San Pascual and Guinarona: Two sides of the same coin

Guinarona is San Pascual Baylon and San Pascual Baylon is Guinarona.  Just ask around, the truism speaks for itself. That’s why, with the recent disappearance of San Pascual’s image, on June 12, 2010 to be exact, it is as if Guinaronanhons have lost their moorings.  Such drama had happened before, and each time, after a hiatus, San Pascual comes back, not without much hullabaloo.

The century old San Pascual Baylon image in Guinarona. (Fabian-Ausa)

San Pascual Baylon came to Guinarona in 1903.  Much of Leyte then was being ravished by a severe cholera epidemic and Guinarona was the epicenter of it all.  Someone had suggested that the people pool their resources to purchase San Pascual Baylon’s image in Manila, and the epidemic would go away.  And so they did.  And sure enough, like an angel of death, Mr. Cholera packed up his belongings and went away, never to return.

The first fiesta for San Pascual was held May 17, 1903, with Don Alfonso Maray as hermano mayor.  It has been 107 years since, and as far as we know, there has been no centennial celebration–as in nada.  Could a delayed centennial gig be okay?

The Guinaronanhons care for their fiesta so much that they would prepare for next year’s right after the last.  A pig or two, which they call “haray” would be nurtured and cared for, and the animal would be huge in one year.  Others would allot a carabao for the same purpose, and yes, the mandatory “bahalina” (coconut wine) would also be collected and aged.  And could we add that the rest of the year Guinaronanhons are famished and their caloric intake spike only on May 16 and 17,  San Pascual’s feast days?

And oh, how we looked forward to doing our splurge shopping for fiesta things at Lee’s Grocery in Tacloban, a good 38 kilometers away.  Mother and kids would then arrange the “panakot” on top of the “aparador”, and the smell. . .oh, how we loved the variegated smell from the panakot, which would permeate each corner of the house!

As for San Pascual Baylon, he is the highest earner among the saints in Leyte.  Thousands flock to his shrine in Guinarona to light up candles, have their prayers said, and of course, to deposit their tithes or donations, which would amount to thousands of pesos on a single day.  No wonder, for many a time,  San Pascual’s image has figured in some tug-of-war between Guinaronanhons and the priesthood–and outright thievery, as is the latest case.

Until San Pascual comes back, the whole will not be complete; there will only be uneasiness among Guinaronanhons, for it is as if their soul is on a wanderlust.

The case for coconut waste utilization, I

Coconut de-husking in GUINARONA.

Let’s have a focus on the coconut and the new and revolutionary things that we can do with it.

Hereabouts, we call the coconut,  the tree of life, for the reason that every part of it is of beneficial use to man.

Even as the country is a major coconut producer, the Philippines is most of the time stymied in revolutionary ways of utilizing the coconut, nay, the thinking-out-of-the-box approach in dealing with this abundant and sustainable resource.  For instance, billions and billions of liters of coconut water is just thrown away and is never brought to use.

Then, with the exception of India, the coconut husk in the Philippines is just another fuel to dry the copra, and the excess, which is very considerable, is just left to rot away or left on the ground, only to be the habitat for rats and other vermin.

Which begs the question:  Can’t we use the coconut husk—it being light and airy– as base for an organic fertilizer?  Indeed we can, and let us count the ways.

Wikipedia rendering of the layers of the coconut

Wikipedia has this  illustration re the parts of the coconut fruit.  The coconut husk skin is called exocarp, which is waxy and is therefore difficult to decompose.  On the other hand, the inner part of the husk, the mesocarp, is softer and watery—and this is the part that can decompose faster, given the right mix.

Therefore, to accelerate its use as fertilizer base, there has to be a substance, nay fungi, that will hasten the husk’s decomposition.  And if you go to a logged forest, you would find fungi sticking out of dead and decomposing logs—these are called Saprophytic fungiand can be tissue-cultured in agar medium in the laboratory  Once we have the culture spawn, we can now apply it on the chopped coconut husk pile, not unlike we do in mushroom culture.  Because of the spread of the saprophytic fungi in the pile, the whole thing will decompose twice as fast as without it.

