Catching the boat ride to a new life

Catching the boatride to a new life

Catching the boat ride to a new life
Nathaniel T. Dela Cruz
Animal Scene Magazine
February 2007

She was all arms and legs in helping the animals in need that came across her life. She saved those she found abandoned in the streets, sometimes even adopting from a local pet adoption center (specifically her dog, Ford, who was adopted from the PAWS Animal Rehabilitation Center {PARC}). She was virtually one of the quiet heroes in the crusade to forward animal rights because she felt that she was needed by those who cannot help themselves.

Now it was her time of need, and because of the seed of love and compassion she planted all her life, she sowed the same kind of response.

When long-time animal rescuer and humane educator Mrs. Delfin and her family needed help to transport their pets to their new home in Cebu , many brave and caring souls came forward and give aid.

The family underwent tough financial times, with the GSIS foreclosing their house in Manila that forced them to move to Cebu , taking with them their 25 cats and 3 dogs. They’ve been trying to find ways to transport their animals since June 2006. Without electricity, Mrs. Delfin and her son have stayed behind and haggled for more time with GSIS because their beloved dogs and cats are still there.

Mrs. Delfin, a certified dyed in wool animal lover, would not even consider leaving her pets, even if they’ve been repeatedly asked by well-meaning friends to let their pets loose and leave them all behind, or leave them with PAWS.

This prompted a shout out for aid for Mrs. Delfin and her pets, and in a short period of time, aid started to come in. All in all, the donors managed to come up with P19, 340!!!

Mrs. Delfin’s one wish was for her entire family – pets included – to be home together in time for Christmas, and with the help of those who came to her aid – namely Ms. Nenita Ang, Ms. Adele Bacaltos, Ms. Frances Tomacruz, Ms. Joyce Rivera, Ms. Pinky Bustamante and Mr. Andre Marcelo Tanner, her wish was granted. CARA – another animal welfare group – even lent the Delfin family seven (7) cages for the transport of the cats.

Having answered the problems posed by financial constraints, the Delfin family still has one more problem to attend to, that which once again showed the compassion and willing helping hand of even strangers.

A Super Ferry rule says there is a maximum of 5 (five) animals to be brought per passenger. Mrs. Delfin approached fellow passengers and asked them if she could put the other animals in their names. They were able to do just that, and all animals and their human partners are safely en route to Cebu , estimated to arrive at the port of the Queen City of the South by 7pm .

Once in Cebu , the Delfin’s do not plan to stop their work for animals. They have made plans to have an animal shelter and a humane education center in Cebu once their financial situation improves.

Boracay: surviving my first adventure race

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Boracay: surviving my first adventure race
Nathaniel T. Dela Cruz
Atlas Sports Magazine
Issue # 1491
Pp 22-25

Don’t just read and imagine. Race and experience.

Race Commander and veteran adventure racer Jerome Luengo lent me a book a few days before he flew to Boracay for pre-race preparations. Surviving the Toughest Race on Earth by Martin Dugard was about the writer’s account of the famed Raid Gauloises, an extremely brutal French survival race and is considered as the forerunner of today’s adventure races, first as an objective sideline journo and then Raids later as a competitor. I know it was Luengo’s subtle way of coercing me to join the race, further reasoning that as a sports correspondent it is critical that I experience first-hand adventure racing. It was his scheme that I get a glimpse of Dugard’s escapades and perhaps be inspired or intrigued by his leap of faith. I knew of his scam and thought that it would take him more than a battered old book to make me risk my neck in the challenges set in his race. Little did I know that in the residue of the excitement which stained my imaginations as I cover the Buena Vista Adventure Race mixed with stimulation I got as my mind wandered through Dugard’s book, inside a cockroach infested cabin of a ferry bound for Caticlan, I will find an addictive drug that will finally make me plunge head on to a sport entirely alien to me. That I cease to be an armchair adventurer is a thought that, as much as excited me, has also at first lay unfounded fears and unanswered questions in my once restive soul.

On April 22, after bucking a 14-hour sea journey that includes hopping in and out of three different sea vessels, I finally set foot on the clean white beach and pristine blue-green waters of Boracay and was overwhelmed by its beauty and charm. Like a modern day Mac Arthur I waded through the water and reminded myself that I am not here to beach bum, to party, to drink or to flirt with the beautifully landscaped scenery. I am here for my first adventure and endurance race. The only imaginable consolation is that I am sure to get the Boracay tan anyhow.

LAST MINUTE PREPARATIONS

The last thing we shouldn’t have forgotten to bring is our third team member.

Along with fellow sports correspondent, roommate and teammate Emil Noguera, we used all the available contacts and every possible means that includes scouring the entire beachfront, just to find a female teammate. We asked around dive shops, kite boarding centers and bike rental stations. Every time we are told that there is no such woman they know available, which may mean there really isn’t any around or was already taken by other teams, I felt the chances for a disappointing premature death of my first adventure race increase.

Tired from walking on the already warm and itchy sand, we decided to go back to our room and just pray for divine intervention. Along the way we passed by a henna tattoo-cum-dreadlocks station-cum-bike rental joint, where we already chartered three bicycles for Saturday’s race. The shop is nothing more than a beach umbrella, a low wooden table and a 3-seater plastic bench. We asked the man in charge if he happens to know any female who would want to race. He casually shrugged off his shoulders, and then threw the question to a petite woman who is sitting quietly beside him. She asked us about the race detail, which we quickly narrated to her, feeling a little sense of hope spring from what was once an already dried well. It only took a brief pondering moment before she agreed to join. The tattooed, heavily-pierced girl is Liezel Quinto.

We dragged her to the registration area after lunch, re-oriented her on the challenges that we will be tackling, nothing of which seem to scare her. Masked by what seem like an infinitely expressionless face, I was starting to doubt her will, taking her unmoving stance as something akin to indifference rather than fearlessness. But dumping her means sideline spectatorship for me and Emil so we just convinced ourselves that she is just like that all the time. We gathered our race items, which includes race bibs and shirts, bandanas, a magnetic sticker, bike numbers, maps and instruction guides and a few strands of tansi. The skill and ability test was easy, meaning I was able to get to the ground safely and without fuss from my first rappelling experience, that is a 20-foot drop from an erected scaffolding paneled with smooth ply wood. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t scared to death in my first few lumbering steps of the descend. Hadn’t my teammates shown ease doing it, I would have chickened out right then and there.

There was little to talk about after that. Over dinner and two bowls of Mongolian style chow, one overly salty the other overly spicy, the discussion mostly revolved around the call time for tomorrow’s race. With that settled, all three of us went to our respective houses to retire for the night.

To say that Team NYC Media is underdressed and underprepared for the occasion is an understatement. We knew what to bring, but the reason why we didn’t bring any, I can’t seem to fathom until now. One night before the race, all equipment in our possession were a few items we acquired from friend’s good graces. We managed to borrow race essentials like bike helmets and a pair of goggles. We didn’t have gloves to protect our hands in the rappelling events, and prayed that the drop wouldn’t take too long for our palms to be blistered. Without hydration packs, we were burdened to carry the full weight of bottled water and energy drinks along the way. We rented the bikes which we will be using, entrusting our means of progress for the entire race in the hands of profiteering businessmen who may not be very prudent with the maintenance and condition of their merchandises. We didn’t have any breakfast for the following morning save for a few cookies and water. Going to bed, I prayed for survival and endurance for the entirety of the race, to be able come out of the Boracay Island-wide expedition alive and whole, not just for me and for the team but for my anachronistic urban sneakers as well which I doubt is made for very trying moments like the one I would be embarking on not a few hours from now.

RACE DAY: DON’T EXPECT ANYTHING

We were at the gathering area at 5 am the following morning. We were a bit early, judging from what greeted us at the assembly area; an almost non-movement of everything, dark sky, sleeping people and the quiet sea. But good things come to those who wake up early. First, we still had the chance to remedy our lack of floatation device, being able to rent three, dull orange and thread bare improvised life vests from a small motorized boat docked not very far from the shoreline from where the en masse run will take place. Secondly, we had the chance to be the first team to be interviewed by Gameplan. As the perfectly tanned Tricia Chiongbian barraged us with questions, it was only then that the full realization that I, in my full adventure racing garb, am indeed racing my first adventure race.

As the sun slowly breaks from its own sleep under the sheets of huge white and slightly grayish clouds, the crowd in Summer Place began to swell. Racers started coming in, some atop their battle ready bicycles while some found more ease in just dragging their two-wheeled buddies along. The crowd was getting bigger, and the conversation moving to smaller circles of people in isolated, quieter hushes between huddled team members. Racers found a variety of ways to shake off the slow moving time and the ever-growing anxiety. Some stretched by the beachfront, while others jogged lightly around the area. Some reviewed their maps and strategies, occasionally dropping a query or two to the still alive and alert ears of the race commander who barely had a decent one-hour sleep. Some slept through the long wait, while some sat in silence, reserving every ounce of energy for the race. Some ate taho while others sat by the white beach, and like exkarsyonistas found entertainment at the sight of Boracay in early morning, nearly unaffected by the last minute concerns of the race.

