July 2012

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eastwind journals16 Jul 2012 11:25 pm

eastwind journals 41- YOU CAN’T BUY HAPPINESS

eastwind journals 41
A True Story
A French backpacker, who discovers paradise on a pristine island
in the Philippines, finds out that things are not what they seem.
My name is Bernie, a Filipino journalist, and this is my story. Names and places have been changed to protect privacy. Conversations have been reconstructed.


I had just arrived at Sta. Lucia Island, off Palawan in the Philippines. It was so tiny, you could walk around it in an hour or so. Sta. Lucia was a premiere tourist resort owned by Pierre, a French ex-backpacker-turned resort owner. Sta. Lucia was not a five-star. Rather, it had a rustic air, which catered mostly to high-end European backpackers (meaning not so poor) in search of sea adventure, who wanted to ‘rough it up’. There was talcum-powder snow-white sand everywhere at Sta. Lucia, that would make Boracay look like a copy.


Pierre had a keen marketing sense because he was an ex-backpacker. For backpackers, the appeal of bamboo-slit floors was greater than marble ones. Pierre built cement cottages for durability, but wrapped the pillars and walls in bamboo to create that rustic ambience.


In Puerto Galera, Swedes would rather stay on the rooftops of jeepneys, leaving the inside seats empty. When you are sick and tired of comfort, you look for discomfort. Pierre’s market was the moneyed backpackers of Europe who were bored with affluence and the culture it bred. Somehow, there is a way that affluence siphons spirituality. For Pierre, it was a thriving going-back-to-nature market. His marketing secret was simple. He had a fantastic five-star cuisine that offered buffet breakfasts, lunches and dinners, where the bulk of his profits came from. Sta. Lucia was a resounding tourism success.


Getting off the boat, I was greeted by Pierre with a warm smile that blended with the gathering dusk.


Hi there, Welcome to paradise.


Hi. Bernie here.


Pierre here. Welcome.


Out of nowhere, a pretty young native instantly appeared, attempting to put a lei on me. I resisted. She handed a tall glass of iced red juice.


Hi. No need for a lei for me. Watermelon?


Yes sir.


No thanks. Do you have a beer?


Oh yes sir, of course.


Pierre signaled with two fingers. She faded away and quickly returned with two frosted bottles of beer.


First bottle’s on me. Please join me.


He pointed to two folding chairs whose legs were buried in the sand. We sat, facing the reddening horizon. The tiny waves massaged our feet rhythmically.


You’re quite a host. Thanks.


Not really. It’s a job. Cheers.


Glasses clink. My first swig was an arctic rush.


Job? That doesn’t seem to jive with paradise.


It’s marketing. I have to survive.


No matter what you say, this place is really a fantastic island, truly a paradise.


That’s how I felt when I first came here 15 years ago. The island was deserted with only two makeshift huts. I put up a tent. No drinking water. A asked the boat man to bring me drinking and shower water every two days. No electricity. The stars seemed to glow brighter here.


No air pollution.


I slept at eight and woke up at 5:30 to wait for sunrise. It was mind boggling. But now it seems to slowly lose its luster.


That’s because paradise is in your heart, in your perspective. It’s not a place. Remember – stone walls do not a prison make. Islands do not a paradise make.


Right you are. The first time I came, I was in a trance. Such pristine beauty. No sound except the rhythmic hypnotic waves. It hit me, wham, like a baseball bat. I was so drunk with Nature’s beauty, there were tears in my eyes. I wrote my friends back in Paris in frenzy, telling them they had to see this paradise. I lingered and overstayed for two long months. It was heaven.


A woman appears out of nowhere with a log book.


My wife Nora. This is Bernie.


Hi Bernie, just fill in the log book please. Pierre, you have to do the barbecue when the fire is ready.


No problem.


From your accent, you must be Ilonggo.


Pretty good, Bernie. You must be a seasoned traveler. We have ten for dinner, Pierre. Two Danish, four French, three Germans, and a solo Filipino. I have to go and fix dinner. See you. Welcome, Bernie.


Nora leaves without waiting for my reply.