The second phase of the process is now to age the husk compost with a combination of bat guano, chicken manure, humus and marble dust, which is plentiful and free in marble-cutting factories.  The aging of approximately one month is finished and the fertilizer now undergoes heat treatment to sterilize it.  Then, presto, we now have a top-of-the-line organic fertilizer, which we can further standardize for N-P-K- according to use.  Such fertilizer we can package and sell at the Supermarket  or in bulk to any comer.

The why’s of sustainability series V: Why coconut yogurt?

Coconut yogurt is a complete food

At 94 million, the Philippines’ population is a LOT compared to its small land area.  We have the quantity but quality is a different banana altogether, i.e. the health and longevity of our people.  It has been established that health and longevity are a function of a healthy diet.  And the cornerstone of a healthy diet is the ingesting of fermented foods, i.e. foods that have been fermented by various beneficial lactobacilli, foremost of which are the Acidophillus and Bifidus strains.  Just read up on Bulgaria, where yogurt took its roots.

Too, a healthy people are a productive people.

When we were young, our teacher would always yell at us, “Use your coconut!”, when we got nowhere to solving a problem.  In the literal sense, however, we have the coconut, the perfect resource for yogurt making.  So why, indeed, won’t we use our coconut?

Granted, we have the Yakult or liquid yogurt concocted by the Japanese.  But because it is an acquired taste, Yakult is not mainstream, as in part of everyday diet.  In the scheme of healthy things, Yakult’s impact is peripheral.

In 1908, the Russian Nobel Prize Laureate Ellie Metchnikoff first hypothesized that a high concentration of lactobacilli in intestinal flora were important for health and longevity in humans.  Since then, the beneficial strains identified were: Lactobacillus acidophilus, L. casei, L. bulgaricus, L. plantarum, L. salivarius, L. rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium bifidum, B. longum, B. infantis and S. thermophilus. They are used in the production of yogurt, various fermented milk products and dietary supplements.

The coconut is an ideal substrate for lactobacilli culture, with a view to establishing quality health.  Below is the analysis comparison between coconut milk (expressed with coconut water) and whole cow’s milk, 3.25% milk fat.

Nutrition_Facts_Label-coconut milk

Nutrition_Facts_Label-whole cow’s milk, 3.25 fat

To make coconut yogurt, you must first have a yogurt starter, consisting of:  coconut milk expressed in coconut water, Lactobacilli tablet (available at  health food stores), chopped cabbage and chopped young giant fern shoots (the rationale being that these materials have endemic lactobicilli.)  The starter must not be less than 10% of the whole yogurt batch. Just incubate the the starter plus the the main substrate at 110 Degrees F (43.33 Degrees C).   Caution:  So as not to make the yogurt unnecessisarily sour, stop incubation at 4 hours.  Sugar and natural fruit flavors can then be added according to taste.   Refrigerate until use.

We must inculcate the consumption of coconut yogurt in our young.  That way, we will have the QUALITY population for nation-building.

The why’s of sustainability series IV: Why coconut integration for Leyte-Samar?

As you may have known, the Philippines is one of the world’s biggest coconut producers.  As a region, meanwhile, Leyte-Samar is the Philippine’s second largest coconut producer– that is, after Northern Mindanao.

At an average output for the Philippines of 12 million tons of copra per year, this translates to 48 billion nuts.  This is also equivalent to  2.8 billion kilos of oil.  On the other hand, 48 billion nuts yield 16 billion liters of coconut water, which is mostly thrown away as waste.

At a production share of 30 percent, Leyte-Samar produces 14 billion nuts per year, equivalent to 0.84 billion kilos of oil and 4.7 billion liters of coconut water.  Now, so much has been said about coconut integration, but this was more of a lip service on the part of our policy makers.

