I am on my way home now from the Philippines.  When I return, some of my friends will ask me how Filipinos feel about President Duterte’s brutal “war on drugs”.  I realize I won’t have very much to say.  A two week stay is too short to really understand a complex issue, though it is always tempting to become an instant expert.

I can say that some friends who voted for Duterte wish they had not.  The Catholic Church has come out strongly against the indiscriminate killing of suspected drug dealers and users, most of them poor people.  President Duterte has attacked the Church for this stand.  Many Filipinos feel that Duterte has made their country safer and still support him.  Much more I cannot say.

As we drove out of La Carlota on our way to the city of Kabankalan, we passed a large group of heavily armed soldiers lining the road.  A group of men in blue Tshirts were gathered in a field on one side of the road.  The fields we drove past were posted with signs that declared the land off limits to those men, members of a farmer’s group.

Our driver explained that 6,000 hectares (more than 12,000 acres) in this region belong to the Cojuangcos, the wealthy and land rich family to which former presidents Cory and Noynoy Aquino belong.  The struggle to redistribute land under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, signed by Cory Aquino on June 10, 1988, has targeted the holdings of the Cojuangco family and others in the landed oligarchy.

A Father Rodrigo Anoran of the Philippine Independent Church (also called the Aglipayan Church) has been in the forefront of this struggle for many years.  (The Aglipayan Church is an offshoot of the Catholic Church that does not recognize the authority of the Pope, allows its priests to marry and is found only in the Philippines.)

Our guide told us that Anoran is the ringleader of the protest we saw:  the soldiers were there to prevent the men in blue Tshirts from occupying the land of the Cojuangcos.  In his opinion, Father Anoran is up to no good.  The men trying to take the land do not even work on the hacienda of the Cojuangcos, he said, but have been imported from the mountains and are being taken advantage of by Father Anoran and others on the left.

Last year I wrote about the social justice movement in the Catholic Church, after we visited our relative Father Jose Cadungon:


The social justice issues that Father Jose and so many others worked and sacrificed for will not go away as long as fabulous wealth exists right next to tremendous poverty.  It was very tempting for me to jump to judgement about what was happening in the fields we drove through.  Then I realized that I really know so little.  My short stay can only raise questions.

For some background on the sugar industry on Negros,


And here is a clipping from 2003 that I found about Father Anoran:



This post is a photo gallery of dry goods (tools, baskets, etc.) from the town market in La Carlota.  The geometry of the displays, the repeating patterns, are very beautiful.

You can read related posts at:






Made from split bamboo


These baskets are cages for chickens.



What we ought to beat our swords into



One kind of bolo …


… and others


The curved sickles have a serrated edge for cutting grass.


Charcoal braziers







Hammocks for babies


Bamboo skewers


Four years ago I wrote about the Philippine jeepney, the iconic form of public transportation.  (“Iconic” is so overused today that it is almost meaningless, but I claim its full meaning for the jeepney!)

https://orionblair.wordpress.com/2013/03/21/jeepney-on-march-1-2013/ https://orionblair.wordpress.com/2013/04/10/jeepney-art/?frame-nonce=65da1b556d

The motorized trike is ubiquitous.   They fill the gaps between the bus and jeepney routes and the final destination.  Lina took these photos of trikes on Negros Occidental.  They are smaller than their Palawan cousins.


A trike at the market in La Carlota

Some drivers have improvised wooden canopies which offer shade and some protection from rain.


Passengers can sit behind the driver, in the trike itself, on the front “bumper” – or, in rural areas, on the roof!



The “trisikad” is a pedal powered trike, also common in La Carlota.



Trikes are used to transport much more than people.


And finally, another wheeled vehicle:  the cart pushed by “sorbeteros”.  As they walk the streets, a hand bell advertises that fruit sorbetes (sherbet or ice cream) are passing by.


One of the pleasures of our travels is stumbling across new places and meeting new people.  At least as satisfying is finding old friends and learning how their lives have changed since our last time together.

Perhaps it was the stunning hedge of bougainvillea that attracted our attention to a small building along a side street in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, in January, 2009.


Walking closer we saw a beautiful mural showing the indigenous peoples of Palawan: the Tagbanua, Pala’wan and Batak.

