Friday, January 30, 2015

Sunrise on the Farm (10 Anecdotes)

Sunrise on the Farm (10 Anecdotes)
Dr Abe V Rotor

Children fishing, painting by AVRotor

1.  Eugene and I nearly drowned in a river.

There was a friendly man who would come around and dad allowed him to play with us.  People were talking he was a strange fellow. We simply did not mind. He was a young man perhaps in his twenties when Eugene and I were kids in the early grades in San Vicente.  

One day this guy (I forgot his name) took us to Busiing river, a kilometer walk or so from the poblacion. The water was inviting, what would kids like best to do?  We swam and frolicked and fished, but then the water was steadily rising so we had to hold on the bamboo poles staked in the water to avoid being swept down by the current. I held on tightly, and I saw Eugene doing the same on a nearby bamboo pole.  

The guy just continued fishing with his bare hands, and apparently had forgotten us. Just then dad came running and saved us.  We heard him castigate the fellow who, we  found out that he mentally retarded that he didn’t even realized the extreme danger he put us in.
 happen - the pharaoh kissed Alexander’s feet.  The great warrior died before he was 33.
2. Manong Bansiong, the kite maker

Kites always fascinate me, thanks to Bansiong, nephew of Basang my auntie-yaya.  He made the most beautiful, often the biggest kite in town.  His name is an institution of sort to us kids.  But remote as San Vicente was, we had the best kites and the town was also famous for its furniture and wooden saints.

Manong Bansiong made different kites: sinang-gola, sinang-cayyang, sinang-golondrina (in the likes of a bull, a bird with outstretched wings and legs, and a maiden in colorful, flowing dress, respectively).  His kites were known for their strength, stability, beauty, and their height in the sky.  In competitions he would always bring home the trophy, so to speak.

Because of Manong Bansiong I became also a kite maker of less caliber, but being an endangered art there is not much variety of kites flying around. The kites I make are not common, and they probably exude the same feeling to kids today as during our time.

I made kites for my children when they were small.  Kites fascinated my late first-born son, Pao. It was therapy to his sickly condition. We would sit down together on the grass for hours holding on to the kite, the setting sun and breeze washing our faces. 

Kite Season Mural, by AVRotor

When my youngest, Leo Carlo, took part in a kite competition at UST, I helped him with the sinang-cayyang.  It did not win.  But in the following year and the year after Leo Carlo became the consistent kite champion of UST, and so he carries on the legend of Manong Bansiong. 

3. I shot an arrow into the air and it fell on a newspaper

I must have been 4 or 5 years old. Dad was reading Manila Bulletin on a rocking chair.  I was playing Robin Hood. Since our sala is very spacious (it has no divisions), anything on the ceiling and walls was a potential target. But something wrong happened. In physics a crooked arrow would not follow a straight line, so it found an unintended mark – the center of a widespread newspaper.  

The arrow pierced through it and landed on my dad’s forehead, almost between his eyes. He gave me a severe beating with my plaything as he wiped his forehead, blood dripping. I did not cry, I just took the punishment obligingly.  Dad must have seen innocence in my eyes.  He stopped and gave me a hug. 

4. I shot my finger with an airgun.

I bought an airgun from Ben Florentino, a classmate of mine in high school at the Colegio de la Immaculada Concepcion (CIC Vigan) for fifty pesos, a good amount then, circa  1955.  I was loading the pellet, when I dropped the rifle, and on hitting the ground, went off.  The bullet pierced through the fleshy tip of my left forefinger. I tried to remove it but to no avail, so I went to the municipal doctor, Dr. Catalino Lazo. There was no anesthesia available, and when I could no longer bear the pain, he simply dressed the wound and sent me home.  

My wound soon healed, and the lead pellet was to stay with me for the next five years or so, when I finally decided to go for an operation. Had it not been for my playing the violin, I would not have bothered to do so.  And it was providential. 

Dr. Vicente Versoza, our family doctor in Vigan, performed the operation.   A mass of tissues snugly wrapped around the pellet, isolating its poison. He told me I am lucky. There are cases of lead poisoning among war veterans who bore bullets in their bodies. I remember the late President Ferdinand Marcos.  Was his ailment precipitated by lead poisoning?   
5. The Case of the Empty Chicken Eggs

Soon as I was big enough to climb the baqui (brooding nest) hanging under the house and trees.  I found out that if I leave as decoy one or two eggs in the basket, the more eggs you gather in the afternoon. Then a new idea came. With a needle, I punctured the egg and sucked the content dry. It tasted good and I made some to substitute the natural eggs for decoy.

Dad, a balikbayan after finishing BS in Commercial Science at De Paul University in Chicago, called us on the table one evening. "First thing tomorrow morning we will find that hen that lays empty eggs.”

It was a family tradition that every Sunday we had tinola - chicken cooked with papaya and pepper (sili) leaves. Dad would point at a cull (the unproductive and least promising member of the flock) and I would set the trap, a baqui with a trap door and some corn for bait. My brother Eugene would slash the neck of the helpless fowl while my sister Veny and I would be holding it. The blood is mixed with glutinous rice (diket), which is cooked ahead of the vegetables.

That evening I could not sleep. What if dad’s choice is one of our pet chicken?  We even call our chickens by name. The empty eggs were the  cause of it all, so I thought.

In the morning after the mass I told dad my secret. He laughed and laughed. I didn't know why. I laughed, too. I was relieved with a tinge of victorious feeling. Thus the case of the empty eggs was laid to rest. It was my first “successful” experiment.

In the years to come I realized you just can’t fool anybody. And by the way, there are times we ask ourselves, “Who is fooling who?”

6.  I can “cure” a person who is naan-annungan.

An-annung is the Ilocano of nasapi-an. Spirits cast spell on a person, the old folks say. The victim may suffer of stomachache or headache  accompanied by cold sweat, body weakness or feeling of exhaustion.

Well, take this case.  It was dusk when a tenant of ours insisted of climbing a betel, Areca catechu to gather its nuts (nga-nga). My dad objected to it, but somehow the young man prevailed. 

