25 Years of Ibalong Festival

(This article written in September 2016 is in the April 2017 issue of Travel Plus magazine)

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National Heroes Day has a special meaning for the people of Legazpi City in Albay.  Around this day they relive the story of the three legendary heroes of Bicol, which was once known as Ibalong.

The Ibalong Festival, as conceptualized in 1992 by then Legazpi City Mayor Imelda Roces, was meant to break away from the usual themes of local festivals. Festivals in the Philippines are generally religious in nature, stemming from the centuries-long Spanish Christianization of the archipelago. Others are agriculture-inspired to celebrate bountiful harvests, while others are historical, as a throwback to important events in a town.

The Ibalong Festival was created to revive Ibalong, a 60-stanza epic poem transcribed by a Franciscan friar from tales sung by a bard named Kadunung.  The original Spanish text could no longer be found, but portions of it were said to have been copied by Fray Jose Castaño and were later compiled by Wenceslao Retana who included them in the book Archivo del Bibliofilo Filipino in 1895. The untitled and unfinished manuscript got its title Ibalong from the renowned propagandist and essayist Jose Ma. Panganiban.

The legend has it that a long time ago, a brave man named Baltog came upon a rich land called Ibalong. Back then, monsters lived in the dark forests, but Baltog chose to stay and cultivate the fields. The giant wild boar Tandayag saw the fields and destroyed the crops with its long fangs. In retaliation, Baltog patiently looked for the boar and broke its monstrous jawbones, killing it in combat.

The epic hero Baltog and the boar monster Tandayag in mortal combat

The epic hero Baltog and the boar monster Tandayag in mortal combat

Years later, another fearless warrior named Handyong came to Ibalong. Handyong and his men fought several menacing creatures including a three-headed monster and giant flying sharks. The toughest of them all was a she-serpent named Oriol. Endowed with a beautiful voice and the ability to change her appearance, Oriol was a difficult prey. In the end, she was captivated by Handyong’s bravery and chose to help him conquer the other monsters. Thus, peace came to Ibalong.

Tribesmen go down on their knees in the presence of a winged monster

Tribesmen go down on their knees in the presence of a winged monster

Under the leadership of Handyong, Ibalong saw a golden era where slaves and masters were treated equally. It was also a period of important inventions of tools used in farming, weaving, and writing.

But then a big flood, strong earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions hit Ibalong. A new monster, named Rabot, who had the power to turn his foes into rocks also appeared. Conquering this beast fell on the hands of Bantong, a friend of Handyong. Knowing that Rabot slept during the day and roamed about at night, he waited until the monster was sound asleep. At the right moment, he killed the beast with his sharp bolo.

With Rabot’s death, Ibalong regained peace and became the prosperous land it is now.

The tribesmen celebrate after their hero triumphs over their enemy

The tribesmen celebrate after their hero triumphs over their enemy

Ibalong Festival goes silver

On its 25th staging this year, the month-long festival culminated in a street parade and dance competition that attracted 11 schools from Albay, Sorsogon, and Camarines Sur. Only six schools, however, competed for the championship in this year’s streetdancing presentations. After regaling the spectators with its interpretation of the epic tale, Tiwi Central School was judged Grand Champion and went home with the cash prize of PhP300,000 plus trophy. Cash prizes were also awarded to the Best Epic Hero, Best in Costume and Props, Best in Dancing, and Best in Music and Sound.

Keeping in step with the Ibalong music

Keeping in step with the Ibalong music

A tribal muse clad in costume made of native materials

A tribal muse clad in costume made of native materials

High energy levels and bursts of colors marked each presentation

High energy levels and bursts of colors marked each presentation

Pretty maidens in whimsical costumes

Pretty maidens in whimsical costumes

A showdown of heroes. Competition for the best epic character

A showdown of heroes: Competition for the best epic character

Bicolandia: The myth versus reality

Reliving a legend that is more mythical than historical may seem incongruous for a bustling capital that brands itself as The City of Fun and Adventure. As the largest city in the Bicol region, Legazpi City blends modernity with old town charm, which is a rarity these days. Swanky malls stand close to each other in the central business district. Several colleges and universities here give the city that exuberant air. One gets that breezy feeling, too, while navigating the long stretch of Legazpi Boulevard with its numerous restos and many other fun places.

Yet, one does not have to go very far from the city to enjoy nature at its best. Those seeking adventure will find its many forms here. Sea, sand, hills, lakes, and caves. Forests and falls, too. And of course, anywhere you are in Albay, the majestic Mount Mayon is an awe-inspiring presence.

