(Ms. Hong) has demonstrated capacity for leadership, creativeness, initiative, resourcefulness, and professionalism, attributes required of any individual in this highly competitive world...

I am very sure that given more opportunities, (she) will also excel in many fields. This is very indicative of (her) capability to thread the playing field of journalism and mass communication, given (her) facility in written and interpersonal communication.

International Rice Research Institute - Information Services


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As published in Sandiwa, of the International Rice Research Institute, May 2005

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As published in Sandiwa, of the International Rice Research Institute, May 2005

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As published in Sandiwa, of the International Rice Research Institute, May 2005

(Click picture for bigger version)


Feature story, published in Mindanao Current, 2004


She just turned 19 last September 15, 2004 but Stephanie Kate J. Cawaling holds the most coveted throne of Miss Cagayan. She is the only daughter of Mr. Ricardo M. Cawaling, a soldier, and Myrtel J. Cawaling, a teacher. Standing at 5’4 with vital statistics of 34-25-34, she thinks her edge in winning the crown during the eve of Miss Cagayan in the midst of her fiercely competitive co-candidates is her stamina and the intriguing X-factor that she undeniably possess.

Like most great things in life, winning the crown certainly took a lot of hard work and experience for this young lady. While most girls at age 7 stay in school, started ramping her way to where she is now. These are the titles bestowed on her so far: (1992) 4th runner up of Miss COLS; (1998) 1st runner up of Miss Intrams; (2001) Miss Pilgrim; (2002) Miss Opol, 1st runner up of Miss Talisayan, Miss Tourism of Misamis Oriental and 1st runner up of Miss Teen Cagayan; (2003) National Bikini Babes; and lately (2004) Miss Cagayan.

Kate, as fondly called by her friends, describes herself as a strong, sophisticated, well-cultured woman of faith who projects who she truly is, without masks or strings attached. The best beauty advice that she can give is to be simple and natural. According to her, to be beautiful, one needs only to possess the charisma and the glow emanating from within, that even without make-ups or glamour a woman can be striking and attractive. For her part, she contributes all these factors in her through the love of the Lord. She lives a life of simplicity and she gives all the glory back to the Lord.

Prime Mover

For Kate, Her greatest asset in life is her profound faith and strong spiritual relation to the Lord. She does not only consider this as her asset but also her priced possession as well. God is the prime mover inside her and on all the good things surrounding her. He is her source of strength, courage, and conviction whenever she’s put into the test and the limelight. She considers herself nothing without Him.

The best description she can think of love is still found in the Bible. An ideal guy for her would be someone extraordinary, and by that she means someone who is very sweet, patient, a gentleman to the core and someone who could readily accept her for who she truly is. She has no ideal age for marrying but she’ll consider tying the knot once she’ll be contented with her single life and she’ll find the guy that she would want to live with for the rest of her life.

As for premarital sex, she is strongly opposed to it. Other than the adverse consequences that both will have to face in the end, she also holds the belief that it is still rightful in the eyes of man and blessed in the eyes of God , for a woman to shed blood on the night of her wedding day.

Of beauty pageants

Kate joined beauty pageants because other than the personal and social enhancement she gets out of it, she is also molded into a well-disciplined woman. Along the process of the competitions, she also gained a lot of friends and experience a lot of fun.

The best thing that she can’t forget while joining Miss CDO is the bonding she shares with her equally beautiful co-candidates and the crazy and funny experiences they have in their practices.

To some people, beauty pageants are held in low esteem with the notion that it is a cheap venue for young women to wallow in vanity and peddle shallow superficialities. There are a lot of rumors going on about the integrity of these competitions and the hanky-panky going on between the candidates and their respective sponsors. But there is more than what meets the eye in beauty pageants. What most people do not know is that it takes a woman of strength and courage like Kate to survive a beauty pageant as prestigious as Miss Cagayan while keeping her principles and self-confidence intact, and her faith for the Lord burning -- something that men may not completely understand.

In her own words, she believes that “the women are the stronger sex for they exhibit extraordinary qualities that surpass the attributes of men. Men are powerful and strong, but women controls their power and strength…”


New Miss Cagayan do Oro Stephanie Kate Cawaling ( center ) of Barangay Patag strikes a pose with her princesses following her coronation as winner of this year's search last Tuesday night. Posing for photographers with Cawaling are ( from left ) Kristine Ygonia ( 3rd runner - up ). Imy Beja ( 1st runner - up ).Cawaling. chona Abrogar ( 2nd runner - up ).and Haidee Mondejar ( 4th runner - up ). (ph0t0 c0pyright friendster-cd0)


There is a story behind every story, and “The Burning of Rice” is no exemption. This report shall not only critique style and substance of the book, but importantly, delve deeper into the people and circumstances that resulted to nothing short of a miracle in Cambodia.

The Story


It was year 1985 when the Peoples Republic of Kampuchea invited the International Rice research Institute (IRRI) to help the country rehabilitate its damaged rural economy from previous government oppression.

IRRI however, had a hard time in coming up with donors. Political isolation of Cambodia at the time excluded the country receiving assistance from the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, major UN development organizations and through direct bi-lateral aid from western countries. The situation was politically difficult, but IRRI could operate because it was a non-government organization and though internationally funded was accepted as being politically independent. Despite international pressure not to do so, the Australian Government agreed to fund initial studies through IRRI’s IndoChina program with special emphasis on Cambodia. The Cambodia-IRRI-Australia Project (CIAP) soon emerged from this small pilot project.

The program was run by two agronomists, Harry Nesbitt and Glenn Denning. According to Nesbitt, "We basically had to build a whole new farming infrastructure, including a system of national agricultural research for the Cambodians to later take over. This meant training people up to PhD level. But the most urgent need of all was to raise basic household food production."

With the help of the Department of Agronomy in the new Cambodian Government, Nesbitt assembled a small team of local trainees and started training the most promising Cambodian rice varieties assessed at IRRI.

Nesbitt was further quoted, "The people here aren't looking to hook into global, vertically-integrated agriculture. They are looking for something they can control and which gives them security. A modest, reliable rice crop every year gives them that. They won't get rich, but they know they will live."

The unsaid story

(The Cambodian Killing Fields)

Much of what caused the damage in Cambodia was left in the peripheries of the story. The history is mostly constrained on the footnotes, which sometimes cover more than half the page and is a little sore to the eyes.

Focusing on the developments that transpired rather than the evil that happened, history is only mentioned in passing. It is apparent that the target audience of the author is presumed to be knowledgeable of it because not much was mentioned.

The reporter offers a synopsis of what was left out from the book. This is fitted so as to understand why the book is titled as thus.

On April 17th, 1975 the Khmer Rouge, a communist guerrilla group led by Pol Pot, took power in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. During their rule, it is estimated that 2 million approximately 30% Cambodians died by starvation, torture or execution. It was one of the most violent regimes of the 20th century often compared with the regimes of Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong. In terms of the number of people killed as a proportion of the population of the country it ruled and time in power, it was the most lethal regime of the 20th century.

The Khmer Rouge turned Cambodia to year zero. They banned all institutions, including stores, banks, hospitals, schools, religion, and the family. Everyone was forced to work 12 - 14 hours a day, every day. Children were separated from their parents to work in mobile groups or as soldiers. People were fed one watery bowl of soup with a few grains of rice thrown in. Babies, children, adults and the elderly were killed everywhere. The Khmer Rouge killed people if they didn’t like them, if didn’t work hard enough, if they were educated, if they came from different ethnic groups, or if they showed sympathy when their family members were taken away to be killed. All were killed without reason. It was a campaign based on instilling constant fear and keeping their victims off balance.

