Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Gov. Roque Ablan Shrine and Library (from concept to reality)

My grandfather, Roque Blanco Ablan, Sr., was a World War II hero.  He was provincial governor of Ilocos Norte during the Japanese occupation and he was one of the few local public officials not surrender to the Japanese.  Instead he transferred the seat of government from Laoag City to the mountains of Vintar and Solsona.  He continued serving as local chief executive and was even allowed by Pres. Quezon to issue war notes (some are kept at the Bangko Sentral).  In one of his encounters with the enemy, my lolo was separated from his unit.  When the dust settled, he was nowhere to be found.  Historians believe that he was killed by the Japanese.  My lola, Manuela Ravelo Ablan, searched for my lolo's remains throughout Northern Luzon after the war to no avail.

For his heroism, my lolo was awarded the Medal of Valor (posthumously) by Pres. Ferdinand E. Marcos.  A shrine was built by the National Historical Institute in Brgy. 20, Castro Ave., Laoag City, Ilocos Norte, to commemorate his bravery and remind others not to forget about the many lives that were sacrificed so that we can enjoy freedom and democracy. 
The Gov. Roque Ablan Shrine in 2006
In 2009, my Dad spoke with the people over at the NHI (now NHCP) to rebuild and fix the Roque Ablan Shrine to make it into a public park and to house a mini-museum.  Construction soon followed.
The new Gov. Roque B. Ablan Sr. Shrine was completed in mid-2010 and it was inaugurated in August of the same year.  The Gov. Roque and Manuela Ablan Foundation (GRAMAF) was tasked to occupy the museum and fill it with my lolo's memorabilia. 

Unfortunately, we hit a snag because most of my lolo's memorabilia got lost or destroyed during the dismantling of the old shrine.  We didn't have enough things to display in the museum.
Luckily, though, we met Quintin Pastrana of Library Renewal Partnership (LRP) through my sister Annette, and the idea of having a museum/library came into play.  It would be great, we thought, if the community could visit the shrine not only to remember the province's heroes, but also to learn.  I mean aside from the provincial and city libraries, which are both small and cramped, there isn't any other place for students to continue studying after school.
And so in February 2011 we partnered up with Quintin's group, who had opened more than 50 other libraries prior to us (mostly in the Visayas), and readied the museum to become a community library. 
LRP acted fast.  Within a few weeks, I was at Bato Balani Foundation picking up over 40 boxes of textbooks.  From Manila I brought the books all the way up to Laoag.
LRP donated all kinds of books.  We had pre-school books for little kids.
We had textbooks in Math, Science and English for elementary students.
We had textbooks for high school students.
We also had a collection of encyclopedias, college textbooks and fiction books.

My sister Annette putting in the finishing touches before the opening.
Last April 25, 2011, the Gov. Roque B. Ablan Sr. Shrine and Library opened its doors to the public.

GRAMAF Scholars volunteer to man the library.

With Bato Balani Foundation Exec. Dir. Ching Jorge and Quintin Pastrana
Explaining to the media the rationale of the library
Dad invited over NHCP Executive Director Ludovico Badoy to lead the ceremonial ribbon cutting.

Fr. Elarmo blessed the shrine and library.
As Executive Director of GRAMAF, I signed the Memorandum of Agreement with Ching Jorge of Bato Balani Foundation.

Dir. Badoy officially turning over the shrine complex to GRAMAF.
Quintin Pastrana explaining the LRP Program.  Another LRP sponsored library might be sponsored in Solsona.  Another one just opened in Adams.
Right after the ceremony, we let kids come in and start reading the books.

This project wouldn't have been materialized without the help of my Dad, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines and Library Renewal Partnership.  

The library is open 8am to 5pm, Mondays to Fridays.  It is open to the public.  Here are the house rules:

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Introduction to Rowing

I've been talking to Library Renewal Partnership's (LRP) Quintin Pastrana for about a month now about the possibility of making Paoay Lake a training facility for the Manila Boat Club and the Philippine National Rowing Team.  Rowers currently row at the Pasig River and La Mesa Dam, but they are looking for a better option.  Paoay Lake is an excellent alternative because of its accessibility (Laoag has an international airport), the lake is clean and calm, and there are currently no jurisdictional/political squabbles over the area.  We've actually talked to the Punong Barangay of Nagbacalan, Paoay, and Provincial Board Member Jessie Galano about the proposal, and the guy was very receptive.  We've also sent a letter to Ilocos Norte governor, Imee Marcos, about supporting the idea.  Hopefully, we meet her this coming June.

In the mean time, Quintin offered me to try out rowing at the Manila Boat Club near the Sta. Ana Race Track in Manila.

And so I did.
The Boat Club's dock is at the Pasig River.
Surprisingly, the river was not stinking that morning.  The last time I took the Pasig River Ferry (which was more than 2 years ago) I could smell the stench even inside the air-con cabin.  And yesterday, I didn't smell a thing.  Also, I noticed the water to be cleaner.  I mean sure, it's still brown and murky, but at least the floating trash have significantly lessened. 
The club is more than a century old.  Most of its current members are expats who used to row in their respective countries like the UK, the US and Switzerland.

Rowing Rules
They have a wide range of racing row boats for a single person, two persons, four persons and even for eight people.
I was told that only the old boats are made of wood.  The boats they use now are made of carbon fiber reinforced plastic and other high-tech composite materials. 

Here we have Quintin, Max and Mang Ben take out a quad scull boat from their boat house.
Here they are laying the boat in the Pasig River.
This is where I sat. The sculling oars are held by oarlocks on the outriggers.  The seat slides front and back to aid the rower in rowing.  The feet are held stationary by a shoe assembly fixed on the boat.
This is us (Max, Quintin, me and Mang Ben) about to leave the dock.
Mang Ben is teaching me the proper technique in rowing.  I can tell you right now it's harder than what it looks like.
I had trouble early on coordinating my lower body and my upper body.  Minsan tumatama yung handle sa tuhod ko.  Minsan nagbabanggaan yung mga kamay ko.  Minsan sablay yung pag-row ko.
It took me quite a while to get the hang of it and "sync" with Max and Quintin.  But once you do get in rhythm and be "one" with the other rowers, you feel good inside because you feel you're part of this well-oiled machine gliding quietly through the river.
This is us after 3.5 kilometers, near the Guadalupe Bridge.

With my baseball cap and shades on, I look like someone in the witness protection program.
This is us on the way back to the Boat Club.  Notice me checking my Blackberry.  Hehe.  We rowed a total of 7 kilometers to and from Guadalupe.  I actually enjoyed the experience and am interested in doing this as a cross training sport if ever it catches on in my province.
Here are my "war wounds."  My calves kept on hitting the edge of the seat tracks.  Result of wrong positioning of the seat and the foot stop.
Had blisters on my heels as well.
And that was my rowing experience at the Pasig River, courtesy of Quintin Pastrana and Max Makowski.  Thanks for inviting me, guys!  Rowing is a cool sport.  The boats are expensive, yes, but once you have that, all a person needs is an oar, himself and a body of water, and your good to go!  

I do hope more people get into rowing because it is a beautiful sport.  And for a country that's an archipelago with a lot of coast, rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water, why shouldn't we?