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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Former priest charmed by Dgte

Why We Stayed

Sun, Aug 30, 2020

The history of Dumaguete/Negros Oriental is woven about people arriving on our shores, liking what they saw, and eventually making that decision to stay.

What made them stay?

I was born 84 years ago in Raalte, Netherlands in northwestern Europe — known for tulip fields, windmills, and scenic cycling routes. I have lived in the Philippines more than half of my life (the past 56 years); 26 years of which I am living happily here in Dumaguete.

I studied in a Catholic seminary for priesthood. Right after my ordination when I was around 28 years old, I was sent by my superiors to the Philippines as a Carmelite missionary. Starting in 1964, I did missionary work in different places. The first assignment was for eight years in Escalante, Negros Occidental, then another eight years in Iligan City, and 14 years in Manila. I was working with the poor sector of society: sugar workers, farmers, industrial workers in factories. In those 30 years in tropical Philippines, I learned a lot from my exposure to the life of the poor here in the country.

In 1980, I got permission from my superiors in the Netherlands to leave priesthood. I decided to marry a woman, Melvin “Inday” Rabelista from Escalante, Negros Occidental, who was active in doing social work. Inday and I understood, supported, and inspired each other in our respective line of work. We were just happy that I was allowed to remain a member of my religious community as a lay Carmelite.

By 1982 while living in Manila, God blessed us with a son, Jobert; and two years later, we were also blessed with a daughter, Monette. As a family man excited to raise a family, I started to contemplate with my wife where we were going to settle down.


Doing work-related travel, I chanced upon Dumaguete. And strangely, I just felt good about the place. Of all the places we had visited, I just fell in love with Dumaguete. I can’t exactly explain it.

It is small enough compared to the places we had worked in; it is as beautiful as the small towns I have seen in Europe; it was very peaceful here compared to the other cities in the country; and it is a progressive city.

Finally in 1994, my family and I arrived here in Dumaguete. Our children, Jobert and Monette, went to St. Louis-Don Bosco and to Catherina Cittadini School in their grade school and high school. We have been quite satisfied with their academic training in these schools, managed by religious groups. The prestigious Silliman University helped provide the bearing for our children. Currently, Jobert works at the College of Agriculture of Foundation University; while Monette is administrator of a toddler school in Munich, Germany. We are proud of them being concerned about people being treated unjustly, or about corruption by people in power, about environmental destruction, or issues about discrimination, among others. These schools taught them Christian values.

Aside from the education opportunities for our children, we trust the expert health professionals here in Dumaguete. I don’t need to go to Cebu or Manila for treatment, unless recommended by my doctor. In our retirement years, the Silliman University Medical Center and Holy Child Hospital are our refuge. And we are only too happy for the additional hospitals in the City, and for the good news to have an equipped Provincial Hospital.

Here, life is easy and not so expensive like in the big city. Pre-pandemic days, whenever my family would go out to celebrate some achievement, or whenever we had guests, we would go to home-grown restaurants like Hayahay-Lab-as, or Why Not?, or Gabby’s. We would also enjoy native delicacies at Lantaw or Hukad.

If we wanted to get physical, we could easily drive down to a marine sanctuary along the shores of Dauin, or to Stella Maris Retreat House for a swim or a dry picnic. To treat our visitors to the nice spots in the Province, we take them to El Dorado Beach Resort, or to Pura Vida Beach & Dive Resort, or to Antulang Beach Resort in Siaton.


Closer to Dumaguete, we are blessed with the relaxing ambience at Forest Camp in Valencia where children can swim and hike as well. Dolphin-watching in Bais Bay-Tañon Strait is always in our must-do list.

And if they find Dumaguete too small for a few more days, our visitors would enjoy taking a motorized banca to Cebu, then cross over to Bohol, or take a short boat ride to the island of Siquijor across the Dumaguete boulevard — while they make our house as their home-base.

We are pleased to be able to satisfy our relatives’ and friends’ search for joy with nature when they visit us, enjoy local inexpensive food, bask in the clean beaches 20 minutes away, and share our stories with others when they go home to their places. They leave Dumaguete satisfied, and with joyful memories.

