Living, learning, and expressing...

What good are ideas, thoughts, analyzations, opinions, emotions, lessons, and experiences if locked in one's head. They're as useless as a roll of film that will never be developed or photographs that are trapped inside a hard drive never to be exposed to the world. A stranger once told me, "We are not human beings here for a spiritual experience, we are spritual beings here for the human experience." Why not share and express what we're learning, living, feeling, and seeing?

Monday, August 14, 2006


No it's not a real gun. And no, I didn't join Abu Sayyaf. It's actually a bebe gun. This is actually a growing hobby in the Philippines: Airsoft.

This is the team from Marawi. They actually had their first Airsoft competition in Illigan.

Before going to Mindanao people warned me to be careful. I heard this from family, veterans I interviewed, friends, and even my relatives here in the Philippines. With so many warnings, I expected maybe some hint of violence that I heard so much about. But when I got to Cagayan de Oro and Davao, I was wondering where exactly is the Mindanao that people warned me about? Where is the Mindanao that is described in the media and through word of mouth as, “dangerous” and “full of terrorists?” I remember after 9/11, there were rumors of Bin Laden hiding out somewhere in Mindanao where one of his wives resides. But instead, what I found in Mindanao was probably the essence of the Philippines: it’s natural beauty in the people and in the land. It is VERY different from Metro Manila – not as commercialized, industrialized, colonized, Americanized, etc. And I’m not talking about the cities themselves, but within the people. The stories and history of the Philippines lied within the cultural dances performed, the music played through native instruments like the kubing and kulintang, the shops on the side of the road that sold bananas, papayas, mangos, dried fish, or any thing else that vendors sold to make a living.

Even if I had pleasant experience with Lakbay Aral, I knew I wasn’t quite exposed to Mindanao. So when given the opportunity to go for a second time – this time on my own – I took it.

Mindanao’s present reputation is a result of history, media, and ignorance. One must dig into the history books, back to the Spanish Colonization, which the people of Mindanao- Muslims (or Moros) but also the indigenous Lumad peoples - fought so hard against for more than 300 years. People of Luzon and Visayas looked upon the people of Mindanao as savages, but the people of Mindanao looked at themselves more as warriors trying to preserve their land and their culture.

After interviewing professors, students, peace-builders, and residents, I learned that there are several reasons to the conflicts of Mindanao. But I also learned that there are many people who are organizing and working for peace.


The Islamic City of Marawi has a population that is 92% Muslim. It is very different compared to the rest of the country, which is predominantly Catholic. In fact, the Philippines is the only predominantly Catholic nation in Asia. So going into Marawi was almost like another part of the world. It was definitely not the Philippines I’m so used to visiting.

Day One in Marawi

Today was too overwhelming for me. I’m not quite sure how to put into words the appreciation I have for the Mandale family. Not only for Nagasura Mandale’s (or I call him Tito Naga) all the accommodation, but also for exposing me to the unique beauty of Marawi. Like he said, “It’s another world.” I see the Philippines, the jeepneys, the small tindahans, and my people….but I also see the majority of them wearing abayas. Instead of seeing “God is good” written on the back of Jeepneys– which I’m used to seeing in Manila – I saw the words, “Allah is good.” Instead of seeing churches and images of Jesus, I saw mosques and Arabic writing on signs in front of stores and on the side of Jeepneys.

An old tombstone:

It’s very interesting to be in a city that many people deem as dangerous. But all I have experienced was welcoming people… Especially at my visit to the first mosque ever built in Marawi, which is found on the shore of Lake Lanao.

I was taking pictures and a woman came up to me out of curiosity. She asked me… “What are you taking pictures for?” I told her about how beautiful Marawi is, that I’m from a photojournalism student from the States, and how I wanted to take a picture of her. After some bashful hesitation, she finally agreed to. Lily was her name. And she was a beautiful and welcoming person. It was nice to meet her acquaintance.

This first trip to Marawi was more like an introduction. I only had about three days to just barely scratch the surface. Having met a lot of individuals and organizations, I hope to return- next time for a longer time so I could visit Cotabato, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, and other places throughout Mindanao.

Instead of finding what people told me Marawi is known for- Abu Sayyaf’s base of operations and their history of kidnappings- I, instead, found many people working for peace. I met the Executive Director of Peace and Development of Mindanao, Dr. Erlinda Hameedah Ola-Casan and several other professionals working towards the same goal. I also met alumni of ACCESS – a program where students from Mindanao go to Northern Illinois University for a month for workshops, interviewing, interfaith dialogue, visiting schools, and extensive training in conflict resolutions. They were from different places in the Philippines, and of different religious backgrounds, but they had the same vision.

