Monthly Archives: June 2011

The European Union is pleased that EU-funded projects for forest protection here is “well-spent.”

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY,palawan  Philippines –

EU Ambassador Guy Ledoux said the EU is encouraged by the substantial decrease in annual deforestation rate in the province from 19,000 hectares to 5,500 hectares years after the implementation of their two major programs.

In a meeting with provincial officials led by Governor Abraham Mitra, Ledoux said he is “very pleased that European taxpayers’ money has been well-used by the province,” noting that “European citizens are very concerned about funds.”

The EU currently finances three grant projects in the province in the field of sustainable development. Aside from the Zero Carbon Resort, EU-funded projects include .3 million euros (P20 million) contribution to the South Palawan Planning Council’s protection activities in Mount Mantalingahan Protected Landscape and a grant of .4 million euros (P25 million) to the Non Timber Forest Products Network to implement a REDD pilot project (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) in the municipalities of Narra and Quezon.

EU’s support to the province goes back to the mid-90s when the Palawan Tropical Forest Protection Programme (PTFPP), a 10 year program with EU funding of 17 million euros and the National Integrated Protected Programme (NIPAP), a nationwide initiative to create and manage eight protected areas in the Philippines with 11 million euros (P700 million) contributions from the EU were designed.

“The EU has been a long time partner of the province and it’s natural for us to be here today to celebrate the last of a long list of initiatives to protect and restore forests in this unique part of the Philippines,” Ledoux said at the launching of the Palawan Trees for the Restoration of Ecology, Economy and Society (PalTREES) on Friday. “These two programs combined have contributed to some of Palawan’s most recognized success stories.”

The forest cover of Palawan has decreased from 738,886 hectares (52 percent) in 1992 to 666,338 hectares (46 percent) in 2005. This is equivalent to some 72,500 hectares of forest loss (1992-2005) representing an average annual deforestation rate of around 5,500 hectares. This figure is a substantial decrease in forest denudation from the report of the EU-funded Integrated Environmental Program (IEP, 1985) which registered an alarming decline of 19,000 hectares per year from 1979 to 1984.


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Kalayaan Island girl wins Palawan beauty tilt


– With her strong stand on the country’s territorial claim over the Spratlys, a girl from the Kalayaan Island Group easily won the nod of judges and was declared Mutya ng Palawan 2011 last week.

Miss Kalayaan Sophia Sopio Osorio is crowned Mutya ng Palawan 2011 during the pageant night in Puerto Princesa City last Tuesday. Shown from left are former Miss Universe Gloria Diaz, who chaired the board of judges; Gov. Abraham Mitra, Vice Gov. Clara Reyes and Mutya ng Palawan 2010 Luigi Lauron.

During the question and answer portion of the pageant held at the Cory Park main stage in this Palawan capital last Tuesday, Miss Kalayaan Sarah Sopio Osorio said the Kalayaan Island Group, where she grew up and lives, is part of Philippine territory, impressing former Miss Universe Gloria Diaz who chaired the board of judges.

Asked by actor and television host Luis Manzano, who acted as master of ceremonies, what her pet project would be if she would win the title of Mutya ng Palawan, Osorio said, “I will focus on the biggest problem of my municipality and that is terrestrial jurisdiction. Southeast Asian countries are claiming my municipality and I can’t agree on that because it is my municipality and is part of the Philippines only.”

Provincial officials watched in awe as they listened to the short but precise and substantial answer of Osorio, who bested 12 other finalists.

Gov. Baham Mitra said, “It’s a very good answer and we are very proud to know that a young Palaweña is ready to speak up for the Kalayaan Group of Islands. Maybe our leaders in the national government should take a cue from her and tell the world, especially our neighbors in Southeast Asia, that the Kalayaan Group of Islands is part of the Philippines only,” Mitra said.

Employees from the provincial capitol said it was the first time a candidate from the Kalayaan Group of Islands won the pageant.

Mitra earlier said the province of Palawan would support diplomatic initiatives of the national government toward a peaceful resolution of the controversy stemming from the many claimants of the resource-rich Spratly Islands.

