) and the Roast Chicken Forrestiere (roast chicken in garlic sauce with fresh mushrooms, PHP 195.)

A visit to Chef Claude’s is always a special occasion so treat yourself to a Saballion Clarisse for dessert -- a creamy blend of egg yolk, fresh fruit, white wine and vanilla ice cream inspired by the original northern Italian recipe (PHP 115.)

“In France, people love to gather with family and good friends to sit down to a leisurely homemade meal,” says Chef Claude. So it is at his café -- its subdued European décor and soft lighting is a microcosm of “Frenchness” in this southern Mindanao city. Chef Claude’s half dozen tables are by reservation only so make sure you call a day in advance to avoid disappointment.

About twenty minutes from downtown Davao, the breezy, open-air Jack’s Ridge Restaurant commands a view that stretches from the foothills of the mountains right out to the Gulf of Davao and lush Samal Island, making for a serene environment to enjoy a superb meal.

The restaurant does not try to overwhelm you with nouvelle or fusion dishes where presentation is the only memorable facet of your dinner. What they will do, however, is take your breath away with wonderfully consistent appetizers, salads and entrees. Menu highlights include solid dishes like barbequed spare ribs, grilled panga (tuna jaw dipped in soy sauce and native lime juice) and the delectable Filipino perfection of sashimi called kinilaw (bite-size cubes of raw fish marinated in vinegar, chili peppers and other spices.) Make sure you try one of their signature Pomelo Shakes, made with fruit from their own farm. Figure about PHP 1,500 for a satisfying meal for two.

After dining at one of these first-rate restaurants and before starting your nightlife venture, the next stop must be the Blugré Café, a modish confection of stainless steel, mirrors and the tantalizing smell of freshly brewing coffee. Their specialty is the unique, award winning Durian Gatchpuccino -- rich coffee with just a hint of Davao’s most famous fruit, the durian. There are two locations, one inside the Matina Town Square (MTS), about 15 minutes from downtown Davao.

At the MTS, you’re in the middle of the action. The two dozen shops here include an assortment of sidewalk cafes, pubs, and restaurants -- all of them offering easy on the budget food and drinks. The cobblestone promenade, art shops and tree-lined Nature Park make MTS a great place to people watch so plan on spending a few hours or the entire evening here.

Located inside the MTS is Tabaon. Originally conceived as the food court for MTS, Tabaon, derived from the Visayan word for “meeting place”, has evolved into its own destination for food, music and art. Eight huge earthen jars flank the entry way and overhead, a magnificent ten-panel T’boli tribal curtain ten meters long and four meters high, adorned with 5,000 tiny brass bells, greets visitors as they enter Tabaon.

The building, patterned after a native “long house”, has a distinctive motif that can only be described as purely Mindanaoan. Detailed moldings, hand-painted with traditional Mandaya, Maranao’s and T’boli tribal weaving designs, run the length of Tabaon’s upper wall sections and the stage area. Four massive murals rendered in earth colors and framed in bamboo, focus on the indigenous peoples and their traditions and rituals while a collage of artifacts and musical instruments flank the hall. Maranao carvings are translated as iron grills to decorate the standing bars near each of the several food shops. Use of traditional indigenous materials is highlighted with delightful stained bamboo picnic tables.

Appearing nightly on Tabaon’s large stage are local artists from various musical genres including modern pop, oldies, and soft rock. On Tuesday and Thursday nights, native Mindanaoan dances are featured. There are also regularly scheduled musical workshops run by well-known local and national musicians. An art gallery is provided to exhibit works by local artists as well as Mindanao arts and crafts. Dinner and a couple of drinks while enjoying the music will run about PHP 1,000 for two.

The After Dark Resto Bar is a cozy piano bar just a few blocks from the giant SM Mall. It’s a good spot to meet Davao’s glitterati as they gather here to jam standards, Broadway, and jazz tunes with the talented piano players Raul Reboasura and Poncing Fernandez.

Back downtown, The Liquid Bar at the Apo Reef Hotel, with its contemporary and Reggae music for the under 30 set, has a reputation for keeping the party going strong. Since it is located inside a hotel, be prepared for slightly higher, but still reasonable, prices. Snack on Mexican Calamari, (corn flake encrusted squid rings with tequila, PHP 120) or Davao Sea-Sig (tuna flakes simmered in garlic and vinegar, PHP 150) while enjoying a variety of standard and specialty drinks, hot music, funky surroundings, and eye-candy aplenty.

If you prefer things a bit more mellow, the Apo View’s snug little Blue Room will certainly put you at ease. Smooth live jazz and blues music pleasantly blends with the low murmur of conversation to set the mood for an enjoyable evening. Both here and at the Liquid Bar the bartenders put on impromptu shows while mixing drinks.

A few blocks away, ballroom dance fans can Cha-Cha the night away at the LE BAILE BALLROOM SPECIALIST CLUB, located in the Grand Men Seng Hotel. Instructors are available for those that want to brush up on their Tango, Cha-Cha, Rumba, Reggae, Foxtrot and Boogie steps.

Undoubtedly, the epicenter for Davao’s street party scene is the Venue on Quirino Avenue. Everything from Thai to Chinese to Italian food is offered in its 30-something restaurants. Entrees run in the PHP 120 to 200 range. On weekends, tables spill out into the large main area to transform it into Ground Zero for Davao’s A-list party set. The huge Venue Club features dancing to live bands, two billiard areas, and a variety of specialty drinks. The must-have cocktail here is the Dabaw Delight, a concoction of gin, island lime, and pomelo and calamansi juices (PHP 75.) There’s a cover charge of PHP 150 at the Venue Club but that gets you entrance and two drinks.

Davao by night pulsates with life. From dining to disco to decadent champagne brunches, Davao is hard to beat for a weekend or a week of good times. On your next visit, be ready to enjoy yourself as you sample the delights of Davao’s culinary and nightlife offerings.

The T’boli of Lake Sebu

About 90,000 T’boli tribal people live in small mountain villages scattered throughout Mindanao, including Lake Sebu, their ancestral home.

The T’boli are proud of their culture and for good reason. Relationships and family ties are highly valued, traditional music and dance play an important part in the events of village life, and their weaving is a skill that has been raised to an art form.

The popular T’nalak with its geometric patterns is a beautifully hand woven fabric, taking several months to accomplish. Natural vegetable dyes provide the rich permanent black and red colors of the fabric.

With their embroidered costumes and beaded ornaments, bangles, bracelets, and brass link belts, they are one of the most colorful of all Filipino groups. The T’boli metal craft tradition distinguishes T’boli culture and is linked to Ginton, the god of metalwork, who occupies a stellar place in T’boli mythology.

The Hellships Memorial

By 1941, the Rising Sun had become symbolic of the Japanese resolve that would stop at nothing to expand the empire. Whoever stood in the path of the Imperial Japanese Army had only three choices: subjugation, death, or imprisonment. Throughout Asia, men from America, Australia, Great Britain, and a dozen other nations moved along their own path – a path that would soon cross with Japan’s and end in one of the major and largely unknown tragedies of World War II – the Hellships.

As early as the spring of 1942, only a few months after the fall of Allied territories in the Far East, the Japanese began moving prisoners of war (POW) by sea out of the conquered areas and sending them to Thailand, Taiwan, Burma, China, Korea, and Japan itself, to be used as slave labor.

A thousand or more men were crammed into a cargo hold, often with only enough room to stand for a journey that could last weeks. The heat was stifling, the stench unbearable. Even the most basic sanitary and medical provisions were refused. Hundreds of men, already weak and suffering from disease after years in POW camps, succumbed. Hundreds more went out of their minds.

Added to these inhumane conditions was the extreme brutality of the Japanese guards. Those who survived the unimaginable nightmare of the Hellships describe their time aboard as the most horrific chapter of their wartime captivity.

There are many stories of the war to be told, but very few are as tragic as the story of the Hellships. According to Japanese figures, of the 50,000 POWs they shipped, 10,800 died at sea. Going by Allied figures, more Americans died in the sinking of one of the Hellships, the Arisan Maru, than died in the weeks of the death march out of Bataan, or in the months at Camp O’Donnell, which were the two worst sustained atrocities committed by the Japanese against POWs. More Dutchmen died in the sinking of the Junyo Maru than in a year on the Burma-Siam railroad. Of all POWs who died in the Pacific war, one in every three was killed on the water by friendly fire.

Duane Heisinger, author of Father Found, a book detailing the ordeal his father suffered as a POW says, “the story of these ships is an incredible tale of a descent into Hell that left a trail of dead and dying men from the all over Asia to Japan,” he said.

One of the most notorious Hellships of them all, the Oryoku Maru, was sunk in Subic Bay in December 1944. Transporting Japanese soldiers, civilians, and 1,619 prisoners of war out of Manila, the unmarked ship suffered repeated attacks from American fighters who had no idea she was carrying POWs. The ship, heavily damaged and burning, limped into Subic Bay where the POWs were forced to swim ashore and held on an open tennis court for five days with almost no food or water. The survivors were then loaded on trucks and taken to San Fernando to continue their journey on the Enoura Maru and the Brazil Maru. The Enoura Maru was sunk but the Brazil Maru made port in Moji, Japan on January 29, 1945 with only 500 of the original 1,619 POWs who began the ordeal a month and a half earlier. Less than 300 of these men survived until the end of the war.