In a place and time where technology is both a major pursuit and conveyance, storytelling and folklore may be regarded as dying, if not lost arts. Despite this scenario, the epic story of Ibalong lives on, not only through characters in whimsical costumes and pulse-raising music, but more importantly through the hardy character of a people that have had to face storms, earthquakes, floods, and volcanic eruptions in recent times—and still have managed to be their own heroes. Legazpi City is officially recognized as one of the three most livable cities in the Philippines, where everyone is safe from both natural and man-made calamities.

That is a feat that would have made Baltog, Handyong, and Bantong very proud.

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CIA: “We Care about Catanduanes”

(An edited version of this article is in the March 13th issue of The Philippine Star (Good News section, page B9)

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First off, this is not about intelligence work and covert activities done in the interest of US national security.

CIA, Inc. is the Catanduanes International Association, a non-profit organization composed of former or current residents of an island province in the Bicol region, along with their relatives and friends. This umbrella organization encompasses different chapters all over the USA and Canada, each of which undertakes projects that benefit kababayans back home. CIA has adopted for its main project the conduct of medical missions once every three years to render free health services and relief distribution to underprivileged Catandunganons.

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The CIA banner hanging on storm-battered trees: “like a rainbow after the rain.”

The avowed objective to help medically deprived province mates traces its roots to a moving scene many years back on the island. Dr. Virgilia Guerrero was then practicing her profession in a rural area in Catanduanes and among her first patients were a mother and child. After consultation, the mother sheepishly admitted that she had no money to pay for her services. Instead she handed the doctor some eggs and bananas as token payments.

The encounter left such an impression on Dr. Guerrero and her husband, Engr. Jose Guerrero. The memory refused to go away and even went with them when they migrated to the US.

In Chicago where the Guerrero couple settled, Engr. Guerrero dreamed of having one organization that would bring together fellow Catandunganons on a bigger scale than the ones already existing in the ‘80s, and which have already adopted their own programs. The Catanduanes Association of America Illinois Chapter was launched in 1989, a bold first step towards the consolidation that was his end objective.

After years of networking — appealing to and convincing other groups on the merits of going international, which was no mean feat given the hectic pace in the US – Engr. Guerrero saw his dream scenario. CIA, Inc. was formally launched during the first grand reunion of Catandunganons held at Hyatt Regency O’Hare in Illinois, with Engr. Guerrero himself as its first president.

Lydia T. Mendez, CIA Chairman of the Board, recalls that the first medical mission in Catanduanes in 1993 had only eight members. Compared to the more than 200-strong contingent of medical practitioners and volunteers that came this year, it speaks not only of the dynamic growth of the association but also of its unquestionable impact on both the organizers and the beneficiaries of its programs.

The 9th Medical and Humanitarian Outreach Mission held recently in Catanduanes clearly shows that, indeed, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. To raise funds for the project, the charter member organizations put in their share, monetary or otherwise, to purchase the required medical supplies and equipment. An online fundraising campaign started by CIA Treasurer Franklin Enriquez underscored the need for more support in light of the devastation caused by super typhoon Nina on the island.

Much earlier, current CIA President Dr. Oscar Enriquez had been networking with family and friends and traveling all over the US to solicit financial assistance. One important family occasion, the 90th birthday of his mother, doubled as a fundraising event, with guests encouraged to support the mission in lieu of birthday gifts. Dr. Enriquez also parlayed his professional influence into purchasing tons of medicines and necessary supplies at great savings.

Dolly Dalusong, Chair and Overall Coordinator of this year’s medical mission took the same route. She organized and attended numerous social/fundraising events to touch base with fellow Catandunganons and channeled every possible group she is affiliated with – personal, professional, civic, academic, religious – to raise the wherewithal. All for the mission.

In what appears to be a case of good intentions attracting similar interests, CIA learned about the efforts of Global Caring Foundation (GCF), an Arizona-based philanthropic group, to fulfill the needs of underserved populations and healthcare providers from around the world. An earlier plan of the GCF to conduct a mission in another Asian country fell through but opened up an opportunity for a link-up with CIA. After a series of talks between officials from both sides facilitated by Catandunganon nurses Tess Baylon and Wendy Tee, a collaboration was worked out and the foreign delegation grew even bigger with over 30 volunteers from GCF.

