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ONLY HOURS after President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo declared an autarchic ceasefire for the Holiday Season, the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) staged again a daring ambush in Palawan that killed three elements of the Philippines Marines Corms (PMC) under the Marine Battalion Landing Team 9 (MBLT).

Western Command (WESCOM) commander Commodore Ruperto C. Borromeo in a phone interview said the Marines were ambushed by communist guerillas on the morning (around 7:30 a.m.) of December 16 at a rural community called Binga in the municipality of San Vicente in northern Palawan.

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The body of one of the three dead Marines is loaded in a PAF rescue helicopter to be brought to Puerto Princesa.

Apparently, the Marines were on their way to get food and other supplies from a nearby marketplace.

In a media conference called immediately at the WESCOM, the military said the ambush group was composed of 20 heavily-armed rebels led by wanted CPP-NPA leader Gilbert Silagan.

The three Marines were reportedly wearing civilian clothes and were unarmed when they were waylaid by the CPP-NPA.

Last September, an ambush also staged by the leftist group at Sitio Double Line, Barangay Ibangley, Taytay killed two innocent children and PO2 Saturnino Lazo. Since the incident, the WESCOM has been on a vigorous campaign to arrest Silagan and a woman rebel who goes by the alias Alma Moreno.

Advertisements were placed by WESCOM in weekly newspapers in the province for any information leading to their arrests. A bounty was offered too to anyone who can give information regarding their whereabouts.

In Manila, a story from the Philippine News Agency (PNA) said Navy spokesman Lt. Col. Ariel Caculitan disclosed that because of the incident, they have instructed all troops in the country “not to be complacent with their security despite a ceasefire that’s in effect.”

He was quoted in saying that the CPP-NPA did not reciprocate the good gesture of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) which is supposed to be for the spirit of Christmas.

Caculitan said the rebels “should have exercised restraint in attacking the soldiers, noting that they were in civilian clothes and unarmed.

Meanwhile, Commodore Ruperto Rico C. Borromeo, commander of the Western Command, said they will be more vigilant against the CPP-NPA in Palawan following what happened.

On December 26, the CPP-NPA is celebrating its 39th founding anniversary. It is not clear if the ambush was a prelude to its celebration.

Manhunt operations have already been ordered to look for the armed rebels who staged the ambush, WESCOM said. (see http://thepalawantimes.wordpress.com/)

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DON’T PLAY WITH FIRE: A little boy lights up a candle in front of a dead relative’s grave at the expanded old cemetery on November 1.

IT WAS Wola, my dog, who woke me up with his wet muzzle this morning so I can go to the cemetery early to visit my dead relatives. I really hate it when he wakes me up with all his doggy saliva on my left cheek. But I love Wola because he’s not like any ordinary dog. He’s so special, he knows the right time of day to rouse me from sleep.

The sun’s high up when I went down Valencia Street towards the direction of Parola (now Navy Tide Pole) where the Old City Cemetery is located. I thought it’s a bit in a hurry too like the people who have started showing up at quarter to 7 a.m., bringing flowers and candles for loved ones who had passed away.

I opted to go to the cemetery early so I won’t get myself caught in traffic. I know that the moment the clock hits 8 a.m., it would be difficult to move out of there.

I parked Leonardo several manageable meters away from the old cemetery. If I was early, the policemen and the traffic enforcers were way there earlier. Food snacks, flower and candle sellers were also ahead of time to set up their stalls.

Not so long ago, people can still park near the cemetery just outside its perimeter walls. Walking wasn’t a hassle unlike today. It’s like self-administered punishment, very early for next year’s Holy Week. I believe that’s called “self-flagellation,” especially if you’re bringing flowers and your whole kitchen (Filipinos love to bring food when visiting) to spend a day with dead relatives. I was happy it’s my mom who’d be bringing the flowers.

Maybe my grandmother and my grandfather (lola Santi and lolo Mauricio) and the rest would understand why I didn’t buy them flowers this year. Last year, I brought them mums and roses bought from a friend, but I heard that as soon as nighttime came, there were people who were not restrained by moral or ethical principles who stole and resold them next morning. Weird business, I don’t know if they didn’t feel guilt earning from dead people’s flowers.

