Tuesday, March 3, 2015

6,000 Albayanos, visitors trek barefooted to atop Kawa-Kawa Hill for Lenten practices
By Rhaydz B. Barcia

LIGAO CITY, March 2 (PNA) -- At least 6,000 youths, priests, nuns and devout Catholics in Albay and from other regions walked barefooted under the heat of the sun starting 2 p.m. on Saturday for the 6th Diocesan Way of the Cross held at the Kawa-Kawa Hill in this city.

Led by Bishop Joel “Bong” Baylon of the Diocese of Legazpi and Albay Third District Rep. Fernando Gonzalez, the yearly trekking on foot was organized by the Commission on Youth, in partnership with Kawa-kawa Natural Park management headed by Gonzalez.

This year’s Youth Way of the Cross is themed “Jesus looked at Peter (Luke 22: 61-62)… Jesus looked at the youth.”

The event marked the start of Lenten Season activities in the religious hill.

On the way to the top, life-size sculptures were put up to represent the Way of the Cross.

The first eight stations can be seen along the walkway, while the remaining six stations stand around the 836-meter oval crater ring of Kawa-Kawa Hill, a hollowed hilltop that resembles a giant cauldron, locally called kawa.

The usual Agony in the Garden is no longer the first station as it was replaced by the Last Supper, while the last station is the Resurrection.

The hill is located in California Village in Barangay Tuburan here, some 1.5 kilometers away from the Maharlika Highway or 30 to 45 minutes’ drive from Legazpi City.

It is not only the top tourist destination in Albay but also serves as the heart of Lenten rites where thousands of devout Catholics flock here as a way of penitence and atonement for sins.

This practice started six years ago and annually since then, the devotees have been increasing in number.

This year, the devotees of the Way of the Cross ballooned to more than 6,000, from the original small number of devotee-parishioners.

Most of the participants are youths across the province, seminarians, clergies, nuns and members of multi-sectoral groups.

From the foot of Kawa-Kawa, life-size images of the Way of the Cross were conceptualized, designed and put up by a sculptor from Paete town in Laguna.

Kawa-Kawa hill is about 236 meters above sea level and offers the panoramic view of Ligao City and the Mayon Volcano.

Downhill are the Carmelite Sisters’ convent and the resettlement camp of families displaced by typhoon “Reming” and Mayon eruptions.

Sunflower plants abound in the area.

The Lenten rites in Kawa-Kawa Hill started after Gonzalez, who actually own the place, donated an 800-square-meter lot at the foot of the hill to the Carmelite nuns.

Eventually the Divine Mercy Monastery of the Carmelite nuns of the Holy Trinity of the Diocese of Legazpi put up the life-size images of the Stations of the Cross.

Today, Kawa-Kawa Hill is the top ecotourism destination in Albay province where tourists could commune with nature, thus, it has become a center of religiosity.

Religious activities during Lenten Season, Christmas, Three Kings and other religious events are also being held in Kawa-kawa Hill.

By the way, there is no entrance fee. (PNA) FFC/FGS/RBB/CBD/EBP

3,000 poor families get free medical services from Mercury Drug-Legazpi
By Emmanuel P. Solis

LEGAZPI CITY, March 2 (PNA) – At least 3,000 indigent families of this city, mostly composed of women and children, availed themselves of the free medical services given by the Mercury Drug Corp. during the commemoration of the 70th year founding anniversary of the drug firm on Sunday at the Albay Astrodome here.

The whole-day Libreng Gamutan was conducted by the Mercury Drug Corp., one of the biggest and with most number of branches in the entire country, in cooperation with the City Government of Legazpi and Pfizer Philippines.

City Mayor Noel E. Rosal expressed gratitude to the drug company for always choosing Legazpi residents as among the recipients of Libreng Gamutan.

Rosal revealed that the present high costs of medicines are beyond the reach of Legazpenos, particularly those who belong to the indigent sector, and this free medical service is very important to them.

He said his administration has established three lying-in clinics in the northern and southern areas of this city and in the main building of the City Health Office as part of bringing the maternal health services closer to the people in the barangay.

The City Government of Legazpi is also presently constructing the city hospital in the urban village of Bitano in order to strengthen medical services and make them affordable to the needy patients, the city chief executive pointed out.

Ria Ballesteros, site coordinator and manager of the Mercury Washington Drive-Legazpi branch, said the free medical treatment project is an annual activity of the Mercury Drug Philippines to help the identified indigent families in the community in their medical needs.