The stubborn young man was profusely sweating and was obviously in pain, pressing his stomach against the tree trunk. Dad called for me. I examined my “patient” and assured him he will be all right. And like a passing ill wind, the spell was cast away. Dad and the people around believed I had supernatural power.

There had been a number of cases I “succeeded” in healing the naan-annungan But I could also induce – unknowingly - the same effect on some one else.  That too, my dad and old folks believed.  They would sought for my “power” to cast the spell away from - this time – no other than my “victim”.  What a paradox!  

When I grew older and finished by studies, I began to understand that having an out-of-this-world power is a myth. I read something about Alexander the Great consulting the Oracle at Siwa to find out if indeed he is a god-sent son. “The Pharoah will bow to you, ” the priestess told him.  And it did 

7. Paper wasps on the run! Or was it the other way around?

This happened to me, rather what I did, when I was five or six - perhaps younger, because I don’t know why I attack a colony of putakti or alimpipinig (Ilk). It was raw courage called bravado when you put on courage on something without weighing the consequences. It was hatred dominating reason, motivated by revenge. 

I was sweeping the yard near a chico tree when I suddenly felt pain above my eye. No one had ever warned me of paper wasps, and I hadn’t been stung before. I retreated, instinctively got a bikal bamboo and attacked their papery nest, but every time I got close to it I got stung.  

I don’t know how many times I attacked the enemy, each time with more fury, and more stings, until dad saw me.  I struggled under his strong arms sobbing.  I was lucky, kids my size can’t take many stings. There are cases bee poison can cause the heart to stop. 

 8. Trapping frogs

It was fun to trap frogs when I was a kid. I would dig holes in the field, around one and one-half feet deep, at harvest time. Here the frogs seek shelter in these holes because frogs need water and a cool place. Insects that fall in to the hole also attract them. Early in the morning I would do my rounds, harvesting the trapped frogs.  

Frogs are a favorite dish among Ilocanos especially before the age of pesticides. The frog is skinned, its entrails removed, and cooked with tomato, onion and achuete (Bixa orellana) to make the menu deliciously bright yellow orange.

9. Getting drunk at an early age.

I was already a farmhand before I was of school age, but dad always warned me not to be an aliwegweg (curious at doing things), the experimenter that I was. One morning as dad went on his routine, first to hear mass in our parish church just across our residence farm, I went down to the cellar with a sumpit (small bamboo tube) to take a sip of the sweet day-old fermenting sugarcane juice.

 I didn't know that with a sip too many one gets drunk. And that was precisely what made me feel sick, but 1 did not tell dad. He called a doctor to find out what was the matter with me. When the doctor arrived he found me normal. What with the distance from Vigan to San Vicente - on a caleza (horse-drawn carriage)? But the doctor was whispering something to dad.

Then it happened. Dad had left for the church, so I thought. I went to the cellar and as soon as I probed the sumpit into a newly fermenting jar and took a sip, someone tapped my shoulder in the dark. It was dad!

Imagine the expression of his face (and mine, too) in the dark. I sobbed with embarrassment while he took a deep sigh of relief.  

Since then the doctor never came again. And I promised never to taste my “beverage" again.

10. The caleza I was riding ran over a boy.

Basang, my auntie yaya and I were going home from Vigan on a caleza, a horse carriage. I was around five or six years old, the age children love to tag along wherever there is to go. It was midday and the cochero chose to take the shorter gravelly road to San Vicente by way of the second dike road that passes Bantay town. Since there was no traffic our cochero nonchalantly took the smoother left lane fronting a cluster of houses near Bantay. Suddenly our caleza tilted on one side as if it had gone over a boulder.

To my astonishment I saw a boy around my age curled up under the wheel. The caleza came to a stop and the boy just remained still and quiet, dust covered his body.  I thought he was dead.  Residents started coming out. I heard shouts, some men angrily confronting the cochero. Bantay is noted for notoriety of certain residents. 

Instinct must have prodded Basang to take me in her arms and quickly walked away from the maddening crowd.  No one ever noticed us I supposed. 

Why Pets Make Life More Meaningful

By Dell H Grecia
Women's Journal
A Tribute to the late Dell H Grecia, veteran journalist 

In our daily lives, no one is spared from feelings of isolation, especially when in pursuit of our goals and dreams. But like legions of animal lovers, my friend Abe finds comfort in his pets: “It doesn't get too lonely when you have a loyal pet by your side.”
Carabao, the country's beast of burden and most important pet on the farm.

If you like animals and have the time and capacity to take care of one, then try having a pet. This was what I learned from my friend, Dr. Abe V. Rotor, a professor at the University of Santo Tomas graduate school and St. Paul University Quezon City. “Having pets is therapeutic,” he avers. They are there for you when everyone else is gone.

            In our daily lives, no one is spared from feelings of isolation, especially when in pursuit of goals and dreams. The more aggressive we are in pursuing our vision, the more chances we have that we’d encounter disappointment and frustration along the way. This is because not everyone shares your ideals.

            It takes more than intelligence to be aggressive; one has to be enterprising, a risk taker, adventurous, pioneering, and courageous enough to rich horizons ordinary people dare aspire for. It is also said that in our moments of glory, we strive for more. Yet, in our moments of defeat, we sink into the deepest recesses of our psyche, where hope - like sunlight in the deep - is dim.

            “You are alone at your lowest ebb,” reveals my friend Abe. “ But it doesn't get too lonely when you have a loyal pet by your side.” A pet dog, for instance, is not “man’s best friend” for nothing. Dogs are universally known to be capable of unconditional love, their loyalty and devotion to their masters unmatched by most human beings.

A. Pets Are Wonderful for your Well-Being

Caring for animals, however, is not a matter of merely acquiring one and having it around the house. Pets need nurturing, which goes beyond merely feeding and providing them shelter. In return, what we call “pet therapy” offers wonderful benefits to one’s health and well-being.

            Here, my friend Abe reveals the role of pets in our lives.

