March 23, 2008
Tomorrow, I begin my bike-tour around the country. This will the longest bike ride in the Philippines - 5000 km around the archipelago in 56 days. I will be biking for life and peace as well as setting a record. Can I still do this? I am almost 54 years old, 170 lbs (still overweight), taking medication for hypertension, diagnosed with myocardial ischemia and atherosclerosis a year ago, and occasionally bothered by gout. But I have trained adequately and I believe that biking will add more years to my life rather than sitting on the couch and watching TV. I am biking for my life! I won't push myself, I'll enjoy the view and avoid over-speeding.
March 25, 2008
At 8:00 am yesterday, we gathered at the archbishop's residence for the press conference and send off. After giving my departure statement, Archbishop Capalla gave his blessing and I started my journey. There were 15 bikers who accompanied me for the first leg - Bishop Colin Bagaforo and Fr. Armand of Cotabato, Fr. Pol and 5 bikers from Kidapawan, 4 diocesan priests from Davao and 3 local bikers.
After biking on flat road for 10 km, we began our ascent of the Davao and Bukidnon mountain ranges. It was a very hot day. The Davao priests biked as far as Calinan (30 km away from Davao). We had lunch in the parish of Lomondao at 1:30 pm. After an hour's rest we continued our journey. There were still much climbing to do but it became cooler as the clouds provided cover and we were more than 7000 ft above sea level. All in all, we must have climbed over 70 km. The last 8 km to Buda was all downhill. We reached the parish rectory before 6 pm after biking 95 km. After taking some snacks all the bikers returned to Davao riding the support vehicles. I met the parish priest, Fr. Vic Virador who had just came back from a barrio mass. After dinner and conversation, I went to bed at 9 pm.
I woke up at 4 am this morning. I spent some time in morning prayer and then went over the homily which I was going to give for the morning mass. I celebrated the mass at 6:30 am - most of those who attended were students, with their teachers and parents. I continued my journey at 8:00 am. This time I was all alone. I savored the silence and solitude will pedaling up and down the mountain. By noontime, the heat became unbearable but I continued biking along the rough road of Busco. My right knee was painful - I was worried that my gouty arthritis was acting up. I took a flanax tablet and the pain disappeared after an hour. By 2:00, I was in Valencia and I stopped for a while for batchoy (noodles). The last 15 km to Malaybalay was mostly uphill and I slowed down, I was feeling exhausted. I reached Malaybalay by 5:00 pm after covering 105 km. By 5:30 pm I was celebrating the mass for life and peace attended by over 200 people. After the mass I found out that the brother of Vangie (a friend who attended the mass) had just been shot. I also heard that in Valencia earlier this afternoon, there was an encounter between the NPA and the military. This is another manifestation of the culture of death.
I had dinner with the parish priest, Fr. Bob Salem and two biking priests who will accompany me to Cagayan tomorrow - Frs. Yrap and Teting. Fr. Yrap was one of the priests who accompanied in the Western Mindanao leg while I was biking around Mindanao two years ago.
March 26, 2008
At 6.30 this morning I continued my journey to Cagayan accompanied by 2 priests (Frs. Erap and Teting), 1 baptist pastor (Rev. Serino) and 7 other Malaybalay bikers of TREK-M.
The weather was perfect for biking - cloudy, cool and a slight drizzle. There were lots of uphill and downhill riding. We went through 3 canyons - the toughest was Mangima. My bike developed a mechanical problem and I had it fixed in Manolo Fortich. While there we had lunch of caldereta (goat meat) - courtesy of the parish priest.
We reached Cagayan de Oro at 2 pm, after biking 95 km. The bikers went back to Malaybalay riding a truck while I proceeded to the Archbishop's Residence. I celebrated the mass for life and peace at 5.30 pm in the St. Augustine's cathedral. Archbishop Tony Ledesma and Fr .Julius concelebrated. During dinner, Archbishop Ledesma asked me to say the 5:00 am mass before I leave for the pier at 6:00 am. The archbishop gave me P3000 for my pocket-money.
After three days of biking, my body is slowly adjusting - just mild muscle aches.
March 28, 2008
Yesterday, after celebrating the five am mass, I had an early breakfast with Archbishop Ledesma. By 6:30 am I biked alone to the pier (followed by an ABS-CBN TV camera crew) and took the boat for Jagna.
The boat landed in Jagna at 1 pm. Mar Caballo, a biker friend from Bacleon, and his companion met at the pier and biked with me to Tagbilaran. It was an easy and pleasant bike-ride along a flat highway by the sea. We reached Tagbilaran after 5 pm (after biking 65 km) and proceeded to the bishop's residence beside the cathedral. I met Bishop Medroso during supper - he was very welcoming and supportive.
We celebrated the mass for life and peace at the Tagbilaran cathedral at 6:15 this morning. After breakfast, I packed my things and biked to the pier at 8:30 am. I took the supercat ferry and arived in Cebu by noontime. I was welcomed warmly by my Redemptorist confreres during lunch. I washed my clothes after lunch and then had a cup of cappucino at nearby coffee shop.
The press conference was at 4:30 pm followed by the Mass for Life and Peace at the Redemptorist church. 13 Redemptorist priests concelebrated and there was a big crowd who attended. I am touched by the support of my confreres.
Tomorrow will be a long day.
March 29, 2008
At 6:20 this morning I continued my journey. This time, I have company: Patrick Loarca (who is biking with me for the next 5 days) , Sherwin and other members of the Cebu Extreme Bikers' Union, Councilor Boying Rodriguez and his Danao riders, and Rudy Weiler (a paraplegic), other bikers. There were over 20 of us biking along the scenic and rolling road to Santander. We reached the pier of Liloan after 140 km of biking. While crossing the channel, the pump-boat stopped. There was no more fuel. Luckily there was some reserve. So I landed at the pier by 4 pm where we were met by some 15 members of the Negros Oriental Bikers Association. I preached at the 5:30 pm mass.
While reading the papers tonight, my attention was caught by the news about the CPP ordering the NPA expand the guerrilla fronts in all the congressional districts and to increase the tactical offensives against the military. This is in defiance of the target set by the government to defeat the NPA by 2010.
My appeal to stop the war and to resume the peace negotiations is indeed urgent.
March 31, 2008
At 6:15 yesterday morning, I left Dumaguete with Patrick and 25 members of the Negros Oriental Bikers Association (NOBA). This is a unique biking group which usually bikes for a cause (recently they biked for truth and accountability in response to the corruption scandal).
The first two hours to Bais City was easy - mostly on flat road. Then the calvary started when we ascended to Mabinay. It was so hot and the climbs were tough, sections of the road were being repaired so it was also dusty. We had to make a lot of stops for rest and water.
We reached the Kan-anan sa Bungtod (restaurant on the mountain) near Mabinay at past12 noon. Fr. Rolex Nueva - the social action director of Kabankalan - was waiting for us. After lunch, we parted company with the NOBA bikers who were returning to Dumaguete. In their place, 8 bikers from Mabinay (including a protestant minister and a 10 year old boy) took over to accompany us to Kabankalan. This time there were a lot of downhill riding. But it was still hot and dusty. When we reached the boundary, parish lay leaders and bikers from Kabankalan were waiting for us. There were also some kids on their BMX bikes. A large streamer welcoming us was hanging on the side of the road. We proceeded to Kabankalan with motorcycle cops with siren leading the way. We reached Kabankalan at 4 pm after biking for 130 km. I presided at the 6 pm mass with 5 priests concelebrating. The church was full. After the mass we had a sumptuous dinner prepared by the parish council.
We left Kabankalan at 7:00 this morning accompanied by 15 Kabankanlan bikers and led by a police car. A biker from Bacolod named Carlo arrived on time to join us in this leg. The Kabankalan bikers went as far as Hinigaran (35 km from Kabankalan) and then turned back together with the police car. There were three of us left as we biked towards Bacolod led by Fr. Rolex who was driving his car. When we reached the entrance of Bacolod at noontime, 10 motorcycle riders were waiting for us and escorted us to the Redemptorist Church. The ABS-CBN TV camera crew was waiting for us as we reached the place. When I looked at my cycling computer I saw that I have already biked for 740 km since I started a week ago.
After lunch, I went to the Bike Tote's to have my bike fixed. Two broken spokes were replaced and the wheel aligned. The owner did not charge me anything.
Patrick and I went over to the Bishop's residence for a courtesy call with Bishop Vicente Navarra - one the prophetic bishops in Western Visayas. He is very supportive.
