Monday, September 18, 2017

The 32nd International Coastal Cleanup day in San Narciso, Zambales

The 32nd ICC on the coast of  host town  San Narciso, Zambales.

The Philippines joined the annual global observance of  the 32nd International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) Day on Saturday, 16 September 2017 with the theme, “Together for our Ocean”.

Zambales was the focal province for the national observance led by ICC Philippines. San Narciso, our hometown, with an estimated 11,000 volunteers from its seventeen barangays, played host to provincial, regional and national government officials, CSOs and NGOs. 

This year, the aim was to surpass the 2015 number of volunteers but also to promote Zambales as an environment-focused province. Hence, the vision of creating an e-cropolis in the vicinity of Mt. Tapulao in Palauig, a mountain area cooler than Baguio, an ideal site for retirement houses of local and foreign seniors, and for an international convention center.

Students and teachers walked a kilometer from the town plaza to the cleanup site.

San Narciso town was conveniently accessible to the volunteers from outside the province being midway between Subic and Iba. It is the surfing capital of the province. It is also implements a marine biodiversity management flagship program-- marine turtle conservation and protection, the only one in Zambales--and this month happens to be the start of the nesting season of the Olive ridley species..

This year’s ICC Day is the fourteenth observance in the Philippines after its commitment through Presidential Proclamation No. 470 issued on 15 September 2003. There was no nationwide observance last year, however, because the government declared a state of lawlessness. The Ocean Observancy accepted the cancellation for the safety of volunteers.

ICC observance in the Philippines in September 2015.
(Source: ICC Philippines 2015 Report)
In the 30th ICC Day in 2015 though, the Philippines was the top participating countty with 256,904 volunteers from 47 provinces, who cleaned up 1,162.8 kms of coastline, collecting 301,772 kgs of trash in the process. Of the total number of volunteers, 308 used watercraft, and 296 went underwater, to collect debris.

Zambales was number one in the top 10 of volunteers, followed by Batangas, Metro Manila, La Union, Cebu, Cavite, Antique, Catanduanes, Pangasinan and Leyte, in that order.

The province had 89,042 volunteers who collected 8,902 bags of trash that weighed approximately 61,407 kg from an estimated 372.1 km-long coastland, the longest in the list. The total of debris items collected was 5,392,915. Of these, the top ten debris amounted to 3,394,304 items comprising from the largest to the smallest: food wrappers (1,208,950), cigarette butts, straws/stirrers, other plastic bags, grocery plastic bags, plastic bottle caps, plastic take-out/away containers, plastic beverage bottles, plastic lids, and plastic cups and plates (140,545).

Last year’s 31st ICC Day, with the non-participation of the Philippines, the top three participating countries were the United States (183,321 volunteers), Hongkong (76,311), and Canada (24,475).

The Top 20 participating countries in ICC Day 2016 and weird items found in the marine debris.
(Source: Ocean Observancy's ICC 2017 Report)

There were 504,583 volunteers from 112 countries and locations who collected 8,346,055 kgs of marine debris from along 24,136 kms of beaches, coasts and waterways, comprising 13,840,398 debris items.

Top 10 items collected in the Philippines on ICC Day 2015.
Source: ICC Philippines 2015 Report.

The ICC was initiated by Ocean Conservancy in 1986 is the largest volunteer effort held annually every third Saturday of September to deal with trash, one of the biggest threats to the oceans.

On ICC Day, volunteers around the world remove trash and debris from beaches, waterways and other water bodies, identify the source of the debris, and record information on the debris collected. These activities can ‘change behaviors that cause pollution [and] raise awareness on the extent of the marine debris problem,’ and data analysis of results can ‘aid in better-informed policy decisions and improved solid waste management programs.’

Volunteers record the kind and material composition of objects they collect. The information is ‘instrumental in helping determine the effects that specific materials are having on ocean habitats. … scientists and ocean advocates will be able to identify the best remedies and advocate for solutions that will lead to a healthier ocean.’