The Khmer Rouge spurned anyone with money or education. The revolution derived its energy, they believed, from the empowerment of the rural poor. In 1976 a hastily written Four Year Plan sought to triple the country's agricultural production within a year--without fertilizer, modern tools or material incentives. The plan paid no attention to Cambodian geography or common sense; the nation's farmers were prostrate after five years of civil war. Attempting to meet impossible quotas and frightened of reprisals, Khmer Rouge workers cut back the grain allotted for consumption. Tens of thousands of Cambodians starved to death. Thousands more collapsed from overwork and the almost total absence throughout the country of medical attention.

Cambodia was a major rice exporting nation in the 1960’s during a period of political stability following independence from the French in 1953. In 1964/65 rice exports exceeded 500,000 t/year and Cambodia was considered as being a rice bowl of SE Asia. By 1975, when Phnom Penh finally fell to the communist Khmer Rouge, the area under rice had declined by 77% and rice production had decreased by 84% of the 1970 level.

By 1980 there was a dire shortage of qualified personnel to help rejuvenate the shattered economy. The green revolution had virtually passed by Cambodia and its farmers continued to use traditional practices, many of which had been in operation for over a thousand years. To make matters worse, the Pol Pot policy of dislocating the farmers from their accustomed ecosystems resulted in many of the traditional rice varieties being lost. Cambodian farmers desperately needed access to improved technologies. However, there were few technicians capable of developing or adapting higher yielding practices for Cambodian conditions, a national technology evaluation system was non existent and agricultural extension was under-resourced.

The author’s story

(His personal style)

If anything, the story is a personal account of the author. It not only narrates happened to CIAP but also what happened to him, the love stories of his friends, the restaurants, hotels, bathrooms that they have used and everything else which he thinks matter. It is so personal that one ends up feeling like it is the next-door-neighbor’s tale, details and all. This doesn’t discount though that it is one extraordinary tale at that.

Perhaps because of being too personal, the book had a weak introduction to such that it does not engage the interest of any ordinary reader. Obviously, his target readers are his co-workers, the scientists involved in the same cause. There is much wisdom in his book however for anyone especially those involved in development or aid programs.

Most of the Introduction narrates his travels prior to coming to Cambodia. This includes trips to Bangkok, Thailand, Philippines and Australia. Name-dropping is very prominent throughout, which mostly consists of scientists he personally knew from IRRI. The reporter feels it might have been more effective to start with a setting of the current Cambodia in relation to its past to aid the readers put the story in the right context.

To illustrate further, here is a paragraph which the author used to narrate his experience about his stay-in place:

Rooms in the Monorom were not as spatially grand as the Samaki hotel and bed bugs were sometimes unwanted companions. I found that spraying under the one sheet with insecticide carried for the purpose could solve the problem.

Though the reporter sometimes sees it as unnecessary, such personal method however resulted into a telling and lively account of the 1985-2001 efforts and achievements of CIAP. The author's acute observation, knowledge of practical agriculture and vivid word pictures of situations and personalities involved enable the reader to grasp the cooperative hard work which went into the project and into the country's progress to self sufficiency in rice. For one of its merits though, the author’s personal accounts was not absent of humor:

There are other challenges. When I saw a three-meter-long cobra gliding through waist-deep water several times faster than it was for me to wade it occurred to me that using a boat could be a better option to inspect the crops. On the other hand, a colleague told me of his experience in Bangladesh were a snake decided that traveling by boat was a good idea and joined the passengers. Not surprisingly that human occupants quickly, but perhaps not wisely, jumped out

Sometimes, sarcasm does the job:

In an open field two cows and a calf tethered near a 30-metre wide bomb crater were peacefully grazing on the few green plants appearing after the rains. The deep pools in bomb craters served as both water resources and fishponds, but there must be a cheaper and friendlier method of excavating ponds.

The author’s candidness however, is devoid of mushy and exaggerated sentimentality. His off–hand comments are very picturesque such as, “Parts of the landscape was scarred by bombs of ten years earlier, with as many as 200 craters to be seen in one frame of my camera viewfinder.”

Inspite of his personal accounts, Puckridge also manage to interweave the lives of the project workers with the stories of the Cambodian people they meet and work with, and sets this within the recent and ancient history of the country. His book provides a moving account of the impact of science with a human side. He manages to combine his personal views and observations with the more objective story of the project progression.

Generally, this is not only a story about himself but more importantly, a story about others. Afterall, according to the author in his 1st chapter: “In less than 15 years a starving nation learned to feed itself as a few expatriates and many Cambodians put their collective efforts in the task. This is their story, and as far as possible it is told in their own words.”

The Development Story

(Issues and Approaches)

Development in Cambodia was integrated from four aspects:

1. Training: teach Cambodian scientists to conduct and manage research as well as farmers in better practices for their fields.

2. Research: develop a program to conduct crop protection research for Cambodian rice.

3. Policy: assist the Government of Cambodia formulate policies that will support small farmers.

4. Extension: Communicate research results to the general public and apply research to identify opportunities for gains and help solve rice farmers’ problems.

In every phase of this development story, communication proved to be a vital part for it success. This is evident by the fact that just by Integrated Pest Management (IPM) alone, the non-chemical control of insects, there are various published materials for its dissemination of information and technology. Publications released are through 29 presentations, 11 AgNotes, 25 press releases and 71 CIAP Bulletin articles. The CIAP IPM Program has brought the general public information on the management of rice pests, the hazards of pesticide abuse, and forecasts of pest outbreaks.

Problems encountered are inevitable. For example, the identification of rice diseases by farmers is problematic. Both yellow and brown leaves are often called “red leaves” by Cambodian farmers. There are numerous causes of yellow leaves (e.g. water stress, nutrient deficiencies, tungro disease, nematodes, etc.) Because of this, constant communication with the grassroots level is important. Publications from the educated ones are just not enough, it is equally important to also hear the farmers, a two-way flow of communication.

Participatory theories of development communication take a full play in the success story of Cambodia. This meant the systematic utilization of communication channels and techniques to increase people's participation in development and to inform, motivate, and train rural populations mainly at the grassroots. It stresses that development communication needed to be human- rather than media-centered.

Communication means a process of creating and stimulating understanding as the basis for development rather than information transmission). Communication is the articulation of social relations among people. People should not be forced to adopt new practices no matter how beneficial they seem in the eyes of agencies and governments. Instead, people needed to be encouraged to participate rather than adopt new practices based on information.

CIAP used this approach by through NGO interactions. CIAP had a very strong impact on the institutional capacity of NGOs by training Cambodian NGO staff members, the formation of a technical group responsible for information dissemination (resulting in the formation of the Cambodian Society of Agriculture). NGOs played a key role in disseminating and adapting CIAP technology for use by farmers. They have key access to farmer’s problems at the grassroots level and provided feedback to CIAP on the requirements for research.

Other than this, the CIAP team members themselves have direct interaction with the farmers. While growing the new varieties to determine how to farm them under the varying Cambodian soil and climatic conditions, the team also started working with farmers to prepare them for the changes and new technologies. Examples of these are modern fertilizers and their application, irrigation, new harvest and post-harvest technologies, IPM.

