26 April 2011

Baybay, Leyte. Philippines

Sunshine, Fem, Eve and I just finished a last minute trip to Baybay in Leyte, Philippines to see Lola - Fem's mum, and all the family. We had to take a bank loan to get there, but it was a great trip thanks to the wonderful hospitality of Mary and Titing, helped tirelessly by Celia and Tintin, and made fun and easier by all the family.

Lola was very old, and restricted to a bed, unable to move, mostly sleeping. It was very sad for Fem and Sunshine to see their Lola this way, knowing that death was not far away, but at least they were able to be with her, if only for a few days. While we were there she had managed to open her eyes and smile at them. Lola died the night we arrived back in Australia, leaving her 7 daughters and 1 son.

Eve the monster
The journey from Sydney to Baybay was a nightmare, and the whole time in Leyte was dreading the return trip. Thankfully the return trip was overnight, so Eve slept at least half of it. Once awake however, she became the monster, very restless in the confined space.

At 14 months, Eve seems to be entering a hyperactive and unsettled phase, coupled with clinginess to her mum. Sunshine endured a total 30 hours of Eve's restlessness going to Baybay, starting from Canberra and a 4 hour drive to Sydney, then a 9 hour flight from Sydney to Hong Kong. Connecting to a 2.5 hour flight to Cebu City where we were met and helped by Santos, Mary, and Fely (Sunshine's uncle and aunties). We all taxi'd to Cebu port where we boarded a ship for the 5 hour night cruise to Ormoc, then a 1 hour bus to Baybay, and finally a putput (cycle rickshaw) to Mary and Titing's house - arriving at 4am local time (6am our time).

We slept the first day away - except for Eve, who went wild playing with all the other kids. It was great to not have to worry for her any longer, and just trust all the family to pass her around. Apart from the journeying, Eve was great to have around, and the family really helped make it much easier.

Mary and Titing's house
Mary and Titing's house was packed wall to wall with family all week, and while Sunshine, Eve and I were given a comfortable room with a bathroom, everyone else slept on all other available floor and couch space. The joyful, family spirit was just awesome to be around, something I think many Australian families have lost...

Baybay is a charming little town in Leyte Province, with its own port, market, shops, schools and a nearby university. Flanked by mountains to the East, and relatively far from Cebu City, tourism does not appear to be adversely affecting Baybay.

A new shopping mall has been established, and while it's footprint is large, it seems to cater mainly for the more wealthy, and doesn't appear to be having too much of an impact on the older, more complex trading areas.

In the Baybay central area buildings appear to be influenced by old Chinese terrace house designs with ground story shop fronts and second story living. Larger 2 story concrete, brick and timber warehouses exist on larger properties. Outside the central areas, formed and reinforced concrete (prepared onsite) post and beam, infilled by brick, is the preferred building material and method. A large number of interesting and intricate timber, bamboo and thatch buildings still exist, but appear to have slowed in use. Termites trouble unprotected timber where it is used at ground level.

Low pressure water is piped to permitted buildings, but is not potable before boiling. Water heating is not common and though it is not used, simple solar heating could save time and fuel for boiling and washing. Low voltage electricity is also wired, but again, simple photovoltaic could be used to supplement the generally low power usage. Gas is bottled and delivered for those who can afford it, otherwise solid fuel such as wood is used for fuel. Rocket stoves would greatly improve fuel efficiency, reduce emissions and improve health for those using solid fuels. I didn't see any use of biogas, and while I heard that pig farming was too costly, I saw no evidence of methane gas generation from pig farms. Sewage is piped, and grey water is allowed to drain into normal water ways. Again, composting toilets and grey water treatment could help I think. Land line telephones and internet is available, but it seems most prefer to go without. Mobile telephone use is common.

On Wednesday afternoon, Uncle Boy picked us up in his 4WD Suzuki mini ute (now on my Christmas wishlist) for a beautiful drive up the Makinhas River Valley, to Fem's home town, Villa (pronounced Vilya). We ate the most delicious feast at Manang Soring and Manoy Badoy's house, again with all the family, and then we walked up to see the progress on Boy and Naty's house (one of Fem's 7 sisters).

Boy (64yo) then challenged me to a mountain walk, and we were both outdone by the Leyson sisters, who led us to survey their 6 acres of coconut farm in a steep mountain re entrant just over Villa.

Hot, sweaty and itchy, we climbed down to Domingo's house (son of Uncle Santos, Fem's only brother) who generously refreshed us with coconut wine, cola and bread. Domingo keeps a spectacular pet bird, native to the Philippines, called a Kalaw.