Dr. Erlinda Hameedah Ola-Casan

ACCESS alumni

Mindanao State University- Marawi

Before going to Mindanao, I knew there was more to what I HEARD. After actually going to Mindanao, I knew there was more to what I ALREADY SAW. But after going to Mindanao for the second time – this time on my own – I know for a fact that there is so much more to the beauty that I barely scratched the surface of in the Islamic City of Marawi.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Maraming Salamat

With a closing ceremony, testimonies, and our final lunch together, Lakbay Aral’s two-week program ended this past Tuesday. Most of the participants flew back home, but some decided to stay with their families for a few days. I decided to stay here for another two weeks. So, here I am, at my Auntie’s house, editing some of the hundreds of pictures I took, reliving all the places we visited, remembering all the welcoming people we have met, craving all the delicious food we ate, appreciating everything I’ve learned and realized, and ALREADY missing it all.

I can’t even begin to express my gratitude for these past two weeks. Especially to the staff of the Commission of Filipino Overseas (CFO), who organized Lakbay Aral. Their hospitality is far beyond what we could ask for. Whatever we needed, they accommodated, not because it was their job, but because they really wanted us to feel welcomed and AT HOME.

One night, I with two other participants-Sarah and Abe- walked along Baywalk located in Manilla- which is almost similar to San Francisco’s Pier 39- and I said to Abe, “I hope I run into one of my cousins here.” He responded, “Look around. They are all your cousins.”

Throughout the whole trip, I have met so many people. Whether it being Allen Jadie, the project manager of the trip, the 32 participants of Lakbay Aral, the professors and students of the Women’s Philippines University and the Mindanao State Polytechnic College, the indigenous dancers of Cagayan de Oro and Davao, the children at the Davao Medical Center, and even vendors we have come across throughout the trip – they all have defined the Philippines for me: diverse, beautiful, and definitely a place I can call home. I have only visited a handful of the hundreds of places I would like to visit in the Philippines. I mean come on, there are more than seven thousand islands!

Corrigedor Island

Cagayan de Oro

Villa Escudero

Davao Medical Center

White Island

There is so much I have learned, and there is yet so much for me to learn. Which leads me to my upcoming project…

Before I came on the trip, I had an idea of what kind of documentary I wanted to work on while in Mindanao: Muslims in the Philippines. And I was practically ready to give up when none of the sources I was trying to connect with e-mailed me back. I had about three days left in Mindanao, and I thought, “Oh well, I’ll find a story when I’m back in Manilla.” That was until I received an e-mail from Professor Nagasura Madale informing me to go back to Cagayan de Oro. I was already in Davao- 7 hours away – and knew I couldn’t. Nor could I just leave the Lakbay Aral program. So, after debating and talking to other people, including Professor Madale, I decided to buy an airplane ticket and will actually be flying back to Cagayan this week! I know it’s all last minute, but I knew if I didn’t take up this opportunity I would regret it. Despite a lot of people’s warnings- especially since I’m a woman traveling on my own over there- I decided I had to do it. Because of my gender, I will always have that pre-warning before I do anything. And I do appreciate the concern, but because I am a woman, it should be more of a reason why I should do what I do.

I am very excited about my upcoming trip because I will be meeting with scholars of Mindanao studies, interviewing people about Moro struggles, and meeting alumni of Access Program- students who went to the United States for peace, meditation, and conflict resolution.

It has been an amazing and adventurous past two weeks… one chapter is over, but another is yet to begin.

Friday, July 28, 2006


After a seven hour bus ride, we finally arrived in Davao last night. At first we were real hesitant to go out because of things we heard from other visitors who so happened to be teachers from San Francisco State. Some were telling us to be careful and go out only in groups. Some said that they were getting random telephone calls in their hotel rooms. I wasn't there to hear all this, only word from mouth, he said she said whispers. And of course that got a couple of us scared. But after today, that skepticism has seem to fade. I think it has to do with the fears that come along with being in "Davao." After visiting the mayor's office and talking to other people living here, a lot of them kept on reiterating that Davao is not as dangerous as everyone thinks it is. A false perception due to media's coverage of Muslims in Mindinao and the kidnappings that are connected to the "south." I found it odd that here I was trying to create a documentary about the misconception of Mindanao, and yet my first night here I believed the rumors I heard.

I still am on my guard and am sure not to walk around on my own, but I won't let that fear take over my trip here. Especially after the warm welcome we had from everyone. Besides going to the mayor's office, we went to Davao Medical Center where we brought gifts and candy to the kids at the hospital. It was quite an experience. The hospitals here are definately different from the hospitals at home. Hospital beds line the hallways and cardboard replaces the mattresses of some bed frames. But besides the condition of the hospital, we were greeted with such a friendly staff and smiles from the kids. It was a disappointment to leave so quickly. I know we had good intentions, but I felt as if we were just strangers bearing gifts, walking in and then out. I wish we could have spent at least a day with them- playing, talking, laughing, or just keeping them company. It's one thing to make a child approaching us on the streets, trying to sell us candy, corn, or souvenirs-- smile by simply giving them pesos, but it's another to see a child restricted in bed smile after giving them a few toys and some candy.After that experience, I spent the bus ride thinking about the PeaceCorp again... or at least some other kind of organization abroad. We'll see...