Osorio, who dreams of becoming a diplomat, said she joined the beauty pageant to represent the Kalayaan Island Group and show everyone what Kalayaan can offer.

Her pet project will include programs that will present the natural beauty of Palawan.

She said she also intends to raise economic and social issues such as transportation, education, “banca” (boats) for transportation and fishing in the island.

The other winners in the pageant were Miss Cuyo Maria Daziella Lazaro Gange, first runner-up; Miss San Vicente Thoreen Halvorsen, second runner-up; Miss Taytay Diana Grace Escasinas Nolsol, third runner-up; and Miss Aborlan Diana Sunshine Manabit Rademann, fourth runner-up.

Among those who watched the pageant were officials of the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) who were in Palawan attending the transport, infrastructure and ICT development cluster meeting.

The province of Palawan celebrated the founding anniversary of the civil government through the Baragatan Festival.

Baragatan is derived from the Cuyonon word “bagat” which means to meet.

The festival is a showcase of Palawan’s agricultural crops, arts and crafts, cultures, traditions and people coming from the 23 municipalities.

The theme of this year’s festival is “Masiglang Baragatan sa Palawan 2011.”

By Pia Lee-Brago (The Philippine Star)

In Search of Culion’s Native Cuisine

Kilawin na Suliot. Photograph by Maida Pineda

Native cuisine of Isla Culion, Palawan.

I still have a delicious caramel tan from my trip to Isla Culion, Palawan.

For nearly nine decades, the island was the designated home of the country’s leper patients. But with leprosy now treatable at home, the island has embarked on a new chapter as a tourism destination. Still, most people get fixated on the island’s past and have failed to appreciate its location. Culion is blessed to be part of the Calamianes Group of Islands, a 90-minute boat ride from Coron and not too far away from the posh El Nido resorts.

After an hour-long plane ride, a 25-minute van ride, and a 90-minute boat ride (plus 30 minutes or so because of delays at the pier), you are rewarded with a cozy undiscovered town. It helps that my friend Nilda and I were visiting one of the two Jesuits assigned to the island, Fr. Xavier Alpasa, SJ.

There’s no denying the town’s strong Catholic faith. Approaching Culion, you can’t miss the bright red Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Church perched on the cliff. Next to it are large white letters, much like the iconic Hollywood sign, that read HOTEL MAYA, the social enterprise hotel recently established by the Jesuits.
The church and Hotel Maya with Aguila on side of the hill. Photograph by Maida Pineda

The church and Hotel Maya with Aguila on side of the hill. Photograph by Maida Pineda

The church and Hotel Maya with Aguila on side of the hill. Photograph by Maida Pineda

After my stint in Singapore and Hong Kong for the past few years, I was looking forward to soaking up the islands. Culion did not disappoint with its diverse natural attractions: a lookout point in Pulang Lupa more breathtaking than Tagaytay’s vistas, the best view of the islands up 333 steps high in Aguila, experiencing a wrecked ship’s beauty in Lusong Gunpoint, and rich underwater life at Bodor Marine Sanctuary. I warmed up in the hidden hot springs few boatmen knew about and cooled down in the white sand beach of Malcapuya.

While finding Culion’s beauty was easy, my journey in discovering the island’s culinary scene was not as simple. Famished from our long voyage from Manila, we wolfed down the dinner set before us at Hotel Maya. It was Fish Meuniere with Eggplant & Grated Squash Fritters. We wiped our plates clean, as we had missed lunch earlier. The hotel staff could barely pronounce or spell Meuniere, a French word for dredging the fish in flour and serving it with a brown butter, lemon and parsley sauce. While its execution was fair, the last thing I want to eat in the islands is a Western dish. I was craving for a comforting local dish to give me an authentic taste of Culion.