Cultural life in Dumaguete is always alive, thanks to Silliman with its beautiful Luce Auditorium hosting musical and dance concerts and theatrical plays by local and international groups.

We also always look forward to watching Dumaguete’s Sandurot Festival in September, and Negros Oriental’s Buglasan Festival in October. The cultural activities held at the boulevard are unpretentious but the performances are world-class, open to all, inspiring and uplifting — educating the youth on various social issues.

The local YATTA [Youth Advocates through Threater Arts] performs original musicals in the communities, thus, offering opportunities for those who cannot afford to experience the performances.

The community here in Dumaguete is very inclusive. For some reason, any new person in town easily feels at home. My family and I continue to express our faith by attending mass at the Catholic Cathedral or the Perpetual Help Parish. We also join prayer and worship services with Protestants and other denominations, to promote respect and unity.

We were only too happy to meet old friends and like-minded acquaintances in Dumaguete. We developed many more friendships here from different sectors, government and NGOs — most of whom are advocates for the care of nature and the environment, for the defense of abused women and children, and the defense of human rights. We keep ourselves connected and updated through different forms of media.


While I have been able to live a life here in Dumaguete devoted to my family, my interest for the poor and the less-privileged also continued to fuel my passion to be in the service of others.

In 1996, about two years after we settled down here, I started looking for possibilities to work with farmers in nearby rural areas. With a research team to include Nelson Estrabella, we discovered a lot of bamboo groves in the towns of Bacong, Valencia, Dauin, Zamboangita, and Siaton. We also noted how the farmers generally regarded the sturdy bamboo as “poor man’s lumber”, a neglected resource.

After months of consultations, education, and awareness forum of the potential of the bamboo for their livelihood, we were able to get the farmers excited about developing products and earning from this woody grass. They also began to realize how bamboo could help prevent erosion, and be used as a storm shield for their plants and houses.

In 1998, we started product development with the farmers. Farmers who had patches of bamboo in their yards happily sold their bamboo poles. Skilled bamboo craftsmen from Iligan City pooled with local craftsmen to create beautiful furniture from bamboo. Both the farmers and the craftsmen benefitted.

The farmers were taught how to plant and manage their bamboo clumps. Cesar Alberio, an agriculturist, organized the farmers, and taught them how to sustainably supply good bamboo poles needed in production. Meanwhile, the craftsmen were further trained how to create pieces using technology.

The Buglas Bamboo Institute Inc. was established to facilitate support for the farmers from government and non-government agencies, and from individual sustainability advocates. Buglas Bamboo Institute was staffed by committed professionals and skilled people.

Then bamboo production expanded from furniture-making to house construction, making of musical instruments, and engineered bamboo tiles. The craftmanship greatly improved, earning appreciation from international clients as well.

Now you can see the work of Buglas Bamboo Institute in the beautiful bamboo huts in Pura Vida Resort, the furniture adorning various resorts in Dauin, the engineered bamboo tiles in several private homes, and in many other decors and musical instruments.

I hope the existing initiatives for bamboo by government and non-government, such as Kawayan Collective in Zamboanguita, are sustained towards an industry that can help alleviate the plight of farmers from poverty, provide employment, promote bamboo as good lumber for low-cost housing, and for bamboo to be appreciated by rich and poor.


It is our hope that the government will push for the propagation of bamboo for reforestation, and to help recover the ecological balance.

Dumaguete has everything for my personal and my family’s needs, growth, and nurture; although sadly, we are disturbed by the unresolved killings, especially of good journalists here.

Now in my retirement, I continue find Dumaguete as the place to live a relaxing life. The place to continue welcoming relatives and friends who simply want to enjoy life. The place for me to fully recover from being bedridden/wheelchair-riding due to a hipbone operation last year. Here we are blessed with a loving support system of friends and institutions. Alternative health care such natural healing are available in Dumaguete.

Thank you, Dumaguete, for our life here the past 26 years. We look forward to more quality time. (photo of Inday Melvin & Frans Kleine Koerkamp)

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