At five5 minutes before seven, the sun mildly stretching its glorious rays over the expansive white Boracay beach, an advisory coming from a microphone-amplified voice silenced the crowd of gathered racers and spectators. Both Elite racers, those wearing blue bibs, and Fun racers, those wearing white, were advised to fall in the starting line. There wasn’t much of a rule to which side racers for a specific category should stay, making the front area of Summer Place splashed with patched white and blue colors, broken by the multi-colored apparel of the onlookers who are standing by the sidelines.

There was a very positive energy enveloping the area. Racers began their last minute stretching. High fives and the wishes of good luck abound like confetti falling from heaven. There were calls for the Fun Teams to outdo Elite Teams, while some yells went to the extent of challenging a specific team, all done in the spirit of friendly competition and wasn’t taken too seriously. There were hoots and shouts, screams, hollers and roars. All age, gender, social and financial status, even religious and ethnic affiliations were dissolved into a singular personality: Racer. The attire was bohemian and free style; some content in wearing nothing but bibs and trunks, others donning tank tops or thermal suits, while some opting to take their shoes off.

Behind the smile on the faces of every excited racer was the unmistakable drive, not really to win, but to push hard, conquer and finish. Proof was the tensed muscle, the faraway look, the sometimes blank face lost in the imagination of what lies ahead in the daylong race.

After the chorused countdown came to one, 135 pairs of feet poured out of the starting area, exploded to a run and stomped hard the white sand. What was once a one whole pack of runners which looked like a humongous, multi-legged blue white bacteria quickly became fragmented groups after the first kilometer; pack leaders, middle runners and the trailers. In the middle of the run, some racers began to slow down to a jog, others progressing by walking, while some coming to a full stop to look back at teammates left behind. As for myself, I concluded, after 15 minutes of full gallop, that 3K run is not my forte.

We were panting very hard on our return run from Blue Waves Resort, the station where we were handed our passport, to the starting line in Summers Place. A few feet ahead of us was Team Dagat, running together and arms linked. Jason Panagsagan and Leo Angelo Diocampo sandwiched female team member Mary John Maming. Their slow jog is proof enough that the early morning run has rattled their lungs a little bit, and it was a shared feeling that it was safe to catch air at this point of the race. Without warning, Maming’s shoulders fell, almost in deadweight. Her legs collapsed, forming an awkward x, her knees meeting in the middle. Her teammates dragged her limp body to the shore, just where there is an ankle-deep of sloshing waves. They made her sit in an upright position, one carefully supporting her by holding her up through her armpits as he tried to talk her into pulling herself together while the other half of the dreadlocked-duo scooped a handful of seawater and gently splashed it in Maming’s face. At this point, I and the rest of the team have already made it past them. We can’t help ourselves from taking long looks at the K.O.-ed Team Dagat, perhaps feeling torn between the thought of stopping by to help a fellow racer or to just move on and accomplish a task at hand. I found it easier to choose the latter, not because of callousness but simply because we are of no use to them even if we did stop. Real help, I told myself, was on the horizon: Summer Place, which was a stone’s throw away, and there able professionals are on standby and can readily attend to their need. I made my last look at them, noticing a large group of curious onlookers starting to move closer to where the trio made its first unwanted stop. I know that I will find a hard time defining the significance and definition of that moment to the overall aura of challenge, competitiveness and drama that the race exudes. The motionless figure of a woman which seemed like instantaneously drained of  all the competitive juices and will power to endure, a broken body with a spirit losing flight even before it reached the race’s highest peak, registered well in my mind and whether it left a sense of fear or of a foreboding of what lies ahead of this day-long race I really am not sure until now, only that I wasn’t prepared to see the race’s first casualty this early. I wonder if that was, in some measure, a preview of how the banquet of hardships which lie ahead of us will try to break us, one by one, and in dread I shrugged off the thought that I will be amongst in the long list of today’s statistics.

I remembered how my mom used to remind me not to take a bath after a tedious task lest I will go down with a cold. It was the first myth I intended to break as I removed my shoes after the grueling 3K run, waded through the ice cold waters and finally submitting my heavily sweating body to the cold sea, ready to face the task of retrieving the designated sandbag of the team located somewhere in the buoyed area of the beach.

It was difficult enough that some of the sandbags are spread far apart. Making it worst is the fact that it wasn’t arranged sequentially, so the three of us divided the area into quadrants. Emil and Liezel weren’t wearing any goggles so they have to lessen moving about lest the dancing sand underwater impairs their ability to see through seawater with unaided eyes.

Finally, I saw the sand bag numbered 005. Finding it was tasking. Carrying it to the shore is even more difficult, having to bear with the creeping exhaustion, crashing sea waves and the weight of the sandbag which I slung on my shoulder. Worn out from the running, diving and swimming, I was surprised to find enough energy left in my system for me to have successfully checked-in my loot and not collapsing in the process.

The parked bicycles was a sight to behold, an assurance that despite what seemed like a very sloppy start from Team NYC-Media, we aren’t entirely left behind. Our smiles were short-lived though. With paddling through very soft sand slowing us down, a very early tragedy isn’t really a very welcome occurrence. Heading towards the exit via the secondary road at the D’Mall, the rear gear of Emil’s bike was deformed. Having no bike repair tools or experience at hand, we decided it is best to just run back to Summer Place to secure another bike.

We stopped by at a nearby carinderia, where people having an early midday merienda curiously stared at us. We purchased a bottle each of Gatorade, mounted our bikes and stormed the main road. We easily spotted the two checkpoints by the roadside, had our passports stamped and headed southeast , full throttle to Rocky Beach, located at the southern tip of the island. We were supposed to make a right at Angol Road, then make a left, trekking the white beach path all the way to the designated area. But we overshoot our target, moving as far and out of tangent, passing Bantud, the Cagban Road elbow and afterwards finding ourselves in Manoc manoc, which is to the east. In our search for shortcuts, we took secondary roads and bike paths, and at the end finding ourselves either faced with a dead end or a heavily fenced area secured by rusty barbwires.

Braving the unchartered area, we ended up at the backdoor of the Lorenzo Villas. The man, seeing three uniformed and definitely lost racers was kind enough to let us in, and out, giving us directions on how to get to Lorenzo South Resort, via the downhill San Lorenzo Road. We made a left and was finally in the Rocky Beach. Were we landed was beautiful, a pristine shore lined with white sand, where halo halo was abound and the sight was enough to make me lust for a tumbler-full to appease a stomach in the verge of a mad revolution. Further, where the exercise is to take place, are cavernous entrances, howling waves and big, sharp rocks. My bike, I think for the first time, swam. It was what the locals call “Parson’s point’.

We managed to locate the rappelling station with only one hitch: the team still has to make an unaided, 50-foot, 90-degree climb or backtrack again and sped another hour searching for another way to the top. The ladder that the mammoth nature wall can provide us are just the protruding roots and small foot spaces, an exercise which would demand from us surgical precision steps. The team’s first 30 foot ascend was easy, but as we move higher there were fewer roots or branches to grasp and lesser space to move. With almost 5 feet left to hurdle, the team was faced with a dilemma, which with one wrong move, can bring about nothing less than death. The perils of taking a chance in using the brittle rocks and twigs as leverage to pull ourselves up are difficult and precarious and as dangerous as backtracking our way down. Looking down was a mistake: the 50-foot drop was scary and distracting, it means nothing less than an unmoving body with every limb twisted in all the wrong directions, eyes left open from the quickness and surprise of death, warm blood polluting the brown green rocks, blue green water and clear white sand. A grisly end for a green horn racer, whose calling to experience and not just imagine prodded him to a challenge to which his body and mind cannot answer. It was the first time I felt death’s nearness, its warm breath enveloping my entire body with a numbing coldness which froze my every muscle. Swallowing becomes a very tedious effort because of the intense beating of my heart. My chest seems to be in the verge of explosion and my heart felt like its coming out through my throat. A moment between the feeling of helplessness and surrendering to the inevitable slashing of Death’s scythe. I prayed, and then I gingerly worked my way up, my shaking hands holding on to every root or branch and pulling myself up, praying that it wouldn’t detach itself from its own hold, stepping into every crevice within the reach of my nearly hyper extended leg and arm muscles, and hoping to where I would step on or hold unto isn’t loose and wouldn’t fall off with my weight. I literally embraced and kissed that part of the cliff, hugged it tightly and tasted its flavor; a flat tang of dried wood and hard, loose soil, like tasteless ground peanuts for kare kare.

Miraculously, we all managed to make it up the cliff. One by one, the marshals helped us with our seat harnesses, arrange the kern mantle rope around the eight ring and guided us as we rappelled down. I went first, wanting to end the frightening sight, being up so high, soon. The jitters of my first rappelling experience hadn’t left me yet, and there I was not more than 24 hours after, getting entangled every once in a while from protruding branches. After the last team member descended we trotted back to where we left our bikes.

