Things I learned about love (thanks to a medical mission)

The United Catanduanes San Diego (UCSD) and Friends is a nonprofit charitable group based in San Diego with partners, members, and avid supporters from different parts of the USA and the Philippines. Founded by Virac-born Dr. Oscar Enriquez, UCSD organizes and conducts medical and humanitarian missions to benefit remote areas of Catanduanes. Dr. Enriquez is an internal medicine specialist in the USA and owner of Standard Medical Clinic in Port Arthur, Texas. Aside from his great strides at UCSD, the benevolent doctor also unfailingly donates to other projects that reach out to the needy in Cagayan de Oro City and Bukidnon. 

For its outreach program in Catanduanes, which is traditionally held in the love month of February, the group has appended “Gift of Love” to its mission title.  I had the chance to volunteer in this year’s program and although I was not able to participate in all its activities, yet on those days that I did during the week-long run from February 13 to 17, I realized that the organizers couldn’t have chosen a better tag line.

Here’s sharing how I see UCSD expressing love in the context of charity, compassion, and sharing one’s blessings with the less fortunate.   

Love is contagious

Through the years, UCSD has widened its influence to include not only the family members, friends, and colleagues of Dr. Enriquez, but also his American patients. With his compelling charm, Dr. Enriquez does not have to try hard to win support from others. The group enjoys the backing of generous sponsors including Dr. Murlidhar Amin, a cardiologist from Texas; Bob Spencer and The Rotary Club of Greater Chino Hills; Waraynon Initiative Network; and friends from all over the USA. In Catanduanes, it has strong partnerships with the Diocese of Virac, medical professional groups, local government units, and the youth sector.

Other members are just as dedicated and committed, and with the circle of friends expanding, the act of contributing to a worthy cause does not need a hard sell. Love grows and glows. UCSD has got it made.

Love is persevering

UCSD medical missions operate on a three-year cycle, with the first two years dedicated to fundraising, procuring medicines, medical supplies, various essentials, and sending those goods in batches to the Philippines. The storage, sorting, packing, and related logistics including overall planning and transportation services are handled by facilitators in Catanduanes. Religious groups and local health units are instrumental in qualifying needy recipients and preparation of venues. Even before the actual start of the mission on the third year, arduous work, coordination, and mobilization had been at play in pursuing its objectives.

Love transcends all barriers

Torrential rains notwithstanding, the Gift of Love medical mission went on in several places on the island.

Catanduanes is composed of 11 municipalities, with the farthest point up north entailing more than two hours drive from the provincial capital Virac. Similar missions in the past were conducted solely in the capital town. During the onset of the pandemic three years ago, UCSD had to resort to a different strategy to reach out to all the municipalities, leaving no one behind. The same operational plan was followed this year, with teams starting out early morning to their designated activity centers. The rainy weather at this time of year on this island facing the Pacific Ocean posed some challenges on the road and on mission sites, but these did not dampen the enthusiasm of the dedicated team workers.

Love knows no age

Tio Miniong Enriquez manning the Optometry Services section.

I am no spring chicken and at times I had doubts if I could sustain the energy to go about the required tasks during the long hours. Seeing 83-year-old Tio Miniong (Herminio) Enriquez, a retired accountant, ably assisting at the Optical Services section, promptly eased my apprehensions. Nonagenarian Tio Guimoy (Guillermo) Lizaso and his wife Nelly, still sprightly despite the years, flew in from California to do their part for the mission; they are generous donors and constant supporters of UCSD.  My takeaway: When the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, think love. It works like an elixir.

Love is never perfect

Despite earnest planning and preparation, some glitches are inevitable. In one such case, one team ran short of medicines and other supplies. The closest team had to travel to the affected site for the required reinforcement. In another case, one group just got swamped with more help seekers than they could handle. The opposite scenario of having too few cases to attend to at one barangay, called for a regrouping of manpower. All these served as lessons to be considered in future missions.

Love is a commitment

The mission ended last February 17 and many of the Gift of Love advocates have flown back to the USA. Their local counterparts have sprung back from that gruelling week. Overall, around 4,000 Catandunganon residents of 60 barangays in all 11 towns benefited from the mission. The health concerns of many women and children were given due attention. Thousands of residents received free consultations and prescribed medications, dental services, food packs, hygiene kits and reading glasses, among others. The same services were extended to some Persons Deprived of Liberty (PDLs) at the Virac District Jail.

