The New Visayas, Playground of the Pacific

By Joe America

Sometimes I dream.

It gets tiresome dealing with all the bad thinking, bad values, and absurdity of the Philippines. I mean, when you have Supreme Court justices so self-involved that they disregard the Constitution, the situation is pretty hopeless. Then you have the power families tapping the streams of wealth that taxpayers ship off to government, enriching themselves and their friends, retreating into the warm webbed cocoon of impunity, and sneering at or shooting lesser Filipinos.

What, we are supposed to expect someone to lead an uprising and throw the bums out? Young people, as far as I can tell, are locked into cell phones and social media and can’t imagine a future outside of their own small, self-involved worlds. Meanwhile, the olds are too satisfied and complacent to risk what they have spent a lifetime building and the leftists and labor groups are too detached from economic realities to have much relevance at all.

If something is going to change, there needs to be a different kind of breakout moment. Someone needs to step forward, needs to demonstrate new thinking and new ways to go about being Filipino.

Not seeing that, I guess it falls to a wayward global hobo, yours truly, to propose a dynamic and prosperous (preposterous?) way forward for about 23 million Filipinos plus or minus a few million.

Cast a dream.

I’d like to propose that the Visayas get a head start on federalism and aggressively chart their own course. Visayan leaders can do this today if they can ‘break the mold’ of small-minded self-gratification in favor of building something special.

The Visayas way too often get dragged around by Manila and bogged down by Mindanao. Forget that. Let the Arroyo, Marcos, Estrada, and other decrepit, stuffed shirt, corrupt autocrats fight it out in Luzon. Let the Duterte family take over Mindanao and run it like their personal realm, kings and queens of no redeeming quality whatsoever that I can discern. Let their worshipers have their dreamland in the south where they can admire their idol unimpeded by those of moral, civil, democratic, and capitalistic inclination.

I tend to think the only FAST way Filipinos can get good governance is to import some corporate-style leaders from abroad, employing foreigners as business advisers to seat good ethical principles and ways of working across the Visayas. I mean, modernize the place, not just in physical concrete infrastructure, but in terms of how people think and act. That can happen best if there is a full-force adoption of modern business ethics applied to government.

The Visayas region can thrive as a Playground in the Pacific for the traveling set, or the adventuring set, or as a retirement wonderland for well-to-do elderlies from around the globe. It is rich with beaches, mountains, seas, scenery, resorts, malls, underground rivers, exotic species, and one-of-a-kind adventures.

Only four regional governments have to agree that the current way of doing business is not working for them, and set out to create something special, a business union of the Southwestern Tagalog Region (Mindoro to Palawan), Western Visayas, Central Visayas, and Eastern Visayas. Business means the disciplines, values, and work done to be productive, efficient, and prosperous.

Here’s how they might go about it:

  • Form a New Visayas Governing Board (with outside advisers) to develop an overall business plan that assures self-contained prosperity under an agreed set of by-laws that integrate the efforts of the four regions.
  • Form an Executive Board that manages day to day affairs within the regions, chaired by a CEO and having representatives from each of the four geographic regions and the following functions: economics, technology, education and employment (joined), finance, and infrastructure.
  • Put together long-term plans that can outlive politicians who might otherwise want to muck with it for personal gain. Have an overall plan and subordinate plans for: (1) the economy (trade, manufacturing, etc), (2) education and employment, (3) technology, (4) finance, and (5) infrastructure.
  • Establish a firm bond with the United States to assure independence from China and other encroaching forces; build strong relationships with Japan, Australia, Viet Nam, Singapore, and South Korea.
  • Import and apply technology and expertise from the US and advanced Asian nations to provide efficient operations across all disciplines.
  • Market the region. Create a ‘New Hawaii’ tropical adventure land, cool for its style, attractions, and price. Sell it globally.

I dream of a group of progressive regional governments managed by highly talented team of technocrats obsessively committed to developing a wholesome, prosperous, modern, law-abiding sub-state. Yes, it will have banana republics to the north and south, and a Chinese octopus to the west, but it will for sure have friends (and markets) in Singapore, Japan, Korea, Viet Nam, Singapore, Australia, the United States and elsewhere.

There is absolutely nothing stopping the Visayas from leaving corruption and backwardness behind in favor of prosperity and modern living.

The only barrier is lack of imagination and commitment.


93 Responses to “The New Visayas, Playground of the Pacific”
  1. NHerrera says:

    That is a nice out-of-the-box thinking, Joe.

    • NHerrera says:

      Interestingly, it is doing a salvageable job of part of the box which is the Philippines — hoping to re-invent the region; thereby making it a pearl in the box. Exciting idea!

    • Thanks. The box is rather tiresome these days. 🙂

      • sonny says:

        Synchronicity, as edgar will put it. 🙂

        Just so happens I’m reading book on sale from Barnes & Noble, HOW THE STATES GOT THEIR SHAPES. The book chronicles the timeline from 1700s (England & Spain), 1754 (French-Indian War, a.k.a. Northwest Territory) thru 1803 (Louisiana Purchase). What you’re suggestng regarding the Visayas is how California came to be. The entry for California says: “California created itself …” It did so with gold, people, a huge territory and a need for governance. (My interpretation of text).

