BEAUTIFUL BICOL

MANILA, DECEMBER 2, 2003 (STAR) RENDEZVOUS By Christine S. Dayrit - Arecent trip to Bicol proved to be a soulful sojourn. As we explored the God-given beauty of Luzon’s southeastern-most peninsula, we also discovered a people whose goal is to provide the youth with learning opportunities in the quest for quality education was truly touching. We were invited by LBC Foundation to witness the Models of Excellence (MOE) schools in Ligao City in Albay under the aegis of gracious Mayor Fernando Gonzales. My group headed by LBC project director Jose Garcia was fascinated by the colorful hand-painted murals on the walls and ceiling at the Ligao East and Pandan Elementary school featuring Walt Disney characters. We learned that it was the mayor’s wife, Linda, who worked on these murals together with talented local artists. Mayor Gonzales enthused that a school becomes an MOE when it is well-equipped with a library with computer facilities, is well landscaped, classrooms are brightly painted, curriculum is comprehensive and special seminars are given for both students and teachers. He is very thankful to the Harrington Foundation, and Books for the Barrio, which have made quality books accessible to far-flung barrios through the support of the LBC Foundation that facilitates the distribution.

Mayor Fernando, guest of honor LBC’s Carlos Araneta, Annie Ringor and media delegates viewed the beautifully renovated school and classrooms equipped with Internet facilities, audio-visual room, library and pre-school facilities. We also inspected the spacious stage area, which can be converted into a multi-purpose hall for functions such as graduations and seminars or conferences. After viewing the school, we were treated to an entertaining presentation of traditional folk dances and songs by the different grade levels of the school. The merry-making was further heightened as each student received school bags as early Christmas gifts. Over a sumptuous lunch of Bicol delicacies of laing, Bicol express and freshly grilled fish, Araneta shared that the LBC Foundation was founded to improve the education of the youth by supporting projects like Books for the Barrios. This is a non-profit, public-benefit California corporation run completely by volunteers who collect school textbooks, educational learning aids and devices from schools, publishers and schoolchildren in the United States and delivers them to remote barrio public schools throughout the Philippines. Priority is given to those schools that are most deprived and most remotely located – without regard for politics, religion or ethnicity.

It was fascinating to visit the only market library in the Philippines. This spacious facility, with brightly painted murals on the walls, is located in the heart of the palengke in Ligao City. It is well-lit, well-ventilated, has a variety of books, toys, computers and child-learning materials. Mayor Gonzales wanted the children of the market vendors to have a place to go after school where they could continue learning instead of running around the streets. This activity has brought down the number of accidents around the area and also allowed the parents more productive working hours knowing that their children were in a safe place.

Next on our agenda was sightseeing which we all truly enjoyed. No matter how many times I have seen the majestic Mayon Volcano, this sleeping beauty never fails to amaze me. The mere sight of its nearly perfect cone immediately places me in a state of reverence. Mayon Volcano takes its name from magayon, or beautiful in the Bicolano dialect. It was a passing Dutch ship in 1616 that initially experienced its eruption. Since then, Mayon has erupted more than 45 times. In 1814, the fiery volcano buried the settlements of Cagsawa and Buiao in the town of Daraga killing at least 1,200 people.

Today, the town of Cagsawa is submerged 130 feet below the ground as testimony to the tragic eruption. Declared a national park in 1938, the 7,940-foot Mayon Volcano covers an area of 1,150 acres and is considered to be the most active volcano in the Philippines, erupting almost every 8-10 years. Endemic to its ecosystem are endangered flora and fauna, including the Bleeding Heart pigeons – a monicker aptly termed for their red breasts.

The sun was beginning to set when we proceeded to our cozy rooms at the La Trinidad Hotel. At the lounge, we listened to the band and had dinner and cocktails. There was so much more to see in this paradise yet so little time to explore it. We vowed to return to visit Bicol’s other remarkable natural attractions like its whistling Hoyop-Hoyopan caves , spectacular Nahulugan and Binanuahan waterfalls. The smallest species of freshwater fish called sinarapan can also be found in Lake Buhi near Mayon Volcano while in small Donsol Bay is the largest-ever recorded gathering of whale sharks, the largest fish in the world. As if these attractions were not enough, there’s the dastardly, one-eyed, three-throated ponong, which one might still glimpse on one of those romantic moonless evenings. You must experience the Bicol region – a peninsula of beautiful people and places, world-class abaca products plus delectable spicy cuisine and mazapan pili. Biyahe na!

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For more information on LBC, call Jose Garcia at 851-3025. E-mail the author at Miladay@pacific.net.ph.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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