I celebrated the Mass for Life and Peace at 5:30 pm. A press conference followed.
April 1, 2008
At 5:15 this morning, Patrick and I biked from the Redemptorist monastery in Bacolod to the pier where we took the Ocean Jet fast craft that brought us to Iloilo. We reached Iloilo by 7:30. We were met by Fr. Patrick Sugrue (the parish pries of the Clement's parish), Fr. Ryan, the media liason officer of the Archdiocese, and the Ilongo Cycling priest - Fr. Abing. There were also 6 local bikers who joined us as we biked along the thoroughfares of the city led by two motorcycle cops. We reached the Redemptorist monastery where we had breakfast and this was followed by a press conference arranged by Fr. Ryan. I was free the rest of the day until 5:30 pm when we had the mass for life and peace. There were four Redemptorists who concelebrated with me. There was a good turn out among the church-goers, considering that today is an ordinary working day. As usual, I preached on the Good News on life and peace and I also strongly appealed for the resumption of the peace negotiations between the Government and the National Democratic Front.
April 2, 2008
At 6:10 this morning, my Irish Redemptorist confreres saw us off in front of the St. Clement's Church. Seven Iloilo cyclists turned up to bike with me. Patrick was also biking his last leg with me. A police patrol car led the way, followed by a pick-up car with Fr. Ryan taking pictures. A support vehicle followed us with Fr. Pat Sugrue inside. One of the Iloilo bikers who joined is Dr. Ramon Mirasol, a 71 year old dentist who told me that he was diagnosed with a heart disease 28 years ago and he decided to take up biking to cure his ailment. I told him that I, too, had myocardial ischemia last year and my biking has strengthened my heart. Yes, I am biking for my life also.
After covering 10 km an ABS-CBN car drove beside me and the newscaster interviewed me as I continued biking. After asking me what the bike-tour was all about, he asked me if I was also asking for the president's resignation. I answered him that although I wished she would resign, this bike-tour was for life and peace - and not to call for her resignation. I don't want this issue to take over the broader concerns that I am biking for: abortion, the ongoing armed conflict, extrajudicial killings, environmental destruction, graft and corruption.
When we reached Dumarao (70 km for Iloilo), the bikers from the Capiz Cyclists' Club, were waiting for us. The patrol car and the support vehicles headed back to Iloilo with Patrick hitching a ride. The Iloilo bikers continued for another 10 km and then turned back to Iloilo.
The Capiz cyclists biked with me up to Batan where I took a pump boat to cross to Dumaguit. From Dumaguit I continued biking, this time alone, until I reached Kalibo at 3:45 pm, after covering 147 km. My cycling computer registered the total of 901 km since I left Davao.
I celebrated the Eucharist at 5:15 pm. The church was full. I had supper with Msgr. Dollete afterwards.
April 4, 2008
At six ten am yesterday, after waiting for ten minutes to see if any local biker from Kalibo would turn out, I pedaled alone to Caticlan. Once again it was just me and the bike - no other bikers, no motorcycle police escort, no support vehicle and no ABS-CBN TV camera crew. I felt so peaceful - all by myself.
The weather was perfect for biking -dark clouds covered the sun and it rained a bit. I listened to the music of the Phantom of the Opera and of Joey Ayala on my mp3 player. There was a lot of climbing after 12 km of flat road. The toughest climb was the last 20 km, along a cliff overlooking the sea. I was struck by the beauty of the scenery. I pedaled furiously hoping to catch the ferry. I reached Caticlan at 10:05 after biking for 67 km. The boat for Mindoro was just leaving so I had to wait for 3 hours for the next ferry boat.
I went aboard the Grand Star which left at 1 pm. While trying to take a nap, I felt my throat becoming sore and my nose congested - symptoms of an impending cold. I spent time meditating on the healing light and praying for Divine intervention.
When we reached Roxas, Mindoro at 6 pm, Fr. Rey Bandayrel, was at the pier to welcome me. I followed his car to the rectory and after taking a shower, I went out with him to a restaurant for dinner. Before going to sleep, I again did some healing meditation and ask the Lord to heal me of my cold.
I woke up at 4 this morning feeling much better. The cold was gone. I presided at the 6 am mass with Fr. Rey concelebrating. The mass was well-attended and I preached in Tagalog. Immediately after mass, I packed my things and set out alone for Calapan.
It was again a perfect weather for biking - slight drizzle. But the sun came out at 9 am and it became hotter. My jersey quickly dried up. I stopped by the way side for halo-halo and talked to some people who gathered around me. I continued biking feeling refreshed. After a couple of hours it rained again, this time it was a downpour. But it stopped again as I was climbing up some steep hills. The heat and the hills were slowing me down. After a hour, it rained again. I felt energized and thank the heavens for the rain. My pace quickened. Some 15 km before Calapan, I met a motorcycle rider who escorted me. Then I saw 20 bikers on the bridge waiting for me. The parish priest, Fr. Nestor welcomed me and we were led by a police patrol car to the cathedral.
After brief rest and a shower I went with Fr. Nestor to see Bishop Cajandig. We came back to the cathedral for supper.
April 5, 2006
As usual I woke up early this morning to pray and to pack my bags. I celebrated the six o'clock mass with Fr. Nestor and his parochial vicar concelebrating. Some of the local bikers attended the mass. By 7:15 Fr. Nestor and the local bikers accompanied me to the pier where I got on the Supercat. I am deeply touched by the hospitality of Fr. Nestor who also paid for my boat ticket. The Supercat landed in Batangas pier at 9:00 am. Outside the gates, Fr. Ernie - the superior of the Redemptorists in Lipa was waiting for me together with over 80 bikers from Lipa and Batangas. I was surprised when many bikers took off their helmets and ask me to bless them (mano po). So we set off towards Lipa - on my left rode one of the leaders of the Batangas Mountain-Bikers (a 59 year old lawyer) and on my right was a Leah- a pretty biker from Lipa who teaches in La Salle. The presence of my fellow bikers made it easier to negotiate the 30 km gradual ascent to Lipa. After over two hours of biking we reached the Divino Amor - Redemptorist Church and we were welcomed the Redemptorist community, the novices and staff. They prepared lunch for the bikers. I am just amazed by the hospitality of Fr. Ernie and the community.
I was able to get a good rest in the afternoon.
April 7, 2008
Greetings from Manila. At 7:45 yesterday, after celebrating the Eucharist, we left Lipa. Accompanying me were 20 members of the Cycling Club of Lipa led by Noel, a retired colonel of the Philippine Navy. Pinned at the back of his jersey was the sign: No to War! Also joining us were 10 bikers from Baclaran led by Fr. Joey Echano - the superior of the Redemptorists in Luzon. There were 4 support vehicles.
The first 35 km was easy downhill riding to Talisay - a town by the shore of Lake Taal. The Lipa cyclists turned back as we reached the foot of the Tagaytay mountain. After a rest stop we began our ascent of the Sungay road. It was only 9 km going up but it took us 2 hours of climbing. This was the steepest road I have ever biked - 30 to 40 degrees grade. One biker vomited and fainted, while others alighted and walked up pushing their bikes. I kept pedaling and glancing at my heart rate monitor which reached 148 beats per minute! I slowed down and maintained a more relax pace to keep my heart rate below 140 bpm (I have to be careful since I had a myocardial ischemia - my cardiologist told me that my heart cannot tolerate extreme stress). We reached the Tagaytay rotunda at around noontime. There were two bikers from Manila waiting for us - Mel and Bobby. Bobby is a fellow member of the Pinoy MtBikers who left Valenzuela as early as 3 am and biked up to Tagaytay on a single-speed bike. After lunch break we continued our journey to Manila. This time it was mostly downhill. We reached Baclaran at 4:30 pm and we were warmly welcomed by the community, staff and church-goers. We had covered 98 km. After 2 weeks, I have covered 1236 km.
At 6:30 pm, I concelebrated the Eucharist with Fr. Joey and preached to over 2500 church-goers. As I preached to them, I became more aware of my mission as an itinerant/wandering preacher/prophet biking from church to church around the country proclaiming the Gospel of Life and Peace and denouncing the culture of death, violence and corruption.
Today is rest day. I woke later than usual. After breakfast, I washed my clothes. We had a special lunch with my Redemptorist confreres to celebrate my coming. The support of my confreres is really overwhelming.
