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Oct 01st
Home Sections Ecology and the Environment The Filipino Sorsogon "Silent Springs" (With Apologies to Rachel Carson)
The Filipino Sorsogon "Silent Springs" (With Apologies to Rachel Carson) PDF Print E-mail
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Sections - Ecology and the Environment
Thursday, 20 March 2008 04:19

By Lolo Bobby Reyes y Mercado of Bacon-Sorsogon (Bac-Sor) City

E very time winter passes and spring comes, I recall Rachel Carson’s book, “Silent Spring.” Then my musing goes back to the Province of Sorsogon in the Philippines, where I spent my childhood and probably some of the happiest years of my life. Today, Sorsogon is a typical place in the Philippines and in many Third-World countries, where the springs are silent during the extremely hot summer. When it is not raining, Sorsogon’s springs, streams and brooks are often silent, bereft of water that used to feed its many rivers.

In the 1950s when I was an elementary-school student, Sorsogon Province was one of the greenest places on earth. The place had a lot of trees and wildlife. Thousands of magnificent hornbills, owls, monkeys, deer, monitor lizards and other animals and birds thrived in Sorsogon. The prized asset of the province, Sorsogon Bay, teemed with marine life from crustaceans to whale sharks.

Editor’s Notes: Excerpts of this essay were published in several Filipino-American publications in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The for instance published this piece on March 20, 2004.

In just 30 years or so Sorsogon Province became virtually dead from the ecological viewpoint. In 1982 I wrote about how the layagan (a fruitarian monitor lizard) was declared an endangered species because its habitat consisting of tree canopies was slowly disappearing. Today, the layagan is now found only in the remaining forested areas of Bacon town (now a district of Sorsogon City). Matnog town used to have thousands of hornbills and other wild birds. Today, people now joke that one can see a live hornbill only if former Senator Eva Estrada Kalaw comes to visit Sorsogon. (To the non-Sorsoganons that do not get the humor, kalaw is the local name of the hornbill.) Sorsogon Bay, with its more than 20,000 hectares of fishing grounds, has become the biggest toilet and garbage dump in the province. And coupled with the fertilizer and pesticide runoffs that flow to its waters, Sorsogon Bay is practically moribund, if not ecologically comatose. Now the only apes (descendants of apes?) in the province are the politicians who continue to engage in monkey business.

The Example of California

N early all the provinces of the Philippines receive rainfall that often exceeds 60 inches per year. And yet when the rainy season ends, there is virtual drought in the entire country. For the country and her people do not invest in reservoirs, dams, artificial lakes and aqueducts. (Compare the agricultural output of Philippines with that of California, which receives only an average of 13 inches per year. And some of California’s earliest good farmhands, beginning in the mid-1910s, were Filipinos, who were then American nationals, as the Philippines was at that time a colony of the United States.)

For almost three decades now I have telling my fellow Sorsoganons and Bicolnons and their political leaders of the need to protect the environment in my writings and even in public rallies where I spoke in the 1980s. But it seems that the Bible is right in the matter of a prophet not being believed in his own hometown. And to use another oft-quoted cliché, while I could lead some of the people to the river, I could not persuade or even force them to drink the water of reality. And worse, some politicians in Sorsogon have been tolerating, if not masterminding, illegal logging and mining operations in several towns of the province.

Hope for the Ecosystem

Is there hope for Sorsogon’s, the Bicol’s and the Philippines’ ecological systems? Yes, there is redemption because of the advances in communications. Up to the mid-1990s I used to slow-mail to some friends copies of my essays on Filipino socioeconomic topics. Sometimes my friends or kin would photocopy them and pass them on in turn to their circle of friends in Sorsogon and in their new domiciles. But the Internet has changed the arena and method of discussion. Now I communicate by e-mail often with Sorsoganons not only in Sorsogon but also in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and other cities in the Philippines. And with three clicks on the computer, I can send BCCs in three separate e-mails to more than 800 recipients in my mailing lists and e-newsgroup. Then I can publish in the and other online publications some of my essays and articles.

The Internet has changed the arena and method of discussion among the more-than 11-million Overseas Filipinos (as of 2013) and their kin and friends in the homeland.

I find that almost all Overseas Sorsoganons and many individuals in Sorsogon Province want to help change the environment in their back yards. Because many of them – who now live in the country of Rachel Carson – are alarmed that there are virtually very few birds and wildlife left in Sorsogon. Part of living for instance in the United States is falling in love with the American way of protecting the environment and helping Mother Nature in improving the parks, the wildlife preserves and the ecological oases.

