Monday, January 27, 2014

Guimaras – John Milton's Paradise

Paradise Lost in Postmodern Times
Dr Abe V. Rotor
(Written in 2006, dedicated to the victims of the oil spill tragedy, and to those who rose to their finest hour to help.)
NOTE: Recently another oil spill incident hit the island.  Although on a lesser scale, the damage is likewise irreparable. This article is dedicated to the inhabitants whose beautiful place has become an unwilling victim of economic and technological progress. It is also dedicated to the brave workers many of them are volunteers, whose effort brought hope and light in the hour of need. From these the world can see the goodness and evil of today's modern living.  It is man's firm belief however, that goodness shall always prevail.    



Guimaras Island on the map
 


Irreversible loss of natural habitats covering thousands of hectares of mangrove, estuaries, coral reefs and sea grasses.  Fishing virtually came to a halt; other livelihoods closed down.


Guimaras can be imagined to be the Paradise in the Book of Genesis.

The big difference however is that 
on Guimaras Island Paradise was destroyed by man, whereas in the Bible man was banished from Paradise as punishment for his sin, and Paradise was preserved.

Nature reveals her beauty on the green fields that turn yellow and gold at harvest time. The pasture is a carpet green dotted with grazing cattle in roan, black, white and spotted colors, moving slowly, if at all, in docile pace that you think they are strewn boulders in the distance.

The trees, when the wind blows, sing in soft, plaintive, rustling notes, their branching swinging to the music. Towards the end of the year when the cold wind from the north arrives, their leaves turn into autumn colors of red, orange and yellow, falling off and littering the ground around. Now and then a gust of wind takes them to the road, and when the sun is up and you happen to step on them barefooted, they crackle and tickle. They send children giggling with delight. And they would rally the leaves floating down the whistling stream as if they were racing boats.

It is a similar experience you get when walking on the shores of Guimaras. White sands swallow you up to the ankle at the water edge, pegging you down. You cannot resist taking a dip or swim in the pristine water, and before you know it you are joined by colorful fishes, a school of them, bobbling to the surface to greet you and diving around your feet, sometimes playfully nibbling your toes. They live among the seaweeds and corals that make the forest of the sea.

And speaking of forest, look behind you. Afar the mountains are dark green because they are covered with virgin forests. They catch the clouds and make them fall everyday. The rain makes the trees lush, irrigates the fields, feeds the rivers and lakes and down it meets the sea. It is here where freshwater and sea water meet. It is call estuary.

The estuary is the sanctuary of countless organisms; it is their breeding ground, their nursery. It is in the estuary where mangrove trees, coconut and nipa palms densely grow, binding soil and mud to build a new land, or form a delta. On the sea side they serve as a living wall that buffers the impact of tidal waves or the sudden onslaught of 
tsunami. They are nature’s fortress to protect the villages, farms and pastures.

But these scenarios are a thing of the past. It is a beautiful dream that ended in a nightmare.

On waking up, the gentle people in Guimaras, a small island near Iloilo in the Visayas, came face to face with the biggest catastrophe that changed their lives and their island forever.

Oil spill!

A huge barge carrying millions of liters of fuel oil broke and sunk into the bottom of the sea directly facing the island.

The black liquid oozed for days, and continued for weeks and months from the sunken ill-fated tanker, and because oil is lighter than water, it floated and spread over many square kilometers, polluting the once pristine sea and beaches. Soon fishermen abandoned their trade. Tourists no longer came. Because oil is poison to all living things – fish, amphibians, corals, trees and the like – died. And under the shearing heat of the sun, spontaneous combustion finishes off the dying trees and palms.

Many people died – and more are dying due to the cumulative and long-term effects of oil, because being a hydrocarbon it destroys the liver, kidneys and nervous system. Many people got sick, mostly children. Schools closed. The streets were empty. There was little to buy in the market. Fumes filled the air, and into the lungs sending people to live elsewhere. Many of those who chose to remain got sick and died.

Ka Pepe and Aling Maria lost their only son. He worked too hard cleaning up the black oil that seeped under their house, until he succumbed to the deadly fumes.