She disclosed that her office gave 1,500 patient cards to the City Government of Legazpi which distributed these to the 70 barangays.

The village leaders, in turn, distributed the cards to the poorest of the poor families at their own respective areas as recipients of the Mercury program.

The free medical services are being handled by six doctors provided by the Pfizer Philippines and other volunteer government and private doctors assisted by city health officer Fulbert Gillego and his medical staff, Ballesteros added.

The medical services include medical consultation and check-up, blood sugar testing, de-worming, cold, asthma and abdominal pain, among others.(PNA) FPV/FGS/EPS/CBD/

Aussie loves PHL for its people, scenery, food
By John Mark Escandor

SAN JOSE, Camarines Sur, March 2 (PNA) -- Every time Australian Steven Wilkinson, 34, wakes up on a clear day, he is greeted by a dreamy scenery of the Mayon Volcano across the waters of Lagonoy Gulf which, for him, is unparalleled anywhere else in the world.

Three things made Wilkinson decide to stay in the country: the people, who he found to be “friendly, nice, and welcoming”; the scenery in which the Philippines has bountiful and “so beautiful”, and the food like Bicol Express, sisig, lechon and chicken dishes.

He has been staying in the Philippines, particularly in this coastal town, for a year and a half with his wife Aiza who he married three years ago.

Aiza's mother is from here while his father is from Germany.

Wilkinson had lived in Queensland since he was two years old, until he decided to come here after his German father-in-law, Alfred Zeh, kidded him while drinking beer more than two years ago to open a resort in his beachfront property here.

“After a while, I was thinking about it and told him I like to invest as well. We came up with this idea (resort) and I moved here for six months to see if I could live in the Philippines, and after three weeks, I fell in love with the place and I never wanna go home. I absolutely love the Philippines,” he mused.

The Filipino way of family celebration just amazes Wilkinson no end with dozens or hundreds of kin attending and staying for long hours singing on the videoke or chatting endlessly.

“In Australia, family occasions are just limited to small number of kin and the kids will stay in one corner and the dads and moms in the other side, while here everyone is just so close to one another other,” Wilkinson observed.

He admires the way Filipino family members help one another wherein siblings would support one another to improve their lives, like the more successful ones would usually assist those who have lesser in life.

Wilkinson says Australian families are not like that, and the rich ones in the family do not really care what the other siblings have achieved in their lives.

“Filipinos go abroad and make money but they don’t keep that to themselves alone but to help their families,” he said.

Filipinos’ lots of respect to their elders like kissing their hands and helping them in their old age did not escape Wilkinson's attention and appreciation of the local culture.

“Your family is everything,” he stressed.

On how the Filipinos speak the English language, he said they are very American in the way they pronounce words but the most understood than other Asians like Thais and Chinese.

Staying here for good and pursuing the resort project here he co-invested with his wife’s family, Wilkinson has already done great improvements in the four-hectare beachfront which was named “Fort Albert” in honor of his father-in-law.

To payback for the nice things he gets from building the Fort Albert, he and Aiza has been coordinating with the local Catholic Church here to undertake gift-giving activities for 150 families for two Christmas seasons now.

They give food packs to indigent families in Barangay Sabang and toys to their children, and to make the occasion more fun, he dresses himself as a Superman riding a carabao and throwing “lollies” to the children around,

Back in Australia, he worked 12 hours a day for 21 days in a month in construction and mining projects to save for the development of Fort Albert, which has now rooms that can accommodate 80 guests in a given time, a convention hall for 400 people and two swimming pools for adults and children.

Wilkinson sees bright prospects for tourism industry here that, he said, will “explode” in the coming years.

Fort Albert, Wilkinson said, caters to local tourists composing 80 percent of their guests and foreign tourists, 20 percent.

He said their place serves as a half-way place to Caramoan which is an hour and a half by boat and it is also about 50 minutes to Catanduanes for tourists interested in surfing.

San Jose Mayor Antonio Chavez recognizes Fort Albert as a pioneering project that improves the tourism industry of this fourth- class town with a population of more than 40,000 in 29 barangays.

Chavez said the operation of Fort Albert is encouraging other investors to pour in their money on other tourism facilities in this town to fill in what Caramoan does not have like discos and night joints.

He said the municipal government is also mobilizing barangay officials to be informed and skilled in handling tourists with training that would familiarize them with the service technology akin to tourism products.(PNA) FPV/FGS/JME/CBD/

Albay solon inspires Bicol youth towards becoming future country leaders
By Danny O. Calleja

LIGAO CITY, March 2 (PNA) -– Rep. Fernando Gonzalez of Albay's third congressional district has inspired Bicol youth towards becoming future country leaders.

