Saturday, November 18, 2017

Juan Luna's 'Death of Cleopatra' (1881) goes to Singapore

As first seen at the Exposition of Fine Arts in Madrid in 1881.
Source: La Ilustracion espanola y americana (30 June 1881)

News photo of La Muerte after 136 years.
Source: Philippine Daily Inquirer (16 November 2017)

Famous Filipino artist Juan Luna was first noticed in Spain because of his work La Muerte de Cleopatra (The Death of Cleopatra), competition entry number 379 in the Exposition of Fine Arts in Madrid that opened on 18 May 1881.

This historical painting was awarded a silver medal but it has never been seen again. The Museo Nacional del Prado kept it for 136 years. Luna fans will have to fly to Singapore to see it on exhibit at the National Gallery Singapore from 16 November 2017 until 11 March next year.

We first saw the news photo reproduction of La Muerte painting in the 30 June 1881 issue of La Ilustracion espanola y americana, a Madrid magazine, and read a review of it and other paintings in the Madrid exposition in the 22 June issue.

The reviewer said that Luna's work, which was in the fourth exhibition sala, caught the fixed attention of viewers; and he called the newcomer in the Spanish art circle as "energetic, frank, brilliant."

"The subject of the painting," he wrote, "is the death of that queen of Egypt whom Horace called the fatal monster, and Virgil a cursed woman; that one which Michelet said does not deserve mercy or admiration. .. In golden bed lies the corpse of Cleopatra, adorned with pharaonic magnificence; the slave Iras, also dead, is in front of the bed; the black slave Charmion, who has just placed the royal crown on her lady's head, falling at that moment, as if struck by lightning." The venomous asp had just done its job.

There is something missing, he added. And he took it from Plutarch: the emissaries of Octavio who were able to enter the mausoleum where "Caesar's and Anthony's mistress" and her slaves locked themselves in. One of the emissaries was supposed to have shouted to Charmion that Cleopatra does not deserve the crown, but the slave shouted back that she's most worthy of it, being the daughter of kings.

In the composition, the reviewer said, "one can see the faithful Charmion falling to the ground but you can not see or even guess that there were Roman intruders.

He noted that the many exuberant details on the canvas, and even the beautiful background, greatly distracted from the main theme of the work.

He concluded, however, that the painter is a promising luminary in the Spanish art scene.

Juan Luna would make a bigger splash in the Spanish media in 1884: the highest honor and praises his Spolarium gained, two news magazines having him in their covers, with one of the cover stories written by his friend Jose Rizal. In later years, reproductions of his works were featured including the paintings he did on the prison walls when he was incarcerated for rebellion in Manila. 


  1. Review of La Muerte in La Ilustracion Espanola y Americana. 25:23(406). 22 June1881. 
  2. Painting reproduction in La Ilustracion Espanola y Americana. 25:24(415). 30 June 1881.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

"Sangre Roja" - association of San Narciso public school teachers in the 1900's

There was no Gabaldon school building yet in San Narciso in 1910. The first one would be built in 1913 although the Gabaldon law (Act 1801), which appropriated Pesos 1-Million for constructing schools based on the designs of architect William Parsons all over the country, was enacted in 1907.

Male teachers, provincial representatives in a PTA event, 1909. Two of them are from Zambales.
Source: Cover of The Filipino Teacher, June, 1909..

The public school teachers of San Narciso though organized a society they called "Sangre Roja." There could have been a strong reason for them to adopt that name, which means "red blood" but which we can not seem to deduce from what "The Filipino Teacher" reported as "the tendency of this society [of being] (1) Recreative, and (2) Instructive."

"The Filipino Teacher" was the monthly magazine of the Philippine Teachers' Association (PTA) edited in English, Spanish and Tagalog. The San Narciso teachers belonged to the Zambales Teachers' Association, which became the provincial committee of the PTA in 1908. 

In their organizational meeting held in the hall of the Presidencia, the "Sange Roja" elected the following officers:  President - Mr. Victor Amos Altardino, Secretary - Mr. Marcos Fuerte,       Treasurer - Miss Maria Guidilla, and Vocales [Board members]: Mr. Gervacio Fedalizo, Miss Marcelina Academia, Miss Perfecta Amos, Miss Francisca Firme, Mr. Alejandro Dumlao, Mr. Esteban Guidilla.