We therefore propose that like-minded individuals or groups take up coconut integration to the hilt, even only on a pilot basis in the Leyte-Samar region.  The flow of the integration goes thus:


Coco husk ——Coco shell——-Coco water——Coco meat

Value-added products

Coconut integration involves a continuous process, wherein the various parts or components of the coconut is processed into various value-added products under one roof.

One system involves, thus:

The coconut is grated and mixed with coconut water.  A yogurt starter is added and the mixture is left to ferment for 4 hours under 110 Degrees F temperature.  Then sugar is added at the rate of 12 percent by weight.  A natural yeast starter is then added.  The mash is then left to ferment for 15 days, after which the wine-oil liquor is separated by centrifuge or by outright pressing of all solids.  The resulting oil-wine mixture is then further processed into either full-fledged wine or vinegar.  The coconut oil stays on top and can be further separated by gravity or by cooling the wine must so that the oil solidifies, which makes it easy now to decant the wine or vinegar.  Instantaneously, therefore, the following products emerge:  coco wine, coco vinegar, virgin coco oil, sapal (which can be used as animal feed or fertilizer or turned into coco flour).  The coco shell will be turned into charcoal, charcoal briquettes, and ritual charcoal.  The chopped coconut husk will be composted with sapal, chicken manure and bat guano for a minimum of six months, after which  it will be sterilized, packaged and sold as organic fertilizer.

The why’s of sustainability series III: Why bat guano from Samar?

If you’ve gone inside a subterranean cave full of bats, you would notice the endless rain of piss and droppings, pelting your head and the countless bats whirling around you, sometimes smack into your face.  There are also the cacophony of bat shrieks and shrilly sounds filling the caverns.  And you wade through thick layers of moist guano–yes, guano, as in the best natural fertilizer on planet Earth.

The fresh droppings are nitrogen-rich–the right fertilizer for your vegetables or plants whose leaves are prized.   As the guano deposit goes deeper, the more it becomes phosphoric–as in phosphorus, which makes your trees yield the sweetest fruits and your shrubs the proudest flowers.

Here in the states, you would find all sorts of man-made soil conditioners packaged individually for instant use in your garden or flower pot as the case maybe.  But I haven’t seen one declaring guano, either of the bird or bat kind, except on e-commerce sites.  Just the same, soil conditioners are a big business hereabouts.

Samar is blessed with so many caves full of bat guano.  The province is crisscrossed with caves galore.  The Calbiga cave system, for one, is reputed to be the biggest in Asia.  One can just imagine the extent of the bat guano deposits there.  It is said that the swarms of bats homing into the caves would darken the sky–an indication that the cave system is just full of it –i.e. bat guano.

Entrance to the Calbiga Cave System, Calbiga, Western Samar

What a pity that in this age of organics, my Waray-waray bugtos have not come around harvesting or mining the bat guano to formulate a natural fertilizer mix with a view to sustainability.  And marketing soil conditioners and outright pure bat guano fertilizers, standardized for N-P-K (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium).  Maybe they are afraid of anitos or spirits supposedly haunting those caves?  Or the snakes and other surprises that come a-lurking in dark and dank places?  Or is government bureaucracy anathema to such ventures?   Or is there a dearth in entrepreneurship?

Bat guano sticking to spelunker's shoes in Calbiga caves.

Whatever the reasons, with this focus, the powers that be and the region’s businessmen will hopefully come together to strategize and implement a plan of action.  Fertilizers, especially the organic kind, are a sine qua non in food production.  This urgency cannot be over emphasized with our stratospheric number of mouths to feed.

Bat guano can be mined and processed as pure bat guano organic fertilizer or as an adjunct in making soil conditioners or potting mixes.   The first category can be further categorized as Hi-N, for leafy vegetables, Hi-P for flowering and fruiting plants, and 0-P-0 exclusively for fruit trees.

The company, Down to Earth Distributors, based in Oregon, has the following bat guano formulations:

The why’s of sustainability series II: Why “korot” of Leyte, Philippines?