Top 10 items collected worldwide on ICC Day 2016.
(Source: Ocean Obsservancy's ICC 2017 Report)

According to Nicholas Mallos, conservation biologist and marine debris specialist of Ocean Conservancy: ‘The ability to pinpoint the types and amounts of material on beaches and in the ocean – not just the kinds of products – makes the data more informative when supporting marine debris policy.’

Friday, September 15, 2017

Was there a new boa discovered in the Philippines in the 1880s?

Is the “new species” of a boa serpent found in the Philippines and featured in the 22 February 1882 issue of the weekly paper La Ilustración española y americana of Madrid still existing?

Was it really a Philippine species?

Jose Domingo Seoane, a captain in the Spanish Navy, was said to have captured the ‘colossal ophidian’ much earlier (‘some time ago,’ probably in 1881) in ‘Mindanao, around Ilo-ilo,’ according to the short article.

The illustration of Piesigaster boettgeri from La Ilustracion.
(Source: Biblioteca National de Espana)

He probably gave a live specimen to his brother, Victor Lopez Seoane, a naturalist, who described it in his pamphlet Neue Boidengattung und Art, von den Philippinen (Frankfurt, 1881) as ‘somewhat compressed body, twice higher than wide; prehensile tail; bent teeth, and intermaxillary bone without teeth; between the scales; vertical pupil; fine general scales and lanceolate [tapered oval].’ He also measured the total length from the mouth to the anale simplex (more than a meter), the tail, the length and width of the tail. And the dominant body color, he wrote, was grayish-white, approaching yellow.

The boa, according to the story, ‘dwells in basements, in dark places, and rarely comes out of its burrows during the day, always waiting for the night to find food, which consists of small reptiles, birds, rats, and even larger animals, for the specimen which Seoane found had a chicken in its stomach.’ It presupposed that the serpent was already fully developed, thus, nothing longer than that could probably be found.

The reporter was ecstatic because the discovery was ‘an interesting event to the scientific academies of Berlin, London and Paris, all the more so since only snakes of the Pithonidae family of the two genera of Boides are known in the [Philippine] archipelago and in southern Asia.’

In his monograph on ‘The Snakes of the Philippine Islands (1922), Edward H. Taylor included Victor Lopez Zoane’s paper in the bibliography (p 30):  Neue Boidengattung und Art von den Philippinen. Abh. Senck. Nat. Ges. (1881) 12. … Describes a new genus Piesigaster with the species Piesigaster boettgeri from "der Provinz Iloilo und Pollock auf der Insel Mindanao," supposedly captured there by a brother of the author, a ship's captain of the Royal Spanish Marine. The specimen is Epicrates inornatus Reinhardt from the West Indies.’

However, Taylor included this specie as one of those erroneously attributed to the Philippine Islands: “Piesigaster boettgeri Seaone (= Epicrates inornatus Reinhardt). .
This species was originally described from Panay through a wrongly labeled specimen. It is confined to the West Indies.”

In the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the species with the taxon name Chilabothrus inornatus (Reinhardt, 1843) is synonymous with Boa inornata Reinhardt, 1843; Boella tenella Smith & Chiszar, 1992; Epicrates inornatus (Reinhardt, 1843); and Piesigaster boettgeri Seone, 1881.

Its common names are: Puerto Rican Boa and Yellow Tree Boa (English); Boa de Porto Rico and Boa sobre (French); and Boa de Puerto Rico (Spanish).

In 2009, it was assessed as ‘Least Concern due to its large distribution and ability to inhabit altered environments. Population numbers have declined in the past but this boa is still abundant in protected and inaccessible areas.’ This species is widely distributed in Puerto Rico, a native of that country.

Perhaps, the Spanish Navy captain picked up the boa in Puerto Rico, one of the Spanish colonies in the Americas, during one of his ship calls there, and gave the specimen to his brother, the naturalist.


Author Unknown. 1882, Feb 22. Historia Natural. La Ilustracion española y americana. 26:7(115, 125). Madrid.

Taylor, Edward H. 1922. The Snakes of the Philippine Islands. Manila: Bureau of Printing. Available from the Cornell University Library at

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Chilabothrus inornatus – published in 2010.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

9/11 Centenarians: Conching (Living) and Ferdie (Dead)

Two families celebrated the centennial of a loved one this year. One subject of celebration was around his grave site. The other subject is still alive and well to have a say on the manner of celebrating her 100th birthday.

