Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Father Jim’s Cebu Pacific Flight arrived promptly at 9:30 a.m. last Saturday, January 24. Randy Sabenacio (a close Cooperator) fetched him from the Puerto Princesa Airport (with Bongsoc and myself heckling in the backseat).

Since 2007, Fr. Jim has been coming to Puerto Princesa once a month for our Evening of Recollection for Men. It was initially held at Tropical Sun Inn where the first Closed Retreat for Men was held in November 2006; but, after the Closed Retreat we had on November 30-December 2, 2007, at St. Ezekiel Moreno Conference Center, the monthly Recollection has been at St. Ezekiel’s. The Recollection is normally held on the First Saturday of the month; but since Fr. Jim was on his annual course, it had to be transferred this time to January 24.

Our modus operandi (for almost a year now) goes something like this: From the Puerto Princesa Airport, Bongsoc (and whoever he could press-gang) would take Fr. Jim to coffee at Itoy’s in Barangay San Pedro. It is very convenient because the law office of Atty. Ed Gastanes (brother of Jojo, a Cooperator in realty brokering) happens to be just upstairs, where Fr. Jim receives people for individual Confession and Spiritual Direction. By 11:00 a.m., Fr. Jim would be having his first customer (usually Bongsoc), followed by others according to an order arranged (by text messaging) during the preceding week, each one allotted 20 minutes. Among the pre-lunch regulars are Tisoy Montero (who is in the business of cargo forwarding) and Manny Capinig (long ago dubbed “our big-time fish trader” by Eddieboy). By 12:00 noon, Bing Cabrera would arrive from his “Saturday morning banking” duties at RCBC, in time to host lunch at Itoy’s (normally, bulalo, either “sizzling” or the “traditional” style), immediately followed by a good-sized sans rival and coffee. The party would normally consist of Fr. Jim, Bing, Bongsoc or Manny, and myself. After lunch, Fr. Jim would go back upstairs for more appointments. The afternoon guys would usually include Randy, Homer (Manny’s son), and Gerry Ortega (a doctor of veterinary medicine, but more about him below). At 4:00 p.m., we would all go in for Fr. Jim’s Catholic doctrine class, which normally ends at around 5:00 p.m., whereupon we would all proceed to St. Ezekiel’s to settle Fr. Jim in his quarters and to prepare for the Recollection.

Participants in the Recollection would normally arrive at 6:00 p.m.; someone would be assigned to read Fr. Francis Fernandez’s meditation for the Sunday following (In Conversation With God). The first meditation with Fr. Jim would begin at 6:30 p.m.. As soon as Fr. Jim leaves the chapel (to hear Confessions from newcomers or those who missed their appointments), one of the supernumeraries would read aloud the Examination of Conscience. During the rest of the 30-minute break, most participants would be socializing with each other in the parking lot. The more pious ones would remain inside the chapel until Fr. Jim comes back for the second meditation, around 7:30 p.m., which, in turn, would be followed by the Holy Mass (anticipated Sunday liturgy) at around 8:00 p.m. One of the supernumeraries or close Cooperators would be server. After the period of Thanksgiving after the Mass, the supernumeraries would take Fr. Jim to dinner at the nearby Café Arturo. We would all have (as our fixed menu) San Mig Lights and Chicharon Bulaklak for starters, and Grilled Blue Marlin served with rice for our main course. We would bring back Fr. Jim to St. Ezekiel’s at a little past 10:00 p.m., to get barely enough sleep for his 7:00 a.m. Mass the following morning at San Jose Parish Church (right beside St. Ezekiel’s).

Last Saturday, because Café Arturo was closed, dinner for Fr. Jim had to be at Asturias Hotel (next nearest to St. Ezekiel’s among the fine-dining places), with Sammy, Orphy, Manny, Vincent Escala (a student leader who regularly attends), and myself. It was a pleasant surprise to be served by Eugene Carlos (brought by his older brother, Atty. Allan, to our 2007 Retreat), in his capacity as “acting captain-waiter”. He greeted Fr. Jim before we recognized it was Eugene. We learned that his work was part of the curriculum of his course in Business Management.

