Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Philippine coral reefs at the California Academy of Sciences

We had to be in San Francisco, CA for a close look at marine life in Philippine coral reefs without donning a diving suit and a breathing apparatus. For the record, we had a camera whose shutter speed and aperture opening we had to adjust to the available light under the Philippine sea in an American setting.

Our 'diving site' was a 212,000-gallon aquarium of the California Academy of Sciences (CAS), which replicates some of the diversity found in our coral reefs.  

The coral reefs, says CAS, 'are among the world's most diverse ecosystems. Home to more than 500 coral species and 3,000 fish species of fish, they support entire ocean ecosystems and the people rely on reefs for food, income, and protection from storms.'

The Academy has been doing research in our country for more than a century, and the latest one was the 2014 Philippine Biodiversity Expedition that focused on marine habitats near the apex of the Coral Triangle. It surveyed the Triangle's 'twilight zone', a habitat 40 to 150 meters deep, where no humans had entered before.

The Triangle refers to the triangular area of the marine waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste. The Philippines is near its apex.

Hundreds of species have been discovered through the joint efforts of Academy and Filipino scientists but they estimate that 'fewer than half of all reef species have been identified.'  During the cited expedition, at least 300 new species were discovered' such as the deep-water coral Philippine sea fan (Solenocaulon sp.) and the spiny, globular Philippine pencil urchin (Phyllacanthus imperialis), whose specimens are on display at the CAS.

The Academy noted that pollution, coastal development, global climate change, and non-sustainable fishing practices pose severe threats to Philippine diversity. It has 'developed a practice of rapidly translating data collected in the field into effective marine conservation actions.'

'The 2011 Philippine Expedition,' the Academy reported in its webpage, 'resulted in recommendations for better regulation of existing Marine Protected Areas, as well as the establishment of new MPAs. Today, that work—in conjunction with community-based conversation projects—has recently begun to yield reversed degradation in coral reefs. While the threats still far outweigh any recovery, these comprehensive policies and practices have begun to slow the loss of biodiversity in the Philippines. Here [in California], our work in the Philippines enriches and informs Academy exhibits, where it continues to reach millions of visitors, teachers, and students each year.'

Part of the exhibit is a video presentation of 'Filipino Voices' which shows Filipinos 'who are championing marine sanctuaries, changing fishing practices, protecting precious reefs for future generations.'

In its caption on the Philippine pencil urchin, the Academy cited the villagers living near Batalang Bato, a popular dive spot.  'After decades of unsustainable practices,' CAS said, '[they] established one of the first community-initiated marine sanctuaries. Academy researchers worked closely with the community leaders and after six years of protection, a once depleted reef now teems with life that will repopulate other nearby reefs.'

This community action resonates with the marine turtles conservation project of volunteer fisher folks in our coastal village La Paz in the San Narciso town of Zambales province. For the past four years, they have been operating a hatchery during the nesting season to ensure the survival of the endangered Olive ridley turtles for future generations. They know that these creatures feed on sea grass and in so doing, they maintain the balance in the ecosystems in the reefs, the breeding ground of fishes. Fishing is the primary source of livelihood of these volunteers.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers: 2016 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee

The Ramon Magsaysay Award. (Source:

We have not encountered Japanese Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCVs) except through the cinema. In the recent Japanese Film Festival Eiga Sai 2016 in Metro Manila, one of the featured movies was about three young volunteers in the Philippines, two men and a woman: one of the men worked with the tourism department as a photographer and the other as an aquaculture worker in Mayoyao, Ifugao, and the woman as a midwife in a Baguio hospital.  This movie titled "Crossroads"  was released in 2015.

We tried to find out if the movie story line is based on actual experiences of JOCVs in the Philippines. 

There was indeed a volunteer who assisted the municipal agriculturist of Mayoyao in setting up a simpler and organic method of raising loach in 2013. This fish (dojo to the people) is abundant in the rice fields there but it is not an indigenous species; it is also eaten in Japan, Korea and China.

