Saturday, August 26, 2006

Wings over the Candaba Swamp

By Bayani San Diego Jr.
Last updated 01:29pm (Mla time) 08/23/2006

“Heaven on earth” was how RPN 9 cameraman Ralph Runez described the Candaba Swamp and Wildlife Preserve in Pampanga, where he saw thousands of wild birds the first time he visited the area in February this year.

Runez journeyed to the 70-hectare nature reserve with colleagues from the non-government organization, Kaakbay (Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan) Citizen’s Development Initiatives Inc. including executive director Alain Del B. Pascua and deputy executive director Orlando V. Balbido.

“He never imagined that a place like Candaba existed in the Philippines,” Balbido recounted. “In Manila Zoo, you’d see these birds in cages. But not in Candaba, where over 90 species of migratory, endemic and resident birds congregate.”

Visiting bird watchers and naturalists have visited Candaba—which was declared a bird sanctuary in 2004—reporting sightings of birds such as Garganey, Egret, Chinese Pond Heron, Siberian Rubythroat, Peregrine Falcon, Grass Owl and the Kingfisher.

These migratory birds fly thousands of kilometers, across continents and seas, to spend the winter months in the Philippines.

According to Pascua, the 2006 Asian Waterbird Census recorded “more than 11,000 birds and more than 80 species in Candaba in only three hours of counting.”

Runez, a Caloocan-based cameraman, was there to witness the event.

“He was in awe,” Pascua recalled. “The time of our visit was the peak of migration. There were 11,000 birds in Candaba. He was surprised, but also frustrated because we didn’t bring a zoom lens for close-up shots of the birds.”

Soon after that initial visit, Runez became a “committed” member of Kaakbay, an NGO that aims to protect the bird sanctuary.

“He was brought in by his good friend and fellow cameraman Rene de los Santos when we decided to make a documentary on the birds of Candaba,” Pascua explained.

The 15-minute documentary titled “Wings in the Water: The Birds in Candaba Swamp” was among the 16 finalists in the second Moonrise Festival of environmental films, ongoing at the Gateway Cineplex in Cubao, Quezon City this August.

Jolly person

Balbido described Runez as a jolly person always cracking jokes. He was also soft-spoken and unassuming, according to fellow videographer Rocky Sison/

But when it came to work, he was a no-nonsense person. “He wasted no time and put all his knowledge, skills and even resources into our project,” Pascua said. “At first, we were embarrassed because our organization lacked funds and we didn’t have the money to pay a professional cameraman like him.”

To everyone’s surprise, Runez volunteered his services and equipment as videographer and film editor. “He used his own video camcorder, a Canon XL1, when we shot for four days in Candaba. He had his personal computer upgraded so he could edit the documentary at home,” Balbido said.

Those crucial days of editing the documentary solidified the group.
“We edited the docu for five days nonstop and without sleep. It was during that time that we got to know Ralph better,” Balbido said.

Nominated docu

“Photo finish kami; we finished editing and submitted the docu only three hours before the Moonrise festival’s deadline on June 30,” Pascua said.

The group’s hard work paid off when the docu was nominated in the Best Cinematography and Special Citation for Rivers and Lakes categoriesl.

Runez was credited as videographer along with De los Santos and Sison. Although the docu didn’t bring home any award, the group felt like winners “because we were all first-time filmmakers, and we pulled it off,” Pascua said.

On July 26, during Kaakbay’s “critiquing night,” the group decided to make improvements on the docu. “The group gave the assignment of implementing the changes to Ralph,” Balbido said. “He became our group’s official technical person.”


“He edited out the shaky footage; he put in bird calls and natural bird sounds,” Pascua said.

In fact, Runez was “working on the documentary all through the night until the dawn of July 28—the day he was murdered,” he recalled.

“He took a break from editing to withdraw P35,000 from a Metrobank branch in Lagro, Quezon City. He was going to lend the money to a friend,” Balbido said.

On his way home to Caloocan, Runez was accosted by robbers who shot him twice.

“He was declared dead on arrival at the Tala Hospital,” Pascua said. “Ralph was only 35 years old.”

Although suspects in Runez’s murder have been arrested, his friends and colleagues could only hope “that justice would be served in Ralph’s case because a policeman had been implicated.”

“At his wake, his 4-year-old son Rafael looked as if he was oblivious that his father was gone,” Balbido said.