But for this group, the end of one mission marks the start of the next one. The reboot is on. Soon, UCSD will be spearheading new awareness and fundraising initiatives through its various partnerships.

And the love cycle continues.


Love, actually

February 14, 2023. Valentine’s Day.

Heart images, roses, love symbols everywhere. You know, everything that shouts out LOVE – of the romantic type, that is.

Where I chose to be and how I spent this day speaks of another type of love. I am referring to ‘agape’ which, in contrast to romantic love, extends to the love between God and men and therefore reflects one’s love of his fellow men. This is manifested in acts of charity, compassion, and unselfish love for others. Agape, without question, is the highest form of love.

I take this to be the most apt term for what the United Catanduanes San Diego (UCSD) and Friends, has adopted as its reason for being. UCSD is a nonprofit charitable group that organizes medical and humanitarian missions to benefit the remote areas of Catanduanes.

For five days starting February 13 this year, this group composed of US-based professionals with roots from Catanduanes, volunteers from the island province and other places, and a host of other kindred souls, gathered and organized themselves into teams to fulfill the mission of sharing the Gift of Love to all 11 municipalities of Catanduanes.

Underserved barangays outside of the población were designated as activity centers taking into account their accessibility to other nearby barrios. In close coordination with mission churches and local parishes, beneficiaries were pre-selected based on their needs, to ensure a faster and more efficient flow of activities.

Day 2, with the Sicmil team

The second day of the mission brought us to Sicmil, a barangay in the municipality of Gigmoto, while another team was posted in Mayngaway in San Andres. Getting to Sicmil from the provincial capital of Virac takes about two hours through winding roads that provide a view of rolling hills, verdant mountains, and beaches. UCSD president Dr. Oscar Enriquez, regards the travel route as something similar to Maui in Hawaii; but he quickly qualifies that the Catanduanes version is even better and more scenic. He fondly refers to the place as “his Maui.”

The UCSD mission stop in Sicmil shows the extent of preparation, attention to details, and coordination among different groups that went into the final implementation of a long and exhaustive process. It mirrors how similar teams assigned to different barangays would go about their activities for an entire day.

Pre-listed beneficiaries are given priority numbers and referred to proper section.

Patients are triaged and checked for vital signs.

Medical consultants evaluate cases and make recommendations;

patients are then sent to pharmacy services for available OTC medicines.

Volunteer dentists perform appropriate dental procedures.

Women/expectant mothers are referred to the OB-GYN section for reproductive concerns.

The Pediatrics section provides consultation and OTC medicines for children.

Optometric Services handle requests for reading glasses.

Gift packs consisting of hygiene kits, rice, slippers, and other essentials await both seniors and children.

Hot soup and sweet treats are provided for all.

OTC medicines are dispensed by licensed practitioners.

Personal Sidelights

My memories of the 2023 UCSD-Sicmil stop will always include meeting Esmeraldo Tawat, a 93-year-old resident of Tinago (some six kilometers away from Sicmil). Tang Esmeng, despite his age, is remarkably sharp; he remembers the month, day, year – and even the time of his birth! He was there to get some help regarding his vision problems. With him are some of his  children and grandchildren – three generations of a family that received gifts of love from UCSD.

Some beneficiaries who got to experience being served by the medical mission for the first time approached me to express their appreciation and thanks for the goods and services they received during the day. Amused by being addressed as ‘doctora,’ (perhaps owing to the white vest I was wearing that had the UCSD logo) I had to explain that I was a mere cog in the wheel and that appreciation should be accorded to those people who dedicated so much time, effort, resources, and love to bring the project to reality.

Lourdes Peňola, a middle-aged mom, promptly replied, “Diit man na tabang o dacula, ga-pasalamat ako sa tabang ninyo sa samuyang mga nanga-ipo.” Her words, spoken in the local dialect, pulled at my heartstrings. She said that help, whether big or small when extended to the needy, is something to be thankful for.

Standing close to her was her sister, another housewife with her youngest child in tow. She had this to say: “Ang pasalamat ko sa Diyos buda sa tabang kang mga tawong pareho ninyo.” (My thanks go to God and to the help of people like you.)

The validation sounded so good and inspiring.

Hope to experience this again in 2026.

133 years ago today

(Originally posted under Facebook Notes on August 19, 2011. Today is the 144th birth anniversary of Manuel Luis Quezon, first President of the Philippine Commonwealth).

