Friday, September 21, 2018

Itogonia Wild Country Trail Run Post-Race Report

I jumped out of the couch when the alarm clock rang. It was 2:00 am. In two hours and a half, a race director will beat a gong to mark the start of the Itogonia Wild Country Trail Run. Excited and sort of afraid at the same time, I took a quick shower, ate a breakfast of rice, eggs, and beans, and checked my running gear. Hydration pack. Check. Water bottles. Check. First aid kit. Check. Trail food. Check. Headlight. Check. Whistle. Check. Running shoes and socks. Check. I was ready to rumble.

I met up with a friend who was also running in the event and we took a cab to Camp John Hay, the location of the start and finish line of the race. I lined up to have my mandatory gear inspected. I was running in the 32-kilometer category and our start time was scheduled for 4:30 am. My friend who was running in the 16-kilometer category will have his start at 5:30 am. Another friend who signed up with the 8-kilometer category will have her start at 6:30 am.

I also saw many familiar faces and friends at the race, many of whom have been hiking buddies during previous mountain climbing trips. I was in good company. So everything was good. I started feeling relaxed. Before I knew it, it was 4:30 and runners started trooping to the starting line. “Runners ready! Two minutes to go!” shouted the race director. I took my place at the third or fourth row behind the frontline. This was my first trail running race so I was basically going by instinct. Most of the time, I didn’t know what I was doing. Should I go in front? Should I stay at the farthest end of the pack? So I just took my place at the middle of the pack.

And off we went! The leading pack of runners shot ahead. The first thing that came to my mind was “If they can maintain that pace for the rest of the race, me and everybody else are screwed!” I kind of just laughed off the thought and ran ahead to catch up with another pack of runners. There were probably three or four packs ahead of ours. Right then and there I’ve decided to stick with the pack and see if I can keep up with them. And I was able to for some time.

But as we covered more and more kilometers, the tides started to change. The pack started to break apart. Those with better endurance went ahead. Some got left behind. As I got used to the trails, I realized that in order for me to finish the race, I needed to take a conservative approach. And that is to maintain a slow but steady pace so as not to burn myself out. I’ve studied the map of the race a day before the event and I saw that the trail to the finish line was an uphill climb. So I decided to take a moderate pace so that I will have enough strength left for the last uphill climbs.

I’d like to believe that my plan sort of worked because only a few runners passed me during the race. I also managed to overtake a few runners who started really strong but burned themselves out down the stretch.

When the pack of runners I joined early on the race broke apart, I was pretty much left on my own. Most of the time, I was running alone. However, around halfway during the race, I shared the trails with three runners. They would pass me. Then I would pass them. Then they would pass me again. This went on for quite some time. However, during the last quarter of the race, one was able to gain considerable distance over us. I decided to follow him and see if I can overtake him. I never did. But I managed to pass by three other runners who seemed to have either tired themselves out or just wanted to enjoy the sceneries before they get to the finish line.

I ran the last couple of kilometers to the finish line. My knees were shaking in pain. Blisters in my right foot were popping. But I had one goal and that was to reach the finish line before other runners overtake me. I did make it to the finish line, the 20th runner (out of more than 90 runners) to do so. And it felt great.

I learned a lot of valuable lessons from this race which took runners through the trails of Camp John Hay to the mountains of Itogon, Benguet. I regularly hike and run in the mountains but this is my first time to join an official trail running event. When I signed up for this race, I was afraid they weren’t going to allow me because I have zero experience in official trail running events. I registered anyway and they didn’t ask any questions so it was good. I was able to get in.