It was the first near death scenario we had and we celebrated our survival with bottles of Coke and Sprite and a pack of cheese bread on our first food stop at a nearby sari-sari store. We hoped it was the last as we began alternately walking and biking in our crisscross trek to circumnavigate the entire island, bombarded by the midday sun, parched by severe dehydration, burdened by legs under the constant threat of agonizing cramps, encumbered by blistered and aching groin areas from exhaustive biking and tormented with long solitary walks that can break a person down physically and mentally.

Finishing just the second in our eleven-station itinerary, we have already undergone almost an hour of downhill and uphill biking and numerous rerouting because of our inexperience in orienteering and map reading inefficiency.

The Dead Forest was our next stop, located .Emil Noguera was the designated guide, while Liezel Quinto and I, blindfolded, were destined to suffer the warm, knee-high mud filled with sharp broken shells that made two lacerations on my right foot; one in the middle toe finger and another one in my heel. Making a step was difficult with the thick mud clinging heavily on my legs and moving on a straight line is totally challenging.

Unable to wear my sneakers because of the gnawing pain in my unwashed, open flesh, I contented in using Emil’s spare rubber slip-ons. We pedaled next towards the Talipapa. We divided the four-fold task amongst ourselves, with Emil proceeding to (  ) for the coin counting, Liezel to a nearby store selling star fish and I in a stall by the beach front to insert very tiny beads in a tansi. I need to make at least a foot long, and even before I managed to accomplish half the task, my teammates were already done with theirs. Liezel, the master in crafts like this one, took my place and finished the assignment in a jiffy. We headed to a secluded pen located at the other side of the rows of stalls, with curly haired kids stopping dead on their tracks at the sight of three helmeted figures rushing by. Emil was unanimously voted as the designated piglet catcher, managing to corner the stubborn piglet in a couple of minutes, but not without laughs elicited from the children who have gathered
to watch.

After that we tested the stubborn waves of the Tambisaan beach which Liezel conquered fearlessly without life jacket while Emil and I have to be plucked in the sea by the Coast Guard as we surrender to the fists of waves that whacked us to submission.

We combed the sands of Bolabog beach next and had a mouthful or two of saltwater at the Boat Station 1 area afterwards.

We braved the huge, sharp rock formations off Bulaboc Point and solved a jigsaw puzzle in a nearby dimly lit bat cave before orienteering a 3 kilometer walk throughout Yapak Poblacion.

Our last ounces of strength, will power, focus, determination and calm disposition was severely put to test inside Punta Bunga, wherein the team, lost, hungry, tired and growing more and more irate and impatient by the minute, would come to the realization that after being lost in the thick foliage for more than an hour, cannot anymore manage to finish the race before the cut off time.

Tired, depressed and filthy and on the verge of picking up a fight, we took a tricycle and nursed our bruised egos on our way home over the anticlimactic end of our excursion.

THE MORNING AFTER: RETURN TO NORMALCY

I did survive the race, but not without wounds, physical, emotional and mental, which hasn’t healed yet but would definitely leave a scar, both skin-deep and soul etched. The places I traversed with my teammates shall be forever in colorful replay in my mind, the hardships my body has to endure equally vivid and warm.

During the team’s 11 hour non-stop expedition we made three hydration stops in between our thirty minutes of full gallop run, 35 minutes of non-stop swimming, one and a half hour of accomplishing tasks, four hours of walking and four and a half hours of tedious biking spread across the thousand meter wide Boracay island; from the southern most tip of Rocky Beach to the Puka Beach in the west, the scenery merged by the long, quiet, snake-like main road of Boracay to its secondary roads of San Lorenzo, Road 1A, Tambisaan and Angol.

Team Iligan Pride should be proud, and definitely Team Laro-laro was all business that day, as both teams proved to be the best, and toughest Elite and Fun Teams in the Boracay leg of the Enduro San Mig Light Adventure Race. Iligan Pride clocked in at 11 hours and 39 minutes, deserving of the 75,000 pot money. They were followed by Bombproof – Merrel Team, Metro Active, Cora’s Palm and Urban Goats. Laro-laro clocked an 8-hour, 40-minute finish, followed by Bugas Bugas, Aria, Bugsay Blades BomBom and SPR Real Estate Team.

In retrospect, it isn’t about speed alone, or skill alone. It is a race which is hard pressed to be won in a neck-and-neck fashion, and though every second count, it will not be won by such a slim margin of a lead. I was surprised when I overheard an Elite racer telling his teammates at the en masse run to let other racers run first, and that running first or last in the starting area hardly matters. I thought he was just being loud and conceited. I didn’t see the race through his Elite eyes; that it isn’t about catching up by galloping 24-7, its about leading by not wasting unnecessary energy. It is not a sprint. It was stupid of me to bike barefoot very early in the race, but I did, giving more importance to rushing than the consequence of bad fall with an unprotected foot on a metal pedal along a rough road. Foolhardiness is the ticket either to a wounded body or to an early exit. Timing and proper phasing, when to make the one big, energy-draining push, is important. To even attempt to move at high speed, both man and bike, for the entirety of the race is suicide and plain dumb. It is a race of the minds, and what team thinks the smartest fastest most likely will win.

It is a race where an average guy and an experienced mountain climber stands on equal footing, for in the end it is not skill alone or speed alone. It is all about fortitude and the courage to endure; enduring one more station, one more dose of pain, one more strip of uphill road to bike, one more kilometer to run, one more cliff to ascend, one more paddle to the shore, giving a fatigue body one more push when human endurance seem to be on the brink of breakage. In as much as skill and speed is important, endurance, not just of the body but of the mind as well, is the paramount power to wield. And for the team to partake of the power and spirit of endurance is the perfect recipe in surviving life’s multi level, day to day races and challenges.

Many will ask me why I joined this race. I would like to borrow what Bernard Dahy, leader of Team Jura who won the Madagascar Raid, said in response to Dugard’s query:

“The spirit of competition and a little bit of madness”

And what is the spirit of the competition? The challenges and the dangers and how it was surpassed, the victory over oneself but not over other people, the high fives and “go guys!” exchanged by racers as we pass by each other on the road, it is the easy smile and the lack of pretensions, the beautiful scenery viewed through the eyes of a racer, the very minute details which can never be duplicated in ten thousand lifetimes and the little bit of madness that which pulls all racers into the swirling vortex of adventure racing.

It is true that a race is an avenue for thinking, for self-discovery and reconciliation. I have pushed myself and seen firsthand my own limitations. Yes we didn’t finish, but we didn’t quit.

I came, I raced, I survived.

Rock Vixens

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Rock Vixens
Nathaniel T. Dela Cruz
TV Star Guide
March issue 2005

Rock didn’t die with Roxette’s career. Thank heavens.

While leather-clad body-licious pop icon Britney Spears gyrates to her own rendition of “I love rock n’ roll’ – the act complete with rock n’ roll requisites of heavy duty amplifiers, stage fireworks and big hair – the remnants of the true-blooded mosh pit masters and mistresses knew too well that somehow, rock hadn’t descended to the pits by not having its ranks invaded by pop divas and rock-wannabes.

After what was a creation of a music melting pot in the 80’s wherein every genre seemed to fuse with one another thus leaving very slim chance for the rise of an icon in every musical genre, rock managed to survive in the 90’s and in the 21st century with its own heroine – born, raised and praised in the backdrop of screeching guitar riffs and melodramatic lyrics.

Now, the term ‘frontman’ becomes politically incorrect, if not obsolete, as estrogen-powered rockstars took over the spotlight and replaced the lung-busting, neck-breaking howling and growling with a more sensual, toned-down (though in times banshee-like) but none the less almost ethereal voice, not to mention the good looks and irresistible charisma that go with the overflowing talent.

Finally, there were better reasons to look up than to headbang.

Dolores Mary O’Riordan (Cranberries)– The Irish Icon

The Cranberries was indeed one sweet surprise, Ireland’s gift to the international music scene after a long while, the most recent prior to the quarter was the hugely popular Bono and U2.

Although their early hits Dreams and Linger – which came from their album Everybody Else Is Doing It So Why Cant We? – made Cranberries as one of the promising new bands of the 90’s, it was the political anthem Zombie from their next album No Need To Argue that cemented O’Riordan’s place both in the masses and in the rock clique.

It was also Dolores who inspired both young and not-so-young women to shed their locks to a shorter trim ala- Roxette, Dolores being a dead ringer for the 80’s blonde rock n roll priestess.

Born on September 6, 1971 in Limerick, Ireland, O’Riordan joined Noel Anthony Hogan, Michael Gerard Hogan and Fergal Patrick Lawler to form the band.

Cranberries other album include To the Faithful Departed, Bury the Hatchet, Wake Up and Smell the Coffee, Stars- The Best of 1992-2002 and Treasure Box: The Complete Sessions 1991-1999.