That meeting was followed by an "interesting program", according to the magazine report which featured the following: 

1.  Preliminary talk by the President of the association “Sangre Roja” Mr. Victor Amos Altardino.

2.  Recitation, the Book of the Year, by Miss Maria Villanueva

3.  Flores Orientales, Waltz by the band of the Municipality

4.  Conference about the important [sic] of Poultry Raising by Mr. Victorio Posadas

5.  Morena Carmen, Waltz by the Band of the Municipality.

6.  Debate. Resolved that it is more beneficial for a girl to stay at home than to go to school

Affirmative – Miss Perfecta Amos, Mr. Benito Ebuen, and Mr. Apolonio Academia
Negative – Miss Marcelina Academia, Mr. Donato Amon and Mr. Pablo Cawagas

7.   Star Spangle[d] Banner and Marcha Nacional Filipina

We read several school programs in the early 1900/s in other places that featured a debate. This could have been an exercise for mastering the English language, an oral test for both the teachers and their students.

Our Narcisenian teachers of 1910 could have been on the job ever since the Americans introduced the new educational system in 1901. Some were qualified to teach after going through the crash course in the English language; others, after passing the Intermediate school (Grade 7), and later, completion of the high school course.. The Zambales High School in Iba was established in 1908, and if there were any Narcisenians there, they graduated in 1912. Eventually, graduates of the Normal School became the leading figures in the school system.

In those early years, there were more male teachers than female. Pensionados to the U.S. were mostly men. 'Gender-fair' was not yet in the vocabulary, and the salary was not equal between the two sexes..

Salaries were either insular (from the national government) or municipal (from the town coffers). The American teachers were paid more than their Filipino counterparts. Every time the Americans were given a raise, the Filipino teachers complained through "The Filipino Teacher" of the "unfair" treatment, and wondered when they would also enjoy the "limpak limpak" salary the Americans got. The Tagalog phrase was from an article in the Tagalog section of the magazine.

Although "the service is open to both sexes, however, on identical terms, and in many provinces, the women teachers receive an average larger salary than the men."  In 1904, for example, "the average salary for a native teacher [was] highest in the city of Manila ... P 72.67 per month for men teachers and P70.16 for women teachers; and it is lowest in Paragua [Palawan] .. P7.50 for the men and P 7.75 for the women. ... [In] Zambales, P9.92 for men and P11.37 for women." 

Thus in 1904, the maestros of San Narciso received an annual salary of  P119.04, while the maestras were paid  P136.44, The Americanos received more than a thousand pesos each.

Note: The teachers in the picture as numbered: 1.Mr. Anastacio Quijano (Gen. Secretary of The Filipino Teacher); 2. Mr. Bernardo Elayda (Zambales); 3.Mr. Francisco de Mesa (Pampanga); 4. Mr. Ciriaco de Leon (Bulacan); 5. Mr. Guillermo Santos (Pres., Executive Board); 6. Mr. Leoncio R. Gonzales (Advisor and Gen. Secretary Protempore); 7. Mr. Militon Cruz (Bulacan); 8. Mr. Emilio Pestaño (Manila); 9. Mr. Hugo de la Torre (Batangas); 10. Mr. Pablo de Guia (Cavite); 11. Mr. Miguel Nicdao (Pampanga); 12. Mr. Pedro Manalo (Rizal);13. Mr. Teodorico Bauson (Pangasinan);14.  Mr. Brigido Santos (Rizal); 15. Mr. Quirino Perez (Pangasinan); 16.  Mr. Zosimo Topacio (Cavite); and 17.  Mr. Marciano Peralta (Zambales).


1. Report on "Sangre Roja" in The Filipino Teacher, 4:3(4), August, 1910.

2. Report on the approval of  Zambales Teachers' Association as provincial committee of PTA in The Filipino Teacher, 2:6(6), December 1908.

3. Annual Report of the General Superintendent of Education. September, 1904. Manila: Bureau of Public Printing. pp 17-25.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Filipino Veterans receive the Congressional Gold Medal

Source: U.S. Mint

After 75 years, the United States finally recognized the Filipino veterans who fought with the American forces during the Second World War.

The Congressional Gold Medal was finally collectively awarded to the Filipino Veterans of World War II on 25 October 2017 at the Emancipation Hall of the U.S. Capitol. 

These Filipino Veterans served honorably in an active duty status between 26 July 1941 and 31 December 1946 under the command of the United States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) within the Philippine Commonwealth Army, the Philippine Scouts, the Philippine Constabulary, recognized guerrilla units, the New Philippine Scouts, the First Filipino Infantry Regiment, the Second Filipino Infantry Battalion (Separate), or the First Reconnaissance Battalion, including those commanding or serving as U.S. military officers or enlisted soldiers.