Then race day came. It was much harder than I had expected. Due to the incessant rains, the trails were muddy and slippery. In many portions of the course, runners were literally trudging through inches of mud. I managed to be the 20th runner to reach the finish line but I know I could’ve done better. I know I could’ve pushed harder if I tried. There were so many mistakes in the way I managed my run that need either fixing or improvement. As I said earlier, I learned many lessons that day. The most glaring of which are as follows:

1. Focus on a steady pace, not on speed. I’m not saying that speed is irrelevant but what good is speed if you burn yourself out every 15 minutes? I’d like to think that endurance is king and that speed is secondary. These are just my initial thoughts on the matter. During the race, there was one runner who maintained a good distance away from me. I would catch up with him at the aid stations. I was running and he was mostly walking and jogging but I never caught up with him on the way to the finish line. He was able to maintain his pace while I kept burning myself out trying to catch up with him. I ended up taking a lot of rest-stops along the way. Not a good race strategy at all.

2. Train during the weeks prior to the race. I did a bit of jogging and running prior to the race but I am certain that these weren’t enough. I think that if you want to finish a 32-kilometer race strong, you need to put in the hours in training. I don’t have the slightest idea on how to train for long races. That said, I have a long way to go before I’d learn how to train properly for an endurance race. Suffice it to say that I’ve started doing my research on how to train properly and I’d like to think that it’s going well, so far.

3. Position yourself at the frontline during the start of the race. Of course, this is only applicable if you are confident about your training and your ability to keep up with the leading pack. There are two huge benefits of running with the leading pack. One, human traffic is common in trail runs and you can easily get left behind if you are too polite to overtake other runners. Two, it’s good to run with the front runners because you are forced or shall I say encouraged to perform your best. If the pack is running at a fast pace, you will be forced to keep up. Of course, there’s an inherent risk to this strategy. You can burn yourself out quickly. Again, I think it’s a confidence game.

4. The importance of trekking poles in trail running. About two weeks before the race when I registered for the event at an outdoor gear shop in Center Mall, Baguio City, one of the shopkeepers suggested that I should get a pair of trekking poles. I just shrugged off the advice. I told him I’ll be fine without it. Well, I came to learn that I should’ve taken his advice. Trail running involves a lot of uphill and downhill climbs. At the Itogonia Trail Run, runners have to go up and then down wet and muddy paths. It’s during these climbs that I realized the importance of trekking poles. You can use poles not only to propel yourself forward but to support yourself while you navigate through muddy trails. Having no trekking poles with me, I improvised and found a pair of sturdy pinetree sticks. Using the sticks helped a lot. It’s like having four legs instead of two.

5. Spend less time at the aid stations. There were five aid stations for the Itogonia Trail Run. If I remember correctly, I didn’t stop at the first station. But for the next four stations, I stopped and wasted precious time resting and relaxing. At one station, one of the marshals urged me to go before more runners catch up with me. I found that funny. I would’ve sat in the chair for a minute more if he didn’t suggest that I get going. I do believe that I would’ve completed a stronger finish if I didn’t linger too much at the aid stations.

Photo by Team Tagtag.
6. Hydrating and fueling properly during the run. I had no idea what I was doing in this regard. As far as water was concerned, my plan was straight-forward. Don’t run out of water before an aid station. I never ran out. Actually, most of the time, I didn’t even drink half of my bottle when I get to an aid station for a refill. It’s the fueling part that I think got me. I didn’t know jack about what I’m doing. I had chocolate bars and packets of Nips in my trail pack. Every thirty minutes or so, I would take a few bites. I would also eat some of the available food at the aid stations (i.e. bananas, boiled eggs, rice cakes, puto, kutsinta). I don’t know but my stomach felt heavy the entire race. This is definitely something that I need to work on. Find a way to refuel and take in calories during the race without jeopardizing my run.

7. Always check if you are running on the right course. During the Itogonia Trail Run, I got lost thrice. Yes, three freaking times. Although I believe that most of the errors were not on my part but on the part of the organizers of the event. The first time I got lost, I was with a pack of six runners. We were running on a paved road and we didn’t see the arrow sign that says we need to get off the road and follow a trail that goes left. We realized we were on the wrong course when we came across some race marshals who told us that we needed to go back because we were on the wrong path.