Before hitting the sack, the server asked what we wanted for breakfast the next day. I surveyed the list of 11 options: Pancakes, Oatmeal, Eggs Benedict, the list goes on. I was intrigued by Bolpen, described in the menu as Culion Seasonal Dried Fish served with rice and vegetable tapa. The server said they would try to buy some from the market, “maybe tomorrow.” Tomorrow came and the next day and still no bolpen. Fortunately, the kind priest eased our curiosity by frying some of the bolpen he had at the Jesuit residence. These dried squid are only about 2 inches long. When fried, they achieve a perfect crisp texture difficult to achieve with the larger varieties of dried squid. Bolpen is great for breakfast but is an ideal match for an ice-cold beer, while watching Culion’s glorious sunsets.

Despite the hotel’s six-page menu, many of the dishes were not available. Aside from the bolpen shortage, squid, crabs, and mangoes were hard to come by. The island only has 12 hours of electricity, meaning fresh ingredients risk spoilage without refrigeration. The offerings included: Pasta Alfredo, Monte Cristo, Calamare with Melanzani Fungheto, and variations of cream soups from pumpkin to bell pepper.

After the disappointing morning date with two cold poached eggs mistakenly baptized as Eggs Benedict in the menu, I gently confessed my culinary woes to the priest. While the fried fish and Pinakbet and Fish Steak with Chopsuey were soothing lutong bahay (home-cooked) dishes, I longed for food showcasing the bounty of the sea. No beach holiday for me is complete without Inihaw na Isda or Inihaw na Pusit (grilled fish or squid). It is utterly enjoyable to dig into the char-grilled goodness of the sea with saltwater still dripping off your hair and body after a swim.

Maida Pineda

On my last day on the island, we impulsively decided to stage a sumptuous picnic in Malcapuya Island, Culion’s best white sand beach. Tired of hearing about the shortage of ingredients, I decided to take matters into my own hands and headed off to market bright and early, along with Toto of Hotel Maya. I expected to see a proper market brimming with ingredients but saw only a talipapa (small market) with three vendors. My mission was to buy fresh crabs, fish, vegetables and fruits, but there were no crabs in sight.

I was told we were too early and that seafood was often brought directly to Coron. So I settled for some vegetables that I would cook in coconut cream. There were three vendors selling tulingan (mackerel) and tambacol weighing two kilos or more, but they were a bit much for our party of seven. We walked home empty-handed. Luckily, as we neared the hotel, the fish delivery arrived and later, we had fish cooked bistek style. Without crabs, we had no choice but to ask the hotel cook, Nanay Rosing, to whip up a fool-proof dish, chicken adobo.

Three hours later, I wandered about town in a tricycle and found a pail of fish crabs. “Alimango!” I screamed, startling the tricycle driver and a female passenger. We stopped and I asked the pregnant Tagbanua lady holding the pail of crabs and the little boy with her to join us in the tricycle. They had no weighing scale, so I decided to take them back to Hotel Maya to close the deal. The crabs put up a fight as we weighed them. Two and a half kilos, the scale read. At only P120 per kilo, the four crabs were a steal at P300. At last, with the waves crashing, our hair windblown and our smiles uncontrollable, we said grace and ate our best meal in Culion for lunch.

Later in the evening, Fr. Javi invited us to join a celebration of the newly crowned Mutya ng Culion. The pageant winner’s mother was one of the island’s best cooks. Close to the old St. Paul’s Convent, some 30 steep steps up from the road, lies her home and secret restaurant. Tourists come here just to eat. She had grilled tambacol, with a special dipping sauce of soy, onions, and chili. I finally got my dream of eating grilled fish.

Before leaving the island, Fr. Javi asked me to meet with the hotel’s kitchen staff. With my Master’s Degree in Gastronomy, experience as a food stylist, and 13 years in food and travel writing, plus working with food in various capacities, there was much I could contribute. I gave my detailed feedback on the meals. I found the western menu problematic. It required using ingredients not readily available on the island. While I recognized their desire to impress guests with international fare, it was just not a match. I had observed that the other Filipino guests had always ordered from the menu the few Filipino dishes they were familiar with. The servers admitted they could barely pronounce the names of the dishes, or explain them to the diners. It was not meaningful food for the kitchen staff or the hotel patrons. I asked Nanay Rosing and her team, “What dishes would you be proud to serve?” She looked down to the pebbled ground, almost embarrassed to admit that Fish Meuniere meant nothing to her.