“Leaders are prime movers of the country’s future and I look at you to be among them in days to come,” Gonzalez told participants to the 2015 Regional Leadership Congress for Supreme Pupil and Student Government Officers and Leaders held at the Ligao National High School here over the weekend.

Themed “Responding to the Needs of Adolescent Issues and Concerns: Equipping Leaders’ Skills in Reaching Out to Peers,” the grand gathering was attended by over 700 delegates from 13 schools’ division of the Department of Education (DepEd) in Bicol.

“Without leaders, we go nowhere. We would know where to go, how to proceed and how to do things a little better when people like you would take the lead, the initiative and the sacrifice towards coming up with leaders that would guide the nation to progress as well as safeguard our educational system leading to the improvement of our schools,” Gonzalez said.

The leadership congress is an annual gathering of elected Supreme Pupil Government (SPG) officers and Supreme Student Government (SSG) officers of the current school year.

This event also serves as a venue for pupils and students to develop their knowledge and skills as future leaders of their localities and of the country, according to DepEd assistant regional director for Bicol Gilbert Sadsad.

The yearly activity, he said, is corollary to DepEd Order No. 49, Series of 2011 that mandates programs, projects and activities of the Supreme Pupil/Student Government aimed at sharing best leadership practices in running the school’s core organization and equipping each participant with knowledge, skills and attitude of effective leadership.

In the activities, participants are made to interact meaningfully with others through leadership sessions and group dynamics; identify and apply leadership skills from the training; and be enriched with the knowledge and skills in developing leaders through the pupil/student government, he said.

Highlights of the three-day congress included the sharing of best leadership practices among the student government leaders and Teachers Development Program (TDP) for teacher-advisers of the pupil/student bodies conducted under the management of the Division Education Program Supervisors simultaneous with the sessions for the pupil/student delegates, Sadsad said.

Participants came from the schools divisions for the provinces of Albay, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Catanduanes, Masbate and Sorsogon as well as the cities of Legazpi, Ligao, Tabaco, Iriga, Naga, Masbate and Sorsogon, he added. (PNA) LAP/FGS/DOC/CBD/

7 armed men gun down couple in Masbate
By Eduardo M. Casulla

LEGAZPI CITY, March 2 (PNA) -- Seven unidentified armed men peppered a couple with bullets while the the victims were eating supper inside their home on Sunday night in Barangay Tuburan, Cawayan, Masbate.

A police report identified the victims as Saturnino Andujar, businessman, and wife Mary-Ann.

The report said that at about 7:00 p.m., the suspects, armed with M-16 armalite rifles and .45-caliber pistols and wearing bonnets, suddenly appeared and, without saying anything, fired at the couple.

The suspects immediately fled, leaving the lifeless bodies of the Andjujars.

Responding authorities recovered empty shells from M-16 rifles and .45-caliber pistol. Authorities have not yet established the motive for the killing.(PNA) CTB/FGS/EMC/CBD

(FEATURE)Kawa-Kawa Hill is both ecotourism wonder and Lenten destination
By Danny O. Calleja

LIGAO CITY, March 2 (PNA) –The shades of healthily growing forest and fruit-bearing trees on the steep slope of Kawa-Kawa Hill here give thousands of people from all walks of life, who struggle their way to its summit during the weekend, a perfect cover from the scorching heat of the noontime sun.

The mass trek over the winding, narrow concrete walkway was for the solemn celebration of the Way of the Cross, a Lenten event that has made the dramatically unique peak standing 236-meter above the sea level not just a stunning ecotourism destination but a religious landmark that only this quietly growing Bicol city could offer.

At the huge parking area along entrance of the place, dozens of private cars, buses and jeepneys and hundreds of motorcycles that took these people from different parts of Bicol and other places of the country are neatly arranged on standby.

From the national highway, two kilometers away, Kawa-Kawa Hill sits deep on the edge of Barangay Tuburan, four kilometers from the city downtown, and can be seen as nothing but only one of the series of peaks walling the southeastern side of the village.

Reaching its summit, which could be done only on foot via a 500-meter ascending walkway, would tell an entirely different story -- from the back-breaking experience of negotiating the sharp slope to the stunning view that always gives new visitors an eye-popping amusement.