Natripal mural

The building houses Natripal (United Tribes of Palawan), a federation of tribal peoples who advocate for justice and their traditional rights, as well as sustainable livelihood for their members.  One project focuses on traditional methods of extracting forest honey, preserving the forest and the traditional way of life as well as providing income.  Their struggles are similar to those of tribal peoples all over the world.  You can read more about Natripal here:



Lina and I struck up a friendship with Jinky and Ronald, young staff members of Natripal.  They traveled together on a large bangka to the Tabon Caves, where the skull of Tabon Man (22,000 – 24,000 years old) was found, along with over 1,500 burial jars.  Other human remains date back to perhaps 47,000 years ago.

Lina and Jinky

On the way across the water to the Tabon Caves:  January, 2009

We visited Natripal again and found Jinky, still active and involved in the work of Natripal.  Our visit was too short to learn much more, but the re-connection was important.

Jinky at Natripal

Lina and Jinky:  April, 2017

Two new discoveries in Puerto Princesa:   Binuatan Creations and a small museum devoted to World War II, very close to the former first asylum camp for Vietnamese.

Binuatan Grasses

Binuatan Weaver

Binuatan weaves 17 different plant fibers (field grasses and tree fibers) into brightly colored textiles which are then made into a wide variety of finished products.  The weavers are men and women, many of high school and college age earning extra income.   The weaving itself is simple – no intricate patterns here.  Nor are the fibers ikat dyed, as is the case with the tinalak fiber of Mindanao.   What sets these goods apart are the bright colors, interesting designs and careful finishing.

Binuatan Gift Shop

The Binuatan gift shop

I have written about weaving and fibers in the Philippines before.  You can see these posts at:



The Palawan Special Battalion World War II Museum is new since our last visit to Palawan in 2009. This private museum is owned by Higino “Buddy” Mendoza.  He established the museum in memory of his late father, local hero and guerilla Dr. Higinio Mendoza Sr., who was slain by Japanese troops at Canigaran Beach during World War II.  It is clearly a labor of love, one man’s vision supported by a most idiosyncratic collection!  Artifacts and photos tell the story of the occupation of Palawan by the Japanese, a massacre of American prisoners here, the resistance led by Philippine fighters, the Bataan Death March.  In addition, we see uniforms from all the armies involved in World War II, on the European front as well as the Pacific.  I read profiles of WWII flying “aces” and saw a cap such as a Soviet pilot might have worn – on a female mannequin.  This may not be so strange, as the Soviet Union was the first nation to allow women to fly combat missions.

Russian pilot!

Hdden radio

A “canteen” that hid a radio!

Here are links to Binuatan and the WWII Museum:



For all of us who look forward to our gardens, here are photos from a farm in Amadeo, Cavite that we visited two days ago.





Onions and kale – surprising to see kale flourishing in this hot climate!




Our host, Meloy, sits in back with his son and wife.  He is in his early 20s and already a skilled farmer – and a very hard worker.

Meloy is about to leave with his wife and young son to the family farm in Cabanatuan to help his father to farm.  His brother came with family for a “despedida” – a farewell dinner.  We were invited too.  The meal was served on a banana leaf table cloth.  Everything but the fish came from the land.


From left to right:  taro, cassava (manioc), kangkong or “water spinach”, eggplant, long beans or “sitaw”, carrots, cucumbers, lettuce.  Except for the salad crops, everything was steamed and delicious.


Ampalaya, or bitter melon, grows well on trellises.

Bitter melon (ampalaya) has strong anti-diabetic properties.  The Native Americans of the Southwest used to eat a bitter melon indigenous to that region.  There, and here in the Philippines, the healthy native diet has often been supplanted by fast foods and soda.  A return to food like that we ate on the farm will bring great benefits.  And it is delicious.


Tomatoes are supported on each side by a web of blue plastic twine.



A footnote to the soda story:  on the island of Bacolod, where great amounts of sugar are produced, some restaurants are refusing to serve Coke as the local bottlers are importing high fructose corn syrup from Vietnam – cheaper than the local sugar!

Of the approximately 800,000 people who fled Vietnam by sea after 1975 and arrived safely in another country, some made landfall on the west coast of Palawan, the most westerly of the large Philippine islands.  There they were taken to PFAC, the Philippine First Asylum Camp, in Puerto Princesa.  PFAC opened in 1979, as the “boat people” arrived in great numbers.  (I’ve not been able to get a reasonable estimate of how many Vietnamese passed through PFAC in its 17 years.)

PFAC in 2009

The view east from PFAC

Like their counterparts at first asylum camps in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and Hong Kong, they waited, for months or years, to be resettled in third countries.  Many went on the Philippine Refugee Processing Center (PRPC) in Bataan, where after six months of training they moved on to the US.  Others were never accepted as refugees and remained on Palawan.