It was an unceasing race against time; keeping hunger at bay while engendering an agricultural revolution, which was greeted by the bulk of the population with anxiety. Most of the farmers were still traumatized by the events of the previous two decades, and lacked the confidence to experiment with new methods or rice varieties in case the crop failed. Nesbitt and Denning immersed themselves into people's personal stories; to understand their state of mind: "When people started to tell you a bit about themselves the constant phrase was, “I'm the only one left."

The participatory approach was further put into practice with the Farmer Participatory Research (FPR) which was conducted in 4 provinces. In this CIAP developed a set of recommendations for sustainable rat management in different rice ecosystems in Cambodia. The participatory approach used to develop these recommendations aided in making them more sustainable. The reasons to such being that: the rat management techniques were targeted to the requirements of the problem owners, some options were dismissed early in the process as the farmers knew these would be unaffordable or in conflict with their other practices, novel options were generated by farmers, the technology was rapidly modified to adapt it to the local farming system, and it provided a framework for technology evaluation.

Working with NGOs, CIAP identified opportunities for immediate gains, tested new rat management methods, and evaluated the farmers’ methods. In the process, farmers made their own innovations and adaptations of control tactics.

FPR indicated that no form of rat control by itself is completely effective. Various combinations of sanitation, cultural practices, hunting, digging of burrows, trapping, a trap-barrier system, and baiting is the best way to manage rice field rats. The specific techniques recommended depend on the rice ecosystem, the risk of yield loss to rats, the economic status of the farmers, and the preferences of villagers. This combined effort even resulted into organizing two or three village rat hunts per season to keep rat populations low.

There was a lot of work put into marrying IRRI science with problem-based learning programs. Nesbitt was quoted saying, "It (the program) was aimed at empowering farmers to work towards us… to push questions at us rather than us pushing answers at them."

Participatory approach also has its limitations though, as in the case of the Golden Apple snail. CIAP discovered the snail in Cambodia in August of 1995. They soon found that it was being sold in Phnom Penh markets and being transported to the provinces. This exotic snail, believed to be of South American origin, was already a major rice pest in neighboring Vietnam and Thailand, as well as the Philippines and Malaysia.

The CIAP IPM Program immediately made numerous presentations and press releases to alert the government and the public to the danger of spreading this snail throughout Cambodia. Largely as a result of these efforts, in 1997 the Office of Plant Protection and Phytosanitary Inspection banned the transport of golden apple snails to the provinces from Phnom Penh.

In the above-mentioned example, one can identify setbacks in participatory models. In some cases such as epidemics and other public crises, quick and top-down solutions could achieve better results. Participation communication ignores that expediency may also positively contribute to development. Belaboring through grassroots decision-making process is slower than centralized decisions, and thus not advisable in cases that require prompt resolutions. Participation might be a good long-term strategy but has shortcomings when applied to short-term and urgent issues.

Gender Issues, though not a priority, were also being addressed in the context of economical progress. This is in line also of ultimate aim of Development Communication which seeks greater social equity in all aspects.

After the Pol Pot years, 65 per cent of the farming population was female. Seventy percent of the men had died under the five years of Khmer rouge. Because most Cambodian farm family members were involved in agricultural activities, many operations were gender specific. Gender preferences were therefore of importance during problem identification and technology development.

The disproportionate ratio of the sexes resulted into social disruption and lack of male muscle power for heavy farm work. The loss of animals due to the effects pf war, widespread diseases and over-work took their toll as well. The author narrated how on one occasion he saw “a young woman with a yoke over her shoulders straining to pull a plough while an old woman behind it guided the blade in the furrow.”

A social survey a few years later found that such women had less access to animals and other resources, and though they were the major borrowers of informal loans they had less access to information. Even though they may have been the only adult in the family there was still the cultural perception that they were not farmers, but were mere helpers and housewives. Women who did not own animals also provided labor in exchange for cow manure for use as fertilizer on their fields and they were often exploited because they lacked cash or other assets.

Gender issues were, however, not necessarily foremost in the minds of poor farmers. One of the author’s friends commented that frankly that he didn’t believe farmers without enough to eat have the luxury to think about democracy or gender issues.

However, women’s labor requirements intensified when farmers adopted CIAP’s high yielding rice varieties (HYV). This means more work was also involved with extra fertilizer applications, improved seed storage techniques and knowledge intensive activities like IPM. Demand for women’s labor decreased by land leveling and direct seeding. Conversely, farm diversification recommendations hold tremendous potential for improving the economies of female headed households.

The reporter’s story


“Never doubt that a group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead

The “Burning of Rice” is a story of stories because ultimately it wouldn’t have been possible without the stories of each contributing individual. Cambodia could have never done it on its own. Collaborative science and research were the underlying reasons for the success of its restoration. Cooperation between local and overseas technical support was vital. This story is an inspiring example of how the lives of millions can be permanently improved when governments, aid agencies and NGO’s cooperate to support those efforts.

Up until now, the local Agriculture division of Cambodia need to maintain strong linkages with local and overseas organizations to retain an up to date and focused research program. It already has collaborative projects with UN agencies, NGOs, bi and multi-lateral aid agencies in Cambodia, and projects with ACIAR, IRRI and the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center (AVRDC).

Globalization made our world smaller, we are all became neighbors. The expatriates who sacrificed years of their career for Cambodia exemplified how working for development sees no race, gender or political discriminations.

It is simply not enough to want to help. Sometimes, it entails fighting and risking to help. The CIAP program began in 1987 when the Australian Government, through AusAID, decided to defy the United States, and send in a team of agricultural scientists to help rebuild Cambodia's farming infrastructure. At that time the US was still hostile towards Cambodia in the lingering aftermath of the Vietnam War.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Nelson Mandela

We all have our own wars to wage, including unemployment and soaring school expenses. But we should not be disheartened, education is, afterall, not constrained to the bureaucracy of school systems. Educational Communication acknowledges education in its formal, non-formal and informal aspects.

The story of “The Burning of the Rice” strengthened the confidence of the reporter in this course. With the grace of God, the reporter will hopefully collect her hard-earned diploma, but the lessons and the deadlines are far from over. There’s always some part of the world that needs help. It might be right under one’s nose.

Though the book ended with the 326th page, the story never ends. Whenever we come to stories such as this, it is our inherent obligation to retell it, perhaps not verbally, but certainly, through interweaving it with the stories of our life.



My feature story featured:


This was posted on the net by Carlo Ang, a prominent and regularly featured blogger in Friendster, the leading social networking site in the Philippines.

I was quite honored not only for the feature, but also from receiving hundreds of comments from all over the world, apparently, my article evoked memories of childhood and the poignancy of Christmas from different people of different races.


As taken verbatim from Carlo Ang's blog:

This article was written by a dear friend of mine, Wella Maria S. Hong. Wella is such a good writer and, admittedly, she's five times a better writer than I can ever hope to be. This article was published in The Philippine Daily Inquirer's "Youngblood" section, which is a throne room of sorts for young aspiring writers. This article was superb enough to make it to the December 24, 2005 edition, topping probably thousands of other Christmas-related articles. If you loved mine, you'll definitely love hers...






MY BROTHER found out today that Santa isn't for real. And now, when he knows far-out wishes can't be fulfilled, a real Santa tops his Christmas wish list.