Many of the Overseas Filipinos, especially the grandparents among them, like to remember the hometowns they have left behind in the Philippines. When they tell their ABER Filipino grandchildren of what the Philippines is like, they tell of the Philippines of old.

(Editor’s Note: ABER Filipinos, as Bobby Reyes coined, means “American-Born, Educated or Raised” Filipinos.)

The grandparents tell of the time when wild ducks and other migratory birds arrived – on a regular schedule like the swallows of Capistrano, California – from the Asian mainland to the marshes in their hometowns. Those birds and many of those marshes are gone in the Philippines but they are still alive in the collective memories of these Filipino expatriates. I have met many aged Filipino Americans and Filipinos of the olden homeland who refuse to go back even to visit their hometowns; they would rather reminisce – visit in their minds – the places of their births. Because they refuse to see now the bald and barren mountains on their hometowns, the filth and dying marine life in the bay of their province . . . etceteras and etc.

Telling of the Philippines of old is like riding a time machine of the reel world and reminiscing – and visiting in the mind – the place of birth that was then an ecological paradise.

P erhaps it is now time for the Americanized scions of these grandfatherly or grandmotherly immigrants to help them come home to their dreams. Perhaps if all the Overseas Filipinos start to bankroll their parents’ or grandparents’ dreams, the Philippine environment will change for the better. Perhaps when spring comes again in 2015 and beyond, the water in Sorsogon’s, nay the Philippines’, springs, streams, brooks and rivers shall not only be cleaner but also more abundant and roaring with the people’s concern and commitment for the environment.

To be or not to be guardians of the ecology is the question. And hopefully the tens of thousands of Overseas Sorsoganons and Bicolnons and the millions of other Filipino expatriates and emigrants will answer, “Yes,” resoundingly and without hesitation. And perhaps start to prove to the world that among Filipinos and Overseas Filipinos, talk is not cheap. For people have to invest in their dreams for an ecologically-sounder and better world to live in. # # #

(Editor’s Notes: To the readers who have not read Ms. Carson’s celebrated book, we are reproducing an editorial review about it by, where the book is available. Please just click on the hyperlink to found in the editorial review.)

Editorial Review

Rachel Carson's Silent Spring is now 47-years old. Written over the years 1958 to 1962, it took a hard look at the effects of insecticides and pesticides on songbird populations throughout the United States, whose declining numbers yielded the silence to which her title attests. "What happens in nature is not allowed to happen in the modern, chemical-drenched world," she writes, "where spraying destroys not only the insects but also their principal enemy, the birds. When later there is a resurgence of the insect population, as almost always happens, the birds are not there to keep their numbers in check." The publication of her impeccably reported text helped change that trend by setting off a wave of environmental legislation and galvanizing the nascent ecological movement. It is justly considered a classic, and it is well worth rereading today. -- This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Silent Spring, released in 1962, offered the first shattering look at widespread ecological degradation and touched off an environmental awareness that still exists. Rachel Carson's book focused on the poisons from insecticides, weed killers, and other common products as well as the use of sprays in agriculture, a practice that led to dangerous chemicals to the food source. Carson argued that those chemicals were more dangerous than radiation . . .)

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 22 April 2015 15:57
Comments (2)
1 Thursday, 19 March 2009 21:40
Thank you for sharing this article, Bobby. I enjoyed reading it. Hopefully, someday, I will again glimpse at the rompeolas as I did during my childhood in the 50s - rustic, unspoiled, no garbage dump, no filth, no squatters and most of all, serene and quiet when dusk comes.

Tina Peralta

(As sent by e-mail to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )
2 Thursday, 10 December 2009 09:08
RE: Your Concerns about Sorsogon and her People

Dear Primo Joesan:

1.0 Salamatonon for returning my call. And I do appreciate your concern that many Sorsoganons, especially the youth, do not know me. But you agreed that among the elders, I am at least known as the eldest son of Bulusan native Atty. Domen Sesbreno Reyes and Justina Llamas Mercado of Danao, Bulan, a brother of former Sorsogon City Councilor Sylvia Reyes-Lao and current candidate for the Provincial Board, Carlos M. Reyes of the UNIDO (Laurel Wing of the NP). And a brother-in-law to at least nine clans in Barcelona, Donsol, Irosin, Magallanes, Matnog and Santa Magdalena. And I have blood relatives in Bulan, Bulusan, Sorsogon City, Donsol, Pilar, Prieto Diaz, Irosin and Juban.

1.1 You agreed also that many people would remember me for starting the public protest against then Bishop Jesus Varela when he desecrated the Sorsogon Cathedral in the mid-1990s. I was the first to protest publicly the turning of our "Father's house into a marketplace." My unprecedented act then against Bishop Varela would highlight the fact that I am beholden to no man, no politician and even the men of the cloth.

