Monday, November 28, 2005

Cebu's Least Known Face

Most of us are quite familiar with the enticing allures that the geography of Cebu has proudly laid out for the many visitors, both domestic and foreign, who troop to the island.

A strip-lean island, surrounded in most of its long and still enviable coast lines by one of nature's most fascinating wonders, the living, breathing and growing structures humankind loves to explore and gaze at, the coral reefs.

A fly-over on the tiny island strip, charted on a north to south orientation, will readily reveal how these coral reefs have encircled the entire island in a tight embrace. Easily distinguishable by its whitened outlines, hemmed in by landmass on one side and the dark-green deep on the other. Giving Cebu a much stouter outline than the land-bound observer would normally discover.

The old native residents of the place call the place Sugbu and the residents, Sugbuanons, which loosely translated mean "to wade through" and "those who waded through". Obviously describing how people got to the island, by wading through non-navigable and shallow portions of the foreshores and beyond.

But apart from the sea level or below sea-level natural wonders of the place, I soon discovered another physical wonder way up from the low-lying land and consorting with the low-flying clouds. These are the ruggedly steep, high and jagged, mountains as one travels across from east to west. From Cebu City to the City of Toledo, and specifically to the town of Lutupan, site of the defunct mining company, Atlas Copper Mining Corporation.

Words cannot amply describe both the beauty, the jagged peaks, and the possible perils that these ominous mountains hold for the many wary travelers.

As one ambles up from the flat areas of Cebu City and approaches the mountain ranges that provide natural delineations between the west and east, a stretch of about 20 kilometers is the timid and fearful traveler's answer to what it must feel like negotiating the most winding and treacherous mountains of the Himalayas if roads were built all the way to their tops.

Suffice it to say that that stretch is called Manipis, which translated means very thin or skinny. Which, applied to the road, means very narrow and winding. Very apt description given by old travelers who used to work in the mines. Now the road has been widened a bit, but still too narrow for comfort and safety. After all, a vehicle has to stop at many points along the way since some stretches do not have enough road space to allow traffic to pass each other.

One's deep fears of heights and of falling are generously heightened and exposed in the many hairpin turns that dot that perilous stretch. Laying bare gaping and steep chasms that stretch all the way down to the bottom of the mountains, at times maybe thousands of meters down. Sheer drops that make grotesquely unimaginable the catastrophic consequences of vehicles free-falling all the way to the bottom. Sheer drops with only a few feet of God's earth protecting and supporting the mindless vehicles negotiating through them.

Time seems to stand still as one's vehicle snakes through them, cautiously taking each dangerous turn with white bare knuckles and rapidly pulsating hearts.

In the end, however, the trip ends without any untoward incident and appears well worth it, experiencing in the process some novel pleasures interspersed with great fears and anticipation.

The entire mine complex, which used to be a thriving and throbbing hub of frenetic activities, appears now quite decrepit and mute. If I remember correctly, Atlas used to be the No. 1 copper producer in the world, supplying a good percentage of the world's demands. But the general declines of metal prices during the 90s took a grave toll, so much so that in that same decade, the mine, which had operated pre-WWII, had to close and lay off most of its operating personnel. Now only a couple of hundreds are left to secure the huge place and to do some basic regular maintenance chores.

The good news is that various talks are afoot for the re-opening of the mine under new ownership, with possible financial and operational participation of foreign investors. The prognosis is very good because metal prices are again riding on record-high crests, and there appear no ready suppliers around the world to fill in the slack in the renewed demands for copper.

This will be a very welcomed development for an island that has traditionally prided itself as the gateway to the south. But which of late has slyly referred to itself in tourist brochures tersely as simply an island in the Pacific, with the obvious snub of and dis-association from the rest of the island archipelago now mired in deep social and political problems; and getting very negative press in the rest of the world.

Not a very ideal situation in the island's drive to attract more tourists, and garner more revenues for its development projects.

In Memoriam: Nilda Neri Veloso

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(Nilda Neri on the right)
During the funeral services in Baybay, in Southern Leyte, I was asked to deliver a short memorial for my late aunt who was buried last November 12, 2005.

This entry is intended as a more or less permanent memorial of or testimony on the life of the deceased. Any relatives and friends then who chance upon this blogsite are invited and encouraged to lend their own words under the Comment section of this entry.

Thanking you in advance.

I am one of the sons of Amadeo R. Neri, an elder brother of our late departed aunt, Nilda Neri Veloso. I, my brother Philip, and sister Esper, who are here with you today on this most solemn occasion, are all originally from Cagayan de Oro, the same place where Tia Dedith, or Nilda to many of you, also first saw light.

With her death, we have witnessed the auspicious passing of the last surviving sibling of my father's family. And I understand the same is also true on the Veloso side.

Tia Dedith's passing marks a significant milestone - the complete transfer of legacy from one generation to another. We could say, the passing of the proverbial torch to the next generation.

Relatedly, this aspect of her passing has also been quite a revelation for me personally. Our waking up one day to confront the knowledge that we are now the older generation. That many of our cherished elders have passed on, leaving us veritable orphans.

Regarding our own unique and special relationships with Tia Dedith, these are what I can say based on my best recollections.

For most of us brothers and sisters, growing up in idyllic Cagayan de Oro during the early 50's, we may be able to say with one voice that we share the same recollections of Tia Dedith.

To us, Tia Dedith was an aunt we saw only on quite rare occasions. We formed our images of her as the youngest and best-looking sister of our father, who married an important person from Baybay. That with her husband, she split her time between Baybay and Manila. In due course, of course, we learned that she had married our late Tio Minggoy Veloso, who in his political career went on to become Speaker ProTempore of the House, aside from presiding over and tightly operating a thriving shipping business.

The rare visits of Tia Dedith to her old hometown were always welcomed and eagerly anticipated events by us, her nephews and nieces. And because of her vaunted generosity which reputation preceded her, we kids may even have regarded those visits as Christmas times for us. Since we wasted no time milling around her and doggedly continued on till our hands or pockets were filled with our generous shares of her pasalubongs.

Tia Dedith always rose to the occasion, leaving us with kind and lasting thoughts of her generosity.

When the years passed and we had developed our own travel wings, my brothers and sisters got the coveted opportunities of being able to visit with her in Manila. And at times stay with her as her non-paying quests in her hospitable house in Cortada, Ermita. Two older brothers even worked for them for some time. And as I learned last night, even my father was allotted office space in Cortada for a time.

In fine, we collectively got to know Tia Dedith better, through these intimately close contacts.

And as more years passed and the number of her surviving siblings dwindled, we individually got to know her even better - from her occasional visits to Cagayan to attend the fiesta and in turn from our visits to her in Baybay from the time she got widowed.

Today we are paying our last visit and our last respects to our last connection to our parents' generation, and eventually to that part of our past.

We take this once in a lifetime opportunity then to reflect on the long life of Tia Dedith and longingly offer her back to her God's warm embrace, laced with our equally loving testimony on a life well lived.

A life quite deserving of honor, respect, and the eternal reward promised to each one of us.

May God bless us all.