The day of discovery started innocently enough. We were having our usual Sunday family dinner with the TV on for our favorite family show, a weekly talk show. In that particular segment, the show featured kids and Christmas and a priest was one of the guests. In the course of the show, the well-meaning priest blurted out on national TV that "Santa is no other than mommy and daddy."


What a national catastrophe that was. Since the show is being endorsed by the Department of Education, I'm sure a lot of kids' bubbles burst when the good father spread the news to the entire nation. My 10-year-old brother immediately picked up the message. After all, he was already quite disappointed with the bearded, jolly character who goes down the chimneys and rides a sleigh pulled by reindeer. Every year he had sent long lists to dear ol' Santa Claus, asking for hi-tech toy cars and toy jets. Instead, Santa always sent him chocolate bars and candies of all kinds. My brother reasoned that if Santa really existed and if he was so all-knowing as to be able to tell the good boys from the rotten ones, he should have known when a kid stopped being a kid and didn't want more chocolate bars and candies. In school, some of his classmates even said that Santa was really their aunties or uncles in disguise. Others said they really didn't get anything from Santa. At his tender age, my brother was greatly confused.


Thanks to the priest's public revelation, my brother officially became "grown-up." But instead of being more confused, my brother is mad at him. To his young mind, father just ruined Christmas for him and he was very vocal about it. To him, that priest on TV didn't know how to handle delicate matters. At the very least, my bother thinks he can no longer look forward to getting candy bars instead of cars with remote controls on Christmas. He would have been willing to half-suspect that Santa was just a big joke, for as long and he could get his annual supply of candies for being a good boy.

On the other hand, my brother's discovery came as a relief to my parents. It meant they don't have to play anymore the expensive role of Santa despite their meager income. They don't have to sustain a sugarcoated lie, which is still a lie anyway. They don't have to outwardly be amused while inwardly cringing over every Christmas list tucked into Christmas socks, which seem to grow longer over the years. A little smile was playing on Mom's lips when she hugged and congratulated my brother for being a kid no more.


An hour after the fateful TV show and our dinner, I found my brother back in the kitchen. He was still not over it and nursing his grudge. As he washed the dishes (it was his turn to do so), he was still muttering angrily about that priest on TV. Trying to console him, I said there was a real Santa, and that I was not referring to some dead saint. I feel obliged to explain the difference between what exists and what we believe to exist and everything in between. It's something I can easily relate to since I can get delusional about Santa, the "manananggal" [a half-bodied ghoul], the tooth fairy, and, frequently, God. When I told my little brother that there really are many Santas all over the world, his eyes brimmed with hope. I told him these Santas are even better for they give away something more than the gift that he usually receives-something that doesn't die or get busted or consumed. "You mean to say he gives away cell phones?" he eagerly inquired.


Taken aback, I said no a little too loud through gritted teeth. I told him that there are gifts that "really matter most." But as I was developing this spontaneous thesis, I had to give up midway through the effort, for I realized that love may still be a little too complicated for a 10-year-old to comprehend. Besides I had just lost in that department.


When he gave me a skeptical look, I asked myself if it's really a good idea to perpetuate the myth of Santa. But even as I write, I realize that maybe there is, just as there's always wisdom in innocent children. My mom said that Santa somehow makes my brother feel good. To him, it is especially comforting to know that somebody from outside the family loves him enough to check out whether he has been good and to give him gifts regularly. Santa motivates my brother to be good. A little of Santa would do no harm to anyone, she concluded.


My little brother is growing up. He used to be always mistaken for my son. Now, that mistake rarely happens because he has ballooned and has a bigger waistline than mine even if he is barely half my age. Still to me, he's always been a little kid. He gave me my first taste of what it is like to have a baby. He has made me realize how strong my motherly instincts are. I am reaching the stage of my life when marriage becomes a perennial anxiety, and I have begun to consider how Santa would play a role in my future kids' lives. Reality seems much sweeter if sprinkled with a little fantasy. The disappointment of a 10-year-old will soon be forgotten, but not the joy of discovering candy-filled socks during one's tender years. And the remembrance of that joy is strong enough to make even me reconsider Santa once more.


Maybe we all need a little of Santa in our lives, if only to remind us that someone's watching over us and that no matter how badly our lives have turned out, we're still worth the travel from the north pole and the slide down the dirty chimney. Now on my brother's first Christmas without the blissful ignorance of believing in Santa, I'll make sure he will not miss him. I will make Santa for him. As Christmas approaches, may we all find our own Santas. More importantly, may we be Santas to the people who need him most.




Archived here too.










When I was at my tender years i also believed bout the existence of Santa Claus. Year after year i would earnestly wait for his sleigh loaded with presents and toys galore. It was a faith so strong, so compelling. But only to my dismay, i realized and proved his non existence. It was a down casting realization, i felt toyed to succumb to this belief. Santa Claus is as good as an air castle. The man in a red suit was just a big fat lie. Like all broken hearts it has to heal, time and truth has been a dear friend to me.We all have to be reminded, everyone including those little tots that Christmas is the Day that we remember and celebrate the Birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ, the begotten Son of our God the Father, needless to say santa is out of the picture, get the picture?. Every parents should embed into the minds of their little ones the truth about Santa. Christmas is celebrated just once in every year, and this believers of Santa, those kids invest so much faith and hope that are just meant to be broken. It would be like a sudden death in a face off round in a game show, crash and burn this is what they'll end up. May be just may be this is the culprit why adults bowed arrows of promises with a broken end. As a Chriastian (a true believer and follower of Christ Jesus) it is our responsiblity to tell the right things to

our little ones. Young kids may appear unconcerned bout their surroundings unlike us adults, but in this stage is the most crucial part of growing. They are building their foundation, and we play a role so important, that would either go for them or go against them. Our parents made unrevokable mistakes, and now that is our part to make a change. At the very last lets give our best shot. Let us set things straight. Telling this truth to this kids would not defile their innocence and definitely would not tramp on their imaginations, infact to establish them at the young

age is definitely a good start.Have a merry Christmas Ho ho ho..im sori i mean He he he.bye

Posted by: john | December 24, 2006 05:15 PM


Yah, i remembered putting socks secretly on the window of my room...santa did not come. my door was locked!!! how could my Santa (read: parents) get in?

Posted by: Felmar Fiel | December 25, 2006 06:54 PM



hi! I like all ur article. All r interesting! MeRRY CHRISTMAS!

Posted by: letty | December 25, 2006 06:57 PM


nice!!!huh!i remember when i was a kid to believing that every christmas he'll be giving lots of gift when you had to be behaving very well.hahaha!i even hanged a christmas stockings on our window just to have those presents you had wished for.but i was so dismayed when i overheared that santa was not for real.but anyways,it's good that every1 is there who had cared to give me presents to be my real santa.but the good is that is one what makes kid behaved believing them that was for real.c",) belated merry xmas!!!

Posted by: islands goddess | December 25, 2006 07:40 PM


I think at all of us, one way or another, hope for Santa to be real. It's comforting to think that peopel actually care, and that goodness is somehow rewarded. The only difference between children and so called adults are that boys and girs are not afraid to express their hopes and dreams.

Posted by: dins | December 26, 2006 04:07 AM


i dont remember...my parents teach us about sta. claus...if there is santa claus.. or maybe they did not know also who is sta. claus hehehehe as i remember if month of december that is the birthday of jesus christ....only my parents, nina/ong, who give candies, dress etc. cgro.. our parents stands as sta. claus, tama na nman our priest. kung maging parents na rin tayo in the near future =), itama na lang natin, yung makatotohan na wala walang sta. claus, kundi ang ating parents..