In "Crossroads", the aquaculture volunteer is a young man, The one who stayed in Mayoyao was a young woman. 

Available accounts of JOCV accomplishments in the Philippines do not mention any one involved with tourism, but they do mention those who did public health nursing in some parts of the country other than the Cordilleras.

The JOCV was established as a program of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in 1965 to assist developing countries,  Volunteers (aged 20 to 39) are assigned to host countries for two years. The first volunteers were dispatched to the Philippines in 1966. Their website says that 'the Philippines is one of the countries with the largest number of JOCV assignments.'

The fields of specialization of volunteers in the Philippines are listed as follows:
  • Agriculture, forestry, fisheries: animal husbandry, soils and fertilizer, aquatic products processing, animal hygiene, veterinary medicine, rural community development;
  • Manufacturing and maintenance:  ceramics/chinaware, product design, garments
  • Education and information services: science and math, computer technology, Japanese language instruction, youth activities;
  • Public health and medical service: nurse, physical therapy, social worker, nursing for disabled person.
The Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation says that the "[a]reas of volunteer work span 190 fields of specialization in education, social welfare, health care, environmental sustainability, agriculture, manufacturing, public works, sports, and governance. The work of JOCV volunteers improved lives, induced behavioral change, and transferred knowledge and skills to partners and communities in many countries."

Now on its 51st year, the JOCV has been chosen as one of the six recipients of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for 2016.  This is in recognition of the "idealism and spirit of service in advancing the lives of communities other than their own, demonstrating over five decades that it is indeed when people live, work, and think together that they lay the true foundation for peace and international solidarity.”

The citation capsulizes work done by the volunteers in several countries: "In Laos, Japanese volunteers assisted a provincial handicraft center in the design and marketing of products in a project aimed at reducing the villagers’ reliance on poppy farming. In Ghana, a volunteer who worked with Toyota in Japan helped locals with on-the-job training in automotive repair and a car assembly shop. In Bangladesh, a succession of a hundred volunteers over a ten-year period improved the preventive polio vaccination rate and eradicated polio and filariasis in the country. In the Philippines, volunteers teamed up with local teachers in developing teaching materials and organizing programs to foster interest in science among young Filipinos. These are a few of thousands of examples of the myriad arenas of interaction in which young Japanese men and women voluntarily immersed themselves in other cultures and helped people and communities."

The citation also mentions Hidekazu Kumano, a volunteer in the 1960s who has maintained his friendship with the people of Benguet. When he was assigned there, he worked with the farmers in growing thousands of mulberry trees.

In brief, the Magsaysay Award recognizes the JOCVs for "building a world of genuine solidarity/" 

Source: The Ramon Magsaysay Foundation at

There are two other organizations who will receive the Award: Dompet Dhuafa (Indonesia) for "expanding the transformative impact of zakat" and Vientiane Rescue (Laos) for "volunteering to save lives at risk".

Three individuals will also be honored with the Award:  Thodur Madabusi Krishna (India) for "ensuring social inclusiveness in culture," Bezwada Wilson (India) for "asserting the inalienable right to a life of human dignity," and Conchita Carpio Morales for "restoring faith in the rule of law."

The 2016 Ramon Magsaysay Award Presentation Ceremonies will be on 31 August 2016 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

Philippine dignitaries in the history of New York's ticker-tape parades

It's not a tourist attraction in New York City: the series of granite plaques inlaid into the sidewalks on both sides of the city's most famous Broadway Avenue. These bear names and dates inscribed in steel, which I later learned to be the honorees of the New York ticker-tape parades through the years from 1886 to the latest in July 2015.

Granite panel commemorating ticker-tape parade for Pres. Carlos P. Garcia.

Coming from the 9/11 National Memorial, this plaque caught my interest on my way to lunch: "June 23, 1958. Carlos P. Garcia, President of the Philippines" (all caps). Later, I found out what this and the others were all about; the plaque on the sidewalk of 1 Broadway says that "These granite panels commemorate the New York tradition of ticker-tape parades up Broadway from the Battery to City Hall. This celebrated route is called the Canyon of Heroes [all caps]."