  2. Good idea. It may not be that simple in practice as Manila (and Beijing) might fight it. Really fight.

    Yet quitting an empty husk of a state (the Philippines) which mangled its own Constitution (May 11) and whose President openly declared he is under Chinese protection (May 15) is hardly treason.

    Selling it as the right kind of Federalism (economically progressive and bottom up), putting the capital of the Federation in Mactan (echoes of Lapu-Lapu) and being open to states that follow similar principles – but in practice, not just on paper – might work. The rest depends on the leaders.

    • I think that gets to an important point. It would be an economics union to get the most out of the separated provinces, not a nationalistic union.

    • Adding Bicol to the mix might make sense as it has two Pacific ports – Naga and Legazpi.

      There is a distinct possibility of a new cold war with a divided Philippines – but maybe better than having the entire Philippines in the Chinese area of control – up to the Benham Rise!

    • NHerrera says:

      I agree. My observation: a small community or village seem conducive to working well with democratic-economic principles compared with a large one which uses concepts such as faux nationalism and machismo to hold the group together for a time. The small village is also conducive to bringing out good leaders [ref, Irineo’s post].

  3. Andres 2018. says:

    I dont know, but somewhere i heard that the ‘Imperial Manila’ contributes like 70% of the entire government current revenue. Meaning, less budget for other provinces if they are to separate.

    • edgar lores says:

      According to 2016 statistics, it’s:

      o Luzon – 72%
      o Visayas – 13%
      o Mindanao – 15%

      The Visayas has the smallest contribution, but not by much.

      • Nationwide companies with HQ in Manila pay their taxes there – the big mall owners..

        Germany regulates that differently – the tax paid by chain stores is credited to all places where they have a branch based on number of employees per branch, and distributed.

        I wonder, for example, where Mövenpick Boracay pays it taxes. Mövenpick is a major Swiss hotel and restaurant chain. Might also be in a Manila head office even if it (used to) make its money on Boracay. Though they will survive, as they have the capital and legal muscle.

      • NHerrera says:

        Thanks, edgar. That puts the base in solid, realistic terms. Pursuing my post [@ May 16, 2018 at 9:23 am], a LKY type can emerge and bring that small percentage to heights even LKY can only dream of when he started. But I have to admit that there are barriers, not the least is Chinese-influenced barrier as already expressed by Irineo. But I can dream, can’t I? (Disclosure: I am a Visayan.)

    • Cebu is a dynamic and significant city. The economy would be centered there. Much of the national budget goes to military and Manila, and is irrelevant to the Visayas. The region would be fine.

      • So is Iloilo. They have done a lot in renovating their monuments and cleaning their river. Small wonder that Duterte hates them and harrassed their mayor.

        Like NHerrera noted, small communities can be more effective. The subsidiarity principle in the EU is about handling matters at the lowest level possible. Boracay style interventions don’t happen over here, that kind of approach is downright Stalinistic, maybe Putin-style.

  4. Zen says:

    Not a bad dream at all but I say that for now, we’re all down to the doldrums and melancholia with every outrageous thing happening in our country – not so peaceful barangay election, two clowns on a jet ski, leveling of forested mountain in Boracay, Marawi to be rehabbed by IMF blacklisted companies, and even the mere statement of Duterte’s grandson that he would like his Auntie Sara to become the country’s next President makes me sick.

  5. Addie Cuizon says:

    With the right, forward-thinking leaders, this could be a workable idea. Since there is no legal framework yet for such a de-facto “federal state” of the Visayas, this could be done only if the local governments take the initiative to band among themselves on the basis of shared geographical and cultural interests and use these shared interests to propel the economic agenda. The Visayan “subculture” that Abella talked about could come into play. The intent should be not so much to create a Visayan fiefdom and divide it from the rest of the country, but merely to exploit the fact that Visayans are able to agree and cooperate with each other better in order to promote their common interests.

    However, this “federal state” could only do so much. The thing is, laws are still crafted by Congress and the Senate dominated by Duterte allies. The interpretation of laws and the exercise of judicial powers still ultimately rests in the same SC that handed down the Sereno ruling. The implementation of the laws and the administration of government will still be in the hands of the Chief Executive who has shown a disdain, if not disregard, for those very same laws. All of these entities are in Manila. So it doesn’t seem like the heartaches and frustrations that we’ve had in the last two years will end soon. In the words of Justice Caguioa, we will be called upon to grin and bear the unbearable. Like it or not, the fate of the Visayans will be inextricably tied to the Manilenos.

    But your idea has merit in that the Visayans could lead the way to a transformation in the way that we think and the way that we do things in this country. One is direly needed. Because judging by how things are going right now, we seem to be headed down the path of perdition. Sadly, the public seems to be in a state of malaise. We need to do more and be more if we are still hoping to leave a better future for our children.

    Thank you for your concern for a country that is not your motherland, Joe Am. Keep up the good work.

  6. A badly fabricated country inhabited by people with a fictive national identity led by a popular mass murderer. We’re a failed state that remains in denial.

  7. NHerrera says:

    To add realism to our discussion — a spoiler so early in the commentaries — is this article which treats a subject that is far from being new; but the specifics add to our information. It is titled, “China using ‘debtbook diplomacy’ to spread its strategic aims in Asia Pacific.”

