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By learning more, we can do more. [Text and concept by this author. Background image by Amenic181 at]

Responding to Climate Risks in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management: 16 Jul – 5 Nov 2016

This is somewhat a repost of previous blogs but I am glad to share with you the news that UP Open University is offering the non-formal online course, Responding to Climate Risks in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management (RCRANRM) again! Developed in partnership with the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), the 6th run will begin on July 16 and end on November 5, 2016. Enrollment ends on July 9, 2016.

By learning more, we can do more. [Text and concept by this author. Background image by Amenic181 at]

By learning more, we can do more. [Text and concept by this author. Background image by Amenic181 at]

We are all blessed that this age of internet opens up a new world of learning–distance education (DE). This mode of learning allows busy professionals, students, and stay-at-home parents to pursue undergraduate, higher, and non-formal learning without the need to go to classrooms physically.

RCRANRM runs for 16 weeks (one semester) and is designed to introduce learners to the core concepts, methods, and tools in climate change mitigation and adaptation particularly in the context of food security, agriculture, and natural resource management. While this is a non-formal course, participants have to comply with specific requirements in order to complete the course and receive certificates.

I would highly recommend this course to those interested in climate change, professionals engaged or hope to be involved in environmental work, and students who would like to pursue a career in environmental management. It is also suitable for media practitioners and personnel of legislators and policymakers especially those who want to have deeper theoretical background in climate change issues and policies in the context of agriculture and natural resources management.

I had been one of the students of the course’s first run in October 2013 to January 2014 and can attest about how much the course helps busy professionals like us understand climate change more deeply.  I hope that you will find this course very timely and significant. We see the impacts of climate change everyday and attending this course will help us contextualize it in the national setting. Such contextualization is necessary when developing appropriate responses and action. Let me end this post with a simple reflection:

“Climate change forces us to think of it in terms of food security. When we eat rice today, let’s think of the farmers and our natural assets that make all these possible–the soil, the sunshine, and the rains–and reflect on our situation as creatures who need to survive and our role as citizens who need to be more responsible.”

Hope to meet you online soon!

UPOU FMDS Contact Details:

Mr. Larry N. Cruz | Faculty of Management and Development Studies, UPOU | Email | Telefax: (6349) 536-6010


This is not a paid blog. (I do not ask for any donation but I hope you can plant a tree on your birthday/s.) (Full disclosure: I am RCRANRM’s course coordinator.)

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2016 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin

May’s flowers and showers

Just keep on swimming! (and biking!) [Sketch in watercolor by Mei Velas-Suarin]

Just keep on swimming! (and biking!) [Sketch in watercolor by Mei Velas-Suarin]

Happy month of May, everyone!

For this month’s attempt at watercolor sketch, I’m inviting you to savor the joys of May – the time of the year when we hold the traditional “Santacruzan” (Sacred Cross) and “Flores de Mayo” (Flowers of May) and, of course, it is also the time when we’re beginning to enjoy the first rains. This  summer had been excruciatingly hot so I think many of us (especially our hardworking farmers!) really looked forward to the rainy season.

There is also a special reason for this sketch. Many people close to me know that I am graduating from my master’s course work this year (with God’s graces, this December!) and so I am also busy preparing for my Special Problem (almost like a thesis). I decided that I didn’t just want to go through it because it’s a course requirement. I really wanted something that will have a special meaning to the community–sorry, I didn’t want that to sound so ‘cliche-ish’ but you get the drift, right?

I wanted my work to focus on a real and urgent problem and while the Philippines, for sure, has a lot of them, I decided that my work should address the horrible traffic situation in Metro Manila…and this is why I sketched this vintage bike! It’s the image that I am now using in the homepage of my dream, Project: SKY BIKE LANES. [Please visit to get to know more about this dream project so that, together, we can make it come true.]

Before I end this brief post, I’d like to congratulate our President-elect Rodrigo Duterte (and all those who voted for him) for this sweet victory! As early as November last year, I already knew he was going to be the next President. There are many reasons why I voted for him but among the most important traits that my husband and I saw in him is his genuine love for this country.  His patriotism is genuine. Indeed, he curses a lot, makes really bad jokes, and is not a good communicator but beyond the bad mouth is a good heart that inspires nationalism.  I think this is something that our country seems to be losing over the years and many are hopeful that Duterte’s victory will slowly break the cycle of apathy and lack of nationhood. Indeed, change is slowly coming.

However,  I also wrote this in my Facebook page, “no president can ever save us if we will not change. Real change comes from each one of us.” I hope and pray that Duterte’s victory will make us all commit to that change that we direly need.

Mabuhay ang ating Inang Bayan! Mabuhay tayong lahat!




This is not a paid blog. There is no request for donation but please do plant a tree/s (the right ones) on your birthdays.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2016 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin
Sunrise from Kamanbaneng Peak ("Marlboro Country"), Sagada [Image courtesy of Sagada LGU website]

MUST READ: General guidelines for Visitors of Sagada

NOTE: With the permission of Mr. Ivan Henares, our professor in ENRM 257: Sustainable Tourism Development course in UP Open University, I am reposting visitors’ guidelines developed by Steve Rogers and Tracey Santiago for Sagada. The translation in Filipino (courtesy of Tracey) is also shared below.