The commemorative markers were embedded in 2004 in chronological order starting from the southernmost point of the Canyon (across the Bowling Green with the popular Charging Bull sculpture and the Museum of American Indians nearby) up to the Woolworth Building.

The first ticker-tape parade happened on 28 October 1886 when the Statue of Liberty was unveiled. At that time, stock brokers occupied many offices along Broadway. They had ticker-tape machines, and they relayed stock market prices using ticker-tapes. According to accounts, when the celebration parade passed by, they ripped ticker-tapes off and threw them out of the window onto the parade. The ticker-tape parade tradition thus began.

This panel explains the embedded ones on Broadway Ave. sidewalks.

The mayor of New York City  decides who to honor with a ticker tape parade. The list includes important events (landing on the moon, end of World War II, triumphs of hometown sports teams) and dignitaries (royalties, heads of states, athletes, etc.).

So far, there had been only three honorees from the Philippines;  Elpidio Quirino, President of the Philippines. 11 August 1949; Carlos P. Garcia, President of the Philippines. 23 June 1958; and Diosdado Macapagal, President of the Philippines. 08 October 1964.  These were during their state visits to the United States.

Commemorative panel of ticker-tape parade for Pres. Elpidio Quirino.

Commemorative panel of ticker-tape parade for Pres. Diosdado Macapagal.

As an aside, Admiral George Dewey and General Douglas MacArthur, two prominent names in the history of the Philippines as an American imperial territory, were also showered with ticker-tape in the Canyon of Heroes. Dewey's defeat of the Spanish armada in Manila Bay to MacArthur's destructive redemption of his 'I shall return' promise defined the timeline of the Americanization of the Filipino psyche.

New York welcomed him after Pres. Truman dismissed him as commander of the UN forces in Korea.

New York welcomed Dewey upon his return from Manila with a parade on 30 September 1899.   MacArthur's parade did not happen after World War II. Ticker-tape rained on him on 20 April 1951 following his dismissal 'on the grounds of insubordination' as commander of the U.N. forces in Korea by President Harry S. Truman.

The ticker-tape parades remind us of the "yellow confetti" that rained down from the business buildings in Makati after the assassination of Ninoy Aquino in 1983. These were shredded yellow pages of telephone directories thrown out of windows during the protest rallies on Ayala Avenue.

No one was honored in those "yellow confetti" rallies. They were symbols of indignation against strongman Ferdinand Marcos,

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Discovering the Lopez Family of Balayan, Batangas in Boston, MA

The Lopez ancestral house, Balayan, Batangas. Photo taken by the author in 2014.

My fraternity brother based in New Haven, CT and I were on our way to Copley Square of Boston, MA when, out of curiosity, we paused in front of the New England Genealogical Society building and decided to check what can its library be holding. I keyed in 'Manila' to the desktop computer on one of the tables; a list came out including pdf version of the book 'The Story of the Lopez Family, A Page from the History of the War in the Philippines' published in Boston in 1904, and digitized by Google. A copy can be downloaded from Googlebooks. 

The editor Canning Eyot said that the letters of Juliana Lopez formed the backbone of the book, which also included exchanges among her other siblings. These chronicle the friendly-to-hostile turn of events during the Philippine-American war that affected their family, the province of Batangas and the Philippine Republic, all because of their brother Sixto Lopez, a very good friend of Jose Rizal.

The story said the family was from Balayan, Batangas, and this reminded me of visiting an ancestral house there two years ago in July during the annual 'Parada ng mga Litson' (Parade of Roasted Pigs) event there. I reviewed my files and found out that this was the house of the Lopez family which has been converted into a museum. It was full of historical memorabilia like heirloom pieces and pictures on the walls but I was more interested in the architecture and construction of the house, amazed at the envelope of capiz windows around the main floor.

