#iBLOGforBANTAYAN started from an idea and a couch

It was an idea that came out of another idea. It’s funny, and wonderful, when ideas seem to spark off each other, until it becomes a series of fortunate events that connect people to other people, to places, to other ideas.

Last year, after the Climate Change Advocacy Project between Philippine Information Agency (PIA) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) was finalized, the Provincial Information Centers under PIA nationwide were given marching orders to roll out activities that would raise public awareness on what climate change is, and how Filipinos can protect themselves and their communities from its ill effects.

In addition to the generic activities that were required (campus caravans, Kapihan forums, media briefings) I wanted an activity that would get people writing and discussing about climate change. The generic activities usually only lead to spoon-feeding of information – you get people to gather, sit and listen to your inputs. But will this really lead to action? How can students and the youth learn about climate change if you don’t bring them outside and see for themselves what climate change is doing to the world?

It’s not enough to make people aware. You can be aware and yet not do anything about it. Experience remains to be the best teacher. Plus I’m a strong believer in the power of social media. No other modern medium out there can spread the word faster, can get people discussing, writing, arguing, debating, DOING, than social media. With the very high Internet usage in the Philippines, and the fact that Filipinos spend most of their time online on their mobile phones, social media is another platform that I wanted to use for the project.

I’m thankful that since I started working in Cebu two years ago, I’ve developed strong connections with the Cebu Blogging Community through Ruben Licera Jr. and Bjornson Bernales of CBC, both of whom are heavily responsible for how CBC is so organized and mobilized. I reached out to Ruben and Bjorn and pitched the idea of holding information sharing sessions between top bloggers in Cebu and local environment officials. I asked them if it’s possible to get the citizen media in Cebu writing about environmental issues from the perspective of someone who’s talked directly to concerned government officials.

You see, when it comes to information dissemination, access to government sources has always been limited to traditional media. Invitations to press conferences and media briefings with government talking heads – particularly in Cebu – have always been restricted to journalists from radio, TV, and print. Reporters cannot inject their opinions in their reports, but their opinions are shaped from their discussions with government officials. They just can’t write about it in their news stories.

However, bloggers, social media influencers, and citizen media have as much power to spread the information, and at an ever faster rate. Why not provide them with the same access? Most of the time – and I’m talking about Cebu here – the bloggers are tapped by hotels, resorts, restaurants, private businesses in the opening of new shops, or the telecommunication companies. Most of these bloggers, when they blog about government issues, rely on either second-hand information or what they learn from the news outlets.

Bloggers/citizen media are free to color their posts with their opinions. The ideal situation would be for them to develop informed opinions so that when they post it, the content they produce come from one whose perspective has been molded as a result of picking the brains of the experts. This almost always makes a difference. How many times have I heard a reporter remark after a press conference, that her/his opinion on a particular issue was changed after talking to a government official? They walk out of press events with informed opinions, that would hopefully lead them to make informed choices.

Thankfully, Ruben and Bjorn said yes. (These two are tight, to the point I would tease them there’s bromance in the air. They’re like ying and yang. They argue, they discuss, they bounce ideas off each other, then they reach an agreement.) They agreed to the idea, either they were just as crazy as I was, or because they were both too much of a gentleman to say no, or maybe – and I prefer to believe this was the reason – because they are ruled by the passion to do good, to make a difference.

This was what gave birth to the Bloggers Couch Chat Sessions under the Climate Change Advocacy Project in Cebu. No other PIA center nationwide is doing this, and I’m proud to say that we in Cebu remain to be the only one initiating these sessions. I hope though that once I’ve finished my accomplishment report for this particular project, it would inspire and motive the others to tap the social media influencers their area in communicating government messages.

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As for the couch, it actually stemmed from a photo I saw online. I was Googling for couch designs (there’s a frustrated interior designer in me), because we moved into a new office at that time. I was looking for L-shaped couches that would fit the corner in our office where I wanted to put up a receiving area. One photo that Google spit out was of a WordPress event where bloggers met up to interact. The photo showed an L-couch, and people were sitting on the couch and some were standing gathered around and just interacting.

It was a simple, harmless photo but light bulbs were sparking off in my brain like crazy. Of course! The bloggers sessions with the government officials should be set up like this, with couches, so that it won’t be too formal, and interaction should be free flowing and unrestricted just like you were talking with guests in your living room. Press conferences and media events are too formal and in a way, rigid. The bloggers sessions should be different in a way that these people aren’t reporters and discussions should be more like you were having a talk with guests in your living room.

