St.Matthew: tax collector, sinner

 

Bureau of Customs

DAVAO City – I came early in the morning of September 21 at the Bureau of Customs District XII Office located at the Port of Davao, Barangay Sasa.  This was my second time to be inside the compound of one of the most important revenue-raising agencies of the government. It  is also perceived to be one of the most corrupt.  (An insider told me their agency is in the fifth place.)  I learned later that the District XII Office has consistently surpassed its collection targets for about 10 years in a row.  Year-to-date collection level is already Php134 million above its full year target of about Php 5.2 billion.  A great feat indeed, but not many people know or even care to know.

My first visit to Bureau of Customs’ District XII office was sometime in 1988.  I was to pick up two boxes of used reference books donated by Oxfam-UK for our newly-established Halad Foundation, a voluntary organization for relief and rehabilitation of disaster victims.  It was only two years since EDSA,  so  I thought that the culture of corruption disappeared with Marcos in Hawaii. But I was wrong.  An overweight customs officer asked me to pay  US$450 for the release of the books. I was surprised because  our expatriate friends in Manila  had already paid for the freight and other custom duties for the books. The officer said he made the computation based on the tag price of the books which were in US$ and UKpounds.

I do not have U$450,  so I asked him to reconsider his computation. I insisted that those were used books donated by a charitable institution for charity purposes.  Later he came back with a new computation of Php 450 which I immediately paid thinking it was a fair bargain.  But on my way out, he brought me to a corner and handed me raffle tickets for a coronation event and whispered in the vernacular “donasyon po Sir para sa anak ko na kandidata.”

My second visit would be different, I thought. I was not there to get a package.  I was there to interview retired Brig. General Danilo Lim, the newly appointed Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence who was to fly from Manila to Davao that day for an unspecified mission.  Our Gold Star Daily publisher Mr. Ernesto Chu called me up a day earlier to secure an interview with one of the most decorated and colorful generals in the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Deputy Customs Commissioner Danilo Lim

A  few years ago General Danilo Lim refused to be used as pawn by some politicians in the game called high corruption. He chose incarceration rather than tarnish the honor of his name and his command.   He is among the few men in uniform who have the guts to spill the beans, so to speak against the excesses of their high command, much more against their commander-in-chief.

There were no big billboards and tarpaulins announcing the visit of the number 2 guy of the Bureau of Customs. There were no banquet preparations either.  Instead, the people at the lobby of the main building were preparing for the 11:00 a.m. Wednesday Novena Mass for office employees. It appears that only a few officials in the bureau knew that he is coming over. General Danilo Lim sent me a text message confirming the date and time of his arrival and asked me to meet him at the customs office.

St. Matthew

While waiting for his arrival from the airport, I decided to attend the Mass at the lobby of the Customs Office.  I don’t know if  it was providential or not, but the Gospel of the day was about St. Matthew, the tax collector who later became an Evangelist and whose house was visited by Jesus to the dismay of the Jews.  For them tax collectors are sinners because they enrich themselves for their Roman masters. This is very much like how most people today view custom collectors and BIR examiners.  But of course the end of the Gospel spoke of Jesus’ mission of saving not just the good ones but also the sinners.  A sigh of relief seems to reverberate on the walls of the lobby.

A few minutes after the mass, a convoy of five cars entered the gate of the customs office.  Excitement grew when the bespectacled General Lim wearing his signature immaculate white short-sleeve polo shirt alighted from the black Toyota Land Cruiser.  He was led to the office by the out-going customs collector.  Later in the afternoon, we joined him to the container yard to open 17 confiscated vans full of smuggled cargoes of premium rice and assorted personal goods from Taiwan and the US. That was a good “buena mano” for Commissioner Lim and his local team at the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Section. That  morning’s “catch” was Php 21 million-worth of misdeclared goods.

Kudos to Deputy Commissioner Danilo Lim  and his local team. Good luck also to incoming district customs collector Atty. Martiniano Bangcoy who promised a “new beginning” for the entire bureau of customs family in Davao. We will be counting on you Sirs!