Posted by: nanC | December 27, 2006 12:38 AM


I remember the day when I found out Santa isn't real. It was the day when I saw mommy slapping Santa Claus. Poor Dad!

Posted by: Davis | December 27, 2006 11:27 AM


hahaha... my mum plays out santa... to the last bit. i guess its fun to believe in something so utterly ridiculous. my brothers eleven... he asked for an ipod this year damnit... my mum gave him a 512mb mp3 player. i told her to tell him "Santa lost his apple stock" hahaha... guess were the ones having fun trying to make Santa exist for them... hehehe

Posted by: Mono | December 27, 2006 05:56 PM


i like it is a very interesting story. i hope your friend ill not stop on writing

Posted by: francis | December 27, 2006 06:36 PM


your such a good ate. it inspires me. keep it up girl!

Posted by: Jacqueline | December 27, 2006 07:13 PM


Im a believer of santa until my 6th grade came that i found out who santa was. I regret having caught santa putting my gift in this special sock. Mama and papa does the santa work but i loveit.

Posted by: Buyoy | December 27, 2006 08:33 PM


what a great story.i hope i can write some too...

Posted by: izza | December 28, 2006 01:24 AM


intrsting story..ayt??i hope to read more of ur friend'z bolgs...meri CHRISTmas...

Posted by: Eden Grace | December 28, 2006 08:06 AM


true! nice article... keep on writing... merry x'mas...

Posted by: pAuLiNe | December 28, 2006 09:05 AM


What a magnet Blogger!!! keep up the goodwork...pooff

Posted by: Uchiha Rean | December 29, 2006 04:09 AM


i remember when i was at a very young age, i do believed that santa really exists; but there was an instance that i saw my grandma and mom putting candies and chocolate bars with money of course on that candid white socks...but that incident never disappointed me, maybe because i was just broad minded enough to accept the fact that it's time for me to grow and stop making an illusion that santa really exists...but it's true that there are really a lot of santas in this world but not to give expensive gadgets or remote control cars and even cellphones...a real santa is within a persons heart... a person who humbly cares to somebody specially for the less fortunate, who can give something without expecting something in return...and this real santa is always been guided by the most generous being in this world, who even gave his son to save us from our sins...GOD...

Posted by: FiDa | December 29, 2006 12:43 PM


woooot! jail the priest.. nyahahha.... HE KILLED SANTA.. BAD BAD BAD!!! ehhehe..

Posted by: Samir | December 29, 2006 03:57 PM


I have never believed in that guy for as long as I can remember ^_^ but still its a good article..

Posted by: Riapsed | December 30, 2006 01:31 PM


Its an elegant piece. Santa is real and we have experience his presence in various ways.

Posted by: JuNviE | December 31, 2006 06:44 PM


Hi,im from malaysia,cant help but drop by because i like writing myself. The article is really good, tell your friend she did a splendid job!!!

Posted by: LiLyX-RoXaS | January 1, 2007 05:58 PM


I can't believe how ignorant I am to the world until I read this article. You see, in Malaysia it is really soooo rare for a child to believe in Santa's existance. So rare that it has almost become a myth to me that anyone could be brought up that way. I just assumed this were things you watch on TV. It must probably be the way we are brought up here. I thank you for reminding me of the innocence and joy the story of Santa may bring even if it isn't real. And how Jesus Christ is really the reason we are celebrating Christmas =) I love your posts..

Posted by: Amelia | January 2, 2007 07:38 AM


Now I'm thinking whether to tell my kids the truth about Santa as early as posible. What you think?

Posted by: Omar | January 3, 2007 12:38 AM


nice read. reminds me of my childhod.. and of reality.

Posted by: rj | January 4, 2007 01:00 AM


Yeah its true, may we be Santa to the people who need him most...

Posted by: -Richard- | January 4, 2007 01:10 AM


very well written, specially that of Wella. Touching. Real. Good job!

Posted by:

bOnEs | January 4, 2007 06:04 AM


As i can barely recall the happy moments of my childhood memories,i am so excited to wake up every christmas to see what inside my sacks full of gifts given by "Santa" and now that im grown up,

i still love to cherish the memories i had when i was a kid..It brings me to life..

Posted by: myleen | January 4, 2007 11:18 PM


we'll, historically speaking, that "santa" thing actually rooted from a real

person ...but it does not matter anymore! let us just accept the fact that such Santa thing is one of which that make X'mas as the most wonderful time of the year! i bet... most of us, for once, we believed in Santa Claus, especially during childhood!

Posted by: Emil | January 6, 2007 12:04 AM


this letter gives me morefully interrest...while im reading on it and trying to relay myself on it part of my crafted-brain made me noticed and realized that this letter have a message to endure and enhance once thoughts...every individual children have their own selflessly-wishes and hoping that Santa is Coming to town...thank you for the message that you posted on this

site...this is waxx's sister and my brother shown me this article tenx to him now i know that Santa itself is not real...but the real Santa is the person gives you love and spreading love in every once life..

Posted by: Waxx | January 7, 2007 05:44 AM


what is important is the santa in us :) chers

Posted by: Missy Bubble | January 7, 2007 06:25 AM


a lie, regardless how nice or useful, is lie just the same. Life would have a lot simpler, perhaps even better, if lies, myths and all sorts fiction were not used to REPLACE facts.

Posted by: Explorer | January 8, 2007 06:09 PM


woooot!! yeah very nice.. well santa is true.. but he has an expiration.. nyahaha.. when we start askin, when we develop our curiosity, when we stop believin.. he just disappear.. its like a MAGIC.. we believe even if we know that its impossible for those tricks to happen,, its like FAITH.. like believin in our lord.. so even if we know that santa is just someone close to us.. its

believin that matters.. beside. i still want a present next christmas.. nyahahha..!!!

Posted by: Samir | January 9, 2007 01:18 AM

Date: Tuesday, 9 January, 2007 12:14 AM


Subject: Hello!

Message: I have read a blog of a friend of yours which featured your christmas article about Santa. Just want you to know that you made my lonlely monday night a time of reflection even

though christmas time is over. Well, I have believed that true christmas is in our hearts and we can experience it everyday as much as we want to. And people like you makes a better sense of

anything that we have in this life.




Date: Saturday, 6 January, 2007 3:20 PM

Subject: Santa

Message: Hello Wella,

I read your article about santa. and i fount it's very interesting.

I can see that you are very kind at heart.

Keep on writing. Hope someday you'll gonna be a famous writer :)




Date: Wednesday, 3 January, 2007 3:40 PM

Subject: great!

Message: the profundity of ur article widen the myopic understanding of our dearly christians bro and sis into a vast reality of christmas. congratulation...



Date: Tuesday, 2 January, 2007 5:47 PM

Subject: can i be your friend?

Message: hi my name is Ade. I saw one of your article in carlos' blog. I don't know both of you. But I have to say that I like your writing since I am eager to become a writer. Thanks



Date: Monday, 1 January, 2007 8:30 PM

Subject: hey..i loved your article.. hope youd read this

Message: hey.. i just read your article a friend of yours published in his blog.. i just want you to know that i loved it.. so much..As a child, i didn't believe in santa..of course like all little children, i once believed Santa really exists and yes.. hoped to receive gifts from that jolly old man. But with a great mind like mine (lol), i was exposed to the painful reality that he really doesn't exist at all.. at an early age (7 years old).. From then on, i hated children who believe that Santa is real.. I thought they're stupid living in their stupid fantasy world.. Maybe i was just like that guest priest..

