swayed to change

Today I encountered another dead blog of mine. Since I began blogging, I must have created accounts in every conceivable blog out there. Back in the days when there were only a handful of blogging platforms, I created an account in each one in the search of where I can write with much freedom.

Only to go back here.

Thus began the cycle of self-censorship to allow me to contain in one platform my thoughts yet at the same time still maintaining a semblance of privacy.

Who am I kidding? My blog has been public for so long and yet I cringe at every follower who can read each post via email. I cringe when a friend approaches me and tells me she is following my blog. I cringe when I realize each new post is published in Facebook (which I deactivate most of the time).

My blog has been public for so long and yet I cringe at every follower who can read each post via email. I cringe when a friend approaches me and tells me she is following my blog. I cringe when I realize each new post is published in Facebook (which I deactivate most of the time).

So yes. For all this dilly dallying, this post will find itself occupying a bit in the vast world wide web. Perhaps it will begin as private. Then when I surmount the courage, it’ll end up public. Perhaps I will decide that my rambling thoughts are worth someone else’s time and that they are actually poetic and worthy of being published.

Well. For whatever it’s worth. Here goes.

born again

Born Again.

Such a controversial label. Such a controversial term. Yet one that is powerful. One that holds a lot of promise.

Too many people have been persecuted for this label. Too many have been misunderstood. Yet for those who understood it; those who embraced it – there is much freedom.

When I began to understand what being born again means, it dawned on me what predestination is.

While we claim that Christianity and getting saved is a choice we make, I really can’t help but be convinced that it is also a revelation that God makes or gives to each one. I have seen many people – mostly friends and even family – make that decision to accept Jesus. At the height of an emotional setting, perhaps overcame by the music or the feel of the event, or perhaps pressured by the others who respond to the altar call, they also make the decision to accept Christ.

And yet, weeks after, when the spiritual high fades off, they are back to their old habits – forgetting that they committed their lives already to Jesus.

What happened?

Sometimes I wonder if the conversion was real? If the decision to follow Jesus, to commit their lives to him was indeed, in fact, sincere. It’s different from Christians who simply lost fire and zeal. These Christians at least know that they are still saved and are aware that they are missing out on God by being distant.

But the ones I am talking about, they are not even aware that they are missing out on anything. They didn’t even experience the hunger.

I imagine being born again as being revealed something so wonderful you suddenly grew very hungry for it. You want to know more. You yearn for more.

You cannot be satisfied. Your spirit was suddenly awakened and you became so hungry. Hungry for God’s Word. And so you do everything necessary to learn more about the truth.

Sadly, I’ve seen people be born again yet continue to live spiritually dead lives. And I wonder, where they ever born again in the first place?

Death: A New Beginning

The year has barely began and here I am talking about endings. In particular, a very permanent ending – at least here, on this planet.

I do not mean to sound morbid but I am talking about death – the cessation of life. When one’s heart stops beating and the brain stops functioning. When all body systems simply stop functioning. Death.

2015 ended with the father of a close friend dying unexpectedly. 2016 opened with a close friend dying peacefully. And the month will close with another friend dying bravely.

It seems death has been all around me recently but it’s not the kind of deaths that will leave you depressed. Yes, death, being so final, is sad. Yes, there’s grief and I join the families and friends of these people whom I know in their grief. Yet, behind the grief, there’s hope that these people are in a better place.

I have never shied away from the topic of death. I believe this blog has so many posts concerning the topic. For me, death is not the end but just the beginning. The beginning of something greater. Something bigger. Something better.

The life we live on earth is only temporary. But no matter how temporary, it is meant to be lived to the fullest. These people who died all lived their lives to the full and I am blessed to have witnessed their lives and somehow been a part of it.

It’s inspiring to see how these people – Sir D, Tita Eva and Scud – have lived their lives to such a full that when they died, people flocked to them remembering everything they have accomplished. People shared stories of how they have been touched one way or another by the acts of these wonderful persons. And everyone, despite the sadness and pain of loss, had peace in their hearts because they knew and are confident that these three are now reaping their rewards in Heaven.