We make a good couple. She’s the left brain. She runs the place. I’m the right brain, I handle guest relations. Pretty good arrangement. I’m laid back, she’s a workaholic. It’s hard for me to cope with operations. She does all the accounting, license procurement. She takes care of bribing local government and tax collectors. I tell you, outside this island is a snake pit only she can handle. Without her, I’m dead.


Don’t mind my pointed question, Pierre, but I discern you’re not happy here.


What makes you say that?


I don’t know. I’m really guessing, because ex-backpackers like you and me normally have clipped our wings. Wanderlust is no longer in our veins. We no longer fly, which was our former obsession, right? Let me put it straight. You’re stuck in this island. It’s no longer paradise. It’s business. You pretend it paradise but ….


Pierre gives a frown. He raises his hand to stop me. He signals to a waiter with a non-verbal gesture. In a minute, a bottle of Jack Daniels appears with an ice bucket and two glasses.


You are one darn journalist, Bernie. You hit it right on the nail. Thank you for being frank. Now, finally, I can get this boulder out of my chest for the first time, after nursing it for a century. I have to do the barbecue in a while, so you can join me and we finish this bottle. Okay? And let’s do some serious talking.


Great. I noticed some nude swimmers on the far side coming in here. You should be more careful. Let the boat go around the other side so no one sees them. If word gets around, they won’t stop you. But they’ll fleece you dry. And you may invite some crazy voyeurs. You may even hit the papers, and that’s the end.


I know, I know. But it’s the amihan (north wind). It’s rough on this side. I have no choice. You know, a nude beach is a powerful appeal for Europeans. I remember Morocco.


You mean Tarazut?


Hey, you know the place. You’ve been around. That’s rare information. You must be a world class drifter.


A world class drifter would have been on the road for five years at least and would have hit both east and west hemispheres. I did only Europe and North Africa for three years. I met veterans though, even a hard core Canadian lass. I’m not qualified.


Me neither. I covered Afghanistan ….


You were there for the hashshish, right?


Right. Why not? Then Nepal, Tibet, India where I got hepatitis. Moved in here after. Also three years. I’m not qualified.


Wow. Tibet is a dream place for me. But I got no more wings now.


Tarazut was one hell of a nude beach. Big tits, small tits all around.


Tits do not a true nude beach make, Pierre. It is the powerful feeling of freedom. Sex has very little to do with it.


Yeah I know. I wonder why we feel so free without clothes.


It’s in the mind. Defiance against established social mores gives a feeling of freedom. It’s not necessarily real freedom though.


Right. In three days, I was bored of Tarazut.


It took me longer – five days. That’s because I come from a Spanish Catholic culture which suppresses sexual desires. I was like a wild horse out of the corral.


Well, here it is marketing. Tell me about your backpack days.


I hitched through Europe and North Africa for 18 months through 18 countries covering 25,000 kilometers. Southernmost Sahara, northernmost Sweden. When I ran out of money, I settled in Amsterdam another 18 months doing odd jobs. So tell me what’s bothering you.


We move to the barbecue area, and he starts to work while we talk. Jack Daniels helps us rev it up. As Pierre unravels his story, I begin to discern how his happiness was slowly being eroded. Nora was an alpha female. She ran the house. He followed all her orders. And there was a lot to do. He was busy but bored.


The moment I bought the island and married Nora in order to do so, you know, Philippine law. Foreigners can’t own islands, it was the beginning of the end.


You clipped your wings instantly. You moved from a free bird to a caged rooster at the blink of an eye. You equated the island to happiness, so you bought it. You bought not happiness but slavery. The pristine island became a business venture. You stashed your backpack and wings away.


Don’t rub it in. Yes, big mistake, Bernie. Now, I’m stuck.


Sell the island. Revive your backpack.


It’s not that easy. Nora is not a backpacker.


Leave her. Let her run the island. She likes it. She won’t miss you I think. Or visit her between trips.


I thought of that, you know. You’re right. She won’t miss me. I married her to buy the island. She married me to get out of poverty. We really do not love each other. I mean, trying to, but just plodding along.


Then go. Grow wings once more. You will go crazy in this paradise. You’ll end up hating each other.


I will, I will. Just give me time to get the guts to do it. Thanks Bernie.


(Loud voice from afar) Ready yet, Pierre.


(Loud reply) In a moment.


