A Man Named Omar

   

  

by Michelle Dayrit- Soliven*  

I had never known the joys of the ocean until I came across a man so at ease with the earth’s most awesome sea creatures. His persistence led me to a deeply moving encounter that gave me a richer appreciation of the gifts of God to Mother Nature. I arrived with a fearful heart and left with an electrified spirit, courtesy of our newfound family friend, a man named Omar.  

Omar Nepomuceno

 

God equips His children with specific talents and abilities in order to pursue their purpose in life. It is therefore no coincidence that Omar Nepomuceno was born in the seaside town of Donsol in Sorsogon, a blessed haven where the world’s largest concentration of butandings (whale sharks) abound.  

A strong self-taught swimmer, Omar’s fondest childhood memory is that of his grandfather Isidoro taking two styrofoam ice chest covers used in his ice candy business. Using rope made of straw, he securely tied one onto his grandson’s back, the other onto his stomach. Then he would say to his apo: “O, sige na hijo, maligo ka na.”  

His parents Rosalina and Isidoro Jr. watched over their fearless little son joyfully swimming around the river.  

He describes himself as “taong dagat” because he adores, protects and  

respects the ocean and everything in it. Omar completed a Marine Engineering course at Mariners Polytechnic Colleges Foundation in Legaspi City. When the Department of Tourism and the WWF conducted training for butanding interaction officers (BIOs) in Donsol, Omar emerged on top of his class. He loves butandings and he loves his job with a passion!  

I felt this when I met Omar last month in Donsol. I had been hearing his name from my younger sea-loving sisters Yvonne and Christine who had gone several times before me. For a very safe and enjoyable experience, they highly recommend Omar as my guide. Indeed they were right, but I experienced much more than they prepared me for.  

All butanding encounters are different and everyone has his or her own story to tell. Mine began on the morning of March 27.  

Incidentally, we were in Sorsogon the day before to attend the first graduation rites of The Divine Healer Learning Center. This is a school that provides quality education for underprivileged but deserving students founded by Father Gerard.  

It was a perfect day. Clear blue skies and glorious sunshine accompanied us on the scenic drive to Donsol. Upon our arrival on Vitton Beach, we received an enthusiastic welcome from a man named Omar, introduced as our BIO. He accompanied us to watch the orientation video in the registration office. “So it is you my sisters were talking about,” I told him as we walked into the boat and set off into the azure waters of the bay.  

He asked if we had with us some snorkeling gear. My son and husband nodded and showed it to him. He checked on them and seemed satisfied. Then he looked at me. The moment I dreaded came and I felt I just had to tell him: “Omar, there is something you need to know. I have never ever in my life used a mask and snorkel. This will be my very first time.” Instinctively he probably felt the fear I had because he immediately assured me that it was very easy. “Kaya mo yan, ma’am. Don’t worry, I will teach you now,” he told me.  

He put the mask over my face and adjusted it comfortably. Then he gently inserted the snorkel into my mouth and showed me how to breathe. “Now, remember, do not worry. When I say jump, just jump in and hold on to me when you get into the water,” he said. I nodded, trying to keep a brave front. Suddenly, I heard the boatman pointing and excitedly saying: “Ayan na! Nandyan na yung butanding.”  

I froze in fear! So soon! My sisters told me that they had to wait an hour or two to find a whale shark. I thought I would have more time to get used to the use of a mask and snorkel. They stopped the boat. I watched in horror as my hubby and my son jumped in. Omar was looking at me. “Ma’am, it’s time to jump. Let’s go!” I panicked! My heart was pounding as I hoisted myself unsteadily onto the edge of the boat. I was shaking while the boat bobbed up and down. I fought to keep my balance. Like a rag doll I was awkwardly teetering back and forth, so afraid to hit the water and almost fell back into the boat instead. I was trying to open my mouth to say, “I’m backing out! I changed my mind! I cant do this!” Suddenly I felt Omar’s strong hand taking mine as he jumped in pulling me into the water with him.  

I wanted to scream but the snorkel was in my mouth. I closed my eyes. Terror gripped me as we hit the water. But I heard Omar saying, “Ma’am relax ka lang. Just hold on to me and do not be afraid.” He readjusted my mask and snorkel and said, “Ready? Let’s go!” He held my hand firmly and swam away, not giving me time to think.  