Someone recently shared to me her fears of death – about what lies ahead and what she’ll face when she dies. If there’s something we shouldn’t have to fear – that’s death. Death is not something we should be afraid of. We can be afraid of what will happen to our dependents when we die (hence we should be serious about our financial plans) but we should not be afraid of our deaths. Not if we know where we are going when we die and what lies ahead for us.

Not sure what happens after you die? The Bible is very clear that because we are sinners, when we die, we are destined for only one place – Hell. That’s the bad news. But it doesn’t end there. The good news is, because God loves us so much, He can’t take it that we would spend eternity in Hell. So He sent His Son, Jesus, to redeem us from our sins. Jesus paid the price for our sins. Hell, which is supposed to be our eternal punishment for every wrong thing we did here on earth, is no longer our destination. When we die, we can now go to Heaven and receive eternal life.

I said “we CAN” because there’s still something required of us. We are required to accept Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior. It’s a personal thing only we can do. It’s not something we inherit from our parents, it’s not something our religion can do for us, it’s not a decision someone else can impose on us. It’s a choice we have to make and a personal relationship we have to cultivate with our Maker.

So you see, Death is not the end. It’s the beginning. It’s the time when we will reunite with our Father in Heaven.

As Paul said, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

Leaving a Lasting Legacy

It was my first time in Mindanao. It was supposed to be a business trip mixed with some personal R&R but it turned out to be a personal journey witnessing a life-changing event for a friend.

We knew his father was in the hospital but we pushed on with our agenda. When we emerged successful, we were ecstatic and grateful although a bit sad that he couldn’t be with us. He was our key. As it turned out, he has secured our future.

In the middle of dinner, we were told there was an emergency. And in the dead of the night we rushed to his side. We were literally flying at speeds of almost 160kph, traversing dark roads to get to the hospital in time.

Along the way, I learned that he was gone but I dare not tell it to my friend who was driving for fear of upsetting him. When we arrived, I prepared myself to be strong for what I knew lies ahead.

It was an unexpected death- one no one saw coming. We knew he was sick but there were so many plans that we made involving him, it was hard to imagine.

While it was hard for me to swallow, I can’t begin to imagine how it must be for my friend who never really saw it coming. I can’t begin to imagine how it must be for my friend’s mother who loved Tito so much, her life was literally intertwined with his.

I have only witnessed two deaths – my lola and my friend’s father. All the other deaths I’ve seen are when the body is already in the casket.

The sadness was in the air. It was past midnight yet there were a lot of people by the hospital’s crying room. Everyone was recounting the last moments with Tito. I looked at my friend. Despite the tears in his eyes, I saw the determination – the determination to continue his father’s legacy.

LEGACY

Sir Daniel Ines is known for being a hard working man. At age 60, he still took the bar exam and most probably would pass when the results are released later this year. This was his second time to take the exam. Having failed his first attempt at the Bar did not deter him from taking it again in order to become a lawyer. This is despite having an already successful CPA practice both as a private auditor and a COA auditor.

I learned that he has served in 10 municipalities and cities around Sultan Kudarat as a COA (Commission on Audit) Auditor. He also teaches at a local college and is active in the church leadership. He has raised a family of 7 with 5 kids, three of whom are boys. One has become a CPA just like him.

We spent days planning our itinerary but at the last minute it turned out to be something we didn’t expect nor hoped for. We spent the time helping our friend prepare for the wake that would definitely be jampacked with people – people he has touched and helped throughout the years.

As I assisted in the preparations and watched the people around me, the stories I heard about him made me admire Tito for the man he really is. The short time I have spent with him, I was already amazed by his wisdom and the dedication he displayed. I had looked forward to learning more from him but God had other plans. Now, all I can do was listen to others stories about him.

Yet, even in his death, he has taught me a very valuable lesson. A life that is lived excellently, working tirelessly and dedicatedly, without looking at what others would say or seeking the applause of men, will earn you the greatest reward of all.

Every person I spoke with will tell me that Tito is now in a better place. And they say it with conviction. Behind the pain and sadness in their eyes, there is peace in their spirit that their loved one, is enjoying his just reward in Heaven.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Colossians 3:23-24

And that is the kind of life I want to live.