  8. Themistocles Padla says:

    Two possible flies in the ointment. 1) Western and Central Visayas are likely interested parties. I am not sure Eastern Visayas would be interested. I thought all along that it is Duterte territory (Joe, I have the impression that you are there. Perhaps, you can sense the mood). 2) Who would lead such an undertaking?


    • The east is pro-Duterte. It’s up to them whether or not they see a better way than their current impoverished existence. Leadership would have to emerge from the four regions, I think. Maybe some progressive provincial governors.

  9. chemrock says:

    Logical to surgically remove the good parts from cancerous surroundings.

    Left to be seen to what extent federal laws will constraint the independence of states to negotiate with foreign entities.

    A prosperous Visayas will fall victim to a great irony. First, the Federal capital will impose unjust tax laws to scoop off some of the richest of the state to national coffers. Second, millions of DDS from the south and Dut supporters of closed down call centers will migrate to Visayas for the new opportunities. When gunks gather, diamonds cannot sparkle.

  10. NHerrera says:


    The interesting odyssey of Malaysia’s Najib Razak, Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim suggests bright political prospects for the country, depending on the last leg of Mahathir’s political participation and Anwar’s taking over.

    My point: it looks better than the prospects of the Philippines. (I do not have the profiles but, I believe, both Mahathir and Anwar do not lack genuine love of country.)

    • I wonder what President Duterte’s passions are? What he lives for? To dominate? Wealth? Aimless marauding? What happened to his sense of nation, his love of country and his peoples? Why does he have so many enemies, in his mind?

  11. edgar lores says:

    1. It’s odd.

    1.1. On one hand, we denounce Duterte’s Federalism because it will fragment the country into dynastic fiefdoms.

    1.2. On the other hand, we advocate a Visayas State to create a fragment independent of and independent from an autocratic Luzon.

    1.3. In the first, we resist an outward dispersion and, in the second, we promote it.

    2. Of the three island congregations, Visayas is the most scattered. If one includes Masbate and Palawan as part of Western Visayas, the jigsaw gets more complicated. Masbate is part of the Bicol region but has a strong affiliation with the Visayas from “a geographical and sociolinguistic perspective.”

    3. The population breakdown per 2015 Census:


    o Western Visayas (Region VI) – 4,477,247
    o Eastern Visayas (Region VIII) – 4,440,150
    o Central Visayas (Region VII) – 6,041,903*
    o Palawan (part of MIMAROPA) – 886,308*

    o Total – 15,845,608

    * From other sources

    3.1. The population is 14% of the entire country. A little higher than its economic contribution of 13%.

    4. The Visayas is a babel of tongues. The major dialects are as follows (the first named is the lingua franca):

    o Western Visayas – Hiligaynon, Cebuano, Capiznon, Aklanon, Kinaray-a, Malaynon, Caluyanon
    o Eastern Visayas – Waray-Waray, Cebuano, Baybayanon, Abaknon, Boholano, Kinabalian
    o Central Visayas – Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Bantayanon, Boholano, Porohanon
    o Palawan – Tagalog, Cuyonon, Palawanon

    5. The Gross Regional Domestic Product (GRDP) breakdown (in Php B) is:

    o Western Visayas – 597 (32%)
    o Eastern Visayas – 312 (17%)
    o Central Visayas – 967 (51%)

    Total – 1,876 (100%)

    5.1. The economic sector breakdown is:

    o Agriculture – 238 (13%)
    o Industry – 627 (33%)
    o Services – 1,012 (54%)

    Total – 1,877 (100%)

    5.2. In all three groups, the Agriculture sector lags behind. The Services sector dominates, accounting for more than 55% of the total. The exception is Eastern Visayas where the Industry sector (42.1%) is slightly higher than the Services sector (40.3%).

    6. It is likely that, due to the wide dispersal of the islands, dynastic fiefdoms will be created — if they do not reign now.

    6.1. As Joe Am notes, the most likely capital would be Cebu. Central Visayas has the highest GRDP. But I hear good things about Iloilo and Roxas City on the island of Panay. Boracay is an exclamation point at the northwestern tip of Panay.

    • The proposal does not propose a fragmentation, it proposes a UNION that simply leaves the dynasties behind in favor of riches earned through earnest work and smart thinking. The fiefdoms exist now, so nothing will be created except opportunity for those who like to work hard and smart. It is good that Iloilo and Roxas City are on the right path. The more the merrier.

    • NHerrera says:

      While thinking hypotheticals, consider that:

      1. Luzon and Mindanao do not exist and the Island Groupings (Western, Central, Eastern) of Visayas have statistics as cited by edgar.

      2. The population distribution is reasonably even, with CV higher at 6 million compared to the other two at 4.5 million each [and CV correspondingly higher GDP among the three groups] for a total Visayan GDP of about 13 percent of PH — rather sizeable for a total Visayan population of 16 million.

      3. The Gross Regional Product — for WV, CV and EV of 32%, 51%, and 17%, respectively — are not so disparate [see my note below *]

      4. The Babel of Tongues is not quite so babel. Hiligaynons, Cebuanos, Capiznons, Aklanons, Kinaray-as, among others, can reasonably understand each other and can hasten their understanding under a union envisioned in the blog article.