 

(This article first appeared on September 24, 2011 in  Emmanuel Roldan’s column Davao’s Peak at Mindanao Gold Star Daily (www.goldstardailynews.com) The author can be reached via email at: emmanuel.roldan@gmail.com)

 

About Emmanuel Roldan:

Emi is my kababayan from Padada, Davao del Sur. We went to the same high school and were altar boys and choir members in our parish church. Today, Emi is a news editor/columnist of the Mindanao Gold Star Daily – a member of the Sunstar Group. Aside from being a journalist, he is also a development worker and a human rights advocate having served in various organizations engaged in human rights protection and development work. At work and at play, Emi was able to nurture his childhood love for music. He still plays mean tunes on his guitar and sings very well.

 

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Parental Wisdom

I think most of us remember with fondness the instances when our parents had their own ways of calling our attention to our “palpak” moments. Following are some of the  “nuggets of wisdom” that we use to get in regular doses from our parents.

Read on as these may come in handy when you become parents yourselves.

 

1. Si Inay, tinuruan niya ako HOW TO APPRECIATE A JOB WELL DONE :
                    “Kung kayong dalawa ay magpapatayan, doon kayo sa labas!
                             Mga leche kayo, kalilinis ko lang ng bahay.”
 
2. Natuto ako ng RELIGION kay Itay
                     “Kapag yang mantsa di natanggal sa carpet, magdasal ka na!”

3.Kay Inay ako natuto ng LOGIC :
                      “Kaya ganyan, dahil sinabi ko.”

4. At kay Inay pa rin ako natuto ng MORE LOGIC:
                     “Pag ikaw nalaglag diyan sa bubong, ako lang mag-isa ang manonood ng sine.” 

5. Si Inay din ang nagturo sa akin kung ano ang ibig sabihin ng IRONY:
                      “Sige ngumalngal ka pa at bibigyan talaga kita ng iiyakan mo!”
 
6. Si Inay ang nagpaliwanag sa akin kung ano ang CONTORTIONISM:
                        “Tingnan mo nga yang dumi sa likod ng leeg mo, tingnan mo!!!”

7. Si Itay ang nagpaliwanag sa akin kung ano ang ibig sabihin ng STAMINA: 
                          “Wag kang tatayo diyan hangga’t di mo nauubos lahat ng pagkain mo!”

8. At si Inay ang nagturo sa amin kung ano ang WEATHER:                                                                                        “Lintek talaga kayo, ano ba itong kuwarto nyong magkapatid,                                                               parang dinaanan ng bagyo!”

9. Ganito ang paliwanag sa akin ni Inay tungkol sa CIRCLE OF LIFE:                                                                          “Malandi kang bata ka, iniluwal kita sa mundong ito,                                                                      maari rin kitang alisin sa mundong ito.”

10. Kay Itay ako natuto kung ano ang BEHAVIOR MODIFICATION:
                          “Tumigil ka nga diyan! Huwag kang umarte na parang Nanay mo!”

11. Si Inay naman ang nagturo kung anong ibig sabihin ng GENETICS:
                            “Nagmana ka nga talaga sa ama mong walanghiya!”

12. Si Inay naman ang nagpaliwanag sa amin kung anong ibig sabihin ng ENVY :
                              “Maraming mga batang ulila sa magulang.
                             Di ba kayo nagpapasalamat at mayroon kayong magulang na tulad namin?”
 
13. Si Itay naman ang nagturo sa akin ng ANTICIPATION:
                             “Sige kang bata ka, hintayin mong makarating tayo sa bahay!”

14. At si Itay pa rin ang nagturo kay Kuya kung anong ibig sabihin ng RECEIVING: 
                              “Uupakan kita pagdating natin sa bahay!” 

15. At si Itay pa rin ang nagturo kay Kuya kung anong ibig sabihin ng DETERMINATION: 
                         “Hanapin mo yung pinahahanap ko sa ! iyo, pag di mo nahanap, makikita mo!”
 
