Friday, May 30, 2008

Lunch with the Running Priest

Fr. Robert Reyes - the running priest - came over for lunch here in Baclaran. He is actually now based in Hongkong working with the Asian Human Rights Commission and he is in Manila for over a week.
Since the mid-nineties, Robert has been running around the Philippines - for Peace, the environment, against corruption and other various causes. His prophetic stance against the President Estrada and later against President Arroyo has made him a controversial figure. Over two years ago, he was relieved from his parish assignment and asked to take a sabbatical by his bishop. He spent some time teaching in Beiging and has moved to Hongkong recently.
I first met Robert eight years ago when I passed Manila during my Bike-Tour for Peace across the Philippines (Davao-Pagudpud). He accompanied me on his bike around Manila. Two years later he came to Davao to join me on the first leg of my Bike-Tour for Peace around Central Mindanao. He was planning to join me for two days during my recent Bike-Tour around the country but he had to leave for Hongkong.
So during lunch we talked about what we can do together in the near future. There are a lot of possibilities but the problem is that I don't have very much time, especially during the school year. I told him of my plan to run the Pasig Philippine International Marathon next year (Feb. 22, 2009) and he immediately said that we can run it together with Joy Roxas who is planning to run across America later in the summer. We might also accompany her from Manila to Naga for the launching of her run. Perhaps, during the summer of 2010, we could also run/bike together across the Philippines. Well, these are just some of the possibilities. Let's see what happens.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Thailand Meeting and Touring

We arrived from Thailand last night after attending a tw0-day meeting in Minburi and spending the remaining three days touring Bangkok and Pattaya. Travelling with me were Frs. Caloy Ronquillo and Ino Cueto - both from the Redemptorist Vice-Province of Manila. We are part of a commission that reviewed the vision-mission and academic program of the St. Alphonsus' Theologate in Davao. The other member of the commission was Fr. Joe Apisit of the Redemptorist vice-Province of Bangkok. Also in attendance was Fr. Joe Hill of the Australian province and Fr. Ray Douziek from the General Government in Rome.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Meeting with the Secretary of the President's Cabinet

Two days after finishing my bike-tour I find myself back in Manila. I took the plane early this afternoon and I am staying here in Baclaran. Tomorrow I fly to Bangkok with two other Redemptorists to attend a meeting.

One of the most frequently asked question is whether the President, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, responded to my letter which I delivered to Malacanang during my bike-tour last April 28. This evening, I had a dinner-meeting with Mr. Ricardo Saludo and Fr. Frank Pidgeon at a Japanese Restaurant in the Mall of Asia. Mr. Saludo is the Cabinet Secretary of the President. He had been asked by the president to respond to my letter. He asked Fr. Pidgeon - an Australian Redemptorist who happens to be his friend - to set the meeting with me.

While eating, I listened to Mr. Saludo explain the president's side which is based on a document he had prepared entitled: "Briefing Materials on National Issues."

He focused on two main issues:

1. The NBN-ZTE controversy in which the president and her husband are involved as alleged by Jun Lozada and Joey de Venecia.
2. The Hello Garci controversy in which she had been accused of cheating in the elections.

According to Mr. Saludo the charges of overpricing and bribery in the NBN-ZTE are unproven. Jun Lozada was not abducted but protected. He insisted that the rule of law and due process of should be observed in the investigation of the NBN-ZTE controversy.

Regarding the Hello Garci controversy, there is no evidence that the president ordered Garcillano. The only evidence are the tapes which are illegal and inadmissible in any court of law. No case has even been filed against Garcillano.

In brief, the accusation of corruption and cheating in the election are unproven. There is no hard evidence that would link the president to these scandals or controversies. Therefore, the perception that the president is corrupt and power-hungry is without any basis.

Since he did not discuss the appeals I made in my letter regarding the resumption of the peace negotiations, investigation of extra-judicial killings, and the protection of the environment (total log-ban and repealing the mining act), I asked him what the Arroyo administration is doing about this. He answered that the NDF has set some preconditions which give the impression that it is nor really interested in the peace process. He also said that most of those in the list of the so-called victims of extra-judicial killings are fictitious. Regarding the environment he said that the government would like to promote "responsible mining."