Since 1998, I’ve acquired this feeling of being lazy going to the old cemetery on November 1 to visit them. I go the next day instead, November 2. Sorry, but that’s the feeling you get when you feel spaces there shrinking because some people just bury their dead anywhere. You actually needed to step on another dead person’s grave just to get to where you wanted to go. It never entered my mind to find a baby’s grave right in front of my lolo and lola’s burial places, it’s pathway! Everyone’s passing there and they’re stepping on little poor her.

Old people say it’s bad to step on graves because the dead owners get mad since they’re being disturbed in the after life. Although I don’t believe in it (I’m a Christian), I still think they deserve respect. But sometimes, people can’t avoid doing that – especially if they have no choice.

The management of the old cemetery shouldn’t have allowed it. It was like getting inside a giant maze; each move doesn’t bring you anywhere unless you face a challenging risk — stepping on dead people. There’s a regulation about this, I’m not sure why it’s not implemented.

Sure, we’re not supposed to complain because it’s a public cemetery. But it wasn’t like that before. It was orderly like a private one and you don’t feel guilty because you don’t disrespect anyone stepping on their graves. How could you get mad and demand that they take out that little girl’s burial place out of the pathway? No one’s visiting her, who are you going to talk to?

The old cemetery has expanded several square meters wide on both sides (Circumferential Road and down Petron depot) to accommodate more… ahm… dead people. In front of it, in what used to be a salt farm, Loyola Memorial Park is building a high-end cemetery. I wish I’m rich enough so I can transfer lolo, lola, Tita Virgie, Tita Emma, Lois, Rommel and Uncle Big there so they’ll have beautiful gardens surrounding them and a serene view of Puerto Princesa Bay.

Day of the Dead… I wish dead people would visit those in charge of the cemetery so they’ll do their work right and not allow burials on pathways. They need their relatives too to visit them and remember happy moments when they were still alive.

If it’s so difficult to get to them, only a few would get the interest to visit. I felt that feeling, and it was disgusting. I love them and it’s frustrating to be in a situation where you can’t get to where they are given pathway blocks like little babies’ graves, and it’s not even their fault. It wouldn’t be half their parents’ fault too if they were not allowed in the first place.

I miss lola and Uncle Big so much…

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I’M NOT sure if my mother’s sad that she didn’t make it anymore as councilor here in Barangay Princesa where we live. She’s No. 8 in today’s Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan election result, but the councilors needed are only seven.

After dinner at Neva‘s with Malou, we went to Puerto Princesa Pilot Elementary School (my elementary school) to check how her votes were doing. We haven’t reached the door of any precinct yet when Michelle, a relative of my aunt who’s running for barangay chairman, came and told me the news about mommy. Aunt Neneng made it, but mommy didn’t.

I honestly didn’t see my reaction, it was dark (hahaha!). Actually, it was even funny because it was Malou who went inside to check the tally sheets. I just stayed outside to talk to my cousin Limbo (candidate for councilor also, and yes, it’s a family affair!) and to congratulate him on his victory. Apparently, he’s No. 1 in the list of winners.

From pilot, I went home with only one tremendously large thing in mind — cheer up my mom in case she’s unhappy. To my surprise, she’s smiling and talking to my father, telling him that it’s okay and that finally, she can concentrate at home. I had to laugh at that. It turned out my father’s more upset. Weird!

We joked that it was him who should have ran since he’s the one pretty keen that mommy should win.

I felt a bit guilty too because I didn’t help my mother campaign so much. Five years ago, when she informed us that she had been convinced to join Manang Estring’s (God bless her soul) ticket, I was the one very opposed to her candidacy. I wish I can count how many times I’ve argued with her not to join, discouraging her that politics (even at the barangay level) isn’t where she would want to be because it’s often an eccentric realm.

Mommy’s never a politician; not even at home. In the house, she says what she wants to say; speaks her mind frankly believing there’s goodness in expressing true feelings and opinions. I agree, but maybe not when you’re a politician. There’s that unwritten rule that even if you can, people get hurt easily — are sensitive when what you honestly tell them is for their own good.

Even if it’s killing you, you have to be all nice and accommodating. If you don’t, they’ll take it out on you the next time they get the chance. This is probably one of the reasons why “vote buying” has been conceived — so that when certain politicians embarrass you, when election comes and you’ve decided you don’t want to vote for them anymore, you still would because they have Ninoy in all his “pangalumbaba” glory to hand you to change your mind.

But am not saying that the reason why my mother lost in today’s election is because she’s that “frank.” It’s my justification why I was opposed to her running for councilor five years ago.