The second time I got lost, I was alone. I came upon a junction but there were no ribbons or tags that signal which road I should take. I basically just took a guess and picked one of the roads. Unfortunately for me, it was the wrong road and I lost more precious minutes running back to the junction and getting back on course. The third time I got lost, I was with someone. I was focused in following another runner and trying to catch up with him that I forgot looking for ribbons marking the course. The runner took a wrong turn and I followed him not realizing that we were on the wrong direction. I saw him stop in his tracks and start running back. That’s when I realized we’re on the wrong course.

All of these are definitely mistakes that can be easily fixed or improved upon. That’s it for today. See you all in the next trail run.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Krizette Laureta Chu, Supertyphoon Ompong, Relief Goods, Etc.

Krizette Laureta Chu, a staunch defender and supporter of President Rodrigo Duterte has posted a long rant on Facebook that has gone viral. As I write this, the post has nearly eight thousand (8000) shares. I have to address her post because it had sweeping statements and claims that she didn't bother to support with data or anything that can at least make them believable. You can read her post on Facebook here (if it still exists). If you are not on Facebook, I've copied and pasted her post below:

"I just saw a post by some woman that said that, in the past, a lot of people used to buy relief goods before a typhoon hit to give away. Bibili ka daw ng tubig para daw sa mga less fortunate para ipamigay sa kanila.

Now daw, you go to a grocery and kulang ng tao kasi daw sa inflation. Wala na daw nag dodonate ng goods dahil sa inflation.

I cant believe people are politicizing while we're facing a natural disaster that's projected to be really huge.

But let me just say this:

In the two years that Duterte has been President, more than 10 major typhoons have come and gone, but people havent been actively fundraising... EVEN BEFORE inflation hit. TV stations that used to do fundraising, wala na. So wala pa yung inflation, hindi na nag fufundraise. Yung Red Cross callouts, di na rin sikat.

Darling, people not frantic over donating? it's not because of inflation. It's because of efficiency.

Before people used to panic about fellow Pinoys kasi TAMAD at WALANG PUSO ang government ni Aquino.

We had to help because Dinky Soliman was a lazy ass who let rice rot and who let people starve. Kasi kaya nilang magutom ang Pilipino kasi nga, "Romualdez ka at Aquino ang Presidente."

As a Filipino with conscience, how could you not have helped?

But now, with a government as good as Duterte's, you know our fellow Filipinos are going to be taken care of. Panatag ka, panatag na panatag ka kasi we are being led by the one man who made it to Leyte a day after Yolanda when most roads were impassable with a crew of doctors. If he could help people as a small time Mayor, what could he do as a President?

Wala pa yung inflation issue na yan, wala nang nag fufundraise kaya wag ka magpa andar ng pamumulitika sa gitna ng delubyo.

O ayan, politicize this photo. Your government in action before you even started whining.

AND PS: If you really want to help, you find a way. P25 lang ang tubig na gallon. P20 kung madami. Di pa naman nagmamahal ang tubig.

I really cannot stomach posts na nag prepretend maging concerned, pero puro ka chararatan. Walang konsensya."
The post was accompanied by the following photo. If by any reason, you can't see the photo below, it's of DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) and military personnel unloading DSWD relief supplies on a military plane. Also in the photo is the following text: "DSWD, ihahatid na sa Luzon partikular sa Cagayan, Isabela, Ifugao, Aurora, Quezon, Batanes at sa iba pang lugar ang mga food packs at iba pang mahahalagang kagamitan bilang paghahanda sa pagtama ng Supertyphoon Ompong."

English translation: "DSWD now bringing to Luzon, in particular Cagayan, Isabela, Ifugao, Aurora, Quezon, Batanes, and other places, food packs and other important supplies as preparation for Supertyphoon Ompong."
The photo accompanying Krizette Laureta Chu's post on Facebook. The photo is from 2015, not 2018.
1. The photo she used is a photo from 2015, not 2018. It was during relief operations for Typhoon Lando. The Philippine Air Force, Army, National Police, the Bureau of Fire Protection, and local governments were cooperating to unload relief supplies from the Department of Social Welfare and Development which were to be sent to Aurora. The irony here is on another level. She's praising relief efforts by Duterte while lambasting relief efforts in the previous administration. But the photo she used is that of relief efforts by the previous administration during Typhoon Lando in 2015.