1.      Pets bring back happy memories. You have advantage over city-bred children if you grew up in the province. Caring for pets fills a gap - they give you a sense of connectedness to animals you knew and loved before. A dog brings sweet memories of the time when you were a farmhand. A pet goldfish reminds you of the fish you use to catch in the rice paddies during monsoon season. Goats on the range, chicken roosting on a tree branch, a kingfisher patiently waiting for its prey by the river, Labang, the bullock chewing its cud while at rest-these are childhood scenarios pets evoke.

2. Take a vacation in the province. While on vacation take the country road, go to a farm and leave all traces of urban life.

            “I remember riding on the back of a carabao when I was a kid,” Abe relates. “Back then, time knew no limit, its pace sweetly dragged under the clear blue sky, or under a myriad of stars one didn’t bother to count. You became observant and discovered many things like the aestivating grasshopper and frogs, drawing figures on the clouds.

            “Somewhere a pandangera or fantail bird sang its praise and joy, a dalag or mudfish stirred in a calm mountain pond, sending ripples that made the red Nymphaea and lanky reeds sway and dance while a dragonfly was disturbed in its slumber.”
3.      Pets in the Wild. Not all pets rest on your lap, respond to your call, or depend entirely
 on your care.

            At home in Lagro, Quezon, City, I maintain several large trees creating a four-layer mini-forest that surrounds our house,” my friend Abe continues. “With the adjoining watershed of the La Mesa reservoir, which is a block away, birds come around regularly. Their songs make the sweetest alarm clock; you wake up without the suddenness of the mechanical ringing of the clock. On a still day, their calls make cheerful music that has a melody of its own.
                                                             Leo Carlo and his kid pet

            “There are those birds that pick on the ripe petals of the Ilang-ilang with their beak, thus releasing its fragrance in the air. They then drop the flowers onto the ground in make- believe rites.

            “The great painter Lanseer created his masterpiece, ‘Monarch of the Glen,’ from spotting a moose in the wild that apparently posed before him. The animal humbled the painter who put down his rifle and took out a pen and a piece of paper and sketched the magnificent creature. He renounced hunting for the rest of his life.”

4.      Pets are priceless. According to Abe, no one sells his pet, much more if it were a
family or community pet. Sometimes this becomes a problem.

            “At home,” Abe continues, “we fatten hito or catfish in our garden pond. After a few months they are ready for harvesting. By that time my children call them their pets- our pets- so their goes any plan of using the brand-new barbecue stand we bought for the purpose of grilling our fattened hito.

            “Yes, it is a paradox in the case of the dogs is seen as a gustatory delight.

  “We cannot justify this predilection for dog meat as part of culture or tradition as the practice is not confined to our indigenous people. In our times there are those who are driven by economic necessity.

            “At one time hundreds of letters were received by Congress, endorsing the passage of bill to prohibit the killing of dogs, more so the catching and rearing of dogs for food. As most of these letters came from the US and Europe, we can only appreciate the importance of dogs in the heart of the people who have a deep regard for pets - and a reverence for life. The bill was never passed.”

5. From dolls and toys to pets. When dolls and toys are no longer scattered on the floor and stairways but are neatly kept in cabinets and glass cases, Abe explains, we know adolescence has arrived for our children. It is a time of transition from childhood to adulthood, from fantasy to reality, sweet nothings to serious matters. It is no longer Alice in Wonderland but Sweet Valley High.

            Pets provide the bridge to this new phase in life to millions of adolescents. This is why pet shops abound. There is at least one pet shop in every mall, two or more around a public market or “busy center” in Metro Manila as shown in the survey made by Abe’s students in Field Zoology at the UST Graduate School.

   Aquarium fish vendor prepares his merchandise for the day.   

 Many more are strategically located around schools and churches, not to mention ambulant pet peddlers you meet on Sundays at busy sidewalks. These pet shops sells aquarium fish- from guppies to the giant aruwana,; common birds like maya (rest brown and grey with pink beaks known as mayang costa), lovebirds and parakeets. Four-legged pets include guinea pigs, hamsters and rabbits.~

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The backyard as laboratory and workshop series:The Enigmatic Papilio Butterfly

Introducing an insect to a toddler  
Dr Abe V Rotor 
Citrus Papilio butterfly (Papilio demoleus) caterpillars appear like bird droppings, from which it got its name "bird dropping caterpillar." 

Mackie 2, is introduced to entomology, the science of insects, in a series of photographs. Note her expression as she gathers courage, and finally touches and caresses the caterpillar.  Photos by the author, at home in QC
Complete life cycle of the citrus swallowtail butterfly (Papilio demoleus). 
The insect undergoes four stages: egg, caterpillar (four instars), pupa, and adult (butterfly)
Note the transformation of the bird dropping caterpillar (first instar) into green growing up enormously (2nd and 3rd instars), until it is ready for the next stage.  Here it secures itself with a single stout thread in a 45 degrees position with head down. The pupa transforms from green to brown.  After a week or so, it emerges into a beautiful butterfly. 

The butterfly's metamorphosis is dramatically described in an illustrated book, Hope for the Flowers, by Paulas. There's a clarification though; the  pupa of a butterfly is naked, in the sense that it is not enclosed in a silk cocoon, unlike that of the moth and the skipper - also a Lepidopteran that exhibits dual characteristics of both its relatives.  Skippers are active at dusk (crepuscular); whereas butterflies are diurnal, and moths nocturnal. The classical example of a moth is the silkworm, Bombix mori, while that of a skipper is the Nymphalid, falsely identified as butterfly. 
Bird dropping first instarstage

 Top left, clockwise: closeup of bird dropping caterpillar (1st instar).  The caterpillar turns green with camouflage design, and is  most destructive, feeding on leaves of citrus (2nd and 3rd instars).  Full grown caterpillar about to pupate; early stage pupa, which gradually turns brown as it approaches metamorphosis.    