16. Si Inay naman ang nagturo sa akin kung ano ang HUMOR:
                        “Kapag naputol yang mga paa mo ng pinaglalaruan mong lawnmower, wag na                                wag kang tatakbo sa akin at lulumpuhin kita!”

17. At ang pinakamahalaga sa lahat, natutunan ko kina Inay at Itay kung ano ang JUSTICE:
                             “Balang araw magkakaroon ka rin ng anak…tiyak magiging katulad mo at                                   magiging sakit din sa ulo!” 

 

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Pedring, Ondoy, et.al — Are we ever ready for them?

On September 27, 2011 Typhoon Pedring hit land. It did not hit Metro Manila directly, yet, the rains that pour on the metropolis cause flooding in various places. The situation is worse in Central and Northern Luzon. All of a sudden we remember the floods brought by Typhoon Ondoy which wrecked havoc on Metro Manila, two years and one day ago.

The government was more prepared in 2011 compared to two years ago.  Emergency workers evacuated river areas that are notorious for flooding.  Authorities enforced forced evacuations to prevent casualties. And some residents acted more quickly this time to evacuate homes as waters rose. The weather bureau has forewarned the nation about the forthcoming scenario. Their regular updates have guided disaster management officials and the general public.

But still, some government offices that have not stepped up to the plate. The suspension of classes at the college levels came at a time when most students have already gone to their colleges and universities. Likewise, the announcement that government employees not involved in emergency work do not have to report to their offices also came late in the morning Result:  thousands of students and employees got stranded. The joke around town was that people were already swimming in the floods when they heard that classes and work were already suspended(see image).

There is also the question of why those in-charge of the dams have to wait for the water levels to reach almost spilling levels before they start releasing the waters. After all, the amount of rainfall hitting the various areas in the country has been measured and forecasted by Pagasa with a comfortable margin of accuracy.

In fairness, we have improved a lot in the disaster management side of the issue.  But on the prevention side, much work needs to be done.   Following are my reasons for making this conclusion:

  1. I am not sure if there is comprehensive plan to abate if not solve the flooding problem. And if ever there is one, I am not sure when it will be started. I have read a lot of press releases from several national government agencies and local governments on what they plan to do. But even the simple act of reforesting the Marikina watershed has not been started.
  1. There is no improvement in our garbage disposal system.   Tons of garbage fill up the whole stretch of the shorelines of Manila Bay along Roxas Boulevard after every typhoon – trash that are from the esteros and canals upstream. Obviously, residents are still throwing their garbage directly into our waterways, and the government appears helpless in enforcing whatever law that prohibits throwing of garbage to the waterways.
  1. We have not relocated the squatters occupying waterways and floodways. Illegal residents continue to squat on easements and clog waterways with trash.  Even middle to high income residents do not respect the easement laws.  Just look at upscale and mid mid-scale subdivisions where residents appropriate public easements, either fencing them off or worse still, covering them over with permanent structures that clog waterways with concrete.
  1. We have not de-clogged our drainage and dredged our creeks and waterways. In fairness, there were so many projects aimed at de-clogging of canals and esteros immediately after Typhoon Ondoy. Two years after, however, these efforts have slowed down. A casual inspection all around the metropolis will show that many of our canals are still clogged with trash.
  1. We hardly maintain the dikes and sea walls separating bodies of waters from land. The breaching of dikes in Pampanga and Bulacan as well as the destruction of the sea wall along Roxas Boulevard attests to our failure to maintain these types of structures.