Nicknamed the “hill without a hilltop,” Kawa-Kawa’s summit comes as a thin wall that surprisingly encircles a sunken three-hectare plateau forming a sprawling flat surface that looks like an elegantly-landscaped amphitheater that is carpeted with carefully-mowed green grasses and serves as a playground, activity complex, horseback riding field and camping site.

From this sprawling lower ground, the surrounding view is nothing but all about the thickly vegetated surrounding wall and overhead is the round-shaped infinity of the sky.

Hence, the hill’s name is derived from such natural feature that resembles a “kawa” the local term for cauldron or Chinese wok.

The top of its rim, however, offers the panoramic view, on the northwestern side, of the entire city sitting amid an expansive green field of rice paddies crisscrossed by irrigation systems deriving water from rivers whose banks are guarded by concrete flood-control structures.

Such scenery draws sighs of confidence that the city, whose development is primarily focused on its agricultural communities, is assured of sufficiency in farm-sourced food supply.

The same direction also offers a full view of Mt. Masaraga---an extinct stratovolcano described as a forested, sharp-topped mountain with an elevation of 1,328 meters above the sea surface and located adjacent to the iconic Mayon Volcano whose upper part of its perfect cone shape could be viewed protruding over another nearby peak at the northeastern side of the hill.

The other side offers an amazing view of high forest-covered mountains shadowing vast farms on a wide plain that is so refreshing to look at.

The natural ambience and healthful surroundings offered by Kawa-Kawa Hill is supported by the gentle blowing of the wind that soothes every visitor’s body with cool and refreshing air even during summer -- when the blooming of sunflowers on established fields all over the place down to street sides, backyards flower gardens and public parks in the city -- is an impressive sight.

The city celebrates its yearly Foundation Day in May highlighted by its Sunflower Festival, a socio-cultural celebration and thanksgiving for what every LigaueƱo has achieved during the year.

The narrow surface at the top of the hill’s rim that stretches 836 meters encircling its arena look-alike interior, as well as both sides of its wall, are teeming with trees standing along the undulating concrete walkway that also locates along, 10 of the 14 Stations of the Cross—the first four being placed along the way up starting from the halfway going to the summit.

Every Station, located a stone's throw away from each other, comes with bigger-than-life-size, finely-crafted concrete sculptures depicting the biblical events in the final life of Jesus--from His prosecution and crucifixion to entombment.

These revered structures were put in place over 10 years ago by then city mayor now Rep. Fernando Gonzalez of Albay’s third congressional district based on the idea introduced by the Carmelite Sisters who have their huge chapel and religious compound by the foot of the hill.

Since then, the place which Gonzalez and his group of developers privately owns and developed -- first as an ecotourism site by painstakingly nourishing its ecological assets—has become a magnet to tourists on a year-round basis and pilgrims during the Lenten weeks.

Although a private property, the hill and all facilities it has like open cottages, toilets, stage, kiosks, viewing decks, clubhouse and dining halls are open to the public for free.

Also, no space rental fee is collected from local entrepreneurs who maintain food shops, refreshment stalls and souvenir stores along its entrance and at the summit.

Garbage boxes are all over the place, disallowing littering around the place so that there is n need for workers to maintain its cleanliness while security and medical personnel are deployed by the city government to provide assistance to visitors.

Last Saturday’s grand occasion, participated in by about 1,000 pilgrims and high school students representing several Albay dioceses, was for the Diocesan Youth Way of the Cross, now on its sixth year of being held at the Kawa-Kawa Hill.

Gonzalez -- who, as a devotee, walked barefoot all throughout the Via Crucis procession over a more than one-kilometer distance with his wife, former city mayor Lilia Gonzalez-- led the hundreds other devotees who joined the solemn celebration officiated by clergy people headed Albay Bishop Joel Baylon.

Organized by the Commission on Youth, in partnership with Kawakawa Natural Park management headed by Gonzalez, this year’s Youth Way of the Cross was themed, “Jesus looked at Peter (Lk 22: 61-62)…Jesus looked at the youth.”

On Sunday, several other pilgrims arrived from various places of origins for the same ritual of their own which Tuburan villagers describe as part of season-long arrivals owing to its popularity as a Lenten destination established by Kawa-Kawa Hill.

Indeed, this astounding peak, kept more lovely and natural by the singing of the birds, is an out of this world venue for the nourishment of one’s soul and health as doing up there the Way of the Cross with the family, peers or friends is a healthier way to do it.

“Every devoted Catholic, after trekking the place, comes down and go back home spiritually, physically and emotionally healthier,” Gonzalez said. (PNA) RMA/FGS/DOC/CBD/