      So the concept of the union is reasonably helped by the above cited information.

      * Addendum: If one takes at random five sets A, B, … , E of three random numbers, we get in one set of calculations (using Microsoft Excel’s random number generator) the following:

      A 0.18 0.78 0.03
      B 0.20 0.85 0.50
      C 0.12 0.58 0.45
      D 0.55 0.63 0.50
      E 0.76 0.20 0.38

      So except for Set D the disparate GDP of the 3 Visayas Groupings are not quite disparate based on random numbers which we know averages 0.50

  12. Francis says:

    An interesting article.

    One of the silver linings of federalism is that it may open another path towards reform in the Philippines.

    I don’t have hard evidence but I have a hunch (an educated guess) that the problem with attempts to reform the Philippines, especially at the local level—is likely because the changes/reforms don’t stick after the “reformer” leaves office. And I don’t know much about local governance, but local ordinances and legislation are easy to overturn?

    The unitary nature of the Philippines means everyone’s focused on getting the guy who’ll hit the piñata (electing their manok for President) and their cut of the “candy” from the piñata. The President is boss. Metro Manila is what everyone focuses their eyes towards.

    I think that big national-level reform, for such a fractious nation-state like the Philippines, is a bit hard. Sorta like Sisyphus pushing a rock upwards—over and over again.

    Maybe, another way is to make local reforms in promising regions and cities stick. Ensure that no matter who’s in Malacañan—these initiatives will continue, and can be furthered. Maybe, that way, the excelling states can “pull up” the struggling ones by showing the citizenry of the latter that there is an alternative.

    It may also be a good way for reformists to be not just idealistic—but also attuned to the nitty-gritty of governance, and to get much-needed practice with how to balance being pratical administrators while at the same time not getting swallowed up by the system.

    I think of the campaign to Legalize Gay Marriage in the US—how that started with the states, and swelled up enough for the SC of the US to take note, and affirm it. I also think of how Romney put up “Romneycare” in Massachusets, which Obama scaled-up on the national level in the form of the ACA. By making the Philippines federal—perhaps we can jumpstart local innovation? Or at least highlight it more?

    • That last paragraph is a humdinger, for indeed the states in the US are more progressive in many respects than the nation. There is more problem-solving going on there. I think federal could be good if it bridged between unity and tribalism and got states focused and competing. But I don’t trust President Duterte to do anything to generate earnest solutions to poverty or incompetence. His motives are entirely wrong for federalism.

    • Federalism usually exists in places where there was a transition from tribal to national.

      Classic example: Switzerland. Founded in 1292 by three valleys that formed an alliance – carried by independent farmers – against looters and oppressive lords from the lowlands.

      A non-federalist example would be Holland, which is not truly federal, but has the so-called polder model of localities taking care of their own business. Originated in water boards that regulated how water was to be used and kept clean and how dams were to be maintained.

      The main idea is that of subsidiarity – take responsibility down to the most local level. People then discuss what is important to them, not abstract national ideas. Where do we need to fix the roads? What must we do to clean our rivers? When is the curfew for noise, for minors?

      At the next level, communities discuss their common needs. If they are sharing a coast they might want to discuss how to avoid dumping smelly stuff that will mutually bother them. If they are on an island they might want to discuss water supply, electricity and Internet.


      Federalism without democracy is nonsense. The Holy Roman Empire had that for a long time. In some places you (Thuringia) you had the classic castle on a a hill, village below. Obviously the lords ruled over people. Not much freedom in such places – or progress.

      Then you had larger cities near rivers, either capitals of dukedoms or kingdoms (Munich and Berlin) or independent (Cologne under its archbishop) or Imperial cities, under the direct protection of the Empire, with a charter and self-government (Hamburg and Frankfurt).

      Free Imperial Cities were the Empire’s way of countering too strong Kings and Dukes who were always rivals for power. I think a good share of their taxes went to the Emperor. So a central state can take the role of protector of weak citizenry against strong local warlords.


      Later on, more developed cities – especially Frankfurt and Hamburg – had their gentry. Meaning the business elite that had gotten rich through money, not noble/warlord positions. Usually German noblemen who ruled over dukedoms/kingdoms and capitals had their secure earnings. The Dukes/Kings of Bavaria for example levied duties for all goods passing over certain bridges they controlled. The business elites of Hamburg and Frankfurt were used to earning their money the modern, liberal/capitalist way, not by rent-seeking.

      The nice thing about places like Cebu and Iloilo is that the elite families there (Drilon, Osmena) are more business elites than warlord/extortionist elites – their interest is in everything that brings more business, more jobs, more opportunities – they think win/win.

      What I have seen over here in Germany and Europe is that the elites of other places that used to think more in a rent-seeking way tend to try to emulate the successes of the more profit-/progress-seeking places, even if their origins were as cronies of rent-seeking groups.

      • Francis says:

        “What I have seen over here in Germany and Europe is that the elites of other places that used to think more in a rent-seeking way tend to try to emulate the successes of the more profit-/progress-seeking places, even if their origins were as cronies of rent-seeking groups.”