Dorsal color and pattern of the citrus Papilio demoleus showing a pair of false eyes, which scares a would-be predator.  
Close-up of the pair of false eyes highlighted by red shade around the "eyeballs."    
Resting position of Papilio demoleus showing the ventral side of its wings as differentiated from the dorsal color and pattern. Such difference is mistaken for two species. Disguise pattern and coloration protects the butterfly from would-be predators. The same principle of differentiation helps in the species' survival.   
                  Papilio demoleus mating, showing ventral side of their wings,  
The dorsal side is partly visible. Acknowledgement: photos of the 
adult Papilio and its stages wete sourced from the Internet Wikipedia

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Where have the buffaloes gone?

Dr Abe V Rotor

Ann and Marlo in front of their ancestral home 
San Vicente, Ilocos Sur (Megabooks)

They wait for the buffalo
that pulls the cart
as I search the fields,
cross the river,
gaze over the hill,
onto the prairies of old, 
repeating the call
that reverberates 
over the plains
where a great
civilization perished.

What will I tell my children
now the buffaloes are gone?
In time they will understand. 

Take Heed of Your Biological Clock

“There is a time for all things.” - William Shakespeare

Dr. Abe V. Rotor
Each one of us is governed by a built-in clock within us. Everything we do is “timed;” it has a schedule. And this living clock controls our actions and behaviors. It is the key to survival; a tool in evolution so that it is ingrained in our genes. If that is so, are our biological clocks
then synchronized?

Generally, yes. And that is why we all respond to common rules that society has set for us. We respond to the seasons of the year, each characterized by events we celebrate. We have standard working hours, and curfew. Weekends are set aside for rest and leisure. Summer means vacation. We observe three meals a day, coffee breaks, siestas, and the like menstrual cycle, estrus periods, stages in growth and development – all these are controlled by inner rhythms dictated by that biological clock. So patterned are our laws and rules that we know well the best season to plant or to hunt, to plan weddings and inaugurations, to travel, to go to school, to have a date, to meditate, to be merry.

 Our biological clock varies individually,
but we have many things in common, as there are differences that spell our personality.      

There is a saying, “There’s time for everything.”
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every
purpose under the heaven.

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant,
and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down,
and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn,
and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather
stones together;

A time to embrace, and a time to refrain
from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep,
and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence,
and time to speak;

 Talisay tree in autumn; honeybee at sunrise
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war,
and a time of peace.
- Ecclesiastes

Yes, we are governed by inner rhythms which are classified into the following:

Ultradian Less than a heartbeat
  • Fluctuation of energy
  • Attention span
  • Brain waves
Circadian (daily) day
  • Blood pressure level
  • Sleep wake cycle
  • Cell division
Circaseptan (weekly ) about a week
  • Rejection of kidney, heart, and pancreas transplants
Circatrigintan (monthly) about a month
  • Menstrual Cycle
Circannual (annual) about a year
  • Seasonal depression
  • Susceptibility to some diseases
Living organisms take heed of their biological clock - except humans, in many cases. ~

We always aspire to be happy. "Laugh and the world laughs 
with you; weep and you weep alone."  (Emma Wilcox)


Thursday, January 15, 2015

“Environmental Ethics: Human Life and the Environment”

International Congress on Bioethics, December 5-7, 2005
Reaction to Dr. Michael (Cheng-tek) Tai Paper
By Dr Abe V. Rotor

It is a special privilege to be a member of the panel of reactors in this international congress on bioethics. I am specially honored to react on the paper presented by a distinguished expert, Dr. Michael (Cheng-tak) Tai, a topic which deals with the greatest revolution that has ever gripped the world - a revolution which has no boundaries – physical, political, religious, cultural and economic – Environmental Revolution.

Environmental revolution has actually started with the age of industrialization, and it will take a very long time and a very complex process to be able to settle it. Environmental revolution does not pit man against nature, as it had been since the dawn of mankind. It is not the conventional revolution of society where man is pitted against man, or nation against nation for political reasons. It is not religious war. It is not a war of ideologies.

For the first time we humans must work together to preserve nature for the very survival of our species, and for the sake of saving Mother Earth, our only home and spaceship which carries all of us in our journey into the perilous unknown universe. It is a war we cannot afford to lose because it also spells the survival of the whole living world.

Let me state the some environmental concerns related to the topic of Dr. Tai’s paper, and relate them with current situations, understanding and outlook.

1.There are conflicting views of change. Scientific knowledge and government policies often disagree and run into conflict at each other. Economic and ecology, though they share a common root word and foundation, are strange bedfellows, so to speak.

Yet these entities support common goals geared toward change. Change has to be viewed more than the measures of GNP, ROI, currency exchange rate, balance of trade, and the like, and should not only be confined to Human Development Indices, such as literacy rate, mortality rate and population density. While these are considered immediate parameters mainly to benefit man and his society, certain questions on sustainability and environmental preservation are left unanswered. How do we ensure future generations. We feel more and more wary about the term progress. We ask ourselves what is “progress without conscience?” And whose development? What is the relationship between progress with posterity?

I remember the late Dr. Dioscorro Umali, national scientist, who addressed the graduating class of UP Diliman in 1992 with this moving statement, “Be the heroes we never were.” The essence of his speech is that the previous - and especially the present generation - have left little for the next generations to inherit. “We have not only abused the bounties of Nature,” he said, “we have destroyed her as well. The hero concept of Dr. Umali revolutionizes traditional and conventional definition of a hero. He is more than a nationalist, an economist, or an ideologist as we know, but a hero for Mother Earth, borrowing the term of Time Magazine.
Today, rather than defending himself against nature, man realized, he needed to defend nature against himself.

- AV Rotor, Light from the Old Arch
2.Who are heroes for Mother Earth?

