Rapids and Politics

Andrea Oran ’18
Philippines

Our first two days had very different experiences – one had us in bathing suits, “shooting the rapids” in Pagsanjan and the next had us in business casual smiling for a full press crew for a photo-op with President Duterte. But what the two superficially different experiences had in common was the undertone of Filipino hospitality.

On our first full day, we ventured two hours outside Makati, where we are currently staying. We boarded the fanciest bus I have ever been on, aptly named the Joy Bus. Each sit came equipped with a full leg rest, reclining back, blanket, bottle of water, and a snack. Waking up from a nap, I found that we had left the city and were driving through a more rural area. What was most curious to me, as I looked out my window, was the complete changes in environments within 5 minutes of each other – alternating gorgeous large homes and falling down shacks, indicative of the immense wealth gap plaguing the country. After turning off a main road, the Joy bus pulled into an area that was more densely populated with trees, where we came to a stop. After exiting the bus, putting on life vests and helmets, we were brought down to the water where we saw boats that looked somewhere in between a racing shell and a canoe. Two insanely strong men led us upstream against the rapids, using their full weight as they pushed off of rocks to navigate us and propel us forward. At the end was a gorgeous waterfall. We all got out of our boats and were seated on a raft of bamboo. We were then pulled across the river using a rope / pulley system, and were pulled right through the falls! We closed our eyes as water pounded down from above, opening them only to reveal that we were on the other side in a cave-like structure admiring the falls from a new perspective. I can honestly say I have never done anything like this before.

Day two took us out of nature and into the Senate of the Philippines. Here, we learned about the country’s system of government, and the influence the US had on it. We were fortunate enough to be able to meet with some really significant individuals shaping the country’s future, including Senator Manny Pacquiao (most known outside the Philippines for his former boxing career), President of the Senate Koko Pimentel, Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, and members of the Senate Economic Planning Office. We hear their perspectives on the current state of the country, as well as their vision for the future, and had some great photo opportunities. After a tour of the Senate Museum and a few impeachment trial recreations, we were back on the bus headed for the Manila Hotel. The hotel, located on Manila Bay, the oldest premiere hotel in the Philippines, dating back to the early 1900’s. After a session with the Bureau of the Treasury, we were lined up at the end of a red carpeted entrance way to prepare for meeting President Duterte. After much anticipation, the President arrived and provided us with a warm welcome to the country and smiled for a photo (coming soon), before continuing through the hotel and greeting his constituents. We all learned a lot throughout the day, specifically around the discrepancies between how the country is portrayed in Western media and how they view themselves. All officials who we had the privilege of meeting were very candid in providing their views and the impetus behind their decisions. Personal political opinions and ideology aside, it was an insightful visit and sparked some great discussion in the group.

However, after a long days of meetings and filling our brains with new information, we are all ready for a little R&R. Heading off to Coron today for some beach time and island explorations. Stay tuned!

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