This post is just the first of a series. In my next post, I’ll talk about #iBLOGforBANTAYAN, give you a glimpse of behind-the-scenes, the amazing writers we brought with us, how it is one of the best examples of Private-Public Partnerships, and the unforgettable paradise that Bantayan Island is, and how it lingers in the mind and in the heart long after you’ve left its shores.

Before I end, a little shameless plug:

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Championing the cause for a rabies-free Philippines

IMG_9730I’m now in the last leg of the three-part session of the Communicating Health Advocacy Mentorship Program (CHAMP) conducted by the Global Alliance for Rabies Control. Being a huge animal lover, this was an opportunity I didn’t want to miss, even if February has been quite the most toxic month for me in terms of event schedules at work. Rabies continues to be a public health concern, and having been a dog owner all of my life, this is an issue that hits so close to home for me.

GARC is an international organization that works towards the global prevention of rabies. Rabies cases among dogs and humans persist in the Philippines, and GARC aims to tap communicators in the goal for a rabies-free Philippines by 2016. Participants chosen for this communication training come from selected parts around the country from agencies like Philippine Information Agency, Bureau of Animal Industry, and local government units.

The course is broken down into three modules that taught us so far how to come up with communication plans and strategies to effect behavioural change, the educational media tools to use in executing communication projects, and running social media campaigns for advocacies.

So far, the course has been educational and very enlightening for me. This post is actually an output for the third module, which is to come up with a blog entry about the course. I’ll come up with another more comprehensive blog post on my insights and learnings in the next few days. I’m looking forward to being one of the champions for a rabies-free Philippines!

The questions I have put off asking myself on work, love, life

I hit the ground running at work when 2015 kicked in. Already, two agencies have permanently booked our Kapihan (I host a radio/TV forum) for the first two Wednesdays of the month for the entire year. Requests for activities are coming in from all sides, I have two more trips booked to Tagaytay for a mentorship program, and a possible business trip abroad from one of our clients (When someone asks you if would you like to go to ******, you don’t just say yes, you freaking scream YES! Fingers so, so tightly crossed on this one).

When this year started, I asked God for an open heart and for road signs because the last two years of my career have been life-changing and mostly fraught with challenges and angst. I told myself that I’m going to work my arse off this year like it’s my last year on the job, and to get at least two more stamps on my passport. Then December 2015 will be my proverbial fork in the road. It’s the month I’ve set to ask myself some questions I’ve put off answering for quite a while now: Do I continue on this career path which I haven’t strayed from for the past 16 years? Or do I take that turn in the road rife with uncertainty but also ripe with the potential for adventures and fulfilled dreams?

I have stuck to my comfort zone for more than 10 years. I know some people who have never moved away from their comfort zones for all their lives. They chose to live in that bubble, never stepping a foot outside it. I wonder if this was by choice? Or was this because there was never an opportunity for them to lose sight of the horizon? Should one even have to wait for this opportunity to come, like waiting for the wind to blow in the right direction in order to change sails? Or should you go and create those opportunities yourself, steering your own ship, carpe diem and all that?

I think wanderlust has bitten me lately. With the increasing popularity of travel blogs and me getting to know some accomplished travellers, I have suddenly been beset with the restless urge to go somewhere, anywhere, as long as it’s far away from my comfort zone. I have until now only been to 2 countries : India (Bangalore and New Delhi) and Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur). Both trips, which took place in the last 4 years, were paid for by someone else (India was courtesy of ASEAN, while Malaysia was a birthday gift from a very, very good friend). Both trips were epic for me. It changed how I see life, culture, race, people. It got me thinking and asking. It got me craving for more.

Continue reading “The questions I have put off asking myself on work, love, life”

Exotic street food alert: Pungko Pungko in Cebu City

Since I started working in Cebu, I have developed a hankering for street food – the fried, unhealthy ones. Barbecued meat, barbecued chorizo, barbecued hotdog, barbecued intestines. Right outside the place I rent in Cebu City are a couple of barbecue vendors and whenever I pass by them on my way home, the smokey aroma is enough to trigger hunger pangs. It’s always a battle of wills for me, that short walk home.

On the other side of the street and a stone’s throw away from where I work is a small, popular place that serves Tuslob Buwa – fried pig brains that you dip your rice into while it sizzles right in front of you. Tuslob Buwa – I call it the Zombie Food – is one so interesting that it deserves a blog post of its own (although if you do Google it up you’ll find a lot of blog posts have already been written about it.)