Looking at the picture of the house I took, I noted that there were two large tarpaulin pictures hanging by the windows for passers-by to see. These are the same pictures included in the book:  that of Sixto Lopez and Jose Rial, and that of Clemencia Lopez.

Photo from page 32 of the book.
The first picture was "from a photograph taken in Hong-Kong on Rizal's return from Europe in 1891. ... It is interesting .. because of an incident which occurred when it was being taken. In response to the customary injunction to "look pleasant," Rizal said to Lopez, "Yes, -- imagine that you are just about to be executed by the Spaniards!" These were prophetic of Rizal's tragic death, which occurred five years later."

Before the outbreak of the war, Sixto was in Washington to seek recognition for the new Philippine Republic. He was also advocating for negotiating peace with the United States. 

At the start of the American occupation of Batangas, the Lopez family extended hospitality to the American officers stationed there, keeping their house in Balayan open to them.

Eventually, the US military forces would turn hostile to them even if Cipriano, who was an officer in Aguinaldo's army, surrendered with his men and arms. Mariano resigned from his post in the Malolos Congress to attend to their businesses, which included shipping. 

But Sixto did not want to take the oath of allegiance to the US. He failed to convince General Malvar and other die-hard generals from Batangas to surrender; they persisted in their armed resistance. The Americans considered Sixto still an enemy, and pursued a scorch-earth policy (water and fire methods) in the province just like they imposed in Panay and Samar. 

Photo from the frontispiece of the book.
Part of the narrative on the Lopez saga mentioned Felipe Buencamino, labelled here as evil genius and Judas, who recommended arrest of wealthy non-combatants, and 'extermination of the entire population of Batangas'

The Lopez house in Balayan, their estates and ships were seized by the Americans, and Lorenzo, Cipriano and Manuel arrested and imprisoned in an island on Manila Bay.

Clemencia went to the United States in April 1902 to "seek justice at the hands of the President [Theodore Roosevelt] for her imprisoned brothers" with the help of their friends in Boston but her petition was denied. 

There were other friendly Americans in Manila who vouchsafed for them, sending testimonial letters to civil and military authorities about the integrity of the family.

Eventually, the saga came to a happy ending, the family honor restored and their business losses incurred in their shipping business compensated by the Americans. 

This is not only the story of one family, It tells us how America made us Filipinos bow under the threat of water and fire in their so-called 'pacification campaign'. 

Friday, August 5, 2016


Figurehead of the USCG Barque Eagle.
It was open house of the US Coast Guard Barque Eagle on the last day of this month [July 2016, its sails down and furled, at the Salem Wharf of Salem, Massachusetts. It's figurehead, painted in gold, is an eagle on flight.

In previous visits to Salem, we saw a replica of a real figurehead on the prow of the Salem East Indiaman sailing ship Friendship (also a 171-foot replica built by the the National Park Service), a tourist attraction at the Derby Wharf. We did not see it this year because it is on a scheduled 'haul-out' for repair and maintenance in Gloucester, and will not be back until October.

In maritime history, the sailing ships of the 16th to the 20th centuries had carved wooden decorations at their prows, which were believed to 'fend off bad spirits and to bring good fortune,' 

A popular figurehead was a model of Jenny Lind, a Swedish opera singer in the 1800s carved for the clipper ship Nightingale, which was named after her, the 'Swedish Nightingale.'

Left to right: The Lady wears a captain's cap (John Devine, artist); Lady with Day of the Dead face painting (Cynthia Mikula Smizsek, artist); Lady of color representing Salem as a diverse community (Salem Charter School, artist); and the Lady as mermaid adorned in precious gems ( Jeanne Pare artist).  Photos by the blogger.
Various interpretations of the Jenny Lind, twenty one painted ladies to our count are mounted, except for a few, on lamp posts on the Essex Street Pedestrian Mall. This exhibition called "Lady of Salem" is a project of the Salem Beautification Committee in collaboration with various sponsors and artists. Each "Lady" has a different character in terms of thematic personality/symbolism and color.