Kaunting bato, kaunting semento – monumento. Who hasn’t heard of this playful saying before? But for truly great men and women, cement and pebbles just won’t make the grade. The Quezon Monument at the historic Perez Park in Lucena consisting of a larger-than-life size bronze statue standing on marble base is one beautiful symbol of greatness, not only of the person being honored, but also of the little-known heroes who helped shape the structure.

The statue was built out of one-centavo bronze coins donated by young school children all over Quezon Province. The collected coins were sent to Italy where they were melted and molded into its current form by an Italian sculptor. Conceived in 1950, the monument was finally erected in 1954 at the expansive Perez Park, a popular historical destination in Lucena. A marble wall inscribed with President Quezon’s “Message to My People” serves as a perfect backdrop.

The full text of the message follows.

Message to My People

My fellow citizens: there is one thought I want you always to bear in mind. And that is: that you are Filipinos. That the Philippines is your country, and the only country God has given you. That you must keep it for yourselves, for your children, and for your children’s children, until the world is no more. You must live for it, and die for it, if necessary.

Your country is a great country. It has a great past, and a great future. The Philippines of yesterday is consecrated by the sacrifices of lives and treasure of your patriots, martyrs, and soldiers. The Philippines of today is honored by the wholehearted devotion to its cause of unselfish and courageous statesmen. The Philippines of tomorrow will be the country of plenty, of happiness, and of freedom. A Philippines with her head raised in the midst of the West Pacific, mistress of her own destiny, holding in her hand the torch of freedom and democracy. A republic of virtuous and righteous men and women all working together for a better world than the one we have at present.

                                                                                            –   Manuel L. Quezon*

*born August 19, 1878

Have a CAREWELL Christmas!

Christmas is about showing how much you care. It’s about sharing and giving gifts to celebrate your special bond with your loved ones, dear friends, and trusted associates.

This coming Christmas, allow one group known for ‘caring well’ to help spread Love and Hope – the most precious gifts ever!

Carewell (short for the Cancer Resource and Wellness Community) is a nonprofit foundation that provides support, education, and HOPE to persons with cancer. Members participate in support group meetings, informative talks, counseling, and various wellness activities – all free of charge. For over 15 years, Carewell incorporators, sponsors, volunteer healthcare professionals, office staff, and members have committed themselves to the mission of managing the challenges of cancer through holistic means. Despite the pandemic, Carewell continues to provide its activities via the virtual platform.

In its latest fundraising campaign, Carewell invites friends and supporters to help in its mission through donations in exchange for gift packages as described below.

Please consider this opportunity to help Carewell while expressing the true meaning of Christmas – making others happy – as we celebrate another season of Love.

To express your support, kindly fill out this form.

You may click here to know more about Carewell and its wellness advocacy.

‘Onwards and Upwards’ virtual event streams on August 21

What if, for a few hours, you are given a chance to leave behind uncertain and distressing thoughts and make room for fresh and creative concepts? All you need to do is watch, listen, and allow yourself to be fascinated by a group of multitalented high-achievers from across several disciplines, who will discuss topics of interest to the youth.

As it is, luck is on your side because TEDxYouth@Fitzrovia led by Nicola Allen, a student at King’s College in London, will independently host a virtual event on 21st of August 2021 allowing young people like her to participate in great conversations revolving around the theme “Onwards and Upwards.” It will livestream from 10:30 am to 2:30 pm BST in London, and from 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm PHT Manila.

A senior panel of experts who draw inspiration from London’s cultural diversity and vast capacity for innovation will lead the discussions with topics ranging from filmmaking for social causes, communication coaching, business and professional ethics, and space architecture or the inevitable colonization of the planet Mars!

The carefully curated panel of speakers is an impressive composite of experts in their respective fields.

Here’s a quick view of the speakers and their chosen topics.

To know why they are uniquely qualified to speak on those subjects, check out their career backgrounds here.

The event is open to the public, but registration will be open only up to August 14.

Click here to get your tickets now at Eventbrite.


A personal note about lead organizer Nicola Allen:

In the TEDxYouth@Fitzrovia web page, Nikki describes herself as an Activist, Brainstormer, Explorer, Performer, Student.

Well, she is all that and a lot more! Find out about her long list of other interests in this 2018 post. And, I might run the risk of being disowned 😊 if I fail to mention that she is the daughter of my friends Marites Allen, an international feng shui master, and Nicholas Allen, a British international executive. Nikki has three other siblings: Kirck, Kevin, and Shannen, who are all high-performers in their own rights.