        How to make our trapos do that—

        —is one of the pressing questions of our nation, I strongly believe.

        • lots of factors involved there.. I think the consistent push to industrialize and modernize turned former rent-seeking groups into eager entrepreneurs and stockholders, eventually.

          So it is just pragmatically rechanneling greed and ambition into something more civilized.

  13. karlgarcia says:

    When I read about Edgar and Unc Sonny’s recollection of SS President Wilson I dreamed that the trans pacific would be revived, if before it orginated from Manila which will have to navigate WPS, whit this trans-pacific you just go east to reach Coast.

    With the likes of that cruise ship more possible in my version of this dream no need for connecting bridges to Bicol and Surigao.
    There would be no need for long bridges that might lead to nowhere.

    • edgar lores says:

      Passage by ship is slow and leisurely.

      It takes — what? — 17 hours to get from Manila to San Francisco? So less than a day.

      I recall it took 20 days to sail from Hawaii to Manila. Frisco to Manila would take a month?

      One of the nice, if paradoxical, things I remember was going back in time. From Friday we went back to Thursday as we crossed the International Date Line. We gained a day.

      • I was recently in Manila and there was a huge cruise ship parked at the dock on the Bay. Those babies should be sailing through the Visayas, for sure. Boracay is big only because it got an international reputation. There are beaches everywhere. Most are scruffy. Some are special.

        • caliphman says:

          It bears noting that passage by ship from Manila to the San Francisco Bay area used to take three to six months. To make the crossing, the primary passage was through Visayan seas mainly by Samar and Leyte. Passengers rode on the then largest ships in the world. The vessels were made in the Philippines though captained by Europeans. These were the mighty galleons that plied the oceans to go to bring people and precious cargo from Acapulco to Manila and back to Monterey, California. The journey required going through mud-archipelago before catching the tradewinds going westwards and eastwards across the Pacific which was why Magellan made landfall in the Visayas and not in Luzon. Something in Philippine and Visayan history worth keeping in mind since we are discussing lical geopollitics.

      • sonny says:

        🙂 (Begging everyone’s indulgence for the length of this comment, this was my recollection of my trans-Pacific crossing; written 9 years ago)

        “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”
        — Robert Browning

        The momentous year, towards the unknown
        BY SEA
        Up ‘til then, my life of 25 years and the physical world were totally contained within the confines of Luzon (Manila, the Ilocos region, southern Tagalog provinces, Benguet Province). Then it happened. The US Embassy mailed me my 2nd preference immigrant visa and I had only a few weeks to get my travel belongings together. Just like that, I resigned my teaching position, packed my clothes and collected the padalas & bilins, the total weight limit aboard ship was 350 pounds. Next I found myself at a North Harbor pier saying goodbye to everything and everybody Philippine; after the ticker tape send-off it was all aboard on SS President Wilson (steerage); destination – San Francisco, USA.
        *April thru May, 1969, in transit somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. 19 days of sailing at 20 knots in a northeasterly direction.
        Short of being an astronaut or a mariner, crossing the Pacific on an ocean liner must be the best way to truly know the meaning of the word immense. The voyage started from the pier just within sight of Manila Hotel. The ship threaded its way along the western waters of Southern Luzon. After exiting San Bernardino Strait just south of Sorsogon, the color of the ocean changes to dark blue, almost black! I didn’t realize at the time that we were sailing atop the second deepest part of the Pacific Ocean, the Philippine Deep (more than seven miles deep)! And to behold the heavens lit up by multitudes of stars at night was literally a heavenly sight! Because of this voyage, I said nothing will top this experience and I thought this would last me a lifetime. (So it was until 41 years later when I took my second boat ride to Alaska through a segment of the Northwest Passage.)
        After 14 days and nights at sea, with stops at Guam in the Marianas and Wake Island, the first 30 minutes walking on the Honolulu pier felt like the ground under my feet was rocking. This must be what they meant by the expression “landlubbers’ legs.” With some travel mates, we toured Oahu listening to an Ilocano radio station! I was able to visit my college friend at the East-West Center, University of Hawaii. The final leg was a 5-day sailing to the US mainland.
        The approach to the California coastline was a misty-veiled sight with the crispy, cold morning air accented by a flock of seagulls flying alongside our ship and escorted by a pod of dolphins keeping pace portside, along the water below. At the distance was a bright, orange colored, toy-sized structure seemingly connected to strings of dollhouses lined up and stacked on the hillsides of the Bay Area. My first view of that glorious-looking structure known as the Golden Gate Bridge was its underbelly. I have never seen such a marvelous-looking man-made structure in my life. We seemed to glide as our ship slipped into San Francisco Bay surrounded on either side by high mountain sides of Marin county. As if this was not enough, later in the day we drove through the Oakland Bay Bridge … huge, huge, huge were the only words in my mind! (considering that the longest and biggest bridge I’ve seen in my life was the one at Urdaneta, Pangasinan). My mouth was agape as I watched black and white giants (compared to my puny 120 pound frame) of longshoremen unload our cargo from ship to wharf. All said and done, I logged some 8,000 nautical miles between Luneta and Wharf 49, San Francisco, CA.
        Thus I entered the US and claimed that “select membership” among Filipinos, literally: “FOBs (fresh off the boat).” I also had my B.S. (Bagong Salta) status.
        My first sight of a California Sunkist navel orange was one the size of our suha; also tasted my first US-grown strawberry (the size of a large Philippine tomato). Size is what I consider my particular experience of culture shock.