The Cranberries is on a self-imposed hiatus from the rock scene. Dolores, who along with husband Don, is expecting her third child in March. The couple, along with their kids Molly and Taylor, now lives in Canada.

Dolores is no doubt as busy as usual, recording a duet of ‘Pure Love’ with Italian artist Zucherro for the latter’s album Zu and Co. She was also nominated for an award at the Italian Film Festival for her recording of ‘Ave Maria’ for the soundtrack of the highly controversial Mel Gibson film The Passion of Christ at the Island of Capri. She was also offered the role of Helen for the Helen of Troy musical by AC/DC’s Brian Johnson.

Dolores, along with fellow artists Jethro Tull and The Cure, was also one of the supporters of Ukrainian opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko.

Courtney Love (Hole) – Celebrity Sinner

It was for two reasons that Courtney Love was the queen during the height of grunge/alternative era of the early and mid 90’s:

First, her band Hole rocked the scene along with other bands that boast of a female lead singer at that era – L7, 4 Non Blonde’s and 10,000 Maniacs.

Secondly, she was the better half of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain – the Grunge God and the object of admiration of the musicians of his time and objects of desire by his female followers.

After the tragic ending of her husband whose band is at the height of superstardom, Love’s career and personal life went on a downhill as well. Rumors of drug addiction and her affairs with other rock stars abound, along with photographs that went from comical to controversial to just plain embarrassing.

In 1998, Hole released its album Celebrity Skin, with two singles – both music videos of which full of the guitar-wielding Love in her lingerie- gaining respectable airtime on FM radios. But her solo album in 2004 titled America’s Sweetheart proved nothing better than her band’s first opus.

As if starting over after legal battles that include a victory and an imminent defeat – the return of Frances Bean, her lovechild with Cobain, to her custody and prison time for assault and illegal possession of pain killer – Love, collaborating with Smashing Pumpkin’s Billy Corgan, seemed to be on track to a follow-up to her rather best forgotten debut solo album, even if it means recording some of the tracks behind bars.

Gwen Rene Stefani (No Doubt)– Ska Sister

Gwen is Girl Power – her self-styled tops and baggy pants becoming the catalyst of new rock fashion for women in the 90’s.

But more the fashionista’s wardrobe was the music that she helped introduced especially in the local mainstream scene: Ska.

Ironically, the cornerstone of Stefani’s fame in the country was the melodramatic Don’t Speak, the only love song on the album Tragic Kingdom, which was released in October 1995. From that point on, Stefani changed from her dress in Don’t Speak to her self-designed tops, appearing as that hyper active woman in Spiderwebs, Sunday Morning and Just A Girl.

Born October 3, 1969, Gwen had her first ska band – which she formed along with brother Erik- at 17.

Stefani wasn’t the first vocalist for No Doubt. Co-founder and former frontman John Spence did the singing chores before he shot himself at an Anaheim Park on December 21, 1987.

After a couple more of albums following Tragic Kingdom (which went from platinum to double platinum to number one in billboards in 1996), Stefani left bandmates Tony Kanal, Adrian Young and Tom Dumont to pursue a solo career.

Her debut album Love Angel Music Baby, with the carrier single What Are You Waiting For? earned her a nomination for this year’s Grammy Awards. She was reported as of late dating with Bush’s frontman Gavin Rossdale.

Amy Lynn Lee (Evanescence) – Goth Queen

If death means being with Amy Lee –in lingerie inside a dimly lit room half asleep in a bed covered in satin sheets- then who is shouting “Bring me to life”?

Rock superstardom came a-calling for Amy after rendering her angelic voice for a soundtrack of the movie Daredevil. Proving that the song didn’t make it big just because of her showing some flesh in the music video and her band far from being a one-hit wonder, Amy’s powerful yet soulful voice catapulted ‘Torniquet’, ‘Everybody’s Fool’ and ‘My Immortal’ to the hit charts as well

Amy proved to be captivating both in her dark, Gothic look as well as in her more relaxed outfit of spaghetti strapped tops, pants, sandals and artificial wings when she collaborated with Seether for the song ‘I’m Broken’. The angel by day and vampyrical-looking beauty by night broke millions of hearts when the rumored affair of Amy with Seether’s Shaun Morgan surfaced.

Born in Parkview Hospital in Riverside, California on December 13, 1981, the brown-haired, blue-eyed Lee was a daughter of renowned musical artist John Lee and a sister to Robbie, Carrie and Laurie – a brood of musicians as well.

Amy, who grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, now lives in Los Angeles. Ben Moody, John Le Compt and Rocky Gray complete the cast that was awarded Best Rock Artist at the World Music Awards in September 2004.

Despite her present good-looks, Amy had her share of ‘bad hair days’ – ‘I was 13 and a little overweight with poofy hair,’ she was quoted saying.

Now that she is without a doubt one of rock’s prettiest faces – proof of which is her entry as one of the candidates for Cosmopolitan Girl of the Year – has Amy transformed from rock dame to candy poster girl?

“I don’t want to be Christina Aguilera. I want to be Amy Lee, rock queen not sex queen.”

Enough said then.

Amanda Palmer (Dresden Dolls) – Conjurer of Punk Cabaret

Amanda Palmer owes her music to the Le Petit Negra of Debussy with a little Bach opening her mother used to play on their cherished Steinway.

Her music: Moulin Rouge meets Miss Saigon cum Charlie Chaplin. Definitely not for Backstreet Boys followers, definitely good, new music from what can be considered as an ‘artist’s artist’.

Pairing up with sweetheart and producer Brian Viglione to form the twosome Dresden Dolls – which they describe as ‘Brechtian Punk Cabaret’- the rock opera duo took sometime getting into the ears of the indie/underground listeners as they took the proverbial ‘road less taken’ in creating their musical style.

Simply said, listening to Dresden Dolls is like listening to a soundtrack of a modern Charlie Chaplin stage performance, with its tunes that seem to make you not just want to dance but to make that clippity-clop step dance accentuated by a smoothly executed toss f a hat.

But all the hard work, ingenuity and creativity are paying off, as critics are referring to them as the best band in Boston at present.

Palmer’s influence, aside from the classical geniuses, range from Cyndi Lauper to Duran Duran, Prince, Madonna and even Huey Lewis.

Palmer’s first pieces were inspired by the many stories about boys and drugs. The Dolls’ famous song which is hogging sufficient airtime today, ‘Coin Operated Boy’, has been drawing mixed reactions but nonetheless has the lasting appeal of a new music.

Comrade In Arms

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Comrade In Arms
Nathaniel T. Dela Cruz
Atlas Sports Issue 1509

What can be stronger than a brotherhood forged in steel?

Businessmen and brothers Jeufro Emil Roel L. Lejano and Jerome Jovanne “Jayjay” de Leon Morales both started shooting at a very young age, and their careers since then are surely aren’t about shooting blanks.

But behind the many accolades and accomplishments they have tucked under their belts that made them heroes to other shooters are real life idols that inspired them: their mom and their brotherhood.

Despite the fact that it was his mother than inspired Jayjay to shoot, he is nowhere near the prototype weakling mama’s boy, having had numerous accomplishments in the fine art of shooting.

The P.B. Dionisio Gun Club mainstay already participated in World Shoot in Cebu and South Africa.

“My most memorable shooting experience is during the World Shoot Brazil, because it’s my first World shoot,” said the Jayjay, who holsters a competition gun Glock-17 but also keeps an SPS .38super and a CZ-75.

“My brother Jerome influenced me to take this sport,” said Jayjay’s 26-year-old younger brother Jeufro, a veteran of 400 competitions worldwide who is on his fourth World Shoot in August.

Being almost 10 years older than Jeufro, Jayjay, born on November 5, 1969 , is no doubt the quintessential ‘kuya’, inspiring his younger brother into a sport that develops a person’s sense of maturity and responsibility.

Born on June 18, 1978, Lejano, who packs an SPS 40cal with OKO Optics and Armscor ammunition, started shooting in 1990. The soon-to-be national team player who looks up at Jethro Dionisio and Jerry Barnhart was in perfect target since then.

“I have competed in many Level III competitions that I cannot remember anymore exactly how many,” said Lejano, “but my favorite award was during the 1999 World Shoot in Cebu where we won the men’s open division team and my most memorable shooting experience was when I won my first international award in Fresno, California,” he added.

Jayjay and Jeufro are set to join their Philippine Practical Shooting Association (PPSA) shooter-comrades in defending the country’s crown in the World Shoot XIV in Ecuador on August 2005.

Joining the brothers are Nelson Uygongco, Joseph Sy and Lyndon Biraogo (modified division), Rosendo Castro, Jr., Winston Amigo Chan and Danny Torrevillas (production division), veteran shooters Benjie Belarmino, Rommel Canlas, Alex Lao and Marlon Valencia (standard division) and young guns Michael Ku, Christian Panganiban, Blairwin Ortega and LJ de la Cruz (Open Division). Lady shooter Mary Grace Tan and her father Roland Tan are slated in the Ladies Open and Senior Open respectively while Iloilo pride Philipp Chua qualified in the Revolver division and Nolito Labroma in the Senior Standard Division

Lejano will be competing in the modified division while Morales will shoot in the production class.