The PRPC closed in June, 1994 and the Vietnamese who remained there were taken by boat to Puerto Princesa and from there to PFAC.  Lina accompanied them on this journey.  She had worked since 1986 in PRPC and would spend two more years at PFAC with her Vietnamese friends.  These were families who had been denied refugee status, even though they’d been taken to PRPC, either because of health or legal problems.

Goats at PFAC

In 2009, goats roamed the land where PFAC once stood.

The Philippine camp was unusual among others in Southeast Asia because it allowed its residents to leave the camp during the day and run small businesses, perhaps fishing or selling goods in the market.  The camp itself had a market, schools for children and adults, and places of worship for Buddhists, Catholics and Protestants.

Lina lived about one mile from the camp.  Every morning she’d walk to PFAC in time for a 6AM prayer service at the Vietnamese Protestant church; then enjo y breakfast with her friends.  She would return at midday to her room, rest and shower, then walk back in the afternoon to the camp until evening.   She accompanied these families through the difficult choices they had to make as the camp drew near to closing, as she’d accompanied them through the tremendous disappointment of being refused entry to the US and returning to Palawan.

Lubaton & Anh!

At Viet Ville in 2009, with Pham thi Anh (to Lina’s right) and Pastor Lubaton (to my right), who worked in the Protestant Church in PFAC with Lina.

These friends now live all over the world, and we have visited them in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, all over the US and back in Vietnam.  They love Lina and she loves them, and I’ve been lucky enough to meet them through her and to hear their stories.  If you’ve been reading this blog in past years, you’ve already met many of them.

PFAC closed in 1996.  By that time, many Vietnamese had accepted repatriation with cash gifts to help them establish themselves again in Vietnam.  A few were forcibly repatriated, but unlike other countries in Southeast Asia, the Philippines allowed others to stay.  The Catholic Church opposed forced repatriation and supported the integration of the remaining Vietnamese into Philippine society.

Vietville Restaurant

The Viet Ville restaurant

With the help of the church, a 13 hectare village called VietVille was built in 1997.  It contained “more than 200 cottages, a restaurant, a chapel, a pagoda, and a vast playground for children that included a basketball court”.   Over 1,500 Vietnamese moved there, but by 2006, most had been accepted for resettlement in the US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

In 2009 we visited Viet Ville and met Pham thi Anh, a lovely older woman who has made her life on Palawan, running the kitchen that now serves tourists who include Viet Ville on their itinerary to nearby Honda Bay.

Pham thi Anh

Pham thi Anh and Lina in 2017

We returned a few days ago to see Anh again and to enjoy her good food.  She and another old woman are the only Vietnamese left.  They continue to run the restaurant with the help of the Filipino staff.  The French colonials bequeathed good coffee and baguettes to the Vietnamese, and the Vietnamese have now brought those gifts to Palawan along with their wonderful cuisine.  Crisp loaves of “banh mi” are now found at many restaurants in Puerto Princesa which advertise Vietnamese cooking.

Banh mi!

Banh mi

Will Viet Ville survive as a tourist stop if not as a home for Vietnamese?  That will depend on the Church’s willingness to intercede again, to invest in developing the site.  Anh told us that the Vatican must make this decision.

While we talked, a workman was repainting the arched gate to the Catholic Church in preparation for a celebration of Our Lady of La Vang, who appeared to persecuted Catholics in Vietnam in 1798.  Boat people reported that the Virgin Mary and Guanyin, the Boddhisattva of Compassion, appeared to them at times of greatest danger on the seas and helped them through.  Faith has played an important role in the lives of many of our friends.  Anh concluded that all she and we can do is to pray for a good outcome.

VietVille Church

If you’d like to read previous posts about the Philippine Refugee Processing Center, go back to

“Journey to the Philippines”  https://orionblair.wordpress.com/2013/08/07/journey-to-the-philippines/

“Riot”    https://orionblair.wordpress.com/2013/08/17/330/

“Belinda’s Journey”      https://orionblair.wordpress.com/2013/11/06/belindas-story-the-long-journey-home/

Honda Bay lies 15 kilometers north of Puerto Princesa, the capital of Palawan.  A number of the 7,641 islands that make up the Philippine archipelago are scattered about in Honda Bay, and they are now the destination for a bustling tourist business out of the wharf at Tagburos.  Visitors book “island hopping” trips in bangkas both big and small, which ferry them to as many as six islands where they can enjoy clean water and lovely beaches, strong sun and shaded beach cabanas, fresh seafood and cold drinks.