But later on in the day, we had a dinner hosted by the Davao City government. We were greeted with traditional songs and dances. Of all the places we have been to in the Philippines, Davao gave us the warmest welcome. So many people have this opinion about the dangers in Mindinao, but it's in Mindinao-both in Cagayan de Oro and Davao-that we were welcomed so warmly. We were supposed to have a conference call with the President of the Philippines and meet with the mayor of Manilla, but neither of that pulled through. They extended their apologies. And so when we flew into Cagayan de Oro, we thought the mayor wouldn't make it either. But that wasn't the case. We met him and were also welcomed by the students of Mindinao State Polytechnic University. So far, my experience here in Mindinao has defeinately been different from what other people "warned" me about. I remember Erin Lubin telling me that people warn us before we are about to embark on something new or different because they themselves are scared. Well as my high school mentor once said, "Never base your decisions on fear." Besides... I'm Santiago...

P.S. When I find a place to hook up my laptop, I shall upload the photos... I promise=)

Sunday, July 23, 2006

History brought to life

Yesterday I went to Corregidor Island, a whole island that memorializes WWII Filipino and American soldiers who fought against the invasion of the Japanese during World War II. Old canons that were used during the war were scattered throughout the island. What remained of soldier barracks, buildings, and offices are now skeletons that somewhat reminded me of Rome's Collesium. What is left of those structures tell a story on it's own. Walls with no roofs and metal doors with bullet holes, physically illustrate the stories the Filipino Veteranos have told me. Walking through the Malinta tunnel and all the other tunnels scattered around the island, gave me an eerie feeling. I imagined the soldiers who fought for their lives, and the 2,000 Japanese soldiers that commited suicide on that island. And not too far away was Bataan- where Filipino and American soldier marched dowing the Death March. History was brought to life...

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

In the motherland...but not quite...

I am in the Philippines right now, but it doesn't feel like it. The program that I am staying with is informative and it's nice to be part of a group that is structured, but at times I feel as if I'm just a tourist. And I hate that feeling. I want to immerse myself with the people, "my" people. Staying in a five-star hotel that has a television right above a bathtub, bathrobes, and slippers and being driven around in a bus, is all too comfortable for me. Today as I was looking out from the bus window, I watched people as they biked, walked, worked, laughed, slept, and waved. Even if I am in the Philippines, the glass windows disconnected me from everyone.

One of the first things I did when I got to the hotel, was look at the view from the pool deck down to the streets below us. I see the traffic, the tin roofs, the pollution, and the crowded shacks piled on top of eachother and compacted next to eachother. I look behind me and I see the clear blue pool, jacuzzi, bar, and "soothing" music playing in the background and I thought to myself, "Where am I?"

I know the program is only looking out for our safety, and i deeply appreciate it. But there's something within me that is yearning for something more. Don't get me wrong, I am learning a lot from the tours and the lectures. Yesterday we went to Intramuros, Fort Santiago, Rizal Park, and Casa Manilla. I saw what was left of the prisons where Filipinos were held, tortured, and executed by the Spanish. I learned more about the country's hero- Rizal, his intelligence, and the revolution he started. I heard about the Spanish era, the colinization of the Filipinos, and the major influences they had on the Filipino culture. And today we went to the Malacanan Palace. It's almost like America's White House, but is associated with the Marcoses era, so it has become a museum. The history of politics in the Philippines is a twisted one. A very interesting one though. And everything I'm learning, I'm just loving.

So even if I feel like I'm a tourist, I still feel as if I'm re-learning my roots. The more I learn, the more I learn about myself, my family, the importance of these lessons, and what I plan to take from all of it. Besides, I got two weeks after this program to really immerse myself...

Sunday, July 16, 2006

An overload of overwhelment of feelings makes me numb

So in less than 24hours I will be on a plane to the Motherland.

People have been asking me if I'm excited. I can't say just yet if I am. "Are you scared?" I can't say just yet if I am. I can't really explain how I feel. I guess it really hasn't hit me. Until I'm leaving my house and hugging my Nanay, Mom, Dad, and my friends will it really hit me.

And I don't really know what to expect. I've been getting the constant "Be careful's" and "Be safe." The fact that everyone has been giving me warnings instead of words of encouragement, I can't help but have their attitude rub off on me. But I'm not letting it take over me. I'm excited, it's just that there has been so much going on that I havn't had the chance to really absorb the fact that I'm about to embark on an adventure. In between moving out of my apartment, turning in my portfolio, paying bills, buying more camera equipment, applying for graduation, and tying up other loose ends, I havn't had the chance to mentally prepare myself for this trip...