VIRAC, Catanduanes – The only thing most people ever hear about Virac, Catanduanes is that it is the country’s Port of Entry for typhoons both big and small. Climate change may have alter that historical fact a little but anyone flying into Virac Airport nowadays will immediately be reminded of it because of the many tell tale signs left by Typhoon Nina last December. For starters the Airport Terminal is a mess as it undergoes reconstruction. Many coconut trees are just beginning to sprout fresh leaves after going through leaf shredding winds.
As far as tourism goes, we saw several foreign tourists coming in from the US and Europe and I assumed that most of them were tagging along with spouse and children visiting in-laws. I found out that within an hour’s drive from Virac you go through highways full of curves as you slowly ascend or descend toward beaches or upward to scenic views. Later in the day, I discovered that Catanduanes is a hiker’s paradise especially along it’s many picturesque hills that some visitors claim is almost like Batanes. Two places in particular, first Barangay Bato where we visited the PAG-ASA facility that houses one of three Doppler Radars.
There I met OIC Jun Patino, his associate Nick Tabios and security officer Mike Amaro who were dutifully minding their work and keeping the facility real clean and green. I learned that Typhoon Nina drenched the facility so the Radar had to be shut down until a thorough assessment and rehabilitation could be done. I hope the DOST and Malacañang can fast track the necessary work considering how vital such radar facilities are for national security in terms of aviation and weather forecasting. PAG-ASA has sent teams to the facility but four months is too long for such a vital and expensive installation.
The second selfie spot worth going to would be Binurong Point in the town of Baras. We pulled into a pebble beach, registered, hired guides and took a 15- to 20-minute hike up a slowly ascending hill and the reward was Facebook worthy to share! Blue skies and sea, islets and rock outcrops, black jagged walls of rocks, while walking on an unusual carpet of green that seemed like a cross between bermuda and carabao grass. Speaking of carabaos, they definitely completed the scene, as a herd of them grazed on steep slopes almost like mountain goats. I was told that there are little or almost no cows on the island so the beefsteak or carne norte we get might actually be Carabeef. Tastes great if not sinful according to Erap the patron saint of Philippine carabaos!
Aside from the “Batanes-like” scenery, Catanduanes also offers surfing areas for beginners during summer and big enough waves for experienced surfers later in the year sometime October or November. Just 33 kilometers from Virac you can go by UV express for P100 to Puraran beach resort where a number of foreigners were taking in the sun and surfing mild waves or just reading a book. P600 gets you a cottage with a fan while 1,800 gets you two beds, air-conditioning and “cable TV.” Actually out here its all satellite.
* * *
While my other visitors were busy taking Selfies, I ended up discovering the dark side of life in paradise. I learned from locals how they have been taken advantaged of time and again, by people representing the national government. When I pointed out the need to replace many of the damaged and aging coconut trees here in Virac just like what is being done in the Calabarzon area, a resident of Binurong told me that sometime January of this year, people from the Philippine Coconut Authority showed up and told the Barangay Captain that they would pay residents/farmers P40 for each coconut seedling they collect and replant.
On the word of their village chief many of the residents did just that and gathered thousands of coconut seedlings and waited for the PCA personnel to return with the cash and monitor the replanting. The villagers waited and waited and are still waiting. The Barangay Captain is so humiliated and can’t do much since he simply trusted the word of the people from PCA.
At almost the same period, people allegedly representing an office called FIDA or “Fiber Industry Development Authority” visited their barangay, listed down names and family members who would be the recipients of Abaca planting materials and would be paid P20 for each material planted. I saw hundred of Abaca trees in the areas but none of them were from the “FIDA” because the jokers never came back after collecting names to be used as data in their compliance report! Again the Barangay Captain was made to look like a fool twice over.
To complete their list of “lamentations,” I was told about how a B-U-B or Bottom Up Budgeting project funded P1 million to build a water impoundment project a.k.a water tank. The contractor built the tank during the rainy season and when summer came the tank was useless because the source of water dried out! Apparently the B.U.B turned out to be D-U-D or Done Under Dummy.
I hope that Secretary Manny Piñol gets to visit this part of the country and find out from ordinary people what acts of cruelty have been done to them by corrupt officials and employees in the field. Yes it is cruel to fool the poor and trusting people of a village who have been “Out of Sight – Out of Mind.” He should also ask why this area has not been supplied or developed for distribution or propagation of the high yield, sweet variety but low or short coconut trees that have been given out in the Calabarzon area. A source at the PCA said it is all a matter of personal initiative on the part of the regional manager concerned. I call it laziness.
* * *