“Look down,” Omar told me. “Just put your head down.” I obeyed… put my head down. And opened my eyes… and gasped! The sun’s rays penetrated the waters revealing a humongous blue gray figure with round white spots swimming gracefully beneath me. I was right smack on top of the butanding and the water was so clear I could see it breathing. Omar swam and supported my elbow lightly so that I could interact with this gentle being. As the silence enveloped me under water, a sudden peace pervaded my soul. I felt a deep spiritual connection between the whale shark and Omar as we all swam together side by side, basking in joyous tranquility.  

It was a successful conspiracy. These two soul mates (Omar and the whale shark) sensed my fear of the sun and the ocean kept me with them for a blissful 30 minutes, emptying me of all my fears.  

That was only the first of the six butandings I would encounter that day. We all emerged triumphant and invigorated. Omar was elated. BIO Florante Trinidad did such a good job with Lucy Lee’s new underwater camera that we each had a video of our interaction with these colossal yet amiable beings.  

We then enjoyed a sumptuous lunch courtesy of Sorsogon’s very gracious Gov. Sally Lee. Over succulent seafood and the best ginataang langka, Omar shared his stories.  

Very protective and caring in nature, Omar wants his visitors to make the most of the time and money they spend to come to Donsol. “I want everyone to be comfortable in the water and go home with wonderful stories to tell.”  

His most unforgettable experience in the ocean was the day in 2001. He had some American guests who flew all the way from Pittsburg wishing to see a whale shark. They didn’t just see one but a whole school of them, about 50 on a feeding frenzy. They were ecstatic!  

Another glorious moment was the day Omar and Florante successfully rescued a trapped butanding in Batangas. Asked how they did it, when several others before them failed, he humbly said, “I prayed for God’s assistance.”  

He takes every opportunity to share his insights to protect the precious butandings. “If a group of six fishermen kill a butanding, six families may have enough to live on for six months. But in exchange the rest of the other families in the community will all go hungry for years to come. Why? Because this brutal act could scare the butanding population away. And what do you think will happen to the van drivers who pick up guests, resort owners and restaurant owners, their employees, souvenir stall owners, boatmen, BIOs? With their livelihood gone, their families will go hungry,” he said.  

He prays often for the safety of his wife Yvette, a nurse in the Middle East, and is most grateful that his daughter Rayven graduated grade school at Aquinas School in Legaspi with honors. This nature lover feels God’s presence in the sunshine, the calmness of the sea, the magnificence of the gentle butandings. “I always ask God to please let my visitors see the butanding.” He is happiest when he sees his guests enjoying.  

“I always want to spread the sunshine,” he says of his motto in life. “Whatever blessings and gifts I receive from God, I must share.”  

To Omar, this means teaching others the skills he has mastered like swimming, being a good BIO, training others who want to be guides of other natural attractions, giving talks to the fishing community on the importance of not harming but preserving their environment, finding new activities and exciting destinations that guests to his beloved province of Sorsogon can enjoy and his fellowmen can benefit from. /  

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*Asking Michelle to publish her article in Bulan Observer, she replied :  

“Sure Andres! ( Andres?- that’s me, jun!) That was one experience I will never ever forget. Omar is the best. I am so glad you did not drown (she’s referring to my story of almost drowning in the sea of Donsol when I was 8). You must have a mission in life to fulfill. I am sure it is something that will be most rewarding. Be blessed in all you do.” MICHELLE DAYRIT-SOLIVEN  

Thank you Michelle!  

 Omar is my first cousin (mother’s side), he lives and works in Donsol. I have good memories of Donsol as I also partly spent my childhood there. The beautiful sceneries with Mt. Mayon against a lovely sunset, the quiet sea and the loving people and of course my dear grandparents Doro and “May” (mother) Nepomuceno with whom I used to go for a walk along the sea after dinner. I met Omar  last April 2009-  in Bulan!   

 jun asuncion  

————————HELP PROTECT THE WHALE SHARKS!————————–  

                     

 

  

  

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Presentation of the Executive Agenda 2010-2013

Note: The following is the Executive Agenda presented by Hon. Mayor Helen C. De Castro before the Sangguniang Bayan of Bulan during its Inaugural Session on July 5, 2010 at the Sangguniang Bayan Session Hall. (PIO Bulan)

Inaugural Session

Presentation of the Executive Agenda

SB Session Hall

July 5, 2010/ Monday

EXECUTIVE AGENDA 2010-2013

By Mayor Helen C. De Castro

Honorable Vice-Mayor and Presiding Officer Marnellie Robles

Honorable Members of this August Council

Honorable Barangay Officials

Heads of Offices of the Local Government Unit

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Good morning to all of you!

