Fear & Loathing on the site development trail! - by Daryl Clark
In 1984 Boylan and I were two of the more experienced Peace Corps Volunteers in our region. Peace Corps contacted us and asked us if we would conduct site surveys to find potential homes for new Peace Corps volunteers. Never to pass up on per diem and an opportunity to have some fun, we gladly accepted their offer. We also decided there were enough Peace Corps Volunteers in Albay and Sorsogon, so we decided to look for new sites in Camarines Norte and Camarines Sur. Yes, the most parts provinces are known for being NPA (New Peoples Army) hot spots, since we weren't going to live there, we really didn't care! One of Boylan's favorite books was, 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas", by Hunter S. Thompson. So we decided to call our ten day trip, "Fear and Loathing on the site development trail". Here is the story as best as I can remember some 17 years later.
We headed North from Legaspi City to San Jose, Camarines Norte and we stayed at the home of a female volunteer (whose name I can't remember). She lived in this small town near Daet, Camarines Norte, which was out first scheduled site survey. This volunteer knew the Mayor of Daet very well and she took us to his office at around 9:30 a.m. the next day.
The first thing we learned was virtually every Mayors office in the Philippines wanted a Peace Corps Volunteer!
Why not? A volunteer is a non-payroll employee who doesn't take siestas and usually stays for two years but our job was to make sure the town was "qualified" to have a volunteer! If you are reading this and you ended in one of those towns, please accept my sincere apologies!
With survey forms in hand, we entered the Mayors office to conduct our "qualifying interview". Peace Corps provided us with the necessary forms, which we had to fill out in order to collect our per diem (daily allowance), so it was time to get to work. Since Boylan was much more fluent in the local dialect than I was, we got into a routine of Boylan being the good cop and me being the bad cop. Boylan would essentially establish a relationship with the interviewee and I would break in an apologize for interrupting and insist we fill out the survey, because after all that is why we were there! The Mayor of Daet was very happy to see us but he was even happier we brought along the female volunteer from San Jose. He had been trying to get into her pants for the last three years.
Prior to conducting the interview, the Mayor insisted we have some Johnny Walker Black. Now this is our first day of a ten day trip, so drinking Johnny Walker Black at 10:00 a.m. was not on the top of our list of activities for the day. In the Philippines they have an expression, "to refuse and offer is an insult"! So, we obliged the Mayor, drank half a bottle of JWB (the Mayor said it was too early for him to drink) and we CONDUCTED OUR SURVEY! Around noon we politely declined to drink the rest of the bottle and decided to have lunch. Over lunch we decided this was a great town for a male volunteer but because of the Mayor's behavior towards our female volunteer friend, it was not recommended for a female volunteer.
First site found and approved what a great day!
The remainder of the towns we would have no introductions and so we developed a strategy for getting into see the Mayor and evaluating the towns potential. We felt the best strategy was to see how the town folk greeted Americans and go to the local market and/or small Carendaria, have a few beers and quiz the locals on the Mayor and his/her activities. With this process now established, we proceeded to take a bus South to Siaton town on the edge of Camarines Norte and the Bicol Forest, this town was a known NPA stronghold.
We got off the bus on the National Highway and stopped at a local Carendaria for a beer. To our delight, San Miguel Corporation was selling off the Gold Eagle Brand of beer, which the had introduced the previous year at a special price of two beers of two pesos (about 10 cents a beer)! This really stretched our per diem money and allowed us to have cold beer or warm beer whenever we wanted through the remainder of the trip. At the local Carendaria, we were not getting any good vibes. In our mind, it was essential if a volunteer was assigned to a particular town, he/she had to have opportunities to do a little E.A.R. for G.F.A. (Click here for acronyms meaning). After stopping at two different local establishments and hearing, "go home Joe", more than a few times, we decided to scratch this friendly town off our potential site list.
We then headed to Naga City for the evening and had a "Mang Donald's Burgers" for dinner. The next day we headed to Libmanan town in Camarines Sur, which was another NPA town. Upon arriving in Libmanan, we headed directly to their new market and had a few shots of gin with the locals. Whereupon we quizzed them about the Mayor, who is turns out was a "Bakla" (Filipino word for gay) and we proceeded to the city hall to interview him. The fact that the people were friendly, the market was new and the roads were new, lead us to believe this would be a great site for a volunteer! After interviewing the Mayor, we marked this town as a definite site for placing a volunteer. It was pretty hard for a town to alienate Boylan and myself.
We then returned to Naga City for a night of Gold Eagle beers and some more "Mang Donald's Burgers". In the morning we were interviewed on the radio by a local anti-Marcos radio personality a certian, "Mr. Wing Sto. Domingo", who asked us on the air, "what do you think of the Marcos Regime?" We politely declined to comment and made sure never to do another radio interview. The following day we headed off to the towns of Pili and Bula. We interviewed their Mayors and checked them off as good site prospects. Returning to Naga for more of the same, we then proceeded to Goa in Camarines Sur on the following day. Neither of us had ever been to Goa and little did we know this would become the highlight of our trip!
Upon arriving in Goa, we did not do our usual E.A.R for G.F.A and we proceeded directly to the Mayor's office. The town council was just about to sit down for their monthly meeting but someone told the Mayor there were, "two peace Corps Canos", outside wanting to meet with him. The Mayor asked the Vice Mayor to run the meeting for him and he immediately greeted us and took us out for some E.A.R for G.F.A. It turns out the Mayor, Florencia Padua* was married to a former Peace Corps volunteer and he was a legend in the entire province of Camarines Sur and beyond! The Mayor has "anting - anting", which is a Filipino phrase for magical spirit and he was able to hypnotize people. Legend has it he single handily rescued his family from a Japanese prison camp during World War II by hypnotizing the guards. Rumor also has it that he had fathered over 90 children in the Province, all with different women.
Heck this guy was a National hero!
After a few beers, the Mayor took us to his house, introduced us to his wife, did some magic tricks for us and plied us with drinks the remainder of the day and evening. The next day he took us to the beach and we barbecued on the beach and had some of his wife's excellent potato salad. The Mayor had recently been ambushed by the NPA and had narrowly survived, thus adding more strength to the already amazing legend of Florencia Padua! We decided despite the obvious presence of NPA in the town, that this was still a great place to put a Peace Corps Volunteer. We accepted their offer and returned to town a few month later for their fiesta, which leads into how Boylan and I met Miss Teen Philippines, which is the next story!
*The year after the fiesta we attended, Florencio padua was killed by the NPA in an ambush.
We surveyed a few more towns but despite our best efforts no one lasted their full two years in any of the towns we recommended!