2. "I just saw a post by some woman that said that, in the past, a lot of people used to buy relief goods before a typhoon hit to give away. Bibili ka daw ng tubig para daw sa mga less fortunate para ipamigay sa kanila. Now daw, you go to a grocery and kulang ng tao kasi daw sa inflation. Wala na daw nag dodonate ng goods dahil sa inflation." The keywords here are "by some woman" and "daw". Who is this "some woman"? Does she exist? Or did Chu just invent her just so she has something to anchor her claims?

3. Chu claims that people haven't been actively fundraising during Duterte's term because people know that they "are going to be taken care of". Data, statistics, citations, etc. Please? That is nothing but a claim. Show me the numbers. Show me the data. Show me the trends. And I'll believe you. Dinamay mo pa fund raising events by television stations and the Red Cross. Of the thousands of people who have shared your post, there's probably a ton of them who think less now of the stations and Red Cross. Which is sad because television stations and the Red Cross play very important roles during disasters and the relief efforts that often ensue.

4. Chu says that she "can't believe people are politicizing while we're facing a natural disaster". Look who's talking. That's exactly what she did. In her rant of a post, she politicized a natural disaster. And she blatantly used a misleading photo to boot. The irony here is on level 100.

5. And then of course, there's the look-at-me-and-my-high-horse comment about giving relief goods. Why don't you just inform people to help in any way they can without guilt tripping them? In times like these, there's no room for misplaced sarcasm. Lahat naman tayo gustong tumulong kung may kakyanan tayong tumulong.

Reading through her responses to people calling her out about her use of the wrong photo, she seems to be unapologetic. She doesn't seem to realize the irony in her post. She basically praised Duterte's relief efforts by using a photo from the previous administration's relief efforts from three years ago. It doesn't get any more ironic than that. Honestly, I think she sees the irony and she knows what she did was wrong. She is just too deep in the Duterte dugout that admitting to her error is out of the question. This is fanaticism.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Four Commandments For Cities Of The Future

By Bridge Telva Mapangdol - [I work in the Internet Marketing industry with specialization in content, social media, email marketing, and in Search Engine Optimization.]

In 2007, seven cities around the world made the longlist of the potential hosts for the 2016 Summer Olympics. These were Baku, Chicago, Doha, Madrid, Prague, Tokyo, and Rio de Janeiro. Following the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) analysis of the countries’ answers to the application questionnaire, it was announced that the forerunners were Chicago, Madrid, Rio, and Tokyo. After IOC members visited each of the candidate cities, they cast their votes: 66 went to Rio and 32 went to Madrid. What could have happened? How did a South American city prevail over what most of the public know as more progressive cities?

Eduardo Paes, the then-incumbent mayor said, ‘It was emotional and it wasn’t easy.’ He was in Long Beach addressing a TED Talk audience and emphasized that “Mayors have the political position to change people’s lives.” And I believe that that is true.

In his talk, he presented The Four Commandments for Cities in the Future. These are the commandments which he believed played a part in Rio’s eventual selection to host. He pointed out that for a place to become a city of the future, it has to be environmentally friendly, it has to deal with mobility and integration, it has to be socially integrated, and it has to use technology to be present.

A city of the future has to be environmentally-friendly. Simply put, a city must not do any harm to the environment. The thing is, that’s hardly ever the case, and we know that. Cities thrive through urbanization and industrialization and in the process, different kinds of wastes are created as a by-product. What these wastes are is a different discussion altogether. What matters is that something can be done about them.

In an effort to start a green initiative, Paes had to look for areas in a city of 7 million in order to create specks of open spaces. Sadly, Baguio City intends to do just the opposite. Burnham Park and Melvin Jones, including the smaller recreational parks in various parts of the city, are open and green spaces that ought to stay that way. Why?