With the full support of International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) Regional Director Congressman Juan C. Ponce Enrile Jr., the PPSA Board designated eight Level III matches and the best six finishes of each aspirant from the eight qualifier matches have served as the basis for the selection process for the Philippine Team slots.

The first qualifier match was the Bolo Tuason Cup held at the Armscor Range in Marikina City where some 300 shooters competed including foreign participants from Japan, Indonesia, Taiwan, Hong Kong and the United States. The next qualifier match was in Surigao City last July 15 to 17 where Governor Robert Lyndon S. Barbers together with the Practical Shooting Association of Surigao hosted the three-day competition. The remaining Level III qualifier matches were held in Koronadal City, Ormoc City, Clark Pampanga, Baguio City, Pangasinan and Iloilo City.

The final hurdle of the qualifying matches was held last January 27-29 during the PPSA Nationals at the Tierra del Fuego Firing Range in Splendido Taal, Batangas. Philippine Team Selection and Training Committee Chairman and Coach Jojo Naranjilla and PPSA Area Director Vic Mangibin announced the final composition of Team Philippines that will be sent to Ecuador during the awarding ceremonies.

Naranjilla, who started shooting in1979 and a World Shoot member since 1986 from shooter to coach, has been the country’s shooting mentor in the 1993-World Shoot London, 1996-World Shoot Brazil, 1999-World Shoot Cebu, 2002-World Shoot South Africa and in various European and US Nationals.

The PPSA had a successful title-defense of its crown in Indonesia and in Cebu in the Australasian Championships.

An act of faith (an fate)

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An act of faith (an fate)
Nathaniel T. Dela Cruz
Philippine Graphic
March 7, 2005

If Commissioner William ‘Butch’ Ramirez would be made to describe his first month as the officer in charge of the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC), he could have had answered in a form of a numerical sequence such as this:

1-2-5-7-14-50-80-200-300-400.

That would mean one straight and clear direction where he wants to lead his office: one gold medal target for the Beijing Olympics in 2008, two million bedding expected to be delivered to players’ quarters, two relieved officers in the ULTRA management, the five-point directive ordered by the president herself, seven years in government service, seven million uniforms to suit up athletes, 14 different sports that will benefit greatly from foreign aide, 50 different sports associations to deal with every day, 50 press entities on the lookout for his every action, 80 million Filipinos to serve, 200 medal athletes to train, 300 souls in the training pool that needs to be sharpened and 400 athletes in the national team that is in need of a stronger push to perform better for the country.

Binding it all securely in firm hold is the credence of one man – in his office, in his men and in his mission.

“I have a clarity in purpose, consistency in work, a mission and a sense of commitment to the country as the guiding principles of my leadership. Yes, I think I am on the right track,” said Ramirez.

Ramirez’s first taste of government service came when he was tapped as sports consultant in his hometown.

“Back then it was pure servitude. We are all sports educators there, walang halong business interest. When I become a commissioner here, I realized that it was a very treacherous place. Now, it gets worse as I started receiving threats through text messages,” confessed Ramirez.

But all of these expected birth pains didn’t hinder Ramirez from pushing his visions forward and making it all happen.

“Yes, the local sports are heading in the right direction and yes, we are a bit out of schedule with the South East Asian Games preparations but were working on it and I haven’t lost faith in the ability of the Filipino to deliver, especially when the name and the pride of the country are on the line,” said the former Ateneo de Davao athletic director.

Indeed, the soft-spoken seminarian-turned-public servant isn’t anywhere near computing the huge amount of work demanded of him. In contrary, he feels humbled to be given the task of standing at the helm of the organization in time when local sports is at the crossroads.

“I work seven days a week. I believe servants like me should have enough time to attend to the demands of the work,” said the 54-year old father of three. He added that he ‘does not care’ if he stays in the office for just a month or two. “The fact that I was given the chance to have this position is honor enough for a man with humble beginnings.”

A dyed-in-wool Davaoeño who isn’t ashamed of his poor beginnings, Ramirez finished his tertiary course and earned his post graduate degree Major in Management in Ateneo de Davao. Ramirez’ owes his present status as a self-made man by struggling early in his life, in the process keeping in the pocket of his heart faith in God, the hope of better things to come and Fate’s rewards to the good deeds he managed to do to others along the way.

Today, with barely eight weeks in the office vacated by now Games and Amusement Board top brass Eric Buhain, the blessings brought about by his prayers, hard work and karma are pouring not in trickles but in rain showers, like heaven’s confetti for Ramirez’s milestone first month anniversary.

On February 15, Philippines and China signed the 2005 RP-China Sports Cooperation pact that will enable athletes and coaches alike to be trained in the country touted as ‘Asia’s sports powerhouse’ and the next sports superpower after the United States, a project Ramirez is happy to have happened under his term.

“After my seven years in the seminary in St. Francis Xavier in Davao, I have never prayed as hard as I did when the project is still in the works. Now that it is a signed deal, I am looking forward to enhancing our linkages with Cuba and Australia, both are also willing to undertake a similar project with us,” said Ramirez, who took his sports education in Australia.

In the said agreement, which served as a kick-start as well in reviving the Philippine National Institute for Sports which was created during former president Fidel V. Ramos’ term – local athletes and coaches chosen from 14 different sports – which include archery, athletics, basketball, badminton, gymnastics, swimming, table tennis, volleyball, weightlifting, wushu, football, fencing, shooting and wrestling – will be trained in China. The training will focus on events that offer more medals and where the country can produce more medal potentials.

“I’m happy because China isn’t asking anything in return, just an act of camaraderie and brotherhood in their part and coinciding with the celebration of the 30th year of RP-China friendship. Through this training we improve the skills of both our athlete and coaches and at the same time increase our chances of finishing first in the upcoming SEAG.”

Despite the intrigues surrounding the preparation of the Philippine South East Asian Games Organizing Committee (PhilSOC) for the biennial meet which Philippines last hosted in 1991, Ramirez still exudes a very positive outlook on the chances of the country to reassert its dominance in the sporting arena in the region.

“When we were discussing the plans regarding our hosting, were not considering ending up third. We want to be champions.”

Part of Ramirez’s gameplan to achieve that goal and to resurrect local sports is to take into the fold those who have already stamped their class in sports, that includes former athletes and tournament organizers as well.

“One cannot argue with success. Diay (Lydia De Vega) and Mike (Michael Keon) are successful in their fields and maybe their expertise can be of great help in improving and implementing our sports program,” said Ramirez.

Keon, a certified Project Gintong Alay man, is currently the National Training Director while De Vega’s role according to Ramirez is to serve as a liaison officer between the athletes and his office.

Ramirez also has immediate directives from President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo herself which he is proud to report accomplished in just a month’s time. That includes taking measures to curb corruption, attending to the needs of the athletes, fostering unity among the national sports associations (NSAs), the relegation of grassroots programs to the Department of Education and the reengineering of the PSC.

“But we must remember that what is important here is the actions we will be taking next.”

But Ramirez’s doesn’t stop once the flame of the Manila SEAG dies down. Now, given the chance to realize what his predecessors failed to accomplish, Ramirez sees himself entrusted with a more difficult task, that is, leading the ‘new heroes’ in the quest to bring home the elusive Olympic gold.

“Sports can unify the country. It connotes excellence, discipline and character. As I see it, when a boxer makes his punch, the fists of the 80 million Filipinos are merged into his, when an athlete runs, the legs of 80 million Filipinos gallop with him or her. It is the one moment wherein in victory we cheer in unison as well as we all grieve as one in defeat. We are now at the crossroads and if we make the right move today we are a step nearer in achieving that goal and perhaps be a more united country.”

Who knows, it might really be the poor man from Davao who will shepherd the local sports back into greener pasture.

Harry’s Two-Meter Walk to Freedom

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Harry’s Two-Meter Walk to Freedom
Nathaniel T. Dela Cruz
Animal Scene Magazine

Harry blinked, adjusting his cute little eyes from the rays of the red-orange sun now almost ready to laze at the horizon as his small, nearly obscure turtle feet seem to move excitedly, feeling a new-found sensation in the small grains of sand.

He paused, perhaps acquainting himself with the new surrounding that will be his new home so long as mortality permits him, the vast open sea which seemed to intimidate Harry at first, before his natural affinity for water took hold.

It was twilight on the tranquil shores of Barangay Nagbalayong in Morong, Bataan, and although it was the rising, not the setting, of the sun that brings new promise and hope, Harry and his fellow several-days-old olive ridleys set free today will be safe from the dangers that once terrorized his predecessors just years ago.

Before the Pawikan Conservation Center was created in 1999, poaching was a rampant and financially rewarding business for the local townspeople.

The husband and wife tandem of Jose and Nida Valdez, along with other couples who foresaw the dangers of not protecting the turtles in the area, took active measures that resulted in the decline and now, near nonexistence of poaching in the barangay.