Islands from air


It was not always so.  30 years ago my family would fly to Palawan for some of our “down time” and ride out to Tagburos in the large “trike” of Palawan (a trike is a motorcycle with a sidecar and space for baggage).   There a bangka would be waiting to take us over to a resort on Meara Island that was run by an Austrian couple, whose names I remember as Frans and Marianne.  I remember no other resorts in the bay.

Bangkas at wharf

Our bangka waits in Tagburos for us to wade out and climb aboard.

Their resort was primitive, intentionally so.  No aircon, only sea breezes.  Hot water was warmed by the sun in a rooftop tank and fell by gravity for our showers.  There must have been a generator to supply power for refrigeration and cooking.  We ate in a central building without walls, eating wonderful fresh sea food caught by Johnny, an older man with one arm who paddled and sailed his tiny bangka out into the waters around Meara every day.  Other food must have been brought over from Tagburos.

We spent our days reading, swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving – for Frans taught diving – and playing games.  They had a monkey who bit, fun to watch but not for cuddling. In the evening, fruit bats, the huge “flying foxes”, would stream back from the mainland to their roosts on Bat Island.

Bangkas in line

Bangkas now anchor in line along the shores of small resort islands.

Frans protected the reef around his resort from dynamite fishing, so the coral was healthy and the fish abundant and so colorful.  Occasionally dangerous too:  the lionfish, stonefish and moray eel were to be avoided.  He allowed me to take my children scuba diving.  It was a magical experience for me to share this beauty with them.

Meara was not a great place for walking, as much of the coast was mangrove swamp.  I remember a walk when we ended up lost (for a while) and much bitten by the mosquitoes that love coastal swamps.

A typhoon once blew over Meara while we were guests.  Coconuts rained down on the thatch rooves of our small bungalows, and in the morning the long wharf was gone.  Frans was also an ocean sailor and his boat rode safely at anchor, but it took a while to rebuild a place where a bangka could moor to pick us up.

Our bangkero

Our bangkero and his younger son as we motor between islands

Meara was definitely a place to relax.  This did not prevent an older Austrian gentleman – Marianne’s father, I believe – from laboring for hours under the sun with a heavy roller, trying to pack down a tennis court from the sand and coral fragments next to the resort.


The shore where a tennis court tried to be born

I don’t know if he ever finished the court.  Some years later I watched Frans sail away from the Manila Yacht Club.  He may have been on his way to the trendy island of Boracay, where I heard he worked for a time.  The latest I heard came on this trip, when our bangkero (the boat pilot) told me that Frans died when his seaplane crashed near Roxas on Palawan.  I learned that Johnny too has died.

Kubo on Meara

Meara today:  a fisherman’s bamboo “bahay kubo” sits back in the shade with boats on the shore

We motored out to Meara and the bangkero showed me where the resort once stood.  The mangroves and other vegetation have closed in.  There’s no sign of the buildings or the wharf that once stood there.  Fishermen have settled in a few spots along the shore, but while so much of Honda Bay is now resort, Meara is mysteriously untouched.


This is where the Meara resort once stood.

The waters off of Palawan are rich in sea life.  Mangrove swamps protect the fish nurseries.  In some places the reef is still intact, though it is always threatened by dynamite fishing, careless boatmen whose anchors destroy the coral and now by global warming.  The fishermen may notice a decline in the catch, but the casual tourist can only admire and enjoy this bounty.

Lina and her sister Edna remember harvesting octopus, squid, shellfish and sea weed from the shores of Cebu when they were little girls.  They lived very close to the beach and would run down to swim and play.  Edna would lie down in a bangka (a fishing boat with one or two outriggers), make a shade canopy of coconut leaves and take a nap.  Papa would know to look in the boats when it was time to wake her.

So Lina takes a special delight in coming back here to enjoy the fruits of the sea.  They connect her to memories of an idyllic time in her life.  And they are delicious!

Here are photos of some of those gifts of the sea.  As I took them, I remembered walking through a fish market in Croatia some 20 years ago with my friend Paula.  I exclaimed about the beauty of the fish ranged in front of us, and she commented that, as a vegetarian, she also felt sadness to see them dead.  I confess to feeling some of that too as I look at these photos.






Cockles and Mussels

Singing “cockles and mussels, alive, alive-o”












Bangus or milkfish – the national fish of the Philippines!


Unicorn Fish

Unicorn fish

The woven palm fronds of Palm Sunday are called “palaspas”.   Vendors outside the Catholic churches sell them, and during the Palm Sunday mass the priests bless the palms with holy water.  At a special moment, the palaspas are held high and shaken gently back and forth.  The rustling sound of a forest of palms fills the church.