Environmental movements have roots traced to ancient cultures as can be gleamed from our own centuries old Ifugao Rice Terraces. Throughout history as civilizations grew and spread the environment became a sacrificial lamb. Such euphoric phrases “all roads leading to Rome,” “the beauty that glory that was Greece, the grandeur that was Rome,” “the sun never sets on English soil,” and the eight wonders of the world may reflect man’s ultimate achievements, yet all these were ephemeral in the mist of time in man’s dreams. In the end, it was nature that took them from the hands of man. The loss of natural environments has lead to the decline of civilizations and their subsequent demise.
Revival of environmental awareness came at the heels of the Renaissance. In the 12th century St. Francis of Assisi brought a new concept of devotion. Brother Sun, Sister Moon, and all the creatures on Earth our friends, laid down the foundation of naturalism in the Christian church reviving much of the Aristotelian naturalism. It is fitting that St. Francis of Assissi is regarded as the father of ecology.
Time Magazine came up with a list of heroes for Planet Earth, among them are naturalist philosophers or conservationist philosophers are Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Aldo Leopold, and Rachel Carson.

· Emerson claimed that “behind nature, throughout nature, spirit is present.”

· Thoreau spoke of the side of “truth in nature and wilderness over the deceits of civilization.”

· Muir believed that “wilderness mirrors divinity, nourishes humanity, and vivifies the spirit.”

· Leopold was behind the development of policies in wilderness and game management. “Wilderness is the raw material out of which man has hammered the artifact called civilization.”

· Carson published Silent Spring, which dramatized the potential dangers of pesticides to food, wildlife, and humans causing wide spread damage to the ecosystem.

· Chico Mendes was a front liner in environmental conservation. He lost his life defending the concept of “extractive reserves” to conserve the Brazilian Rainforest that provided livelihood of the people against the conversion of the forest into ranches and plantations.

Other heroes of planet Earth cited by Time include

· Barbara Ward, author of Only One Earth which shaped the UN environmental conference.

· Ernest Schumacher who did not believe in endless growth, mega-companies and endless consumption, author of Small is Beautiful, a best seller since the sixties.

· Jacques-Yves Cousteau, oceanographer who espoused the need to arrest the declining health of the oceans.

In the Philippines, Macli-ing, a staunch protector of ancestral lands in Kalinga-Apayao from the encroachment of the mammoth Upper Chico River dam, was gunned down allegedly to silence him. All aver the world there are the likes of Macli-ing, like Chico Mendes, and Ken Saro-Wiwa, a leader from the Ogoni tribe, and many more who, we may compare to the Unknown Soldier, but this time a soldier in defense of nature.
We must be prudent in endorsing people for their contributions to the environment until parameters are clearly set, and that we should allow time to make the final judgment. A case in point is DDT, the miracle pesticide against malaria in the forties and fifties. For this the discoverer received the Nobel Award. But in the following years it was discovered that DDT is a poison that persists in the food chain, making it harmful to living organisms and deleterious to human health. AVR

3. People have varying opinions when defining Environmental Philosophy. There are those who believe that nature shall serve humanity. On the other hand there are those who believe that humanity shall serve nature. And there are those who say, it is “something in between”.

Nature, growth, and progress are concepts that we all use, but which we seldom define either in discussion or to ourselves. We speak about environmental ethics, environmental philosophy, eco-philosophy, and so on, but what do we put into these concepts? We seldom make them explicit or draw conclusions from them. “Trying to answer these philosophical questions does not, of course, in itself solve any environmental problems,” say ecologists Enger and Smith, “but on the other hand it is questionable whether we can solve these problems without discussing them on a philosophical level.”

It is then important to view environmental philosophy with ethics and morals. Ethics is a branch of philosophy that seeks to define fundamentally what is right and what is wrong, regardless of cultural differences. Morals differ somewhat from ethics because morals reflects the predominant feelings of a culture about ethical issues.

How do we illustrate this? A student of mine asked me this question, “Is it a sin to cut a tree?” This question touches ethics and morals, above social and economic considerations. It also pertains to legislation, such as whether we should advocate total log ban or selective logging. It even boils down to analyzing a syndrome known as “tragedy of the commons.” Let us analyze it this way.

a. The naturalistic concept that trees are the source of life is losing its essence as communities grow, and as people tend to move and live in urban places. It is a concept that is being taken for granted even as people become learned. Yet since evolutionary time plants have been providing the basic needs of man – food, clothing, shelter, medicine and energy. The harvesting of plants and their products has been part of human sustenance, as such they must be used properly. This ethnic view was also the basis of early agriculture. It is the key to a sustainable relationship between man and nature that lasted for aeons of time.

b. Like Gold Rush, new lands became the target of economic exploitation, as the frontiers were pushed to the limit. New lands were placed under agriculture, which included our own Mindanao. Accessibility to forests and the wildlife became more and more feasible. Original forests were replaced with ranches, and plantations. Economics was the name of the game. In spurred the second green revolution, and agriculture dominated the trade and industry of the world. It eroded the ethnic relationship between man and nature. Beliefs about the tree spirit, forest deities (Maria Makiling), and nature worships have become mere superstitions and legends relegated to books and comics.

c. The final blow followed – industrialization. It is not only food that preoccupied man. Want over need incessantly drives man to convert lands into golf courses, human settlements, industrial sites, and all kinds of infrastructures. Imagine how easy, and how short a time it takes to destroy a whole forest which nature built for hundreds if not thousands of years, with giant machines of today. It is said that by the time we finish reading a paragraph of average length, three hectares of forest shall have been destroyed.

d. Post-modernism – a paradox of living tomorrow as we grope at the forefront of progressive innovation which usually means “violating traditional norms or ideas in all fields if human concern,” quoting Dr. Florentino Hornedo. “The human being who has abandoned his essence, nature and origin has also given up purpose and aim of existence. Life then becomes a “free play” of what forces may come which construct existence. Neither is there personhood or self to be ethically responsible for one’s action.”

I use this statement to raise questions of accountability of our actions, individually or by group. A businessman who is armed with a franchise to cut down a forest is understood to have accepted the attendant responsibility stipulated in the contract, which may include provisions in selective logging and replanting. But these are far from sufficient in providing the vital safety net of protecting the community and the environment.

I go back to the question, “Is it a sin to cut a tree?” This time the concept of the action has far reaching consequences based on the above-mentioned premises. I would return the question with reference to actual incidents.

· Who is responsible for the Ormoc City (Southern Leyte) tragedy caused by mudslide from a logged watershed? In this incident hundreds of residents were killed and millions of pesos were lost.