They patrolled the sea even in the darkest of nights, built hatcheries and attended to the turtle eggs with utmost care. They visited every barangay, school, community, carrying with them their paraphernalia composed of videos, maps and charts and pictures of the turtles, giving lessons on the importance of saving the turtles anywhere as long as there are those willing to listen.

All of those are tasks delegated to a grown man, an action that cannot be done by someone as small as Harry.

But the conservationists don’t seem to mind the work. As the visiting Haribon Foundation sat with them during the groups cross visit in Bataan, members of the conservation army took time out to discuss their business – saving turtles.

“Presently there are various types of turtles which can be found in the country. Olive ridley, loggerhead, hawksbill, leatherback and green turtles,” explained Boy Llanares.

He also gave some basic information about the different types of turtles, classroom style complete with the huge poster filled with pictures of each of the turtles.

“Olive ridleys are the most common found here while logger heads are those with really big heads, mala troso,” Llanares said.

“Hawksbill is considered the prettiest. It is one of the most expensive turtles and it is used to make accessories, even guitars. Green turtles can be found laying their eggs in rocky parts of the beach while leatherback is the biggest of them all.”

Boy Valdez then explained the rudiments in maintaining a hatchery fit for this nestling turtles.
Among the many pointers he discussed is the importance of not having dried leaves or roots around the area and that the place is not reached by salt water.

“Dried leaves result to rotting of the eggs while sea water can make drastic changes in the temperature which is hazardous to the eggs.”

Olive ridley eggs are buried 30 centimeters in the ground while green turtles require a deeper hole at 90 cm.

And how did they know that Harry is a fitting name for the turtle, gender-wise?

“Female turtles have shorter tails and higher temperature while male turtles have longer tails and lower temperatures,” explained Nida.

But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if its Harry, Tom or Dick. It is not important if it’s a female or male turtle. What’s important is that they helped another creature enjoy the God-given gift of living a life in freedom.

From a distance, the group just looked like the typical out-of-towners enjoying the warm afternoon sun, soft cool breeze and the gentle rolling waves.

Standing two meters away from the shore so that the turtles can be able to imprint the area in their systems by crawling the shore distance before swimming in the salty waters, Haribon members along with representatives from its partner organizations and members of the Pawikan Conservation Center released the baby turtles.

Harry bobbed his head from the lapping waves, as if giving one last look but not bidding goodbye, just saying thank you.

Or perhaps, see you soon!

Birds Out Back

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Birds Out Back
Nathaniel T. Dela Cruz
Animal Scene Magazine
Oct 2010 Issue

Most of us in the urban jungle would think that having the sounds of chirping birds to wake us up in the morning is almost close to the idyllic fairy tale story, since the sounds of the city is an entirely different set and that there are hardly any birds hovering freely around us anymore. It was the same case for me, until the informal settlers from the PNR rail system here in Malabon were relocated, leaving the place barren and empty, and after a few years sprawling with small trees, grass, shrubs, vegetation and yes, different kinds of birds!

It happened one early morning. I was roused from sleep by different chirping sounds, and it piqued my curiosity me: What birds can I find outside? I opened my window to take a look, and I was amazed with what I saw. I did not notice that the bird population in the nearby lot has grown and diversified. I grabbed my camera and started shooting.

Michael C. Lu, president of Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (www.birdwatch.ph), was kind enough to help me identify these newfound feathered friends. After photographing the birds, I collated them and grouped them into four and emailed them to Mike. The following day, Mike has already identified the birds I saw.

I thought that amongst the birds I photographed, I knew at least one – the very common Maya bird. But I was wrong, and Mike corrected me. “Probably the most common urban bird after the Eurasian Tree Sparrow (maya), this is the Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pycnonotus goiavier) – the yellow coloring is found under the start of the tail feathers. It also has a black mask around the eye,” Mike commented. “Yellow-vented Bulbuls are open country birds that have adapted to the urban landscape in Metro Manila. They are one of the most common species although they keep to the trees and do not show themselves too often,” he added.

The next bird in the set is a small bird just like the Maya but with the white color on the tip of its tail feathers. According to Mike, “this is the Pied Fantail or Maria Capra. Distinctive fan-shape tail that it flicks up and down. This feisty bird is known to mob cats and dogs when they come near it’s territory.”

One of the birds that really caught my attention is a small bird that I often saw walking around the thicket. I noticed its duck-like legs and it wasn’t very shy and not easily scared by humans nearby. It is very pleasant to look at, especially how it struts around early in the morning or late in the afternoon, perhaps searching for food. Mike appeared to have the same fondness for this particular bird. “Wow, a White-breasted Waterhen! I love this dainty bird.” According to him, the Amaurornis phoenicurus is commonly found near grassy wetlands.

The last set of photos featured the first bird I photographed. I was roused from sleep by the sound it produces which is quite different from the common sounds I hear everyday. So I looked out in the window to look for that bird, and there it was, perched in a small tree, unmoving and well hidden from casual gaze. “This is a Lesser Coucal – called Sabukot in Tagalog. Despite it’s size – as big as a chicken – it can quickly disappear into the thickets. The Lesser Coucal is a common grassland species. It inhabits tall grass only. This proves that grasslands, like forests, is a type of habitat. Certain birds like the Centropus bengalensis can only thrive in grasslands,” explained Mike.

Mike explained that these birds are commonly seen, if one cares to stop, look and appreciate these beautiful creatures. “The birds in the lot are quite common but they are not commonly seen by non-birdwatchers because in the Philippine setting, all living creatures are captured, killed for fun, for food, and for a certain need to prove that humans are the superior species. What you have is a pretty interesting mini-habitat where all these different species have found a temporary sanctuary.”

Mike, who is a sales manager for an industrial tool company, also shared his thoughts regarding issues involving birds, like hunting and loss of habitat.

Loss of habitat is an important factor in population decline and species loss. “Take for example, the reclamation area along Macapagal Avenue. The reclamation started 20, maybe 30 years ago. One lot that we used to frequent behind the Coastal Mall had around 100 species of grassland and wetland birds but with the decision to develop the area , the whole habitat was destroyed,” said Mike. Development of new habitats for birds – even accidental cases like this one – can be a factor in striking a balance between creation and destruction. With this, birds are provided with new habitat, however temporary it may be. According to Mike, “the accidental creation of habitats only proves that there is still hope once nature is left to its own devices. The process is slow and we have to start now.”

Mike also stressed other important problems. “The Philippines is an amazing place. It’s biodiversity is very rich. With bird species alone, more than 200 species are found only in the Philippines and nowhere else in the world. Sadly many of our countrymen are not aware and they do not appreciate our wildlife. We have very strict laws (i.e. Wildlife Conservation Act) but these are hardly enforced. It is common to see wildlife being sold, eaten or kept as pets. The wildlife rescue center in the Ninoy Aquino Park is filled to the brim with confiscated wildlife.”

In the past, birds are often a symbol of an emissary or messenger, a bringer of hope and the symbol of freedom. Seeing these birds out back made me realize that it was an experience that sent an important message about bird life issues facing the country, and the world. These birds are in need of refuge, and since humans are bent on clearing every form of bird habitat, all these birds can afford for themselves are temporary, accidental habitats, while some end up in cages or worse, inside bowls at dinner tables. They are stripped of their home and freedom.

Apat na pisong buhay

Capture

Apat na pisong buhay
Nathaniel T. Dela Cruz
Dimension Literary Folio
Vol. 53, No. 24. May 28, 2011

“O, malapit na tayo sa Monumento, ‘yung mga hindi pa nagbabayad, magbayad na,” sabi ng drayber habang tinitingnan ang mga pasahero mula sa rearview mirror.

Nagkatinginan. Animo’y hinahanap ng isa’t-isa kung sino ba ang tinutukoy ng mamang drayber. Ibinalik ko ang tingin sa kanila, baka kasi isipin nilang ako yung hindi pa nagbabayad.

Anim kaming pasahero ng dyip na iyon. Apat ang nakaupo sa harap ko at may isa akong katabi. Pinagmasdan ko sila. Isa-isa. Hinahanap ko kung sino ‘yung mukhang guilty.

Sa may bukana ng dyip ay may batang nakaupo. Naka-pula siyang t-shirt at korduroy na shorts. Mukhang hindi naman siya nabahala sa paalala ng drayber kaya naisip kong marahil ay bayad na siya.

Katabi niya ang isang babaeng nagta-trabaho sa Ever. Sigurado ako, dahil uniporme ng Ever and suot niya. Nakapatong sa hita niya ang kanyang shoulder bag, pilit na tinatakpan ang mga parteng hindi ganap na naikubli ng napakaigsi niyang palda.