Ceres Cawagas Busa receiving her father's medal from MGen. Antonio Taguba, US Army, ret.
(Photo courtesy of Sonny & Ceres Busa)

A personal note: one of the posthumous awardees was one of my father's good buddies, a popular teacher in my youth, Death March survivor Pantaleon Cawagas. His daughter Ceres Cawagas Busa received his award from retired US Army Major General Antonio Taguba during the ceremony.

The medal was designed and struck by the United States Mint. Its obverse side displays part of the range and breadth of the Filipino Veterans’ service in World War II. It shows a Filipino scout, a Filipino infantry regiment officer, and a guerrilla soldier. In the foreground is an infantryman on guard, symbolizing the soldiers’ fierce determination. “FILIPINO VETERANS OF WORLD WAR II” is inscribed.

The reverse side displays both the American and Filipino World War II-era flags. The design includes these inscriptions: “UNITED STATES ARMY FORCES IN THE FAR EAST” along the top border, “DUTY TO COUNTRY” and the key locations of “BATAAN & CORREGIDOR,” “LUZON,” “LEYTE,” and “SOUTHERN PHILIPPINES” in the central area, “ACT OF CONGRESS 2016” along the bottom, and upon a scroll between the flags, the significant years of “1941,” “1945,” and “1946.”

The 114th Congress of the U.S. passed the Public Law No. 114-265 or the Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2015 on 14 December 2016. Section 4 of this law provides that “President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall make appropriate arrangements for the award of a single Congressional Gold Medal to the Filipino Veterans of World War II in recognition of their dedicated service during World War II. The medal, following its award, shall be given to the Smithsonian Institution where it will be available for research and display. It is the sense of Congress that the Smithsonian Institution should make the gold medal available for display elsewhere, particularly at other appropriate locations associated with the Filipino Veterans of World War II.”

The Congressional Gold Medal is one of the highest civilian awards bestowed by the U.S. Congress as an expression of gratitude for distinguished achievements and contributions by individuals, groups, or institutions.

In recent years, the Medal has been awarded to recognize the services rendered during World War II of the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat, and the Military Intelligence Service (awarded in 2010); First Special Service Force (2013); Members of the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders (2014); WWII members of the Civil Air Patrol (2014); and “Monuments Men” (2014).

P.S. A 3-inch bronze copy of the medal can be bought from US Mint at $39.95.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Formal education in my old hometown, San Narciso in Zambales

The names of 18 schoolboys and their fathers from the 
barangay of Don Clemente Jose in the 1846 petition.
(Source: Ereccion de Pueblos. SDS-14126. National 
Archives of the Philippines)
We can say that the documented history of formal education in San Narciso started on 22 February 1846 when the fathers of 104 Alasiis schoolboys sent a petition to Fr. Nicolas Martinez, parish priest of Yba and Vicar Forane of Zambales, imploring that they be allowed to hire maestro Don Julian Dias Ronquillo of Subic. 

The fathers wanted their sons to be taught their Christian duties-- ‘walang nalalaman unang-una sa katungkulan ng taong Christiano’—but they were worried about their safety as they walk the miles to the school in Cabangan. Hence, they wanted a maestro-in-residence.

Don Julian became the first teacher of Alasiis and of San Narciso town after its creation from the five Ilocano barrios between Cabangan and Uguit.

Education of the ‘Indians’ was a directive of the royal decree of 05 June 1574. This was iterated by the Raon Ordinance No. 93 of 26 February 1768: “it is strictly ordered that the [the provincial governors] request [the priests] … to establish schoolmasters in all villages, who shall teach the Indians to read and write in Spanish, and the Christian doctrine and other prayers.”

Almost a century later, the general system of primary schools in the country was established by the royal decree of 20 December 1863. The Normal School was founded; secondary schools and colleges followed.

The escuelas, separate for boys (niños) and girls (niñas), were under the control of the municipal government. There were no school infrastructures as we see today.

Teachers were appointed by the authorities in Manila. One of the early ‘maestros de escuela publica de instruccion primaria [teachers of the public school for primary education]’ of San Narciso was Don Jose Ferriols, a 23-years old Spanish mestizo from San Felipe who graduated from the Normal School. He had taught for three years when he was appointed to the post in San Narciso in August 1871.