Something to moo about in the Year of the Ox

(Banner image source: Vecteezy)

The Chinese New Year starts on Friday, February 12. As we may all know, each lunar year is associated with a zodiac animal, and 2021 is designated as the Year of the Ox. Based on the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac, this year’s Ox sign is also linked with the Metal element; thus, 2021 is specifically the Year of the Metal Ox.

In Chinese culture, the Ox is considered a power symbol, and an Ox year is usually seen as a more hopeful year. Just like the Gregorian New Year, the equivalent Chinese celebration should be the perfect time for us to rewire our thoughts and life intentions based on what we have learned from the previous year.

How may the Metal Ox help us pull through in uncertain times?

Chinese people associate each animal sign with certain characteristics. Those born in the year of the Ox are generally known to be traditional and conservative. They may be slow to act but are very persistent and hardworking, such that once they have made certain decisions, they will hammer away despite difficulties. And given their unquestionable will power, they may be expected to almost always achieve their goals.

The Metal Ox, in particular, oozes with confidence and is strong-willed. This Ox is quite frank and may not always care about what others think or feel. But one good thing about this Ox type is that they will always deliver on what they promise to others. Although not very social in nature, they keep a circle of loyal friends who are always ready to help during difficult times. The metal element represents firmness, resistance, and clear thoughts. In relation to human nature, this symbolizes inner strength and discipline.

The Ox is also associated with the Yin energy, generally associated with feminine attributes, nurturing of family, and compassionate towards those in need. This trait will be very helpful in times when we have to rebuild emotional and spiritual strength during difficult times.

In whatever way we decide to navigate the Year of the Metal Ox, may we be inspired by the winning characteristics of its ruling animal:

  • Focused and Determined — with a clear vision of the things that are really important to us and to achieve them given the resources available without doing harm to anyone.
  • Stable and Persistent in executing our plans of action even when things seem impossible to overcome; and whenever difficulties arise, keeping faith that they will be resolved through hard work — and at times, with the help of family and true friends.
  • And most importantly, by being Compassionate. This mindset is grounded in the principle of seeing beyond our personal needs — and perhaps placing the good of others, if not on equal terms, even higher than our own. This caring for others could be seen in many forms during the past year, and if maintained even after the pandemic, could be a true agent of change. It is, perhaps, the most critical factor in the reprogramming we need for the years ahead.

It is believed that people born in a given year have the personality of that year’s animal. That should sound good for Ox-born people (like me 😊).

Let us take to heart the ideal attributes of this zodiac animal — Focused, Determined, and Compassionate. We may have different personalities and life pursuits. But it may not be such a stretch to believe that there’s a bit of an Ox in each one of us.

Happy Lunar New Year!


Where the sky meets earth – yes, the horizon – is a whimsical space. It evokes varying perspectives, depending on the viewer’s mindset and how he looks at what’s before his eyes.

“On the Horizon,” the first exhibit hosted by the Ocular Gallery, sets the stage for a vibrant mix of young, emerging, and established Filipino visual artists, where each one reveals his or her personal experiences with, and affection (or lack of it) for certain objects or events affecting our physical, social, and political milieu.

Expect to see varying and unique aesthetics in this maiden event curated by young art enthusiasts. The exhibit will run until November 10, 2020 at the Ocular Gallery, #240 Aguirre Ave., BF Homes Paraňaque City.

Some of the Featured Artists and their Works:

Farley del Rosario is a young contemporary artist known for his faux naïf style that exudes childlike simplicity and frankness. He has been commissioned to do cover illustrations for prestigious publications and many children’s books that have been nominated for special awards. He was named one of Nokia’s 10 Most Exciting Young Artists in 2009. Now based in Olongapo, he was instrumental in the launching of PICASO (Pro-Community Initiatives of Concerned Artists in Subic (Bay) and Olongapo). The group is involved in uplifting the local arts and culture through meaningful advocacy, such as livelihood, conservation, and community development projects.

Archie Oclos knows whereof he paints. Many of his large-scale works depict socio-political issues and the plight of farmers and indigenous people. Coming from a family of farmhands and fisherfolk and growing up in a working-class family in Catanduanes, he had seen the struggles of the underrepresented, facing issues such as land ownership and even fatal encounters with armed forces. He brings this truth to the public through street art — a free, very accessible, and very powerful medium. Archie has participated in a number of solo and group exhibitions over the last few years. He got his Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts in Painting from the University of the Philippines. He was a recipient of the 2018 Thirteen Artists Awards of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

The artist’s depiction of the sad plight of our farmers — that overworked and underpaid segment of our societyand local agriculture, in general.