        BY AIR
        My first sensation of “high speed” was at 100 kph, riding our brand-new ’67 VW Beetle on the brand new North Diversion Road. My second speed trip was aboard a Western Airlines plane lifting from San Francisco International, cruising 35,000 feet above the ground at 550 mph in the direction of Minneapolis-St Paul, a distance of some 2,000 miles, the distance from Aparri to Davao and back. As we climbed above the Bay Area, the cloud banks and formations were such spectacular displays of Nature. This awesome visual play of Mother Nature up in the clouds will be repeated in all varieties of shapes during my other take-offs and landings in later years. And then on that fresh Spring day in May, our airplane’s landing approach to the lake-peppered (10,000 of them) land of Longfellow’s Hiawatha, Minnesota was an intriguing sight as one sees the many lakes of the twin cities of Minneapolis-St Paul like so many little puddles. This Nordic land was to be my American home for the next five years.

        (Thank you)

        • My, my, my. Poetry within prose that conjures up the feeling of being there myself. So many memories drawn from the catacombs of my mind. Vivid as an orange. Thank YOU, sonny.

        • Wow. I guess the times of jetliners over the Pacific were yet to come with increased range and fuel efficiency. I do NOT remember the first trip I took from Europe to the Philippines – meaning the very first in late 1968 as a three year old boy from Berlin with my parents..

          But I do remember later trips with a lot of stopovers With PAL to Frankfurt via Bangkok, Karachi and Rome. Lots of refueling still needed. Later flights via Dubai, had to leave the plane but the duty free in Dubai was full of Filipinas working there and fully sorted.

          Slow trips were those to Bicol with the train when my grandfather died in 1978 and there were not busses or plane trips available due to a Mayon eruption. The lava covered the tracks between Camalig and Legazpi so we had to get out at Camalig and take jeepney.

          Propeller plane back, started directly towards the volcano and flew over the still erupting crater. I don’t know if that would still be allowed now. The view of the lava was like wow. Didn’t feel dangerous then but I was a teenager. Nothing feels dangerous at that age.

          The propeller planes I took to Bern, Zürich and The Hague from Munich for some meetings decades later were bigger and sturdier, yet still they felt like private planes with only four seats per row and maybe 30 rows max. Canadair jets on regional flights were hardly larger.

          The nice thing about the relatively low altitude propeller flights was having more detailed view of the Alps and Lake Constance along the way, for example. The commercial jets all fly so high that one does not see much. Though Mideast oil fields at night are fascinating.

          Train trips, the European staple. The long haul to Italy, when Munich for me still had the air of a fascinating place, totally different in flair from the parts of Germany I knew. The old route to Frankfurt along the Rhine with its castles, now supplanted by a high-speed route.

          The high speed trains are fascinating in the beginning – and they do compete with flying in terms of door to door time by now. 300 km per hour flying over bridges and through tunnels, sometimes beside Autobahns with much slower cars even those Mercs with 200 km/h plus.

          Yet the old mode of travel, making stops in different cities, getting a feel of their uniqueness, looking out of the window and seeing the places one passes, is nearly gone. Anti-noise walls keep the places one passes out of sight often on the high-speed train lines.

          True, travel has brought people together, especially in very varied Europe. But somehow it has also homogenized people. But that is of course also something caused by commerce, fashion and modern communication. Movies, cable TV, Internet, smartphones, socmed..

          Very few Germans, nearly no Italians and even less Spaniards spoke English before 1990. Now practically every German below 30, even working-class ones, speaks some English. Italians now get by and even the Spanish somehow manage, but better speak their tongue.

          The Dutch and the Nordic people were forerunners in speaking English mainly because they did not sync their movies, they subtitled them. With the Dutch, add the pragmatism of a trading people. Add to all of this the migrant and refugee flows of over 50 years now..

          • The only ocean ship I ever went on was the ferry from Germany to Denmark. Germany has a bridge to Fehmarn island, but at the end of it you drive your car into a ferry boat. Two hours is my memory of crossing, then a further drive across the Danish isles, all bridged.

            A somewhat more intense feel than even a propeller plane is a helicopter. Only twice – from Copenhagen airport to Helsingborg in Sweden on the other side of the Oresund. Part of the trip to that small city, from a commercial jet plane to a 6 seater than just rose into the air.

            What I have never done is to jetski. I did observe some jetskis doing their rounds on Majorca last summer. And I did get on a catamaran as well. A bit scary in the beginning, hopping over the waves. One does get more of a feel of the waves than on a boat, which is slow.

        • edgar lores says:

          Clap! Clap! Clap!

          • I second emotion. Highly evocative, somewhat like Filipino migrant novels or short stories. Just like Joe, I remembered a lot of trips I have made. The feel of time and distance. The ground we have all covered, each of us in his or her own way.

            In your case, it was not Paoay to Hawaii, it was Hawaii to Paoay. Sonny retraced the ways of Ilocano migration, you went back.