I felt sorry for your brother when that priest burst his bubble...

I realized that Santa isn't just for kids.. He's for us grownups too. I don't mean the gifts and all.. but to realize that like what you said, it's for us grownups to realize that we should be

santas to the ones who needs a "Santa Claus"...

Hey.. you're really great... Thanks..

Belated Merry Christmas.. Happy New YEar.. Ü




Date: Wednesday, 27 December, 2006 1:11 AM

Subject: article

Message: Hello Wella,

you don't know me, nor, I, you... I'm just writing to say that I very much enjoyed the article you wrote about your brothers abrupt discovery regarding Santa's (apparent) (in)existence (because we can't all be too sure, now, can we?).


I just wanted to thank you for writing the article :) It mightn't have changed the world (yet, because you never know) but it's definately touched lives... :)


This was a speech I gave on an International Peace & Understanding Forum held at Ateneo de Cagayan - Xavier University.


The Peace Forum is attended by student volunteers coming from different universities in South Korea. University students from Mindanao, and some Lumads (natives) play host to this forum. Invited are different peace workers, government leaders and academic personnel.


Most of my audience, however, are students  who had also been to the Working cum Peace Camps that I had supervised. I reckoned that they do not want to hear what they already know and had experienced. At the eleventh hour I decided to forego the spill I had prepared (pertaining to the usuals on peace talks and etc) and listened to my heart and shared something more relevant me, and hopefully to my audience. Because I delivered something I constructed literally at the last minute, this is not the whole speech verbatim, but the gist of it. 





I am Wella Maria Hong, a volunteer for JTS Mindanao. I apologize for I wasn’t able to join the last Peace Camp (in Mantaboo) - it was my father’s 50th birthday. But I am here now. Although I really do not know much about peace, at least not something that you wouldn’t know anyway, I’m going to share to you, something that hits a little closer to home – my dad.


I just graduated from Development Communication and Mrs. Trel Borja was my teacher, she is also a great inspiration which is why I am standing where I am now. However, like most of my friends who also just graduated, I do not have a job.


In a third world country like the Philippines, to have a regular job is a luxury. I was lucky enough to have a part time job while I was a student, one that pays a little above the minimum wage. And the good thing also about this job is it guarantees me a work right after graduation. Usually, most of the companies here are on the look-out for experienced workers, so a fresh grad still has a lot to go through.


However, I have to give up this regular, 8-hour, Mon-Saturday job because I promised myself that right after graduation, I will be a volunteer for at least a year. I understand that my fulfillment as a complete human being does not lie in having a living but in having a life.


Unfortunately, my dad does not understand this. He is the son of a Chinese business man who grew up tending a local Chinese store. In other words, he grew up in business and up to now, he is still in business. He is also the kind of dad who would attend PTA meetings just to make sure that his daughter will make it at the top of the honor's lists. And sure enough, I did make it there. Which is what bugs him the most – because after everything, I’m still not landing the ideal job.


He would always question my trips to the mountains or, when he is in a bitter mood, he would find excuses to not permit me to go. There was even a point that when I went home late after a trip to the mountains with Mr. Lee and Mr. James. Upon knowing that I was wet in the rain while we were visiting the hinterlands, he was so enraged that he even threatened, among other things, to burn Ma’am Trell’s house (we are neighbors).


The greatest lesson I have learned from Venerable Pon Nyun Sunim was when he spoke at a previous Peace Forum just like this. He said that understanding is the key to peace. Mother Theresa also said that if you want to build peace, go back to your homes. Which is why, after that incident, I wrote my dad a five-paged letter, detailing to him what I am doing with JTS, why I am doing it and what my plans are. I poured out in that letter everything about how I honestly feel about work, about helping people and about finding meaning in my life. I tried to make him understand that the daughter that he loves so much is actually happy to be where she is now…


No, change did not happen overnight, like all peace processes -- it took time for him to finally accept my decisions. This is not the first time that I tried to communicate to him about what I want in my life, and I know that this will not be the last. But I will not give up with my dad. As much as he had never given up on doing things which he thinks will be best for me. I know that my dad loves me very much, and I try my best to see through his anger and his sincere ignorance of what I really want. In the same way, I also want him to understand me. Understanding though, is not as easy as it sound for it is not merely a mental exercise but an exercise of compassion as well.


On the other hand, because I graduated top of my class, modesty aside, there will always be people approaching me to ask about my job, taking me as a bench mark of some sort. I am proud to tell them that I am working as a freelancer, a job that does not exhaust my schedule while I balance this with JTS, as well as helping out my family (being the eldest I could not escape the family business). Sometimes, I feel like I am only doing so little for peace, but I am reminded of my family and I am once again encouraged that I have done, at the very least, something and therefore, I can still do more.


I know, we are all gathered here for one thing – despite our differences in color, education, language and more – we are all gathered here for peace. But by and by, all of us, one by one, will be going separately to our own homes, to share to our dearest family what we have done and what we plan to do. Some of us may feel rejuvenated from this encounter, some of us disappointed, some frustrated… but let us not forget, that we are all builders of peace, and the best place to start it is always, right at home.





with my mom and dad




PS. It happened that while I was delivering this speech, my brother was able to attend the forum. The gist of what I've said managed to reach my dad, which ironically helped patch things more between us. By now, we had tremendously improved our dynamics as father-daughter through a more honest and open dialogue with each other ever so often.

A farmer-led research of Rice seeds and multiple benefits

(This was published in the Bi-annual Publication of the Northern Mindanao Consortium for Agriculture and Resources Research and Development - Vol. 31 No. 34 - ISSN 0116-4023 - January-June 2006)


A farmer is also a researcher. This is what Mr.Rogelio S. Aro firmly believes in after being one for forty years. According to him “Farmers are the best people to select and breed plants because of their extensive experience in the field...there is no need for well-educated scientists and sophisticated laboratories to help in testing plant breeds, (we can learn to be) not dependent on outside source."

To further stress his point, Aro has successfully conducted a cross-breeding experiment of MASIPAG Rice lines that was presented to the Northern Mindanao Consortium on Agricultural Research and Development (NOMCARRD) Symposium last August of 2004.

The seed study

Every farmer knows that the seed supply is the most important resource in the production of rice. By ensuring a good supply of seeds, a farmer is almost halfway in his task. Therefore, seed supply needs to increase, not only in number but more so in quality.

To address this concern, Aro conducted a study to know the result of different MASIPAG rice lines cross with other MASIPAG rice lines. Furthermore, the study also aims to meet the needs of the small farmers, so as not to be dependent on local markets by purchasing inputs like: seeds, fertilizers and pesticides. This will also help in knowing the importance of the on-farm plant breeding by testing and selecting produced lines that suit the climate, soil and management of the farmer within the farm and consumers acceptability.