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Some of the 200+ CIA volunteers who participated in the mission

Last February 6 to 10, CIA and GCF, along with their local counterparts from the Eastern Bicol Medical Center (EBMC) led by Hospital Chief Dr. Vietrez Abella, ministered to the needs of hundreds of beneficiaries coming from different municipalities. Volunteers assigned in the triage area went to work even before their appointed time as patients from remote towns had to travel as early as 3:00 am to reach the EBMC grounds. Depending on their health needs, the patients were referred to different sections, including dental, ophthalmology/optometry, lab screening, pediatrics, pharmacy, minor surgery, among others.

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Early birds waiting to be listed on the first day of the mission.

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At the triage area

Just as busy were volunteers assigned to the areas designated for the distribution of clothing, rice, canned goods, toys, school supplies, shoes and slippers, and eyeglasses. Drawing and coloring activities kept the children occupied; that is, if they were not lining up for either ice cream or hot meals. In the Soup Kitchen, they were reminded to practice proper hygiene by washing their hands before eating, and to say thank you after receiving their soup bowls.

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A scene at the soup kitchen

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At the relief goods distribution area

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Someone is happy with his new toy

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Ice cream treat from a volunteer

Each day started with a mass and ended with a critique meeting. Meals and snacks for the medical team and volunteers were sponsored by kind-hearted supporters from the local government and the private sector. Governor Joseph Cua, ARDCI, Virac Mayor Sammy Leynes, Congressman Cesar Sarmiento, and Mrs. Concepcion Co hosted dinners for the mission participants.

In recognition of the artistry of the Catandunganons, CIA, with the help of local culture advocates organized “Catanduanes Got Talent” on Day 3. Contestants were pitted against each other in a showdown that demonstrated their singing, dancing, and other innate or honed talents, for attractive prizes, of course. The mission was refreshingly not just for the sick and impaired.

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Volunteer doctors at work…

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… and having fun on the dance floor during the dinner hosted by Gov. Joseph Cua

During the Governor’s Night Dinner, Vice Governor Shirley Abundo likened the 9th Medical Mission to a “rainbow after the rain,” while Governor Joseph Cua considered it a “celebration of kindness and generosity.” In response, CIA President Oscar Enriquez quoted Mother Teresa (now Saint Teresa of Calcutta): “It’s not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving.”

In the pediatrics section where this writer pitched in as interpreter for the American doctors who could not understand Filipino or the local dialect, and for the patients who could not speak English, I witnessed this spirit of caring and empathy up close. Jamelah Tucker, a pediatrician from Florida tended to her young, sometimes agitated patients with utmost grace and compassion. She also shared this insight: “We spent so much time learning what we need to know about child care, so sharing our knowledge is not a bother at all. We will be there wherever children need help.”

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The pediatrics section had the longest lines each day

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Dr. Jamelah Tucker, a volunteer pediatrician

From what I’ve seen, it wasn’t a one-way street. I stood speechless at the sight of a young girl, about three years old, who came running with outstretched arms in the direction of a teen-aged American volunteer. As they embraced each other tightly, the smiles on their faces told a tacit tale of two sisters from different mothers connected by the spiritual act of giving and receiving – with both of them deeply enriched by the connection made possible by one humanitarian endeavor.

Dr. Oscar Enriquez, (center)  receiving the approved Sangguniang Panlalawigan Resolution commending the officers, members, and volunteers of CIA, Inc. for conducting its 9th Medical Mission in Catanduanes.jpg

Dr. Oscar Enriquez (center) receiving the approved Sangguniang Panlalawigan resolution commending the officers, members, and volunteers of CIA for holding the 9th medical and humanitarian mission in Catanduanes. (Photo by PIA Catanduanes)

Please click here to view more photos of the 9th CIA medical and humanitarian outreach mission.

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Anilag Festival: Celebrating the Bountiful Harvests of Laguna

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I made a quick trip to Laguna on March 8 in line with my determined search for sources of a specific type of woven native bags. When a side trip to Legazpi City and  messages to possible sources from different places didn’t yield positive results, I decided to check out Anilag Festival, a week-long harvest festival in Laguna province. I read that one of the towns in the province takes pride in being the essential source of woven products made of pandan, including bags, hats, mats, and various other crafts.

Some factoids about the festival:

  • Anilag is short for “Ani ng Laguna,” meaning harvests of Laguna. It is a week-long celebration that features the bountiful agricultural produce of the province.
  • It is held in March every year in Sta. Cruz, the capital town of Laguna.
  • It was first held in 2004 and was initially called “La Laguna Festival” in celebration of Laguna’s Foundation Day and to promote its products, delicacies, and cultural/historical/tourist attractions.