        • karlgarcia says:

          Nice,uncle Sonny!

        • chemrock says:

          Sonny, may I ask why you choose to migrate in 1969 when Philippines was still the Pearl of the Orient?

          • sonny says:

            There was little compelling push-out reason to emigrate in 1969. The sobriquet of Manila as Pearl of the Orient was no longer a strong descriptive word for the city. When the 1971 Plaza Miranda incident happened I was already a new addition to the American immigrant scene. What I could identify with was the so-called “brain drain” to the US; net reason for leaving was a parental assessment of a better prospect for a socio-economic future. I had, like thousands of Filipinos, the educational ticket for the US Cold War and the Space Race. Those who eventually returned were in the minority, IMO.

        • chemrock says:

          May I enjoin the tales of trips, somewhat closer to the blog leanings.

          My very first visit to Philippines was in Cory’s time. I came to see if I could have someone fabricate some cane furniture for a project I was working on. Took some time off to travel by bus to Apaari. Twice during the journey somewhere out in the province, during the nights, the bus was stopped by soldiers who boarded for a cursory check. What I noticed was when the bus was slowing down and approaching the soldiers, everyone in the bus seemed afraid. Strange I thought, as to why civilians should be afraid of their own soldiers. I was naive then. Wonder if civilians in Boracay who watched those soldiers and policemen going through their anti-terrorist drills feel the same kind of fear.

          That reminded me of my trip to Sri Lanka a couple of years before. It was somewhat similar. At army checkpoints, civilians in the bus appeared afraid. (There was a civil war going on in the Northern part of the country). I personally saw soldiers collecting cash from my taxi driver. Perennial problems of 3rd world countries.

          • Grace Sapuay says:

            Because just like Duterte’s drug war where they invent planting evidences like sachets of shabu, these remnants of Marcos’ military will invent anything so they cpukd get promoted. One look at you and tgen they decide to take you along, force you ro admit being an NPA by torturing you until you die if you don’t admit, put armalites and ammunitions beside your cadaver, take photos before burying you in a shallow grave. I know.

        • sonny says:

          @ Joe, edgar, Irineo, Karl, chempo

          Thank you much for the listen; event important in its time & places; sharing – priceless. 🙂

      • karlgarcia says:


    • Ah, bridges to nowhere. Yes, that is what some of those in the pipeline are likely to be.

  14. Sup says:


    Duterte: Next Ombudsman should have integrity and not be a woman

    Read more:

  15. madlanglupa says:


  16. Pablo says:

    What a nice dream, but then, Joe, you must have woken up sweating and screaming, realizing that Visayas displays exactly the mentality you started with. As you said in the beginning: Hopeless. So, why would Visayas suddenly display a complete change in mentality and have the courage to fight and become independent (in whatever form). Not only would Manila never accept it and call the renegade province “terrorists”, there are in Visayas a similar amount of Duterte supporters, certainly not an ingrained independent Visayan spirit needed to win a nasty fight like the Vietnamese facing the French initially.
    I pity on the shock you must have felt when you woke up from your dream and realized you better start learning Chinese P.D.Q. This country has never displayed independent thinking nor acting and in spite of the many (individual) hero’s it produced in the fights against Spain, America, Japan and it’s dictators, there never has been a collective spirit capable of deterring and conquering a strong oppressive force. Keep on dreaming, I often do, but then, my partner pulls me down to earth again and makes me realize that “This Is Philippines”.

    • “This country has never displayed independent thinking nor acting and in spite of the many (individual) hero’s it produced in the fights against Spain, America, Japan and it’s dictators, there never has been a collective spirit capable of deterring and conquering a strong oppressive force.”

      Only few admire those who stand up to power like Trillanes. Would Filipinos cheer Tell or Gessler? Yes, Landvogt (bailiff) Gessler as opposed to heroic Wilhelm Tell of Swiss revolutionary legend. Sure, Filipinos have their heroes and are proud of them. But how much solidarity do their heroes get while alive? My impression, more and more, is that Filipinos prefer their heroes DEAD.

      Because living heroes remind them of their mostly deficient characters? Put heroes in cement and put them in Rizal Park instead of sinking them in Manila Bay, but still letting the next scoundrels rule the country as always, while the majority, as Rizal already noted in the Fili “feel privately ashamed, hearing the growl of their rebelling and protesting conscience, while in public they keep silent and even join the oppressor in mocking the oppressed.. wrapping themselves up in their selfishness and praising with forced smiles the most despicable acts, begging with their eyes for a share of the booty”. Collaboration with a new empire in 1571. Revolution against a fading empire in 1896, as one of the LAST remaining colonies. Quick collaboration with the USA, then Japan, then USA again. What Filipino pride? Pride chicken. Fuck the EU, Mr. Duterte? Bend over for China.

      Wrote the article on January 21, and Duterte’s submissiveness has become even clearer. The Filipino mentality is mostly “you go first” and if you succeed they join the bandwagon. Fail and they usually deride you, die and they put cement on you and make you a statue. Certainly I am being a bit polemic, but even the esteemed writer-colleague Will Villanueva makes a similar point in a somewhat more cautioning, nicer sort of way:

      My advice for those who want to lead: accept the leadership role but pull out when you have made your point. You will not win, not in the Philippines. Pull out for your own sake because the system will damage you unless you want an early death of body and principle, but leave an indelible mark, a message, that righteousness is possible, the law can be enforced, wisdom will be king, but the people have to lend support. For now, that is the message I can impart.