Dex Fernandez is an artist who has successfully balanced both street and gallery art into producing socio-political mind trips. Through “Garapata,” a cartoon character inspired by a dog tick, he has showcased his art in street murals, stickers, and coffee bags – mixing deep and superficial views infused with his characteristic humor. He has participated in gallery exhibits not only in the Philippines, but also in Paris, Berlin, Taipei, and Hong Kong.

Anton Belardo, also known as Jellyfish Kisses, asserts herself as “trans” and “queer.” The self-affirming pronouncement also brings to light the numerous discriminatory issues faced by the LGBTQ community, which she represents. Creating art helped her fight depression as early as high school, with the full support of her father who indulged her interests, even for overtly girly things. Sadly, her father died when Anton was just 11.  On to adulthood, Anton felt the full impact of bullying, humiliation, and trauma related to her gender choice. Jellyfish Kisses has thus become her alter ego, to courageously project her inner self to the world – vulnerabilities and all — without fear of judgment.

View the rest of the featured artists and their works at

For inquiries, call +63 956 7625 793 or e-mail

I Went Loca in Gumaca

(NOTE: This is a throwback piece, originally posted under Facebook Notes, May 2011)

Until I got invited by the Quezon Tourism Office to join their San Isidro Festival Cultural Trail, I had always associated the May 15 celebration with just the Pahiyas in Lucban. But three more exciting harvest festivals on the same day? Of course I said yes in a heartbeat!

May 15th this year fell on a Sunday, so the humongous crowd was expected. Pahiyas in the morning didn’t disappoint with its dazzling colors and the aroma of longganisang Lucban. It would have been fun to experience Agawan Festival in Sariaya and grab at goodies hanging on bamboo branches called bagacays; but we had been there on the 13th for a walking tour of the ancestral houses and the Buri Products Fashion Show. The prospect of scuffling for suman at the Mayohan Festival in Tayabas had to be skipped; we spent the previous day there visiting many historic landmarks, including the awesome Malagonlong Bridge, the oldest stone bridge built in the province in 1840.

The Araña’t Baluarte in Gumaca more than made up for the missed Sariaya and Tayabas Festivals. The festival got its name from Spanish terms referring to the farm produce neatly arranged in chandeliers (arañas) that hang on bamboo arches (baluartes).

A typical arana set-up
A typical araña set-up

This year, the people of Gumaca put up 17 creatively decorated baluartes along selected streets as their usual way of thanking their patron saint San Isidro for a bountiful harvest. Earlier in the afternoon, we joined the pamasyalan, a leisurely walk through all the baluartes. Along the way, various groups offered fruits, drinks, and all sorts of native delicacies to the promenaders as part of their thanksgiving ritual. I sensed this was a prelude to something even more exciting.

Some of the good stuff that await promenaders during the Pamasyalan
Some of the good stuff that await promenaders during the Pamasyalan

All arañas are fair game during the festival. At around 4 pm, a procession passes by all the arches; once the image of San Isidro goes past, it is the signal that the crowd can jump, tug, and grab at whatever produce they fancy.  I couldn’t imagine myself joining the fray and I didn’t want to risk getting a serious bump from a 2-kilo squash falling on my head, so I was prepared to just watch and take pictures of the free-for-all.

Baluarte No. 16 before the agawan
Baluarte No. 16 before the agawan

And then someone made this PA: “Pakiusap lang po sa lahat, huwag na po sana kayo makipag-agawan sa baluarte 16. Ipaubaya na po natin ito sa mga bisita nating mga taga media. Yung mga barangay tanod po, paki-alalayan lang po ang mga bisita natin.”

Such a thoughtful gesture. But there was a problem.

Wala raw pong dalang lalagyan ang mga taga media. Mga barangay tanod, pakibigyan lang po sila ng mga sako.”

Before I could say OMG, sacks were passed around and someone handed me a huge plastic bag, the size used for a week’s worth of laundry.  From a distance, I could see the procession approaching and I almost missed a barangay tanod’s question. “Ma’am, ano po ang gusto ninyong kunin”?  “Maski ano,” I replied, but then my eyes fell on a nice walis tinting tied to a pole. Mamang BT saw that look on my face. “Ilan po gusto ninyo”? “Ay, isa lang,” I said. Mamang BT was not convinced and quickly bundled three walis tintings.