· The tragedy was repeated ten years after but on a lesser scale. As the perpetrators in the first tragedy have remained scot-free, so with those in the second tragedy.

· Two years have passed since the Real, Quezon, landslide that was similarly caused by massive illegal logging. What actions have government and society done?

· The Marinduque case of poisoning rivers and coastlines with mine tailings, which as a result, continue to destroy the ecosystem and deprive thousands of fisher folks from their livelihood. To date after twenty years the issue remains unsolved.

· Deserts continue to expand as a result of human activities. So with siltation of rivers and lake, shortening their usefulness and life span.

· Our Pantabangan dam, Ambuklao dam, and Binga dam, are heavily silted as a result of cutting down trees on their watershed. It is indeed a waste.

· All over the world we find similar cases: the shrinking of the Aral Sea in Russia, desertification, and marginalization of farmlands.

· The worst result in the endangerment of natural habitats and species, leading to irreversible loss of ecosystems and biodiversity.

All these lead us to re-examine our values. It challenges to look deeper into a paradigm of salvation through the regard we have on our environment.
There are few frontiers of production left today. We have virtually pushed back the sea and leveled off the mountain. Prime lands have all been taken, swamps have been drained, and even deserts are being reclaimed. But as we continue to explore the marginal edges of these frontiers the more we are confronted with high cost of production that is levied on the consumer, and more importantly, the danger of destroying the fragile environment. AVR
4. Ecological Paradigm (Why is Mother Earth complaining?)

The prolificacy of the human species sans war and pestilence, plus growing affluence of our society led to a population explosion which doubled in less than fifty years. We are now over six billion. This paradigm, master and subject have joined hands to exploit the earth’s finite resources. Our best economists may not be good housekeepers of Nature. While the aim is directed at the Good Life, they have unwittingly reduced the very foundation of that good life – the productivity and beauty of Mother Earth.

Ecological paradigm endorses an ecocentric approach where all forms of life and non-life are important to human life. Spirituality points out to a unitive force: the sacredness of everything. God’s divinity flows in everything. There is inte1gration in the universe. And we are part of that integration, exceedingly small as we are, notwithstanding.

Under ecological paradigm of salvation, the man responsible in the destruction of the environment leading to loss of lives and properties should be held accountable for it. Salvation does not come easy in this particular case, because he is not only responsible for the actual loss, but in healing nature back to health, so to speak. He cannot just get away with his ill-gotten wealth, he has to use it – among other resources - to amend his wrong doings.

5. Business versus Environment. The environment and the economy need not be viewed as opposites. It is possible to have a healthy environment and a healthy economy at the same time. More and more businesses have begun adopting this concept as a business philosophy. People behind business organizations are becoming more aware of the ethical decisions they face, and their responsibility for their consequences.

A multi-national corporation, responding to the provisions of GRI (Global Reporting Initiative), CERES (Coalition of Environmental Responsible Economies), UNEP (United Nations Environmental Program), came up with the following thrusts:

· Restore and preserve the environment

· Reduce waste and pollution

· Education of the public on environmental conservation

· Work with government for sound and responsible environmental program

· Assess impact of business on the environment and communities.

More and more businesses are looking at this model with favor.

Industrialization and urbanization are akin to each other. Industrial growth spurred the building of cities all over the world. Today there are as many people living in cities as those living the rural places. A mega-city like Tokyo has a population of 15 million people. We are 10 million in Metro Manila. Cities are fragile environments. Cities are more prone to epidemics such as the bubonic plague that killed one-third of the population of Europe. Now we are confronted with HIV-AID, SARs, meningo cochcimia – and the dreaded Avian flu which hovers as the next human pandemic disease. AVR
6. Antarctica, World Park. One of the few places on earth unexploited by humans is Antarctica. Not now, not until recently. With the Antarctic Treaty of 1991 declares that “Antarctica shall be open to all nations to conduct scientific or other peaceful activities there,” seven countries have already laid overlapping claims on the continent, which comprises one-tenth of the world’s total land area. Thousands of tourists are now visiting Antarctica every year. Scientific research is economically motivated, such as oil exploration, with geopolitical or military objectives in mind. Earlier – in the 1970s New Zealand proposed designating an Antarctica World Park, making it an international wilderness area. On the ecological point of view, Antarctica is fragile with simple and short food chains that support few organisms such as the penguin, whales, shrimp-like krill. Any slight disturbance is likely to upset the delicate balance. We have already caused the growing hole of the ozone layer above Antarctica through unabated release of CFCs , and fossil-fuel combustion worldwide.

Would humanity be better served by developing the natural resources of Antarctica than turning it into a world park and preserve its ecological balance? We also ask the same question to areas similar to Antarctica, such as the pristine wildlife of Canada, Greenland, the Yukon Territories, the unexplored islands of the Pacific, and main Amazon Basin.

7. Kyoto Protocol on Greenhouse Gases. On December 10, 1997, 160 nations reached agreement in Kyoto, Japan, to limit emission of CO2 and other gases in order to arrest Greenhouse Effect threatening the whole world. But not all countries, signed the treaty, among them the US and Australia. Actually the Kyoto Protocol is not new. In 1992, some 170 countries ratified a similar treaty reducing emission of gases to the level of 1990 by 2000, but this did not yield the desired result.

8. Ecology and Stock Exchange. In 2000, Earth Sanctuaries was listed on the Australian Stock Exchange, making it the world’s first conservation company to go public. We know that conservation efforts have been conventionally under foundations and government projects. But this time this intriguing approach to conserving the environment has raised as lot of questions. Does the market place really have a role in habitat preservation? Is this approach really conserving natural ecosystem or just creating large zoos? Would we rather save and give our children good education that helps rescue an endangered animal? Indeed the conflict between maximizing profits and conservation raises ethical issues.

9. Ecology advertising. In the supermarket we find tags, organically grown, environment-friendly, eco-safe, environmentally safe, children-safe, ozone-friend, and so on. But are these claims true? Consider the following:

· Look for the three-phase symbol of recycling – three interacting arrows to form a triangle.