Given all the above, it is a foregone conclusion that floods will still be prevalent. Heavy rains will result in submerged streets and the best we can do is prepared for the floods. Following are simple reminders that will help anyone reduce the losses brought about by floods:

  1. Have an emergency plan and an emergency kit.  Talk about an evacuation plan, what to do, where to meet, what things to have, and the contents of a grab and go bag in the event that calamities would happen. Make sure all members of the family, including household help are aware of this plan.
  1. Make sure you have an Act of God insurance coverage for your house and your car.  This will protect your house, its contents, as well as provide coverage for lost rental income if you are renting your properties. The same goes for your car.
  1. Secure your important files and documents?  Back-up your computer files and store it online.  Scan important documents like land titles, passports, transcripts, diplomas, pictures, certificates, and pictures so that electronic copies can be stored safely in different secure locations or you can even store them online. Rent a safety deposit box in a bank located in a flood free area or invest in a fireproof and waterproof safe at home. Waterproof containers or plastic bags could also help  protect documents against floods.

And one last suggestion. Pray for our safety.

 

 

 

 

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VIVA Señor San Miguel!


The St Michael the Archangel image at the main entrance of the Catholic Church of Padada, Davao del Sur*

September 28-29 is  the parochial fiesta of my hometown – Padada, Davao del Sur. Our patron saint is St Michael the Archangel. I remember with fondness the image of our patron on the front wall atop the main door of our church. It is a symbol of the triumph of good over evil.  It is a concrete sculpture of St Michael stepping on the body of Lucifer and burying his spear into the devil’s heart. Below the sculpture is the phrase “KINSAY SAMA SA DIYOS.”

 

 

 

 

Exterior of St Michael's Church of Padada, Davao del Sur*

I often tell my friends that only those who can clearly describe how the image look like can rightfully claim he is from Padada. Moreover, I also have kababayans who maintain that only those who can explain the meaning and the context of the words “KINSAY SAMA SA DIYOS” can rightfully say that he understands the Story of Creation.

The church of St Michael in Padada was built 59 years ago in the spirit of bayanihan. The original chapel  was located  beside the national highway, more than a kilometer away from the present location of the church.  My grandfather told me that led by a Fr. Paul Gravel, a PME priest,  they first repaired the old chapel, after which they literally carried it on their shoulders to its present site. Of course, there were hundreds of them who enthusiastically did it.

 

Interior of the St Michael's Church*

Town folks, rich and poor alike, pooled their resources to build the church. They contributed money, materials, and labor in order to build the present church. That they contributed the best construction materials can be better appreciated if one examines closely the type of wood used in the construction of the church. Before it was unfortunately painted over in the 80s, the upper walls, pillars, and ceilings glistened in the natural sheen of the hardwood used.

Every year, the  parochial fiesta is a much awaited event in our small town. The fiesta proper is preceded by a nine-day novena. Every night during these nine days, there are cultural and/or sports events held either in the church grounds or in the municipal auditorium. After the fiesta mass, the catholic school students hold ground demonstrations wherein they showcase their terpsicorean and musical abilities. Parents and visitors watch these activities which usually end before noontime. During lunchtime and well into the evening, visitors are treated to sumptous feasts in various houses in the town.

Fiesta is an excuse for us to go home to our hometown to renew ties with old friends and to visit parents and relatives. If one fails to do so, the tradition is to light a candle in any church and say a prayer for St. Michael. The better option of course, is to gather some kababayans and their families and celebrate the fiesta in the part of the world where they are staying.

Let me close this post by sharing with you the Prayer to St Michael:

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in the day of battle; be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, cast unto hell, satan and all the other evil spirits, who prowl through the world, seeking the ruin of souls, Amen.

Mary, Queen of the Angels, pray for us.
All your seven Archangels of God, pray for us. 

.

HAPPY FIESTA TO ALL MY KABABAYANS.

VIVA Señor San Miguel!

*pictures in this post are from www.padada.com

 

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Lugang Cafe At Greenhills

The venue was Lugang Café –a three-story restaurant on Connecticut Avenue in Greenhills serving Taiwanese and Cantonese cuisine.

The ambiance is perfect. The interiors are posh and opulent in a modern oriental design. The owners have taken every effort to make sure the overall look, feel and appearance of the restaurant would justify the price range of the food, which is a little bit on the high side.

Level of service is excellent and consistent throughout the whole visit – from the time we arrived and looked for parking space, to when we waited to be seated up to the time we were served our food.