A Good Life, A Good Death

I’ve always believed that there’s a good way to die. You can die by an accident or by a disease or illness but there’s always a better way. And that is to die in your sleep.

And then there’s a great way to be buried. I’ve encountered many deaths in the family – of aunts and uncles- and the state of the wake and burial has always been the same. There’s the casket, the wake and the traditions around it and then the mass before the burial.

Witnessing all this time and time again made me think — I want something different. Even in death I wanted something else.

I don’t want people to see me in a casket. I don’t want their last memory of me to be a dead body in a box. I want them to remember how I looked when I was fully alive. I also want a memorial service where people would speak about me – tell their personal stories of our encounters and remember me with songs and eulogies.

I envision my wake and burial to be a series of nights, with the people I know and loved present, gazing at my many photos and speaking (hopefully good) things about me. Of course no casket should be present for my remains are now in an urn.

Most of all, though there is grief and sadness because I won’t be with them anymore, I hope there will be joy that I am now where I’ve always longed to be – heaven.

Last week, I had the chance to witness the kind of death and burial I wanted. The person also lived a life worth emulating. She died in her sleep, fully prepared to meet her Maker and Savior. When she left earth she was able to lead a well-lived life having inspired hundreds, probably thousands, of people.

Dr. Eva Villanueva, known to me as Tita Eva, was a kind, old lady I met when I was in 4th year college. She was the CRL Council Chair and I was a student elder. For one year, we worked together in the council bringing about change in the church.

She was the one who taught me how to take down minutes of a meeting properly along the way inculcating in my mind the value of excellence at work. She taught me how to aim for perfection but be gracious when mistakes are made. She taught me that in my quest for excellence, I am allowed to make mistakes but I must learn from them.

She was the proponent of UPCYM’s Buffet Ministry. A food feeding program which gives free lunch and dinner to qualified students. I remember clearly during one council meeting, she announced that she was shocked that there are students who ate only one meal a day – those meals being only bread and instant noodles. I told her how true it was – me being one of those students. She was aghast and unable to believe the fact. Promptly she committed to sending me nutritious and well-prepared food every day until I graduated. Ate Mara, her maid, would bring me food every other day that are balanced and would last me for two days. I had breakfast, lunch and dinner – occasionally snacks and even dessert.

Her meals helped me get by through the most tedious moments of my college life. It was my final year and times were tought. When I asked her how I can ever repay her, she said — don’t pay me. Pay it forward. 

Tita Eva has taught me the value of generosity. She taught me how pay it forward works and how to give without expecting anything in return. In a world where people are more concerned about their own welfare, she showed me how to be genuinely concerned for others.

As Carissa, her granddaughter said, Tita Eva showed us how simplicity and humility goes a long way. Tta Eva could buy anything she wants. She’s a rich lady. But she was always frugal and bought only simple things. She did not spend frivolously.

And because of these, she has learned to be generous. To put others before her needs.

Until the end, Tita Eva served the Lord. Her pastor shared how committed she was to teach the Senior Citizen Bible Study even after having been advised by her doctor to take it easy.

Tita Eva led a life well-lived. And until the end, people remembered her for the kind of lady she was – generous, loving, simple, elegant and God-fearing.

I can imagine God telling her, “well done my good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).

In Scud’s Memory

You have ran the race. You have fought the good fight. And you have been faithful.
-quoting 2 Timothy 4:7

To my friends who don’t know this guy, his name is Scud Dy. He’s around my age, an Atenean, a Nagueño, a Bicolano.

Ever since I learned about their IGP (income generating project) – Mr. Kengkoy, I have been inspired by him. It was the first time I learned what having a business with a heart means. That it is possible for a business to earn profits and at the same time uplift the lives of a community – the concept of social entrepreneurship.

Mr. Kengkoy, now rebranded as Gugu is an inspiring success story – for the founders behind it and the community at the foot of Mt. Mayon that they’ve helped. If you have a chance, google them up. Better yet- support them by buying their backpacks made from jute cloth.