Don Juan Posadas, another graduate of the Normal School, was appointed as the town school teacher in April 1874 with a monthly salary of sixty pesetas. He served uninterrupted for thirteen years, which was more than the mandatory ten for Normal graduates. In 1888, he asked permission to resign because of poor health: chronic anemia and palpitation of the heart.

There were women teachers for the girls like Dna. Anastacia Garcia (1870s) and Dna. Telesfora Calimlim (1880s).

In 1896, Don Simeon de Villanueva y Pobre, a native of San Narciso, proposed to establish a private school here. He spent five years of secondary education at the University of Sto. Tomas from 1880 to 1885.

“For many years,” he wrote to the Governor-General, “it was my constant desire to open in San Narciso, my own hometown, a private school for adults, teaching in it the rudimentary elements of primary education, but putting more interest in the teaching of the Spanish language.” His petition was endorsed by the parish priest Fr. Francisco Moreno and the principalia headed by Capitan Municipal Rufino Fernandez. Don Simeon’s dream was not realized.

The American occupation brought a new educational system with English as medium for instruction. In 1902, the department of public instruction was re-organized as the Bureau of Education.  Teachers from America--collectively called 'Thomasites'--were spread throughout the archipelago to head school districts and to teach using primers and textbooks from America.   

The Americans set up the prototype of Philippine schools designed by William Parsons. The Philippine Assembly Act 1801 in 1908 appropriated US1-million to construct the so-called Gabaldon schoolhouses named after Assemblyman Isauro Gabaldon, author of that law.

Gabaldon school building plan of West Central (San Rafael-Natividad) Elem. School.
(Source: Bulletin No. 37-1912. School Buildings and Grounds. Bureau of Education)

The first public school building of San Narciso was for the ‘Central School’ built with an appropriation of P5,000 in 1912. It followed the bureau’s standard plan No. 10. This could be the Gabaldon building of West Central (now San Rafael-Natividad Elem. School), the first public school of the town according to oral and written accounts.

Construction begun on 03 April 1913 under a local foreman. “The building was completed inside of four calendar months at a total cost of P18,602.88,” the Bureau of Public Works reported, “including all surcharges, by administration, under a native foreman, the estimated cost being P21,000 and the appropriation P20,000.”  Don Teodoro R. Yangco, a well-known philanthropist of that time, donated P5,000 as part of the cost.

The school was formally inaugurated on 28 November 1913. It was a big event, according to the Bureau of Public Works Bulletin: “It being school holidays from the 27th to the end of the month, all the students of the Iba high school, over 200 strong, the pupils from Yangco school, San Felipe, and Olongapo, and a big crowd of citizens from all over the province and some provincial officials, all came down to San Narciso to witness the grand dedication of the school. … The most notable events were the various athletic meets, in which the students showed no less school spirit in rooting and singing for their teams than in the [United] States, and the elder folks forgot their customary visits to the cockpits. “

Secondary education was offered later, and those who desired it initially went to the provincial high school in Iba.

Alma mater of Pres. Ramon Magsaysay.

The first private high school of the town—Zambales Academy—was established in 1922. This was brought about by the difficulty of transportation to Iba, the increasing number of students tending to crowd the provincial high school, and the inability of that high school to accommodate all those who want to get a secondary education.

After the Second World War, Zambales Academy opened a college department offering education and secretarial courses. Its education graduates taught at elementary schools in the town and province.

In the late 1960’s, the school was sold to the joint venture of the Philippine Episcopal Church and the Philippine Independent Church.

The enterprising couple--Luis Abiva and his wife Asuncion Quiray—put up the Abiva High School before the outbreak of World War II. After the war, according to reports, Mrs. Abiva allowed a group of prominent town citizens to operate the school, renamed San Narciso Cooperative Commercial High School.  It became Zambales Commercial High School later, which was changed to Magsaysay Memorial Institute (MMI) in honor of Pres. Ramon Magsaysay after his death.

The Columbans acquired MMI in 1951. This was the first of the Catholic schools that the religious order established from Olongapo to Sta. Cruz. In 1962, the high school was incorporated into the Magsaysay Memorial College (MMC) with the addition of the elementary and college department.

The curricular structure of the elementary and secondary schools has transformed into the K-12 program, which added two years—the senior high school—to old system. These additional years provide pre-college tracks for the students to choose from: ABM (Accountancy, Business and Management), STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), HUMSS (Humanities and Social Science), and General Academic. Other tracks enable the students to work after graduation: Arts and Design, Sports and TVL.