All my years in the kitchen taught me this. When the ingredients inspire the cook, you can taste it in the dish. Her rendition of guinataang gulay (veggies stewed in coconut cream) for our picnic was excellent. Her version of ginisang bagoong (sauteed shrimp paste) was chunky and perfectly seasoned with a salty sweet punch. It was so good we ate it with the Indian mangoes, green mangoes, and even rice. Her chicken adobo was quite delicious, too. She agreed with my desire to make the menu more in tune with locally available ingredients and palates. She suggested dishes like Pinangat Sa Kamias (fish stewed in kamias, a local souring fruit agent). Fr Javi later told me how glowing reviews on Nanay Rosing’s Pancit Canton have been spreading to Coron. Island tours now stop by Culion for a taste of her take on this classic noodle dish.

Yes, it is baffling how Culion, so rich in seafood, could have such a limited supply of fish, squid or crab. The worldwide trend in gastronomy these days is to source local food, with ingredients grown and produced just meters away from the restaurant. This equates to serving food that is fresh and at its prime. If the ingredients do not travel a long way from the food source to the consumer’s mouth, it means lower costs and a lower carbon footprint because of less fuel used to tranport them. It is a win-win situation to go local. Most importantly, it is a great way to proudly showcase to the visitors the region’s local culinary heritage.

Cuyo is the former capital of Palawan. Its residents, the Cuyonons are experts in cooking shell fish of various shapes and sizes. In Culion, they have the Sikad, Talaba sa Bakawan, Sigukguk and Suliot. As we reached the seaside from a day of island-hopping, we saw a Tagbanua woman holding several garlands of Suliot. Before I could even utter the tongue twister, “She sells seashells by the seashore,” Fr. Javi excitedly purchased her wares for only P120. The shellfish meat had been extracted from their shells and were now strung into a garland much like the sampaguita lei given to celebrities. Nanay Rosing expertly turned the Suliot to adobo and a kinilaw (ceviche) with lots of onions and garlic. Only seasoned cooks know how to cook these shellfish, keeping the meat tender. Overcooking toughens the meat and turns it rubbery. I prefer the kinilaw’s refreshing flavor, while the priest liked the adobo better.

Why do we have to resort to fancy western dishes when Palawan cuisine has its own clever spin on dishes, what with the diversity of ethnic groups ensuring many creative ways with food? The Palaweños add cucumber to Kinilaw na Tanigue, adding a refreshing crunch to the fish cooked in vinegar. For their tinolang manok, the islanders add lemongrass for flavor. The fresh bounty of the sea yields lato (seaweeds), sea urchins and sea cucumbers. Sinigang na Isda (fish in sour broth) is soured not by tamarind, but green mangoes cut up, boiled and mashed in the broth.

With Fr. Javi’s blessings, I highly recommended removing many Western dishes from the menu and replacing them with authentic Palawan cuisine. My suggestion was greeted with sighs of relief from the staff.

Before leaving the island, I challenged Nanay Rosing to cook dishes she would be proud of. On my end, I promised to help revise their menu to better showcase the local delicacies of the island. I did not come all this way to Palawan to eat corned beef from a can or poached eggs or any fancy western dishes. I emphasized the need for the food to be fresh, delicious, and cooked in the local style.

At 6 a.m., Nanay sent us off on our long journey back to Manila with a packed lunch of her famous adobo and fish steaks to eat along the way. She wore a bright red lipstick, meriting a gentle ribbing from Fr. Javi: “Aalis lang si Maida, nag-lipstick ka na (So Maida leaves and you put on lipstick).” For the first time, the cook smiled, stood tall and confident. I too was happy. Nanay Rosing had just begun her journey to find her own culinary heritage. I can’t wait to head back to Culion for a feast of authentic Palawan cooking. •

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