It is with honor and pleasure that I congratulate the Honorable Vice-Mayor and the Members of the Sangguniang Bayan of Bulan.

Today, the just concluded political exercise had given us the fresh mandate to lead our people for the next three years. I am deeply elated by the warm trust and confidence. We venture into a new beginning for our Municipal Government. And it is us, the new officials of this beloved town who will be instruments in ushering in that new beginning.

Tradition has it that as we start our work as the new officials of Bulan, it is necessary that we first meet, and set down in fundamental terms the basic blueprints for the next three years. These fundamental principles of local governance shall guide and direct our actions. It is necessary that we should be able to work in solidarity.

It has been mandated by law that the Office of the Local Chief Executive, or the Mayor, and that of the Sangguniang Bayan, as a collegial body, are co-equal in power and authority. According to law, one cannot do without the other. It is my firm belief that collaboration and harmony, whether constructive or critical, between these two offices, must always work for the betterment and welfare of our community. Even ideologies or political differences must not be obstacles with what we want to achieve or accomplish. Even within a deliberative body like the Sangguniang Bayan, your discussions and debates, your opinions and views, your political differences and affiliations, can be worked out to produce a syntheses of ideas and plans that can be concretized into policies, programs and projects. Our people must not suffer or be sacrificed just because we differ in our views. We are supposed to be held together by our desire to serve Bulan. The Executive Department shall heavily rely and depend upon your ideas, crafted into legislations, which we pray shall be great in quality, pro-active, pro-poor and pro-peace.

If I were to be asked as a re-electionist mayor, all I want is that we shall be able to help realize the vision for our beloved community – a safe, peaceful, progressive place to live in. It is not an easy task however, in a growing town like ours. The challenges are multi-faceted; the tasks enormous, the efforts needed are great. But it shall all depend upon ourselves as leaders and stewards of Bulan. We are here for the next three years to keep, protect and take care of this community. It ought to be our political philosophy that while we have the privilege of power and authority, we are also servants and stewards of our people. And many of our people are expecting much from us.

Bulan, being a premier, first-class town in Sorsogon must continue in its eminence as a model community. We have been looked up to by many of our neighbor communities. But more importantly, Bulan has a bigger number of souls with more needs to take care of.

Honorable Ladies and Gentlemen, I am respectfully setting down before you our three –year Executive Agenda, which shall serve as the bases of our development plans. And this shall need the necessary legislative support. We are fortunate, that in this my third term, we shall be having the Community-based Monitoring System (CBMS) and the State of Local Governance Report (SLGR) and the data therein shall be guides for all of us in both the Executive and Legislative aspects.

Allow me therefore to enumerate on our three-year Agenda:

1. We shall continue all along to strengthen, improve, enhance and institutionalize the HELEN Program – Health, Education, Livelihood, Environment, Nutrition and Food. These are the major programs which include the auxiliary/component programs, we are pursuing. These wide-ranging and general scope of activities shall, in one way or another, necessitate legislation, especially in its funding and budgetary support; we are improving and streamlining our educational assistance and support to poor but deserving Bulaneno college students; we are going to build a bigger and better Bulan Health Center and Birthing Facility, and we wish to purchase a Mobile Clinic to serve our far-flung barangays;

2. We need to strengthen and improve on our Peace, Order and Public Safety programs, especially in the areas of anti-illegal drugs program, Traffic Management programs, Disaster Management and Risk-reduction Programs, and the protection of our women, children and the elderly. We shall strengthen our relationship with the Philippine National Police, and when opportunity arises in terms of funds, we shall make necessary provisions and facilities to our police, fire and force-multiplier groups;

3. We shall put more emphasis on our Economic Agenda. I believe that notwithstanding the gains we have, if our constituents do not have gainful employment, much is useless. It is an obligation that we have to look in to. In this regard, the concerns and tasks are daunting, considering our limited resources. But we shall make sure that we shall make strong steps in this area like helping our farmers and fishermen with a Revolving Fund or Capitalization Scheme to improve on their productivity; We shall institutionalize the Municipal Investment Incentive program to attract investors to our town; we shall improve on our technical-vocational training activities for the youth and women sector; strongly coordinate and network with job placement agencies;

It is our plan to institutionalize the Coastal Resource Management Programs as this is vital to the fishing industry of our municipality, through artificial reefs installations, strengthening of the Bantay-Dagat program; and plans for seaweeds production programs.

We want to provide a Bagsakan ng Bayan, or a convergence terminal for all our local products.