The Jack Daniels was almost empty now. We were both whoozy. Pierre staggered as he turned over the chicken. I took over. He sat and broke down, sobbing softly.


After dinner, I went to the nude beach and pealed off my clothes. I was alone but I could hear voices far away. It felt great. No one was watching, unlike in Tarazut where there was a crowd of nudes ogling at each other, pretending not to be conscious. I was alone. I took a quick cold swim and lay in the sand, watching a million stars watching me nude. I thought how lucky I was that I did not equate ownership to happiness. Expensive lesson learned for Pierre.


One can own an island but one cannot own happiness. Happiness is not a property. It is something within you. This is an important lesson in wings and wanderlust. On the road, I found excitement, but not necessarily happiness. Happiness is deeper, more mind-boggling than a roller-coaster ride. Sometimes what you search for in a lush eden you find in the gutter later. Happiness has a way of lingering, then suddenly fading. The thing is to not look for it, to not to have expectations. Happiness comes and goes like an intruding butterfly.


After a year, I found out the island was now a real five-star, with plush airconditioned cottages. That is the way it goes. Backpackers discover virgin places quickly, and investors take over and rape them slowly. After the drifters in search of happiness are the corporations in search of profits.


It was on the sands of Sta. Lucia one glorious evening, sharing life with a fellow ex-drifter, that I remembered a poem I wrote in the sands of Tarazut after reading a book on Buddha.


do not seek happiness which is elusive
you will just be disappointed
do not flee from pain which is inevitable
you will just be frustrated
rather seek love which brings happiness
and numbs all pain
true love has no expectations
except love itself
it is its own reward in joy or in pain
happiness and pain are mere fruits of love
pain is bearable if you are in love
happiness is not so important if you are in love
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eastwind journals11 Jul 2012 09:36 pm

eastwind journals 40 – NOYNOY’S GHOST WRITERS the EO 79 fiasco

eastwind journals 40
eastwind journals are the personal journalistic writings of Bernie Lopez, and are not part of the healing ministry. Any views or comments are his own and does not reflect those of the ministry.
The EO 79 Fiasco
I suppose it is alright for Noynoy to be surrounded by experts if he can’t make up his own mind, but if he is surrounded by pseudo-experts, then we are in big trouble. The country is being run by a bunch of guys with no vision nor sensitivity to fellow Filipinos. They are the blind leading the blind.


There are only two things in their minds – tax revenues and politics. They have a keen sense of the political situation. They are creative in legal maneuvers and in devising EOs to fulfill their self-serving goals. But that is all they know. Their obsession is to increase money flowing into government coffers by extracting what they can from the corporate world, even if they kill a million Filipinos in the process.


The sad thing is they do not even know they would be killing a lot of Filipinos, in spite of media screaming it at their ears. And don’t tell me they don’t read. They do, but they see what they want to see. They live in a never-never world of blind self-serving power. They have become anti-Filipino and will kneel in front of foreigners who promise to give them ten crumbs instead of the present two.


Noynoy postponed the signing of the monumental EO 79, authored by his ghost writers, almost half a dozen times in just close to a year. Why? He did not know better. He did not have conviction. He was scared of the two opposing forces ganging up on him. The whole thing was just too complex for him. He wanted an EO that would please everyone. He never heard of Herbert Bayard who said, “I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure – try to please everybody.”


The most glaring ‘pa-pogi’ (please everyone) provision of EO 79 to appease the losers, namely, the environmentalists, was to declare 78 ‘no-go zones’, many of which have been previously declared. Existing mines who keep on spilling tailings can continue doing so. In fact, EO 79 protects them by excluding newcomers, new competitors in a new mining moratorium. To include tourism sites in the no-go zones has very little teeth in terms of running after existing environmental criminals.


When finally, Noynoy realized Bayard was right, and he had to make a decision or lose face, he frantically called for his ‘experts’, who said through EO 79 – the goal is to maximize tax revenues in mining no matter what. So they forgot about the consequences and listened to the greedy multinationals who promised them heaven. For example, Xstrata-SMI in their Tampakan project said they would extract a dizzying $8 billion in gold and copper. They forgot to say that that is in a 25 year period, and when you remove all the expenses, the Filipinos will get a measly Php25 million a year (yes, that is Php not US$), a drop in the bucket. (read XSTRATA’s mining money myths). And so the obsession of the ‘experts’ was to increase revenue based on an illusion of growth. In local jargon, it is called ‘na-uto’ (gypped).