After over two hours, Mr. Saludo brought us back to Baclaran. I was grateful that a cabinet secretary of the president went out of his way to meet me and explain the president's side. Mr. Saludo is a decent man. Of course, it was expected that he would defend the president especially against the accusations against her. Yet, I was not fully satisfied with his explanations.

Although, it is true that there are no hard evidence that would link her to corruption and rigging the election, what cannot be denied is that under her administration, the culture of violence, death and corruption persist. Her government has pursued an all-out war policy against the NDF/NPA which it hopes to defeat in two years. The extra-judicial killings and forced disappearances continue. The destruction of the environment by logging and mining continue. Corruption continues to affect all levels of society.

Mr. Saludo is right when he says that it is not enough to just denounce the government for perceived evils. We must present hard evidence rather than just dwell on generalities. At the same time, we must learn to engage in dialogue to search for ways to address the problems and concerns that affect our nation. This is a role that the Church must seriously pursue.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Day 56: Nabunturan-Davao City

When I woke early this morning, my left knee was swollen and stiff. I was wondering if I could still bike the last leg of my journey. Bending it was so difficult and painful. I limped all the way to the altar as I concelebrated and preached at the 6 am mass in Nabunturan.

During breakfast, a 71 year-old biker named Amancio came in and told me that he would bike with me all the way to Davao if no one else would accompany me. 8 more people arrived and told me they would bike with me within the town and up to Mawab which was 12 km away.

Riding the bike was so agonizing - with only the right leg pedaling and the left leg still very stiff and painful. Amancio assured me that after a while, the pain would go away. So we pedaled at a very slow pace wishing the pain would go away. After an hour, I could easily bend my left knee but my left leg didn't have enough strength to pedal. When we reached Mawab, the other bikers returned to Nabunturan. As we crested the second hill, a truck with seven bikers stopped. They were led by Luis - the owner of the 3 MJ bike shop. He placed some ice on my knees and instructed another biker to ride beside me and push my back. As we reached Tagum, more bikers were waiting for us and joined us. We dropped by the Tagum city hall where a bicycle-circuit race was in progress. My arrival was announced and the bikers gave me a warm applause. We continued our journey and this time there were over 50 bikers accompanying me. Several bikers took turns in assisting me so that I didn't have to do much pedaling. Upon seeing that I wouldn't be alone, Amancio decided to return to Nabunturan.

We arrived at the Redemptorist church grounds at 2:15 pm I was welcomed home by our parish staff and youth. When I looked at my cyclocomputer, I saw that I have already biked a total of 5164.7 km in 56 days. In spite of the pain and thanks to the support of the bikers I have finally finished my journey.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Day 55: Cateel - Nabunturan

At 5:30 in the morning, I was on the road again crossing the Cateel mountains. This used to be a forest that has been denuded by the logging companies which have paid off the local government officials, the DENR checkpoints and even the NPA.

There has been a lot of fighting in this area over the last few weeks. Some tribal peoples have already evacuated to Compostela valley. After 20 km of biking, I met heavily armed men in uniform along the way. I wasn't sure whether they were army men or NPA guerrillas. After a while, two helicopters were hovering in the sky.

When I reached Barangay Maglahos, I look at my cyclocomputer and saw that I had already reached the 5000 km point. I celebrated this moment by eating a piece of bread and drinking gatorade.

After 30 km, the road became more and more rough. I did a lot of steep ascents and descents over loose sharp rocks which reminded me of the Abra-Kalinga road. It was around noontime when I crashed. As I fell to the ground, my head hit a rock and I was lucky my helmet protected my head. My left knee was badly bruised. I felt a pain in my shoulder. I checked my clavicles and was glad nothing was broken. I had another crash ninety minutes letter and this time my right knee was bruised. I decided to walk down everytime I made a steep descent.