Let these important words be remembered  and applied not just in Sagada but in all other tourist and heritage sites that you intend to visit. Traveling is always a very precious and memorable gift so the least we can do is help protect and preserve the integrity of God’s and our people’s creations. 

Enjoy traveling through eyes that never tire of being amazed and a heart that never ceases to express joys and gratitude! Namaste!

Sunrise from Kamanbaneng Peak ("Marlboro Country"), Sagada [Image courtesy of Sagada LGU website]

Sunrise from Kamanbaneng Peak (“Marlboro Country”), Sagada [Image courtesy of Sagada LGU website]

by Steve Rogers and Tracey Santiago

1. Please respect the culture. Keep a distance from rituals or any sites you are told are sacred. Do not touch or disturb coffins or burial sites. Do not attempt to join or film any ritual without direct permission from the presiding elders. Do not disturb mass in the church or shoot videos/photos in or around the church during mass.

2. Please respect the people. Sagadans are not exhibits in a museum or zoo. Ask permission before taking pictures or video of people, especially elders. Please don’t ask us “where are the Igorots”. We are the Igorots. We do dress in traditional clothing for special occasions, but please don’t expect any of us to pose in traditional clothing for pictures, because we don’t do that.

3. Please secure necessary permits. If you need to do field research, interviews in the community, conduct pictorials or film anyone and any place in Sagada, please go to the Office of the Mayor and make sure you secure a permit and pay any necessary fees. This permit will determine if your activity is allowed or not in the community. Guides are not allowed to secure any permit for such activities.

4. Please manage your expectations. Sagada is a community, not a museum. If you want to see the way we lived a century ago, there’s an excellent museum in Bontoc; please visit it. Don’t think, or say, that we have “lost our culture” because we no longer live in traditional houses or dress daily in wanes and tapis. We are indigenous people and we are deeply attached to our traditions and culture. We are also modern, well educated people who are comfortable in any living or professional environment the world offers.

5. Please walk whenever possible. Walking is an essential part of the Sagada experience. The air here is cool and clean; you won’t get all sweaty. The views are spectacular, and you’ll enjoy them more on foot than crammed into a metal box. Sagada is a small town and places are close together. If you are going out to browse the shops, walk. If you are going from a hotel to a restaurant, walk. If your hotel is outside the town, drive to the edge of town and walk. If you’re strong enough to walk through the caves, you’re strong enough to walk to the caves. Walk. It’s good for you, you’ll see and enjoy more, and you’ll help reduce our traffic problem.

6. Please conserve water. Sagada suffers from water shortages, especially during dry season and periods of peak tourist flow. This can lead to diversion of water from our farms and rice terraces, where it is desperately needed, to support tourism. If you are going hiking or caving, bathe after, not before. Please bathe quickly and with as little water as you can.

7. Please manage your garbage. Littering and tossing garbage outdoors are unacceptable and disgraceful: just don’t do it. Sagada has no municipal waste disposal system; every household and business has to manage its own waste output. Try to minimize the garbage you generate. As much as possible, what comes here with you should leave with you.

8. Please be kind to the people in our kitchens. Our restaurants are small kitchens that can only handle a few meals. When we say, we don’t have food anymore, it means the stock we bought during the market day have already run out. We don’t serve food frozen from weeks or months ago. To get better service, order your food at least 3 or 4 hours before your meal. That way, we have more time to prepare your food and serve it as soon as you arrive in the restaurant.

9. Please use your vehicle responsibly. Our streets are narrow, and on-street parking creates a serious traffic problem. Parking on the street is prohibited by local ordinance. Please follow the law, even when others don’t or if someone tells you it’s ok to park on the street. If you’re asked to back up or pull to the side of the road to allow passage of a bus or other oncoming vehicles, please cooperate. If you are parked in a way that obstructs traffic, move. Do not load/unload in the middle of a road. Pull to the side so that other vehicles can pass.

10. Please help us keep you safe. Sagada is a mountain town filled with caves, cliffs, canyons, streams and forests. They are beautiful but people can and do get hurt or lost. We do our best to keep you safe, but we need your help. Guides are required in the caves for your safety, not for our profit. Please hire accredited guides and respect the prescribed guide to guest ratio. We do not allow children to guide, for their safety and yours, so please do not hire children as guides. We strongly recommend guides for hiking or exploring. If you choose to hike without a guide, please be responsible and tell your guest house where you plan to go and what time you plan to be back. Bring a mobile phone and make note of emergency phone numbers. If you go missing we will look for you, at any time of the day or night and in any weather. Knowing where to start is a huge help. If you plan to sleep somewhere other than your guest house, get in touch and let them know, because they will report you missing and we will go out looking for you.

11. Please be modest. This is a small, conservative town, and we like it that way. Please save the revealing clothing for the beach, and save the displays of affection for your private space. We are not known for nightlife: business in Sagada closes at 10PM. If you like to party all night that’s fine, but you’ll have to do it somewhere else. There is no commercial sex here, so please don’t waste your time looking for it.

12. Please give your share to help us preserve our environment. All visitors (tourists, non-Sagada residents) must register at the Municipal Tourist Information Center and pay Php35.00 for the Environmental Fee. Your receipt will be checked upon entering caves and other tourist areas.

Below is the Tagalog translation:

Pupunta ka ba ng Sagada? Basahin muna ito!