April 8, 2008
At 6 am this morning, I continued my journey towards Cabanatuan. I was accompanied by two bikers from Las Pinas - Epee and his brother Ivan. Bobby also joined us as far as Marilao, Bulacan. At 8 am, we had breakfast at Bocaue, Bulacan. There were two kids with shaved heads who volunteered to watch our bikes while ordered food at Jollibees. We shared our food with them. We continued cycling along the Maharlika Highway. By 10 am, it was getting hot. We stopped for lunch at a roadside carenderia in San Miguel - the last town of Bulacan. By 1 pm, we continued biking but the heat became unbearable and we constantly stopped every 10 km to get cold refreshments. As we neared Cabanatuan I saw three streamers along the road with my name printed together with the theme of the Bike-Tour. We reached Cabanatuan by around 3 pm having covered around 127 km. Bishop Sofronio Bancud welcomed us. After our snacks with the bishop, Epee and Ivan said goodbye and went back to Las Pinas by bus.
I preached at the 5:30 pm mass which was presided by Bishop Bancud and concelebrated by seven priests. After the mass, we had special dinner with the bishop and my fellow priests. I am indeed very grateful for their warm welcome and hospitality.
April 10, 2008
I left Cabanatuan yesterday before 6 am. This time, I was all alone. There were no local bikers who were available to accompany me. With no one to talk to, I spent the whole time in silence and solitude - the hermit on a bicycle. Beside looking at the road and admiring the scenery, I prayed all the mysteries of the rosary using my fingers on the handlebar instead of fingering rosary beads. The rosary enables me to contemplate on the life of Jesus: his infancy (joyful mysteries), his public ministry (mysteries of the light), his passion and death (sorrowful mysteries) and the glorious mysteries (resurrection, etc). In between mysteries, I also listen to my favorite music on my mp3 player.
By 9:30 am, it became very hot. I stopped by several roadside stores to eat halo-halo. By noontime I was ascending the winding road to Dalton pass. As the heat became unbearable, I reminded myself that this was nothing compared to the Jericho-Jerusalem ascent through the desert which I did in 2005 when I biked around the Holy Land. I doused water on my jersey and put a wet towel over my head, underneath my helmet. I kept checking my heart rate monitor to make sure that I won't exceed my safe heart rate level. I reached the summit of Dalton pass at 1:45 pm and immediately had lunch at a roadside restaurant. From there it was all downhill. I noticed that my shifter for the chain-ring wasn't functioning. I continued to pedal as fast as I could so that I can make it for the mass. I reached Bayombong at 4:45 pm after biking for 155 km. Fr. Ted Lazo welcomed me and introduced me to the people at the beginning of the mass. I felt very tired and drowsy after dinner so I just went to bed early.
At 5:30 this morning, I continued my journey. No local bikers accompanied me so I was alone again. Like yesterday, I whiled away the time by praying the rosary and listening to music. It was an easier ride today. The hills were not as steep as yesterday and there were more flat roads. It was again very hot between 9:30 am to 3 pm. I made several halo-halo stops.
I reached Ilagan by 4 pm after biking for 144 km. Fr. Roseller Lora welcomed me. He had been waiting for me since 3 pm. He was worried that I would be late for the 5:15 pm mass. Even if this was a weekday mass, there was a good number of parishioners in attendance.
Like Nueva Viscaya, Isabela is one of the provinces where the NPA guerrillas are very active and where the government forces continue to conduct counter-insurgency operations. In my homily, I once again emphasized the call to stop the war and resume the peace process and address the roots of the armed conflict.
After 18 days, I have covered 1,662 km so far. Each day I feel that I am getting stronger and faster. I don't really feel that exhausted. After a good night's sleep I feel energized and ready to continue my journey.
April 12, 2008
Yesterday, I left Ilagan at 6:30 am after saying goodbye to my host, Fr. Roseller Lora. This was the third day that I was biking alone. I thought this was going to be an easy 80 km ride to Tuguegarao. But there were a lot of rolling hills and the temperature rose to 35 degrees celsius by 9 am. I noticed my coasting speed increasing to 25 kph while my heart rate remained at 105 bpm. Three weeks ago my heart rate would have gone up to 130 bpm at this pace. This was an indication that my heart has become more efficient and I was getting stronger. I stopped by a noodle house along the road at 9:30 and I stopped again an hour later for halo-halo. By then the heat had become unbearable. I reached Tuguegarao just in time for lunch. Msgr. Ben Lasam and his two parochial vicars welcomed me and we had lunch together.
I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and going around the city. I celebrated that 5:15 pm mass. Later in the evening, I went along with Msgr. Ben and the other priests to dinner at a benefactor's house where I met Archbishop Diosdado Talamayan and 7 other priests.
At 5:40 this morning, I continued my journey alone towards Aparri. After biking for 20 km, 4 cyclist caught up with me and asked me if I was the biking the priest. They were members of the Tuguegarao cycling club and they accompanied me as far as Gattaran, 50 km away from Tuguegarao. I continued to bike alone until I reached the town 15 km away from Aparri where I was met by 50 local bikers belonging to the Bikers' Club of Aparri. Among them were local government officials and some policemen and firemen who were members of the club. There were also some women bikers. There were fireworks to welcome us. We biked behind the police patrol car who led us around the town and up to the parish rectory where we were welcomed by Fr. Noel - the parochial vicar who is also a biker. So we finally arrived at 12:15 after biking for 105 km. I had lunch with Fr. Noel and the parish priest, Fr. Flor.
So I have finally reached Aparri after biking for 20 days covering 1850 km. In the evening, Orlando Balisi - the president of the Bikers' Club of Aparri tendered a special dinner in my honor in his home. Fr. Noel and the local bikers were there.
April 14, 2008
I celebrated the 6:30 am mass in Aparri yesterday. Being Sunday the church was packed. By 9:00 am, 30 bikers accompanied me as we biked around the town and crossed the Cagayan river on two pumpboats. We were taking the short-cut to Claveria via Ballesteros. Among those biking with me was Colonel Carillo and Fr. Noel Adolfo. Fr. Noel had been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer of the colon four years ago. He continues to undergo chemotherapy. Instead of waiting passively for his demise, he continues to carry out his priestly ministry and bike everyday.
After reaching the junction of Ballesteros and the Maharlika highway we parted ways - I biked alone to Claveria while the Aparri bikers headed home. Upon reaching Pamplona I had my first flat tire. It took me 30 minutes to fix it. I reached Claveria by around 5 pm I was welcomed by Fr. Fajardo and his fellow SVD priests. Before dinner several local bikers turned up and assured me that they will accompany me the following morning.
After the morning mass in Claveria, I saw many bikers waiting for me outside. There were over 40 of them led by Fr. Tony Dimayuga. Some actually arrived from Laoag last night while other came early. So we departed by 7:30 am together with the 6 Claveria bikers who went as far as the boundary. As we reached the boundary, more bikers from Ilocos joined us including 3 more priests. Upon reaching the first barangay of Pagudpud, we were welcomed by the local people waving flaglets and accompanied by a band. They prepared some snacks for us. It was actually Fr. Alex and some member of the Redemptorist mission team in the area who organized the reception. Fr. Alex joined us on his roadbike was we continued cycling towards Laoag. We reached Laoag by 5 pm. The parish priest welcomed us and prepared a merienda for the bikers. Later, I biked to the bishop's residence and was welcomed by Bishop Sergio Utleg.
So far I have already covered 2070 km. Tomorrow is a rest day.
April 16, 2008
I woke up late yesterday morning, this being my rest day. After breakfast, I did my laundry and later gave a brief talk about my advocacy to the Laoag clergy who were meeting at the bishop's residence. I then biked downtown and had my bike checked-up at the Ilocos Cycle Center. I also bought an extra tire tube. Upon knowing of my identity as the biking priest, the owner did not ask for payment. He also gave me a cycling jersey and had my picture taken with him and his wife.
I had lunch with Fr. Alex and Bro. Dodong (my fellow Redemptorists) and the lay missionaries working in the Laoag diocese. Before the mass I was interviewed by the ABS-CBN tv crew. After the mass I had dinner with Bishop Utleg and Msgr. Paulie and the parochial vicar.
