Sunday, June 11, 2017

Remembering The Marawi That Was

The Islamic City of Marawi has been through a lot in the past three weeks. The city that was once home to thriving businesses is now reduced to rubbles after intensive clashes between the government forces and the local terrorist group. The picture-perfect landscape dominated by mosques, mountains and Lake Lanao is changed to the images of smoke billowing from the fire-hit homes. The sound of loudspeakers of mosques calling for prayer is now switched to the sound of mortar bombs and wailing sirens.

As of today, 58 soldiers/police and 21 civilians have been killed in the fire fight. More than a hundred from the side of the enemy have been neutralized. But there is no indication that the war is going to end soon.

More than the ruined buildings and flattened homes, the real tragedy in Marawi is the people fleeing their homes, carrying the slightest hope in their hearts that they could be allowed to live another day.

The stories we are getting from the conflict zone are disheartening. A teenager was killed after being hit by stray bullets while he was praying inside a mosque. Brave soldiers were killed in a friendly fire during a government-led air strike. A kid in an evacuation center had replaced the memories of the place he once called home with fears for bombs and armed people.

And this is far from the Marawi that I remember.

In 2013, I traveled solo to this city while I was completing my challenge to visit the 80 provinces of the Philippines before I turned 30 years old. It turned out to be one of my most daunting and enriching trips ever.

My itinerary led me to the sprawling campus of Mindanao State University, a few minutes away from the city proper and residing on a high altitude overlooking Lake Lanao. This beautiful campus is surrounded by shady trees and green hills. Here, students dwell peacefully and in commune with nature. Here, I realized that regardless of your religious affiliation, people can live together in peace. Here, war and divide are not in the equation.

At MSU, I had the chance to visit Aga Khan Museum where the Maranaos rich culture is displayed. I was introduced to the iconic "torogan," a traditional wooden house with intricate carvings. A few of these torogans can still be seen in the city.

Around downtown, I thought that Marawi, just like any other place, is far from perfect. It has issues with poverty, drugs and security. But the place has a way of telling unique stories of its people. I remember the fascinating boutique shop that displays fashionable and pretty dresses for local women. I also noticed the excessive number of tarpaulins put up by relatives to celebrate the victories of their kins -- graduations, passing board exams, bagging third place in an essay contest. These tarpaulins are everywhere and speak volume of the pride of its people.

As I sleep in the comforts of my bed at night, I think of the struggles of the people of Marawi, the soldiers determined to save the city, and the families of the government troops killed in the war. I can only hope and pray that peace will soon be restored, and that the people of Marawi would be able to regain the city they call home. 

Note: Thanks to the two students I met in MSU, Melchor and Lorenzo! They helped me explore their campus and Marawi with ease and depth.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

A letter to my firstborn son

Dear Nido Francesco,

You are already on your 3rd month as I write this letter. By now, your smiles are becoming more frequent, your neck strength is improving, your kicks are stronger, and we hear you cooing more often. 

So much has changed during the past months and I do not even know where to begin. 

Maybe, let me start by saying that you were loved even before we met you. You are the biggest blessing your Papa and I have received. And your arrival changed us in so many positive ways.

I had no qualms when I first learned that you were in my tummy. I thought, I lived 31 years of my life preparing to fit the bill of motherhood. I dreamed of you. I prayed for you.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

30 Magical Sunsets in the Philippines

The metro train was packed with afternoon commuters earger to go home from a busy day at work.
None of them would have probably noticed the stunning view from outside the train. At that moment, the late afternoon sun was about ready to set in Manila.

As the train sped off from one station to another, I noticed the swiftly changing dramatic hues outside. The sky was painted with a collage of colors -- from pink, bright orange, and red. The sun was catching up with the speed of the train and many times, it made attempts to peek through the skyscrapers in Makati.

When I finally reached my destination, the early evening breeze greeted me.

As I was walking home, I realized how magical sunset experiences in the countryside are for me. The seemingly ordinariness of sunset is something that I often take for granted amidst the crazy city life. This daily phenomenon seems so trivial for many of us that we often fail to appreciate and really see the calm and beauty of it. It's a reminder of a passing day, telling us that no matter how bad it had been, there's always another day waiting to make things better.

While I was traveling the 80 provinces of the Philippines, I have witnessed some of the most amazing sunsets, in some of the most beautiful settings -- beside the beach, atop a mountain, near the rice fields. Allow me to take you to some of these spots around the country.

Note: Some of the sunsets below are also included in the article I wrote for

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Project BookSail 2015: Limasawa Island

After the successful book drive for the schoolchildren in Palumbanes Island in Catanduanes, the BookSail volunteers were so fired up to start a new campaign for another island. But for some reason, we didn't get to pursue the plans. 

Until lately. The volunteers talked and decided that this project is so important not just for us, but most especially for the kids who have yet to see a library and who have very little access to books.

This year, we're set to continue the project. Another remote island, another set of schoolchildren.

This time we hope to send books and school supplies to the 205 pupils of Lugsongan Elementary School and Lugsongan Adventist Multigrade School in Limasawa Island, Southern Leyte.

You can be a part of this project, and we can be partners in making a meaningful difference to the lives of the kids there! We need your help.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

PSI Max Jim Tria: My job is not for the faint-hearted

Two years ago, during a small family reunion, you told me something I have never quite forgotten. 

"... not for the weak o faint-hearted ang trabaho ko."

While I felt pompous dishing out details of my adventures in Southern Mindanao, you were understandably silent about the specifics of your work. All I knew was that, you belong to an elite unit in the PNP Special Action Force. 

But now I truly understand what you meant back then. Indeed, your job is something that not so many people would take on. It entails stepping into the peripheries, and into the wild.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015


Dear Backpacking Pilipinas friends,

Let me greet you all a very happy 2015! May this new year bring you peace, happiness, and blessings way more than what you can imagine! And like many of you, I'm pretty excited for the many beautiful and meaningful days ahead! 

To start the year, I'm sharing with you this new project -- the Backpacking Pilipinas 2015 Calendar!

It contains 12 photos from 12 incredible destinations in the Philippines.  
Hint: Revel in the beauty of the Philippines -- from Batanes to Tawi-Tawi! :)

But it's more than just a calendar...

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Footnotes from my travels around the 80 provinces of the Philippines

Growing up in a small, remote village in Catanduanes made me appreciate the value of travel through books and dreams. I remember leafing through my Sibika at Kultura book --  making sense of our country's history and culture, and enjoying the pages showing the "Magagandang Tanawin ng Pilipinas." Books taught me that the Philippines is dotted with famous tourist spots like the Banaue Rice Terraces, San Juanico Bridge, Magellan's Cross, Maria Cristina Falls, and Chocolate Hills.

Back then, my idea of Manila was not about huge shopping malls or skyscrapers or traffic jam. Manila, back then, was about Luneta and Fort Santiago. 

More than anything, books taught me to dream.

For the past five years, I've been fortunate to have visited all the destinations that I have once read about and dreamed of seeing when I was a kid.

But my travels did not end there. Instead, I challenged myself to visit the more remote destinations in our country. I dared myself to visit 80 (of the 81) provinces of the Philippines before I turn 30 years old, a challenge I have completed last year.

Let me share with you some discoveries and lessons I learned while doing the 80 before 30 challenge.

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