Open spaces represent an urban area’s quest to preserve the natural environment. Yes, Burnham Park and Melvin Jones have undergone human-initiated improvements across the years, but the idea of obliterating a huge area in order to accommodate a man-made structure is ludicrous. Second, open spaces are the last frontiers of green space provision in a city where concrete structures sprout like mushrooms.

Third, open spaces are where the public can go to in order to recreate and escape the usual concrete visuals they encounter on a day-to-day basis. Fourth, open spaces are where people congregate in order to build a sense of community. To me, it wouldn’t make sense to build an ‘environmentally-friendly’ structure on a land that’s already considered environmentally-friendly.

A city of the future has to deal with mobility and integration of its people. Paes says that since majority of a country’s population are found in cities, there’s a need to prioritize mobility and integration. Now this issue is something that can be addressed by high-capacity transportation systems. The problem is, building it costs a lot of money. So what did he do?

Paes replicated what Jamie Lerner, the former mayor of Curitiba, Brazil has done: create the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). So he took a bus, transformed its interiors into a train car, and allotted an exclusive lane for it to move. Bus stations were also built at different points which gave rise to a high-capacity transportation network.

At the time of his talk, only 18% of Rio’s population are being moved by the BRT. When fully functional, Paes estimated that BRT will be able to move 63% of the city’s population. Beautiful, isn’t it?

The thing about Baguio and La Trinidad is that mobility shouldn’t be a problem if not for congestion. We lack the space to expand our roads but new vehicles continue to come about. Not to mention the fact that because we assert our freedom to own a private car, we don’t really see how that sense of entitlement becomes the very cause of our own inconvenience. And then we blame the government.

We fail to see that auto makers are now mass-producing vehicles for shipment to third world countries. In response, banks are now making it easier for people to get approved on an auto loan by partnering with auto dealerships. Their marketing is so attractive that people don’t realize they’re acquiring debt based on a depreciating commodity.

What we also fail to see is that the solution doesn’t lie in building additional parking lots. The solution lies in decongestion. Yes, the Number Coding Scheme is effective but only when I was in high school. Nor is the parking podium a solution. Build a 10-storey parking structure and it will only serve to displace congestion. When vehicles go back on the road, the same thing happens. It’s a Band-Aid solution.

So what about regulating the number of vehicles that run the streets especially on high-tourist seasons and on weekends? What about initiating an active campaign telling tourists to utilize local transportation when coming up here to visit and when leaving the city? After all, we’re very, very concerned about them, right?

What about reviewing the effectiveness of the existing Number Coding Scheme? What about starting an initiative that highlights the role of road discipline in uninterrupted flow of traffic?

A city of the future has to be socially integrated. Paes discussed this part by focusing on the favelas in Rio. Slums can be found in any city. For his part, Paes emphasized that favelas need not be a problem. Instead, they can be a solution. So instead of having people go to the heart of the city to avail of educational, health, and social services, Paes brought these services to the heart of the favelas by looking for existing structures and transforming them into habitable spaces. I call this the social integration counter flow.

This is something that we already have. We have health centers, day care centers, and primary schools in local communities. And although there are communities in far-flung areas, we have dedicated people who go on their way to serve. I call this social integration in progress. We’ll get there as we learn from what we do.

A city of the future has to use technology to be present. During his talk, Paes called his secretary of urban affairs in Rio’s Operation Center to see what’s going on. His secretary gave him an update on the weather, the traffic condition, and even where the garbage collection trucks were at that moment. It was wonderful.

Now, for the majority of us, one of the best indications of technological integration is the installment of CCTVs in strategic areas in the city. This is a great beginning only if it’s used to respond to something sneaky real-time and not after it happened. Yep, that means enforcement visibility not only when it’s time to shut the bars down for curfew or when it’s time to manage the traffic flow.

The Internet is also now lending a hand in terms of making communication and networking a lot faster. And so is the prevalence of GPS. But do you know what we lack in this space? Responsiveness, and the perfect example is social media.