The first subject, Ferdinand Emmanuel Edralin Marcos, was born in Batac, Ilocos Norte on 11 September 1917, who became a popular politician especially in the so-called Solid North of the Philippine archipelago, rose to become president of the republic on 30 December 1965, declared martial law on 23 September 1972, ruled the country as dictator until he was overthrown by People Power on 25 February 1986, died in his Hawaiian exile on 28 September 1989, and finally buried 'under protest' at the Libingan ng mga Bayani on 18 November 2016.

There were two Marcos celebrations: one at his resting place where his family, close friends and loyalists gathered to remember, and the other outside the gates of Libingan ng mga Bayani where activists raised placards and voices of protest. There were earlier reports that the widow Imelda wanted a grander celebration but daughter Imee wanted it simple. If there was any consolation to the protesters, President Duterte did not join former Ministers Cesar Virata and Juan Ponce Enrile at the grave site commemoration.

Sergia Favor Rico, 9/11 centenarian. (Photo by the author)
As far as we know, centenarian Sergia Favor Rico planned her birthday party, and listed 400 to be invited to a luncheon at Johneva Beach Resort in her coastal barangay La Paz in San Narciso, Zambales. Her kin in the USA and its territories, Canada came back for the occasion.

She knew that she will receive the centenarian incentive of PhP100,000 as provided by law: RA 10868, which Pres. Benigno Aquino signed on 23 June 2016. She is said to have told her kin that she will spend that cash gift for a grand celebration.

Conching, her popular name, manang/nana/auntie/lola to various people, may not be as strong as before to walk around to greet her well-wishers but she remains very lucid for the usual amiable conversations.

We do not know if Conching and Ferdie ever met in San Narciso during the World War II years. For some time, he stayed with a family in an interior sitio of this town to hide from the Japanese. That barrio though was far from Conching's coastal village. Both were in their late 20's at that time, and still single.

As an aside, centenarian Filipinos were featured in the 08 September 1873 issue of the Madrid weekly La Ilustración española y americana. 

Dona Rosa, 127 years old when she died in 1867.
(Source: La Ilustracion espanola y americans)
The author M.M. Cabellero de Rodas wrote about doña Rosa, la centenaría filipina (doña Rosa, Filipina centenarian) whose family name he forgot to note down. He met her in 1862, she was 123 years old, and he learned she died five years later. She was of mixed blood: Portuguese and Malay, who came to the country when she was four years old.

He also mentioned two other Filipinos with very long lives: 
(a) a pure indio coachman (a carruaje driver) he met in 1863, who reached 119 years; and

(b) a Boholana who was 116 years old in 1857. In her youth she did the laundry for the Jesuits until they were expelled in 1766.

These accounts of longevity came at the end of an article on hygiene in the Philippines, which also touched on the common diseases of the Filipinos at that time.

In this time and age of many affections and afflictions, to become a octogenarian or nonagenarian is already one reason for celebration. According to WHO (2015), the total life expectancy in the Philippines 68.5 years.

Monday, September 11, 2017

2017 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee: Gethsie Shanmugan, a lifetime psychosocial worker of Sri Lanka

Gethsie Shanmugan as she was being presented 
during the awarding ceremonies.
Gethsie Shanmugam has spent most of her life in psychosocial work starting with children and adults displaced by the civil war in the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka in 1983 after she retired from teaching.

"My work with children and adults living with war, disaster and other hardships has shown me that even in the context of terrible violence, loss and suffering," she stressed, "there is always the possibility of growth, caring and hope. Life can not only continue despite pain and hardships, but can take on new meaning and purpose."

She spoke about how she encouraged and assisted children on the small tidal island of Nasivantheevu in the mid-1990s who "found the courage to negotiate with the warring parties to allow safe passage for the bus that took them to school, enabling access to an education that would transform their lives."