At 5:30 this morning, I left Laoag accompanied by Bishop Utleg, Fr. Anthony Dimayuga and 5 other bikers. We were followed by an ABS-CBN tv crew. The bishop and his group biked with me as far as Badoc - the boundary between Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte which was 43 km away from Laoag. After saying goodbye, I biked the next 100 km alone. It was exhausting especially because I had to face the headwinds alone and because of the heat. There were some continuous climbs 23 km before Bangued. I reached Bangued at 3:30 pm and was welcomed by 3 members of the Abra biking club who informed me that they will accompany me tomorrow as far as Malibcong. At 5 pm, I concelebrated the mass with Fr. Andres and preached about the Gospel of Life and Peace.
April 17, 2008
I left Bangued at 5.40 a.m. accompanied by 5 Abra bikers with a support vehicle and 4 motorbike escorts. The first 3 hours was easy gradual ascent on paved winding road. Then the climbs became steeper on rough gravel roads. The rains fell at 3pm by the time we reached the Malibcong welcome arch. The Abra bikers loaded their bikes on the support vehicle and returned home. I biked the remaining 10 km to Malibcong alone. What followed was just terrible. The road was wet and slippery and the tires were covered in mud. While on a long steep descent I crashed and my knee was bruised. I arrived in Malibcong by 5 pm and was welcomed by Fr. John Bala - an Indonesian SVD priest. Upon seeing the bruises on my knee, he volunteered to apply his homemade oil.
Malibcong is the hometown of Fr. Conrado Balweg - the SVD priest who joined the NPA guerrillas during the martial law era. After the fall of Marcos, he came down from the hills and entered into a peace agreement with the Aquino government. He formed a break-away group the Cordillera People's Liberation Army. Several years later, he was killed by his former comrades led by his brother. The NPA continues to be strong in the area. The culture of violence and death persists.
April 18, 2008
I concelebrated with Fr. John at the 6 am mass. After the mass I met some of the elders of the village and had picture-taking with them.
By 8.30 am, I was biking along the Abra-Kalinga highway. The road was just terrible - loose sharp rocks on steep climbs and descents. I did a lot of walking with my bike. It was very exhausting but the view along the Balbalasang road was stunning. By 5.15 pm I reached Bolantoy, Balbalan. I had only covered 54 km and I was still 35 km away from Lubuagan - another 4 hrs of biking. I stopped by a store and asked if there was any nearby parish rectory where I could stay for the night. The owner - Joy - offered hospitality which I immediately accepted. She said it would be too difficult and dangerous to bike to Lubuagan in the dark. She told me that 4 priests had been killed there over the years (the last one killed was Fr. Francis - an SVD Indonesian priest). Joy also suggested that I should just bypass Lubuagan and instead take the jeep from the Pasil junction to Tinglayan. It appears that the culture of death reigns in this part of the Cordilleras.
April 19, 2008
As usual I left at dawn after my morning prayer and meditation. After just 5 min of biking I had another flat tire. It took 20 min to fix it. There was a lot of descents until I reached Pasil. Then I did a lot of climbing. I kept looking for the junction to Lubuagan. I was considering Joy's suggestion. By 9.30 am I stopped by a place where there were vendors selling coconut juice and delicacies. It was there I found out that I was following the road to Tabuk – wrong way. I felt dejected. I had to retrace my steps for 10 km and I wouldn't be able to reach Bontoc before dark. I was tempted to ride a jeepney to Bontoc. After waiting for a while. I decided to bike back to the Lubuagan junction. I was worried about my safety and pedaled as fast as I could everytime I saw some people on the road. I reached Lubuagan by noon-time. After lunch with the parish priest I continued biking until I reached Tinglayan by 4 pm. I decided not to continue to Bontoc and instead sought hospitality from the parish priest - Fr. Loy.
April 20, 2008
I left Tinglayan early this morning. As I biked along the narrow mountain roads, I saw the rice terraces below. I stopped several times to gaze at their beauty. The roads got better as I was nearing Bontoc. Being late for a day already, I was wondering if I should continue onward to Abatan - which is over 60 km away or just take the afternoon off in Bontoc. When I reached Bontoc at 11:30 am, I decided to just rest and prepare myself for the ascent to the highest highway in the country - the Halsema Highway.
I was welcomed by Fr. Vento - the parochial vicar. I will concelebrate with him during the 4:30 pm mass.
The last four days have been the toughest and most challenging legs of this journey. I was alone most of the time. I had to confront my fears. The limit of my endurance was tested and I survived. Another long and tough day awaits for me tomorrow.
One of the lessons that I learned these past days is that I should be flexible. I should not push myself just to follow a fixed time-table which cannot be followed. Anyway, I can make up for my lost time tomorrow.
After 28 days, I have already covered 2,481 km. I'm halfway there.
April 22, 2008
It was still dark when I left Bontoc yesterday morning. I felt fresh and ready to tackle the Halsema highway since I had a half-day rest on Sunday afternoon. The first 18 km was easy biking on level road. But after Sabangan, the climbing began and it went on and on for four hours until I reached Mt. Data. From there it was downhill to Abatan. A police car met me as I entered Abatan at noontime. The police officer welcomed me and led me to the parish church. There the members of the parish pastoral council and the mayor's representative welcomed me.
After a quick lunch with them, I continued biking led by the police car up to the outskirt of the town. As I started my ascent towards the highest point of Halsema, the rains poured and the icy winds came. I put on my Northface rainjacket to keep myself dry and warm. After another four hours of biking I reached Sayangan, at 7400 ft above sea level the highest point of the Philippine highway system. Since it was 5:30 pm and the fog and rain darkened the surrounding, I was wondering if I should continue or just stay overnight in the nearby parish. I decided to go on since I still have 50 km to go and most of it would be downhill. With the fog, visibility was just 30 meters so I slowed down and put on my headlamp and my warning backlight. By 6:45 the rain had stopped and it was getting dark. I continued to bike in the dark with the moon and my headlamp showing me the way. There was still some climbing to do 27 kilometers before Baguio. What bothered me were the dogs that barked and ran after me so many times as I passed various barrios and towns. I had to increase my pace and shout at them every time they came after me. I reached Baguio at 10:00 pm, 17 hours after I left Bontoc. I had covered 147 km along the toughest and highest highway of the country. I was welcomed by Fr. Ben and brought to the bishop' residence where I had late supper before going to bed.
This has been the longest day of my journey. I was supposed to cover it in two days (Bontoc-Abatan, Abatan-Baguio) but I decided to do it in one day so that I can catch up with my schedule which had been delayed by the Abra-Kalinga harsh road conditions. Besides, I assured myself that I had taken a half-day rest beforehand and I will have the whole day today for rest. After the Cordillera legs, the rest of the journey will be a breeze.
So today is rest and recovery day. I will celebrate the Eucharist at the Cathedral at 5:15 this afternoon.
April 24, 2008
I came down from Baguio yesterday morning along the Marcos Highway. It was mostly downhill riding for over 40 km. Upon reaching Agoo, I was met by 2 bikers of OCHO who accompanied me as far as the junction towards Dagupan. I was glad to see the sea again after being in the mountains for almost a week. It was a relaxing ride until I was 20 km to Alaminos. By then the heat became unbearable and there were some climbs. I felt weak. I had to stop several times and rest under the shade. I was met by 4 motorbike escorts 15 km before Alaminos. . With 10 km to go, over 30 bikers belonging to WESTPAC led by Capt. Perilla and Fr. Ed welcomed me and biked with me up to the Cathedral. I celebrated the 5:15 pm mass with three priests concelebrating. After the mass they brought me to the pier where we could view the hundred islands. I had supper with Bishop Marlo and some priests afterwards.
Early this morning 10 local bikers accompanied me as far as Sta. Cruz, 60 km from Alaminos, where over 20 motorcycle escorts of the Kabayan were waiting for me. After snacks we proceeded to Iba, another 60 km to go. This time I was the lone biker accompanied by 20 escorts on motorbikes. Along the way, we met cyclists who were racing from Iba to St. Cruz and back. People along the road probably thought that I was leading the race but after a while, the cyclists passed me. The afternoon sun became unbearable and I once again felt exhausted. I had to stop several times to rest. I had another flat tire which I quickly fixed. We reached Iba by 2 pm, and were welcomed by Fr. Noriel. After a short rest, I celebrated the 5:15 pm mass.
Today, I celebrate the 27th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood.