Ito ay mga gabay para sa mga nais bumisita sa Sagada. Basahin at intindihin ang mga sumusunod bago tumungo doon:

1. Igalang ang lokal na kultura at pamumuhay ng komunidad. Panatilihin ang distansya mula sa mga ritwal o ano mang mga lugar na tinutukoy na sagrado. Huwag hawakan o buksan ang mga kabaong sa kuweba ng libingan. Huwag tatangkaing sumali o kunan ng litrato o bidyo ang ano mang ritwal na walang direktang pahintulot mula sa namumunong nakatatanda. Huwag abalahin ang Misa sa simbahan o kumuha ng mga bidyo o kaya litrato sa loob at paligid ng simbahan sa oras ng Misa.

2. Igalang ang bawat tao sa komunidad. Ang mga taga-Sagada ay hindi mga eksibit o palabas sa isang museo o zoo. Humingi ng pahintulot bago kumuha ng mga litrato o bidyo ng mga tao, lalo na ang mga nakatatanda. Huwag itanong kung “Nasaan ang mga Igorot?” Kami ang mga Igorot. Sinusuot namin ang mga tradisyunal na kasuotan para sa mga mahalagang okasyon. Huwag ninyo asahan na magpakuha kami ng litrato suot ang bahag o tapis para sa inyo, dahil hindi namin gawain iyon.

3. Kumuha ng mga kinakailangang permit o pahintulot para sa pagkuha ng litrato, pelikula, o panayam sa komunidad para sa pananaliksik. Makipag-ugnayan sa Office of the Mayor at siguraduhing ikaw ay kumuha ng permit at nagbayad ng ano mang mga kinakailangang bayarin. Ang permit na ito ang magtutukoy kung ang iyong aktibidad ay pinapayagan o hindi sa komunidad. Ang mga gabay (guide) ay hindi pinahihintulutan na kumuha ng permit para sa nasaad na mga gawain.

4. Pamahalaan ang iyong mga inaasahan (manage expectations). Ang Sagada ay isang komunidad, hindi isang museo. Kung gusto mong makita ang buhay namin noong unang panahon, may isang mahusay na museo sa Bontoc; bisitahin niyo ito. Huwag isipin o sabihin na “nawala na ang aming kultura” dahil lang sa hindi na kami nabubuhay sa mga tradisyunal na mga bahay o nagsusuot ng wanes at tapis para sa pang-araw-araw. Kami ay mga katutubo at malalim ang aming pagkakakabit sa aming mga tradisyon at kultura. Kami din ay moderno at may pinag-aralan, kumportable sa anumang buhay o propesyonal na kapaligiran na inaalok ng mundo.

5. Maglakad hangga’t maaari. Ang paglalakad ay isang mahalagang bahagi ng karanasan sa Sagada. Ang hangin dito ay sariwa at malinis; hindi ka gaanong pagpapawisan. Ang tanawin ay kamangha-mangha, at mas ikalulugod mo ang mga ito kung ikaw ay maglalakad kaysa sa nakasakay ka sa isang metal na kahon. Ang Sagada ay isang maliit na bayan at magkakalapit ang mga lugar dito. Kung ikaw ay lalabas para mamili sa mga tindahan, maglakad ka. Kung ikaw ay pupunta sa mga kainan galing sa hotel, maglakad ka. Kung ang iyong hotel ay nasa labas ng bayan, dalhin lamang ang sasakyan hanggang sa pasukan ng bayan at maglakad ka mula doon. Kung may sapat kang lakas para pumasok ng mga kuweba, mayroon ka din lakas para maglakad papunta sa mga kuweba. Maglakad ka. Mabuti ito para sa iyo, mas masaya, mas marami kang makikita, at makakabawas sa aming problema sa trapiko.

6. Huwag mag-aksaya ng tubig. May kakulangan ng tubig sa Sagada, lalo na sa panahon ng tag-init at mga panahong dagsa ang mga turista. Para matugunan ang mga pangangailang ng mga turista sa pag-konsumo ng tubig, ito ay maaaring humantong sa paggamit ng tubig mula sa aming mga bukid at palayan kung saan ito ay lubhang kinakailangan para sa aming mga pananim. Kung ikaw ay aakyat ng mga bundok o papasok sa mga kweba, mas mainam na maligo ka pagkatapos at hindi bago pumunta. Mangyaring maligo nang mabilis at magtipid ng tubig.

7. Huwag magkalat ng basura. Ang pagtapon ng basura sa daan o sa ano mang lugar ay kahiya-hiya, at hindi katanggap-tanggap: huwag kang pasaway. Sa kasalukuyan, ang Sagada ay walang municipal waste disposal system; bawat pamilya at negosyo ang nangangalaga ng sarili nitong basura. Kaya bawasan niyo ang basura niyo. Hangga’t maaari, kung ano ang dala ninyong basura ay dapat dalhin ito pag-alis para maitapon sa tamang lugar.

8. Maging mabait sa mga taong namamahala ng mga kainan. Maliliit ang mga kusina ng mga kainan namin, at hindi namin kaya magluto para sa marami. Kapag sinabi naming wala na kaming maihahain na pagkain, ito ay nangangahulugang naubos na ang pinamili namin noong araw ng palengke. Hindi kami naghahain ng mga pagkaing linggo o kaya buwan na nakatago sa freezer. Para makakuha ng mas mahusay na serbisyo, mag-order kayo ng pagkain ng hindi bababa sa 3 o 4 na oras bago kayo kumain. Sa ganoong paraan, mayroon kaming sapat na oras para ihanda ang iyong pagkain at maihain ito agad pagdating mo sa kainan.