In the commotion, I didn’t notice who handed me a buri hat, and then another offered a flower fashioned from wood shavings. Cool! I posed for a picture with Kelly Bautista, Culture and the Arts Promotions Officer of the Provincial Tourism Office.

Clueless me with Kelly Bautista of the Quezon Tourism Office
Clueless me with Kelly Bautista of the Quezon Tourism Office

By this time, the image of San Isidro was just a few feet away. Heads were alternately looking up to mark their target harvests, and down to check the procession.

The image of San Isidro passing through Baluarte No. 16
The image of San Isidro Labrador passing through Baluarte No. 16

When the image finally went past our baluarte, mayhem broke loose. I decided to stay on the sides for fear of being crushed, but then things started to find their place into my plastic bag. Mamang BT threw in a big bunch of sitaw; a woman dropped an armful of suman, some student volunteers dunked in corn, then  tomatoes, eggplants, squash, more sitaw, bananas, sweet potatoes. I went crazy!

Shoot mo dito!
Shoot mo dito!

No, I got nervous! The bag was almost full and I figured I’d need at least five people to carry my loot. I begged my well-meaning friends to not add any more stuff. A woman tried to reassure me that things will be OK once the bag finds its way into the van.

Oh, my gulay! Masakit na ulo ko sa dami nito!
Oh, my gulay! Masakit na ulo ko sa dami nito!

But I just did what I had to do. To a young boy holding an empty sack, I gave as much sitaw and other veggies I could grab from the bag; soon his companions were asking for their share, so the eggplants and bananas had to go. An old woman asked for some tomatoes; but those tomatoes were so nice and plump…what the heck, good-bye salsa!

Mamang BT noticed the small crowd forming around me and promptly sealed my bag. “Tama na po, wala nang matitira sa bisita natin.” I checked my walis tintings. They’re still there. So I’m OK.

It’s been more than a week, but I still couldn’t help chuckling at this experience. It was such a blast!

And everything in that bag tasted good! Thank you, Gumaca. Thank you, Gillian and Kelly for the invitation. Thank you, San Isidro.

Hope you invite me again next year. I promise I’ll bring my own heavy-duty sack, and at least five able-bodied carriers.


When love is mightier than the COVID-19 threat

Dr. Oscar Enriquez is a US-based Filipino who perfectly embodies the expression “You can take a man out of the country, but you cannot take the country out of a man.”  He has settled in the US for half of his life, but won’t miss any chance to go back and help out the less fortunate in Catanduanes, his place of origin.

In December 2018, as president of the United Catanduanes San Diego (UCSD), a nonprofit charitable organization, he met with other concerned Catandunganons based in California, and proposed to organize an independent medical and humanitarian mission that will bring its services to the remote areas of Catanduanes. The project will be funded through sponsorships and donations from charitable groups and friends. It was targeted to be held in February 2020;  hence, the name “Gift of Love” Medical and Humanitarian Mission.

A Gift of Love from United Catanduanes San Diego and Friends (Photo by Rodolfo Go Alonte, UCSD)

Shortly after that meeting, the system was set in motion. Fundraising activities yielded overwhelming support from family and friends with roots from Catanduanes. Sponsorships were arranged with UCSD, Catanduanes Association USA, Texan Friends of Catanduanes, and the Waraynon Initiative Network. A gesture from UCSD supporters Rod and Rose Alonte was particularly heart-touching. The Alonte couple, who lost their daughter just before Thanksgiving, chose to graciously channel the bereavement cash donations into the mission.

Dolly Dalusong, a UCSD member from Los Angeles, connected with Isaiah’s Rock, a nonprofit Christian Ministry in Chino, California, which generously responded with boxes of T-shirts and toiletries. She personally sent the items in balikbayan boxes to Catanduanes months before the start of the mission.

The generated funds were used to procure medicines and various basic goods. Dr. Enriquez shares that “countless times we had to go to different discount stores to check what were on sale and send them to Catanduanes.” This went on for almost a year, until it was time for the US-based volunteers to fly to Manila.

And then, the unexpected happened.

A few days before the mission’s scheduled kickoff, a provincial memorandum was issued ‘momentarily’ suspending all foreign-assisted medical and humanitarian missions until proper health authorities declare the country free from the threats of COVID-19. Faced with the odds that all the time and resources they put into their first project might come to naught, Dr. Enriquez, was in total shock.