“What have we done to deserve this?” The stricken couple asked. “Why are we punished for a sin we did not commit.”

"It is a wrath of God," a religious said with firmness in her voice, "because we have sinned." Many were angry with pointing fingers. Nobody could offer any other acceptable answer, until one said, “Forgive your brother who sinned.” Yes, it is Christian to forgive for the love of God. It was consoling. It made people feel calm compassionate.

Indeed there were many people who went to Guimaras after the tragedy struck. Fr. Ben said mass. Nuns sang hymns. Petron, the owner of the spilled oil, paid residents to clean their own homes and environs. Hairdressers sent shipments of hair to bind the floating oil, but this only compounded the problem of disposal because hair does not readily decompose and burning it further creates another problem - another pollution.

Others sent old clothing, canned goods, some money. Local officials visited places on rugged wheels, places they had missed in their itenerary before. Doctors and nurses worked into the   night. Media documented the tragedy. Victims were interviewed. There were volunteers who would come and go. There was no let up of investigations trying to pin down the culprits. Soldiers stood guard.

Every morning the curtain unveils this pathetic drama of life, and closes it at the end of the day, trying to erase it from memory and in the darkness of night. How long will this nightmare continue, one would only guess. Perhaps years. Perhaps a generation or longer. And future generations will never know what happened.

There were no laughters, not even from the children playing. The sea did not clap. The waves simply died on the shore, muffled under sludge of oil. A crow flew above, gave off some sonorous notes – the sound of death.

It is Paradise Lost in our times before our very eyes. ~
 

Photos Courtesy of Francis Allan Angelo, The GUARDIAN Newspaper; Wikipedia;  Acknowledgment: Iloilo City Boy
Field Trip to Guimaras:
 A Living School Beauty, Bounty and Wisdom 
Photos by the author



Field trip - on-site and hands-on learning. Participants to the Philippine Society for Educational Research and Evaluation (PSERE), representing 26 colleges and universities from different parts of the Philippines, visited the JBLFMU Ecological Park, listened to field lecture and demonstration, and experienced social immersion with the members of the community. Cruising by motorboat to reach Guimaras Island from Iloilo, and to the Southeast Asia Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC) marine station, is adventure - a learning process seldom encountered by teachers and students in the city.

Scenes on Guimaras: Professors all, academicians, educators. The world is exploding with knowledge, the world is traveling on two feet (communication and transportation).  Tradition is left behind if not being waylaid, generations are losing their connections by culture, exposure, distance. We must keep abreast, we have to be computer literate, we go back to school, attend continuing education training, get ourselves involved in social immersion. This is PSERE's thrust in research, but research that looks not only to discoveries and inventions, but to ascertain the continuity, contiguity, and sustainability of progress, of proven techniques and formulas, of working models, of every research that contributes to the efficiency of  a system.     

Who qualifies as tour guide?  Field instructor? Like in the field of sports, he is a player himself - and somebody who has won medals and trophies.  So in science and technology, in marine biology, in explaining the mangrove, the flying foxes (giant fruit bats), in predicting a coming storm, the spawning of dulong and other species, sudden swarming of jellyfish. Why the deer is no longer around.  Are there still crocodiles in the swamp? Pick a leaf and he will tell you the plant, its scientific name and family, too. Why do starfishes stay on sea grasses, how are they harmful to shellfish like clams and oysters (because they have five arms alternately prying the bivalve which ultimately loses its muscle grip to keep close).  We smile for new knowledge, and at people who bring it to us in their simplicity and sincerity and friendliness.  
Meet Jun a marine technician of SEAFDEC (in blue green) an expert by virtue of long, rich experience and domicile by the sea since birth.  Ask about the giant lapulapu (kugtong), mother bangus, mullet (ludong), mayamaya, matangbaka, and the like, and he will recite their natural history at fingertip.  If he were in music he is a musico de oido (by ear), and if there is a blue thumb, counterpart of green thumb in farming, he is surely one in fishing. He is indeed a naturalist. 

Nature posters express concern on the environment by students who spend time in the Eco Park, making it an extension of the classroom and laboratory. Here they forget for the time being the TV, the computer, and other amenities of life.  It is communion with nature. ~




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