9. Maging responsable sa paggamit ng sasakyan. Ang aming mga kalye ay makitid, at ang pagparada sa daan ay lumilikha ng malubhang problema sa trapiko. Sa katunayan, ang pagparada sa daan ay ipinagbabawal ng lokal na ordinansa. Sundin ang mga batas, kahit na hindi sumusunod and iba o kaya ay may magsabi sayo na maaari kang pumarada dahil pag bawal ay bawal. Kung sinabihan kang umatras o tumabi para makadaan ang ibang sasakyan, lalo na ang mga bus, makisama ka. Kung ang pagparada mo ay nakakaharang sa trapiko, umalis ka at ilipat mo ang sasakyan mo sa tamang paradahan. Huwag magsakay o magbaba sa gitna ng daan. Tumabi ka para makadaan ang ibang sasakyan.

10. Tulungan kaming mapanatili kang ligtas. Ang Sagada ay isang bayan sa kabundukan na puno ng mga yungib, bangin, kanyon, sapa at mga gubat. Ang mga ito ay magaganda, pero maari ka ring madisgrasya o kaya ay mawala. Ginagawa namin ang lahat ng aming makakaya para panatilihin kang ligtas, pero kailangan din namin ang tulong mo. Kailangan mong umupa ng gabay (guide) bago ka payagang pumasok sa kweba. Para ito sa kaligtasan mo, hindi para kumita kami. Mangyaring nakarehistrong gabay (accredited guide) lang ang upahan, at respetuhin ang nakatakdang bilang ng bisita sa bawat gabay (guide to guest ratio). Hindi namin pinapayagan ang mga bata o minor de edad na maging gabay, para sa kanilang kaligtasan at para na rin sa iyo. Mangyaring huwag umupa ng mga bata bilang gabay. Iniririkuminda din namin ang mga gabay para sa paglalakad o pamumundok. Kung talagang pinili mong maglakad nang walang gabay, maging responsable ka at sabihan mo ang mga tao sa guest house kung saan mo planong pumunta at kung anong oras mo planong bumalik. Magdala ka ng mobile phone at siguraduhing may listahan ka ng mga emergency number. Kung mangyari ang di inaasahan at mawala ka, hahanapin ka namin, anumang oras ng araw o gabi at sa anumang panahon. Pag-alam namin kung saan magsisimula, magiging malaki itong tulong sa amin. Kung balak mong matulog sa ibang lugar, makipag-ugnayan sa guest house mo at ipaalam sa kanila ang iyong balak, dahil sila ay magbibigay-ulat na nawawala ka at kami ay lalabas para hanapin ka.

11. Maging disente sa ano mang paraan. Ang Sagada ay isang maliit at konserbatibong bayan, at ito ang nais namin. Maaaring huwag magsuot ng mga damit na para sa pamamasyal sa dagat, at huwag rin magpapakita ng mga pisikal na ekspresyon na maaaring magpahayag ng malisya sa publiko. Hindi kami kilala para sa nightlife: sarado na ang mga tindahan sa Sagada ng alas-10 ng gabi. Kung gusto mong mag-party sa gabi, humanap ka nalang ng ibang lugar na pupuntahan. Walang commercial sex dito, kaya huwag nang mag-aksaya ng oras sa paghahanap nito.

12. Tumulong sa pagpapanatili ng ang ating kapaligiran. Lahat ng mga bisita (turista at hindi residente ng Sagada) ay dapat magrehistro sa Municipal Tourist Information Center at magbayad Php35.00 para sa Environmental Fee. Ang iyong resibo ay titignan bago ka pumasok sa mga kuweba at iba pang mga lugar na dinadayo ng turista.

Ang mga panuntunang ito ay inihanda ni Steve Rogers at Tracey Santiago, at isinalin namin ni Tracey sa Filipino.




Source: Website of Ivan Henares. You can visit his site for more interesting reads on history, heritage, and travels. The link of this post is at:

For comprehensive guide and tips on Sagada, this is a good source managed by the Sagada Genuine Guides Association:


This is not a paid blog. There is no request for donation but please do plant a tree/s on your birthday/s.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2016 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin

April lets you walk on sunshine

April lets me walk on sunshine_Meilbox_lo-resHello, beautiful people!

This is my first post for the month so as usual, there is a little art work that goes with it. This is rather quick (again!) as I had used pentel pens only and painted directly on paper, skipping the initial pencil-sketching stage. As I had shared early this year, I wanted to go back to sketching again and perhaps by doing these very quick drawings, I’d be able to paint seriously again.

What moves you about April? It’s usually among the hottest months in this part of the world but what is there not to love about having sunshine everyday?! So go ahead, indulge yourself to some quiet time under the shade of your favorite tree, head to the beach or forest, or maybe read a book in a nice little corner with your cool drink.

Yesterday, our class in Sustainable Tourism Development (I am completing my master’s course work in UPOU) had a chat with our mentor and our discussions covered Sagada. I won’t preempt my next post (upcoming!) but please remember to be caring and considerate when you’re doing your R & R this summer break.  Let’s always be  nice tourists and travelers, ok?

Walk on sunshine!


Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2016 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin

March forward

March forward...and realize your dreams! [Sketch and calligraphy by M. Velas-Suarin]

March forward…and realize your dreams! [Sketch and calligraphy by M. Velas-Suarin]

Happy month of March,  dear friends and blog readers!

I am doing my best to keep the promise to post a sketch or painting before the start of each month so here is a quick one for March! For this sketch and simple calligraphy work, I used a B4 nib only. I like how versatile a B4 is. For beginners like me, it is really very easy to use. I finished the sketch above in less than 10 minutes!

I hope that the month of March will be good and joyful for you! In the Philippines, we are at the beginning of the hot summer months.  Although, technically, we really have no “summer”–being in the tropical zone–March is a fun-filled time of the year with many graduating from school, running to the beach, and simply savoring lots of sunshine.

I remember my childhood when we would play “patintero” or  “taguan” on an evening of a summer full moon.  :) I hope the young (and even the not-so-young) people of today will rediscover those simple joys of outdoor games – and the chance to really run and play outside in full abandon (and perhaps forgetting about Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for a while?).

Well, this will just be a brief post. Remember, “March” forward with your dreams, knowing that inside you is a beautiful and brave soul.


Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2016 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin
Create and enjoy  a charmed and authentic life!

February loves you

Gong Xi Fa Cai! Happy Chinese New Year!

This is a day for celebration so I am sharing with you another simple sketch and calligraphy work. Don’t forget, February loves you! This is also the Valentine’s month so don’t forget to embrace your life and loved ones.

Create and enjoy  a charmed and authentic life!

Create and enjoy a charmed and authentic life!

I checked the direct translation of Gong Xi Fa Cai and found out that it means “Wishing you to be prosperous in the coming year” (Translation by And so, this is my wish and prayer for you, my dear readers. May this year be another year of blessings, inspirations, good health, and strength of spirit!

As I have shared in my first post for this year, I will do my best to create little art works at least once a month. As you will notice, I have really become a little rusty in the art department so I need to practice more. :)

You will also notice that the blue ink here looks “thick”. I guess this is one proof that I must practice more calligraphy because my first batch of ink is now beginning to dry up! Many artists recommend adding water to ink (depending on the ink brand) but I sort of liked the “oil-like” effect so I tried using it. I enjoyed the small improvement in my stroke because I no longer needed to write the letters in pencil first so it may mean that I am more confident now in doing calligraphy. Of course, more practice is necessary!

I decided to surround the theme with positive words and phrases so when you read this, you will be inspired and reminded again about the gifts and promises of this universe. See if you can read all of them (it might be a good way to exercise your brain and eyes)!

I hope you have enjoyed this simple gift. Thank you for dropping by! Enjoy your life and be a blessing to others!




This is not a paid blog. There is no request for donation but I hope you can plant a tree on your birthday/s.


Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2016 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin
Minamata City is certainly moving forward and learning from the past.
[Image credit: Act-B Recycling/Yunoko, retrieved from]

Kazehozonkai’s acoustic music and a simple story of friendship across oceans

Where is the photo bomber? :) Seriously, this is my friend, Michikazu Iseri of Kazehozonkai. This was taken in Germany in 2004, where we met during the International Conference for Renewable Energies.

Where is the photo bomber? :) Seriously, this is my friend, Michikazu Iseri of Kazehozonkai. This was taken in Germany in 2004, where we met during the International Conference for Renewable Energies.

I had closed 2015 and begun 2016 by keeping in touch with old friends. I have traveled quite extensively and can say with gratitude that some of the ‘strangers’ I had met in those travels have eventually become long-time friends.

One of them is Michikazu Iseri. I met him in 2004, when I attended the International Conference for Renewable Energies in Germany. (As I typed this, it made me glad that Iseri and I had managed to be friends for more than a decade already, despite the distance. Thanks to modern technology indeed!)

Iseri (as how we fondly called him in Germany), is a visiting professor at Kumamoto University and a senior writer for the Kumamoto Daily News in Japan. He joined the newspaper after his studies in Keio University and the University of California at Berkley. He began his career in the daily newspaper as a reporter, eventually becoming political editor, cultural editor, and editorial writer. He was later seconded to the Kumamoto University and currently serves as a professor in journalism.

He has been covering mercury contamination and poisoning since 2001. This interest has  led him to study Minamata disease (M.d.) extensively. He then authored the book, Countries that learned from Minamata: Mercury control and management (in Japanese language) If I will recall our conversations during our Germany trip, I think this is a topic that somehow started our bond as friends (not mentioning, of course, Iseri’s light bantering and sense of humor). It was a sad topic, of course, but if I will look back at my own personal and professional journey, I would probably consider my trip to Minamata, Japan (many years ago) as a turning point.

It may be recalled that the methylmercury (MeHg) poisoning in Minamata is a result of one of the most serious environmental disasters in the world. It was caused by effluents containing the highly toxic methylmercury, which was released by the plant of Chisso, a chemical company. The discharge effluent contaminated the Minamata Bay and bio-accumulated in fish and seashells, which form a significant part of the diet of the local population (Allchin, n.d.). (This is a very serious environmental disaster that everyone must read about so I encourage you to read more about it. The article of Allchin is a good start.)