Fortunately, Msgr. Manolo de los Santos, Bishop of the Archdiocese of Virac, intervened in their favor. He allowed the group to use the different parishes in the province as distribution hubs for their non-medical “Gift of Love” packs filled with health kits, toiletries, school supplies, T-shirts, slippers, reading glasses, and other goods. In compliance with the memorandum, medicines and medical-related supplies were to be dropped at each town’s rural health unit (RHU) to avoid mass gatherings that could cause health risks.

Another divine stroke came in the form of support extended by the couple Manuel and Sonia Romero, who offered their warehouse as a repacking venue for the various goods. The couple also allowed their construction trucks to be used for mobilization during the mission.

The organizers and volunteers wasted no time in changing the distribution strategy to cover as much ground within their five-day mission. Day 1 was slotted for the capital town of Virac where they visited the provincial jail and entrusted to the jail warden personal hygiene kits meant for detainees awaiting trial. Their visit to an elementary school in this town, upon the request of the school principal, brought priceless smiles on the faces of children who were gifted with new backpacks, school supplies, and imported sweet treats.

All 11 municipal health offices, including this one in Virac, received several boxes of medicines and medical supplies. (Photo by Rodolfo Go Alonte, UCSD)
Priceless smiles from the benefactor and the recipients. UCSD president Dr. Oscar Enriquez with some of the children who got new knapsacks and school supplies. (Photo by Biet Pastor, UCSD)
They got new school bags, slippers, and chocolates, too. A young girl eagerly awaits her share of sweet treats from a volunteer. (Photo by Rodolfo Go Alonte, UCSD)

Day 2 brought the group to Gigmoto and Baras towns. In Baras, they combined logistics with the LGU’s “Konsulta sa Barangay” healthcare project initiated by Baras Mayor Paolo Teves and TGP Partylist Cong. Bong Teves Jr., where medicines and related supplies intended for this town were put to valuable use. In two fishing villages in Baras, families were visibly pleased with the timely assistance they received, which included staples such as rice and sugar. For several days, strong waves had prevented them from fishing and earning from their trade.

Working in tandem with the LGU-initiated “Konsulta sa Barangay” to render basic health services in Baras (Photo by Rodolfo Go Alonte, UCSD)

 Day 3 was set for Viga, Bagamanoc, and Panganiban towns. Day 4 covered Caramoran, Pandan, and San Andres. The last day of the humanitarian mission was spent in San Miguel and Bato. A grueling schedule that did not leave out any of the 11 municipalities —truly, a tough act to follow. Each town was given its share of material assistance in various forms. Even after the mission, boxes of medicines, school bags, health kits, including dental supplies that were not used, had to be stored for safekeeping and future use.

The coronavirus threat that presented itself at a most inopportune time turned out to be a catalyst for even better outcome. In similar undertakings in the past, people from far-flung barrios had to start out early, spend for their travel to the capital town, and wait in long lines before they would be attended to. The “Gift of Love” project enabled the resources to be delivered to them at the expense of the mission team. The RHUs, for some time after the mission, will have stocks of medicines at their disposal.

All told, hundreds of families benefited from the love and compassion shown by this group of Catandunganons who may have chosen to settle in the Land of Uncle Sam, but have no qualms about sharing their blessings with their kababayan.

The mission had its challenges. Lessons were learned. Yet, ultimately, the humane objective was met. The “Gift of Love” prevailed, because in most happy stories, love conquers all. It was a first for UCSD and Friends, but it certainly won’t be the last.

They love Catanduanes! Project organizers join local volunteers in a souvenir photo during the “Gift of Love” humanitarian mission. (Photo by Rodolfo Go Alonte, UCSD)

(Those who want to participate in the next Gift of Love Medical, Dental, Surgical, and Humanitarian Mission as sponsors, donors, or volunteers, please visit the United Catanduanes San Diego page on Facebook.)

Is your animal sign lucky or unlucky in 2020?

Trust international feng shui master Marites Allen to raise the bar on knowledge sharing and excitement in her annual Feng Shui Convention. In the 15th staging of the event at Novotel Manila Araneta City last November 24, participants got interesting insights to new ways of attracting good fortune in the Year of the Metal Rat.

One segment of the presentation was devoted to a discussion of how vision boards, affirmations, and miracle mornings help increase our chances of manifesting our life goals. A wealth vase, which she put together with the help of co-host King of Talk, Dr. Boy Abunda, was raffled off later to a lucky delegate.

The merchandise area also offered a visual feast of fresh ideas to capture auspicious luck. Rows upon rows of colorful displays which, even for those who don’t practice feng shui, will be fascinating conversation pieces when placed in different sectors of the home or office.