April 26, 2008
I left Iba at 6 am yesterday accompanied by 20 Kabayan Motorbike escorts. We reached Olongapo at 10:00 am and proceeded to the Columban college where we were welcomed by the school officials and given snacks. At 10:45 the Kabayan bikers went back to Iba while I continued biking towards Bataan. At 12:15 I reached Roosevelt park and was welcomed by a group of bikers, police motorbike escorts, Knight Riders and provincial tourism officials. A large streamer was prominently displayed welcoming me. After a brief lunch, we proceeded towards Balanga. There were more streamers displayed at each town that we passed.
More bikers joined us including Abby and her friend Arlene. Abby, a member of the Pinoy MtBikers forum had taken a leave from her work to join me. Even after biking for over 6 hours, I felt energized biking beside the pretty lady bikers. We reached Balanga at 3 pm and was welcomed by the parish priest, Fr. Perry, who had organized everything. At 5:15 pm, I concelebrated the Eucharist with Fr. Perry and preached the Gospel of Life and peace to a church that was full. After the mass, we went to Bishop Socrates Villegas' residence and had dinner with him and Msgr. Romy Banaban. I was impressed by Bishop's Villegas simplicity and his support. After dinner, he gave me an envelope with a rosary and a generous amount for my traveling expenses.
Early this morning at 5 am, Abby was on hand to say goodbye. She couldn't bike with me to Manila as she planned since she was still recovering from a cold. There was one lone road biker who joined me as I left Balanga - Jojo. After an hour four more bikers joined us until San Fernando, Pampanga. Then I continued to bike alone towards Manila. I was was nearing Bonifacio monument, I was drenched by a heavy downpour. I continued biking until I reached the CBCP compound at 3 pm, in time for the press conference organized by the staff of Msgr. Pepe Quitorio, of the CBCP media relations office. I read the content of the letter that I was going to deliver to Malacanang. After the presscon, I proceeded to Baclaran where I was welcomed by my confreres. Bobby, a member of the Pinoy MtBikers arrived later after trying to catch up with me.
April 27, 2008
I celebrated the 6:00 mass in Baclaran this morning. At 8:00 am, I biked to Malacanang accompanied by 8 bikers and the media. The vehicles of GMA7 and ABC were stopped at the checkpoint. A soldier approached me and asked if I was the biking priest. When I told him that I would like to deliver the letter to the president, he told us back down. More soldiers, marines and policemen arrived and blocked the entrance towards Malacanang. A firetruck was being filled with water. There was a tense atmosphere. After waiting for a long time, an officer of the Presidential Security Group came and told me that we could not come in. I asked him if he could assure me that the letter which I was giving him can reach the president. After he promised that it will be given to her, I then decided that it was time to go. So we biked back to Baclaran with a police car tailing us and making sure that we wouldn't go back to Malacanang.
Here is the content of the letter to the president which I read yesterday during the press conference at the CBCP media center:
Dear Madam President,
Peace be with you!
I am a 54 year old Catholic priest who is biking around the country – from Davao to Aparri via the Bukidnon, Bohol, Cebu, Negros, Panay and Mindoro and back to Davao via Cordillera, Bicol, Samar, Leyte and Eastern Mindanao. This is a 56-day journey covering over 5000 km.
In many churches all over the country, I preach the Good News of Life and Peace in a land where the culture of death, violence and corruption prevails. Some of the manifestations of this culture of death are: the continuing armed conflict in the countryside, the extrajudicial killings, and the destruction of the environment. The rampant graft and corruption which the CBCP has condemned as “death dealing” perpetuates this culture of death and violence.
Eight years ago, I also biked across the country preaching a similar message. When President Estrada was ousted by people power and you assumed office, I was so happy and I thought it would no longer be necessary for me to bike around the country again and preach in the churches to condemn the culture of death and corruption. In your inaugural address you promised to bring about an era of new politics that would put an end to the culture of corruption and that would bring about lasting peace based on justice. I expected the peace negotiations between the government and the NDF and MILF to go forward and a peace agreement would be reached.
Now as I look at our situation I am filled with disappointment and indignation. After seven years under your administration, what your promised remain a dream.
The culture of death persists. The armed conflict continue to escalate as the peace negotiations between the government and the NDF have been abandoned and you adopt an all out war policy aimed at ending the insurgency problem within the next two years. There is still no peace agreement between the Government and the MILF in spite of the ceasefire.
The extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances have increased under your regime. The Alston report lay the blame on forces within your government that have used these killings as part of the counter-insurgency strategy.
The environmental destruction caused by logging and mining threatens the life and health of the people continues. The forests are fast disappearing. The air, land, seas and rivers are polluted.
The corrupt patronage politics continues to prevail. The Philippines remains one of the most corrupt countries in Asia. As the CBCP pastoral letter pointed out – there is corruption in all levels of society- from top to bottom. Your husband and cronies have been implicated in these corruption scandals – such as the ZTN broadband deal. Many believe that you yourself are at the center of this web of corruption. There are allegations that you have used the executive privilege and EO 464 to cover up cases of corruption. Whistle-blowers like Jun Lozada have been harassed.
Madam President you claimed that God has destined you for the presidency. You appear as a pious woman. You go to mass everyday. You constantly ask for the blessing of the bishops, priests and religious..
Yet you stand accused of being an evil person who is filled with greed for power and wealth, who cheated in the elections, who brutally suppresses dissent and who engages in covering up anomalies and corruption carried out by those close to you, who favors the mining companies over the welfare of the people and the environment.
You have become so unpopular, Your approval rating is very low and many are calling for your resignation. There is anger and discontent among the people.
It is difficult to reconcile your piety and your behavior. Because of this many perceive you as a hypocrite.
Even if I wish you would resign I will not ask you to step down because I know it will be futile. You intend to hold on to power and finish your term.
The worst thing that can happen to you is to spend the rest of your life in shame and disgrace knowing that you have been judged by your people as a greedy, corrupt, deceitful, power-hungry president no better than Marcos or Estrada.
Madam President you can use the remaining years of your presidency to redeem yourself. You can still live up to the promises you made after you were installed by people power.
The following are my appeal:
1. Abandon your all out war policy and resume the peace process with the NDF and the MILF.
2. Investigate thoroughly the extrajudicial killings, bring the perpetrators to justice, and put an end to these killings
3. Protect the environment by implementing a total log ban, repealing the mining act and banning aerial spraying
4. Allow the investigation of corruption to continue even if it involves people close to you. Do not appeal to executive privilege in these investigations, and come up with stringent measures to prevent corruption in all levels of government.
Madam President, do not allow yourself to be dominated by the dark side but live in the light. Instead of perpetuating the culture of death and corruption, may you promote the culture of life, peace and good governance.
Think of what legacy you are going to leave behind. Remember, you will face the judgment of history and of God.
April 29, 2008
I Left Baclaran at 5:25 am yesterday, guided by Jojo and accompanied by Ed Bisco and Mel. Ed is a 56 year-old retired US Navy serviceman who lives in Sorsogon and who came all the way to Manila to bike with me on the Manila-Sorsogon legs. Mel is the Pinoy Mtbiker who met me in Tagaytay 3 weeks ago and who decided to come along for the Manila-Lucena leg. Jojo biked with us as far as Alabang and turned back. It was mostly a pleasant bike ride until the rains came at 1:15 pm. We had to take cover for a while until we decided to brave the rains. We reached Lucena at 3 pm after biking for 130 km. We were welcomed by Fr. Alex who learned about my coming only yesterday. The parish priest that I wrote to had been transferred so they were not expecting me. I just concelebrated at th 6 pm and I didn't even had the chance to preach.
Early this morning I continued my journey accompanied by Ed. Mel returned to Manila by bus. After 25 km of easy riding, we ascended the steep Eme mountain road. It was only 3 km uphill followed by 3 km downhill. I noticed that my rear disk brake was very noisy and was no longer working. Good thing the front brake was still ok. We reached Calauag by 12:30 pm. We were welcomed by Fr. Barreto who only learned about my coming yesterday. Again, the parish priest I wrote to had been transferred, so we weren't expected. There was also no regular afternoon mass, so no chance to preach. After some rest, we went to the bike shop and had my brakes fixed. The rear tire was also changed as it was worn out. The bike-shop owner was excited since he saw me on TV last night.
May 1, 2008
Ed and I left Calauag at 5:15 yesterday morning. The road to Daet was like a roller coaster - a series of slow uphill climbs followed by rapid downhill descent. As we neared Daet, there were more ascents. We were caught by the rain twice. I didn't bother to wear my Northface jacket. I loved the rain on my face and my wet jersey kept me cool. I continued to pray the mysteries of the rosary during the entire ride. We reached Daet by 2 pm after biking for 119 km. We were accommodated at the bishop's residence. I concelebrated at the 5:30 pm mass at the cathedral chapel and we had supper with the Bishop Garcera and several priests. I went to bed early. I kept coughing and blowing my nose during the night. My cough and cold have been bothering me the last three days.