      I am after all a family man, on watch for my own family. At bottom, my kids know what is right from wrong, so when they enter other societies where law trumps whatever culture is on the ground, they know what to do.

      • In a way, you are of the view it is too damaged for rehabilitation. Well, those here can ask, how will it ever change if we do not work on a new enlightenment? Or they can give up, subsist, or leave. I think there are rewards for trying, that can’t be had in any other way.

    • Okay, Pablo, you do your defeatist way and I will look for ways out of the box.

    • chemrock says:

      You are obviously not cheering Philippines latest heroes.

      As Baste and Bong Co rode the jetskis, hand punching their enemies in arm to arm combat, and waving the countrys flag, Filipios cheered wildly their new heroes. Their enemies thousands of miles away to the East watched with chills down their backs, no doubt peeing in their pants at the sight of the mighty naval forces putting up a show of immense strength. No doubt the Prex regretted not being there. He should be the one in the limelight. That would make the US freeze, even to all those living in sunny California.

      It wont be long before Baste and Bong Co be revelled in a victory parade down Edsa.

      Meanwhile, the rest of the world are head scratching and wondering what that was all about.

  17. Grace Sapuay says:

    Palawan and Romblon are not part of the Visayas. They are part of Luzon. That’s why we have MIMAROPA (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon, Palawan) which are part of Region 4-B of Luzon island

  18. Grace Sapuay says:

    Making MIMAROPA part of the new Visayas when they are not Visayan at all doesn’t seem to be a good idea. They are Tagalog people and they have Tagalog culture and speak Tagalog. So why make a New Visayas? Ethnic tribes align themselves by virtue of their language and culture.

  19. Tancio de Leon says:

    i LIKE THE IDEA OF FEDERALISM AMONG THE 4 REGIONS. THE DISCUSSIONS THAT FOLLOWED WERE SOUND SEEMINGLY WORKABLE IDEAS. SO I THOUGHT THERE IS AFTER ALL HOPE FOR OUR COUNTRY (WHICH IS ALSO THAT OF JOE’S WIFE AND SON) – HOWEVER TOWARDS THE END OF THE DISCUSSIONS, THE SAD STATE OF THE PINOY MIND, STARTED TO APPEAR. – Too much cynicism and negativity in one thread is discouraging to those seeking strength or ideas in the face of adversity. I strongly suggest that we all continue the discussions – for and against – without trying to insult anyone for trying. AND LET US THANK A FOREIGNER FOR CARING FOR US.

  20. Tancio de Leon says:

    Is this system of government called democracy, invented by the Greeks before Christ was born, and given currency in the Western world by a bourgeoisie educated in the classics, of any relevance to an underdeveloped Asian nation under the shadow of Communist China, a shadow that lengthens over our region as the shadow of the United States recedes? Or should we embrace Federalism? That is what we must now ask ourselves.

    Even prescinding from power politics, we are internally confronted by a dilemma – that between rapid, planned development and popular government. Rapid, planned development calls for a highly centralized authority with the brains to formulate a single strategic plan and the power to execute it. The trouble with such regimes is that they are invariably managed by cold-blooded technocrats and enforced by equally cold-blooded men in military uniforms – with the result that civil rights like the freedom of speech and human rights, like the right to life tend to sink to a very low priority in the scale of values.

    In a system of popular government, obviously, these rights have a high priority. But such a system – or at least – our experience of it – does not seem to permit development that is planned, much less one that is rapid. And without rapid, planned development, what are our chances, as the world now is, for survival as a people, let alone as a nation?

    But perhaps it was not popular democracy as such that failed us but our experience of it – our clumsy way of making it work. Perhaps we should dare to say of democracy what Chesterton said of Christianity; that the trouble with it is not that it failed, but that it has never been properly put to use. And if we now try to embrace Federalism, it will be worse because we have not even tried it.

    • Good assessment. I agree with your reservations about federalism. And the nation needs a re-commitment to the ethics presumed to accompany democracy, or it needs a benevolent dictator.

  21. Tancio de Leon says:

    Bottom line: we need to unite under a God-fearing benevolent leader, whether as a dictator or under a president. Do we need to be prodded by a gun or do we move autonomously guided by conscience. It may be because of our tribal background scattered among 7,000 islands, speaking many more dialects. And the failure of the Catholic church through the centuries to guide Pinoy minds to think and have only one belief in the after-life?

    • sonny says:

      “Bottom line: we need to unite under a God-fearing benevolent leader, whether as a dictator or under a president. …”

      There is a simple injunction handed down thru God’s Church to ensure a successful life for all. It contains both the command and the measure of compliance needed for an endeavor for good: “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” Anything less makes for futility.

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  1. […] trek to the East and a long time to adjust going back. Sonny who crossed the great expanse of the Pacific for weeks via Guam and Hawaii until finally arriving in San Francisco by ship back in 1969 had time […]

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