The Hellships Memorial is dedicated to all the POWs on all the Hellships. As the inscription on the Memorial says, these heroes came from different homelands, different backgrounds, and different circumstances – but all were courageous and patriotic men whose lives were drastically altered and, in many cases, ended during their terrible journeys on the Hellships. More than half a century later, many of these men lie beneath no headstone or other marker, their bodies impossible to recover from their watery graves. This is the only Memorial many of these men will ever have.

The Memorial Project is conceived as multi-phased for one compelling reason – with each passing day, our links with the greatest conflict the world has ever known quietly fall away. As the drumbeat slows for the World War II generation, it is vitally important that we honor them and thank them personally for their sacrifices while we still can. Four of these men attended the Dedication – men who had survived the horrors of the Bataan Death March, the Fall of Corregidor, the prison camps, and the terrible journey on the Hellships – and then returned to their homeland to try to put their lives back together.

Equally important is that the young generations learn about the momentous events in human history that touched the lives of so many people. They must discover the extraordinary sacrifice of the heroes that this Memorial honors, not only that they may draw inspiration from their example but also to reaffirm the enduring hope of a world set free from hate. The Hellships Memorial will forever speak of this hope, serving for generations to come as an anchor holding fast against the slow currents of complacency and forgotten loss.

Future generations will pause at this sacred place, to reflect on a great tragedy that transcends all words and on the grief of the families and loved ones left behind – wives who lost the companionship and unfulfilled dreams of their husbands, children who were robbed of their father’s kindness, their voice, and their smile. But they must not be filled with bitterness. Duane Heisinger, who lost his father on the Hellships says, that when asked, “Aren’t you angry? My answer is always the same, No, I am not angry. I am greatly saddened by the loss of these men—and my father—but I cannot harbor anger or hate; I cannot live my life in anger or hate. My Mother did not, nor can I.”

In Search of the Golden Lily

The tale goes something like this: Japanese army trucks, laden with gold and jewelry of inconceivable value looted from occupied capitals, rumble north from Manila desperately trying to escape the advancing enemy. Some of the trucks make a dash for the port at Subic Bay, hoping to get the cargo – and themselves – safely on the next ship out. Fighter aircraft relentlessly attack the convoys and the soldiers are forced to hide the precious cargo along the route. Maps are hastily drawn to guide the soldiers back to retrieve the ill-gotten booty.

Fast forward to 2006. A group of expatriates are drinking morning coffee at Dryden’s Café in Barrio Barretto near Subic Bay when the conversation turns to Japanese treasure. One of the foreigners, a sensible man who has resided and done business in the Philippines for many years, announces that one of the treasure maps recently came into his possession (for a few hundred pesos) from an old man who claims to have been a personal servant of a Japanese officer during the Second World War.

When capture was inevitable, the Japanese gave the servant, just a boy then, a map with strange symbols and marking and told him not to reveal its existence to anyone. The Japanese then committed suicide. The boy kept the map down through the years as a remembrance of the kindness showed him by the officer, never realizing that it pointed the way to vast wealth. Now, the old man, sick and needing money for hospital bills, is forced to sell his most prized possession, the map. The new owner of the map is actively organizing financiers to decipher the map and hunt for the treasure.

Is this just another urban legend? Certainly enough people believe in these stories to create a cottage industry in the Philippines with hundreds of thousands of dollars spent in the search for illusive treasure.

Subic Bay has it share of treasure tales: two cars built of solid gold filled with gems, hidden in a tunnel and booby trapped with explosives; crates of gold bars dumped overboard into the bay to lighten the load of a floundering boat; diamonds and precious stones of incalculable value secreted inside aircraft engines in the hold of a Japanese ship sunk in the bay.

These stories seem fantastic but all have generated local recovery expeditions, themselves costing a fortune and lasting months and even years.

Most nights, one can pick up the latest treasure hunting news at Mango’s Beach Bar, a favorite meeting place for the treasure hunters, just down the beach from Dryden’s. If any of the purported Japanese treasure at Subic Bay has ever been recovered, though, no one will say. One thing is certain however, the search goes on even as you read this.

The Pinoy X-Files

Even in this modern world of cell phones, the Internet, video games and DVDs, tales of demons, ghosts and vampires continue to frighten and delight Filipinos young and old. One need only look as far as the nearest movie billboard to see that the number one motion picture for several weeks has been a supernatural thriller. Why are these themes still popular in this scientific and logical age? The answer is deeply rooted in the Filipino character.

“The early Filipinos believed that human society was a part of the metaphysical world. The inhabitants of this world participated actively in the daily affairs of men and influenced everything in their lives,” says Bob Couttie, long-time resident of the Philippines and author of Forbidden Knowledge, a critical examination of the paranormal, published in Cambridge, England, “The belief in these beings evolved through their attempt to explain a world that they did not understand but also acted as a means of social control and helped to reinforce cultural and religious continuity. For instance, one possible moral of the latest supernatural movie may be that nothing good comes from something that is obtained without working for it.”

“What makes the Philippine supernatural belief system unique is the mix of Catholicism with the indigenous pre-Christian folklore and the influence of the colonial powers, along with a sprinkling of Chinese superstitions,” Couttie explains.

Unlike the head-twirling, levitating, projectile vomiting demons popular in Western movies like the Exorcist, unnatural beings here are uniquely Filipino, many more colorful and magical than their Western counterparts.

Creatures You Don’t Want to Meet On a Dark Night

According to the father of Philippine demonology, Maximo D. Ramos, author of A Survey of Philippine Lower Gods, Filipino demons usually are tall, dark-skinned, large and grotesque.

For instance, the kapre is a huge black man-like creature, legs as large as tree trunks, eyes as big as plates, who smokes enormous cigars while seated in balete or other large trees. He wears only a piece of cloth called bahag. According to Filipino elders, kapre also wears a magical belt that makes them unseen by humans.

These demons have the power to transform themselves into chickens, cats, dogs, or even fiery-eyed pigs. They can also transform into inanimate objects like bamboo tubes used in the Filipino handloom, mats, and ropes.

Sometimes headless when in a human shape, the kapre’s ears are not pointed like Western demons, and there are no horns or sharp teeth. It is thought that insanity will result if one panics when a demon is seen.

The term kapre was derived from the Spanish kapfre, in turn from the Arabic Kaffir, an African non-believer. When the conquistadors first came to the Philippines, they heard about mystical creatures resembling their kapfre, and soon the conqueror’s term entered the local lexicon.

When the Americans displaced the Spanish, they immediately began planting large trees like acacia and balete in town plazas. The aim was to foster community spirit by providing a place for the residents to come together under the broad shade of the trees. However, the plan backfired when the people shunned the plaza, declaring that there were kapre in the trees that followed passersby as they walked past. Couttie speculates that this may have been the people’s subconscious snub of the American colonizers.

How have these beliefs influenced the everyday life of the common man? The belief that demons can’t stand objects made of metal may have influenced what Ramos calls the Filipino’s “national predilection for bearing firearms and bladed weapons.” Couttie also thinks that over the generations these beliefs “have become subliminal but are still influencing the way people act.

Some Filipinos are afraid to cut down certain trees like the kalumpang, despite the fact that the tree’s flowers have an unpleasant smell. It’s unfortunate that the illegal loggers don’t share these beliefs.

Since it was thought that the kapre and other demons fear fire and light it is quite common to see people burning their rubbish underneath big trees and according to Ramos, this custom may be linked to the frequent habit of early Filipinos in “smoking out tree-dwelling demons.”

The wide-spread wearing and use of gold watches, gold teeth, gold pens, and golden eyeglasses – objects that have the color of fire – may have also been influenced subconsciously by the belief that these objects can scare away demons.

According to Ramos, the Filipinos’ fear of the dark can be attributed to the fear of demons and other strange beings that come out when the sun goes down. Although some people are not afraid of walking at night, many express fear of traveling in the dark during those times when there has been a death in the community.

In wartime Macabebe, Pampanga, a kapre in the form of a huge black pig with blazing red eyes was reported appearing on a particular road when a resident passed by late at night.

“One possible interpretation of this tale is Finnish folklorist Lauri Honko’s hypothesis that people transgressing or breaking a law consequently have visions of the supernatural due to guilty minds. No one would be out of their houses past curfew unless they were up to no good, and this supernatural event was a way of subliminal self-punish,” says Couttie

Aswang – Blood Sucking Creatures from Hell

The most dreaded figure in Filipino folklore is undoubtedly the aswang – a beautiful female by day and a terrifying blood sucking flying creature by night. When it has fed recently, it becomes so swollen that it appears pregnant. There are different types of these deadly beings but they all have one thing in common – the horror they strike in the hearts of all who encounter them.

There are differing beliefs about how one becomes an aswang. Some believe that if an aswang blows air down a person’s neck they will change. Others believe that you must eat a black chick in order to change.