The road trip proved to be a wonderful way of discovering that there is more to Laguna than just its famous puto biñan, buco pie, and Pagsanjan Falls.

This year’s trade fair booths unveiled some interesting discoveries.

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Bay (pronounced bah-eh) is a town known for its gardens and ornamental plants. Its name was said to come either from the word baybay, a reference to the shore of the lake, or babaylan, a reference to a priestess. The town is situated along the shores of Laguna de Bay.

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Biñan is the trading and center of commerce of the South. The name of the place originated from the word “binyagan” (christened), which eventually evolved into Biñan.

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Calauan is touted as the Home of the Sweetest Pineapple, which can be tasted and tested during its Pinya Festival. The town got its name from the word kalawang, which means rust.

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The town of Cavinti got its name from the old tradition where the groom tries to catch the bride by her legs and the people shout the phrase “kabit sa binti,” later shortened to “Kabinti.”

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Liliw is the go-to place for locally made shoes and slippers. The town’s origin was said to have come from a bird chirping “liw, liw, liw.”

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Luisiana is a town famous for its tradition of weaving products made of pandan leaves. The town’s name was adopted in honor of the “father of the town,” Don Luis Bernardo and his wife, Doña Ana (Luis y Ana). The high elevation of the town generates a cooler climate than the other neighboring towns, which earned for it the monicker as The Little Baguio of Laguna.

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The Embroidery Capital of the Philippines, Lumban, is a town in Laguna where the finest traditional Filipino wear such as barong and Filipiniana ternos are made. The town’s name is believed to have come from the Lumbang tree.

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Paete is the Woodcarving Capital of the Philippines. The town got its name from “paet,” which means chisel and continues to practice its old tradition of carving statues, murals, and furniture.

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The Sampaguita Capital of the Philippines, San Pedro, is the first city you’ll encounter on your trip to Laguna coming from Manila.

Please click here to view an old post on The Sampaguita Festival.

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Victoria is a municipality that offers some of the most exotic yet delicious dishes including goats’ and ducks’ meat, which earned for it the nickname the Duck Raising Capital of the Philippines. The town was named after President Quirino’s daughter, Victoria Quirino. Its Itik Festival is celebrated, along with the town’s founding anniversary, to give honor and to know more about the products that come from itik (duck).

View more photos of the trade fair here.

[Most of the information regarding the different towns of Laguna were taken from the biyaheng laguna page at http://www.biyahenglaguna.com/laguna-towns-and-cities/]

A Tea House Like No Other

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The Fo Guang Shan Mabuhay Temple

Sometimes, when the fam craves “something different,” we usually take a short trike ride from our place to a Buddhist temple.

No, we’re not Buddhists nor vegetarians, but we know of  one place that serves good food minus the usual aromatics. Just simple and homey flavors in a quiet and comfortable dining atmosphere.

The WaterDrop Tea House is inside the Fo Guang Shan Mabuhay Temple across from Century Park Hotel in Malate, Manila. The thought of having olive fried rice and wintermelon tea here always makes me feel good. On our last visit, we decided to have those plus pumpkin soup (hotpot style), some tofu dishes and dimsum.

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WaterDrop Tea House

While waiting for our food, we did some table hopping not really to greet friends (there were just us and two complete strangers), but to read the information on laminated place mats on each table.  Some detail the origin of the tea house, while others contain thoughts and lessons on vegetarianism from Venerable Master Hsing Yun. Venerable Master Hsing Yun is a Chinese Buddhist monk and a proponent of humanistic Buddhism as taught by the Fo Guang Shan religious movement, which he founded.

The WaterDrop Teahouse was established based on the spirit of gratitude for the devotees and supporters of the temple. It was set up to promote gratitude in societies, and to improve human relationships through service and Buddha teachings. It is there not for business profit but to provide a convenient dining place for the public.

Here’s Master Hsing Yun’s take on vegetarianism.

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Other thoughts:

Excessive food consumption and supplements will lead to elevation of fat, blood sugar, and cholesterol, which would cause harm and increase burden to the body. Eating a simple meal lets one savor the flavor of the vegetables and enhances one’s temperament and endurance. If one wishes to attain longevity, one can try to be a vegetarian.

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Western medicine has been strongly advocating the decrease in the consumption of meat. This is because meat consumption leads to fat and cholesterol deposit leads to hardening and clogging of the blood vessels. Eating vegetables can detoxify the body.

Can vegetarians eat eggs?