It is the ever reliable wild, intoxicating yam prevalent in Leyte’s coconut lands.  The locals call it “korot”, the Luzon folks call it “kayos”.  It’s scientific name is Dioscorea hispida Dennst.  Lore has it that during World War II, when the Japanese occupied Leyte, a lot of them foreign occupiers died, not from bullets nor machetes, but from eating the korot as is. Apparently they tasted the processed and  cooked korot from the natives, so they surmised that, as they found them in the forests, it would be safe eating it raw, just like its relative, the sweet yam.  So much for ignorance.

A young korot vine sprouting.

The korot itself has an endemic toxin called dioscorine, which causes mild to severe shortness of breath, dizziness, drunkenness in the victim.  But there are time tested as well as revolutionary methods of neutralizing the poison.  By tradition, the korot is sliced thinly and salted at 20 percent by weight and left to ferment anaerobically for a minimum of six hours, followed by washing in running water for a minimum of four hours.  The operative word here is fermentation.

I have done my research and experimentation on a revolutionary way of processing the korot, using a lactobacillus acidophilus starter consisting of an acidophilus tablet, chopped garlic, chopped cabbage (both materials have endemic lactobacilli), coconut water and ten percent sugar by weight.  The korot is left to ferment anaerobically in the mixture overnight, after which it is washed  in several changes of water and dried mechanically or under the sun.  The spent liquor is now devoid of the poison, which is neutralized by the lactic acid bacteria and can be further processed, would you believe, into wine or vinegar, or utilized as animal feed.  (Indeed, this is a case of “turning poison into medicine.”)

A freshly picked korot yam

As it is, there are lots of korot growing wild in the coconut plantations of Leyte, Philippines  It should be agressively promoted as a regular food and planted extensively under the coconut groves, inasmuch as it thrives in partly shaded areas.  Korot chips ready for cooking can be packaged, like rice or pasta by gram or pound and sold in supermarkets, with suggested ways of serving and cooking it.  Would you believe that boiled korot goes well with melted cheese, just like your run-of-the-mill “macaroni and cheese” only that korot has more nutritive punch, just like carrots or  any other yam?

Sustainability, newness and practicality go to korot cultivation and processing.  Any takers?


Why Anibong?

It’s a new day for the Philippines. We have a new president. Everybody is gung-ho in helping out, in reaching out. I subscribe to the dictum by an anonymous Indian magus, that the sole purpose of man is to help his fellow man. Well, this is my bit of helping out.

We now have 90 million plus population–a huge market, if we can only empower them. So far, the reality on the ground is different. Bereft of succor and motivation, a lot of our countrymen are either abroad or comtemplating to immigrate or work abroad. Which deprives the nation of its foremost resource: the brain and brawn trusts of its people.

It so happened that I originated from Leyte, Philippines, although I have been residing in Brooklyn, New York for the past ten years already.

I sure am glad that volunteering for candidate Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino paid off in that he is now our president.

Let it not be said that we will just sit it out and not lift a finger, now that we have been successful in catapulting him to the highest office. On the contrary, we have to be more pro-active, to be silent partners in good governance and people empowerment.

Now, being from Eastern Visayas, where Noynoy Aquino won overwhelmingly, I am inclined to contribute to nation building from a Leyteno’s perspective.

I come from Guinarona in Leyte, Philippines, where there are lots of “Anibong” palms, the sturdiest of all palms. So sturdy, in fact, that it is prized for home-building and crafts. That the Anibong’s trunk is covered in menacing spines indicates that it has a hard wood–in fact the locals call it “bahi”, meaning “as hard as a rock”.

Would that as a way of empowering the inhabitants of Guinarona we could fashion the Anibong into world-class products such as furniture, picture frames, knife handles, ax handles, op-art jewelry, wood tiles, and others.

As they say, a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. Well, here we are in our journey with our new head of state, President Benigno S. Aquino III.

So let me start with the utilization of the Anibong into world-class products. As we go along, we will take up other resources in Leyte from which we can make value-added products for the domestic and export markets.

Life is short. A life well-lived is one with the ego out and the empowerment of your fellow man in.