Talks (or should I say gossips?) circulating after this early evening’s counting informed her that she didn’t win anymore because some of our ehem relatives (I can only cough) withdrew support from her at the last minute because they’re mad at my aunt. In political parlance, that means they “laglag” her.

Some of our relatives supported Manong Edwin, my Aunt Neneng’s rival. So maybe they did “laglag” my mother, but she’s not affected — we’re not affected. Di ba nga, politics can divide even the strongest of families? If she’ll allow gossips to rule over her good judgment, then she’ll feel bad and she’d take it out on them. Better not be affected.

My aunt won by a small margin. Nonetheless, she won, and that’s what’s important. Not why she lost. What’s notable too is that the election went well without major glitches.

Despite the fact that I had to bite my tongue really hard this afternoon inside precinct #122A in order not to get annoyed because ballots and voter’s list were insanely delayed, and election inspectors were terribly slow, I’m pleased that we won’t have awful front page stories about the election next issue.

I’m opposed to my mom being a barangay councilor, yes. However, I still want to raise my coffee mug to her for I know she did a good job. It’s not winning or losing that matters, it’s what she’ll leave behind that would. Cheers, mom!

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I SHOULD be writing Cebu Interlude, Day 2 as a follow up to my Cebu Interlude, Day 1. However, I’m taking a pause to give way to what I want to say to a newfound friend in Naga, Bicol Province who has become special to me in many, many ways than one — M.B. whose trust was broken.

Ending a friendship on purpose isn’t common, but it’s necessary. Drifting apart happens even when you were once close friends: people move, life circumstances change, priorities are shifted, jobs lost or found… individually, we all change, and friendship changes too. Sometimes you lose touch and move on. Other times you decide to say goodbye and cut off all contact because friends have destroyed your confidence in them.

Whether it’s deliberate or a matter of drifting away, letting go wasn’t made to be easy. It’s always hard to do.

Some friendships are fundamentally weaker than others, such as those that are not based on likenesses or honest connections. They do not last very long, especially if the reasons for friendship are not genuine. Trust is one thing that keeps friendships afloat. When it’s not present, or if it’s broken, nothing is there for friendship to hang on to.

A few years ago, I’ve also cut off all contact with at least three friends whom I thought I can trust and were good. I didn’t feel respected when I was around them because I couldn’t speak my mind and can’t find space in our conversations to say anything at all. A friend should leave you feeling happy, content, connected and hopeful. But when I was with them, I always come out feeling depressed, frustrated, exhausted, depleted or angry. Who wants to be that kind of person?

Like what you’ve experienced, they broke my trust too. I thought I could tolerate them along the way, but I’m only human, my capacities have limits. They’ve scathed my emotions badly, I can’t just sit there and take everything doing nothing.

In the beginning, it was sad — especially because I’ve grown accustomed to their presence in my life. There was a time I thought I could never do things without them. That I can never be whole without their support. I thought they’re the wind beneath my wings, instead they broke my flight. Why else would I remain friends with them?

My heart and my mind are one in believing that all relationships are fragile alliances. That’s why they’re built on trust, faith and common understanding. A small error of judgment, a dent in the links of trust can bring everything crumbling down. Nobody should even begin any idea of friendship if she/he is not prepared to give these three requisites: TRUST, FAITH AND UNDERSTANDING.

When friendship brings more harm than good, it’s better to end it. Despite predictable consequences — one is you’ll grieve and feel pain fully (like I did, you’re not alone there) — it’s perfectly fine to choose goodbye. Take time to mourn over your loss. Cry, dig a hole on the ground and shout, hit the pillow (not the person), play rock music at its loudest possible, curse (not within hearing distance of anyone) — do whatever it takes to get all rage and sadness out of your system. Let it all out so that you can move on from these destructive feelings, and for you not to harbor negativity that you might continue to carry if you do not release the bad feelings.

Afterwards, move on. Enhance the remaining relationships you have with your other friends and build new ones. Time and again, in every ending, there is a new beginning. Life never runs out of people whom we can become good and trusting friends with.

I’m maybe in Palawan, but I’m here for you.

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NO MORE SUGAR: Carlo and Rogie with me at the Philippine Taoist Temple, Cebu on October 13, 2007.

IT WAS bright and sunny when Emilyn and I landed at the Mactan International Airport with a loud thud. That was October 9, Tuesday, I thought the tires of the plane would be separated from where they’re attached. Cebu Pacific pilots really land their planes like roaring taxis in EDSA. I was caught unaware, the feeling’s so intimidating.