While I had really planned to be involved in social development and environment when I entered UP, the trip to Minamata was somehow a major point where my decision to build my career in these areas had somehow taken a more defined shape and clearer directions. In Minamata, I had seen the horrors of mercury poisoning, a likely consequence of a lack of or poor environmental management systems and negligence in pursuit of economic activities. I am sure no one wanted it to happen but, hopefully, the lessons will remind us constantly of the importance of appreciating (and respecting) the inextricable link between the environment and health. A positive outcome from this sad past is that Minamata is now seriously redeveloping the city based on sustainable and ‘eco-township’ principles (Minamata City Government, n.d.).

That was why meeting Iseri and then later becoming friends with him is somehow another meaningful synchronicity in my life. Iseri might have not realized it yet but I have always been a fan of Japan, its people, culture, arts, and history.  While there are sad realities in our shared history as warring nations, Japan and the Philippines share universal truths and values such as love for the arts and, among them, music. This is where this piece evolves from.

More than a decade later, Iseri and I still manage to keep in touch. My husband (JR) was the one who rummaged through our boxes and found this picture of me and Iseri taken 12 years ago outside a cafe in Germany. (I will welcome an email from anyone in Germany who can tell me the name of this nice cafe!) [I cannot remember it anymore but I have this feeling that this picture was actually sent by Iseri via post. I will ask him!]

More than a decade later, Iseri and I still manage to keep in touch. My husband (JR) was the one who rummaged through our boxes and found this picture of me and Iseri taken 12 years ago outside a cafe in Germany. [I cannot remember it anymore but I have this feeling that this picture was actually sent by Iseri via post. I will ask him!]

As I said earlier, I was in a bit of nostalgic mood a month ago so I sent Iseri (and my other friends) a Christmas-new year note with the announcement of my new email address. Bless his usual kind heart, he emailed back with a very nice update – he is part of an acoustic guitar duo called, Kazehozonkai!

Kazehozonkai (loosely translated as “Wind Preservation Society”) is based in Kumamoto, Japan. It plays and does its best to popularize the songs of Shozo Ise, a Japanese singer-songwriter,  to the next generations. Kazehozonkai, while inspired by the music of Shozo Ise, also plays other songs. Iseri is accompanied by Yuji Tsuyama.

Yuji is currently editor of the Newspaper in Education program of the Kumamoto Daily Newspaper. Born in 1958, he graduated from the Kumamoto University and joined the paper in 1981. He began his career in the newspaper as a reporter, later becoming a copy editor. He  enjoys listening to and playing folk and rock music.

Kazehozonkai is not a ‘big’ name (at least, not yet) but I think that the Japanese community and music lovers will enjoy listening to them (as much as I and my husband did!). I am not a music expert (so please forgive my bias) but listening to their songs made our breakfast that December morning more enjoyable and relaxing. Don’t expect much drama or rock-star-gyrating performance but expect to be serenaded and brought to a place where there are sweet notes of nostalgia, bittersweet memories, and heartfelt joys and awakenings.

Here are links to two of the duo’s performances. I have also asked Iseri to translate the songs into English.

Nijunisainowakare (“22-year-old farewell”)

Lyrics’ translation

That I can say “Good-bye” to you is only today. If I touch your warm hand tomorrow, probably I couldn’t say it. I could no longer wait for you and I have chosen the happiness, which appears in front of me.

You placed 22 candles on the cake on my birthday, and you said “Each candle was your life.”  From the 17th candle, we lit together.

This memory seems to me as if it were only yesterday. Now these 5 years may be called “Too long spring” for me, who is about to marry the man whom you don’t know. If you hear my wish, I hope you to remain you, of now, all the time, from now on. (Translated by M. Iseri)

Kaigandori (“Seaside Street”)

Lyrics’ translation

You have chosen a ship. Is it from your consideration for me?

Why didn’t I notice that a cord that links a person to a departing passenger, to see him off, was cut? The sun setting in the harbor is very beautiful, isn’t it?

 The ship you boarded is getting smaller.

 The sea of the daybreak is sad. It is seen from you by the seaside street.

I should have remained a ‘younger sister’, as you said. I did not want to hear, in your gentle arm, that you will leave this town someday.

The ship you boarded is getting smaller, leaving waves in the sea, just like yesterday. (Translated by M. Iseri)

These two songs really stirred my soul and when Iseri sent me the English translations, I fully understood why I felt some bittersweet kind of emotions when I listened to them the first time. :)

Kazehozonkai also performs pop and soft rock music and here is its rendition of Hotel California (by Eagles).

I hope that through this post, you will know more about Japan and find another reason to reconnect with old friends, near and far.  Someday soon, I will be traveling to Japan again (this time with a husband beside me!), reconnect with Iseri and my other friends there, and hopefully, stay longer.





Allchin, D. (n.d.) The poisoning of Minamata. Retrieved from

Minamata City Government. (n.d.). Minamata, Environmental City – Model Environmental City Manual. Retrieved from

Recommended reading: Lessons from Minamata Disease and Mercury Management in Japan, Ministry of the Environment (Japan). Retrieved from

Image credits:

Minamata City image credit (top-most): Act-B Recycling Company (through “Yunoko”), retrieved from


This is not a paid blog. There is no request for donation but I hope you can plant a tree/s on your birthday/s. :)

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The proposed (commissioned) project, Klarastaden, a series of apartment structures and elevated sidewalks ("skyways"), planned to be built in downtown Stockholm.(Image credits: Anders Berensson Architects. This image also appeared in TechInsider.)