We intend to now construct a Poblacion Terminal for all our Tricycles, Pedicabs, and Jeepney and Aircon Vans Sector. This job sector is very important in our growing economy.

And we intend to pursue our Farm-to-Roads programs as we have been wont to do. Our Road Program has been one of the greatest assets of this incumbent Administration. These economic arteries provide the lifeline to and from our barangays. Life has been a lot easier with improved roads, better bridges and all the necessary infrastructures to help our constituents be fully engaged in economic activities, have better access to education, health and social services from the local government;

All we have to do is to be creative and be resourceful in sourcing out ways and means for these local projects.

4. It is our executive plan, that in my third and final term, we hope we shall finally be able to put and set in place a comprehensive Tourism, History and Culture Heritage Development Program. This is a legacy I wish to leave to our next set of leaders and to our people. It is an ardent dream that we can have a Bulan Heritage Museum. History and Culture is the soul of the Tourism Industry. While we have the Padaraw Festival now fully in place, we must let spring forth and let flower the beauty of our identity as a community. A political philosopher once said that our political maturity as a nation or as a community is greatly dependent on our historical maturity. Leaders are poor who have no sense of history and identity. And our people also need to be inspired and be transformed by the lessons of our local history. History is a bond that makes our present and future stronger.

In this regard, we also intend to put in place a concrete program for Poblacion Improvement as the Poblacion is the showcase of the whole town — cleaner and better-looking streets and walkways, a good marketplace and greener surroundings. We have to work hard to clean up and protect our Managa-naga River, which has been an icon of our town. There is a positive psychology in greener, cleaner surroundings, especially in the Poblacion.

5. We need a new Cemetery or Municipal Memorial Park. Our LCR data says that we have an average of 450 deaths a year. This goes along with our burgeoning population. Our cemeteries are now congested and it is time we look for and build a new one to give greater dignity to loved ones who have passed away. And this shall need your greatest support.

On top of all of these plans, we in the Executive Branch would like to inform this Honorable Body, that in line with the Executive implementations of vital ordinances and codes, I think it is necessary that we have to review the following:

A. The Bulan Revenue and Tax Code

B. The Bulan Public Market Code

C. The Bulan Integrated Traffic Management Code

D. The Agriculture and Fisheries Code of Bulan

E. The Municipal Investment Incentives Code

F. The Zoning Ordinance

The Sangguniang Bayan must also come up with the Integrated Safety Code of Bulan and an Investment and Business Code. We must review our Disaster Management Code. It is also a must that the Sangguniang Bayan must work with the Municipal Planning and Development Office in updating the Municipal Socio-Economic Profile. The MSEP is a comprehensive volume of local governance literature that is the very basis of all our development and investment efforts. We cannot do without it.

I wish to also respectfully inform you that I would like to certify as urgent legislative matter the reconstitution of the different LGU organizations like the Local Development Council, the Health Board, the School Board, the Personnel Selection Board, the Municipal Child Protection Council, the Local Peace and Order Council and all the mandated local councils necessary to immediately put in place our tasks and functions in governance.

Also, it has become imperative that with the modern methods of governance, administration and supervision and the complications of local governments, it is necessary that the executive department, together with the legislative branch, must be kept abreast of all department activities. Thus we are planning to go full computerization in our municipal government. We shall network and wire the office of the Local Chief Executive with all our departments. This will make our task of governance, easier, facile and more convenient.

I hope that with Vice-mayor Robles at the helm of this Honorable Body, there will be a new impetus for the Sangguniang Bayan. In other localities, the Sangguniang Bayan is a source of pride and honor for the community. We hope this Council shall be that.

We must have foresight in the next 20 years of governance. Bulan is fast-growing and fast-expanding. The Sangguniang Bayan must come up with a very comprehensive Urban Expansion Program from which we shall initiate our Urban Planning and Development activities.

I hope you will not begrudge me if each one of us shall keep this list as a checklist, and that we keep on checking it so that we shall be able to accomplish them.

“A Public Office is a Public Trust” so we are being constantly reminded, and as the motto of this Council goes that we have to render “Service with Integrity”. So be it.

We are looking to a very productive term of office. During the campaign period, we have promised a lot to our people, and now that we have been endowed with that privilege of service, and power, it behooves all of us to do so as a matter of gratitude to our people. It is a sacred oath, a duty, a call; we cannot turn our backs from.

Once more, congratulations to all of us. Good luck and may God bless us in our endeavors and may God bless our beloved town.  //

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