Very rarely do social media pages attributed to government organizations and political or public figures entertain the comments on their pages or posts. I’m not sure why but in my field, this reflects on the quality of engagement from the person or organization represented by the page. The same applies to websites that lists an email address. You send an email but no one responds. So I’m not sure now what that email address is for. So there’s the challenge in technology. If it’s expertise that’s lacking, there’s a lot of people in the city who I know are tech-savvy enough to man the digital space. And mind you, if these spaces are optimized, we won’t have to wait for the radio announcer to announce that classes have been cancelled because of an impending storm. With technology, we can actually feel that our local leaders are with us and not above us.

The miniscule land areas of Baguio and La Trinidad offer a huge challenge. I’m clearly aware of that. But challenges have their own accompanying solutions now or later. We may never get a shot at hosting the Olympics but it’s the out-of-the-box solutions that we implement that takes us a step closer to greatness. We can be cities of the future only if we go beyond the bounds imposed by our own dull way of thinking.

[Update: The plan to construct a multi-level parking lot in Burnham Park has been rejected by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. Read the article here.]

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

13 People Confirmed Dead In A Vehicular Accident In Dao-angan, Balbalan, Kalinga

At least thirteen (13) people died when their vehicle figured in an accident in barangay Dao-angan in Balbalan, Kalinga on Tuesday afternoon (September 11). In a news update, PTV Cordillera stated that this was confirmed by the Kalinga Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO).

The state-backed news outfit also released the names of the casualties. They are as follows: Willy Gamongan, Benjamin Badong, Isabel Bagne, Victorio Banglagan, Rosario Badong, Solidad Dammay, Agida Palangdao, Lolita Latawan, Elisa Dangiwan, Leota Maday, Angelina Benito, Teresa Dulansi, and Annie Palicas.

The incident occurred between 2:00 and 3:00 in the afternoon. Initial reports from Kalinga are saying that most if not all of the casualties were senior citizens. They just came from a trip to follow-up on their social pensions.

More than a dozen of the other passengers were seriously injured and are in critical condition. The passenger jeep just came from the Balbalan Municipal Hall and was on its way back to Dao-angan. The jeep was reportedly overloaded with more than forty (40) passengers. The driver lost control of the vehicle's brakes. The vehicle fell off a ravine measuring around eighty (80) meters deep.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Hiking Activities In Kibungan Suspended Until Further Notice

Due to the incessant heavy rains, the municipality of Kibungan has decided to suspend until further notice all types of hiking activities within the town. The town issued an order dated August 23 citing weather disturbances, unstable roads, and unsafe mountain trails as the reasons behind the suspension order.

Kibungan is one of the most popular hiking destinations in the country for outdoors men looking for more challenging climbs. In particular, the traverse across Tacadang will take hikers through several mountain peaks including Mt. Tagpaya, Mt. Oten, and Mt. Tagpew. Your body has to be properly conditioned to complete the long traverse.

Below is a transcript of the suspension order issued by the municipality. Please be guided accordingly.

Photo credit: Sanggala Mountaineers

Prescribing the Suspension of Mountain Climbing and Trekking in the Municipality of Kibungan

Whereas, it is declared the policy of the state yo uphold the people's constitutional rights to life, health, safety and property and to promote the general welfare of its people at all times, especially during disasters and calamities;

Whereas, the state is further mandated to institutionalize the policies, structures, coordination mechanism and programs on disaster risk reduction from National down to Local levels;

Whereas, the Municipality has been experiencing continuous rains from August 10, 2018 to present due to Enhanced Southwest Monsoon (Habagat);

Whereas, Cordillera Weather Bulletin as of August 23, 2018, 11:00 A.M. Tropical Depression Luis entered the Philippine Area of Responsibility and is forecast to enhance the southwest monsoon, bringing moderate to heavy rains in CAR starting August 24; and

Whereas, due to the weather disturbances, roads are under close/open situation and foot trails have become unsafe.