Palm Sunday in San Agustin


Palaspas – beautifully plaited palm fronds – are an important part of the Palm Sunday Mass. They commemorate the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The priest blesses the palaspas during the Mass. The faithful raise the fronds and wave them back and forth, a forest of palm leaves greeting Easter Week.

This is a special moment and one missing from Protestant services, so on Palm Sunday Lina loves to go to Mass.  I have accompanied her three times:  in 2010 in her home town, Silang; last year in San Agustin on the island of Tablas; and this year in Puerto Princesa on the island of Palawan.  The photos here come from those three years.  I will post a video of the shaking forest of palms on my Facebook page.

Making palaspas

Making palaspas:  Silang, 2010


Boy weaving palaspas

Boy weaving palaspas in Silang:  2010

Palaspas in Silang

Palaspas for sale:  Silang, 2010

Lina with palaspas

Lina with palaspas:  Silang, 2010

Tablas Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday in San Agustin:  2016

Elaborate palaspas

San Augustin:  2016

Closeup of palaspas

Closeup of palaspas:  San Augstin, 2016



A thicket of Palaspas:  Puerto Princesa, 2017


The cross

Palaspas Heart

A heart

Forest of Palaspas

Boys leaving the church through the forest of palaspas

I met Michael and Yvonne in Hanoi in 1991.  It was he who brought the baseball bat that got our baseball games going!
[See https://orionblair.wordpress.com/2016/04/02/bac-hien-and-phu/  ]

After they left in early 1992, Linda and I stayed in touch.  Sarah was born, then René.  We went to Louisiana to be his godparents.  Since 1992, our families have been together (in some configuration) a total of 38 times in nine countries on three continents!  Yes, I have kept a list!


Sarah, René, Yvonne and Michael in the kitchen


The exuberant chef!





This friendship between two families has deep roots.  It includes our children and now Lina.  We have shared the happiest of times and also some of our most difficult passages.   We have worked together in Asia and former Yugoslavia, and we have visited each other simply to enjoy time together.   In the past several years, Michael’s health declined as he developed progressive pulmonary disease, so most of our travel was to their home in Cheseaux-sur-Lausanne in Switzerland.


Michael shows off a gift from my son-in-law Phil – fall of 2014.

Michael and two of his sons came to Linda’s memorial service in 2007.  When Lina and I heard that he was very sick, we rerouted our Cambodia trip to visit him and his family in Switzerland.  Michael died on Holy Thursday, and a week later my daughter Anna and granddaughter Lif accompanied me to his funeral in Cheseaux.  It was very important to be there, for him, for his family and for ourselves.


Zora waits patiently at the window.


The Alps from Cheseaux, across the lake

The preacher spoke of Michael’s suffering and he referenced a book that I gave to Michael some years ago, When Bad Things Happen To Good People by Rabbi Harold Kushner.   Kushner wrote this book after his son Aaron died, at 14, of premature aging.  His book asks, “Why do good people suffer?”  He also asks, “What kind of God can I believe in when bad things happen to good people?”  Kushner spends a lot of time with the story of Job.  It is a wonderful book.  If you can read it, please do.  And if you’d like to see a summary of the book, I recommend Doug Muder’s notes that you can find on numerous websites, including this one:


Anna, Lif and I flew home from Zurich.  Just before we left Lausanne, Anna made contact with her friend and former roommate at the Dublin School, Karen Ariane.  They have known each other since 1993, almost as long as I’ve known Michael and Yvonne.  They are very close, and they too have seen each other at different times in different places.  We were able to visit with Karen Ariane and her husband Marek in Zurich for a couple of hours before our flight home.


It was springtime in Zurich.



Karen Ariane had a baby boy 4 ½ months ago, and in telling Anna of this, she hinted that this child was special in some way.  When we met them, she explained that Jakub was born with an extremely rare genetic disorder.  He will not grow up into a young man.

With Jakub

Karen Ariane with Jakub and Anna


We met these puppies as we left our picnic with Karen Ariane and her family.

It was both sad and beautiful for me to see Marek and Karen Ariane with Jakub.  They love him tenderly and with the knowledge that they have him for a short time.


Two friends

I saw these two vibrant young women together and knew my daughter felt Karen Ariane’s grief deeply, and that she also recognizes how fortunate she has been to raise three healthy children.   I was deeply moved that our trip to Switzerland to attend Michael’s funeral, and with it my winter journey, ended here.