Eating or not eating egg is not a serious issue. It is the strict upholding of the precepts and the purity of the mind. Tibetan lamas usually include beef and lamb in the main dish. Similarly, the monasteries in Japan do not observe vegetarianism. There is no need to criticize certain groups of people about the issue of violation in eating unfertilized eggs. (Hurray for balut!)

There is also no need to deliberately boost or exaggerate about being a vegetarian.

Why having a bowl of compassionate porridge surpasses taking ginseng soup

Taking a bowl of compassionate porridge is more valuable than taking a bowl of ginseng soup, why? With the mind of compassion, humility, transference of merit, and making connection in taking the bowl of porridge, I vow to be grateful, do good deeds, cultivate, think of others’ interests and serve them. This bowl of porridge broadens the scope of my mind and purifies the inner self. It is more nutritious and meaningful than ginseng.

In the same light, he teaches that a cup of tea surpasses drinking ambrosia.

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A thought with no evil surpasses a sumptuous feast.

If your stomach does not have evil thought to inflict suffering and craft plots to harm others, then it is more beneficial to the body than eating a sumptuous feast. Sometimes, good fortune may turn into misfortune due to deviant views. Other times, misfortune may turn into good fortune due to righteous views. Therefore, if the mind is pure, it would certainly lead one to attain good fortune and distance from misfortune. A real tonic does not necessarily deal with food consumption or refer to food only. In a broader sense, one should take tonic that is beneficial to the inner self and the mind.

Very enriching food for thought. But then it was time for real food.

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The pumpkin soup, olive fried rice, and wintermelon tea were served first.

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Shortly after, the tofu dishes and dimsum

Anthony Bourdain himself said, “Good food is very often, even most often, simple food.”

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On the way out, one can sound this bell while making a wish at the Temple’s Wishing Pond.

The future is green: Quezon Province eyed as PHL Herbal Capital

(An edited version of this article is in today’s issue of The Philippine Star, Business/Agriculture section.  Posting this full, unedited version with the additional photos not found in the hard copy.)

 

In July 2014, typhoon Glenda (international name: Rammasun) caused extensive damage to Central Luzon, Mimaropa, Bicol and the Cordillera Administrative Region. Quezon province was among the worst hit with at least 10 persons killed and some P2 billion worth of agricultural crops and both public and private facilities destroyed.

But every cloud, as the saying goes, has a silver lining.

The Quezon provincial government soon initiated a relief campaign, which included a rehabilitation caravan to help survivors by distributing relief packs to thousands of families in badly devastated areas. During this campaign, the Office of the Provincial Agriculturist (OPA) introduced its Herbal Program as a possible livelihood alternative to residents. Many local government officials responded positively to the concept, having been oriented on the increasing global demand for medicinal plants as an alternative way to health and wellness.

Herbal farming sounded like an economically viable proposition.

Herbalism, then and now

The oldest recorded proof of using medicinal plants to alleviate medical conditions were found in ancient Sumerian writings, estimated at 5000 years old. The illustrations depicted instructions on how to use various plants for treating ailments. Yet even before writing was invented, skeletal remains of Neanderthals aged at 50,000 years found in a cave in northern Spain suggested that prehistoric humans might have resorted to herbal remedies as well. Their teeth samples revealed a diet that consisted not only of meat, but also of some bitter-tasting plants. The conclusion was that because of their unpleasant taste, the plants must have been eaten for reasons other than flavor, most probably for medication.

Since then, there had been descriptions of how Arabs, Romans, Chinese, Indians, and other indigenous cultures, including African and Native American, had used herbs in healing rituals. Traditional herbal therapy systems, such as Ayurveda, emerged. Researchers have shown that in different parts of the world, people tended to use the same plants for healing purposes.

The turning point

Between the 16th and 17th centuries, iatrochemistry, a school of thought that sought to provide chemical solutions to medical ailments, started to drive a wedge between herbalism and science-based medicine.  In the early 19th  century, scientists learned how to isolate and modify the chemicals from plants. Over time, the use of herbal medicines declined in favor of modern drugs. Still, most pharmaceutical drugs were derived from botanicals.

Today, an ideological shift back to the merits of herbal medicine is sweeping both developed and developing countries all over the world.  Widespread dissatisfaction with the high cost and declining efficacy of prescription medications has driven consumers to return to natural remedies. Plant-based health and wellness as well as beauty products proliferate. Alternative health clinics and spas using herbal preparations are flourishing. Studies have shown that herbal remedies can actually complement conventional healing modalities.

