(A Tribute to the Fallen)

I wrote this article several years ago for the maiden issue of the The Clarion, the official student publication of RSC, Sawang Campus, which I, with the help of my colleague Donna F. Sy, organized during my stint work in Romblon, Romblon. If my recollections serve me well, it was a six-page newsletter type publication filled with gray pages as it was devoid of pictures and art works which is the exact opposite of the current issues of the same school paper. Pauline Berano, daughter of Mr. Hipolito Berano of Dep Ed, shared a piece to its historical metamorphosis being the first editor-in-chief of the publication. Since then, Donna has been able to develop not only the physical features of the school paper, but the student writers' knack for writing as well. With much regret, these were the things that I had not been able to accomplish. My kudos goes to my good friend, Donna.

The lack of aesthetic quality and technical know-how notwithstanding, the maiden issue of the Clarion faithfully served its most basic purpose in the most rudimentary way- to inform. (Forget about entertainment, under such circumstances, who needed entertainment, anyway?)But how the school organ got its name could be something to reckon with; and this is what I wanted to write about.

I opted to write these accounts not because I was running out of subject to deal with, but because of how these lovely creatures had changed my life.

I taught in Sawang Campus from 2001 to 2003.  Back then, I was staying in a nipa hut which I, along with my students Jun Magallon and Allen Muyo, built. It stood besides the school building by the river bank surrounded by several Ilang-Ilang trees and lush vegetation, not to mention the fully -grown acacia trees nearby.

During the night, the Ilang-Ilang trees were home to a number of nocturnal creatures, including bats. At dawn, however, when the first ray of light began to scare off the nightly creatures back to their lairs, other creatures would claim possession of the stately trees in full bloom-ponay and kulyaw. One could immediately identify which birds caught the early worms by the sound they made.

The sound of ponay resembles that of a murmur of a child being chided by a grown up.So for the novice, it is hardly noticeable especially when everything else comes to life. But at dawn, when everything was still and settled, I knew they were there, perched on twigs, murmuring as usual. A hunter since childhood, I could easily make a distinction between chirpings of a cicadora a cricket from that warbles of a ponay.  I could even mimic their sound to lure them get closer within my range.

The sound of kulyaw, on the other hand, is like a shrill and echoic voice which could be heard even from a great distance across Sawang's shore.   At dawn, they sound like a trumpet heralding the coming of a new day, and from the sound they made, and the resemblance they created, the name "The Clarion" came to life.

Over those years, they had been my neighbors, my guests even. Their songs could add to my drowsiness  enough to put me to sleep; and the same mumblings a "timepiece" that awakened me from a deep slumber. But, I admit that for several occasions, out of necessity rather than sheer delight, (especially during bad weather condition when fish were scant) Ishot on them. The moment I heard them coming, I would grab my gun and take aim for a kill. Being a good marksman, I could drop one or two before they knew they were being fired at and, in no time at all, I would make a hearty breakfast out of their succulent kernel.

Of the two birds, ponay can always confuse even the most seasoned hunter because their color easily blends with the leaves and they can stay stationary to ward off predators, including man.  It is a fast flyer, too. One time, a bird strayed away from the flock and heeded towards the glass window of the school library in full speed. The impact almost shattered the glass, killing it instantly. However, kulyuaw can be shot from any angle since their yellowish color comes in sharp contrast with any kind of vegetation they come in contact with, and their habit of moving from side to side. So the yellow bird became my favorite target. But every time I pulled the trigger and made a hit, I felt something deep inside of my heart bleed. How could someone be so unkind?

But there was no greater sense of loss and remorse than the time I was stalking a wild duck with its brood. Sensing my presence and the eminent danger, the mother duck led its ducklings into shrub so thick it offered no opening for escape. The mother duck could have easily taken wings to freedom but it stayed with its young, covering them with its wings. At close range, I fired my gun. Today, in my mind, I could still hear those frantic chirpings that viciously blended with the fading sound of my gun. As I held the lifeless bird in my hand, I tried to console myself that the brood, could somehow, make it in the wild, unattended. At that moment, I felt no better than the worst criminal. That was the last time I fired a gun.

I left Sawang with all but my gun. I made true my promise that I would never again use it, let alone kill a helpless creature in the presence of its "loved ones".  I don't know if those Ilang-ilang trees still stand today; I don't know if the birds still sing. I don't know how many of such lovely creatures had been shot. How would I know? There were so many of them that perished as I pulled the trigger. But one thing is certain, I sure miss their songs. 

As retribution to my wanton disregard of life of God's wonderful creations, I made a pledge to protect their kinds and habitats in the manner I know best –photography and painting.

Through SEKAR, (Sentro Et Kutura Ag Relang Romblomanon) I could be able to give justice to those birds and other animals that perished   in a pretext of hobby or sports, or I should add, subsistence. I want to enjoin the local amateur and professional photographers and local painters to join me in this endeavor. As part of the many programs and activities that SEKAR has in store, the creation of a photographer/painters club of Romblon is seen as one of the most effective means of preserving, not only our culture and traditions, but the environment and wildlife as well. 

There's so much we can do. Through our lens and brushes, we can give answers to the poet's admonition as expressed in his line, "Lord, restore the birdsongs before I die."

(Author's note: If you are interested to join the club, please don't hesitate to get in touch with SEKAR's Secretariat for complete details. Or contact us through this #_____________________)