Katabi niya ang isang malaking mama na mukhang seaman na may kaakbay na magandang babae. Nasabi kong mukhang seaman’yung mama dahil sa kanyang naglalakihang mga singsing at kwintas (maliban pa sa napakalaki niyang katawan) at napakahabang buhok sa batok. Iyon bang tipikal na hitsura ng isang seaman na bagong baba sa barko. ‘Yung kaakbay niya ay naka-asul na tshirt na hapit, na nagbabandera ng mga malulusog nitong dibdib, at naka maong na pantalon.

Hindi ko masabi na asawa niya ito dahil alam kong mahilig sa tsiks ang mga seaman. Isa pa, pareho silang walang wedding ring. O baka naman syota lang nung lalaki ‘yung kasama niya. Hindi ako sigurado. Hindi rin ako sigurado kung seaman nga ba talaga ‘yung mama. Basta ang alam ko, sweet sila. Sigurado lang ako na bayad na sila dahil dyahe naman sa mama kung hindi niya makuhang ibayad ‘yung tsik na ka-date niya.

Isang payat na mama naman ang siyang katabi ko. Sa sobrang payat niya, eh, magmumukha siyang palito ng posporo kapag itinabi siya sa mamang mukhang seaman. Hindi naman siya ganoon katanda. Sa palagay ko, nasa edad trenta y singko pa lang siya. Nakaputing t-shirt na may mukha ni Ninoy sa harap. May nakasulat pang I love Ninoy. Nakapantalon siya na sa sobrang dumi ay mukha pang mas luma kaysa sa t-shirt niya.

Sa aming anim, siya yung mukhang di-mapakali. Ayoko sanang isipin, pero sa pakiramdam, at sa palagay ko ay ganoon din ang pakiramdam ng mga kasama ko sa dyip, siya ‘yung tinutukoy ng mamang drayber. Pero siyempre, wala sa aming nagsasalita. para bang nagpapakiramdaman. Tinitingnan namin kung magbabayad na ang mamang katabi ko, kung siya nga iyon.

Pagsapit namin sa Samson Rd., hindi pa siya nagbabayad. Ni hindi nga siya tuminag sa pagkakaupo. Nagsalita ulit yung mamang drayber.

“Yung hindi pa nagbabayad, ha. Malapit na tayo sa Monumento.”

Pagkasabi niya ay hindi niya inalis ang mga mata sa rearview mirror. Para bang inaabangan niya na magbayad ‘yung mama. Pero hindi pa rin tumitinag ‘yung mama. Hindi pa rin umuusad ang dyip sa sobrang trapik.

Maya-maya, umabante na ang mga sasakyan sa harap ng dyip ngunit hindi pa rin umaabante ang dyip na sinasakyan namin. Nakatingin pa rin ang mamang drayber doon sa pasaherong hindi pa nagbabayad. Nang malayu-layo na ang agwat ng mga sasakyan, bumusina na ang bus na kasunod namin, na sa palagay ko ay naiinis na sa drayber ng dyip na sinasakyan namin na kanina pa ayaw umabante.

Parang nainis na rin ‘yung mamang drayber. Pagkambiyo niya ay biglang pinaharurot ang dyip. Kasabay ng maingay na rebolusyon ng selinyador ay isang malakas na tili ang narinig mula sa babaeng kasama ng mamang mukhang seaman. Napalingon kaming lahat. Napakabilis ng mga pangyayari. Sa isang iglap ay nakita ko na tumalon ang bata sa may bukana ng dyip palabas habang paandar ang sasakyan. Kasabay niyon ay isang matining na ingit ng preno ng bus na kasunod namin. Sumalpok sa kanya ang nagmamadaling bus.

Nagkagulo. Nagbabaan ang mga pasahero ng dyip. Bumaba din ang drayber ng bus at ng dyip na sinasakyan namin. Ilang sandali pa’t nakakumpol na ang mga tao sa paligid ng kinabagsakan ng bata. Bumaba rin ako. Makiki-usyoso.

Pero hindi ko na nagawang makapasok sa malaking bilog ng mga miron na naroon. Maingay. Umuugong ang iba’t-ibang kuro-kuro tungkol sa trahedyang naganap. May nagtatanong kung may kasama ba ang bata, may nagpapatawag ng pulis, ng duktor, ng ambulansya, may nakikipag-argumento sa dalawang drayber na kapwa gulat sa nangyari. Nagtataka ako kung bakit walang bumubuhat sa bata para dalhin sa ospital.

Maya-maya, nakita ko ang drayber ng dyip na naglalakad pabalik sa sasakyan. Hindi ko mawari sa hitsura ng kanyang mukha kung siya ba ay galit, inis, gulat o takot sa nangyari. Nilapitan ko siya at tinanong kung bakit hindi pa dinadala sa ospital ang bata. Sumagot siya.

“Patay na iyon. Bakit pa dadalhin sa duktor? Sira-ulong bata. Sana sinabi na lang niya na wala siyang pambayad. ‘Yan ang napapala ng mahilig mag 1-2-3,” ang wika niya sabay talikod.

Nagulat ako. Natakot. Nanghilakbot. Siya pala ang tinutukoy ng mamang drayber. Hindi ang mamang mukhang posporo na katabi ko. “Nasaan na nga pala siya?”

Inilibot ko ang aking mga mata at nakita ko siya na kasama ang mga taong nakikimasid. Umiiling. Maaaring nanghihinayang siya sa buhay ng bata at sa sinapit nito. Binato niya ng matalim na tingin ang mamang drayber ng dyip. Marahil ay galit siya sa kanya. Kung malalaman lang niya ang iniisip ko sa kanya kanina sa dyip, ang aking bintang at paghusga, marahil magagalit din siya sa akin.

Unti-unting nahawan ang mga tao nang maulinigan nila ang sirena ng pulis. Nagkaroon ako ng pagkakataong lumapit sa bata.

Nakita ko siya. Nakadapa. Ang mga braso’t binti ay pili-pilipit. Nakabakas pa sa kanyang matang dilat at nakabukang bibig ang pagkagulat. Ang kanyang buhok ay basang-basa ng malapot na dugo na unti-unting umaagos sa kalye kung saan siya nakahandusay. Animo’y nakatingin ang mga mata niya sa aming lahat, nagsusumamo sa kalangitan, nagtatanong, “Apat na piso lang ba ang halaga ng aking buhay?”

Lumayo ako. Hindi makayanan ng sikmura ko ang nakita, hindi malunok ng kunsensya ang napakababaw na dahilan ng kanyang kamatayan.

Parang nasusuka yata ako. Dinukot ko ang panyo sa aking bulsa ngunit wala iyon dito. Sa halip, ang laman ng aking bulsa ay apat na mamiso. Naisip ko, mas masaya pa ako kung ang laman ng aking bulsa ay ang panyo at ang mga barya sanang ito ang laman ng bulsa ng batang nakahandusay sa aking harapan.

Ilang araw na ang lumipas mula nang masaksihan ko ang trahedyang iyon subalit hanggang ngayon, patuloy pa rin akong minumulto ng mga pangyayari. At sa tuwing sasakay ako ng dyip, pinagmamasdan ko ang kanilang mga mukha habang iniisip ko kung kaninong apat na pisong buhay ang masasaksihan kong mawawaldas sa pagkakataong ito.

Getting Ready, and Getting There

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Getting Ready, and Getting There
Text and Photos by Nathaniel T. Dela Cruz
Animal Scene Magazine, 2011

For pet lovers, they say that the hardest part is the death of a pet. The truth is that it is just part of a bigger experience which is as daunting, challenging and tasking because the other half – being ready to fall in love again and opening one’s heart again – is just as difficult.

It was December of last year, 2010, when Snoop died.

Snoop is an Aspin, chocolate brown with streaks of black. He has been the only regular companion I had in the house since my family moved to Mindoro. We never asked to be with each other, me and Snoop – he was someone else’s pet who was left behind because it was what the changing times demanded. I never wanted a pet dog for several years for reasons I did not understand at first, but seriously, who wouldn’t fall in love with an adorable, faithful, intelligent Aspin who looks at you everyday with his tongue hanging out at the side of his mouth while his tail dances and wiggles frantically from side to side?

In the end, Fate would decide that we should stand alone together. And that we did.

And so, it had been like that: Snoop and I.

The everyday labor was neither heavy nor taxing. I feed him, wash his big, oversized playground for a cage and did not put him on a leash. He enjoys being hosed and it passed off as the intermittent bath time he needed to keep from becoming smelly. In exchange, I have a happy face greeting me everytime I come home, and someone to say goodbye to when I leave. I have another soul who shares with me the task of guarding the castle.

The family has left for a different home, just as he was left behind by his original human companion. Realizing the feeling of loss, we saw in one another the comfort we both needed.

We are kindred spirits who do not understand the idea of abandon. At the height of Ondoy, he was the first and the only one I saved, releasing him from his cage and placing him on higher grounds, letting him spend the rainy stretch with us on the second-floor of the house. During the night when the water level rose higher, I stood precariously from the second floor window, stooped slowly and picked him up and let him stay on the terrace to make sure he was safe.

Yes, we two were survivors. But we are not immortals.

