27 to 29 January 2011
Puerto Princesa, Palawan
Bike for Hope Palawan
Every year we do a bike ride in a different province. This year it was Palawan. Governor Baham Mitra is an old friend and I wanted to visit his province and bring our programs and advocacies there.
We had our three day event planned months in advance. The bike ride is just the culminating event. We have seminars on various topics like Anti- Violence Against Women and Children, and Breastfeeding.
But just a few days before we left, we heard the terrible news that Dr. Gerry Ortega, also an old friend, had been brutally murdered. His wife Patty was my teammate in the University of the Philippines (UP) Volleyball Varsity Team. I have known Patty and Gerry for many years.
My first stop was at the church where Gerry’s remains were. Patty arrived shortly after I got there and I sat with her for sometime. Our coach from the UP team, Su Rojas, was also there. Fr. Robert Reyes, also a good friend, arrived and joined us.
After a while, I took my leave. I was back later that evening to speak at the mass for Gerry. Meanwhile, I had to go to the Provincial Capitol for the scheduled briefing about the state of Palawan’s health care and education. I am familiar with the country’s state of health care, but it is always an eye opener to get closer to the grass roots and see the situation on the ground.
The governor’s staff gave a very thorough presentation. The Province of Palawan is composed of many islands. In the case of Palawan, the population is geographically spread out. Compared to other provinces, it is more difficult to reach the far-flung areas. Many areas require hours of travel on rough roads. But still more can be accessed by pump boat. Dr. Gap Legaspi, my friend who is a neurosurgeon and the President of the Association of Filipino Neurosurgeons, joined us the next day. He tells us a story that illustrates the sad state of Philippine health care. Recently, a team of doctors operated on conjoined twins from Palawan. The mother was transported by tricycle and for hours was traveling on rough road with her baby’s elbow jutting out of her. It is a miracle that the mother and babies survived.
As part of our objective to reduce our maternal mortality rate that is very high compared to other countries in our region, the Department of Health (DOH) has come up with a policy to treat every pregnancy as a high risk pregnancy, necessitating pre-natal care by a trained or professional health worker. If such policy could be followed all over the country, that would mean mothers at risk, like the mother mentioned above would already be in a hospital or nearby health center or rural health unit before her due date so she could be monitored and she and her baby, in this case, babies, assured of a safe delivery.
Anyway, my work on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is another long story. See related blogs.
Of course, the presentation by the provincial government would not be complete without showing us their irresistible video about the natural beauty of Palawan. Although our time there was not enough to do the usual tourist activities, after watching that video, we decided to wake up at 4:30am the next morning so we could hit the road and do the land trip to get to the underground river and get back to Puerto Princesa in time for our other activities.
The Underground River, the Mangroves and the Ecosystem
We made it out of bed and in the cars in time to get to the shore of Sabang to take a boat out to the underground river. Unfortunately, we got there at a bad time. The water was so choppy and the boatmen did not advice that we take the boats out. So, the only thing I have is the picture of the underground river, which I got from our photographer Rap Rios.
The alternative was a bangka ride thru the mangroves. That turned out to be a wonderful experience. Our guide was an older woman known as “Lady Mangrove”. She blended with the mangroves so well, I cannot imagine taking a trip there and not having her with us. She so eloquently told us about the need to preserve the mangroves, how the ecosystem worked in harmony with everything around it. She pointed out various wildlife including snakes hanging from the trees right above us and multi-colored crablets scrambling around in the sand.
Back in Palawan, our seminars were ongoing. We got back in time for another eco-tour through the backroads and across the river. Part of our ride, took us to the Crocodile farm where I managed to find a live baby crocodile in my arms.
The next day was our Bike for Hope ride. We rode from Puerto Princesa to Aborlan. The roads were winding, with a mix of flats and rolling hills. When we got to the area where the mountains met the ocean, it was too hard to just bike through. I got off from my bike and went down to the beach area.
Our ride ended at the residence of Dr. Gerry Ortega’s mother. Gerry’s remains were brought there the night before and I wanted to pay my last respects before leaving Palawan. Patty was there and so was Fr. Robert. He asked me to say a few words about Gerry and offer a prayer for him.
Our last stop before the airport was at the Ramon Mitra Sports Complex where our Pinay in Action/The Younghusbands Football Academy’s Train the Trainers Program was ongoing. This was the first of our year long plan to bring running and football all over the country to train the trainers.
As usual three days is not enough. We plan to be back. But in the meantime there is work to be done. I am committed to building a floating clinic and floating library/classroom to reach the far-flung areas in Palawan. I hope we can see this plan become a reality soon.