We were on the road by 5:20 this morning. While there were still some steep uphill climbs, there were more downhill riding. We passed the famed "bituka nga manok" (chicken’s entrail) road - it is a road that looks like a chicken's entrails from above. At 9 am, we stopped in Sipocot. After 20 minutes of rest stop and brunch, we continued biking. Ed was suffering from stomach cramps for 30 minutes and we had to slow down. At 12 noon, when we reached the checkpoint near the welcome arch of Naga, the ABS-CBN vehicle and TV crew were waiting for us. After interviewing me, they guided us to the cathedral where we were welcomed by the parochial vicar, Fr. Rex.
After lunch and some rest, Ed and I proceeded to a bike shop to have our bikes checked. The front disk break has not been working.
I celebrated the Eucharist at 5:30 pm and as usual preached about the Gospel of Life & Peace.
After a half-day of biking, I feel fine. The cough and cold seem to be gone. So far, I have covered 3,620 km. Tomorrow will be a very long day - Naga to Sorsogon.
May 2, 2008
Early this morning at five, three local bikers came to join Ed Bisco and I when we left Naga - Eric, Elmer and Ed Rabago. Eric Eliazar, the best bike mechanic in Naga, had repaired my bike last night and he joined us for 20 km together with Elmer. Ed Rabago decided to join us as far as Catarman. Along the way some people recognized me and greeted me - must be the effect of seeing me on TV.
As we neared Legazpi, I gazed at Mayon volcano. Unfortunate the cone was covered with clouds so I could not see her in her resplendent beauty. By 2 pm, we were met by Fr. Benny who led us towards Sorsogon. Seven km before the city we were met by 16 bikers of CYCLOS - a local biking club. A police patrol car was also waiting for us and led us with the siren blaring, announcing our arrival.
We reached Sorsogon at 3 pm and we were welcomed by Bishop Arturo Bastes, SVD at the clergy house. Agnes, the secretary led us to our rooms and allowed us to park our bicycles in here office. Later, the TV crew of a local TV station came over and interviewed me. I celebrated the Eucharist and preached at the Fatima parish at 5:15 pm.
I have biked 3,772 km so far.
May 3, 2008
Fifteen Sorsogon bikers belonging to CYCLUS accompanied us this morning as we continued our journey to Matnog. We were supposed to depart at 5 am but we left 30 minutes later because Ed Bisco was unable to wake up on time. But it was a blessing in disguise since by the time we reached the next town, the rains had already stopped. We would have been caught by the rain if we left on time. Six bikers turned back to Sorsogon when we reached Juban - they had to report to work.
When we reached Irosin, 10 bikers belonging to the Irosin Cyclists'Association were waiting for us and accompanied us up to Matnog. We reached Matnog by 9 am, just in time to catch the ferry boat that took us to Allen, Northern Samar. We arrived in Allen at 10:30 am. While having our lunch, nine bikers from Catarman arrived. After a brief rest, we left for Catarman. We arrived at 2:30 pm and was welcomed by Fr. Eruen.
So far, I have already biked 3,890 km. I have already started the Eastern Visayas legs of my journey. Ed Bisco and Ed Rabago will be going back to Luzon tomorrow and the Catarman bikers will bike with me as far as Laoang - 48 km from Catarman. From there I will be biking alone along an area which, like Sorsogon, has been affected by the armed conflict between the government forces and the New People's army. Its environment has been damaged by logging and mining. This is an area where the culture of death, violence and corruption reign.
May 4, 2008
I was still groggy when I concelebrated and preached at the 5:00 morning mass. I was not able to sleep the night before - perhaps due to the caffeine in my blood stream (I drank too much Coke) and/or the noise coming from the homecoming party nearby. I felt I was in no condition to bike. So, instead of leaving for Gamay after the mass, I decided to sleep and rest the whole morning.
I left at 1 pm accompanied by 5 Catarman bikers who biked with me as far as Laoang. I was met by Bryan Gorgonia - a biker who joined up in Allen and who lives in Palapag. We had to take 2 pumpboat rides before we reached Palapag at 5 pm after biking for 62 km. Since Gamay was still 40 km away, I decided to sleep at the parish rectory in Palapag.
May 5, 2008
At 5 am, I continued my journey but I was not alone. Bryan had decided to bike with me around Samar and up to Tacloban. The road from Palapag to Gamay reminded me of the Cordilleras. But we only suffered the bad roads and steep climbs for four hours. We reached Lapinig by 10:15 am and chartered a pumpboat that took us to Arteche. We were welcomed by Thelma - the vice mayor who is a distant relative - and had lunch with the mayor whose wife is also distant relative.
We were accompanied by an ambulance and 2 police motorcycle escorts up to Oras. We reached Oras at 3 pm and met the parish priest (Msgr. Japson) and then proceeded to the residence of Judge Gorgonio Alvarez - another distant relative. After taking a shower and some snacks, I walked around the town to see for myself my grandfather's birthplace. My relative, Fr. Joberto Picardal, arrived before seven and we had supper and some drinks with the judge before going to bed.
May 6, 2008
No biking today. I slept until 7 am. At 9 am, Fr. Joberto brought me to the town's radio station where I gave an interview. We then proceeded to the parish church to celebrate the Eucharist at 10 am. The church was packed with members of the Picardal clan. They had scheduled a clan reunion in time for my rest day in Oras. After the mass we had a festive meal at the parish hall. Unfortunately, the seminarian who took the pictures accidentally erased all the pictures that had been taken of the affair. I spent the rest of the afternoon in bed.
May 7, 2008
Bryan and I left Oras accompanied by two bikers - both named Roger. The other Roger (Percol) is actually a major in the Philippine Army who is the executive commanding officer of the Army battalion near Oras. I was worried we might be ambushed by the NPA but he told me that the road between Oras and Boronggan was secure. We were joined by 4 other bikers when we reached Taft. We had breakfast with the mayor whose wife is also a Picardal. We continued biking accompanied by the mayor's wife with the mayor's car as support vehicle.
When we reached San Julian 10 bikers from Borongan joined us. We arrived at Borongan at 10:45 and proceeded to the radio station DYES where I was interviewed. Then we had lunch at my relative's house. After lunch, the Oras and Taft bikers turned back while the Borongan bikers continued biking with us up to the boundary of the next town.
We reached Llorente at 4 pm after biking for 130 km and were met by 6 motorcycle escorts and a convoy of pedicab drivers who accompanied us as we biked around the town. When we reached the parish church, we were welcomed by my relative - Fr. Joberto Picardal - the parish priest of Oras and his parochial vicar - Fr. Jerome. We had the concelebrated mass at 5:30 pm followed by dinner at the parish hall.
May 8, 2008
We left at 5 am this morning accompanied by 6 motorcycle escorts. Bryan did a wonderful work of setting the pace as I drafted behind him. We were averaging 25 km per hour on level roads. After 3 hours of biking, the bishop's car passed by and stopped. Then Bishop Crispin Varquez came down and greeted us. He told me that the diocese supports the Bike for Life and Peace. Since he still had a fiesta mass to celebrate, he excused himself and drove on.
At noon time, as we were nearing Basey, we met Rudy – the German paraplegic- who was riding his hand-powered tricycle. He had been riding his trike from Hilongos to Tacloban yesterday and from Tacloban to Basey to meet up with me (he joined me during the Cebu-Santander leg and he told me that he would meet me in Samar). When we reached San Juanico bridge, there were over 50 Tacloban bikers who met us and biked with us. They were mostly members of the One Way biking club and the MTBU. We were escorted by the Kabalikat Civicom motorcycle and bicycle riders and led by a firetruck. We reached Tacloban at 3 pm, after biking 160 km. The total distance I have covered so far: 4,330 km.
I celebrated the 5:30 pm mass and then had an early dinner with my confreres - Frs. Nono and Fil.
May 9, 2008
Over 40 bikers accompanied me to Ormoc this morning. They belong to the various biking groups in Tacloban: One Way, Bureau of Fire Protection, TORBO, and MTBC. We were also escorted by the members of the Kabilikat Civicom. Among those who biked 107 km distance were 3 bikers over 70. The oldest was Paulino who is 75 years old. He is indeed an inspiration to me. I hope that when I reach 75 or even 85 I will still be biking around the country.