There’s money in those plants

A study published in the World Journal of Pharmaceutical Research (WJPR) in 2015 stated that the global market for herbal medicines currently stands at over $60 billion annually. The sale of herbal medicines is expected to get higher at an average annual growth rate of 6.4%. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), herbal medicines are lucrative globally and they represent a market value of about US$43 billion a year. The global market for all herbal supplements and remedies could reach US$115 billion by 2020, with Europe the largest and the Asia-Pacific the fastest growing markets. In another article published in the International Journal of Academic Research in Accounting, Finance and Management Sciences in 2013, the global market growth for the herbal industry is expected to grow at 7% annually from year 2000 to 2050, at which time it is forecast to reach US$5 trillion.

global market value of the herbal industry

The diversity of categories for traditional or herbal medicine products makes it difficult to make an accurate assessment of the actual market size. Still, available figures suggest that the industry is worth big money.

Traditional medicine in the Philippines

Herbal medicines had been widely used in the Philippines long before modern Western medications were introduced. In many rural areas in the Philippines in the past and up until now, the albularyo is a prominent and sought-after person for his ability to cure common diseases. The term albularyo was derived from the Spanish word herbolario, which means herbalist.

There is an astounding variety of medicinal plants in the Philippines. The health advocacy group Alay Kapwa Kilusang Pangkalusugan (AKAP) has been able to list 1,297 plants in the Philippines that are known to have folk medicinal uses. There are reportedly 9,000 different plant species, 60% of which are believed to be endemic to the Philippines.  So far, fewer than 500 of those species have been identified to have medicinal uses.

In 1992, then Health Secretary Dr. Juan Flavier parlayed his decades of experience as a barrio doctor into championing the use of herbal drugs. During his term as Health Secretary, the DOH endorsed 10 Philippine plants clinically tested to have medicinal value. He also co-authored the Traditional and Alternative Medicine Act (TAMA) that gave legal recognition to natural healing side by side with pharmaceutical drugs. It was signed into law (R.A. 8423) by then President Fidel Ramos in 1997. The law also created the Philippine Institute of Traditional and Alternative Health Care, a state-owned corporation supervised by the DOH designed to promote scientific research on medicinal herbs and plants.

The Quezon Integrated Herbal Industry Program (QIHP)

Against the background of increased awareness of the health benefits of herbal medicines and growing demand for plant-based products globally, the Herbal Program envisioned by the provincial government of Quezon, which was warmly received by local residents after typhoon Glenda, was immediately set to motion. In 2014, Quezon Gov. David Suarez issued an executive order that created the Quezon Integrated Herbal Industry Program (QHIP) Committee composed of different government agencies, academic institutions and representatives from the private sector.

The QHIP Committee drafted the Herbal Industry Development Program, which focuses on five major areas: research and development, enhancement of herbal production, information and education, promotion and marketing, and agro-enterprise development. The Quezon Herbal Program is supervised by the OPA headed by Provincial Agriculturist Roberto Gajo with Mr. Walter Dapla as Program Coordinator.

Before the year was over, the provincial government led by Gov. Suarez conducted its first-ever Quezon Herbal Conference with the theme, “The Prospects of Herbal Plants in Quezon Province” in Tayabas City. The conference brought together municipal mayors, municipal agriculturists, municipal health officers, department heads of the provincial government of Quezon, non-government organizations, academic institutions and herbal health advocates. Participants were briefed on the significance of the Traditional and Alternative Medicine Act, the herbal plants found in Quezon Province, global market positioning of the Philippines, processing and manufacturing herbal plants as medicines, and business opportunities in essential oils, among others.

The provincial government identified co-operators (individuals, groups, cooperatives) to participate in the production and processing of selected medicinal plants that have huge market demand. Six towns were initially chosen as pilot areas for the program and were given planting materials. Various forms of assistance were provided to the chosen co-operators, including needs assessment, training in production and product development, provision of equipment and tools, and financial management.

The Quezon Protected Landscape Herbal Pavilion

Last May 26, 2015, Gov. Suarez led the Memorandum of Agreement signing between the provincial government of Quezon, the local government of Atimonan, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Region IV-A for the beautification of the Quezon Protected Landscape (formerly Quezon National Park) and developing it as another tourist destination in the province. It also marked the groundbreaking ceremony for the Quezon Protected Landscape (QPL) Herbal Pavilion along the iconic zigzag road known as Bitukang Manok in Atimonan.