Left to right:  Liberty Lady dressed as a pizza shop worker (Nick Papadimitriou, artist); Lady crowned with brilliant jewels in silk clothes (Lady Shalimar, artist);  Quaker Lady (Kenneth Dyke-Glover, artist); and Waitress #2 (Sheila Farren Billings, artist).  Photos by the blogger.

Of course, in local and world history, we have learned about figureheads of a different kind: the titular head, a person who is a leader in name only. Filipino activists call this leader a 'papet' (puppet) or 'tuta' (a puppy, a running dog) as in 'tuta ng Kano' (running dog of the Americans).  Many Philippine presidents have been labelled 'tuta' in street parliaments or mass actions of the past, and they are represented as such in big 3-D papier mache effigies in symbolic costumes.  These political figureheads are set on fire as a highlight of the protest events.   

PS. To know more about the 'Lady of Salem', go to

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Urban art objects in Salem, MA: electrical utility boxes & street drains

Salem. Massachusetts is already familiar territory after several long visits there during the past two decades. It's called the Witch City being associated with the Witch Trials of 1692 (the Witch House is one of the most visited sites, and the witchcraft lore is the selling pitch of various tourist attractions and shops here.

But it's the rich maritime history of Salem that gives is a different living character altogether. We've combed through various shopping logs in the Phillips Library archives, some of them giving detailed description of the trade between Manila and New England, and impressions gleaned by skippers and ship captains on the life of the city and people of Manila. Maritime trade made Salem wealthy, and that can be seen from the houses built in what is now called the McIntire district, named after the architect that designed them. One walks past houses constructed in the 1700s to the 1800s for ship captains, merchants, sail makers, and other prominent citizens of Salem.

Thus, each time we get to Salem MA, we try to look for something new. In our first Halloween here in the 1990s, we found Haunted Happenings a very novel and bewitching experience: people gathering in the downtown plaza in the cold of autumn in grotesque and ghoulish costumes.

A few days ago, while roaming around downtown, what we found something new was urban art: colorful graphics on electrical utility boxes and street paintings around water drains.

There's no central theme of the utility box art. We surmise that the artist or the art group worked on a favorite subject.  There's one that resonates with the maritime trade of yore, another reflects a metropolitan scene, and some are abstract expressions.

Some of the artistic utility boxes:

This resonates with maritime history.

This recalls children's stories.

An abstract expression.

A familiar scene in urban cities.

On the other hand, the street paintings near water drains echo messages regarding the need to help protect marine biodiversity even if the water 'drains to [the] ocean'.

These are samples of these street drains paintings showing marine wildlife:

For a Pinoy on vacation in America, the question that pops in the mind is, what urban objects in Metro Manila can be used for artistic expressions for historical, current, educational, environmental, etc. issues?

Monday, August 1, 2016

Duterte's ASAP: As SONA as possible

I missed the mass action on Commonwealth Avenue during the first State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Rody Duterte on 25 July 2016. I saw him speaking though on the large TV screen at the airport boarding gate for the Emirates flight to Boston MA via Dubai, but the audio was drowned out by the hustle and bustle of passengers waiting to board.

The view of the demonstration moving to the Batasan from the pedestrian overpass on Commonwealth.

I replayed the YouTube video of the SONA as soon as I have rested from the almost 24-hour transcontinental travel. The demonstration of the Left sector on Commonwealth Avenue did not have an effigy burned similar to the various giant paper mache caricatures of PNoy Aquino in all his six years of governance. The unorthodox Duterte had his barong tagalog sleeves rolled up with both hands in his trouser's pockets when he entered the Batasan session hall.

Lumads in the Manilakbayan rom Mindanao.

The almost two-hour long address--scripted and adlib-ed--was interrupted with plenty of loud applause and appreciative laughs from the joint Congress and the gallery audience,

"We cannot move forward if we allow the past to pull us back," Duterte said. "Finger-pointing is not the way. That is why I will not waste precious time dwelling on the sins of the past or blaming those who are perceived to be responsible for the mess that we are in and suffering from."