The road to Ormoc was mostly flat except for 2 uphill climbs which left me a bit exhausted. We reached Ormoc by 12:30 pm and was welcomed by Msgr. Bernie Pantin - the parish priest. He prepared lunch for the bikers.
I had a good rest in the afternoon after giving an interview to Power FM radio. I celebrated and preached at the 5:30 pm mass with Msgr. Pantin concelebrating.
May 10, 2009
At six this morning I started biking to Hilongos accompanied byMsgr. Bernie Pantin, Nollette and Rex Tan. We passed by Rex's bike shop to have a quick look at the bike and he also gave me a cycling jersey and Anatomic short. It was a leisurely ride on flat highway along the sea. It was perfect weather for biking, with the sun hidden by the clouds. Msgr. Bernie was planning to bike only as far as Baybay - 45 km from Ormoc - but he decided to bike on to Hilongos after our breakfast stop. After some time, Nolette took the road that led to Tacloban.
Before reaching Inopacan we were met by 10 Hilongos bikers and 2 motorbike escorts belonging to the Hilongos Cycling One bike club. Among them wasBoy Sua and his three children - Rence, Christian and Cielo. Cielo is a 10 year old girl who rode a tandem bike with her father. It was delightful to see father and daughter pedaling one bike.
When we reached the entrance of Hilongos town, a welcome streamer for me was prominently displayed in the middle of the road. We reached the parish at almost noon-time after biking for 87 km. Frs. Van and Roxas welcomed us and we had lunch with them. After lunch, Msgr. Bernie rode back to Ormoc on his support vehicle while Rex biked back. I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing.
May 12, 2008
Yesterday, I concelebrated and preached at the 5:30 mass this morning at the Hilongos parish church. Being Pentecost Sunday, I emphasized on the role of the Holy Spirit as the source of empowerment, courage and wisdom as we carry out the mission of proclaiming the Gospel of the risen Lord. I have experienced this throughout my bicycle journey around the country as I preached the Gospel of Life and Peace amidst the culture of death and violence.
After the mass I changed into my cycling outfit and then continued my journey accompanied by over 40 bikers from Hilongos belong to the various cycling clubs: Hilongos Cycling One led by Mr. Ceniza, Team Pedal Trekkers led by Jun Lavides, Hilongos Unified Bikers and Team Boysua. When were reached Sogon, we were joined by over 10 bikers belonging to the Sogod Bay Biking Club. Knowing that the ferry boat was leaving Liloan at 11 am, we biked at a very fast pace - averaging 25-30 km/hr. I was flanked and helped by two very fast bikers whenever we climbed the hills. We reached the Liloan pier at 10:30 after biking 81 km in 3 hrs and 30 min. I got on the ferry boat while the bikers went back to Sogod and Hilongos. The boat left at 1 pm and reached Lipata pier in Surigao after 4 pm. As I biked towards the city I felt the exhaustion and hunger setting in. I stopped by a store for refreshments. I arrived at the cathedral rectory after 5 pm. Good thing I called the day before since they weren't expecting me. The priest I wrote to had been assigned to another place and he didn't inform the new parish priest about my coming.
So today being my rest day, I woke up later than usual - at 6 am. After morning prayer I had my breakfast and then did my laundry. The rest of the day I just relaxed.
This is the 50th day of my bike-tour and so far I have already biked 4614 km. I am back in Mindanao. I still have six more days of biking before I reach Davao. The next five days, I will probably be biking alone - going through some areas that have been devastated by logging and mining, and where the fighting between the NPA and the Government forces continue to rage. I have some apprehensions especially biking along Mangagoy, Cateel, Compostela Valley and Nabunturan roads. Aware of the risks, I continue my journey for life and peace. I am confident that I will reach my destination safe and sound.
What have you accomplished so far? This is the question that I know a lot of people are asking. There are some who probably think that I am just a modern-day Don Quixote riding a bicycle, charging against some windmills and dreaming the impossible dream. I am aware that this bike-tour will not accomplish much - it won't end abortion, the war, the extra-judicial killings, the destruction of the environment, corruption. I don't expect the letter for the president I delivered to Malacanang will make a big impact. All I can hope is that somehow, I have touched the hearts of some people and convinced them that there is something that we can do, no matter how small, to change our society.
On a personal note I have achieved what I thought was impossible at my age and with my heart condition (myocardial ischemia). I will have established a Philippine record which will probably take a long time to break - biking over 5000 km alone from Davao to Aparri and back, going through the toughest roads in Cordilleras, Northern & Eastern Samar and passing by Malacanang without any back-up. This is a route that has not been completed even by a motorized vehicle. And I have lost probably over 20 pounds.
Of course, although this has been a journey that I did alone, I had the support of so many people: my fellow Redemptorists, friends, parish priests, bishops, biking clubs, individual cyclists, motorbike escorts, the media, etc. Above all, I have felt the presence of the One to whom I owe my existence and whose call I have answered. God has been good to me. During those moments when I felt alone, when I crashed in the Cordilleras, or when I was threatened by sickness, I was never alone for He was with me.
May 14, 2008
It was raining when I left Surigao City at 5:30 yesterday morning. I decided to put on my Northface Jacket to keep myself dry. I didn't want to catch cold again. I maintained a fast pace as the rain and wind caressed my face. What a pleasant sensation. I only slowed down as I began my ascent along the mountain overlooking Lake Mainit. The rain stopped by 9 am after ascending the mountain. With only 60 km to go, I increased my pace to 25-30 km per hour. As I reached the bridge before Butuan City, the ABS-CBN TV camera crew aboard their pick-up was waiting for me and took some footages. When I reached the Cathedral rectory at noon time after biking for 121 km in 6 hours, the ABS-CBN newscaster interviewed me. I was welcomed by Fr. Nene Caldoza, the rector of the cathedral and immediately had lunch with some of the priests. I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and preached at the 5:30 pm mass.
After morning prayer, I left Butuan at 6 am and biked at a leisurely pace across the mountains of Agusan del Sur. San Francisco was only 84 kilometers away so there was no need to ride faster. The weather was perfect for biking - cloudy and cool. There were a lot of climbing but also some descents. Along the way I saw this sign which I found very meaningful: "We are judged by what we finish, not what we start." As I reach the end of my journey, I can only agree.
I reached San Francisco at noontime and was welcomed by Fr. Allen, the Carmelite who is the new parish priest. After lunch with the members of the Carmelite community I spent the afternoon washing my clothes and then resting. I am scheduled to preach at the 5:30 pm mass. So far, I have already biked for more than 4,800 km.
Some people have been asking me if the president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, has read my letter. Now I can answer that she has and is taking the letter seriously. The other night, I received a call from an Australian Redemptorist priest based in Baclaran and he told me that an old friend who happens to be a member of the president's cabinet has contacted him and wants to set a meeting with me to discuss the letter. I agreed to meet the guy next week in Baclaran, the night before I depart for Bangkok. So I'll write about it after the meeting takes place. Well, it seems that delivering the letter to Malacanang was not in vain. Of course, I can thanks the media for covering the event and disclosing the content of the letter to the public.
Another day of solo biking tomorrow. I am once again a hermit on a bicycle, meditating and praying as I pedal. Yesterday and today, I prayed in a special way for a biker - Eric Reyes - who is dying of cancer. He texted me yesterday before he was put on a medically induced coma. His friends thought he was lying when he claimed he had cancer.
May 15, 2008
I left San Francisco before 6 am this morning. The first 40 kilometers was a very easy and leisurely ride along a paved highway and cloudy sky. I was averaging 17 km per hour. But the difficult part began after Tagongon. Over 30 km of biking on very rough and hilly terrain which reminded me of Northern/Eastern Samar. My speed was reduced to an average of 8 km per hour - slower than a jogging pace. The rocks were very sharp and I had a flat tire at 11 am as the heat became unbearable. I was able to change the tire tube in 20 minutes.
As I entered Mangagoy, a cyclist named Gabby biked alongside me and we talked for a while. After some refreshment he guided me to the convento and told me that he and some of his friends will bike with me up to Lingig tomorrow. I met Fr. Erwin, the parochial vicar, who invited me for lunch. Later in the afternoon, I met Fr. Florio Falcon - the parish priest.