· When buying a refrigerator or aircoinditioner get the one that is freon-free, ozone friendly. Be sure the purchase is covered by company guarantee.

· Producers of food claimed to be safe, such as organically grown, must be able to show a reliable track record. It is good to trace the source of food that we eat, from beginning with production to processing, and ultimately to the dining table.

· Even materials claimed to be biodegradable, photo-degradable, and the like, may not be readily converted into safe materials. As a general rule, save money from “over-packaged” commodities, and you save the environment as well. Don’t be misled by package advertising, how attractive it may appear.


Rotor AV (2004) The Living with Nature Handbook, UST 207 pp Rotor AV (2001) Light from the Old Arch, UST, 215 pp
Enger ED and BF Smith (1992) Environmental Science: A Study on Interrelationship, McGraw NY 486 pp
Scherff JS et al (1991) The Mother Earth Handbook: What you need to know and do – at home, in your community, and through your church – to help heal our planet now, Continuum 320 pp

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Twin - A Mirage

Dr Abe V Rotor 

Still life painting by AVR 2015

Beauty begets beauty, a philosophy;
     a rebirth, mirage, a twin,
make-believe art, romantic story,  
     a gorgeous, bountiful scene. ~

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Bioethics – Expression of Values

Ethics and Virtue Must Go Together 
Dedicated to the Holy Father, Pope Francis, on the occasion of hius visit to the Philippines 

Dr Abe V Rotor
Living with Nature - School on Blog
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid (People's School-on-Air) with Ms Melly C Tenorio
738 DZRB AM, 8-9 evening class Monday to Friday

He drew a deep breath and held it there as if forever. His eyes were wide open, glassy and welled with tears. He was in a pathetic look, his lips were agape, his whole body tensed. Then the inevitable moment came. He gave up fighting for life.

Immediately quick hands put the boy under the command of modern machines - a high voltage cardiac resuscitator, a lung machine that works on the principle of our diaphragm, electronic gadgets of all sorts to monitor pulse rate, body temperature, blood pressure, and the like. The sight of wires and tubes all over the young patient, with doctors working double time, reminded me of the six million dollar man who cheated death with the miracle of modern science and technology. In the rarefied hospital atmosphere the hero would emerge victorious into the waiting arms of his loved ones and to the world with one more notch to scientific feat. 

But my hero, Paolo – whom I likened after the boy Atrio, in A Never Ending Story - never woke up again. Which reminded me of the celebrated Karen Quinlan case - a young woman, a victim who remained in coma in a US hospital for more than a year. Since there was no progress in her condition, the question arose as to shut off the life-sustaining machines or not. The case became a long court battle. At the end, the patient was allowed to die.

The court’s decision had heavy leanings on the principles of bioethics, and it continues to exert influence on similar cases to this day, some thirty years after. Bioethics, or the ethics of the life sciences, provides the guidelines in the decisions and actions of people who are dealing with life such as doctors and biological researchers. The ethical principles involved are expressions of values, and the foundations of specific moral norms and rules.

In both cases of Paolo and Karen, we can not help but ask these crucial questions: What is natural death in modern medicine? Is the prolongation of life with machines – in spite of the fact that doctors have certified to the total hopelessness in the condition of the patient - justifiable? Is it ethical? Should respect for life and right to live – or say, freedom of choice and principle of consent – prevail over taking the painful, inevitable decision?

Here we analyze the situation not only in the light of bioethics but the interrelationships of ethical principles. Yes, the human person ought to be respected always, but in this situation the deepest respect one can give to the patient is to allow him to die peacefully and meet his Creator, which consequently allow the bereaved family to realize God’s sovereignty over life and all creation. It is said that while compassion grows in times of trial, its fruition comes with resignation to truth and justice, in love and forgiveness – all these come at the end of our journey in life.

Bioethics and Social Justice

Outside of the hospital are people waiting for their turn to be treated. There are patients who need immediate treatment. There are those who have been silent in prolonged agony. Mostly are poor. We are also aware that in remote towns and villages, having a doctor around is considered a luxury. The kind of healthcare these people generally know are traditional and unreliable, and associated with superstitious beliefs. What an extreme scenario with that of Paolo and Karen!

Thus bioethics and social justice must go hand in hand as we view the vast application of bioethics – the poor - millions of them all over the world who are dying everyday without the benefit of modern medicine - nay, without the comfort of dying, or the miracle of science and technology that prolonged the lives of Paolo and Karen.

And yet there are people who are privileged of “over treatment” as modern science and technology opens the possibility of cure to terminal cases. We question the science of medical cryogenics, its lavishness and extreme futuristic goal. There are a hundred rich people in America today whose bodies lie in cryonic tanks waiting for the day when medicine shall then have found a way to revive them. Sounds like Jurassic Park?
“In the real sense, the practice of virtue is what morality is all about, meaning lived morality, the morality that leads to self-realization and ultimately, happiness. After all, virtue is the road to happiness.”

Fr. Fausto Gomez, OP, STD, Relevant Principles in Bioethics

Here is another case on social justice. The US spends $1.5 billion daily on healthcare, even while more than a quarter of its population is deprived of such medical benefit. One can imagine the tremendous significance to social justice, its contribution to world peace and improvement in the quality of human life, if only a substantial part of the wealth of the resurrection believers and the extravagant healthcare budget of a very rich country could be extended instead to the alleviation of the plight of the world’s poor sector.

Bioethics and Disease Prevention

This leads us to the ethics of prevention rather than cure. Dr. Mita Pardo de Tavera believes in primary health care approach involving people’s full participation – people’s empowerment in health, as part in a strong program, particularly diseases such as tuberculosis classified as social diseases because of their high association with poverty. The solution is not merely dependent on medical approach but on a sound socio-economic program that deals with illiteracy, unemployment, inertia and the like, that spawn many ailments and diseases. 