1.1.1 As I told you also, I have met three times with new Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes, SVD, and I have made peace with my home diocese. It helped of course that I am an SVD alumnus, aside from finishing my collegiate studies with the Benedictines and law with the Jesuits.

2.0 RE: Absence.

2.1 As I told you during our long conversation last night, it would simply take a superb marketing and public-relations efforts in 60 days (the official campaign period from March 11, 2009, to May 9, 2009) to make an overwhelming majority of Sorsoganons become aware of my socioeconomic platforms and programs of government.

2.2 My PR handlers and political advisers think that presenting me as a long-lost Lolo (grandfather) who is coming back with offers of complete socioeconomic development and political reforms will be welcomed more-than a prodigal son -- if the people can see the human-and-financial resources that my leadership can bring to the province. And our campaign will be highlighting the meaning of LOLO: Law and Order, Less government and Opportunities equally to all.

3.0 Covenant with the People.

3.1 I have told many Overseas Sorsoganons, especially in Southern California, that my campaign will make local elections in our home province radically different from exercises of suffrage in the past. My candidacy will elevate public debates of issues to a higher level and energize the people, especially the youth, and empower them to achieve in 11 years complete political and economic independence.

3.2 As announced, I will dare my opponents to sign me with a Covenant with the People and sign it with our own blood and guarantee the following (among other statements):

3.2.1 Complete eradication of graft and corruption by publishing online all financial transactions of the provincial government and making available on the Internet copies of all provincial vouchers and checks signed by the provincial treasurer and the governor or his representative. Other "honesty" safeguards will be published in online and print magazines.

3.2.2 Finishing the long-delayed provincial roads between Bulusan and Santa Magdalena, between Bulan and Magallanes, between Bacon and Prieto Diaz, and my pet project of a new road between Gabao (Irosin) to the Bulan barrios of Jamorawon and Polot (now San Francisco, the site of the proposed international airport) in two years (meaning, on or before July 1, 2012) or else the governor will resign.

3.2.3 Pledging that the governor will not run for re-election if he or she will not be able to lead the people and the provincial government in:

A.) Planting three million seedlings and saplings -- from July 1, 2010, to May 1, 2013. And declaring Sorsogon as the first "organic province" in the Philippines and accomplishing it in one year by constructing also the first of several sewage-treatment plants and inaugurating it on or before July 1, 2012.

B.) Starting the construction of the railroad extension to Matnog, Sorsogon, with additional commuter tracks to the proposed international airport in Bulan, and inaugurating at least 10 kilometers of operational tracks by May 1, 2013.

3.2.4 There are other written socioeconomic and governmental target, goals and programs that the proposed Covenant with the People will contain. All of these will be discussed in articles to be published in the and

I end this "love letter" to you, Primo Joesan, and other Sorsoganons by reiterating the obvious that the people of Sorsogon will have everything to gain by electing me as their next governor for they have nothing more to lose. They have tried many politicians as governor and almost all of them failed to deliver what is expected to behave as a "good father of the Sorsoganon family."

God willing, you and I and our generation will still see in our lifetime the Sorsogon of old, as we saw them in the 1950s and 1960s, which I described in this article, The Filipino (and Sorsoganon) "Silent Springs" (With Apologies to Rachel Carson)


I, therefore, most respectfully urge you and the recipients of this e-mail, especially our fellow Overseas Sorsoganons to consider joining our Coalition for a Better Sorsogon (CBS). There is nothing really impossible in life and in Sorsogon if we put all our hearts, minds and determination in going back and giving our people an opportunity to change their lives for the better.

And lastly, I am inviting you, your other officers and members of the Sorsogon Crusade for Good Government (Sorsogon Cruxada) and the recipients of this e-mail to witness the signing of the Covenant with the People of Sorsogon on March 17, 2010, in Sorsogon City. All witnesses will also be asked to donate blood to the Sorsogon Provincial Hospital and part of the donated blood will be mixed in a small bowl, as we will use the blood as ink in signing the said Covenant. This simple token will dramatize our willingness to shed blood, if needed, for our ReVOTElution for the Youth and Elders of Sorsogon.

Salamatonon uli for your understanding and concern for our home province and homeland,


Lolo Bobby M. Reyes

BCC: Sorsogon E-mail lists
Members and Supporters, Coalition for a Better Sorsogon (CBS)

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Quote of the Day

Benjamin Franklin said in 1817: In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes. But never in his wildest dream did he realize that by 2010, death would be synonymous with taxes~Bobby M. Reyes