She told about a soldier who lost both legs in the war, thrice considered suicide, and mistrusted others not of his ethnic tribe. Her personal attention taught the young man "to set aside his anger to care for an older woman from a community he deeply mistrusted."

She worked with widows who were "suddenly thrust into new roles in a society that stigmatized them ... [and their] determination and hard work enabled them to overcome challenges to secure a life for themselves and their children."

Shanmugam, a member of the minority Tamil community, took up psychology while teaching in Colombo and worked as a volunteer counselor when psychosocial work was still new in Sri Lanka. 

When she retired from teaching, she joined the Save the Children Norway (SCN). Here, she braved bombings, searches, threats of arrest in the war zones, crossed the Sinhalese-Tamil divide to do counseling work in collaboration with her colleagues, trained teachers and NGO workers.

In SCN, she was involved in the design of programs, research, training, and counseling in projects aimed at building capacities for psychosocial support in war-affected schools and at helping war widows, orphans, and traumatized children.

After SCN, she remained active as consultant and volunteer in organizations working with women and children suffering from war trauma, domestic violence, alcoholism, and sex trafficking. She led in establishing a pioneering temporary home for young people victimized by abuse and in trouble with the law.

After the tsunami of 2004 tsunami, Gethsie trained eighty school teachers in a government pilot program to provide a supportive environment for traumatized children. Using her experiences in various countries, she experimented with small, simple ways to build psychosocial resilience adapted to local conditions and the lack of trained professionals; and actively disseminated her knowledge through publications and the mass media.

Gethsie received the medallion and certificate from
Vice Pres. Leni Robredo and RMAF Chair Ramon del Rosario, Jr.
Her concluding remarks in her response to the Ramon Magsaysay Award: "Whether working with children or adults, with individuals or groups, my four decades of experience has taught me that healing and transformation always starts with the person. For people who are in deep pain to begin to heal, it is essential for them to gain self-awareness and acceptance, which in turn shapes their capacity for healthy relationships with others or even towards themselves. This kind of personal growth is often something people overwhelmed by suffering find difficult to do for themselves, but with support and loving care from another human being, like the beautiful lotus that emerges from the mud, these people can be helped to bloom despite the pain they have experienced.

"As individuals we often feel that we can't do big things. But we can do small things. All change starts with a person. When one person becomes brighter and relates to others with genuine love, then small groups of individuals can form around them, creating small ripples of change in the world.

"I believe that each of us is a tool for the healing of ourselves, for the healing of others and for the healing of the societies we live in. No matter who or where we are, we can play a role in making the world a kinder and better place. This is the message that I would like to share with you all."

Gethsie Shanmugam was elected to receive the 2017 Ramon Magsaysay Award in recognition of "her compassion and courage in working under extreme conditions to rebuild war-scarred lives, her tireless efforts over four decades in building Sri Lanka's capacity for psychosocial support, and her deep, inspiring humanity in caring for women and children, war's most vulnerable victims."

Friday, September 8, 2017

2017 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee: Tony Tay (Singapore) with his 'Willing Hearts'

'Willing Hearts,' a fully volunteer-based, secular and non-profit organization in Singapore, runs a soup kitchen that prepares and cooks six thousand meals a day for distribution at forty points around the island state.

Tony Tay with the other awardees seated behind him.
The hot, packed meals (segregated for the Muslims and non-Muslims) are for the needy: neglected and abandoned elderly, persons with disabilities, the sick, children of single-parent households, low-income families, and migrant workers.

Tony Tay founded this charity in 2003 starting with eleven volunteers. As of today, some three hundred regular volunteers operate the kitchen 365 days a year in a public community center.

Tay was born poor. Abandoned by their father when he was five years old, they were homeless with their mother engaging in transient jobs. He and a sister were put in an orphanage, and two other sisters were taken care by a foster family.

Tay dropped out of school at twelve, sought for food wherever he could, and worked at odd jobs. He persevered, slowly overcame poverty, and succeeded in the printing business he set up. He and his own family now live in modest comfort in his own home.