Pillars of Bioethics

In the foregoing discussion I have merely pointed out of the broad domain of bioethics the pillars on which its essence rests, which are 
§ Truth
§ Compassion
§ Beneficence
§ Justice

There is a source of goodness that springs from every righteous person when dealing with questions on bioethics. It is conscience - that inner voice that tells us what to do and subsequently makes judgment of our actions.

But how good is good enough? This brings us to qualify conscience as formative conscience. Fr. Tamerlane Lana OP STD, emphasizes the formation and education of conscience as a life-long task for everyone, especially professionals whose decisions directly affect the lives of people. The goal is for them to attain a well-informed conscience, which is upright and truthful, a conscience that does not merely rely on acquired knowledge, and even on ones personal capacity. It is conscience guided by the spirit.

Growing Application of Bioethics

Today with growing affluence and increasing complexity brought about by our pluralistic world, we find bioethics in the ever-expanding fields of science and technology that have direct or indirect consequences to human life. Thus we hear people raising questions on the morality and ethics of various areas of concern such as the following:

§ Euthanasia
§ Hospice management
§ Organ transplantation and rehabilitation
§ Contraception, abortion and sterilization
§ Social justice in the allocation of healthcare resources
§ The Human Genome Project and genome mapping
§ Genetic engineering and human Cloning
§ In vitro fertilization (test tube babies)
§ Surrogate motherhood and menopausal childbirth technology
§ Aging and extension of longevity
§ Pollution and global warming
§ Ecosystems destruction
§ Nuclear, biological and chemical warfare

These are some areas of concern in bioethics which constitute the course outline of a 3-unit subject, Bioethics for MS Biology at the De la Salle University. The expanded version of bioethics emphasizes its application outside of the field of medicine. These include the following cases:

Food Additives and Contamination

Equally vital issues are the manufacture and distribution of food laces with harmful substances like potassium bromide in bread, sulfite in white sugar, nitrate in meat, glacial acetic acid in vinegar, monosodium glutamate (MSG) in cooked food, aspartame in softdrinks, and many more. Many of these are linked to cancer, diabetes, loss of memory, and many other ailments.

Many of us may recall that some fifteen years ago unscrupulous local businessmen imported radiation-contaminated milk from Holland following the Chernobyl nuclear plant accident in nearby Kiev, Russia. Although banned for distribution on orders of the government, the shipment clandestinely found its way to thousands of Filipino homes. We do not exactly know how serious the tainted milk is on human health, but we know for a fact that the half-life of the radioactive material may last for hundreds of years, within which time it shall then have passed through the food chains and food webs repeatedly far and wide, invariably affecting every member organism, including man.

A similar case was reported during the peak of the Mad Cow Disease in Europe. That was three years ago when Makati-based food processing companies clandestinely imported beef coming from the British Isles near the center of the epidemic where scores of human victims succumbed to the disease. Mad cow disease scientifically known as Bovine Spongiosform Encephalopathy (BSE) has been found to be positively associated with a fatal human brain disease known as Cruetzen Jacob Disease or CJD. Victims of Mad Cow disease exhibit early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, a rapid degeneration of the nervous system that attacks people in old age. Reacting to surveillance, the government intercepted several container vans of the contraband meat at Manila and Cebu ports. The contraband was sent back to the country of origin – an order that is impractical to implement.

Clearly, in these smuggling cases the ethics of business and ethics concerning the health of people were grossly and blatantly violated, but unfortunately no one was convicted and punished.

Ecological Bioethics

Recently in a conference-workshop a participant asked me, being the resource speaker on ecology. “Is it a sin to cut a tree?”
Felled old balete tree, Lagro QC
The question is not to be taken literally, or jokingly either. It permeates into something bioethical. It is not the cutting of the tree per se – or similarly, the spewing of CFC in the air, or throwing mercurial waste in the river, that the issue should be examined. It is the destruction of the ecosystem, the disruption of the functioning of natural laws and processes, and therefore the integrity of whole system is the one that is at stake.

The unabated logging of the watershed of the once beautiful city by the sea – Ormoc City in Southern Leyte - led to massive mudflow that swept the central part of the community burying or drowning thousands of residents, and causing untold sufferings. Yet the ethics and morality of the actions of the loggers and their cohorts were never at all brought out as the major issue during the long investigation.

I would like to view the tragedy in the realm of theology, that of a paradigm of salvation. According of Fr. Percy Bacani, it is a sin to harm the environment, because it causes people to suffer. How could it be that the culprits of the Ormoc tragedy find salvation in mere act of contrition without plowing back their ill-gotten wealth for use in rebuilding the community and in helping nature regain its prior state and stability? Here we are saying that this paradigm touches deep into the roots of moral philosophy while we are guided by general ethical principles. There are specific professional guidelines. Here we encounter questions like the following?

§ When are we responsible for the consequences of our actions? (Indirect voluntary)

§ How far may we participate in the performance of evil actions done by others? (Principle of cooperation)

§ When may we perform ethically, an action from which two effects follow, one good and one evil? (Principle of double effect)

§ Are we the lords of our lives and creation, or only custodians (principle of stewardship)

§ Is the good of a part of the body subordinated to the good of the whole? (Principle of totality)

These are general ethical principles that guide us everyday as bioethicists, especially in analyzing situations, making decisions, and forecasting the consequences of our actions. These principles are used in law, philosophy, theology, management and other disciplines. They are used in case studies, and in actual situations, and their interpretations may vary depending on who is at the helm or talking, or that they apparently change with the march of time and progress. But one thing is sure to stay forever, and that is, the values on which they are founded, which in turn provide the virtues that guide the ethical acts of every person.

But why is it that we do not always follow the dictates of our conscience – nay, even us who undoubtedly possess formative conscience?

“Because we are weak, or blinded by sin or vice. Because we lack virtue and fortitude,” summarized Fr. Gomez. 

Man has yet to learn not to do a thing he knows to be evil, and to do the thing he knows to be good. As temptation leads one to sin, so do complacency and inaction.

On that fateful day, Paolo my hero, was the focus of a most crucial decision the doctors, my family and I had to make. The life-sustaining machines were finally removed and Paolo died in my arms. He was my son. He would be 37 today. ~