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Cebu’s culinary heritage

/ 10:10 AM December 09, 2013

This is a postscript to “Engaging a Foreign Diplomat in the Time of Yolanda” (Window 12/5), my own account of the conferment of the Marshall McLuhan Fellowship to this paper’s publisher and acting editor-in-chief, Eileen G. Mangubat by His Excellency Neil Reeder, the Canadian ambassador to the Philippines.

Following the no-frills rites and EGM’s inaugural lecture on “Journalism in the Time of Yolanda: The Evolving Role of Media in Covering Disasters,” the Canadian embassy hosted a reception to honor the 2013 McLuhan fellow at the ground floor of the Marcelo B. Fernan Cebu Press Center. As protocol would have it, EGM introduced friends and guests to the newly-installed Canadian envoy and then we proceeded to the buffet table where a spread of Kani salad, spaghetti Bolognese, Java rice, beef bourguignon, sautéed pork, fish fillet and chicken looked very inviting.

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Having done with Kani, I went back to the buffet table to pick my food. I was deciding whether to have rice or mashed potato when Mr. Reeder, who I didn’t notice was standing by my left side, asked me what the most popular Cebuano dish is. I was about to tell him my oído knowledge about inasal (slowly roasted pork) when I saw my friend Louella “Loy” Alix ahead of me in the buffet table.

Cebuanos who are updated about the academic, social and media whirl know that Loy has just launched her latest book, “Hikay, The Culinary Heritage of Cebu.” With Loy around, I stepped aside in order for her to give Ambassador Reeder literary morsels about inasal and other popular dishes.

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Later, Robert Lee, Canada’s honorary consul to the Philippines invited Loy to formally present the book to Reeder. It was supposed to be Lee’s present to the diplomat who, the day before, presented his credentials to President Aquino. In other words, Reeder’s visit to Cebu was his first out-of-Manila trip and public appearance.

The reception that capped the selection of the 2013 McLuhan Fellow was light and easy, a description that, I think, also describes the highest representative of the Canadian government in the Philippines: “Magaan dalhin” (easy to get along with) as Tagalogs are wont to say.

And by the way, Loy also graciously gifted me with a copy of “Hikay,” complete with an affectionate dedication. Thanks, Loy. I’m just starting to read the book but historian Ambeth Ocampo’s foreword tells me I’m in for gustatory and literary delights.

* * *

May I yield this space for updates about rehabilitation efforts being undertaken by foreign countries in the towns of Antique province, which, like Eastern Visayas and northern Cebu were devastated by Supertyphoon Yolanda (international name, Haiyan).

To recall, Antique also bore the brunt of Yolanda’s fury but despite the national government placing the province under a state of calamity, substantial help was still not in sight two weeks into the disaster.

Instead of griping endlessly about the situation, nongovernment organizations took it upon themselves to fill the gap in the delivery of medical and relief services through proper coordination with local government units and foreign countries which earlier pledged and responded to the Philippines’ cry for help.

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The intervention of the Co-op sector is a worthy case in point.

Victo National, a federation of cooperatives with more than 250 co-op organizations under its umbrella mobilized its network and tapped foreign partners to help in the relief and recovery of areas where cooperative presence is very strong. Under the leadership of Renia Salinas, Victo National chief executive officer and Dudz Samson, director for external affairs, the federation paved the way for the arrival of the Australian Rescue Mission in Bugasong, Antique last Dec. 1.

On hand to welcome team members were local government officials, Bugasong Multi-Purpose Cooperative officers led by Erlinda Bantolo and Bellrose Tamdang, Victo Western Visayas coordinator.

The following day, after making the customary courtesy calls on local government officials led by Mayor Bernard Pesayco, the medical contingent proceeded to the town plaza to conduct medical checkups on more than 600 school children. In the afternoon, the rescue team met with local authorities, health workers and community rescuers of the towns of Laua-an, Barbaza and Tibiao to assess the communities’ health status and possible interventions that the people critically need.

Typhoon Yolanda left more than 5,700 people dead, at least four million people affected and P30 billion in damages. The stories of misery spawned by the deaths and destruction are too many to enumerate, too harrowing to narrate but what struck me about recovery efforts in Bugasong, Antique is the solidarity of the Australian people in our grief and need.

The Australian government has committed US $30 million in food, clean water, health care, shelter and logistical support. In terms of private contributions, Australians have likewise poured US $9 million into the Philippine Disaster Recovery Foundation’s “#HelpPH campaign.”

As I write, Bill Tweddell, Australian ambassador to the Philippines is set to visit Visayas to monitor his country’s reconstruction efforts in the area.

The story would be incomplete without citing the efforts of fellow co-operator and friend, Jose Allan Bartolo, vice chairman of the Bugasong Multi-Purpose Cooperative. Hours after Yolanda exited, he kept Facebook friends abreast with the situation in Bugasong and other areas in Antique. His posts eventually caught the attention of Victo National and partners in the co-op sector here and abroad.

The generosity of the Australians has overwhelmed the people of Bugasong, but I believe the kind Aussies were enriched by the experience of coming face to face with a people remaining positive, certainly unbowed and undeterred by the supertyphoon.

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