Quezon Protected Landscape Herbal Pavilion, Photo courtesy of Neil Alvin Nicerio

The Quezon Protected Landscape Herbal Pavilion (Photo courtesy of Neil Alvin Nicerio)

 

Along with recreational facilities for visitors, the QPL Herbal Pavilion will have a display center for products made by different organizations, cooperatives and individuals involved in the Herbal Program. It will be a sanctuary for different types of medicinal plants and other species endemic to Quezon province, making it an ideal destination for those who want to enjoy nature and feel its healing power. Gov. Suarez was unequivocal about his vision when he said “I want Quezon Province to be the center of herbal medicine in our country, where all kinds of herbal plants and requirements can be acquired.”  The Governor also sees this initiative as a way of promoting environmental protection and rehabilitation by providing alternative jobs for those who still resort to cutting trees and slash-and-burn activities in the area.

Visitors from the media get a glimpse of ongoing work at the QPL Herbal Pavilion

Participants in the “Experience Quezon: Discovering New Destinations” media tour organized by the Provincial Tourism Office of Quezon get a view of the Herbal Pavilion as a work in progress.

 

With the targeted opening of the QPL Herbal Pavilion this year, Quezon Province is well on its way to becoming the “Herbal Capital of the Philippines.”

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Why the Mayohan sa Tayabas is a festival with a heart

 

We have Miss Universe Pia Wurtzbach to thank for the now viral ‘confidently beautiful with a heart’ phrase. This expression does not only apply to beauty queens, however. It also aptly describes some festivals in Quezon province that draw local and foreign visitors here in the month of May.

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Quezon celebrates four major harvest festivals in honor of San Isidro Labrador, the patron saint of farmers. The most ornate and colorful is, of course, the famous Pahiyas Festival of Lucban, with the Araña’t Baluarte of Gumaca steadily gaining more visitors each year.  The Agawan Festival of Sariaya and the Mayohan sa Tayabas may lack the frill and flamboyance of their sister festivals, but they build their activities on a different objective—that of giving and sharing one’s blessings. And that means more action-filled fun and experience for Mayohan visitors.

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Mayor Dondi Silang: “The Mayohan is a symbolic way of sharing our blessings after a good harvest.”

An online source cites writer and film director Orlando Nadres and then Mayor Faustino “Dondi” Alandy Silang as the originators of the Mayohan Festival in 1988. Both avid heritage advocates, they envisioned it as a way of renewing social and cultural awareness among Tayabasins (or Tayabeños), as natives of Tayabas are called. It was meant for them to honor their humble origins as peasants and farmers and to give tribute to San Isidro and to the land they till for their primary source of livelihood. It has since evolved into a week-long festival that opens with the Parada ng Baliskog, a parade of welcome arches created by various government and private groups using local materials. It peaks on May 15 of each year with the traditional Hagisan ng Suman.

 

Why Suman?

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City Hall employees proudly hold up clusters of the ritual giveaways

Mayor Dondi Silang shares a no-nonsense explanation on how the native rice cake called suman came to be the ritual gift of the Hagisan. Farmers harvest rice from their land, but since it is inconceivable to throw rice in its raw form as thanksgiving gift, they thought of making suman out of glutinous rice and wrapping them in young coconut leaves for easier sharing.

The suman is creatively wrapped in such a way that when it is thrown, the tail called tatangnan graciously swirls behind. It also makes it easy to tie several pieces together or to hang them on bamboo poles called bagacay. He stresses that this special way of wrapping is done only for the May 15 festival. For the rest of the year, the Tayabasins use banana leaves as suman wrappers.

 

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Thousands of suman lined up at the balcony of the Tayabas City Hall

Judging from the amazing number of suman shared (thousands from the city hall alone), others would think that the goods thrown to the visitors are of inferior taste and quality. Mayor Dondi is quick to counter that that is not the way in Tayabas. He cites an instance when, during a past Mayohan, a balikbayan commented to have tasted the best suman ever during the festival. “I always tell people that whatever they give away comes back to them in similar form. Sacrificing quality has its karmic effect, and so care must be done to give only the best out of one’s bounty, as it could affect future harvests or income.”

Sharing is not limited to the tasty suman, however. Since Mayohan has become an occasion for much-anticipated homecoming of family members and friends, a lot of balikbayans from different parts of the world find their own way of symbolically sharing their blessings. In some instances, crowds scramble for dollar bills being thrown in place of suman from lofts or upper floors of residential houses. Some local businessmen happily give away other forms of consumables or whatever products they derive their income from.

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The San Isidro image passes by, signaling the start of suman throwing.