Here are some more aswang facts: When the aswang licks a person’s shadow, they are doomed to die. While in human form it can marry and bear children. At night it follows birds to the homes of its victims. It lowers its hollow tubal tongue through the rough and feeds. The aswang cannot feed on those who sleep on the edges of their mats.

Garlic placed under the armpits repels them. It prefers children, but will only feed on those in the middle of their sleeping mats. At dawn it returns home and suckles its children. At this time it returns to human form when either it or the sun removes the ointment that bestows its powers. The supernatural powers of the aswang cease with the removal of the ointment. At that time or any time that it is in human form it can be killed.

It is said that an aswang can be revealed, with the use of a bottle of oil made from coconut and mixed with plant’s stem prayed over with Catholic prayers. When an aswang comes near or walks outside the house at night, the oil is supposed to boil and continue boiling until the aswang leaves the area.

The aswang have been around for a long time. Spanish explorer Miguel López de Legaspi wrote:

“Upon our arrival, we communicated with the heathens, who look upon us as gods. We have explained to them, as best we could, that we are merely messengers of the Lord Jesus our Saviour, and that we came only to deliver them from the clutches of the devil Satan. I believe we instilled faith in them by showing them the righteousness of our great mission

After many misunderstandings, some tragic, they finally allowed us to set up the first missionary community unmolested—but upon one curious condition: that we beware of the local aswang. These bizarre undead creatures of Lucifer appear human. Yet when their desire for flesh becomes too great, their lycanthropic hunger possesses them. The natives tell us that these black vampires, which first inhabited the tender las vegas of this lush and fertile island, can alter their forms into horrific winged beasts of violently great power.

Once more, the aswang are said to be able to separate at the waist and remain living. Their bloody carcasses (from their waists to their evil heads) take to the skies searching for prey; their intestines remain, writhing atop their clove-footed hind legs and their muscular thighs and buttocks. They swoop down upon their victims sucking blood through their winding coiling tongues, savoring especially the most helpless: pregnant women’s unborn children.

Their jaws reportedly have been seen to tear the flesh and bones of wild boar and even caribou in a ghastly fury of blood and death. As the din of the frenzied gorging dies down, the howl and wail of their ululate song fills the darkness that seems to surround our encampment. The natives ritualistically burn the sites of these feeding orgies, for if the blood of these creatures touches yours, you become one of them. As I write this letter, the aswang mingle among us, awaiting, perhaps fearing their next fever.

The neophytes also warned us of baglans and atros, spirits that they believe often possess humans, making them perform acts of brutal violence against people they appear to love and care for.

I pray God is watching over us this day.

Miguel López de Legaspi”

(From: Spanish and Native Pilipinos: The First Contact accounts compiled by Dr. Pedro Gomez of the University of the Philippines.)

While it may be easy to dismiss the aswang as just a harmless legend, recent events prove that they are still very real to many people.

In 2003 the Police in Bacolod City were swamped by hundreds of Bacolod residents who said they had heard radio reports that an aswang was detained there and demanded to see her.

People left their cars running in the street outside the police station, while others jumped over the fence and rushed to the back portion of the cell to see the aswang.

The police investigation revealed that several residents heard radio reports that a witch, identified only as “Maria Labo”, a woman from Hinigaran, who reportedly killed and cooked her children, had been arrested by the police and was detained there. The police chief told the crowd that they had no such aswang detainee and the people eventually returned home.

Also in Bacolod City in 2003, an elderly couple, long suspected of being aswang, were beheaded inside their home by three local men. Supposedly this was to put an end to their evil powers, which included causing the death of one of the accused killer’s children.

In June 1994, a Manila newspaper reported that several people in the Tondo district of Manila had become victims of aswang attacks, and had died as a result. In response to this, the police had set up what was called an “aswang patrol.”

This was a special unit of armed police whose duty it was to patrol the streets of Tondo at night, with orders to shoot and kill on sight any aswang that appeared on the scene.

While the belief in the aswang seems strongest in the Visayas, the aswang must be considered a nation-wide phenomenon.

Ghosts and Other Things That Go Bump in the Night

Perhaps the most famous Filipino ghost is the infamous White Lady, star of legend and cinema. There are slightly different variations but all of them describe her as dressed entirely in white, and quite beautiful.

The White Lady is thought to serve a variety of purposes but the most tragic is as the bearer of ill omen. It is thought that if you see the White Lady, someone you know will die.

In a small town in Samar, on nights when the moon shines brightly, it is said that a woman in a flowing white gown is seen gliding by the shore. Possibly she is the victim of a shipwreck or waiting for a lost love from a voyage.

In other places she is seen at roads, valleys, and mountains. In Muntinlupa, tricycle drivers have encountered the White Lady who loves to get a free ride after midnight. More often, the Lady sits beside the driver. Other times, she is said to roam around the area following people

Why are there ghosts? The general Hollywood concept of a ghost is not accurate but it’s what many think about when they speak of ghosts. According to popular Filipino belief, a soul returns from death for one of the following reasons: to complete unfinished business after an untimely death; improper burial; an unusually violent death (suicide, drowning, etc.); to fulfill a pact or contract; revenge; and to visit family in times of illness.

It seems that the more painful the death, the higher the likelihood of the person returning as a ghost. A disco in Manila was the scene of a fire in which 162 people died in 1996. Passers-by have since reported strange noises and sightings.

Ghosts generally fall into four basic categories: Anniversary ghosts (spirits that return every year to the exact time and place of their death and make their presence felt); Free-roaming apparitions (the classical, sentient ghost that haunts a specific location); poltergeists (playful and sometimes violent ghosts that pinch, bite and even hurl objects); and elementals (nature spirits that throw water and dirt at unsuspecting victims).

The presence of a ghost can be detected by a sudden cold chill, or the smell of azucena flowers or sweet perfume in the air. It is also widely believed that dogs can see ghosts, which explains why they howl for seemingly no reason.

Where do you find a ghost? Filipino ghost sightings usually occur in places of great death and pain. Here’s some places where ghost hunters have been successful:

Cemeteries – The age of the cemetery doesn’t matter but the older it is, the more time it has had to accumulate restless spirits. Why cemeteries? There are theories that they are portals to the other side or that some spirits are drawn to their former bodies.

Schools – Schools and former sites of schools may have the build up of psychic energies and imprints of all the highly emotional events that have transpired there. All the energy creates a place where there is a surplus of super charged energy.

At a university in the central Visayas there are half a dozen or so ghosts that are regularly sighted by students, teachers, and even the school president

If you are out jogging on this school’s football field early in the morning don’t be surprised if you are joined by a young lady who strikes up a conversation. When she passes a certain spot on the track, Poof! she suddenly disappears.

A medical center at the university where cadavers are kept is one of the most haunted places on the campus. Students and teachers report cold spots and moving furniture in one of the classrooms and sometimes feel like they are being pushed or tripped while walking. Some nights after the doors are locked the classroom’s lights suddenly turn on. Strange elf-like creatures have been seen running around the room.

For more than thirty years female students have reported seeing a ghost in the women’s restroom. She suddenly appears in the mirror behind them while they are doing their make up or fixing their hair – truly, a hair-raising experience! The girls’ screams interrupt classes all up and down the hall.

If you went to school in Manila you may already know about the scholarly-inclined spirits inhabiting many of the schools there. In one school, a nun haunts the ladies comfort room. She is said to peek over the stall while girls are using the toilet. Like something out of the popular film Feng Shui, a vaporous face is seen above the door, but no feet are seen below the door

In another bathroom related incident, a demon reportedly came out of one the toilet bowls one day. A student, who was washing her hands at a nearby sink, fell to her knees and prayed intensely until the demon disappeared.

Theaters – The actors run the gambit of human emotions inside the walls of a theater. Many old theaters have interesting histories that may contribute to the likelihood that there are spirits there. When the construction of Film Center at the Cultural Center of the Philippines complex was rushed in the early 1980s for a film fest, the ceiling scaffolding collapsed killing several workmen who fell to the orchestra below. Rather than halt construction to rescue survivors and retrieve the bodies of dead workmen, cement was poured into the orchestra, entombing the fallen workmen. Various ghostly activities were reported on the site including mysterious sounds, voices and poltergeist activity. In the late 1990s a group called the Spirit Questors began to make visits to the film center in an attempt to contact and appease the souls of the workmen who were killed in the building. Some of these spirits claimed to have moved on but a few allegedly remain.

Battlefields – Many violent deaths in one area will always hold some spirits and psychic energy there. A soldier’s life and death struggle exudes a large amount of energy. In Corregidor’s Malinta Tunnel, ghostly sounds such as footsteps and rumblings of normal hospital activities can be heard within the area of the hospital ruins. Around the bunker area, long low moans can be heard.

Churches – There is a long history of the faithful returning to the church where they worshipped. They may be looking for the salvation they were promised and cannot find. Churches also have large amounts of human emotional energy trapped there left behind from weddings, funerals, etc. The cement statues of angels and saints are said to step down from their pedestals at night and walk around their surroundings.

Hotels/Boarding houses – Many dark dealing and highly emotional events take places in these rooms. They also have many people passing through the rooms.