Of sky ways and serendipitous moments – envisioning sky bike lanes for Metro Manila

The proposed (commissioned) project, Klarastaden, a series of apartment structures and elevated sidewalks ("skyways"), planned to be built in downtown Stockholm.(Image credits: Anders Berensson Architects. This image also appeared in TechInsider.)

The proposed (commissioned) project, Klarastaden, a series of apartment structures and elevated sidewalks (“skyways”), planned to be built in downtown Stockholm.(Image credits: Anders Berensson Architects. This image also appeared in TechInsider.)

Note: This article first appeared in my Linked Pulse page. (Image credits: Anders Berensson Architects. This image also appeared in TechInsider.)

UPDATE: I am requesting feedback from Metro Manila residents. If you are from Metro Manila (or usually travel here), please answer a brief survey form here. You may also want to drop by the interim website for this dream project. Thank you!


Metro Manila’s traffic – why this idea came about

Sky bike lanes, anyone?

For a Metro Manila resident like me, this seems like a bright idea. The worsening traffic situation in Metro Manila has always been cited as among the most urgent problems that the country’s administrators should be dealing with. In fact, a study done by traffic and navigation app, Waze, revealed that Metro Manila has the “worst traffic on earth”, on a city level perspective (Waze, 2015). Through the Waze study, it was estimated that travel time here–from home to the work place–is about 45.5 minutes. The article did not indicate actual points of origin and destination but let us assume that the average is a good representation of the respondents’ daily commute. However, there may be some discrepancy if the respondents are mostly commuters who use public transportation. (I assume that Waze is mostly used by private car drivers and passengers at this stage.)

Clearly, the government and private sector need to put their acts together in order to come up with clear solutions. The traffic situation in Metro Manila can only be solved through a combination of policy, infrastructural, and behavior-based interventions. (For this article, let me focus on an infrastructural intervention as I also plan to discuss the other two in one of my future posts.)

One of the steps that we can consider is the building of bike lanes–not on the existing road networks but high up there, on elevated platforms. Obviously, Metro Manila’s roads can no longer accommodate new and separate bike lanes. However, is this idea of elevated bike lanes feasible? It has been lingering in my mind for the past couple of months.

The Klarasden’s sky way – can a bike-focused version be done?

They say that the universe “hears” us if we just verbalize our thoughts. I think what happened recently demonstrates that this saying is indeed true. You see, I came across a TechInsider article about the project, Klarastaden, through Linkedin just the other day. (I must thank my new online friend, Pia K Töre-Wallin, again for sharing the link!)

A bike-focused version of the Klarastaden’s sky way is something that crossed my mind a couple of months ago, as my husband and I were walking and discussing how the lives of Metro Manila urbanites are impacted negatively by the horrendous traffic situation. I told him about my dream to build floating or “sky bike lanes” as I called them. Back then, I was half-thinking it is a crazy idea. However, the other half of my brain is saying that the idea is very feasible.

Biking and the provision of bike lanes had always been proposed by environmental advocates but let us admit that Metro Manila can no longer afford to build separate roads for bike lanes (or even divide the existing roads to allow a portion for bike lanes).

Nowadays, there are brave souls who bike to work (how I admire their courage!), right alongside trucks, buses, jeepneys, and cars, so one can imagine the risks and dangers that these bikers are facing everyday (not to mention the health impacts of pollution). Marikina City was able to allot separate bike lanes, unfortunately, it is a small part of Metro Manila only. Nevertheless, we need to commend the city’s efforts and vision.

I have always envisioned a greener and more sustainable Metro Manila where bikers have their “own” roads and pathways and where they will feel safe and happy as they go to their offices and come home to their families.

I have always envisioned a greener and more sustainable Metro Manila where bikers have their “own” roads and pathways and where they will feel safe and happy as they go to their offices and come home to their families .Unfortunately, the city has no more extra space. And that is why I told my husband, “We should build sky bike lanes!”, in my most resolute voice.

“Fast forward” to Tuesday when I saw the article about Klarastaden - it dawned on me that, perhaps, my idea is not a crazy one! Yesterday, when I opened my Linkedin, I saw that two of my friends (one of them is Pia)  also found the idea cool! I eventually surmised that  I can probably work on this topic as my master’s thesis. (I am completing my course work, Master of Environment and Natural Resources Management, this year, at the University of the Philippines – Open University.) [UPDATE as of 16-Feb-16: I am glad to discover yesterday that two cities–Copenhagen and London–are actually thinking of building this type of bike lanes as well! In fact, as of this writing, Copenhagen has already completed  Cykelslangen (or “The Bicycle Snake”) and a bicycle and pedestrian bridge, which they call Bryggebroen. The London version called, SkyCycle, is still under consideration. These positive news certainly motivate me to continue building this idea on and, hopefully, we can also build similar bike lanes for Metro Manila!]

While the idea is beginning to take some shape, a feasibility study is still crucial. It is also important to know if the group of Mr. Berensson (and other stakeholders) will be willing to work with me on this gigantic project. [UPDATE as of 14-Jan-2016: I received a brief but positive and encouraging reply from Mr. Berensson. Nothing is final and no paper has been signed between us but he expressed his initial interest. If all goes well and there is no obstacle such as conflict in schedules, I am hopeful that his team will be on board.]