Invited guests from the media were given a chance to join Mayor Dondi and his city hall staff in the suman-throwing experience. The goods were neatly lined on the balcony of the Tayabas City Hall ready for the passing of the all-male revelers participating in the procession. As soon as the image of San Isidro went past the balcony, the suman throwing started, resulting in pure chaos with the men (and a few women) below jumping and jostling to get as much suman as they could. It is believed that the more suman a person gathers, the better his harvest or income gets.

 

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The coveted goodies are thrown while the crowd chants ‘hagisan na!”

 

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Catching suman by its tail

But wishing for more bountiful crops is not the only reason some people risk being trampled on. A man carrying a young boy on his shoulders tried to catch his share and almost did when a piece of suman hit the boy on the head.  The goody fell on the ground but was snatched by another man, unfortunately. The boy was close to tears, probably not because of pain as the force could not possibly hurt that much, but at the thought of losing his snack. His facial expression promptly changed into a smile when the man carrying him managed to catch a bunch of suman.

There was just plenty of good stuff to go around that afternoon.

Several years back, I was at the bounty-grabbing side in another event at the Araña’t Baluarte Festival in Gumaca. In this festival, the coveted objects are not bunches of suman but the freshest and the best green harvests of this town. The choicest fruits and vegetables are beautifully arranged in chandelier fashion (arañas) and hung in artistically designed arches (baluartes). After the festival, I went home with a big plastic bag full of various great-tasting veggies.

The experiences of giving and receiving leave feel-good memories and are both rewarding albeit in different ways. As American entrepreneur and author Jim Rohn, who became famous for his rags-to-riches story, said: “Giving is better than receiving because giving starts the receiving process.”

Philippine Travel Mart 2015

phil travel mart

The country’s longest-running travel trade exhibition had its 26th staging from September 4 to 6 this year at the SMX Convention Center. Organized by the Philippine Tour Operators Association (PHILTOA), it aims to promote domestic and inbound tourism to local and foreign travel enthusiasts through attractive tour packages covering the entire archipelago.

I went there on closing day. It didn’t help that I only had one hour to spare to take in everything that the exhibit had to offer. That gave me very little time to gather more info and take more decent pictures. Still, my whirlwind look-see provided some exciting possibilities from Batanes to Tawi Tawi.

Bicolandia Beckons

Explore AlMaSor for unlimited fun both on sea and land

Explore AlMaSor (Albay, Masbate, and Sorsogon) for unlimited fun both on sea and land

Heed the call of The Three C's : Catanduanes, Camarines Sur, and Camarines Norte

Heed the call of The Three C’s : Catanduanes, Camarines Sur, and Camarines Norte

Discover what makes Catanduanes

Discover what makes Catanduanes “The Happy Island”

Come to Camarines Norte (and Cam Sur, too) for adventure trekking and island hopping

Enjoy surfing and visit many scenic attractions in Catanduanes during its Catandungan Festival in October. For updates, please visit https://www.facebook.com/catanduanestourismpromotion?fref=ts.

Don’t leave Catanduanes without trying its latik

hot ice cream

…and try Albay’s “hot” ice cream

Elsewhere in the Philippines…

Be enchanted by Bohol

Be enchanted by Bohol

the Moriones of Marinduque

the Moriones of Marinduque

palawan

the pristine beauty of Palawan

the beaches of Boracay

the beaches of Boracay

Get healed in Siquijor

Get healed in Siquijor

and wowed by Leyte

and be wowed by Leyte

Go farther south…

Bask in the diversity of SOCCSKARGEN (South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, and Gen. Santos City)

Bask in the diversity of SOCCSKSARGEN (South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, and Gen. Santos City)

and the vibrant colors of ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao)

…and in the vibrant colors of ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao)

When in Manila…

Let this jeepney take you to the best places in Manila while having a videoke party on board

Let this jeepney take you to the best places in Manila while having a videoke party on board

A few hours from Manila, there’s Quezon Province…

You don’t have to go very far to discover why Philippines is “The Fun Capital of Asia.”

This province has it all:

Beautiful beaches

Colorful festivals

Historical structures

World-class crafts

Heritage and culinary tours

Don’t miss Quezonarya, a gathering of the biggest and best names in the culinary, tourism, hospitality, and related industries. It sizzles in October. For details, please visit https://www.facebook.com/quezonarya, or call 0919 483 8599.

quezon booth

quezon booth2

(Photos of Quezon Province booth grabbed from the Facebook page

 of Mr. Alberto San Agustin Bay)