What they say

My column against the Manila Bay reclamation program which purports to build a new city for tourism and commerce (“Farewell Manila”) elicited the following comments from Mr. Larry Ong: “I love your article and I totally agree with everything that you wrote. One thing I like to add is PUBLIC BATHROOMS (emphasis Mr. Ong’s) or should I say clean working flushing bathrooms in tourist areas, and for free. I have been all over the world and I noticed most countries have that convenience.”

Mr. Ong lived in the USA for 30 years,but decided to come back home two years ago. He must have had a few cultural shocks, among them the state of public toilets. He said: “A group of friends came to visit Palawan and I went with them. I was very embarrassed because aside from the clean bathrooms at the hotel, everywhere else there was either no bathroom or dirty, non-flushing ones. I had to teach them to do tabo-tabo. (They even charged, I think, P35 for the tabo tabo and the dirty bathroom. The nerve!! Anyway to cut the story short, my friends said the country is very beautiful, but they are not coming back. Not just cause of the bathroom issue but other experiences. I realized most tourists would visit the Philippines only once. My personal experience is that this country doesn’t know how to do things ‘Properly’.”

I was dismayed by his letter simply because when I was Secretary of Tourism (1998 – to Jan 2001) the Department of Tourism conducted a vigorous campaign for clean restrooms, starting from the tourism highway. It was precisely in Palawan at the Underground River Park where I had my first dreadful experience. As we waited for our turn to go into the now famous river, the local guide bragged that 30,000 visitors had already visited the place. I decided to check the restroom and it was so indescribably dirty. To think that 30,000 people may have seen it! My next stop was Cebu and during an assembly of regional tourism stakeholders, I spoke about that indescribably filthy toilet as a negative example.

After the conference I was be sieged by the delegates from Palawan, they demanded to know the name of the guide, which I really could not remember. Then, I got a call from the mayor (I think it was Mr. Hagedorn) who vowed he would do something about it, and to my delight he did keep his promise. But, judging from Mr. Ong’s letter, ningas cogon has crept in and taken root. What a shame!

Another column, “My nightmare” must have amused Mrs. Honorata Vicencio who began by saying, “I am your mother’s contemporary, the Older generation. I hope I am remembered still. I looked up in the dictionary the definition and instances of  ‘nightmare.’ It is ‘a very distressing dream, an evil spirit that was supposed to oppress people while they are asleep’.”

“You woke up talking in your sleep, hahaha! I am getting the feeling that we readers were taken for a ride by your nightmare. Panaginip lang pala!! Saludo ako sa iyo, dear ha, You are one of a kind.”

I had to denounce the desecration of the Rizal Park and monument by the NPDC and a company specializing in high-pressure washers and cleaners;they placed many drop-down banners advertising their services in violation of RA 10066. I described it in allegorical fashion, a nightmare. I believe Mrs. Vicencio got the point.

“A word aside, In 3 months time, I will be 95, I would be one year senior to your Mom. If you ask me how I feel, my reply Is this: Time is slipping by quickly, months and seasons become years, and my contemporaries and I are the other generation. But, comes the day that shall be my last, I’ll have no fear and regret… I have been granted a life of abundance. Thanks again for “My Nightmare.” What a nightmare it was! I hope you didn’t find me A confounded bore.”

My heart was gripped by certain sadness because my mother, after suffering a series of mini-strokes, can no longer write, her vision has blurred, and she can barely remember who I am. On the other hand, Ms. Honorata Vicencio who is practically the same age can still read the “Manila Bulletin” and knows how to email letters to me.

From Mrs. Conchita Aunario: “Thank you for your article titled “Reina de Mexico y Filipinas” in Manila Bulletin on December 14, 2017, Page 11. I was in Mexico City sometime in August, 1976. I attended a seminar at the Centro Estudios Monetarios Latino Americanos or CEMLA in the Distrito Federal. I stayed in a boarding house that is a walking distance from CEMLA. It was also near a church where I attended daily Mass. I felt so much at home in Mexico City because of the people’s friendliness and piety, especially in their love and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. I hope to go there again with my husband and family, on a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Guadalupe!”

I was already living in Mexico then and had heard about the CEMLA. I had a friend called Lydia Aunario, a classmate since grade school; we saw each other again at the Distrito Federal (Mexico City) where she and her husband, Paul Ballard, lived for a few years. I wonder if she was related to Mrs. Conchita Aunario.