One street food I’ve tried recently – and one that I won’t be trying again in the near future not because I like it but because I want to live longer – is Ginabot, Cebu’s version of chicharon bulaklak. Ginabot differs from the regular chicharon bulaklak because after it is salted and dried, it is first dipped in flour before it’s deep-fried. I first thought it is pig intestines, but according to this blog, it’s the “mesentery”, or the membrane that holds the intestine to the abdominal wall.

In Cebu City, you can eat Ginabot at the pungko-pungko, or eateries alongside the streets that serve fried foods. Pungko means to squat, referring to how you have to sit slouched on a bench when you eat in these eateries. There’s a big plastic container on the table filled with a combination of all things fried: hotdog, chorizo, ginabot, pork, chicken, spring rolls (lumpia) and ngohiong (a local version of lumpia).

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It’s a fry-a-palooza pile. Forget the cholesterol for a moment. The pungko pungko along Llorente Street, Cebu City.

Before you dig into the pile, the server gives you two plastic bags – one to slip your hand into, and the other to serve as your plate. Or you can ask for another plastic bag if you want to use both your hands while eating. No plates and utensils in these places. You eat with your hands, which for me is a more fun experience.

I’ve been wanting to taste the Ginabot, so that was basically all that I ate. It tastes like soft chicharon, and well, a bit ewwy, a bit salty, just a tad sweet. If you’re not Filipino, and not gastronomically adventurous, then do stay away from Ginabot. But if you’re the open-minded type who wants to live right on the edge, then head on over to Llorente Street in Cebu City, where one of the best pungko-pungko stalls can be found.

Forgetting the cholesterol for a moment and enjoying Ginabot in a blue dress.

Forgetting the cholesterol for a moment and enjoying Ginabot in a blue dress.

Ginabot is best paired with vinegar mixed with a lot of chopped onion, which is what the servers give you right away after handing over the plastic bags.

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Before we left, the server was nice enough to ask me if I needed to use a hand sanitiser, which I didn’t refuse of course.

I know that’s a lot of plastic there and there are environmental issues to that. Hopefully these eateries will find a way to use more environmentally-friendly utensils. But in the meantime, this is how the locals do it, so I’m enjoying the moment.

Magic, Dreams, and Good Madness

Two years ago, I defied gravity. I made a career decision that whisked me away from my comfort zone. It was the biggest leap of faith I’ve made to date, and one that I am absolutely grateful to God for.

I’ve stubbornly held on to my comfort zone in Dumaguete City for ages, having lived here for most of my life. I thought I was content where I was, that I was where I was meant to be. Nothing happened to me, and I thought I was happy with that.

But it was fear that was holding me back. Change scared me. I didn’t want to disrupt the life I had in Dumaguete City. Each time an opportunity to move up at work came up (promotions meant working away from Dumaguete), I relied on my usual excuses: my folks, who are both in their late 70’s, needed me to take care of them, my father needed me to handle the editorial side of the family newspaper business, I can save more money living and working in Dumaguete, etc. Even the cats that I was feeding at our work building also became an excuse. It turned out I was using these excuses as my crutch, that I was just limping through life because I was afraid to put myself out there.

I even talked myself into thinking that I don’t have it in me to meet the responsibilities of managing our office in Cebu, that I’m not good enough. I allowed all my insecurities to weigh me down and pin me down. I couldn’t see what my boss, our regional director, saw in me. She was forever encouraging me – at one point even forced me – to accept the opportunities to move up to management level. Thank goodness that she, and God, knocked some sense in me.

Two years ago, I took a risk, and it was one that paid off big time. Sure, the money isn’t that much (It’s government. ‘Nuff said.) but all that I learned the past two years was more than what I’ve learned working in Dumaguete for the past 15 years. Those two years were the most trying for me, both professionally and personally. I had a hard time adjusting to the new work environment, new people, new ways, new thinking. I was tried and tested, pounded and stretched to breaking point. The stress ate me up and spit me out. I cried, I couldn’t sleep, I ate a lot. I was a mess for most of the first year.

I remember that night in my parents’ bedroom, my Dad and I were talking in the dark, and I was crying my heart out as I told him how I just want to quit my job and walk away from it all. That time, I wanted him to tell me to go ahead and quit. After patiently listening to my ranting and quiet wailing, he said: “If you want to give up now, fine, I’ll support you. But I raised you not to give up easily, and this is easy.” He told me to give it a year, and if I still felt the same way, then I should quit. 

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Continue reading “Magic, Dreams, and Good Madness”