Thursday, April 25, 2013

Coconut sunrise

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

Coconut woman is calling out/And every day you can hear her shout/Get your coconut water/Man, it’s good for your daughter/Coco got a lot of iron/Make you strong like a lion…

Thanks to Harry Belafonte’s hit song “Coconut Woman,” the wonders of the coconut had been immortalized in song long before coconut advocates of this decade aggressively pushed it to its deserved place in the world’s diet and quashed the West’s self-serving black prop.

Coconut refers not only to the edible fruit (or nut) but to the entire wonder tree—from root to crown—of which this country is blessed to have in abundance. But it is bitter knowledge that the Philippines’ natural bounties have not always been harnessed to benefit the many.

To say it bluntly, our coconut industry has miserably failed to be a flagship industry when it could have been. In decades past it was squeezed dry by rapacious beings that left the poor coconut farmers even poorer. Think coconut levy during the dark days of martial rule.

I have written a number of coconut articles of different lengths and focus. The coconut levy issue has always left me aghast because of how its wily crafters got away. To this day, the small coconut farmers who should have benefited from the levy have not seen the fruit of their forced contributions. “Kahit singkong duling (Not even a cross-eyed centavo)…”

More than a decade ago, entrepreneurs went into nata de coco (coconut gel) production. Alas, lack of supervision and quality control spelled doom while the Thais got the better of us. And then there was the advent of the virgin coconut oil (VCO), the wonder potion that health buffs swear by.

Books and books have been written on this VCO. But there’s more to the coconut. There are individuals who have taken the word—spoken or written—to the next level. They not only speak and write coconut. They do coconut every day.

One of them is Jun A. Castillo Jr. who runs Coconut House at the Quezon City Memorial Circle, a small restaurant (more branches to open, he hopes) that showcases coconut products—delectable dishes, ice cream, coco sugar, and coconut health drinks. Ah, I must tell you about the drinks—sparkling coconut water, pasteurized coco nectar (tuba without the alcohol), skimmed coconut milk, coco coffee. There is even a “coco not soy” that tastes like oyster sauce.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Symphonic diplomacy with North Korea

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

In February 2008 I followed with bated breath the New York Philharmonic Orchestra’s musical voyage to the Hermit Kingdom, aka North Korea, which then US President George W. Bush called “The Axis of Evil.” Being a lover of classical music, I couldn’t wait to find out what the concert’s repertoire would be, what great symphonic work would be performed.

Other questions in my mind then: How will this orchestra from the United States—among the world’s best—be received? Will music bridge the divide? Will there be locals playing? I was thinking of a North Korean Lang Lang. That was five years ago when North Korea’s strongman Kim Jung Il was still alive and the then heir to his despotic rule, Kim Jung-un, was not yet on the scene. Now he is, this 28-year-old-or-so “Dear Leader III” who threatens to push the Armageddon button if anyone so much as cross his imagined boundaries.

The NY Philharmonic’s 2008 performance is still on YouTube for music lovers to watch and be awed that something like that ever happened. That is, given North Korea’s current bellicose stance against its perceived enemies—the United States, South Korea, Japan and their allies.

With North Korea’s recent threatening posturings of the nuclear kind, I cannot help but recall those symphonic moments. As in, where have all the grace notes gone?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A mission hospital in Samar

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

While the election campaign noise rises to a deafening level all over the country, somewhere a quiet miracle unfolds without much fanfare, without the cackle of do-gooders aka politicians, but accompanied by humble appeals that this worthwhile endeavor will see completion.

The Missionary Benedictine Sisters in the Philippines are building a 25-bed hospital in Pambujan, Northern Samar, in response to the community’s critical need. This is not a fancy hospital, but neither is it going to be a barely surviving one that will serve as the last stop of the dying poor or a morgue for the dead poor.

It is going to be the best for the least, one that the poor and the almost poor can proudly claim as their hospital because it serves their needs well at little or no cost. A dream, in other words, but also a dream that should come true.

I am told that generous supporters have come forward to pay it forward. The Salazar family has donated a 3.5-hectare piece of land where the St. Scholastica’s Mission Hospital will rise and stand as an example of persons helping persons with real names, addresses, illnesses and medical needs. The building construction will be shouldered by Hyundai Asia Resources Inc., courtesy of CEO Fe Perez-Agudo, a St. Scholastica’s College alumna whose struggle to get a good education is a real-life telenovela tearjerker. Her phenomenal rise in the corporate world, despite the challenges she had to hurdle in her youth, is one for the books.

But I digress. And not to forget AIM of Vanves, France, that will provide a mobile bus clinic. But much more is required for the hospital to be completed and, more importantly, for it to be sustainable. Sustainability, the in-word in these resource-challenged times, is key. Else why build something with a very limited lifetime or one that will be taken over by rot because resources ran out?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Letter from a local candidate: A sampler

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

A friend of mine is running for vice mayor. She was a town councilor in the past; she gave her all and gave up, swearing never to get involved in local politics again. But she has changed her mind and has paired up with a dreamer and political virgin who is running for mayor.

Short on campaign funds and political backing from above, the two candidates are using a different strategy: person-to-person, small barangay meetings, letter-writing and prayer requests. No miting de avance. I am not disclosing my friend’s identity except to say that she was once a nun and is now into farming and environmental advocacies. In one State of the Nation Address, President Cory Aquino hailed her as among the “new heroes of democracy.” Here are excerpts from my friend’s campaign letter titled “Journey to a Dream.” (It is in both Filipino and English.)        

Please pray for us and our town… It is blessed with nature’s bounty and has hundreds of springs flowing from nine rivers. It is a “first class” municipality with an annual income of P100 million that comes mainly from the livestock and poultry producers. We claim to be the “Egg Basket of the Philippines.” But our town is a dirty town.

We have no proper waste disposal. And so our air is dirty, our rivers are dirty, our springs are dirty. Our politics is dirty. We have a newly built Police Station and a Court of Justice. They stand side by side at an end corner of our wet market amidst stinking garbage.

Nearby hospitals can attest to the alarming number of patients suffering from serious ailments that can be traced to an unhealthy environment. Our town leaders have nonessential priorities. The big covered court between the church and the municipal hall is regularly included in the Annual Budget. The last one amounted to more than P10 million. If not for the intervention of a few concerned citizens and the National Historical Commission and the Department of Tourism, a new P90-million municipal hall would have occupied the remaining open space of the town plaza.