The plant breeding experimentation was conducted at Buyog, Banlag, Valencia City last 2002. It was conducted on farm and not in the warehouse or laboratory to adapt to the natural climatic condition of the field. The identification of the parent lines are based on the performance of the agronomic traits that are: synchronization of flowering stage, grain size, number of tillers, plant height, tolerance to pest and diseases. There were two cross breeds named after the researcher, Rofelio Aro Buyog (RAB). RAB 01 is a product between Mamintana (male) cross with Dalagang Bukid (female). Meanwhile, RAB 02 is a cross between MASIPAG 09 (male) cross with Dalagang Bukid (female).

When 50% of the flowering stem of the parent line appeared, it is then the indication that it is ready for breeding. The pollen part of the male plant is snipped off and sprinkled on the female plant. A glassine bag is used to cover the plant for protection from damage or failure on the breeding process. The plant is observed for 10 days, after which the bag is removed from the bred line and is observed for another 1 month until it is ready for harvest.

Success in a seed

The study successfully concluded with the stability of the newly produced seeds RAB 01 and RAB 02, as observed, of the 3rd and 4th Generation. RAB 01’s 1st seed is the 1st generation, this was later planted as 2nd generation and harvested a total of 150 grams. From this, the 3rd generation of 150 grams was planted again and produced a total of 15 kilos. On the 4th generation a total of 30 sacks was harvested from 15 kilos of seeds planted in 2500 sq meters or .25 hectares. Throughout the 5th and 7th generation a constant of 40 sacks has been planted in 2500 sq meters.

The adapted inherent characteristics of RAB 01 from the female parent plant is its being aromatic and with long grains. Inherited from the male parent plant is its being tolerant to the occurrence of pest and diseases. From both parent lines it results to more tiller number per hill (average of 35) and the average number of grains per panicle is around 290-300.

On the other hand, RAB 02’s 2nd generation harvested 50 grams while the 3rd generation harvested 1 can. Mr. Joel Tajunio, one of the SA farmer practitioners from Mabuhay, Valencia released RAB 02 seeds to Bukidnon Masipag Farmers (BMFMC), Tongantongan Organic Farmers Society on Sustainable Agriculture (TOFSSA) and Sustainable Agricultural Center for trial purposes. Each of the group until now is continuously planting RAB 02 for distribution purposes to each farmer member.

The adapted inherent characteristics of RAB 02 from the female parent plant is its plant height (95-100cm), its being tolerant to lodging and early maturity lines which can be harvested at 100-110 days only. The size of the grain dominantly comes from the female but its being a red grain when milled is from the male parent plant. The adapted inherent characteristics from both parents are in the number of tiller per hill (average 35), 280-290 grains per panicle and being aromatic.

The power of the farmer

The success of this study stemmed from the belief of and on a farmer. According to the researcher, the great responsibility of not only feeding his immediate family, but the entire nation as well, lies in the hands of a farmer. The researcher encourages every farmer to not waste the right to freely experiment especially in one's own farms.

Rice is the world’s most vital crop garnering 80% of the total calories consumed by 2.7 billion people, or half of the world’s population. The continuous supply of this vital crop must therefore be ensured, starting from its seeds which need to increase both in quantity and in quality. The researcher emphasizes to all farmers that there is no need for well-educated scientists and sophisticated laboratories to help p in testing plant breeds. A farmer is also a researcher being that they make observations, experiment in producing new seeds and on methods in order to make appropriate choices as based on the result of their experiments. Thus by selecting and saving their own seed, the farmers have better control of the most important resource – the seed supply. This way, they will not only be of help to themselves and their families but the entire country as well.



2006 Commencement Exercise Speech

Xavier University – Ateneo de Cagayan



Out of the thousands of graduates of Xavier University - Ateneo de Cagayan, Batch 2006, I was honored to have been selected as the graduation speaker. Here was my speech,which was also published in the local daily.







Ask any English or communication teacher here and I’m sure that most of the required compositions are brimming with this most used pronoun “I”.


Having studied media in this institution I am convinced that the world today revolves on this little word “I”. As globalization whittles down the world into a smaller place, popular media serves everything imaginable to each “I” in its fancy outlets.


Ironically in this great era of mass media, sophisticated networks and communication high ways, we are left all alone in our couches with the company of the tube. Where our Friendster Inboxes are jam-packed with friends we barely even know and we get suffocated by the events of tomorrow which are the news of yesterday. In our thesis on media perception, especially in rural areas, the world of entertainment media recreates a powerful antidote, a temporary escape from the burdens of the everyday “I”. Clearly, mass media, and even businesses and politicians have done well enough to capture the vanities of each “I”.


But then again, amidst this entire hullabaloo about “I”, why do you think it is so short and so brief a word? So stark and naked in its singleness and so feeble in its monosyllabic structure?


Inspite of all its whims and wiles, an “I” can easily sink into despair nowadays. Especially here with our political turmoil that never ceases and economic boosts that make it to the headlines but not to the people. And yet, even in a crowd, “I” is also not strong enough unless it can stand alone, distinct but not apart.


Think about the crowd in the Wowowee tragedy, sadly it can only be indicative of us as a people, stumbling blindly forward for the things that we think can make things better.


As a group of “I’s” sharing the same heritage and the same fate, doesn’t the stampede only remind us of how we push on blindly, sacrificing integrity, hard work and the little things that count like family dinners and bedtime stories to give way to the endless monitor on bank accounts?


Doesn’t the stampede only run parallel to the youth of today who rush to college but graduate without really acquiring anything save a diploma, just to enter white-collared jobs? The youth of today to whom the youth of yesterday generally have misgivings on because of our indifference that we fail to live up to their Edsa.


As a people, we have been defined by the things that the world reads or hears about us: the commotion in our streets and our recent presidents who we always love to hate.


But amidst all these, who is “I’ in a people?


In all its stark nakedness, “I” is not a brief and feeble word. In fact, it is the only pronoun that is always capitalized, an indication of how important “I” can be.


So… expand your horizons, soar free, dare to dream big.


When we make “I” bigger, we make the world smaller and more manageable.


So why don’t you extend your “I” to the next fellow, to a friend in need, to parents who badly need a date, then go further - to the stranger you pass by, to the streetkid you meet in the corner. Go even further, to the victims of the Leyte landslide, to the cause for our environment, to silent war waging in our streets everyday.


“I” doesn’t have to be wealthy, or affluent to be a great big “I”, just little acts of kindness, just the courage to die everyday to be free.


In closing, let me leave you a thought. Do yourself a favor and make “I” bigger. The horizon is only the limit of what our eyes can see. Maybe, if we close our eyes, we will see more.


We, as a people, can only better if there is an “I” who took it upon themselves to be better in their individual tasks and roles in the society.

I think I have said enough of “I’s” already, but the world still need bigger versions of it. Make your ”I” matter.




As published in our local daily (pictured here):


grad speech




grad photo w medals

(I was asked to write this, in lieu of a report for South Korea, relating to my experiences teaching the kids of Alawon. I was then appointed as the JTS Mindanao Communication Officer)


I will be honest, the first minute I was in front of Alawon’s children, I wish I could run away. After all my best intentions and well-laid plans, I found myself at a lost as to what to say. But it wasn’t because I just walked 18 kilometers to get to their classroom to teach; or that I just spent all my energy with the bamboo bell that disrupted the quiet calmness of the community, just because there is no other way I can call the kids from a mile away to school.

Maybe it’s because of the children’s expectant faces and the sight of tiny hands clutching worn-out plastic filled with unused notebooks. Or maybe because, in the first place, what do you teach a class with kids that range from 3 to 16 years old?