It was his mother that inspired him to start his 'one hot meal revolution': "[H]e was fifty-seven when, at his mother’s funeral, he was deeply moved by the great number of people who came to give their respects to his mother. Despite her own difficulties, she had devoted herself to charity work with the Canossian Sisters. Inspired, Tony and his wife began their share of doing good for others -- collecting unsold bread and vegetables from the market and bringing these to the Canossian convent to be given to the needy. Enlisting family and friends, they began to cook what they had gathered in their home kitchen, delivering packed meals to the poor and elderly."

Tay looks at 'Willing Hearts' as a way of being part of one family, one village considering that he did not have much of a family when he was growing up. “We are just sharing,' he said, 'sharing all that we have in life to make a better society.”

That simple sharing of food has fostered the spirit of volunteerism among taxi drivers (they deliver food packs), parents with their children (they help in the Willing Hearts kitchen--preparing ingredients, packing meal boxes, cleaning and washing), among others.

Tony Tay receiving the medallion and certificate from
Vice Pres. Leni Robredo & RMAF Chair Ramon del Rosario, Jr.

In his response after receiving the Ramon Magsaysay Award, he expressed his gratitude to those who answered "YES" when he asked for help:
  • the Canossian sisters to help collect extra bread that were not sold for the day from a bakery.
  • to distribute the rest of the bread to those who need it;
  • to collect the extra vegetables from wholesalers;
  • to my wife when she asked to cook for the elderly who cannot cook for themselves;
  • to all who asked for help along the way.
'Willing Hearts,' he said, 'is a journey of many who said "YES", yes to those in need. Willing Hearts started with one word -- YES.'

In electing Tony Tay to receive the 2017 Ramon Magsaysay Award, the board of trustees recognized 'his quiet, abiding dedication to a simple act of kindness – sharing food with others – and his inspiring influence in enlarging this simple kindness into a collective, inclusive, vibrant volunteer movement that is nurturing the lives of many in Singapore.'

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

2017 Ramon Magsaysay awardee: 'activist, victim, indigenous person' Abdon Nababan of Indonesia

Abdon Nababan.
Abdon Nababan is acknowledged today as the single most important person in the indigenous peoples (IP) movement in Indonesia. He has worked tirelessly with the movement for twenty-four years.

He is a Toba Batak from Sumatra, one of seventy million very ethnically diverse masyarakat adat (IP) of Indonesia.

Nababan began his social advocacy when he was still a student, and became an officer of a non-government organization (NGO) after graduation from Bogor University in 1987.

I became an activist in the late '80s,' he said, 'opposing the all-too-powerful New Order Regime. In the '90s I realized that I was also a victim. I am one of millions of Indigenous Peoples of Indonesia. At the time, I--an activist, a victim, an indigenous person--fought an industrial forest company in our ancestral lands.'

The land taken over by the big industrial company was actually ancestral land that belonged to his grandparents and other Toba Batak families.

'That company, however, was just a front for the real oppressor: authoritarianism and development,' he stressed. 'For them, we the Indigenous Peoples, were not wanted. We are to be oppressed, to be eradicated, criminalized, impoverished, victimized.'

After the fall of Suharto in 1999, he helped organize a congress that launched the mass-based organization called AMAN (Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara or Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago).

AMAN today is the country's largest and most influential non-state organization with over 115 local and 21 regional chapters throughout Indonesia’s thirty-four provinces: these represent a collective membership of over 17 million. Before AMAN, Indonesia recognized only one million masyarakat adat.

The indigenous peoples have become a political force to reckon with. AMAN delivered 12 million votes to President Joko Widodo in the 2014 election after he made six commitments during the campaign to address the needs of the IPs. The government has yet to deliver on these commitments though. 

Under Nababan’s leadership, AMAN challenged the existing forestry laws. In 2012, they won a landmark constitutional court ruling that forests in IP territories are not “state forests,” hence, some fifty-seven million hectares of government-controlled forest land were returned to indigenous communities.

AMAN, with the support of NGOs, launched the Ancestral Domain Registration Agency in 2010 to create a single data base for verifying land and forest claims on ownership, use and tenure. With Nababan at the helm, they were able to submit to the government "indigenous maps" covering 8.23 million hectares in 2016.  