Determined to pay homage to Runez. Kaakbay gave a special screening of “Wings in the Water” last Aug.19 at the Gateway Cineplex. “He will forever be a part of Kaakbay. Rocky reedited the ending to include a tribute to Ralph,” Balbido said.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Mountain of myths

Ever since I can remember, Mount Arayat has been my one and only constant visual reference of Pampanga. It was the mountain of my childhood, the mountain I passed by thousands of times each morning in my daily commutes to Angeles, and in my college years -- the mountain that signalled to me “You’re almost home”, as I rode a Philippine Rabbit bus from Baguio. Indeed, the ancients considered old bunduk Alaya the navel of the earth, from which all directions, all movements of the Kapampangan universe were reckoned. Arayat was, and still is Pampanga’s most famous landmark, a twin-coned mountain that dominated our eastern landscape rising in solitary majesty from the flatlands unlike the Zambales mountain range—although Pinatubo took a bit of the limelight away from her with its 1991 eruption.

Nevertheless, Arayat was the original, a 3,564 foot high natural wonder that inspired the many myths and stories I heard with fascination in my youth. In the turbulent 70s, I found quiet entertainment in my Classics Illustrated fairy tale comic books which recounted immortal tales of Greek gods and heroes. In my child’s mind, Arayat became my Olympus, the abode of gods and the scene of their thousand and one adventures. Early on, we thrilled to the tale of the Kapampangan sun god Sinukuan who was supposedly imprisoned in a cave sealed with a “white rock” visible on the mountain side. (The “White Rock” became a bastion for Kapampangan revolucionarios in our wars with Spain, America and the Japanese). If Olympus had Vulcan working in the bowels of the mountain, we had our own fabled Sinukuan trapped inside Arayat’s belly. On car rides to Manila, we would actually inspect the white speck on Arayat from afar, although the resolution of the legend was never clear to us. There was also a vague story about an ancient battle between Apung Pinatubu and Apung Sinukuan, with the two giant creatures engaging in a rock-throwing fight that went on for days.

Another Sinukuan also figured in a legend that will rival that of Mariang Makiling. Mariang Sinukuan, it is said, was in fact, Maria Makiling’s sister who made Arayat her home. She made the forest primeval thrive with fruit-bearing trees which she cared for daily. A person who eats the juicy fruit is liable to get lost forever in the woods.It is also claimed that one can see from atop the mountain the silhouette of Mariang Sinukuan in quiet repose.

My imagination often ran wild when it came to musings about the day when Arayat would blow its top. Would it be something like the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius which swallowed whole towns as recounted in my Classics Illustrated comic book “Last Days of Pompeii?” In actuality though, Arayat is quite an extinct volcano whose last eruption was over 500,000 years ago. But then again, the Pinatubo eruption, dormant for over 600 years, is a grim reminder of the fickleness of Mother Nature.

In the 1950s to the 1970s, Arayat took on another unflattering monicker—Huk Mountain, a lair of communist activities and a hideout for the country’s peasant rebels. But it quickly shed off this image with the establishment of tourist-friendly ecopark---the Mount Arayat National Park in Barrio San Juan Baño, which boasts of natural pools, refreshing springs, picnic areas and mountain trails. To this day, Arayat is a favorite haunt of mountaineers and campers. Within its forest sanctuary are animals like local civet or musang, wild boar, monkeys and rarely-seen birds like the delectable pasdan.

Like Mount Banahaw, Arayat too has a mystical side for it is in her foothills that Rizalistas gather every December to honor the national hero in quiet ceremonies. The cult was brought to Arayat by the late Apo or Mahal na Inang Birhen Sinukuan in 1947, acknowledged as Rizal’s female incarnation. An earlier cult leader, Felipe Salvador, who established “Santa Iglesia” in the 1890s in Apalit and who organized a peasant guerrilla warfare against the Americans, relocated his church to Arayat as well. It comes as no surprise that Leo Parungao, a former press secretary and journalist known for his paranormal research and writing is from this town.

To remind myself how beautiful Pampanga is amidst the rising concrete jungles and the crowded megamalls that are threatening to cover our landscape, I need only to drive through Clark and exit through the Mabalacat or Main Gate, look through my car window where I can have a grand view of my mountain of legend and lore, of my past and present, the enduring symbol of all things Kapampangan: Arayat!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Giant Lantern Festival 2005

Here are some of the lanterns from the Giant Lantern Festival in 2005. The first one is that of Barangay Sto. Rosario which won top honors...

For more information on the festival, click here.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Nicolasa Dayrit Re-interment Ceremonies [September 9 to 10, 2004]

Here are some videos of the re-interment ceremonies and military honors for the remains of revolutionary heroine Nicolasa Dayrit held on September 9 to 10, 2004...

Military Ceremonies on September 10, 2004

Arrival Honors on September 9, 2004