The ‘experts’ forgot to listen to the other side, the environmentalists, who warned of dire consequences. For example, Xstrata-SMI will build a 1.35 billion-metric-ton tailings dam atop a mountain to sit there forever, until an earthquake or storm comes breaks it. Then it will flow down the valley, tailings seven times the 200 million metric tons Placer-Dome Marcopper spilled into the Boac River in Marinduque. The Tampakan dam has the potential to destroy the lives of more than 2 million agrarian people, to say the least (read KILLER DAM part 1 and KILLER DAM part 2).


Todate, there is no fish in the Boac River in spite of the millions of dollars of rehab money. The damage is irreversible. Even if all the $8 billion went to Filipinos, it will be a drop in the bucket compared to the trillions lost in agricultural productivity for the succeeding generations. Is this what Noynoy and his ‘experts’ want, short term gain in exchange for a hundred-fold long term loss, a fistful of dollars now versus hunger for our children forever? Tampakan is at the core of Central Mindanao’s bread basket, nursing a vast complex watershed draining into six rivers in four provinces.


By the way, the Tampakan project is 10,000 hectares, bigger than all existing gold-copper mines combined, a total of 8,000 plus hectares. Tampakan is the single biggest blunder in Philippine mining history, if Noynoy succeeds to suppress South Cotabato’s open pit ban through EO 79 and if the Supreme Court allows him to. EO 79 will use the DILG as the tool to whip defiant local governments into submission, and to challenge the constitutionality of the Local Government Code.


If the 40 defiant governors file a class action suit against Noynoy, it will make the Corona affair look like a soap box affair. This time, it is Noynoy who will be roasted. I wonder if the case is impeachable, considering it is a ‘plunder’ of the Philippine agrarian economy.


EO 79 is an arrogant defiance of the Constitution, contradicting many other laws including the Philippine Mining Act itself. How a puny executive order intends to stand tall above promulgated laws is pure arrogance. I have a feeling Noynoy’s ‘experts’ are not lawyers. They must be miners, pseudo-environmentalists, or plain greenhorn appointees groping.


Should we blame Noynoy for being weak, or should we blame his experts for being pseudo-experts? I guess we blame both, right? Should we judge them for being anti-Filipino? Why not, if they have been blind to our needs and think only of theirs. Noynoy’s lack of conviction will destroy the nation faster than GMA or Marcos tried to do so (without knowing it, of course). And so the governors are saying, ‘See you in court.’ We have another historic judicial event coming.


[This article is being emailed to Exec. Sec. Jojo Ochoa, DBM Sec. Butch Abad, DENR Sec. Paje, Mining Study Group Sec. Atty. Grip Bueta, MGB Dir. Jasareno, NCIP Zenaida Pawid, CHR Chair Rosales, South Cotabato SP Ernie Catedral, British Ambassador Stephen Lillie, NSA Gen. Cesar Garcia, SMI Environment Mgr. Ian Callow, SMI CommRel Mgr. Jojo Joson, ECJP-NASSA Chair Broderick Pabillo, Marbel Bishop Dinualdo Guttierez, NASSA Exec. Sec. Fr. Edwin Gariguez, AMRSP Fr. Archie Casey, Ateneo de Davao University Pres. Fr. Joel Tabora, SJ, SAC Marbel Fr. Joy Pelino, Christian Monsod, Philippine Misereor Partnership Atty. Mario Maderazo, Alyansa Tigil Mina Jaybee Garganera, ABS-CBN Foundation Pres. Gina Lopez, Working Group on Mining in the Philippines Clive Wicks and Robert Goodland, Philippine Daily Inquirer Ed-in-chief Letty Magsanoc, Mindanews Ed-in-chief Carolyn Arguillas, and about 7,000 thousand mine watchers nationwide and abroad. Queries and reactions are welcome.]


Bernie Lopez
eastwind journals
opinion magazine, july 16, 2012
the intelligent wins wars
the wise avoids wars
the intelligent maximizes profits
the wise shares profits
the intelligent seeks victory
the wise seeks peace
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