The constitutional court ruling and AMAN’s maps, however, are still awaiting implementation.

Nababan receiving medal and certificate from Vice Pres. Leni Robredo
and RMAF Chair Ramon del Rosario, Jr.

In his response to the award, he revealed that he accepted the challenge of the indigenous peoples of North Sumatra to run for governor of the province, which he described as 'so corrupt and violent ... controlled by mobs and drug dealers.'

In parting, he said: 'When differing opinions or interests manifests into violent conflicts, when the use of religion means more killings, when developing the economy means destroying the environment, standing here before you, I am offering the values and spirit of Indigenous Peoples to tackle present-day problems of our society and the environment--inequality, crimes, climate change--in a way that is not violent, but humane and sustainable. ... And let our countries, Indonesia and the Philippines, lead the world towards peace, where the well-being of people, plants, animals, water, soils and air prevail.'

Abdon Nababan was elected by the RMAF to receive the 2017 Ramon Magsaysay Award in recognition of 'his brave, self-sacrificing advocacy to give voice and face to his country’s IP communities, his principled, relentless, yet pragmatic leadership of the world’s largest IP rights movement, and the far-reaching impact of his work on the lives of millions of Indonesians.'

2017 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee: Lilia B. de Lima - honest, competent and dedicated public servant

Atty. Lilia B. De Lima as she was presented to the audience.
'One-stop, non-stop shop, no red tape, and no corruption.' That's how Lilia B. De Lima described the brand of service she instituted at the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) under her leadership for twenty one years.

For that, she got a rousing round of applause during the 2017 Ramon Magsaysay Awards presentation ceremonies on 31 August 2017.

She was appointed the first Director-General of the organization in 1995. She told former president Fidel Ramos who was in the audience: 'If not for you, sir, I wouldn't be here [for this award].'

The Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation (RMAF) noted that under her helm, PEZA became 'a showcase of successful regulatory reform, a model of honest and committed public service, and a key contributor to the nation's economic growth.'

'It wasn't a walk in the park,' she said. 'We inherited an extremely bloated bureaucracy. Trimming the fat by 60 percent was a long, torturous and emotionally draining process. It was the most bruising experience in my public career, Everything was thrown at me. But we did not waver, and we cleaned up.'

The awardee with Vice Pres. Leni Robredo
and RMAF Chair Ramon del Rosario, Jr.
'My twenty-one years at PEZA was a privilege as it was a commitment. It gave me the opportunity to serve my country and help generate employment for our people.'

PEZA generated some 6.3 million jobs for Filipinos in direct and indirect employment during her term.

She thanked the investors ;who trusted in our capability to ensure that their operations can be set up at the soonest time and at the least cost.'

'As we strengthened the organization, we also instituted sweeping structural and policy reforms to remain competitive and address the ever changing investment climate,' she said.

The country became one of the region's top investment destinations.

With De Lima at the helm, the number of PEZA ecozones increased by 2,000% (from the initial 16 to 343 by 2016); registered enterprises rose from 331 to 5,756; investments reached PhpP 3 trillion; and ecozone exports totaled USD629 billion. PEZA remitted to the national treasury PhP16.6 billion in corporate income taxes and dividends, and paid off the debt of PhP4.6 billon of its predecessor agency.

From day one, she emphasized, their mantra was 'absolute honesty and utmost service in all our dealings with our stakeholders.'

She added that she survived four presidents for only one simple reason: "do[ing] your job with integrity and professionalism [which] is the best credential you can have, and the only endorsement you will need.'

She expressed hope that PEZA will continue to be 'a clean and efficient organization with highly motivated, hardworking professionals.' 

The 2017 Ramon Magsaysay Awardees with Vice Pres. Leni Robredo
and RMAF Chair Ramon del Rosario, Jr.

In recognition of 'her unstinting, sustained leadership in building a credible and efficient PEZA, proving that the honest, competent and dedicated work of public servant can, indeed, redound to real economic benefits to millions of Filipinos,' the RMAF board of trustees elected Lilia B. Delima as a recipient of the 2017 Ramon Magsaysay Award.