I reached Compostela Valley at 4:45 pm and bought some fried bananas and pineapple juice. I continued biking until I reached Nabunturan at 6:10 pm after biking for 97 km, I was welcomed by the parish priest -Fr. Medel - and his assistant - Fr. Edwin. I took a shower and then dressed my wounds before dinner. My left knee is still very painful. I hope I will be well enough to bike the last leg of my journey tomorrow.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Day 54: Mangagoy-Cateel, Davao Oriental

At 5:00 am this morning, Fr. Florio brought me to the radio station where I was one of the guests for the program entitled: "Kisaw." The other guests were the leader of the PICOP labor union, the head of the parish social action and the parish disaster committee. Immediately after the program we went back to the parish where Gabby was already waiting. So we departed at 6:15 am. Gabby biked with me as far as Lingig - 24 km away from Mangagoy. We did a lot of climbing along rough road. We reached Lingig at 8:30 and after breakfast Gabby went back to Mangagoy and I continued my journey alone. After an hour of biking, I stopped by an store in a remote barrio to buy some ice. A woman run to the store to greet me and told me that she just saw me featured on the ABS-CBN TV patrol early this morning. That must have been the footage and the interview done in Butuan a few days ago. A few hours later, two more people riding motorbikes also greeted me - they must have also seen me on TV. I am just amazed how mass media has been a big help throughout this journey for magnifying my "life and peace" advocacy.
The road between Mangagoy and Cateel reminded me of the Kalinga road in the Cordilleras. There were a lot loose sharp rocks and steep climbs. The heat contributed to the exhaustion that I began to feel. I could feel the beginning of cramps on my legs. I had to do a lot of walking especially in the uphill sections. I reached Cateel at 4 pm after biking for 78 km. I was welcomed by the parish priest - Fr. Darwey - and his parochial vicars - Frs. Jojo and Bingbong. I presided and preached at the 5 pm mass. We had dinner of lechon afterwards.
The main issue in this area is logging. Fr. Darwey has been denouncing the logging companies in the area that are denuding the forest. It appears that some local government officials are protecting these logging companies.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Day 53: San Francisco - Mangagoy, Surigao del Sur

I left San Francisco before 6 am this morning. The first 40 kilometers was a very easy and leisurely ride along a paved highway and cloudy sky. I was averaging 17 km per hour. But the difficult part began after Tagongon. Over 30 km of biking on very rough and hilly terrain which reminded me of Northern/Eastern Samar. My speed was reduced to an average of 8 km per hour - slower than a jogging pace. The rocks were very sharp and I had a flat tire at 11 am as the heat became unbearable. I was able to change the tire tube in 20 minutes. As I entered Mangagoy, a cyclist named Gabby biked alongside me and we talked for a while. After some refreshment he guided me to the convento and told me that he and some of his friends will bike with me up to Lingig tomorrow. I met Fr. Erwin, the parochial vicar, who invited me for lunch. Later in the afternoon, I met Fr. Florio Falcon - the parish priest.
Fr. Falcon and his fellow priests had courageously denounced PICOP for damaging the environment though the years. The forest have beeb denuded due to its logging operation. The sea, land and air had been polluted due to its mining operation and its use of hazardous chemicals. Fr. Falcon received some death threats and was even charged in court for libel and for damaging the reputation of the company. He won the case. He continues his crusade against the company.
In my homily during the 5:15 pm mass, I will focus on the environmental destruction through logging and mining as part of the culture of death. While it may have provided employment to some and enriched the company and some politicians, it has destroyed the environment and has become a threat to the health and life of the people now and the generations to come.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Days 51 & 52: Surigao City-Butuan-San Francisco, Agusan Sur

It was raining when I left Surigao City at 5:30 yesterday morning. I decided to put on my Northface Jacket to keep myself dry. I didn't want to catch cold again. I maintained a fast pace as the rain and wind caressed my face. What a pleasant sensation. I only slowed down as I began my ascent along the mountain overlooking Lake Mainit. The rain stopped by 9 am after ascending the mountain. With only 60 km to go, I increased my pace to 25-30 km per hour. As I reached the bridge before Butuan City, the ABS-CBN TV camera crew aboard their pick-up was waiting for me and took some footages. When I reached the Cathedral rectory at noon time after biking for 121 km in 6 hours, the ABS-CBN newscaster interviewed me. I was welcomed by Fr. Nene Caldoza, the rector of the cathedral and immediately had lunch with some of the priests.
I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and preached at the 5:30 pm mass.

After morning prayer, I left Butuan at 6 am and biked at a leisurely pace across the mountains of Agusan del Sur. San Francisco was only 84 kilometers away so there was no need to ride faster. The weather was perfect for biking - cloudy and cool. There were a lot of climbing but also some descents. Along the way I saw this sign which I found very meaningful: "We are judged by what we finish, not what we start." As I reach the end of my journey, I can only agree.

I reached San Francisco at noontime and was welcomed by Fr. Allen, the Carmelite who is the new parish priest. After lunch with the members of the Carmelite community I spent the afternoon washing my clothes and then resting. I am scheduled to preach at the 5:30 pm mass.

So far, I have already biked for more than 4,800 km.

Some people have been asking me if the president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, has read my letter. Now I can answer that she has and is taking the letter seriously. The other night, I received a call from an Australian Redemptorist priest based in Baclaran and he told me that an old friend who happens to be a member of the president's cabinet has contacted him and wants to set a meeting with me to discuss the letter. I agreed to meet the guy next week in Baclaran, the night before I depart for Bangkok. So I'll write about it after the meeting takes place. Well, it seems that delivering the letter to Malacanang was not in vain. Of course, I can thanks the media for covering the event and disclosing the content of the letter to the public.

Another day of solo biking tomorrow. I am once again a hermit on a bicycle, meditating and praying as I pedal. Yesterday and today, I prayed in a special way for a biker - Eric Reyes - who is dying of cancer. He texted me yesterday before he was put on a medically induced coma. His friends thought he was lying when he claimed he had cancer.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Days 49 & 50: Hilongos-Liloan-Surigao City/Rest

Yesterday, I concelebrated and preached at the 5:30 mass this morning at the Hilongos parish church. Being Pentecost Sunday, I emphasized on the role of the Holy Spirit as the source of empowerment, courage and wisdom as we carry out the mission of proclaiming the Gospel of the risen Lord. I have experienced this throughout my bicycle journey around the country as I preached the Gospel of Life and Peace amidst the culture of death and violence.
After the mass I changed into my cycling outfit and then continued my journey accompanied by over 40 bikers from Hilongos belong to the various cycling clubs: Hilongos Cycling One led by Mr. Ceniza, Team Pedal Trekkers led by Jun Lavides, Hilongos Unified Bikers and Team Boysua. When were reached Sogon, we were joined by over 10 bikers belonging to the Sogod Bay Biking Club. Knowing that the ferry boat was leaving Liloan at 11 am, we biked at a very fast pace - averaging 25-30 km/hr. I was flanked and helped by two very fast bikers whenever we climbed the hills. We reached the Liloan pier at 10:30 after biking 81 km in 3 hrs and 30 min. I got on the ferry boat while the bikers went back to Sogod and Hilongos. The boat left at 1 pm and reached Lipata pier in Surigao after 4 pm. As I biked towards the city I felt the exhaustion and hunger setting in. I stopped by a store for refreshments. I arrived at the cathedral rectory after 5 pm. Good thing I called the day before since they weren't expecting me. The priest I wrote to had been assigned to another place and he didn't inform the new parish priest about my coming.
So today being my rest day, I woke up later than usual - at 6 am. After morning prayer I had my breakfast and then did my laundry. The rest of the day I just relaxed.
This is the 50th day of my bike-tour and so far I have already biked 4614 km. I am back in Mindanao. I still have six more days of biking before I reach Davao. The next five days, I will probably be biking alone - going through some areas that have been devastated by logging and mining, and where the fighting between the NPA and the Government forces continue to rage. I have some apprehensions especially biking along Mangagoy, Cateel, Compostela Valley and Nabunturan roads. Aware of the risks, I continue my journey for life and peace. I am confident that I will reach my destination safe and sound.
What have you accomplished so far? This is the question that I know a lot of people are asking. There are some who probably think that I am just a modern-day Don Quixote riding a bicycle, charging against some windmills and dreaming the impossible dream. I am aware that this bike-tour will not accomplish much - it won't end abortion, the war, the extra-judicial killings, the destruction of the environment, corruption. I don't expect the letter for the president I delivered to Malacanang will make a big impact. All I can hope is that somehow, I have touched the hearts of some people and convinced them that there is something that we can do, no matter how small, to change our society.
On a personal note I have achieved what I thought was impossible at my age and with my heart condition (myocardial ischemia). I will have established a Philippine record which will probably take a long time to break - biking over 5000 km alone from Davao to Aparri and back, going through the toughest roads in Cordilleras, Northern & Eastern Samar and passing by Malacanang without any back-up. This is route that have not been completed even by a motorized vehicle. And I have lost probably over 20 pounds.
Of course, although this has been a journey that I did alone. I had the support of so many people: my fellow Redemptorists, friends, parish priests, bishops, biking clubs, individual cyclists, motorbike escorts, the media, etc. Above all, I have felt the presence of the One to whom I owe my existence and whose call I have answered. God has been good to me. During those moments when I felt alone, when I crashed in the Cordilleras, or when I was threatened by sickness, I was never alone for He was with me.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Day 48 Ormoc-Hilongos

At six this morning I started biking to Hilongos accompanied byMsgr. Bernie Pantin, Nollette and Rex Tan. We passed by Rex's bike shop to have a quick look at the bike and he also gave me a cycling jersey and Anatomic short. It was a leisurely ride on flat highway along the sea. It was perfect weather for biking, with the sun hidden by the clouds. Msgr. Bernie was planning to bike only as far as Baybay - 45 km from Ormoc - but he decided to bike on to Hilongos after our breakfast stop. After some time, Nolette took the road that led to Tacloban. Before reaching Inopacan we were met by 10 Hilongos bikers and 2 motorbike escorts belonging to the Hilongos Cycling One bike club. Among them were Boy Sua and his three children - Rence, Christian and Cielo. Cielo is a 10 year old girl who rode a tandem bike with her father. It was delightful to see Father and daughter pedaling on one bike. When we reached the entrance of Hilongos town, a welcome streamer for me was prominently displayed in the middle of the road. We reached the parish at almost noon-time after biking for 87 km. Frs. Van and Roxas welcomed us and we had lunch with them. After lunch, Msgr. Bernie rode back to Ormoc on his support vehicle while Rex biked back. I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Day 47: Tacloban-Ormoc

Over 40 bikers accompanied me to Ormoc this morning. They belong to the various biking groups in Tacloban: One Way, Bureau of Fire Protection, TORBO, and MTBC. We were also escorted by the members of the Kabilikat Civicom. Among those who biked 107 km distance were 3 bikers over 70. The oldest was Paulino who is 75 years old. He is indeed an inspiration to me. I hope that when I reach 75 or even 85 I will still be biking around the country.
The road to Ormoc was mostly flat except for 2 uphill climbs which left me a bit exhausted. We reached Ormoc by 12:30 pm and was welcomed by Msgr. Bernie Pantin - the parish priest. He prepared lunch for the bikers
I was able have a good rest in the afternoon after giving an interview to Power FM radio. I celebrated and preached at the 5:30 pm mass with Msgr. Pantin concelebrating.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Days 42-46: Catarman-Palapag-Oras-Llorente-Tacloban

I have been biking around Northern Samar, Eastern Samar and part of Western Samar these last five days. Samar is one of the most backward areas of the country and most of the towns do not have access to the internet, so I was unable to update my blog. So here's what happened the last few days.

May 4 (Day 42 Catarman-Palapag)

I was still groggy when I concelebrated and preached at the 5:00 morning mass. I was not able to sleep the night before - perhaps due to the caffeine in my blood stream (I drank too much Coke) and/or the noise coming from the homecoming party nearby. I felt I was in no condition to bike. So, instead of leaving for Gamay after the mass, I decided to sleep and rest the whole morning. I left at 1 pm accompanied by 5 Catarman bikers who biked with me as far as Laoang. I was met by Bryan Gorgonia - a biker who joined up in Allen and who lives in Palapag. We had to take 2 pumpboat rides before we reached Palapag at 5 pm after biking for 62 km. Since Gamay was still 40 km away, I decided to sleep at the parish rectory in Palapag.

May 5 (Day 43 Palapag-Oras)

At 5 pm, I continued my journey but I was not alone. Bryan had decided to bike with me around Samar and up to Tacloban. The road from Palapag to Gamay reminded me of the Cordilleras. But we only suffered the bad roads and steep climbs for four hours. We reached Lapinig by 10:15 am and chartered a pumpboat that took us to Arteche. We were welcomed by Thelma - the vice mayor who is a distant relative - and had lunch with the mayor whose wife is also distant relative. We were accompanied by an ambulance and 2 police motorcycle escorts up to Oras. We reached Oras at 3 pm and met the parish priest (Msgr. Japson) and then proceeded to the residence of Judge Gorgonio Alvarez - another distant relative. After taking a shower and some snacks, I walked around the town to see for myself my grandfather's birthplace. My relative, Fr. Joberto Picardal, arrived before seven and we had supper and some drinks with the judge before going to bed.

May 6 (Day 44 Rest Day)

No biking today. I slept until 7 am. At 9 am, Fr. Joberto brought me to the town's radio station where I gave an interview. We then proceeded to the parish church to celebrate the Eucharist at 10 am. The church was packed with members of the Picardal clan. They had scheduled a clan reunion in time for my rest day in Oras. After the mass we had a festive meal at the parish hall. Unfortunately, the seminarian who took the pictures accidentally erased all the pictures that had been taken of the affair.
I spent the rest of the afternoon in bed.

May 7 (Day 45 Oras-Llorente)

Bryan and I left Oras accompanied by two bikers - both named Roger. The other Roger (Percol) is actually a major in the Philippine Army who is the executive commanding officer of the Army battalion near Oras. I was worried we might be ambushed by the NPA but he told me that the road between Oras and Boronggan was secure. We were joined by 4 other bikers when we reached Taft. We had breakfast with the mayor whose wife is also a Picardal. We continued biking accompanied by the mayor's wife with the mayor's car as support vehicle. When we reached San Julian 10 bikers from Borongan joined us. We arrived at Borongan at 10:45 and proceeded to the radio station DYES where I was interviewed. Then we had lunch at my relative's house. After lunch, the Oras and Taft bikers turned back while the Borongan bikers continued biking with us up to the boundary of the next town.
We reached Llorente at 4 pm after biking for 130 km and were met by 6 motorcycle escorts and a convoy of pedicab drivers who accompanied us as we biked around the town. When we reached the parish church, we were welcomed by my relative - Fr. Joberto Picardal - the parish priest of Oras and his parochial vicar - Fr. Jerome. We had the concelebrated mass at 5:30 pm followed by dinner at the parish hall.

May 8 (Day 46 Llorente-Tacloban)

We left at 5 am this morning accompanied by 6 motorcycle escorts. Bryan did a wonderful work of setting the pace as I drafted behind him. We were averaging 25 km per hour on level roads. After 3 hours of biking, the bishop's car passed by and stopped. Then Bishop Crispin Varquez came down and greeted us. He told me that the diocese supports the Bike for Life and Peace. Since he still had a fiesta mass to celebrate, he excused himself and drove on. At noon time, as we were nearing Basey, we met Rudy who was riding his hand-powered tricycle (his legs are paralyzed). He had been biking from Hilongos to Tacloban yesterday and from Tacloban to Basey to meet up with me (he joined me during the Cebu-Santander leg and he told me that he would meet me in Samar). When we reached San Juanico bridge, there were over 50 Tacloban bikers who met us and biked with us. They were mostly members of the One Way biking club and the MTBU. We were escorted by the Kabalikat Civicom motorcycle and bicycle riders and led by a firetruck. We reached Tacloban at 3 pm, after biking 160 km. The total distance I have covered so far: 4,330 km.

I celebrated the 5:30 pm mass and then had an early dinner with my confreres - Frs. Non and Fil.