Historic Locations – Many historic buildings, because of their age, have had more time to have spirits attach to them. Near the Rizal Park in Manila angry spirits of dead Japanese soldiers supposedly haunt the ruins of a building outside of the park. Many Japanese soldiers died in the building when it was blasted and people have reported a cold presence and menacing feelings.

Dragons and Sea Serpent – The mountain-dwelling Aetas believe that the spirits were restless during the 1991 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo. The tribe was forced to flee to the lowlands, where they told reporters that the national oil company was to blame for the volcanic eruption. Their drilling around Mt. Pinatubo had angering the mountain god and he had retaliated with the eruption.

In November 2001 reports started to filter out of the former mining village of Buhawen telling of five “huge, black creatures” swimming in the nearby Tikis River. At first, the Aeta mistook the 7-foot long, 3-foot wide mysterious creatures for floating logs.

The strange creatures have been seen swimming in the river below Labuan, which is enclosed by tall, thick bushes. Since the monsters’ heads and tails were not seen, no one could venture what these locally named “Pinatubo Monsters” could be. There is a Tagalog demon called a Buwaya that lives in caves under deep water. It has a coffin-like saddle on its back on which it puts its victim and takes him to its cave.

Could the Pinatubo Monsters be Buwaya? Tribal leaders have requested scientists come and assist them end the mystery surrounding what the creatures might be. At last word, no scientists have volunteered to go look.

UFOs and Other Unexplained Occurrences – Although no alien abductions have been reported, the Philippines has its share of strange lights in the night sky.

In 1984 in Ormoc City in western Leyte, several children reported that they saw corpulent beings alight from a large, disk shaped spacecraft

The fact that the children all gave the same descriptions of the craft and its occupants added credence to their report. Investigators sent the description of the aliens to investigators in the United States who apparently were also mystified.

Two other unexplainable sightings were in Las Pitas and Muntiniupa City in 1997 when at least 400 people reported that they saw 13 odd-shaped flying objects that were clearly visible and a similar event on May 10, 2000. The eyewitnesses described the UFOs as transparent and hollow at the middle, closely resembling a school of jellyfish minus the tentacles.

On June 28, 2002 workers at a pineapple plantation in Mindanao saw a bright gleam coming from the south approaching at about 150 miles per hour for at least five seconds. Then it abruptly backed away at a speed ten times faster until it was gone. The UFO was reported as being size of an A-320 Airbus without wings with metal strips along the back.

For over a hundred years, the people of Inampulugan have reported seeing bright flying objects traveling in the night sky from Inampulugan to Guimaras Island. The UFOs sometimes hover for several hours over the small neighboring island of Nagarao before proceeding to Guimaras.

Some of the older folks believe that this is the vessel of the spirit creatures living on the islands between Guimaras and Negros while others believe they are flying saucers.

There have also been sightings of unexplained aerial activity in Bohol and Quezon.

Sometimes a Man Just Wants To Go Home

In 1981 a police officer in the small town of Allan, Samar died and was buried in the community cemetery, just a few hundred meters down the beach from his home. He rested peacefully for a few years until the mid-1980s when a violent typhoon hit the island, destroying the cemetery and washing several coffins out the sea.

The local residents had all taken shelter during the typhoon and came out after it had passed to survey the damage. The police officer’s wife was shocked to find the coffin of her late husband washed up on the shore just in front of her house.

She took this as a sign from the “other side” that her husband wished to come home. She brought the coffin inside her house, opened it and dressed her husband Christ-like in a flowing red robe and propped the open coffin up in the living room. To this day the Corpse of Allan, Samar is on display for anyone who wishes to visit.

Around the same area in Samar a ghost ship is sometimes reported seen sailing through the San Bernadino Straits. No appears to be on board and the ship will disappear if stared at long enough.

In a deeply religious country like the Philippines it is not unusual that sightings of the Virgin Mary are common. Although these sightings are usually in the form of a ball of light, in February 1990, a white luminous outline of a lady in prayer began to appear on one of the leaves of a tall coconut tree in Lipa City, visible only in the evenings.

The tribal T’boli of Mindanao are well known for their jewelry making but they also have themselves tattooed because they believe tattoos glow after death and light the way into the next world. Men have their forearms and chests tattooed with bakong (stylized animal) and hakang (human) designs, or blata (fern) and ligo bed (zigzag) patterns. The women have their calves, forearms, and breasts tattooed in the same way.

It is indeed a strange world we live in. Supernatural phenomena, stories of bizarre and wonderful entities, and weird incidents abound in the Philippines and should be appreciated as a rich part of Filipino tradition. But as you enjoy these scary sagas, take a second look for the cultural lesson and the insight into the Filipino nature that these tales may provide.

Memories of “The Rock”

Corregidor Island, known as “The Rock”, is the largest of several fortified islands at the entrance to Manila Bay. At 7:30 in the morning, we boarded a catamaran ferry for the 45-minute journey to Corregidor.

Our guide for the six-hour tour, Mr. Pablito Martinez, met us at the dock upon our arrival at Corregidor. Martinez, in his almost 30 years of guiding tourists around Corregidor, has acquired an encyclopedic knowledge of the island and its history.

As we boarded a 1930’s style tram, called a tranvia, we could see a statue of General Douglas MacArthur at the bomb-twisted Lorcha Dock ruins. Martinez told us that it was here that MacArthur boarded a PT boat to Australia where he sent his famous message: “I shall return.

The big guns on The Rock are silent now but at the outbreak of the Second World War, there were a total of 23 gun batteries on Corregidor and its neighboring islands with hundreds of American and Filipino soldiers manning them.

“War came to the Philippines on December 8, 1941, only hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor,” explains Duane Heisinger, whose recently published book, Father Found, details his father’s wartime experiences and his death in 1945 while a prisoner of war. “The ghostly ruins of Mile Long Barracks, the Headquarters Building and the other structures on the island, with their twisted metal and shattered concrete show the intensity of the rain of steel Corregidor endured as it became the heaviest bombed island in the southwest Pacific.”

Clement Smith was a young artillery soldier on Corregidor when the attack came. Now 87, he stoops slightly; his hair snow white. But Smith is not frail. At Battery Wheeler, he scrambles without help up the crumbling steps to the massive guns. In the final days before the surrender to the Japanese, Smith and the other soldiers of Wheeler could only watch as waves of aircraft attacked the Rock: “Wheeler’s 12-inch guns were on permanent mounts and were meant to lob shells outward to the South China Sea and, of course, the Japanese were attacking from the air. But we held our ground, kept our morale up and I will always be proud of that,” said Smith.

Smith also told us the story of how he participated in a real life treasure story. After Manila was declared an open city, tons of gold bars and silver coins were brought out to Corregidor for safekeeping.

One night, when surrender seemed inevitable, Smith and a few other soldiers were ordered to carry large wooden crates into waiting small boats. Inside each crate were two sacks containing thousands of silver pesos. Again and again, the men returned to lug the heavy boxes to the boats. When the boats sat low in the water almost to the point of floundering, Smith says, “We were told to board and the boats pulled out a short distance into the bay. There we tossed the crates overboard into the murky water.” All told, over 16 million silver pesos were thrown into the bay to prevent their falling into enemy hands. The Japanese and Americans subsequently salvaged about half of the coins but several million dollars worth remains where Smith and his fellow soldiers cast them overboard.

Standing on the highest part of Corregidor’s west side is the Pacific War Memorial built as a joint project of the Philippine and United States governments in 1968. The Memorial’s dome is specially designed so that at noon on May 6th – the day Corregidor fell – a single shaft of sunlight shines through it to strike a circular marble altar below. There is also an excellent small museum with wartime photographs and artifacts, a mosaic of Corregidor and its battles covering a whole wall, a documentary film projection room and a souvenir shop.

The morning passed quickly and at noon we stopped for a buffet lunch of Filipino favorites at the Malinta Hotel. The dining area has a breathtaking panoramic view of Manila Bay and also overlooks Malinta Hill.

“In 1922 the Americans drove a shaft directly through the hill, creating Malinta Tunnel,” our guide explained. “The tunnel was designed to house huge quantities of ammunition, food and supplies, and an underground hospital. Malinta Tunnel also served as the seat of Philippine Commonwealth Government under President Manuel Quezon.”

After lunch, we entered the restored main tunnel, and watched as the lights dimmed and the vividly staged Sound and Light Show recounted the wartime history of Corregidor with life-size mannequins and a dramatic soundtrack. At one point the lights flickered and chest-thumping thunder echoed down the length of the tunnel simulating the noise of the bombardment. Just a few seconds of it makes one marvel at how the defenders of The Rock withstood it for months.

One of the most recent additions to Corriegidor is the Filipino Heroes Memorial. This huge complex has murals depicting heroic battles fought by Filipinos from the 15th century up to modern times.

Manila American Cemetery and Memorial

On the 152 acres of the American Cemetery at Manila, Philippines, Mary Ann Taylor searches the seemingly endless rows of white crosses running over the gently rising grounds, looking for the grave of her brother-in-law who fell in battle in the Philippines.

Finally, she sees his name carved into a marble cross. Mary Ann brought a small vial of soil from her sister’s grave in the U.S. She kneels and carefully sprinkles the soil over the grave. She then fills the vial with soil from the grave. She will sprinkle this soil on her sister’s grave back in Michigan.