Snoop, who is already between 7-10 years old (and older in dog years), suddenly became thin. It was as if overnight he lost all vigor. I noticed it when he stopped barking anymore. On December 22, I visited him. He looked me in the eye with the look of a dog worn out and tired but is still happy to see me. He tried to stand up to approach me, but all four legs collapsed, and he lay there, sprawled. I sat closer and touched him, as if telling him everything is going to be ok. And for a moment, even in his tired, weak self I felt he was at peace, just as I felt peaceful, unafraid of death that I was certain would come in the morning.

In silence, we said our goodbyes.

The next morning Snoop was in Doggie Heaven.

When Snoop died I realized why I wasn’t excited at the prospect of a pet dog when Snoop was just a puppy given to our care: I wasn’t over the loss of our pet. I wasn’t ready.

Now, seven months after Snoop’s death, a friend has offered to give me a puppy, and I asked myself: “Am I ready?”

I know many pet lovers lose their pet loved ones, and because they are natural animal lovers it is not far into the future that the prospect of having a new pet presents itself, thus facing the question of whether one is actually ready or not. But before answering this, it is important that one undergoes several steps.

Mourn – Losing a pet is a painful experience, and mourning is not just a social convention but is also a form of therapy to help the individual get over the loss. Talk to friends, relatives and family, especially those who are also human companions to the pet and might also be mourning the loss too.

Examine yourself – Being ready is more than just emotional readiness. Can you have a pet in your life right now? This should be a realistic self-examination and assessment. Is your lifestyle conducive to having a pet? If not, are there changes that need to be done and are you ok and comfortable with those changes?

Don’t be afraid – People always advise the broken hearted to learn to love again. The same is true with pets. While losing pets can be traumatic especially in consideration to how the pet was lost and the role of the individual, in moving forward it is important to remember that one should not be scared that you will again be helpless in keeping a pet from dying. What is important is that you know you learned something from the experience and will try to be a better human companion.

Get over it and move on – Don’t feel guilty. It is not about forgetting your pet, but allowing a new pet to enjoy the love you can give. It is about something new, and not about finding a mere replacement. Here, it is important to remind one’s self that the mindset should be starting a new life and a new episode in life with a new pet.

With all of these put into consideration, you are now in a better position to ask yourself: Am I ready?

Don’t be afraid to ask. Look for the answer, which is always in our hearts.

Book review: Blecky Yuckerella: FUC- –U, -SS–LE By Johnny Ryan

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Book review: Blecky Yuckerella: FUC- –U, -SS–LE By Johnny Ryan
Nathaniel T. Dela Cruz
STATUS Magazine Feb-Mar 2011 Issue p 28

Meet Blecky Yuckerella, the most beautiful ugly comic character who can make you laugh with her demented self, weird friends, and enemies including an obese Jesus, some slug nuts, and the Blumpkins. They star in Vice magazine comic artist Johnny Ryan’s latest alternative comedy. Blecky Yuckerella: Fuc- –U -ss–le, which exploits the consciousness of those who enjoy politically incorrect humor, a trademark device from its creator. Providing a guilty pleasure to the secretly profane, he lets Blecky shove the slapstick down your throat.

It represents the next wave of attack against sanitized humor predominantly found in the rated PG industry which marginalizes the vulgar angles of human entertainment. Sometimes, humor is found in the gross and the morose but, in this case, also between Blecky Yuckerella’s ears and legs. Those who can’t see that through the black and white pages of Ryan’s brainchild should try to read between the lines.

So if you are buying this book in appreciation of Ryan’s in-your-face jackass humor, congratulations. But if you think this is just another piece of shit, then fuck you, asshole.

Eyes Wide Shut

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Eyes Wide Shut
By Nathaniel T. Dela Cruz
STATUS Magazine
Feb-Mar 2011 Issue, p64

TIM GREEN’s collages of misty surfaces create an indefinable place where his subjects float and the concept of time is contradicted.

“I like my work to look surreal but natural – to create hypnagogic worlds,” illustrator Tim Green says. The blurred images, ethereal faded edges, and deconstructed landscapes constant in his works are testaments to his efforts at sustaining this approach.

While every photo is a construct on its own, Tim likes to integrate more elements into a piece. Take, for instance, his collaboration with Matt Shelley, a London-based photographer: Tim bended Matt’s photos of Bolivia and Peru on the Inca trail into those that scream a lucid kind of expressionism discernible in 1970’s sci-fi art.

He is of the Vitruvian Man’s proportion – all arms extending outwards – one reaching towards life-long art inspirations (like 60’s psychedelic music, the Constructivists, and Borges’ writings), the other in touch with today’s digital art.

Although Green would probably call fools those who don’t use the developing techniques to further art, “Purely digital work often lacks soul or that natural element that people need to relate to,” he adds. “I definitely do feel more affection for art that has a certain vintage look to it, but I think there needs to be a way of pushing it forward to avoid stagnation.” For Tim Green, old school is never always old.

Catching a falling star

Catching a falling star

Catching a falling star
Nathaniel T. Dela Cruz
Animal Scene Magazine, 2010

Science cannot save her, and medicine can only alleviate the pain and improve her life while she’s alive. The five-year-old Aspin is facing tremendous odds with her cervical tumor and her deteriorating health, but one person refuses to give up.

She is the heroine to the rescue of the fallen Darna.

And for Priscilla Taytayon Talde, what can save Darna is not pricey, but priceless nonetheless: hope and, most especially, love.

What she whispers to her seriously ill dog is the sweetest of words, and their story is simply heartwarming.

“I always tell her ‘I love you’ when we are together, especially during our walks. Naniniwala akong pag sinasabihan mo ang alaga mo ng I love you, 100% ang recovery nya (I believe that when you tell your pet that you love him/her, they can recover from any sickness 100 percent).”

These are powerful words, and hers, a powerful belief that soon, her four-legged friend Darna would be alright.

‘Friend’ actually is an understatement, considering how important Darna has become to Priscilla ever since she came to her life. She is a family, by birthright and by affinity.

Darna was the youngest in the brood of eight puppies who is the pet dog of Priscilla’s brother-in-law. Darna and Priscilla’s life became intertwined June 2005, and from that day on until now, Priscilla only has kind words about Darna, growing up.

“Lumaki siya na masunurin at nakakaintindi ng mga sinsabi namin sa kanya. Sweet, matapang at mapagmahal na aso. (She grew up to be an obedient dog who understands what we are trying to tell her. She is sweet, brave and loving dog).” At this point, Priscilla admitted she was close to coming to tears, touched by how fondly she remembers how life is with Darna as she grew up.

Priscilla and Darna were living the happy and contented life. And then came the cervical tumor.

“I thought it started when she was pregnant because of many signs like increasing weight and other physical changes. After a week, someone found her bleeding. They told me that she has had a miscarriage.” After that, the lumps started to show, and Priscilla took Darna to the doctor.

“The doctor advised me that she must undergo an operation for the tumor, but there is only 50/50 chances to live. The operation would cost P4,000 pesos. I don’t want to risk Darna going under the knife at that odds, so what I did was I decided to get some medicines (antibacterial, ascorbic acid) that can cure or maybe ease the pain of Darna. My priority is to make sure Darna can urinate and to make sure that this part of her body is clean all the time.”

Priscilla admits that Darna’s health condition had her working harder and exerting more effort, to attend to Darna’s needs and to make her comfortable and happy as often as she can. But what makes everything worse is the fact that some people are very insensitive, joking about Darna’s health and predicament. “My neighbors would say, ‘payat na aso mo iligaw mo na yan!’ (your dog is already very thin, why don’t you let go of it and let it loose on the streets!). They are simply heartless.”

Darna actually wandered the streets unleashed one day, and members of the barangay tanod took custody of the dog, but Priscilla took her back when she was informed what happened.

Priscilla attended to Darna’s every need. Darna has grown very thin and her vision is not too well. Priscilla always buys Darna her favorite chow, because that’s the only time she has a strong appetite.

Priscilla is not under any illusion that Darna would live forever, or would live as long as her even without cervical tumor. She knows that one day, Darna will return to the stars where she came from since she is heaven sent – to the stars where she belongs after her time here on Earth is over.

“Grabe ang lungkot ko na mawawala na sya sa akin, kaso ganun talaga, lahat ng bagay dito ay may katapusan (The sadness is unbearable with the thought that I would lose her soon, but that is life, I know everything here will end).”

The story of Priscilla and Darna appears ironic considering the namesake of Priscilla’s canine friend is actually a strong heroine who always comes out victorious in rescuing the oppressed and the needy. This time, it is Darna’s turn to ask for the help of a heroine that would save her. But Priscilla believes otherwise – Darna is still the heroine because she believes that her dog’s power is to absorb the health problems of the family members and have it as her own burden to bear, saving the family from any serious health problem.

And despite her condition, Darna is nonetheless fortunate because she experienced true love in one lifetime, however short that maybe for her, because that blessing is hard to find.

Like catching a falling star.

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