Scud had so much potential in him. He had such a bright future ahead. But leukemia took a toll on his life and he’s battled it courageously in the past years. But what’s amazing is that he didn’t let the illness defeat him.

In the short and occasional conversations we would have in Facebook, he’d say he’s ok, getting better, getting stronger. He has been very brave and strong. I am overjoyed when I see his photos in Facebook – strong, alive, healthy.

Losing an aunt to leukemia, I can imagine the battle he and his family must be going through. But Scud always remained a picture of positivity and a beacon of hope. When I briefly saw him last December he was so full of life.

And so it came as a shock that this week, his time was up. He was called to heaven by our Maker. He has finished his race.

But it was a race well fought. It was a life well lived. He has touched and inspired thousands.

 

Government Now Online

Applying for most government requirements are now conveniently online. In recent years, the Philippines has made a shift to automate many government processes that are prone to long queues. It’s not yet perfect but give it a little more time and we will surely have an efficient system hopefully like the developed countries. 

Since I’ll be taking the PRC Exam for Real Estate Brokers, I have to comply with several government requirements such as an NSO Birth Certificate and an NBI Certificate. 

First, the PRC Application was online. They wouldn’t accept walk-in applications. It’s ok although the website could use some more updating since I had trouble making the fields with search buttons work. 

NSO E-Census

The National Statistics Office now has an online portal where you can apply for your birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates, CENOMARs, etc. Everything can be done online and you can just request for your documents to be sent to you via courier. It’s very convenient especially if you have work to attend to during regular business hours. You don’t need to take time off work just to fall in line and get these documents. 

I applied for my birth certificate online and made the payment via BDO Over The Counter payment mode. The payment options are a bit limited but still convenient. 

I’m now just waiting for the LBC to deliver my documents. 

To learn how it’s done, here’s a good guide. 

NBI Clearance 

Another source of headaches is the application for NBI Clearance. I distinctly remember my first NBI Clearance application. It was for my passport and since I was in college that time, I got it from the Quezon City branch. It was nightmarish due to the long lines and the dirty fingers (finger printing was a hassle) afterwards. When I started working, I applied at the provincial NBI office which had the same long lines until I discovered that it’s best to queue in the afternoons – when they’ll nearly close. When the biometrics way of fingerprinting was implemented, I was so grateful. 

Now, I’m thankful that we can apply online for the NBI Clearance especially that I’m now based in Manila. 

Application is really a breeze. Just create an account online, select your application, make the necessary payments and set an appointment to visit an NBI office. 

Here’s a guide. 

Everything was a breeze until I reached the NBI office. No blog I’ve read prepared me for what I experienced. 

I chose the NBI office in Robinsons Galleria because it’s the nearest to me and I surmise it’s better inside the mall (hello airconditioning). My appointment was in the morning and since the mall opens at 10am, I went to work first, left at 11am (lunch break) and arrived at 11:40. The line was long when I arrive at Basement 1. Thankfully I had enough common sense to look at signs and ask questions. 

Everywhere there were notices saying 

Huwag lang pila ng pila. Kumuha ng numero at antayin tawagin. 

(Don’t just fall in line. Get a number and wait to be called.)

The system at the office was you get a number, go to the waiting area and wait to be called. Make sure you have your online application and reference number for a faster process. And don’t lose the transaction number because you’ll need it. 

There were a lot of people in the waiting area and I was tempted to go home. I felt like my number would take forever to call. But the process was relatively quick. They call the numbers in batches of 50. Just be sure to bring entertainment or work to keep you occupied and make sure you’ve eaten so as not to be hungry. 

The entire process took me 3 hours mainly due to the waiting lines. But once it was my turn, everything was smooth sailing as long as my files are in order. 

Overall, I applaud the government for attempting to have an online facility to easily process these forms. Although not perfect, with everyone’s cooperation we can definitely come to a point when requesting government forms becomes a breeze through online applications. 

Instant Visit to Caramoan

  
It looks like paradise. It well can be. The photos do Caramoan justice. Sometimes I feel it makes the islands look even better. 

