Live from Maguindanao, Day 4
11 days before Halalan 2010
KORONADAL, SOUTH COTABATO– Gastronomical adventures come with any visit to the far away. But that does not always sound appealing when you talk about a month-long need for sustenance.
On my first trip to Mindanao, I think we have had enough of meat. Pork is not a staple here, but from where we’ve eaten so far, beef seems to be.
Heard of the Arabic-sounding balbakwa? They call this soup the local relative of bulalo. Anything, as long as it’s from the cow, goes. One version we ate stocked on the flesh, skin, and hair. Others include innards. All overbear in sour beef-ness.
If not, it has been goat, chicken, the rare pork lechon, and more beef.
Resident Isko Lance Catedral says fruits and veggies are cheap here that they are actually frequent fare–but mostly at homes.
One nearby caf now seems to end our search for more than meat. “Food Harbor” is a canteen heavily patronized for its 35-plus choices of viands (yes, someone counted) and doubles as a pub come nightfall.
So along with carnivorous entrées such as roasts (inihaw) and bitter stews (papaitan), we’re again eating familiar greens like chopsuey and lumpia.
Eating in Maguindanao, meanwhile, is a different story.
The towns there do have markets and the roadways their eateries–like a Lots’a Pizza stall in central Shariff Aguak. But our three guides/drivers want to be safe.
They’re retired soldiers who fought in this side of Mindanao. And they’re still wary of stopping at any place even for food.
So during lulls, they drive 30 minutes to the nearest “Christian” area–already in the next province–to buy rice and meat, then cook them beside our setup in the provincial capitol.
And in military fashion, we attack the meal in a boodle fight.
It’s convenient. No frills, no qualms, and few to dishwash. Banana leaves and fire wood abound. Plus the food is hot, we eat a lot, and we save a lot.
Our “Triple Ex(soldiers)” say the boodle fight is basically bonding, akin to the inuman. You share the meal, you share your saliva and yourselves. There you have a perfect campaign photo op.
But does that logic translate even to the voting booth?
The report we transmitted to Manila shows what our Cotabato crew caught on cam during the absentee vote of armed personnel there.
Either for lack of space or lack of orientation, the soldiers of the 6th infantry division filled up their ballots all in one table. Raucously and without separators, many wrote in former President Joseph Estrada.
Estrada waged an “all out war” against insurgents here. And while army men interviewed denied copying, some said they voted for Erap because he had looked after the welfare of soldiers.
The Cotabato Comelec warned that showing each other’s votes can be prosecuted.
That’s only if someone complains, something we might not expect from men who not just share their food, but their lives and their interests.