The vast variety of maturity level of my students did not make them all together different from each other. This is apparent in what they do not know:

I made use of the chart on Filipino fruits, more than half of it they have never seen in their lives. I referred to another chart that the JTS gave about Filipino Games, but they stared at it without recognition.

I ask them if they’ve heard of Math. Blank looks.

I asked them if they know what a color is. More blank looks.

I got stones to teach them addition and subtraction, the little kids played with it. I asked them if they know the game “The boat is sinking” so that they can get acquainted to numbers, they do not even know what a boat is (barko, baroto, bangka – these are all types of boats in Visayan but these all sound foreign to them).

When I proceeded with an alternative game anyway, two little girls cried because they do not know how to play. When I also called someone to the front to introduce herself, she was so scared to be put in the spotlight, she promptly cried too. In fact, the class started with a loud wailing, as a flustered 10-year old brought in with her, her apparently unwilling baby sister.

However, as the minutes ticked by, the initial discomfort wore out as I make faces, laugh out loud, sing and even dance to get the children engaged in what I was teaching. We went over the Filipino alphabet, some music, math, a couple of games and a story illustrated on the ground because there wasn’t any chalk, marking pen or any other visual aid. The kids are very cooperative, I think they gave me a little credit for being from JTS. Most of them, or at least those with the louder voices, can count from 1 to a hundred and recite the alphabet.

Amidst all of these going on, there was never a time that I got everybody to listen to me. For in a class of from 3 to 16 years old, you can also notice the stark differences among them right away - the little kids just want to play while the older ones want to learn.

I couldn’t blame the teens who stayed at the back and politely looked out of the window. I can see them very interested when I started to teach about Math and English. Sadly, expounding more on these subjects end up with majority of the class left gaping at me as if I was talking gibberish. There was a 16-year old girl, Charity, the eldest daughter of Lito Limocay (the Sitio President), who knows more than everyone else. I think this was the girl that I heard the teacher was enraged with, she happened to had studied in Capihan previously. Arvel, another son of Lito and also one which aroused the teacher’s temper, was best in adding up numbers. I can see why these kids where singled out, maybe they got bored with the class.

This only brought me to remember why I was there in the first place, instead of the teacher who was assigned by the Department of Education. While I was struggling to get the kids under control, I couldn’t help but think what a brave soul a teacher is, especially one that in such a distant place as Alawon. After spending two hours and half with the children, I literally slumped with exhaustion.

Unfortunately, the teacher is a sad story.


Religion has always been a sensitive topic which sparked a lot of conflict all over the world. And somewhere as far and as isolated as Alawon is no exemption.

The teacher is Catholic. Lito’s religion, as well as most of his immediate neighbors’, is Baptist. To Lito’s words, the teacher is under sala (sin) now because she degraded their religion. He said that she said: “ang mga Baptist tapulan ug bugok” (Baptist are lazy and dumb), among other things.

According to the traditions of the community, if one is under sala, then he or she is an outcast. This sala, can only be removed if there is an appropriate pay, such as three chickens.


According to the teacher, she said: Mga Baptist man unta mo, nganong inun-ana man mo? (You are Baptist but why are you like that?) She addressed this statement mostly to Lito’s kids and some of their friends (who happen to be Baptists), because they were allegedly the most unruly and often disrupts the class. She said she will never go back to the community again because she is afraid.


While I was teaching the class that was deserted by their teacher, I was personally touched when a mother delivered her son right to his seat in front. This is one of the instances that I can say that the community really wanted their children to go to school.

On our way back to low land, we passed by a man named Sarino. He was carrying some bamboos and his daughter is with him, leading the way (we also previously passed by an old lady carrying around 50 kilos of vegetables on her head with her daughter also with her. Seeing the treacherous cliffs and roads of Alawon, I guess no native can be careful enough.)

Sarino said that the community is sad that the teacher has left. They were promised that the teacher will be back after the All Saints and All Soul’s Day Holiday and were all so excited to have a teacher back in the school.

I told him there is a problem with the teacher and the community and that they will meet at the Brangay Hall this coming Sunday to settle the issue between the two parties.

He was silent for awhile, in deep thought, and then quietly said, he heard nothing about it. He went further, “I’ve heard that it’s only the Limocay family that the teacher is against with. There are many of us in the community that has nothing to do with it... I just sit in my kitchen, inside my house, afraid to go out because I might be able to say something bad. I don’t want conflict with my own neighbor…”

After that encounter, I recall the time when we interviewed the Datu (tribal chieftain) of the community about the issue. The wife of Lito also happens to be there. She was pointing a finger at his back, saying that the Datu should not be the one to be asked about the teacher and why she left, because he was never there and he has nothing to do with the matter (the Datu live across another river from the school area.) I was thinking that maybe, as dictated by geography and religion, there are also a lot of other families than the Datu’s, who has nothing to do with the matter.


It’s sad that the children’s education have to be the brunt end of the adult’s misunderstanding. Religion or not, the school’s purpose for having been erected in the community, has to go on. But there are some lessons that badly need to be learned.

After experiencing what it is like to teach briefly in Alawon myself, I think it will be better that the kids have to be instructed separately by their level of maturity. This entails that there will be more teachers assigned to Alawon, or at least, that the teacher may have some assistants. Perhaps training a couple of housewives to assist, especially with the daycares, will do. If we can deploy a couple of skilled carpenters to teach the men, I’m sure that the women can also learn from a teacher. Besides, in such an intimate community as this, to get the parents involved in whatever activity there is in the school is very crucial.

Second, to avoid further unnecessary conflicts, the teacher must be introduced to the general community and be fully briefed about it prior to the teaching period. All measures to achieve a level of understanding needed to have them co-exist with the children’s future in mind must be taken.

Third, Alawon would certainly come as a culture shock to anybody, even from somebody who came from the same province. Alawon is a special case especially with the sheer distance of the community. Even the eldest son of Lito says that after living there for all his life, he’s still not used to how far Alawon is. The teacher’s needs must be well taken care of so that she can be productive. This means books are needed, chalk, more visual aids as well as personal needs, and anything else that will make her teaching more efficient.

When we arrived at the community center where the school is, there were only three siblings in the area, they where staring at the ground, digging it for a past time. Some other kids were in the site of the bridge construction, especially three of Lito’s daughters. According to them, they go there everyday to collect firewood. When we went home again, most of the older boys in the community are in the bridge construction site also, climbing up dangerously on the unfinished bridge posts. As I see one kid tending the cow, while I was having a class, it occurred to me that these kids need to do something more and learn more in their young life.

Before we left Sarino, he told us that it I his sincere hope that there will be a teacher for the school. If none, he wishes that JTS can provide. After all, he said, it is because of the JTS that there is a school - he’s then hoping that it will also be because of JTS that the school will be of use.



For Archive :)


Ms Hong is credited for her commitment to serve without counting the cost and for volunteering her time, talent and effort to help her fellow Filipinos, especially those in the margins, in particular the tribal and Muslim poor, in her own way.


JTS Mindanao Representative


Ms. Hong has manifested a very good attitude towards work as she delivered work assignments on time without sacrificing job quality...

She showed laudable potential in public relations and communications, which was put into fore when she had to assist the staff...

Ms. Hong also exemplified industry and competence... Many time, she demonstrated grace under pressure when she had to finish several assignments at a short period of time.

International Rice Research Institute - Community Relations Officer


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