But nothing compares to the feeling of being there actually experiencing the place. 

January had barely begun when I finally got the chance to visit this famed exotic place. It’s a 4+ hour drive from our home in Naga through never ending winding roads. Normally travellers would travel 2 hours to the place by boat from Sabang Port to Guijajo Port then some 1+ hour land travel to the jump off point to see the islands. However we were a large group and the trip was a very DIY one that we simply rented a van and drove to the place. 

While the ride was scenic and the road fairly well developed, if you have motion sickness, I don’t recommend it. It’s extremely zigzag and you’ll endure it for 2 hours. But the view is really beautiful. You’ll see Mt. Isarog, Mt. Iriga and Mt. Mayon lined up behind the sea. We also saw the hills wrapped in clouds bathed with the early morning sun as it was early morning (around 4am) when we travelled. 

  
Since it was really a DIY trip, we had no contact when we arrived at the place. We went to a beach front accomodation- Caramotan – and inquired how we can rent boats to go island hopping. Our plan is to go back home in the afternoon and not stay in the place. 

The staff were very accommodating and though we didn’t plan to stay overnight they allowed us to use a room to keep our things and use as a place to shower later on. They looked for a boat (two boats in fact) and a tour guide (who happened to be a well-accomplished and well-travelled guy) for us. 

We were able to visit the common islands and even feed some fishes and go snorkeling but all only within less than 30 minutes from the mainland. We were unable to go to the farther islands because to do so would require more time. No wonder the recommended trip is 2 days and 1 night. 

   
 
We spent only about P900 per person for the entire trip – including meals. However our itinerary is not something I’d recommend. You’d feel bitin. 

It would be great to go back and experience the islands again especially the farther ones. Next time I’ll take the boat to Guijajo port then. 

  
Caramoan – white sands all around. Less crowds. Pure peaceful bliss. 

Principles of Growth and Increase

Reflections from the Message delivered by Ptr. Cawir Ginting

Every man and woman was created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). This doesn’t mean we are God but rather that we have God’s potential inside us.

Knowing the potential within, we must have a vision for our future

A man without vision is a man without a future. A man without a future will always return to his past.

Ptr. Cawir Ginting

Our vision is the picture of our future. In order for this vision to be fulfilled we must be filled with the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is the one who’ll guide us to have a blueprint for our lives. He is the one who will give us direction and wisdom on how we can fulfill our vision.

Sometimes our visions seem too long in coming especially if it is big. But as Habakkuk 2:3 says “If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed.”

We may feel that our vision is slow in coming but actually God has a perfect timing and according to His timing it won’t be delayed.

When God says something it will come to pass.

When man saya something it depends on the situation.

Ptr. Cawir

We can always trust God to fulfill our visions that we have aligned with His will. All we need is to have faith in Him by fixing our eyes on Jesus.

When our focus is on Jesus, then we won’t be swayed by whatever situation we come across because we know that surely our vision will come to pass. Why? Because when Jesus died on the cross and paid the penalty for our sins, He also gave us freedom to become children on God – the descendants of Abraham pertained in the Bible to whom God has made an everlasting covenant and promise to prosper and always succeed.

In order to experience growth and increase we must become effecive and productive. This we achieve by following what Peter said in 2 Peter 1:5-8:

In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.

The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:5-8 (NLT)

We must make effort to develop our faith by supplementing it with goodness that is readily visible; with knowledge that we acquire through continuous learning; with self-control and disciple; with perseverance and resilience – always bouncing back even when life hits us hard; with holiness; and with brotherly love for one another.

Discovering Quitinday Greenhills

When we speak of visiting and enjoying the beauty of Mt. Mayon, the usual places that come to mind are Cagsawa Ruins, Mayon Resthouse, Embarcadero and Ligñon Hill. These are the currently popular destinations to take photos of Mayon Volcano.

Recently, a new site has emerged – the Quitinday Green Hills. Dubbed as Pili Nut Hills, it was first “discovered” aboard a Legazpi flight where the hills appear as mounds on the ground. Prior to 2014, they were virtually unexplored and no one knew how to get to them.

albaypilinuthills-1-4.jpg
Quitinday Green Hills viewed from a plane to Legazpi (Photo from wowlegazpi.com)

 

But the thirst for a new way of enjoying Mayon saw the site being discovered and developed for tourists.