But let’s cut to the chase and talk about which animal signs will be lucky or unlucky next year.  The Feng Shui Queen ranked the 12 animal signs based on their luck potential for 2020. And yes, I am absolutely pleased with her choices, which were clearly based on the Flying Stars Chart for the Year of the Metal Rat.

Here’s why: She ranked Ox, Tiger, Rooster, and Dog as the Top Four in the hierarchy of lucky animal signs for next year.

Why am I so stoked? My youngest son and I are both Ox-born. My husband is a Tiger. My eldest son is a Rooster, and my second son was born in the year of the Dog. So, it’s a big GO for my Team!

The Ox is the secret friend of the Rat, the ruling animal sign of 2020. The Northeast sector, which is the direction of the Ox and Tiger, hosts the Victory Star No. 1. New opportunities and financial gains await the Ox and the prospects may be enhanced by symbols of the Victory Horse, Golden Dragon and Horse, Wealth Vase, and many more wish-fulfilling accessories.

The Tiger shares the Victory Star with the Ox and is advised to display the Bejewelled Arowana, Wealth Ship, Laughing Buddha, and Ruyi in the NE direction. Tigers will also get a lot of help by wearing luck-enhancing amulets.

The Rooster enjoys the blessings of the Magnifying Star No. 9, which symbolizes future expansion, fame, and prosperity. This energy has flown to the West sector and may be boosted by placing images of the Prosperity Rooster and Monkey on Horse in this direction.  Wearing or carrying personal accessories, such as the Lucky 9 mantra charms and Victory Banner with Mantra, will be effective luck-boosters.

The Dog (and the Boar)  benefit from the Wealth and Success Star No. 8 located in the Northwest. To help manifest this type of luck, Dog- and Boar- born people are advised to display water fountains and infinity figures in their lucky sector and to always wear their wealth and success medallion.

The Dragon and Snake share the fortune brought by the Heaven Luck Star in the Southeast. This type of energy brings potential windfall and overall good fortune. They can also count on the help of influential people next year. Their must-have luck enhancers include the Endurance mantra and their Allies and Friends amulets.

The Sheep and Monkey are blessed with the Romance, Education, and Travel Luck in the Southwest. This star governs love relationships, travel, and self-development. To boost their luck potential for the year, these animal signs must display the Bejewelled Mystic Knot or Lotus, especially if they want to expand their family, or wear Peony-inspired accessories to boost their chances of finding their life partner.

The not-so-lucky Horse, Rat, and Rabbit, however, may have to face certain challenges in 2020.

The Horse faces health risks brought by the Illness Star No. 2 in the South. To counter the negative effects of this energy, the Horse-born must have anti-illness charms and Wu Lou-inspired amulets for health and longevity.

The Rat is seen to face the effects of the Conflict Star No. 3 in the North. If not controlled, this type of energy will manifest in arguments, betrayals, and even legal problems. To subdue these negativities, The Rat-born should carry Tai Sui protection and other peace and harmony accessories.

The Rabbit may be troubled by the afflicted energies in the East. The most dreaded Misfortune Star No. 5 brings risks to health, relationships, wealth and career. The best protection for these possible afflictions are the 5-element Pagoda (either as placement or personal amulets), Rhino and Elephant Plaque, and Allies and Friends symbols (Rabbit, Sheep, and Boar).

Fair warning to all animal signs: The Violence and Robbery Star has flown to the Center sector in 2020. The negative influence of this energy may cause loss of material things and good reputation, possible break-ins, betrayal of trust, and possible lawsuits. Everyone must have the proper feng shui cures, especially the Rhino and Elephant symbol in the Center. Wearing anti-robbery accessories, such as special medallions with mantra and the ultimate mantra protection ring will also help shield you from negativities.

All told, the Year of the Metal Rat may bring favorable and not so favorable prospects for each animal sign next year. Having been presented with the forecasts, the task is upon us to boost our chances for success and to address potential challenges where they appear.

For a more comprehensive reading of your luck prospects for the Year of the Metal Rat, check out the 2020 Marites Allen horoscope books, Feng Shui Planner, and Almanac at your nearest Frigga shop:   SM North Edsa: (+632 442 0113), SM Mall of Asia: (+63922- 4241219), SM Mega Mall: (+632 470-7661), SM Cebu: (0907-8198993 / 032 343-2062) or shop online at

As always, I take this proactive mindset at the start of every Lunar New Year:

Some things may be written in the stars,

but we have the power to reconfigure our own destiny.