May be it's a good thing that former president Benigno Cojuanco Aquino III did not attend the SONA event. It could have been very awkward to see him seated with the other living ex-presidents including Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, recently acquitted by the Supreme Court on plunder charges against her. Duterte's lines resonate with what we will mostly remember of PNoy's governance: vindictiveness, putting the blame on GMA in almost every major speech he made in local and international fora.

Instead of an effigy to burn, giant artistic murals of the aspirations of the Filipino masses.

"... During my inauguration last 30 [June] 2016, I said that the fight against criminality and illegal drugs and corruption will be relentless and sustained. ... We will not stop until the last drug lord, the last financier, and the last pusher have surrendered or put behind bars or below the ground, if they so wish. ..."

The droga war started before his inauguration. The media, church and civil rights groups have since been keeping account of the victims (alleged users/ pushers) of drug-related killings by the police and vigilante groups. None of the 'big fishes' yet have been caught; they're out of country, said Duterte, remotely directing operations via digital signals.

He emphasized later in his speech that"[h]uman rights must work to uplift human dignity. But human rights cannot be used as a shield or an excuse to destroy the country --- your country and my country."

"To our police officers and other officials, do your job and you will have the unwavering support of the Office of the President. I will be with you all the way. Abuse your authority, and there will be a hell to pay, for you will have become worse than criminality itself."

The nation awaits the outcome of the investigation of the National Police Commission on the five police generals he alleged to be connected to illegal drugs.

On achieving peace in the country:

"... To our Muslim brothers, the Moro country, and the members of the CPP/NPA/NDF, let me say this: All of us want peace, not the peace of the dead, but the peace of the living. 

"That is why, I reach out to you, to all of you today. To our Muslim brothers, let us end the centuries of mistrust and warfare. To the CPP/NPA/NDF, let us end these decades of ambuscades and skirmishes. We are going nowhere. And it is getting bloodier by the day.

"To immediately stop violence on the ground, restore peace in the communities and provide enabling environment conducive to the resumption of the peace talks, I am now announcing a unilateral ceasefire with the CPP/NPA/NDF effective immediately.And call on our Filipinos in the National Democratic Front and its forces to respond accordingly."

Duterte lifted the unilateral ceasefire following the reported ambush in Davao del Norte by the NPA, which resulted in the death of one AFP volunteer and wounding of four others. He imposed deadlines for the CPP-NPA leaders to meet. The Left offered their own version of the story: it was the AFP that violated the ceasefire. Jose Maria Sison from his exile labeled his former teacher Duterte, in a heated commentary, a 'butangero.' Of late though, Sison said that they will declare a ceasefire on 20 August, when the peace talks are scheduled to start.
A 'ceasefire' on Commonwealth Avenue during the SONA event.

In his ad libs, Duterte rumbled on many  items in every Fiipino's wish list, which includes traffic, MRT, processing of documents in government agencies, among others.  He offered solutions that hopefully implementing agencies will implement. He spelled out his own dicta on the Bangsamoro Basic Law, on the lumads, and his favorite agendum: federalism.

Hot lines have already been activated:  the 24-hour 911 emergency response hotline was launched nationwide as part of President Duterte's measure to combat crime and corruption, and the 8888 calls are reserved for citizen complaints.

This is not the ending paragraph of his SONA. It was one of his ad libs: "May I address again to the Filipino: Ako po’y nagdo-doble ang pagod para sa inyo, para sa kapakanan ng bayan. Seryoso po ako. Kaya yung mga ganun, ticket-ticket at magkaroon ng gulo, huwag ho ninyong gawain yan. Ito na yung warning ko, yon na ang last, wala nang iba, hindi ko na gagawin: Huwag ninyong sirain yung mga bagay-bagay na ginagawa namin para sa kapakanan ng tao. Mabuti ang magka-intindihan tayo."

He's down to earth. 

Photo credits:  Mon Ramirez