We arrived at the place a few minutes past 6pm. It was early enough to be able to get a slot at the resto’s parking lot across the street assisted by very able parking attendants.  However, we were already number 3 in the waiting list and had to wait for almost thirty minutes before we got seated.

Considering that the place was full of customers all the way to the third floor, the staff were trying their best to be on top of the situation.We got seated in the dining area on the third floor. We pre-selected our orders while waiting for our seats, but they did not start cooking the food until we were seated.

And probably in their desire to provide quick service, at one instance even the janitor served a plate of food when the waiters were busy getting the other viand from the kitchen in the lower floors.

And now for the food.

Putting Lugang Café’s Oyster Omelette to Test

Oyster Omelette with Sweet Spicy Sauce

Somebody from Chinatown told one of my sons that a good barometer of how well a chef cooks Chinese food is via the taste of his oyster omelette in sweet spicy sauce.  We always thought the better test was via pork or fish in sweet and sour sauce.  But since we all agree that we may be biased for our own kitchen’s version of sweet and sour sauce, we decided to check the correlation between the oyster omelet on one hand and the other Chinese food that we will order that evening on the other hand.  So that was the first dish we ordered and tasted for the night.

The verdict: 8 on a scale of 1 to 10 for the dish. After the dinner, we agreed that this rating has a strong correlation  with the way overall rating we gave to the dinner — majority of the food were very good but one or two may stand some improvement.

 Xiao Long Bao and Steamed Vegetable and Pork Dumplings

Xiao Long Bao
Steamed Vegetable and Pork Dumpling

 

 

 

 

 

 

These are soup-filled dimsums which have become popular offerings in the past year by new Chinese restaurants. Lugang Cafe has one of the better versions.

The pork  xiao long bao is good.   The skin was thin but the soup is contained.  As you bite into it the juice oozes  and you enjoy the taste of the  filling that’s you should into the  soy vinegar with ginger slices.

The steamed vegetable and pork dumplings is delicate and delectable.  We had to  make a slurping sound as we put the dumplings into our mouth or else we may have burned our tongues with its broth.

 

Stir-Fried Beef with Chilli Peppers

Stir Fried Beef with Chili Peppers

Served on a hot pot, a fair amount of dried chilies accompany the dish.  It has the heat spunk but is totally tolerable unless you eat the actual chili or chili seeds. The very thin slices of beef  has splinters of fat on the side. These absorbed the flavor of the sauce, resulting in a tender and flavorful bite.

 

 

Kung Pao Prawns (650)

Kung Pao Prawns

The kung pao prawns was cooked in sweet and spicy sauce with rings of red pepper and lots of cashew nuts. It tasted sweet, spicy and tart.  It was good enough but not great. This may have been due to a high expectation we had of Chinese restaurants as regards to the way they cook prawns and crabs. Moreover, we thought that for the size of the serving , it is a bit overpriced.

 

String Beans with Salted Egg (220)

String Beans with Salted Egg

This is the dish that impressed us the most. The vegetable was cooked just right and has retained its crunchiness. The addition of salted egg brought out just the right amount fo  saltiness to the dish. While eating we made some effort at trying to identify what other ingredients may have been included in the  dish — with the intent of cooking one in our kitchen.

 

 

Dong Bo Pork with Gua Bao

The Dong Bo Pork is  best eaten tucked in-between a sliced Gua Bao.The pork is very fatty, with a soft-stewed skin still on the cube. The meat breaks apart easily and is tender. The fatty layers between the meat is soft and juicy.

Dong Bo Pork
Gua Bao

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bellagio Breeze

Bellagio Breeze

This dessert was the big come on of the evening.  It is a  a tower of shaved ice, with all sorts of beans, tubers, sago mixed. We had a great time  sharing and enjoying the dessert.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are still a lot of items in the menu that are worth trying. I am sure that we will go back to Lugang Cafe some other time to try its other dishes and desserts.

 

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