“My sister could never visit her husband’s grave and now she has passed too,” Mary Ann explains. “Maybe in some small way this will help bring them closer together.”

Just minutes from the skyscrapers of the Philippine financial district of Makati, the perpetually green and abloom American Cemetery is the largest American military cemetery outside of the United States. It is one of the loveliest and most serene spots in the Philippines – both beautiful and sad at the same time.

From the front gate the drive circles a fountain then splits into two lanes that surround a grassy mall leading up to the Memorial. The circular Memorial contains the names of 36,282 soldiers missing in action engraved in marble columns, huge wall mosaics depicting battles of the Second World War, a small chapel, and a commanding view of the surrounding landscape of beautiful acacia trees.

Concentric circles of headstones mark the graves of 16,636 Americans and 570 Filipinos. In 20 instances, two brothers lie side by side. Even though this is the American Cemetery, interred in the cemetery are soldiers from Panama, Guam, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Australia, Canada, China, England, Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, Finland, Jamaica, Burma and Peru.

On our way out, I stopped and spoke to the Filipino guard at the front gate, “Thank you for safeguarding this place and for keeping it so nice.” His response surprised and pleased me. He nodded and said, “It is our sacred duty, sir.”

Gensan’s Tuna Festival

In the brilliant morning sunlight, a sea of dazzling blue, green, and red costumed children fanned out across a huge athletic field. A small boy, dressed as a green and yellow sea turtle, fiddled with the brightly painted cardboard shell on his back as he ran across the field, wiggling his way through other “sea creatures” to join his classmates already on the field.

As the music rose to a crescendo, a group of young girls clad in pink and yellow Maguindanaoan attire flourished ocean-blue fans as they performed their carefully rehearsed and perfectly executed dance routine.

This stunning calliope of sight and sound was part of the Annual Tuna Festival held each September in the southern Mindanao city of General Santos City, popularly known as Gensan. I was fortunate to witness this year’s lively celebration of the tuna, the only festival of its kind in the world.

The Festival alone is worth the short one and a half hour flight from Manila. I soon found, however, that Gensan has much more to offer: spectacular natural wonders; a profusion of fruit, flowers, and vegetables; and above all, a vibrant mosaic of friendly ethnic peoples – Moslem, Christian, and Lumad (the T’boli, Bla’an, and Manobos tribes.)


As my airplane descended for landing at the new Gensan International Airport, I had a sweeping panorama of the almost perfect cone of the volcano Mount Matutum, the city of Gensan, and the blue-green sea gently pummeling golden stretches of beach on Sarangani Bay.

After a brief taxi ride, I checked into the Royale East Asia Hotel, especially convenient for my stay since it was to be the venue for several of the festival’s events. The surrounding Arcade has a disco, restaurants, and an excellent coffee house, the Sunset Café.

I was just in time for the Miss Gensan Pageant so I made my way down to the city’s Oval Plaza to watch as the most beautiful girls of Gensan vied for the crown.

The rest of the evening was spent planning, over coffee at the nearby Uno Café, which of the Festival’s 60-something events I would attend.


The city was just stirring on the edge of awakening as I left the hotel early the next morning and headed for Gensan’s ultra-modern Fish Port Complex. The city may still have been sleepy at this hour but the Fish Port was already a beehive of activity. Enormous silvery tuna, some tipping the scales at over 100 kilos, were being carried off the boats, destined for the Japanese sashimi market.

Workers were busy off-loading thousands of smaller tuna and other fish in bukags, round woven baskets, to be graded, weighed, and sent on their way in chilled trucks to Gensan’s seven tuna canneries.

In another part of the Fish Port, townspeople were buying fresh fish for restaurants or for cooking at home. “Tuna is a dietary staple for the people of the surrounding area with about ten percent of the catch consumed locally,” one of the merchants told me.

I arrived back in Gensan in time for a late lunch at Abi’s Sushi Bar and Oriental Toppings. “Fish and seafood probably do not come any fresher than in Gensan,” owner Allan Sanidad, told me, “and the prices are lower here than you’ll find in Manila or Davao.” I had to add that the dishes were in fact fresh and reasonably priced and were also very delicious.


City markets are one of my favorite places to visit and Gensan’s was no disappointment. The rolling hills and fertile valleys surrounding the city produce an abundant harvest and the market was a multi-colored jumble of flowers, fresh fruit and vegetables, cackling chickens, meat, and fish.

In the afternoon, I took a short ride into the countryside and discovered thousands of exotic anthuriums rustling in the mountain breeze at the Blooming Petals farm near Tupi. They are one of the country’s largest suppliers of these exotic flowers, ranging in color from blazing red and orange to subtle pastels.

Green seas of pineapple plants on both sides of the highway produce 100,000 tons of the golden sweet fruit annually. Papaya, guava, passion fruit, and coconuts were also in abundance at prices so low that many times I had to ask twice to make sure.

Later that evening I checked into the Tropicana Beach Resort in Tambler, about 10 kilometers from Gensan, and found a comfortable vantage point overlooking the beach. In the fast fading light, a young boy and his dog explored small pools of seawater left in a reef by the falling tide, the dog barking excitedly at small crabs scurrying across the rocks. The gleaming white hull of a large boat anchored out in the bay picked up tints of tangerine and fuchsia from the setting sun. Soon the beach was bathed in the light of a full moon in a star-bright sky. This was a fitting ending to a wondrous day.


A fine yellow line of dawn was just edging over the mountains the next morning as I left the Tropicana for the two-and-a-half-hour trip to Lake Sebu, home of the T’boli. The lake was an idyllic scene: native houses nestled on the hillsides, birds singing from somewhere in the deep forest, frogs croaking in a still lagoon, and smiling children gathering bright flower.

A visit to Lake Sebu is incomplete without shopping for handicrafts. Michelle, my soft-spoken T’boli tour guide, showed me the Saturday market, bursting with malongs, shawls, embroidered and beaded blouses, coin purses, necklaces, and bolts and bolts of the brilliantly woven fabric, T’nalak. “Market day is also when you’re most likely to see the T’boli in their striking traditional clothing,” Michelle told me.

I made it back to Gensan just in time to eat at Jam’s Garden. Dinner was again superbly Gensan -- inihaw na panga (grilled tuna jaw), guso (a kind of seaweed), Kinilaw, (the Filipino improvement on Japanese sashimi), and an assortment of fresh fruit for dessert.


The next morning, as the incoming tide drove delicate white foam onto the beach, I set out to explore some of the coastline of Sarangani Bay

At one point near Glan, the jagged roots and gnarled trunks of a mangrove jutted up from the surface of the sea. This shallow wetland protects the coastline from erosion and provides refuge and nursery grounds for fish, crabs, shrimp, and mollusks. It was heartening to see this mangrove in such pristine condition.

I returned to Gensan in the late afternoon and made my way to Oval Park. Around me, the Festival sa Oval was swirling with small-scale traders selling handicrafts, ceramics, clothing, and assorted gadgets. Flower merchants offered orchids, ferns and a hundred other plants for which I didn’t know the names, with colors ranging from subtle fuchsia to palm-frond yellow to deep emerald green.

As the golden sunlight changed to pale purple twilight, young people descended onto nearby Pioneer Avenue for a street disco and a rock band concert.

At this point, I was thinking more about dinner than dancing so I jumped in a taxi to the Oriental Room, a first-rate Japanese restaurant. Within minutes, the grill was sizzling with crab, prawn, and shellfish, richly scenting the air with garlic, onion, and spices.

As I drove back to my beach cottage, I could see bursts of fireworks punctuate the skies over Gensan.


At 8:00 a.m. the next morning, I was ready for the beginning of the Parada ng Kulay Dagat, or Parade of the Colorful Sea. Floats decked out as giant tuna and other creatures of the sea made their way slowly through the city as giggling children scampered alongside, their parents hastily trying to keep up.

That night the city’s best chefs prepared an astonishing variety of tuna-based dishes for the Lutuna Culinary Competition held in the Royale Hotel. Outside in the blocked-off parking lot, a party mood prevailed as local restaurants delighted guests with endless variations of tuna at the Sashimi Night, all to a note-perfect music and dance program.

Gensan has weathered security problems in past years yet its people have remained proud and undivided. Today Gensan is a safe, dynamic city. In February, the weeklong Kalilangan Festival highlights Gensan’s rich cultural heritage and celebrates the history of General Santos City.

I’ll be there. I hope to see you there.

Fort San Felipe, Cavite

Fort San Felipe dates back to 1609 when the Spaniards built it to to protect part of the then growing city. The structure is made of granite blocks with walls approximately 30 feet high. A wide stairway leads to the top of the fort where a concrete house structure could be found.

Naval memorabilia including antique cannons and cannon balls decorate the lawns. is located at the compound of the Philippine Navy, this 16th century fort is dedicated to San Felipe Neri. The place where the Cavite Mutiny 1872 occurs; when Filipino workers were implicated in the armed uprising against the Spaniards.

This is also the place where the XIII Martyrs of Cavite were executed. Located at the top of this wall is the Philippine Navy Museum, were show models of Phil. Naval vessels and other memorabilia are placed.