Now, therefore, I, Cesar M. Molitas, Municipal Mayor of Kibungan, Benguet, by the power vested upon me by law, do hereby order the suspension of mountain climbing/trekking activities within Kibungan until further notice,

Issued this 23rd day of August 2018 at Kibungan, Benguet, Philippines.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Annihilation: A Fresh But Imperfect Take On The Alien Invasion Genre

When it comes to movies, the sci-fi (science-fiction) genre sits at a very special place in my heart. If you are going to scoop out my brain and place it under a microscope, you’ll get a million “what ifs” floating around. What if the planet Mars used to be inhabited by sentient beings? What if Earth is but a figment of our imagination? What if you can turn back time to millions of years ago and transplant yourself smack in the middle of the catastrophic event that wiped out the dinosaurs? What if the sun is not an organic thing but is actually a well-oiled machine built by an army of extra-terrestrials from a far-flung galaxy? What if 100 years from now, thousands of metallic monsters arise from the depths of the Pacific Ocean to wreak havoc on us puny humans?

Yes, I know. Sci-fi plots range from the realistic to the totally absurd. But these are the exact attributes that make the genre very interesting and enjoyable. There’s something for everyone. Maybe that’s just the escapist in me talking. Anyway, I like anything remotely related to sci-fi, even the ones that you would consider as bad or what a reviewer for the New York Times once referred to as “sci-fi feces”. Case in point is the action classic Predator starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. That movie is over-the-top, absurd, and plain stupid. But it’s fun and enjoyable to watch. And the premise is actually unique. The film caters to a “what if” scenario. What if merciless warriors from another planet visit Earth with the sole intention of hunting humans for sport? Nice. Now that’s a plot. And who can forget that iconic line: “Back to the chappahhhhh!

A few days ago, with the monsoon rains making it almost impossible to go out of the house, I took the time to watch Annihilation, one of the most recent sci-fi pictures to hit the big screen this year. I’ve heard a lot of good things about the film so my expectations were higher than normal. The “what if” scenario for Annihilation is this: What if a meteorite crashes on Earth and what if such a meteorite carries “something” that starts transforming Earth’s organisms into mutating monsters?

Based on a book of the same title by James Vandermeer, Annihilation offers a fresh perspective on the alien invasion genre. I haven’t read the book so I don’t have the slightest idea if Vandermeer stayed close to the book with his adaptation. Annihilation is one of those films that I’d like to describe as “almost great”. It’s a great movie but it’s riddled with plot holes and story flaws so I’d have to demote it to the “good” category. Still, it’s one of the best sci-fi films I’ve seen in years.

There are several things to like about Annihilation. First off, it was marketed as a sci-fi horror. I thought they were kidding but after seeing the film, I saw why they placed it under that category. There are scenes in the film that can potentially make viewers squirm. You’ve been warned. There’s one specific scene involving a mutated bear that quickly reminded me of scenes from the Alien movie franchise. I wouldn’t be surprised if director Alex Garland took cues from that series in developing that scene. For those not in the loop, Alex Garland is the same director behind Ex Machina, another great sci-fi film that came out a couple of years ago.

Visually-speaking, Annihilation is a masterpiece. Remember that the plot of this film revolves around mutations happening due to an “alien matter” that arrived on Earth through a meteor crash. Something called “The Shimmer” has developed around the area where the meteor landed. Organisms within The Shimmer started mutating in ways that can be considered as biologically impossible. The mutations don’t seem to make distinctions between flora and fauna. For example, flowers and plants started growing on the antlers of deer. I can already picture biologists watching this film and exclaiming “that’s completely absurd”. But you have to admit, the visuals in this film are unique and they mess with your head. You could see that they invested in artists to get the concepts off the ground.

Another great thing about the film is its pace. It takes its time to unpack the story and build up on the suspense factor. I’ve read other reviews saying that the film is so slow and boring. I understand where these types of reviews are coming from because the film truly starts slow. It only begins picking up the pace at around the halfway mark. Some viewers looked at this as a negative thing, but for me, the slow pace helped in carrying the film to its climax.