But I was excited too. Not only is Cebu a dream place, it’s also where my brother Carlo lives now. I miss him so much so a meeting with him and his girlfriend Rogie is possible as soon as we’re all free from our own busy schedules. He’s assigned in Boljoon — strange name, I don’t know where that is exactly in Cebu.

From the international airport, Emilyn and I, and another friend, Maj. Junios Fernandez, hailed a taxi to look for Subang Dako where Singson Village is located. It’s where we will live for a couple of nights before we decide to transfer to a hotel. That is if we want to.

Subang Dako means “big river” in Cebuano. I thought it’s funny because “suba” also means river in Cuyunon, the ethnic language my family speaks. Sounds familiar, I told myself grinning. The only difference is that “big” or “dako” is “mabael” in Cuyunon. Subang Dako would be “mabael na suba” to us.

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Mactan Cross is in that building behind me.

We found Subang Dako a little over 1 p.m., Emilyn and I were so hungry but we didn’t want to disturb the owner of the house anymore by preparing late lunch for us. We told them we’d go to SM City and look for something warm and soupy. She and I just had mooncake all the way from Puerto Princesa, it wasn’t enough. Too bad Cebu Pacific is no longer serving free lunch or snacks.

We’re in Cebu because we’re attending the 59th JCI Philippines National Convention hosted by JCI Cebu, Inc., an all male local organization management. It will begin tomorrow, October 10, to October 14. October is always the time of the year when all members of the Junior Chamber meet. If I’m not mistaken, there’ll be over a thousand attending, and we’re excited to meet some of them, especially those that have become our sister LOMs.

At SM City, Emilyn ordered fish stuffed with eggs and tomatoes inside its belly from Island Grill. No, fish for me. I’ve been eating fish at home all the time because my father is not allowed to eat meat. I ordered for grilled liempo and requested for a manageable bowl of tinola. Major Fernandez ordered fish too, but it’s not dry. It has this pancit-like noodles that grow in the ocean.

I couldn’t eat grilled liempo without vinegar with a bit of patis (fish sauce) and garlic so I went back to Island Grill and requested its female food server for it. She entered a door to the kitchen, and when she got back she handed me soy sauce (toyo made of soya beans). Then I was struck by the thought of what my brother told me before. When in Cebu, patis is toyo. If you want it, you’d better ask for Rufina. Geez…

From the SM City food court, Emilyn and I lingered for a while just watching the scene inside the mall’s shopping area. No time to shop. Besides, we’re on a tight budget. But we did check out some iPOD models and mp3 players, telling ourselves we’ll buy one if we have extra money.

Major Fernandez had gone ahead of us to the pier where he would be boarding a vessel that would take him to Leyte to celebrate his father’s birthday with his family. The boat would leave at 5 p.m. His father was just hospitalized a few weeks before he left. Now that he’s well, my friend thought it would be better to spend time with him. I agree.

Since it’s still pretty early, just past 4 p.m., Emilyn and I decided to go up and see what movie’s showing. We saw Brave One starring Jodie Foster, one of my favorite actresses, and I thought we shouldn’t miss the chance.

The movie’s about the story of a woman who was seriously hurt in a mugging incident in New York. Her boyfriend was killed by the muggers when he tried to stop them from harassing her. A radio talk show host, Jodie’s character tried to go to the police so they can look for her boyfriend’s killer who also stole their dog. But the police station was so busy she decided to take matters into her own hand. She bought a gun illegally and started saving victims just like a vigilante.

There’s a black guy character whose an investigation officer, who, if not because he respects the law, would also like to avenge the death of a mother of a little girl. Jodie killed that guy. The movie has twists and turns that were all exciting until the end. If I give all, no one might see it. All I can say is it’s three thumbs up!

From the movie house, Emilyn and I went to Starbucks to wait for the Cebu afternoon fade slowly into nighttime. Cebu glitters like Manila as a big city. I think I like Cebu better because I feel safe in the place. I’m not intimidated by taxis like in Manila.

They said that in the Philippines there are many poor people. If you’re in Cebu, you won’t think that because it seems that they’re all in the malls. You see them eating, shopping, playing in the arcades, etcetera.

At about 10 p.m., we went home already to Subang Dako. It’s another day, and it’s not bad at all. Not bad at all to start a week in Cebu.

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