After reading countless blogs (Turista Trails, Juridical Panda, No Juan Is An Island and Lagalag) about the place – and there arent’ many – and after contacting Jed Villanueva (0927.621.3315) of Camalig’s Local Tourism Office, I was finally able to craft an itinerary that will include visiting these famed hills.

The hills are famous because they have been likened to Bohol’s Chocolate Hills. The difference though is that these hills are covered in lush green grass – hence the term green hills.

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The view at close to 5:30 in the afternoon. Check out the blogs above for thew view earlier during the day. Photo Credit: Macky Garcera

 

Getting There

According to other travel bloggers, to reach the place, you have to hire a tricycle from Camalig Town Proper. They already know the way to Quitinday and will charge P500 for a round-trip fare. Getting to Camalig is as simple as riding a jeepney from Legaspi or a bus from Naga and getting off Camalig Town Proper.

We had a rented van when we went around Albay so I had to find out via Google Maps how to reach the place. Thankfully, Google Maps had a record of Quitinday Greenhills and a search showed us the various routes we can take.

What we didn’t know was the condition of the road. Travel blogs said to expect a bumpy ride since majority of the way were rough roads. They weren’t lying. Sedans and other smaller vehicles will have a hard time navigating the terrain but along the way we saw a Toyota Vios on its way back.

The road is not steep. Though you are going to a hilly place and the road normally inclines, the inclination isn’t steep and there are no sudden zigzags. But there are patches of rough roads in between paved ones though these roads are slowly being developed thanks to the frequency of visitors to the area.

The map said it would take us 20 minutes from Camalig Town Proper but the drive felt like more than that. The 20 minutes was actually double since we had to thread the road carefully and when there’s a vehicle coming from the opposite side, we had to figure out how to let each other pass because the roads are also narrow.

Best Time To Go

The best time to go is early morning or late afternoon. The “viewdeck” in Quitinday Greenhills is open from 5:30AM to 5:30PM. The best time to enjoy the scenery is from 3:30PM – 5:00PM just before it gets dark.

We got there late due to a miscalculation of time so we had to cut our trip short and our photos were devoid of light. But the view was still breathtaking.

They don’t offer camping in the vicinity as of writing so they are really strict with getting tourists out of the place before it gets completely dark. Plus the way back is very dark since there are scarcely any houses along the way as well as street lamps.

The Trek Uphill

The trek is easy. Even first timers will not have a hard time. They carved stairs along the side of the hill so getting up is like climbing a long flight of stairs. Leisurely, the climb will not take more than 10 minutes.

Once you’re up the hill, you are rewarded with a panoramic view of lush hills with the perfect cone of Mayon in the background. There are two peaks you can climb further to see a more unobstructed view of the surroundings.

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Photo Credit: Ardee Garcera

 

Just be careful because the pathways are narrow and when there are a lot of tourists taking pictures, one wrong step and you can tumble down the cliff.

But don’t be afraid. The place is generally safe.

Fees

They charge a minimal P20 fee per head as an environmental charge. You can probably get a guide too but the trek is not too steep or hard to navigate and when you get up, it’s pretty easy to explore on your own.

A New Place to Enjoy Mayon

For those in search of your new adventure, drop by these majestic hills before they have been fully developed. Though I doubt they will be as commercialized as Ligñon Hill, there’s a unique thrill about discovering a place before everyone else.

Mayon never fails to amaze us and seeing her nestled before rolling lush hills is certainly treat. I’ve seen her before the city (Ligñon Hill view), before the sea (Embarcadero view) and before farmlands (Cagsawa Ruins view). Now I’ve seen her before rolling hills (Quitinday Green Hills view).

And the epic drive to get there was well worth it.

*Epic because on our way there, we felt like we were driving into the unknown. Every vehicle we come across – especially a Grandia – elicited a sigh of relief that we were going in the right direction.

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