When the Japanese were repelled from Leyte, people living in provincial towns such as Villa squatted and farmed coconut, banana, yams and bamboo. At some stage after the war, the Philippines government issued titles for the land to the squatters, charging an annual tax from then on. Today that tax is about 2000 Philippine Peso (PhP) per year for 5 acres of land (Au$47).

Today, land central to Baybay township is of highest value and seems to sell at around PhP1000 per square metre with 1000m2 being a large section. A designed and quality building seems to cost about 20 000PhP per square metre.

Politically, Leyte seems stable and content, with provincial towns governed and administered by committees called Barangays. I did hear of one remote southern provincial mountain town called Monterico, that defends an autonomy from central governance however. Police and security were visible in Baybay, but low key. Their primary role seemed to be in the town central, defending businesses, and the port.

Socio economics
An extreme difference in income exists side by side in Baybay. A general labourer's income sits at around PhP120 per day, and a teacher around PhP500. A common meal costs PhP40. Poverty seems to affect at least two thirds of Baybay's population, but food such as yams, coconut, banana's and of course rice grow everywhere, and building materials such as bamboo and coconut seem readily available. Access to these foods and resources is negotiated with land owners, who usually expect a share of the harvest. The skills and techniques for using these resources seem to be commonly held by the poor. Coconut oil seems to be a significant secondary industry. Coconut that is roasted ready for oil production, fetches around PhP35 per Kg, and fibre for rope about PhP45 per Kg. Bananas, about PhP1 per banana.

On Wednesday, Sunshine and I had some basic dental work done by a lady easily as skilled and resourced as any Australian dentist I've visited, but affordable, gentle and pleasant! Sunshine had a back tooth seen to, that had chipped away during her pregnancy. I had a clean, and general check up with surprisingly nothing found that I need to worry about. My Australian dentist injected fear and lifelong worry about a toothless old age plagued with deformity, so mine was a PhP1500 well spent!

We caught the fast cat back to Cebu on Thursday, as there were no boats on Good Friday. On Friday we saw a small passion play of Christ's trail and parade, and decided to take a taxi tour south to the St Catherine Church of Alexandra in Carcar City, where devotional crucifixions take place every Easter. Unfortunately this year, they couldn't secure a sponsor for the event! No matter, the tour out to the church and back was worth a look.

Final thoughts
After seeing the quality of in-home nursing care that Lola received from Celia and the family, thanks in part to Fem sending money each month; and thinking about the many problems with the Australian aged care sector, not least that most Australian never really see death as part of life, I've been thinking a lot about the comparison in our ways of life.

Also, the opportunities that our two country's dollar value disparity presents. It is common in many countries in Asia - Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan for examples, to hire Filipinos into care roles. I wouldn't hesitate hiring someone like Celia to assist with our family's care needs and preferences, if it were permissible in Australia.

But I also get to wondering if more and more Australians might consider retirement in places like Baybay - where Au$s can go so much further, and the quality and extent of services being so much more...

An inspiring visit, staying with an extremely welcoming and hospitable family, gave us such valuable incite into the life and culture of people living in and around Baybay, and pause to reflect on our own conditions for living in Australia. For one, our family units are relatively broken down compared to what I saw in Baybay and Villa. We don't have the level of interdependence in our families that people in the Philippines seem to have, and I think we are poorer for it. There's more to this than meets the eye of course, and I'm looking at things through the eyes of Illich as usual, where he would say of Australia, all industrialised societies, and as a warning to regions undergoing industrialisation:
[e]lite professional groups . . . have come to exert a 'radical monopoly' on such basic human activities as health, agriculture, home-building, and learning, leading to a 'war on subsistence' that robs peasant societies of their vital skills and know-how. The result of much economic development is very often not human flourishing but 'modernized poverty,' dependency, and an out-of-control system in which the humans become worn-down mechanical parts.
 The rest of our photos are here, and videos here.

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starlight said...

Hello Sir. Your blog post is so nice. I was smiling while reading it. It makes me feel proud to be a Baybayanon. I hope you would visit Baybay again in the near future. God bless you and your family. :)

JohninJax said...

I really enjoyed seeing Baybay. I hope I'll visit there soon! Very nice blog about it all! Thanks so much.

Ma.Diwata Dyosa Engkantada Milagrosa said...

Was researching on Baybay when I stumbled upon your blog. I am happy to hear good reviews from you about our land and the people. www.sky-clad.blogspot.com

madmaxrerisen said...

I just want to say in Bay bay city a section costs for 50 square metres 300k pesos...

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