I propose the setting up of a team through which we can develop a feasibility study and gather support from partners and stakeholders. A sub-team will take care of the research requirements. For example, we will need traffic data, conduct market analysis  and scenario building, look at the demographics and health outcome, calculate GHG emission reduction, compare policy studies, and do other related tasks. Meanwhile, another sub-team can take care of the design part. A consortium may be established later on (e.g., during the construction phase).

This proposed project considers the thinking that, in an ideal world, commuters who use both motorized and non-motorized vehicles should co-exist and share the roads. In fact, in this kind of world, separate or even partially segregated bike lanes are not significantly necessary. In such a world, bikers have more confidence, knowing that they are respected on the road, in the same way that the bikers also know that they need to respect the rights of other drivers. However, it takes time to build this ideal world. Behavioral change evolves over a long time and sometimes, without the necessary impetus and public cooperation, it may not even be realized. In the meantime, the quality of life of Metro Manila dwellers is continuously deteriorating. Either we continue to work for and wait for the ideal world to happen–without any guarantee for success–or do something about our situation now.

The feasibility study will generate more data and insights, which will help us answer the question on viability in a more scientific and comprehensive manner.

Design features and considerations

Many features and considerations must be laid down on the drawing table as we envision such an infrastructure. Here are some of them:

1. To the extent possible, the sky bike lanes must be near or accessible to and from the existing MRT/LRT lines. (It will be better if they can be integrated.)

2. The primary sky bike lanes should pass through or built alongside EDSA and C5 (the city’s core road networks) but should have connecting lanes to other major roads nearest and within the key business districts like  Eastwood Business District, Ortigas Center, and Makati City.

3. This may be a far-fetched or nearly-impossible idea but industrial-sized air purifiers may be installed along the sky bike lanes. Eventually, with more people taking the bikes and leaving their cars at home, pollution level will hopefully go down – but of course, this assumes that the number of bikers will grow progressively as the population also grows. If this idea is really impossible or expansive to do, we can build natural/organic anti-air pollution systems. (See no. 4 below.)

4. To make the design greener and healthier, we can put up small sky gardens or simple plant boxes along or hanging from the inner and outer walls.

5. We can also put solar panels along the outer walls (or roofs). This will depend on many factors, of course, but we can also look at its feasibility.

Structural soundness

We also need to look at issues related to structural soundness. Two aspects should be at the top of the list.

1. The system should apply a forward-looking design. The bike lanes will most likely become very popular that an increasing number of people would want to use it over the years. How can we ensure a stable design? Of course, we cannot build very wide bike lanes but our design should be wide enough that they can accommodate more bikers in the long term.

2. The design should also consider locational and environmental challenges (e.g., natural disasters or “acts of God” like earthquake, strong typhoons, etc.).

Financing considerations

Moreover, the idea, if indeed viable, requires massive inputs and resources. The following are potential entry points for resource mobilization and financing.

1. Foremost in mind (as well as suggested by a friend and former project colleague, Abby Catucod) is a public-private partnership (PPP) structure that may be established for this undertaking. Development agencies may likewise be tapped.

2. There should be private sector “buy-in” to distribute and share some of the costs. For example, malls and shopping centers can fund the lanes near them but they may be allowed to build small side cafes or drink kiosks–these will be useful for thirsty/hungry bikers; to encourage more bikers, banks may be requested or required to offer loans for the purchase of bicycles (particularly for those who need them).

3. We must ensure sustainable upkeep and maintenance. For example, should the use be totally free for the public? Or should there be minimal users’ fees similar to the practice of toll fees? Will a payment scheme make the people use it less? Are people willing to pay? A market study may be able to help us answer these questions.

Policy scenarios and climate change

Finally, we also need to look at the implication and contribution to the over-arching goals on climate change mitigation and adaptation and sustainable development. For one, it must be stressed that the construction of sky bike lanes should happen alongside other transportation-related policies and interventions such as improvement of mass transport systems, use of cleaner fuels, and better transportation demand management.

I have been part of a study called, Integrated Environmental Strategies, in 2004 and through the project, our team looked at different transport-related policy scenarios and their combination. The analysis– which involved modeling (to estimate emissions reduction), health effects estimation, and economic valuation–predicted a significant improvement in air quality if all or most of the different policies are implemented. While the study team did not see any significant reduction in the level of particulate matter (PM) through the use of bike lanes alone, “applying the combination of measures…is forecast to cause a dramatic improvement in PM levels” (McNamara, et al., 2005).

Our 2004 study did not focus significantly on the impact to traffic reduction so the future team must look at this area. Some of the IES approach may actually be useful. (For those interested to read our Final Report, you may get a copy from this link. The material is also listed in the References below.)

I hope that this exploratory material will excite many potential stakeholders and, together, we can ponder on this further, and hopefully, make it possible. This is rather brief so I hope to keep on updating it in the course of the next few weeks or possibly write new updates.

I would appreciate it if you can respond to a quick/informal survey, which I had developed for this idea. Please go to this link. You may also want to drop by the interim website for this dream project. Thank you!


McNamara, D., Subida, R., Velas, M.A., Andres, F., Vergel, K., Anglo E.,…Ibay, A.C. (2005). Integrated Environmental Strategies – Philippines Project Report Metropolitan Manila (Focus on the Transport Sector), Manila Observatory. Available at

Waze. (2015). Global Driver Satisfaction Index. Available at


This is not a paid blog. There is no request for donation but please plant a tree on your birthday/s.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2016 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin