Thursday, June 30, 2011

Some notes on Samar

I haven't been to this part of the country so when the opportunity to come to Region 8 came by, it was difficult to pass it up. Leyte and Samar were attractive to me because of the history associated with these islands. For one, Samar and Leyte were witnesses to many brutal events during the Filipino-American War in the early 1900's that were claimed to be justified because it was considered an insurrection back then. Of course, this part of history was eventually corrected to show the perspective not of the enemy (and victor) but those who were oppressed and invaded at the time when imperialism seemed to be still the flavor of the west. In fact, there are still many injustices that are remembered today as many incidents have not been addressed including the infamous Balangiga massacre that until now cannot be forgotten because of the brutality and partly for the church bells that have been hauled off to the US as souvenirs of the unit that "pacified" Samar. This was the same province that is now remembered in history books as being the first to be transformed into a "howling wilderness" by a barbaric general who thought so less about a people he didn't care about.

Then there is of course the events towards the conclusion of the Second World War when many famous battles were fought on the Pacific theater. The largest naval battle was fought off Leyte Gulf where the US Navy faced and defeated the Japanese Imperial Navy. This was the last time battleships like the Iowa, New Jersey, Musashi and Yamato faced each other in an epic battle that was to cripple the Japanese Navy once and for all. Leyte, too, was witness to the liberation of the Philippine islands from Japanese occupation including Gen. Douglas McArthur's landing when he reportedly uttered the words "I have returned," to fulfill a promise made in 1942 when he forcibly left Bataan as the Japanese pushed on despite being held by heroic defenses of USAFFE.

I will try to write about what I have seen in Samar apart from the roads that we were evaluating. I am particularly saddened by the conditions and situations of people along our project road. Their poverty is so appalling to me considering the resources and the opportunities that the government and their leaders could have extended. It is so disappointing that it makes one wonder if indeed there is a bright future to a whole lot of people in that province. It also makes one reflect on his/her own well-being and situation in life. And it also makes one ask questions about fairness and justice in this day and age, and where inequality and inequity should be associated with decency and respect to the basic needs of man.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Near miss

Lost in the past days' heavy rains and the resulting floods that threatened to enter our home last Friday night was the close call I had last Thursday night as I returned from Korea. I had just attended the 9th International Conference of the Eastern Asia Society for Transportation Studies (EASTS) held in Jeju, Korea. From Jeju, I took the Air Busan domestic flight that was codeshared with Asiana Airlines to Busan, where I was to connect to Asiana Airlines flight OZ 705.

I had a long layover at Busan and asked for information about the city and what I could do for the 7 hours available to me prior to my flight back to Manila. I had already checked-in my baggage so I was practically unencumbered to move about. Unfortunately, the transit system from the airport to downtown Busan was not operational (surprise!) and I decided that the trip downtown where I would just probably walk around a mall was not worth it. I thought I would just end up spending on unnecessary shopping or dining.

As I entered the departure area after the routine immigration process, I proceeded for some Duty Free shopping for pasalubong. Afterwards, I took advantage of the free internet services at the airport, replying to emails received that day. There was no free WiFi at the airport so I had to make do with the terminals made available to departing passengers near the airline lounges. Afterwards, I proceeded to the gate assigned to our flight. This was about 4 hours prior to the tentative boarding time indicated on the electronic signboard near the gate.

As I had quite some time before my flight, I tried to catch up on the latest issue of Wired magazine that I had brought along specifically for the long lay-over. It was while I was reading that I noted an announcement for an Asiana flight to another Southeast Asian city being delayed due to technical problems with the their aircraft. I also noticed upon looking around outside the terminal that quite a few planes were sitting out from the terminal where passengers were brought to the aircraft by bus. I had experienced this before when our aircraft arrived in Jeju the Monday before, and at NAIA Terminal 2 in past domestic and international flights that couldn't be accommodated at the terminal due to congestion. It was then that I noticed the Asiana Airlines Airbus A320 sitting across the terminal, and it looked like it was being serviced based on the vehicles parked beside it and the activity I could see from where I sat. I assumed that this was the aircraft that was supposed to be used by the delayed flight announced on the airport PA system.

A few minutes later, however, the airport PA announced that the delayed flight was now boarding. A while later, I saw an Asiana aircraft taking off, about 45 minutes delayed from its original flight departure time. The other aircraft still sat where it was, and still apparently being serviced. I noticed later that there were no other Asiana aircraft arriving or departing prior to our flight though there were many Korean Air, Air Busan and Jeju Air planes arriving and taking off. I also saw that a PAL flight left for Manila ahead of us and a Cebu Pacific flight left for Cebu one hour before ours. That was when I suspected that the plane sitting from across the terminal would be our aircraft for the trip to Manila.

Upon boarding the aircraft, we already noticed that the airconditioning was off along with the plane's engine. This was already unusual for me considering a plane that was supposed to take off within the next 20 minutes normally had its engines running already. The Koreans on that same flight apparently were not pleased with the conditions as the cabin became warmer as more passengers settled in their seats for the flight to Manila. Not a few were already voicing their displeasure and were doing so in a way we usually see on TV. It seemed to me that they were already berating the crew. When the pilot started the plane's engines, the cabin suddenly became dark and a weird sound was heard from outside the plane. Minutes later, the pilot announced that the plane was having problems with its electrical system and we had to wait out for it to be repaired. What followed were more complaints and possible offensive words from the Korean passengers who didn't like the idea of being delayed. We were, after all, originally scheduled to arrive in Manila at 12:00 midnight. Any delay meant we were arriving early morning of Friday.

Abotu 30 minutes later, the pilot again attempted to start the plane and for the second time, the electrical system failed. This resulted in what I thought were insults and other offensive words from the Korean passengers. I could see that the flight attendants were already quite embarrassed and they could do nothing but try to assuage passengers on the situation. I was already thinking about whether we will be asked to deplane and wait our for our plane to be fixed or another aircraft to take its place. No such announcement was made and we had to wait it out for another 20 minutes. I thought that it was good though that there were cooler heads among the Korean passengers who were able to calm down others who were already threatening the pilot and the crew due to the displeasure about the situation.

The third time around, the plane finally responded and we were able to taxi and take-off without any hitch. The pilot continued to apologize even after take-off and assured everyone that the electrical system was repaired. Nevertheless, I could not sleep in the plane no matter how hard I tried to as each shake and rumble due to turbulence made me think about the possibility that the plane's electrical system will fail, resulting in a crash. It was no light matter considering that we were traveling 3.25 hours between Busan and Manila, and we will be flying between two typhoons including one whose path was to cross ours. Such assured us of much turbulence throughout the flight including a couple that made me quite nervous as I could not even see the plane's wings from my window seat due to the thick clouds around us. The only thing I could do was to pray silently that we don't have a breakdown in midflight.

I was only able to relax when we finally landed in Manila. In fairness to the pilot, it was one of the smoothest landings I ever experienced even despite my being too conscious of the turbulence throughout the flight. Yet, my worries were renewed when the the cabin blacked out momentarily after we stopped at NAIA Terminal 1. I could not help but think about what could have happened if this occurred earlier while we were still in the air. Moments later, my suspicion was confirmed by an airport supervisor who was going around the conveyor belt telling Filipino passengers that our bags will be delayed due to the difficulties experienced by ground staff in opening our plane's baggage compartment. I could not help but feel relieved that I "survived" that flight. Perhaps it was my prayers? My faith? No matter. I am truly thankful and grateful to the One Who watches over us and did so formally while in Church this morning to celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Ondoy all over again?

It's Saturday early morning and I'm wide awake. The simple reason for this is supposedly another storm watch. The storm, however, is already creeping past Batanes with such a slow pace that it's bringing a lot of rainfall to Luzon and especially the NCR. There's a flood just outside the door of our home and so far, the water seemed to stop rising. I'm informed that its much worse elsewhere so I won't complain much of this experience, only that much could have been done to avert such flooding.

The news have been reporting that Metro Manila's drainage system is more than 35 years old (probably much older) and clearly does not have the capacity for today's rains. Combine this with the fact that we seemed not to have learned our lessons in as far as garbage is concerned. Evidence of this is that most footage shown on TV and my observations when crossing the bridge across Marikina River earlier this afternoon show a lot of garbage floating along the rivers, streams and flooded streets.

Well at least now, there's a ton of info including more from PAGASA. In fact, their info on the status of dams and the flood monitor for major water systems in the NCR have been quite helpful. I don't even remember these being available back in 2009. [Click here for the status of monitored dams in Luzon Island.] Yet, much is desired about rainfall information. Friends have been posting questions about whatever happened to the much vaunted Doppler radars the government acquired to supposedly inform the public about rainfall intensity. Such info could help at least warn people of impending doom especially after such info was not available back in Sept 2009.

It looks like I won't be sleeping much tonight and it is already early morning. It's quite tough knowing the waters could enter the house anytime and especially if it rains hard again tonight. A lot of people prayed or are praying right now that the rains would stop and that the floods will recede soon and hopefully, quickly. I'm just glad the Clairvoyant is in Singapura and won't have to experience this. I am also hopeful that this won't turn out to be a sequel to Ondoy.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


I am currently attending a conference in Jeju, Korea and haven't had enough time to post something about my trip. Suffice it to say that I am impressed by the way they developed this island and how they seemed to have maintained it considering it is a major destination for tourists. Jeju is also in the running for the natural 7 wonders of the world considering it is host to many natural wonders certified by UNESCO as natural heritage sites.

The island itself is a wonder and I am reminded of a similar but smaller one in the Philippines - Camiguin. Jeju is actually a product of a volcano much like Camiguin is a "creation" of Hibok-hibok. Previous activity of the Mt. Halla are curious forms around the island. I will try to post photos of my trip here once I am able to download these. I will also write about the travel experience itself considering the airports and airlines I used.

Friday, June 17, 2011

School traffic

One thing I will miss about summers is the relatively light traffic along Katipunan Avenue, which is where I pass through almost everyday between my home and workplace. There is still some congestion during the mid-day and the afternoons but these are typically due to truck traffic as Circumferential Road 5 (C5) is a truck route. During the rest of the year, however, with the exception of most weekends and holidays, severe congestion is experienced along Katipunan during the peak periods, particularly in the mornings between 6:30 AM and 7:30 AM. This is due primarily to the traffic generated by schools along Katipunan Avenue, most notably the Ateneo De Manila University and Miriam College. The following photos show typical traffic conditions along C5 during the peak periods.

Slow-moving vehicles along the northbound side of Katipunan Avenue

Congestion along the northbound direction of Katipunan atop the Aurora Blvd. overpass

Congestion along the Katipunan southbound service road leading to the U-turn slot underneath the Aurora Blvd. overpass

Traffic along the southbound service road leads to a U-turn slot under the overpass where many vehicles turn, heading in the general direction of Ateneo. Most turn here in order to enter the university via its Gate 1, which is the main access to the Grade School. On most times, congestion is caused by these vehicles turning right at Gate 1 as they effectively occupy the two lanes of the northbound service road and block all other traffic. This is shown in the following photo where it is clear that vehicles bound for Ateneo and turning at Gate 1 are the main cause of congestion. Beyond Gate 1, the traffic lanes are practically free of congestion.

Vehicles turning right to Ateneo's Gate 1 blocking traffic along the Katipunan northbound service road

The afternoon peak is exacerbated by traffic generated by these schools that lead to longer periods of congestion as the number of private vehicle traffic dramatically increases when there are classes between June and April. Meanwhile, there is a noticeable decrease in traffic during the weekends and holidays. Such phenomenon is mostly attributable to the trip generation characteristics of schools, and especially those that tend towards the generation of much private vehicles. Ateneo and Miriam along Katipunan are just two examples. The traffic they generate and the consequential congestion is replicated in other places as well, giving headaches to motorists and commuters passing along major roads affected by these schools. Ortigas Avenue, for example, is usually congested during the weekdays because of traffic generated by LaSalle Greenhills, and ADB Avenue at the Ortigas Center is usually congested due to traffic attributed to Poveda.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Mistaken identity

I saw them seated at the departure lounge of the airport in Manila; heavily tattooed fellows including one who have a vicious blonde mohawk. They sounded either British or Australian depending on how sharp one's ear was and how familiar one is to the differences between accents. They seem to be mild-mannered and they were, too, during the three and a half hour flight from Manila to Singapore. I was quite amused by their looks and wondered if they happened to be Brit band I missed getting news of a performance in Manila. After all, there have been quite a few "revival" concerts in the last few years when the likes of Tears for Fears and Gin Blossoms took Manila by storm having failed to do so during their heydays.

Upon arriving in Changi, the fellows took some time clearing immigration. It was more probably because of their looks and the resulting first impressions of officials even though Changi should have had many similar visitors before being a hub in Asia. But even there, the fellows were well-behaved, contrary to typecasts for what looked like in the outside. After picking up their luggage and me mine, I happened to walk quite close to them towards the exit. I even waved to the Clairvoyant who was waiting for me with a smile that said "who are these you're walking with?" on her face.

As we walked towards the sign that said "Nothing to Declare," we were waved by staff towards a scanning machine. Again, I found it amusing, and my walking in proximity of the fellows probably made it look like I was with them so the airport staff also asked me to put my bags through the X-ray machine. The fellows were laughing by the time and one even apologized to me for taking some time to take his bags before me. We ended up walking out of the arrival area together and another fellow, an Asian and perhaps their agent in Singapore met up with them.

I think this is another case of judging the book by its cover. Of course, from a security perspective all was indeed according to established routines and procedures. But from a more human approach, I guess we've created so much bias from different information we have derived from all over that our judgement has been clouded often by such. So we forget the basics and get taken over by rules that tend to add unnecessary layers of mistrust or suspicion to otherwise normal and probably well-meaning people.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Not in the news

The Clairvoyant had a very unpleasant experience yesterday as she traveled back to Singapore from Hongkong. Her flight had to go back to HKIA less than an hour after taking off on time as their plane's landing gear failed to come up. Fortunately for them, the gear was good enough for their landing since the aircraft still had a significant amount of fuel and therefore was quite heavy during landing.

Such things don't seem to get reported in the news though it was a matter of concern not only for the passengers but to their relatives and friends as well. Therefore, information should be disclosed and I'm sure there are ways to inform interested parties without causing possible panic. I state this opinion as the delay was quite significant. Imagine staying in the aircraft for about 3 hours before you are instructed to deplane. It seems that the ground crew in charge of maintenance were not able to make a good enough assessment of the defective landing gear. I was quite surprised that the airline was not able to find a solution as smoothly and as efficiently as it was expected to given its stature in the industry. This was after all the flag carrier of ASEAN's most industrialized member.

On another note, I was also surprised not to see the Clairvoyant's flight in the list of departures of HKIA. It seems that they did some editing with the original flight numbers and there was a conscious effort to hide the fact that an aircraft encountered trouble inflight and had to return to HKIA. I give them the benefit of the doubt though, as I assume there must be some policy with the HKIA or perhaps the HKSAR.

I just hope that such experiences will not be encountered again by the Clairvoyant or me in the future. I am actually looking forward to my trip to Korea, which is coming up in about 2 weeks time. I will be having a stop at Busan airport and hoping that the transfers to and from Jeju would be smooth.

Saturday, June 4, 2011


Today was routine for me in many ways. For one, I had my teeth cleaned this morning. I learned this was quite overdue as I had the last cleaning done in October 2010 when I also had a tooth extracted. So it's been about 8 months since the last time I visited my dentist. I always thought I had my last cleaning in January but it now clear to me that that was actually my check-up with my cardiologist, an appointment that I would also have to make soon this month.

While having the procedure done, I thought about the small incident along SLEX yesterday when a responsible motorist motioned to us about our deflated right rear tire. We had just entered the expressway from the T3 link between SLEX and STAR when a motorist gestured to us just about the time we were accelerating. We had to pull over at a nearby stop and change our tire. During the change, I was reminded about the tires on our Mazda 3. It's been almost 4 years now since we got the car and we still haven't changed any of the tires. The standard procedure was to first replace the two front tires. These were the tires used for steering the car so it was important to have two reliable tires for one to be able to effectively control the car. So I prioritized replacing these two tires and will be purchasing two more tires in a few weeks' time so I would have 4 reliable tires during the wet season. When I get the new tires, I will be replacing the old rear ones with the 2 I bought today. I got my tires from the tire store of our next door neighbor. He recommended I get the Yokohama tires over the Bridgestones I planned to get. From the tread design, I decided to get the Yokohamas as they would give me the best performance for wet and even flooded roads. It is important that the tread design would allow for efficient pumping out of water much like a turbine does in order for the tires not to slip or hydroplane along rain-drenched pavements. Again, this was important from the perspective of road safety, a prime consideration for travel especially as I am a road safety advocate.

After purchasing my tires, I proceeded to another suki, my barber, for my regular haircut. The timing was perfect as it was a month after my last cut and I just had to have this one before the coming week when I would be having some important meetings followed by a trip to Singapore to be with the Clairvoyant. I won't have another opportunity for this in the coming weeks as I would also be flying to Korea for an international conference this June. As such, I also mentioned this to my barber so that he could cut my hair a little shorter than usual to allow for the possibility that I would be late for my next appointment.

All in all, it was a very efficient morning this Saturday as I was able to accomplish three important tasks for the day. I was actually planning to do these things for not a few days now as classes will be opening in a week's time. I have a few trips coming up and I figured I won't have time to do all these once the first semester begins. Fortunately, I had my dentist's contact numbers so I was able to arrange for an appointment while still away at our office's strategic planning workshop in a Batangas beach resort. Fortunate also that our neighbor's tire shop was along the way from the dental clinic to the barber shop. This allowed for me to do these routine tasks in succession. It also helped that my timing was good enough such that I didn't have to wait long for my turn at each task. For a schedule freak like me, I guess I enjoy doing this stuff and doing it efficiently every time. It is part of what I am and what I do and I look to continue doing so in the coming years.