Fr. Falcon and his fellow priests had courageously denounced PICOP for damaging the environment though the years. The forests have been denuded due to the logging operation. The sea, land and air had been polluted due to its mining operation and its use of hazardous chemicals. Fr. Falcon received some death threats and was even charged in court for libel and for damaging the reputation of the company. He won the case. He continues his crusade against the company.
In my homily during the 5:15 pm mass, I focused on the environmental destruction through logging and mining as part of the culture of death. I said that while it may have provided employment to some and enriched the company and some politicians, it has destroyed the environment and has become a threat to the health and life of the people now and the generations to come.
May 16, 2008
At 5:00 this morning, Fr. Florio brought me to the radio station where I was one of the guests for the program entitled: "Kisaw." The other guests were the leader of the PICOP labor union, the head of the parish social action and the parish disaster committee. Immediately after the program we went back to the parish where Gabby was already waiting.
So we departed at 6:15 am. Gabby biked with me as far as Lingig - 24 km away from Mangagoy. We did a lot of climbing along rough road. We reached Lingig at 8:30 and after breakfast Gabby went back to Mangagoy and I continued my journey alone. After an hour of biking, I stopped by an store in a remote barrio to buy some ice. A woman run to the store to greet me and told me that she just saw me featured on the ABS-CBN TV patrol early this morning. That must have been the footage and the interview done in Butuan a few days ago. A few hours later, two more people riding motorbikes also greeted me - they must have also seen me on TV. I am just amazed how mass media has been a big help throughout this journey for magnifying my "life and peace" advocacy.
The road between Mangagoy and Cateel reminded me of the Kalinga road in the Cordilleras. There were a lot loose sharp rocks and steep climbs. The heat contributed to the exhaustion that I began to feel. I could feel the beginning of cramps on my legs. I had to do a lot of walking especially in the uphill sections. I reached Cateel at 4 pm after biking for 78 km. I was welcomed by the parish priest - Fr. Darwey - and his parochial vicars - Frs. Jojo and Bingbong. I presided and preached at the 5 pm mass. We had dinner of lechon afterwards.
The main issue in this area is logging. Fr. Darwey has been denouncing the logging companies in the area that are denuding the forest. It appears that some local government officials are protecting these logging companies.
May 17, 2008
At 5:30 in the morning, I was on the road again crossing the Cateel mountains. This used to be a forest that has been denuded by the logging companies which have paid off the local government officials, the DENR checkpoints and even the NPA.
There has been a lot of fighting in this area over the last few weeks. Some tribal peoples have already evacuated to Compostela valley. After 20 km of biking, I met heavily armed men in uniform along the way. I wasn't sure whether they were army men or NPA guerrillas. They were very young and mingled with the people. After a while, two helicopters were hovering in the sky.
When I reached Barangay Maglahos, I looked at my cyclocomputer and saw that I had already reached the 5000 km point. I celebrated this moment by eating a piece of bread and drinking gatorade.
After 30 km, the road became more and more rough. I did a lot of steep ascents and descents over loose sharp rocks which reminded me of the Abra-Kalinga road. It was around noontime when I crashed. As I fell to the ground, my head hit a rock and I was lucky my helmet protected my head. My left knee was badly bruised. I felt a pain in my shoulder. I checked my clavicles and was glad nothing was broken. I had another crash ninety minutes later and this time my right knee was bruised. I decided to walk down everytime I made a steep descent.
I reached Compostela Valley at 4:45 pm and bought some fried bananas and pineapple juice. I continued biking until I reached Nabunturan at 6:10 pm after biking for 97 km, I was welcomed by the parish priest -Fr. Medel - and his assistant - Fr. Edwin. I took a shower and then dressed my wounds before dinner. My left knee is still very painful. I hope I will be well enough to bike the last leg of my journey tomorrow.
May 18, 2008
When I woke early this morning, my left knee was swollen and stiff. I was wondering if I could still bike the last leg of my journey. Bending it was so difficult and painful. I limped all the way to the altar as I concelebrated and preached at the 6 am mass in Nabunturan.
During breakfast, a 71 year-old biker named Amancio came in and told me that he would bike with me all the way to Davao if no one else would accompany me. 8 more people arrived and told me they would bike with me within the town and up to Mawab which was 12 km away. They didn’t look like typical bikers with lycra tights and jersey on mountain bikes – they were dressed everyday clothes, riding on old bikes and BMX without any helmets. One was a balut vendor and the other a newspaper vendor. But they were a welcome presence.
Riding the bike was so agonizing - with only the right leg pedaling and the left leg still very stiff and painful. Amancio assured me that after a while, the pain would go away. So we pedaled at a very slow pace wishing the pain would go away. After an hour, I could easily bend my left knee but my left leg didn't have enough strength to pedal. When we reached Mawab, the other bikers returned to Nabunturan. As we crested the second hill, a truck with seven bikers stopped. They were led by Luis - the owner of the 3 MJ bike shop. He placed some ice on my knees and instructed another biker to ride beside me and push my back. As we reached Tagum, more bikers were waiting for us and joined us. We dropped by the Tagum city hall where a bicycle-circuit race was in progress. My arrival was announced and the bikers gave me a warm applause.
We continued our journey and this time there were over 50 bikers accompanying me. Several bikers took turns in assisting me so that I didn't have to do much pedaling. Upon seeing that I wouldn't be alone, Amancio decided to return to Nabunturan.
We arrived at the Redemptorist church grounds at 2:15 pm I was welcomed home by our parish staff and youth. When I looked at my cyclocomputer, I saw that I have already biked a total of 5164.7 km in 56 days. In spite of the pain and thanks to the support of the bikers I have finally finished my journey.
May 20, 2008
Two days after finishing my bike-tour I find myself back in Manila. I took the plane early this afternoon and I am staying here in Baclaran. Tomorrow I fly to Bangkok with two other Redemptorists to attend a meeting.
One of the most frequently asked question is whether the President, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, responded to my letter which I delivered to Malacanang during my bike-tour last April 28. This evening, I had a dinner-meeting with Mr. Ricardo Saludo and Fr. Frank Pidgeon at a Japanese Restaurant in the Mall of Asia. Mr. Saludo is the Cabinet Secretary of the President. He had been asked by the president to respond to my letter. He asked Fr. Pidgeon - an Australian Redemptorist who happens to be his friend - to set the meeting with me.
While eating, I listened to Mr. Saludo explain the president's side which is based on a document he had prepared entitled: "Briefing Materials on National Issues." He focused on two main issues:
1. The NBN-ZTE controversy in which the president and her husband are involved as alleged by Jun Lozada and Joey de Venecia.
2. The Hello Garci controversy in which she had been accused of cheating in the elections.
According to Mr. Saludo the charges of overpricing and bribery in the NBN-ZTE are unproven. Jun Lozada was not abducted but protected. He insisted that the rule of law and due process of should be observed in the investigation of the NBN-ZTE controversy.
Regarding the Hello Garci controversy, there is no evidence that the president ordered Garcillano. The only evidence are the tapes which are illegal and inadmissible in any court of law. No case has even been filed against Garcillano.
In brief, the accusation of corruption and cheating in the election are unproven. There is no hard evidence that would link the president to these scandals or controversies. Therefore, the perception that the president is corrupt and power-hungry is without any basis.
Since he did not discuss the appeals I made in my letter regarding the resumption of the peace negotiations, investigation of extra-judicial killings, and the protection of the environment (total log-ban and repealing the mining act), I asked him what the Arroyo administration is doing about this. He answered that the NDF has set some preconditions which give the impression that it is not really interested in the peace process. He also said that most of those in the list of the so-called victims of extra-judicial killings are fictitious. Regarding the environment he said that the government would like to promote "responsible mining."
After over two hours, Mr. Saludo brought us back to Baclaran. I was grateful that a cabinet secretary of the president went out of his way to meet me and explain the president's side. Mr. Saludo is a decent man. Of course, it was expected that he would defend the president especially against the accusations against her. Yet, I was not fully satisfied with his explanations.
Although, it is true that there are no hard evidence that would link her to corruption and rigging the election, what cannot be denied is that under her administration, the culture of violence, death and corruption persist. Her government has pursued an all-out war policy against the NDF/NPA which it hopes to defeat in two years. The extra-judicial killings and forced disappearances continue. The destruction of the environment by logging and mining continue. Corruption continues to affect all levels of society.
My bike journey may be overr. Yet my advocacy for life and peace continues. This is going to be a journey of a life-time.