Annihilation official movie poster.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, Annihilation has its plot holes and story flaws. There are inconsistencies on the flow of the story. There was an early scene in the movie wherein the characters wake up inside The Shimmer not having any memory of what happened in the last few days. Somehow, this strange phenomenon got forgotten in the rest of the film. It’s like the incident was so random and it didn’t affect them at all in the next days they were in The Shimmer. The characters seem to remember everything after that. That’s inconsistency.

In a nutshell, Annihilation is a great but flawed sci-fi movie. What I love most about it is that it’s not preachy. At its core, it’s an alien invasion movie but it doesn’t paint the aliens as good guys or bad guys. Hell, the end credits start rolling and we don’t even know what the aliens want. We don’t know if the “thing” that came with the meteor is here to destroy us or help us. Or the crash could just be one of a million random incidents occurring in an endless universe. In a scientific perspective, that’s a good thing. There’s so much we don’t know about the world and the universe. Lucky for us, we have scientists working day and night to help us understand things and how they work.

If I am to score Annihilation, I’d give it 3.5 stars out of 5.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Kalinga Mayor Suspended For Unauthorized Re-appropriation Of Funds

The mayor of the town of Rizal in Kalinga and two other local officials were suspended by the Office of the Ombudsman after they were found guilty of "simple misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service". The suspension order will be effective for one year.

In the 20-page resolution which was approved on June 26, 2018 by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, mayor Marcelo dela Cruz Jr., municipal accountant Rodelia Busacay, and municipal budget officer Delia Jacob were found guilty of the complaints lodged against them by Frank Wad-asen, Rogelio Lawad, Ponz Anthony Orodio, and Robert Echalar.

According to the Ombudsman, dela Cruz Jr., Busacay, and Jacob violated Article 322 and 344 of RA 7160 thus warranting administrative sanctions. However, the decision also stated that there were no elements of corruption in the case.

Article 322 and 344 of RA 7160 are as follows:

Article 322 - "Reversion of Unexpended Balances of Appropriations, Continuing Appropriations. - Unexpended balances of appropriations authorized in the annual appropriations ordinance shall revert to the unappropriated surplus of the general fund at the end of the fiscal year and shall not thereafter be available for the expenditure except by subsequent enactment. However, appropriations for capital outlays shall continue and remain valid until fully spent, reverted or the project is completed. Reversions of continuing appropriations shall not be allowed unless obligations therefor have been fully paid or otherwise settled.

The balances of continuing appropriations shall be reviewed as part of the annual budget preparation and the sanggunian concerned may approve, upon recommendation of the local chief executive, the reversion of funds no longer needed in connection with the activities funded by said continuing appropriations subject to the provisions of this Section."

Article 344 - "Certification, and Approval of, Vouchers. - No money shall be disbursed unless the local budget officer certifies to the existence of appropriation that has been legally made for the purpose, the local accountant has obligated said appropriation, and the local treasurer certifies to the availability of funds for the purpose. Vouchers and payrolls shall be certified to and approved by the head of the department or office who has administrative control of the fund concerned, as to validity, propriety, and legality of the claim involved. Except in cases of disbursements involving regularly recurring administrative expenses such as payrolls for regular or permanent employees, expenses for light, water, telephone and telegraph services, remittances to government creditor agencies such as GSIS, SSS, LDP, DBP, National Printing Office, Procurement Service of the DBM and others, approval of the disbursement voucher by the local chief executive himself shall be required whenever local funds are disbursed.

In cases of special or trust funds, disbursements shall be approved by the administrator of the fund.

In case of temporary absence or incapacity of the department head or chief of office, the officer next-in-rank shall automatically perform his function and he shall be fully responsible therefor."

Additional readings on the case:
1. Kalinga Town Mayor Suspended for 1 Year
2. Kalinga Mayor, 2 Others Suspended Anew