Exciting Davao Fashion

From Lumad and Muslim inspired motifs to flowing, romantic formals to deconstructed Barongs and old country fashion, Davao fashion designers show a creativity and craftsmanship that is uniquely “Mindanao.”

Davao fashion icon, Boy Guinoo, toured the world for five years with a folk dance group and still designs costumes for dance troops in the U.S. He blends the intricate detail and colors of T’boli, Bilaan, and Muslim woven fabrics with more conventional materials to create his own exotically ethnic style. His next project, after a three-month one-man show in the U.S., is to create his interpretation of the indigenous styles of Mindanao’s Bukidnon region.

Silverio Anglacer’s parents were pleased when the young boy would spend hours poring over the encyclopedia. What they didn’t know was that he wasn’t looking at history or chemistry but at the entries for Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and other Hollywood stars. Even at an early age he was fascinated with the elegant clothing of the stars. After a stint as an engineering student and member of the basketball team at Ateneo de Davao University, Silverio turned to his real love – fashion design. His elegant wedding and evening gowns, some taking up to a month to craft, use Mindanao silk, linen, piña, and other fabrics to show the female form to best advantage.

After working for seven years as a fashion designer in the Middle East, Garimon Roferos returned to his native Davao to open his own studio. He considers himself one of the most avant-garde of the Davao designers and likes to design on the “edge”. A master of detail, he combines seemingly incongruous elements into striking attire. But Garimon also has an exceptional talent for creating very “wearable” garments. He draws heavily on Lumad designs but spins them into his own style by adding hand-woven and hand-painted accents, using tradition in a very non-traditional way.

Brothers Popoy and Aztec Barba, with partner Dodgi Batu, have two branches of their popular studio, Patahian. This synergy covers the business aspects with Dodgi handling the finances, Popoy on production, and Aztec on marketing. They have garnered many top honors in design competitions and, with Garimon Roferos, represented the country at the 2002 Concours des Jeunne Createurs de Monde in Paris, France.

Patahian covers the fashion spectrum with Dodgi’s designs tending toward soft, flowing, romantic pieces, Aztec producing elegant designs of comfortable functionality and Popoy on the cutting edge of haute couture.

In addition to high-fashion clothing, Davao also produces designer jewelry, belts, woven bags and other accessories that have found a receptive market in Europe and the United States. Bebot Marifori of Midas Jewelry transforms gold produced in the Tagum region of Davao into stunning yellow and white gold earrings, pendants, bracelets, and rings, that go well with any silhouette and complement any attire.

Davao is bold, brave and pulsating with life. This new breed of Davao designers are a reflection of that energy and are striving – and succeeding -- in transforming the ethnic and local into something contemporary and global.

Soaring High!

The big white bird, sensing that I was neither dinner nor danger, hardly glanced in my direction as it winged its way past me at 150 meters in the air and turned toward the beach.

The sight of a human being dangling below a brightly colored parachute being pulled by a speeding boat across Subic Bay was nothing new to this bird. However, for me it was a new and exciting experience –- parasailing!

I had come to Subic Bay with several friends from Manila to enjoy a little swimming, maybe snorkel some and just be a beach bum for the weekend. I wound up with the unforgettable experience of a bird’s eye view of this idyllic bay.

Subic Bay Parasailing, Inc., President Mark Neumann has been running a parasailing company in Hawaii for the past 26 years and opened the Subic Bay branch six years ago. Because of an intensive crew-training program and well-maintained equipment both operations have perfect safety records – very reassuring for me, a first-time parasailor.

“Our 29-foot boat is specially designed for parasailing. Attached to the boat is a 400-meter, double-braided rope. The parachute is hooked to the rider’s harness, and a motorized winch reels them in and out, much like a fishing line,” explains Neumann. But the parasailor needn’t think about such technical aspects of parasailing. For them, it’s safe, easy -- and fun.

Michelle Ballazo, a third year economics student from Quezon City, was the first of our group to go up. She put on her life vest and the crew attached the parachute. The boat started and a smiling Michelle was soon dangling several feet in the air. Then the real fun began as the boat picked up speed.

“I went higher and higher,” says Michelle, “I was like a human kite, it was great!”

Michelle remained aloft for about 10 minutes until the crew reeled the line back in and she landed gently on a special platform on the boat’s deck. The time in between, she told us, was spent peacefully floating, enjoying the spectacular view.

“Riders may soar up to 150 meters high, depending on the wind conditions. There is no free fall and you don’t even get wet,” says Boat Captain Decson Evangelista, who has worked for Subic Bay Parasailing for three years, “unless you ask for the Wet and Wild Ride!”

The Wet and Wild Ride was just right for the most adventurous member of our small group, Jim Osterheld, a financial advisor from Makati. Jim strapped in and went up into the air just like Michelle but when he had ascended to about 20 meters, Decson slowed the boat and, as we wildly cheered, Jim plunged gently into the water up to his waist. Decson then quickly pushed the throttle forward, the boat sped up, and Jim was pulled up and out of the water to shoot skyward. Then it was back down and into the water again. It was a lot like dipping a teabag!

“I’ve always wanted to sky dive, but I think the Wet and Wild Ride is more fun. Plus the cost is very reasonable, about P1,000,” said Jim.

Jim wanted to go up again right then but we were all anxious for our turns. One by one the members of our little group sailed across the sky over Subic Bay. My turn came and I eagerly donned the gear and started my ascent, reaching over 100 meters altitude in what seemed seconds.

As I floated silently through the sky, the colorful parachute billowing above me, I could see for miles past the lush mountains that encircle the bay. In the distance, feathery clouds seemed airbrushed on a canvas of brilliant blue. Below me jet skis and speedboats left long, soft white trails across the dark blue-green of the bay. I felt exhilarated but serene at the same time!

The boat made a wide arcing turn and now I had a vista of the mouth of the bay, punctuated by Grande Island, and the South China Sea which lies beyond. Down to my left I could see the intricate network of isolated coves, golden beaches, and secluded mangroves that make up Subic Bay.

All too soon I could feel the crew reeling me back to the boat. On the way down I spotted the silvery ballet of a school of jackfish running just below the water’s surface. As I landed lightly on the boat’s deck, I knew why Jim was so enthusiastic about going up again.

Jim did get his second Wet and Wild Ride of the day, and descended just as the sun started to disappear behind the mountains. It was time for the boat to return to shore. We made our way into the nearby Gerry’s Grill and over coffee and snacks, laughed and chattered on about this wonderful day -- full of fun, excitement, and camaraderie.

On your next visit, be sure to take time to experience Subic Bay from new heights and see the world from a new perspective – that of a teabag’s!

A Taste of Europe in Davao

Nestled in Davao’s Rizal Promenade is the newly opened Bistro Europa De Mundo. This cozy little restaurant offers fresh ingredients, finely prepared traditional Spanish and European dishes, a well-rounded wine list and warm, gracious hosts to make it the perfect neighborhood restaurant.

Softly playing jazz music and the low murmur of conversation pleasantly blend to set the mood for an enjoyable meal. The list of appetizers is extensive with Baked Clams, Croquettes de Pollo and Salmon Rillettes (pate of salmon served with French bread, Php 110.) Salads, served with fresh hearts of romaine, are tossed at your table with your choice of dressings, including savory Lemon Balsamic vinaigrette.

Entrees like Paella Negro (a unique mix of pork, chicken, Spanish chorizo, squid, and shrimp cooked with rice with squid ink, Php 410) and Lengua Estofada (ox tongue with red wine and rich mushroom gravy, Php 220) are served piping hot and nicely seasoned.

The consistently fine meals and relaxing atmosphere at Bistro Europa make it a must-visit while in Davao.

Bite the Wax Tadpole

When businesses start to market across cultures, they frequently encounter linguistic difficulties. With the widespread use of English in the Philippines there are few problems, but translating English product and company names into Asian languages can be difficult; translating advertising slogans can be almost impossible. The closest sound to a brand-name could result in a word with a very surprising meaning

I lived in Taiwan for four and a half years and during that time I studied Mandarin at the Taipei Language Institute. One of the professors told us that when Coca-Cola was first introduced into China, it was rendered as ‘Ke-kou-ke-la.’ Unfortunately, the Coke company did not discover until after thousands of signs had been printed that the phrase means ‘bite the wax tadpole’ (or ‘female horse stuffed with wax,’ depending on the dialect.) Coke then researched 40,000 Chinese characters and found a close phonetic equivalent, ‘ko-kou-ko-le,’ which can be loosely translated as ‘happiness in the mouth.’

Coke was not alone when it came to problems translating slogans into Chinese. When Pepsi translated their slogan “Come Alive with the Pepsi Generation” for a Taiwanese billboard it came out as “Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back From The Dead.”

KFC found that its “Finger-Lickin’ Good” slogan was translated into Chinese as the admonition “Eat Your Fingers Off.”

I always took these stories with a grain of salt, because they depend upon the premise that these highly successful multi-national, multi-million-dollar companies don’t do their homework. Years later, though, in marketing class at Hawaii Pacific University the professor used the same stories as examples of marketing blunders. OK, so maybe these big companies did make these errors in judgement. After all, look at what happened when Coke had the bright idea to change it decades old formula and come out with the new Coke, disaster!

Recently, I was researching some urban legends and came across the true story of the tadpole story on the Internet. Seems my gut instinct was right and it is one of the classic urban legends. Darn it, though, it was such a funny story!

Here’s some other international marketing blunders:

• When Braniff translated a slogan touting its upholstery, “Fly in leather,” it came out in Spanish as “Fly naked.”

• Chicken magnate Frank Perdue’s line, “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken,” sounds much more interesting in Spanish: “It takes a sexually stimulated man to make a chicken affectionate.”

• Not to be outdone, Puffs tissues tried later to introduce its product, only to learn that “Puff” in German is a colloquial term for a whorehouse.

• When Gerber first started selling baby food in Africa, they used the same packaging as here in the USA – with the cute baby on the label. Later they found out that in Africa that companies routinely put pictures on the label of what’s inside since more people can’t read.

• In French “Gerber” means “to puke” and belongs to the same language level. Not a very good advertisment!

• A hair products company, Clairol, introduced the “Mist Stick”, a curling iron, into Germany to find out that mist is slang for manure. Not too many people had use for the manure stick.

• The American slogan for Salem cigarettes, ‘Salem – Feeling Free,’ got translated in the Japanese market as ‘When smoking Salem, you feel so refreshed that your mind seems to be free and empty.’

• When Parker Pen marketed a ball-point pen in Mexico, its ads were supposed to say ‘It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you.’ However, the company mistakenly thought the Spanish word ‘embarazar’ meant embarrass, and the ads said ‘It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant,’ instead.

• An American tee-shirt manufacturer in Miami printed shirts for the Spanish market which promoted the Pope’s visit. But instead of the desired ‘I Saw the Pope’ in Spanish, the shirts proclaimed ‘I Saw the Potato.’

• In Italy, a campaign for Schweppes Tonic Water translated the name into Schweppes Toilet Water.

• The Jolly Green Giant translated into Arabic means ‘Intimidating Green Ogre.’

• Bacardi concocted a fruity drink with the name ‘Pavian’ to suggest French chic . . . but ‘Pavian’ means ‘baboon’ in German.

Small wonder the rest of the world thinks Americans are crazy!

Sow the Wind”: The Massacre at Balangiga

The church bells at Balangiga, on the Philippine island of Samar, rang earlier than usual on the morning of September 28, 1901. By the time the last peal had faded, the U.S. Army had suffered its worst disaster since Custer’s last stand at Little Big Horn.

The bells were the signal for hundreds of Filipinos to launch a surprise attack on Company C of the U.S. 9th Infantry. Forty-five American soldiers were killed outright and of the twenty-nine who escaped, three later died later of wounds received. Fifty-two Krag-Jorgensen rifles and twenty-six thousand rounds of ammunition fell into guerilla hands.

The massacre sent shock waves through American residents of the Philippines, and throughout the United States. Helen Taft, wife of the American Civil Governor of the Philippines, later wrote in her memoirs that, “it was a disaster so ghastly in its details, so undreamed of under the conditions of almost universal peace which had been established, that it created absolute panic.”

How, and why, had untrained natives wielding only knives, picks and shovels been able to carry out such a successful attack on well-armed combat veterans?

The answer to this seemingly simple question is both complex and controversial. To start, we need to go back three years earlier to the signing of the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898. The treaty ended the war between the United States and Spain and coincidentally shut the door on the Filipino dream of independence – the United States took possession of the Islands as her first, and only, colonial experiment.

The Filipinos had their own plans for the Philippines, however, and America soon found herself embroiled in a war of counterinsurgency in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Sometimes called the “Bolo War” because of the Filipino’s deadly use of razor-sharp machete-like bolos, it is often thought of as merely an adjunct of the 3-month Spanish-American War. But trying to pacify the islands would take three years and cost the U.S. over $600 million, more than the war with Spain that preceded it. The war eventually saw more than 126,000 American officers and men deployed to the Philippines, with over 4,000 killed. In the first year alone, the U.S. would have more hostile engagements and suffer as many casualties as it had during the Indian Wars from 1865 to 1890.

By the fall of 1901, the Filipino leader General Emilio Aguinaldo had been captured and major U. S. military actions had sputtered to an end. Most Americans now believed that resistance to U.S. rule was at its end. Little did they know that the U.S. Army’s worst disaster in the war was yet to come.

Four months after Aquinaldo’s capture, Company C arrived in Balangiga, a seaside village of about 2,000 inhabitants who scratched out a living growing rice, harvesting coconuts and fishing.

The company, commanded by Captain Thomas W. Connell and his second in command, Lieutenant E.C. Bumpus, had orders to establish a garrison at Balangiga to prevent food and supplies from reaching Filipino guerillas under Vincente R. Lukban. Lukban had been on Samar for more than a year before the arrival of Company C and his control over the natives was complete and tyrannical. He would shoot anyone who failed to support him, including priests.

The men of Company C had seen action before, having been in the Philippines since the beginning of the war. Most of the men had also seen service in the Boxer Rebellion and the taking of Peking and, during the Spanish-American War, in Cuba. Some replacements fresh from the United States joined Company C in Manila to make up for the losses suffered in China bringing the manning to 74, only two-thirds authorized strength, when it arrived in Samar on August 11, 1901.

American military strategy in the Philippine-American War was a product of the Indian Wars – attrition warfare and a scorched earth policy. Denying food to a populace that may be feeding your enemy, who may even be your enemy, was seen as a necessary step to victory. Captain Connell immediately implemented this strategy by seizing the villager’s food supply and forcing them to destroy most of the banana trees and root crops in the village. Connell’s actions caused great concern among the villagers as they felt they now faced sure starvation.

In preparation for an inspection visit from the Army’s Inspector General, Connell issued another very unpopular order to the villagers: he conscripted about a hundred Filipinos to clean up the village. On the recommendation of the town mayor, he added an additional eighty natives from the nearby hills to the workforce. The Americans found the new workers to be very hard-working, not realizing they were actually Lukban’s best bolomen.

The final event – some historians say it is the triggering event – leading up to the massacre happened on September 22, 1901, Two American soldiers, both already drunk, visited a local wine store tended by a native girl. They talked to her in English, and she responded by laughing, not having understood a word. The soldiers mistook the girl’s laughter for an insult and they began dragging her out of the store. The girl’s cries for help were answered by her two brothers, who engaged the soldiers in a fistfight. Upon receiving word of the incident, Captain Connell called for a public gathering in the village plaza. Instead of conducting an investigation into the affair, the villagers were surprised to hear Connell order his soldiers to round up all the males, about 80 of them, and detain them in two tents. Once herded into the tents, which were only designed to accommodate 16 people each, Connell told the detainees that they had been taken prisoner.

At 6:30 on the morning of September 28, Company C was already awake, having breakfast, unarmed, in the mess tent. The only armed Americans in the village were the three sentries walking their posts. At about the same time, Chief of Police Valeriano Abanador mustered the morning cleaning detail of about 80 native laborers. As one of the sentinels on duty, Private Adolph Gamlin, passed by Abanador seized Gamlin’s rifle and brought the butt down on his head in a crushing blow. The police chief then fired the rifle into a group of Americans and led the screaming bolomen against the unarmed soldiers at the breakfast table.

The church bells rang out the prearranged signal and conch shells echoed the signal to attack. Dozens of bolomen that had been waiting inside streamed out the church doors and rushed into the officer’s quarters, killing Bumpus and the Company surgeon, Major Griswold, in their rooms. Captain Connell was awake and sitting near a window reading his prayer book when the rebels burst into his room. He leapt from his window and ran but was overtaken and chopped down about 20 feet from the building.

The laborers in the plaza attacked the soldiers still in the main barracks, chopping at them with bolos, picks and shovels. Hundreds of other bolomen emerged from thickets on the outskirts of the village and in a wild clamor burst into the mess tent, bolos slashing at any available target. As the Americans jumped up and began fighting with mess kits, chairs and kitchen utensils, the Filipinos outside cut the tent ropes, causing the tents to collapse on the struggling men. The Filipinos then began slashing with bolos and axes at the helpless forms struggling beneath the canvas.

Hand-to-hand combat ensued as soldiers outside the tent used any available weapon to fend off the attack. One soldier killed a number of attackers with a baseball bat before being cut down by a bolo. A small number of American soldiers, most of them wounded, were able to get hold of their rifles and fight back. They drove the attackers from the main barracks and it became the assembly area for the soldiers. Sergeant Frank Betron, the most senior man still living, took command of what was left of Company C.

After considering trying to hold the village against the bolomen and sending a detail for help, Betron decided that, given the condition of the wounded, it was best for all the remaining soldiers to attempt an escape by native outrigger boats. The men staggered to the beach, boarded five small boats and paddled up the coast to the garrison of Company G, 9th Infantry at Basey, arriving the following morning.

Captain Edwin V. Bookmiller, commander at Basey, sailed immediately for Balangiga. He was greeted by a horrific sight – hacked limbs and horribly mutilated torsos of Company C strewn about the village of Balangiga.Although Lukban’s guerillas provided most of the bolomen, the villagers of Balangiga had taken the opportunity to exact revenge against the perceived insults from the Americans. In his official report, Bookmiller wrote, “It is not known who was the leader of the attack, but the town [mayor] and the chief of police were at least the organizers and promoters . . . both were killed.”

As the American soldiers were buried, Bookmiller quoted from the Bible, referring to the Filipino attackers, “They have sown the wind and they shall reap the whirlwind.”

The “whirlwind” was not long in coming. As shocking as the Balangiga massacre was to the Americans, the U.S. military’s response was even more shocking. Brigadier General Jacob W. “Hell-Roaring Jake” Smith, veteran of the Wounded Knee massacre of the Sioux in 1890, ordered Samar to be turned into a “howling wilderness.” For the next five months, Marines and U.S. Army soldiers burned villages in the interior, destroyed food, slaughtered work animals and fought several major skirmishes against the guerillas with estimates of Filipino civilian casualties range from 15,000 to 50,000.

Before the smoke on Samar had cleared, the American anti-imperialist press was reporting the brutal actions in explicit detail. Public outrage was ignited in the United States and popular support for the war significantly eroded. The U.S. soldiers in the field in the Philippines could not understand this public condemnation for measures they felt were necessary to win the war.

During the Indian Wars total extermination of the enemy was approved and encouraged by the press and the American public and they failed to grasp any difference between that conflict and the current one. An uneasy peace finally came to Samar with the official declaration of the end of the Philippine Insurrection on July 4, 1902.

Over one hundred years later, controversy still swirls around the attack at Balangiga. U.S. troops took the three church bells from Balangiga after they burned the town in 1901. Two are now housed in a memorial at F.E. Warren Air Force Base near Cheyenne, Wyoming. The third bell is held at Camp Red Cloud, Korea by the 9th U.S. Infantry Regiment.

The bells became an international issue in 1997 when the Philippine government demanded their return to the Philippines for the 1998 centennial of the declaration of Philippine independence from Spain and the creation of the Philippine Republic. The demand was refused and the bells remain in United States possession.

Lettuce in Pain

In an earlier essay, I talked about the difficulty multinational companies have translating English into various Asian languages and the sometimes humorous results.

Today lets look at some of the bizarrely worded advertisements, strange t-shirt slogans, hilarious instruction sheets, and other amusing mangling of the English language that appear in Asia, notably Japan. Collectively, these mistakes are called “Engrish.”

In Japan, the use of Engrish is not necessarily due to a lack of education – the Japanese educational system is one of the best in the world. Rather, English is used as a design element in Japanese products and advertising because Japanese characters are limited in styles and in the way they can be displayed. Most Japanese consumers never attempt to read the English design element in question, just as Westerners don’t bother to translate the Chinese characters used as an exotic embellishment on their clothing.

A rather surprising but actually innocent use of English as a visual device is the use of the very vulgar English 4-letter “F-word” in capital letters. Its appeal is that it is very balanced -- two angular letters on the outside of the word, and two rounded letters on the inside. It is not unusual to see people, young and old, looking cool, wearing t-shirts emblazoned with this word all over Japan.

Not all examples of Engrish are intentional, though. Some crop up simply when a literal translation is made. For example, next time you stay overnight in a certain hotel in Tokyo and see the sign, “You are invited to take advantage of the chambermaid” please don’t, it could result in an international incident. Or if you are trying to go to the sewage treatment plant, you may have more luck by asking directions to the “Dirty Water Punishment Place”.

Who amongst us have not bought a product made in China, Hong Kong or Taiwan, got it home, and excitingly opened the box to begin using it, only to be faced with something like these instructions that came with a recently purchased Dragon-Z toy:

“The new-designed costume facilitates the figure which in fine proportion with moveable joints acts lively. Transformation comes possible. Beware of being swallowed by child, due to small parts. Avoid disturbing the other while enjoying this item. During cutting, do not put your head too close. There is difference between up and down. Insert G-51 until you hear ‘Kar’.”

Another great example of Engrish is sub-titles on the bootleg DVD movies that are so prevalent here in the Philippines. There are some movies in my collection that I watch just because the sub-titles are so hilarious.

Here’s a short exchange from The Two Towers:

Frodo: What food have we got left? (subtitle: what food u got?)

Sam: I don’t usually hold to foreign food . . . (subtitle: I know it is old frog food . . .)


Frodo: Release him or I’ll cut your throat. (subtitle: release him or else I will cut you off root)


Freda: But Papa says Èothan must not ride Garulf. She’s too big for him! (subtitle: how he will take me he is still big for it)


Can you not see? Your uncle is wearied by your malcontent… (subtitle: Can you not see that your uncle is varied by your mall content)


Too long have you watched my sister… (subtitle: too long I want my sister)


And it goes on and on!

Oh yeah, you are probly wondering about the title of this post, ‘Lettuce in Pain.’ It comes from a menu board in Hong Kong. Not sure what the dish is, but I wouldn’t want to contribute to the poor lettuce’s problem by eating it! I’ll just have the ‘Dreaded Pork Chop’ instead. For this and many other entertainment examples of Engrish, visit Steve Caires’ website:


As I sit here and type this I keep in mind the warning that came with my Made-in-Taiwan monitor:

“Please be sure to keep the vents on top open. Do not bring spillables near these, like chicken soup and dust.”

The Valuable One Peso Coin

Like most people, I have a big jar of one peso coins on my dresser at home. I find the coins bothersome to carry around and at the end of the day just dump them in a jar.

I certainly didn’t realize that Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) officials are concerned about a shortage of the coins, partly due to lots of people accumulating them at home but also because containers of coins are being spirited out of the country to be melted down and sold for their metal content.

It turns out that the peso is worth less than the metal it is minted on, at least P1.50 per piece according to BSP estimates. This translates into a significant profit margin when the coins are melted down.

The BSP estimates that there are at least seven billion pieces of coins in circulation at present, worth about P1 billion in denominations of 5, 10 and 25 centavos as well as 1 peso, 5 and 10 pesos.

In April of last year, customs officials intercepted an attempt to smuggle P1.2 million worth of 25-centavo coins through an export processing zone.

Another shipment of one-peso coins worth P971,000 was interdicted in February this year and another smuggled shipment was intercepted in May involving about P400,000 worth of coins.

The latest shipment to be apprehended was estimated to have a face value of P3 million and BSP investigators said the coins were still packed in bags identifying the banks that released them.

The investigator said the operators were foreign nationals, most of whom were businessmen with bank accounts in Philippine banks and some of whom had legitimate businesses.

I may not get rich but I think I will hold on to my little cache of one-peso coins.




Please checkout my book on Shakespir:

Filipina Dream Girls – The Ten Immutable Laws of Poon


The women of the Philippines – Filipinas – are the 8th Wonder of the World. They are beautiful, they are sexy, and they will always make a man feel like a king. Brett Huffman, an IT engineer for a large call center company, found this out when he was sent to the Philippines to repair a call center in Manila. After he finished the job, he spent the next three weeks traveling around the Philippines and enjoying the tourist sights – and the girls. Brett tries to live by what he calls “Brett’s 10 Laws of Poon,” his guide for successfully navigating through relationships. His first serious relationship was with a beautiful blonde from Los Angeles. Like many relationships, it started off great but soon Brett found out that Julie had problems, serious problems. They stayed together too long – Brett just couldn’t give up the amazing sex.

But the day came when he realized it had to end. The end, though, did not come easy. She stalked him and embarrassed him into meeting him one more time “just to talk.” Julie tried every sexual trick in the book to win Brett back and, even though he gave in briefly, he was able to successfully break it off his time. Soon, Brett was off to the Philippines to do a repair job in the sprawling capital of Manila. The job was simple and Brett was able to finish up in one day. Now he had to decide whether to return to Los Angeles or to start his three-week vacation from Manila. After a rollicking night in Manila, he had no question about his vacation – he would spend the next three weeks exploring and sampling the sexual delights of this tropical paradise.

Brett travels to the sex capital of the country, Angeles City and meets and beds some of the hottest girls around. Then its on to the beaches of Subic Bay and the nightlife there. All in all, when Brett is ready to leave, it is with no regrets, great memories and the knowledge that he would be back. Come take a trip through these tropical islands with him, and let him show you the Philippines and Filipinas. This is a very explicit story with all participants in any sexual act over 18.




Postcards From The Philippines

Sprawling across several sun-drenched latitudes lies the 7,100 islands of the Philippines whose personality bursts at every natural seam. This most westernized nation in Asia owes much of its character to its turbulent, multicultural, and multilingual history and the Filipinos have maintained their low-key naturally friendly approach to life. This collection of short essays, written over a 2 year period and ublished in various magazines, aims to provide information and opinions about the Philippines from a variety of angles, with no chirpy promises about how you'll travel around the islands for free, and no sugar-coated advice followed by lots of exclamation points. I believe that the Philippine is one of the best kept secrets in the world.After you read this book, I think you will agree.

  • ISBN: 9781370399734
  • Author: Mark Nelson
  • Published: 2016-10-03 13:20:09
  • Words: 25287
Postcards From The Philippines Postcards From The Philippines