The following morning, Sunday, January 25, Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, Fr. Jim celebrated the 7:00 a.m. Mass at the San Jose Parish Church, followed by breakfast at St. Ezekiel’s, then gave a Morning of Recollection for Women at the Chapel of St. Ezekiel’s, followed by Sunday Mass for the participants and their families, which ended around 12:00 noon. Sammy served at this Mass, since January 25 is also the anniversary of his oblation in the Work. A sister of Dr. Ernie Dawson—Mrs. Josephine Dawson-Soliven—attended the Recollection for Women and the Mass. Her husband, Ed Soliven, attended his first Opus Dei Recollection and the Mass the night before. They happened to be vacationing from the United States and had in fact arrived in Puerto Princesa on the same flight with Fr. Jim. Doc Ernie is, of course, the very first native Cuyuno to join the Work (as a numerary, at that) and is now Chief Medical Officer of DBP with his own mini-hospital at the Bank's Head Office in Makati.

After Mass, Gerry Ortega came along to pick up Fr. Jim, Sammy and myself for a tour of his “Ecotourism Village” Project in Sito San Carlos, Barangay Bacungan, 20-something kilometers away from the City proper. Since it was along the way, we had lunch at the now-deserted Vietnamese Village (fortunately, the restaurant is still in business, despite the repatriation of most of the former refugees), then a quick pass at the Honda Bay pier, and the final drive to Bacungan.

Gerry’s Ecotourism Village is an undertaking of ABS-CBN’s Bantay-Kalikasan Foundation (where he now works, after a stint as Provincial Board Member and, prior thereto, as Director of the Crocodile Farming Institute), in partnership with the residents of the rural community whom Gerry helped organize into an NGO or PO (People’s Organization). Apparently, the idea is to make the place a tourist-attraction (because of its natural features, i.e., the richly- mangrove- forested and navigable Bacungan River that flows out to Honda Bay) while preserving its quaint character and ensuring that the residents have a large say and share (especially of the profits) from the operation. In this case, Gerry and his company have helped the residents clean up and beautify their surroundings, and even built a river barge that could ferry around 40 passengers on a one-hour (back-and-forth) cruise to the mouth of the river (opening to Honda Bay) from a small wharf in the Sitio center. Fr. Jim, Sammy and myself all took the cruise with Gerry as our tourist guide.

The barge is actually a platform set on top of twin hulls (actually, a catamaran), with nipa roofing, towed by a pumpboat. The whole operation is staffed with residents of Sitio San Carlos (named after St. Charles Borromeo). When it becomes fully operational, the Bacungan River Cruise would include a smorgasbord of grilled sea-foods on board, plus a five-man string-and-bamboo-flute ensemble (“tipano" band) for entertainment. Gerry’s Community Organizer, Marlon Tamsi (who is also a resident of San Carlos), informed us that one such voyage would directly employ around 16 local people (including the cook, waiters, boatmen and guide). The cruise, by itself, is a treat, because of the different varieties of mangrove along the banks—100% virgin forest and no settlements in sight—and the occasional wild fauna. Fr. Jim had several tips for the operation: the noise from the tug-pumpboat should be lessened (a muffler, perhaps, could be used on the engine), the barge could have a roof-less area for caucasians to sunbathe in, and the seats could consist of several small sala sets, to allow different groups their own space.

Beautiful experience would be an understatement. Fr. Jim could not help toying with the idea of organizing a triathlon competition in Puerto Princesa (similar to the one he is organizing to be held next month in Marikina) where the participants could start at Gerry’s Ecotourism Village, swimming the river (never mind that Gerry’s people caught a 10-foot crocodile from there some 20 years ago), then biking to town (Gerry and his wife, Patty, are avid mountainbikers), and running on foot around the poblacion. Another possibility raised was to hold a Work-Camp (of the University Center Foundation) at the Ecotourism Village of Sitio San Carlos.

From Sitio San Carlos, Gerry drove us back to Sammy’s house (pictures of which are posted here, along with those taken at Sitio San Carlos) where Orphy joined Sammy and myself to bring Fr. Jim to the airport for his return flight to Manila. As usual, Manny had already checked-in Fr. Jim’s ticket, this time without the normal pabaon of fresh fish because of the amihan that deters fishermen from going out to sea. We all wished Fr. Jim a bon voyage with our hearts on fire.


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