Secondary education is offered by the private Zambales Academy and Magsaysay Memorial College and the public national high schools of La Paz and Namatacan. 

While MMC provides viable collegiate courses like education for high school graduates, the Philippine Merchant Academy (PMMA) beckons to those who are inclined to pursue careers in marine transportation and marine engineering.

Graduating cadet from San Narciso in PMMA Class 2017.

PMMA, which relocated from Fort Bonifacio to San Narciso in 1998, dates back to 1820 when it was created as Escuela Nautica de Manila. Juan Luna, its most famous alumnus, was 17 years old when he graduated as Piloto de Altos Mares (Pilot of the High Seas) in 1874. Its transformation from Philippine Nautical School to PMMA in 1963 has produced midshipmen/women, and merchant marine officers in shipboard and offshore positions as shipping executives and technical consultants.

Today, there are fifteen public, and four private and sectarian, elementary schools. Three public national, and two private, schools offer secondary education. High school graduates of the town and other municipalities go to MMC for collegiate courses, or to PMMA (if they pass the rigid entrance examinations) for maritime studies.

Education has brought Narcisenians to prominence here in the country and in foreign lands. Their contribution, in many ways, have brought changes in the social, cultural and economic fabric of San Narciso. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The golden gala mantle of Our Lady of La Naval de Manila

Rafael Casal and Arnold Reyes designed and 

executed, respectively, the new mantle of Our Lady 
for the La Naval of 2016.
In the inventory of Santo Domingo Church properties in 1750, according to our friend historian Romeo B. Galang in his Cultural History of Santo Domingo (2013), only the images of Our Lady and San Vicente had big silver frontal or pechero.

He also wrote that the 'the gala vestments of the images were rarely seen by the public [and] were used only during important feasts such as La Naval procession and the octave preceding it.' 

The gold vestments of the image of Our Lady of La Naval could have started during the feast of October 1890. Galang wrote --

"[O]n the Sunday before the high mass, the image of the Virgin was borne in procession, accompanied by the images of San Pio V and Santo Domingo, richly vested in traje de tisu de oro [vestments of gold thread].  

"Only one other image of the La Naval procession – that of San Antonino de Florencia – was known to have golden vestments."

In his caption of the picture of the mantle, 'the gala mantle of Our Lady, made of woven gold threads ornately decorated with brocades, is still preserved, and was used during the Canonical Coronation of the image of 1907,' he wrote.

The mantle as seen from the back.

By tradition, the image of Our Lady has always been called the "Santo Rosario"; hence, the mantle is also referred to by that name: the Santo Rosario Gala Mantle.

Last year, the Dominicans marked the 800th anniversary of their order (Order of Preachers). In celebration, a new gala mantle was commissioned that would harmonize with the silver frontal, which dates back to the nineteenth century.  

Artistic details of the mantle embroidery.

Artist Rafael Casal designed in 2015, and it took almost three months to make the full-scale drawing; and actor Arnold Reyes and his Bordados de Manila executed the intricate design for nine months. We were able to talk with these two artists about their work before the start of the grand procession last year.

That new gala mantle which Our Lady wore during the October 2016 procession was described as of 'golden hue and embroidered lavishly with gold thread befitting a Queen. Design elements such as ribbons and garlands were culled from Western sources and melded with a local motif, the tamborin. Certain components rendered in high relief, possess almost sculptural effect.'

Furthermore: 'The mantle is replete with symbols pertinent to the history of the Dominican Order and perhaps devotion to the Holy Rosary. Eight tiers of celebratory swags (symbolic of eight centuries of the Order) intertwine with festoons and garlands of roses (alluding to the devotion to the Holy Rosary). These are held together by a plethora of flowing ribbons. Hanging from these ribbons are tamborin medallions bearing seals of the BVM, the Order, the Holy See and the city of Manila. Alternating with the swags, draped tamborin beads call to mind the countless rosaries offered by devotees for over four centuries since the arrival of the first Dominican missionaries in our country.'

It was described as 'a testament to the unwavering devotion and fidelity of  ... the Camarera of Our Lady to the Santo Rosario. It is also a shining example of Philippine artistry and craftsmanship at its best!

  • Souvenir Program. Maria: Ina ng Awa. La Naval de Manila 2016 / September 29-October 9, 2016. Sto. Domingo Church, Quezon City.
  • Galang, Romeo B. (2013). A Cultural History of Santo Domingo. Manila: UST Publishing House.

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.'