Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Fishyguy Shares his Fishy World

by Malotz Quodala

May 5, 2011 – episode #30
Guest: Angel Martin L. Ampil

Khrysta and I went to the dzUP studio last Thursday to interview a fish expert tabula rasa as that was the first time we were to tackle a “fishy” topic in the program. I had no idea our freewheeling, fishy discussion with Angel Ampil, aka the Fishyguy himself, would take me on a trip down memory lane.

From the get go, as we walked to the media center from Plaridel Hall before the broadcast, Angel enthusiastically began sharing his fascination for fish that all began when he was four years old. His parents gifted him with a five-gallon tank that had three black mollies, a piece of white coral, an aquatic plant (elodea densa), and white sand. Angel was never without the company of fish since. His “fond memories of swimming in the pond with my siblings, having fun catching the goldfish,” – that's what spurred the personal reminiscence.

My mind raced back to when, as children, we (my siblings and I) took it upon ourselves to clean the fishpond my father had built in the garden. The pond was beneath a huge tree, it had nice rock arrangements with plants and all, we invariably ended up “bathing” and playing right there until our hands and feet went white and wrinkled. I remember treading very cautiously around the fishes, seeing how fragile they were … and, in truth, also being fearful of risking a spanking from the elders in case anything bad would happen to them. Ah, to be so innocently free of cares ... Back then, we also had a piece of the sea in the living room aquarium and I remember being mesmerized, transfixed at the languid movements ... the fishes tirelessly gliding, swimming up and down, hiding in rocks now, showing up again … then I would wonder what went on in the minds of the fishes while locking eyes with humans (believing in my child's heart of hearts even then that fishes do have minds). Then that child's brief attention span would eventually lead to the other beautiful animals at home, the dogs ... all fourteen of them at one time … the cats, pigeons, chickens, colorful birds, and oh, yes, even pigs.

But not Angel. It has always been exclusively the world of fishes for him. His interest grew from black mollies to other species, thanks to his backyard-breeder Lolo Delfin who gifted him with jarsful of various kinds for his birthdays all through his childhood years. As he turned adolescent, his fascination turned as well into a serious hobby, and that's when he began meeting up with people of like interest and negotiating fish-keeping alongside school work, then later, professional life.

Finding himself so wanting to share more widely what had by then turned into an expertise, he became Khrysta's fellow columnist for the magazine Animal Scene in 2002. “Fishyguy” is the main character in his column, Aqua Basics, where he continues to share his “fish discoveries” with readers to this day. In time, Angel set up shop and established his “ivory tower” "Fishyguy's Fishplace" selling fish by word of mouth and the internet.

Today, aside from being the Marketing Manager for Creatives Asia and Manager of the Magsaysay Group of Companies Global Process, he is also the president and founding member of the Philippine Cichlid Association, a founding member of the Betta Club Philippines, a corporate member of the Philippine Arowana and Luo Han Society and the former president of the Aquarium Science Association of the Philippines. From innocent fascination to fishy passion … Angel has certainly come a long way.

In fact, even without an aquarium in front of us, he could skillfully, gently guide us into the world of fish-keeping and the art and science of it. “Decorating a tank is my form of canvas,” he said. “Using the same rocks and driftwood, I can decorate a tank differently from the way other people do in ways they can't seem to imagine. I am able to find the best angle for a piece of rock when I set it down the tank.”

New Tank Syndrome

During the on-air interview, Angel explained the uniqueness of keeping fish vis-a-vis other pets at home. Whereas a cat's eating area is separate from its litter box, he began, “The fish is kept in, say, an aquarium, where all its life-activities are performed. So you find there the fish, its uneaten food, and poop -- all at once in one confined environment.” Understanding this well and managing the conditions for the fish greatly increases one's chances of successful fish-keeping, he said.

He went on to inform us of the “new tank syndrome.” Technically referred to as the nitrogen cycle, this is a process by which nitrogen-fixing bacteria are allowed to do their work in the tank as well as in the filter media. The process is necessary not only to prepare the new aquarium to be fish-ready, but for the purpose of maintaining a healthy environment to preserve fish life in the long term. More specifically, it consists in the conversion of ammonia to nitrites, then of nitrites to nitrates.

To better understand this, he pictured for us a new aquarium set-up, i.e., still without fish, or water, or filter. First off, he said, tap water has to be dechlorinated, either through the introduction of drops of anti-chlorine agent, or through the pasingaw method, by which tap water is allowed to sit for a couple of days or so, to neutralize chlorine which is toxic to fish.

After dechlorination, water and filter can now be placed -- with just a few fishes -- into the aquarium, where very little feeding must be done … just enough to enable fish to urinate and defecate. With the filter now working, fish waste, plant (if there be any), and uneaten food will eventually decompose. With the help of some bacteria, the decomposed matter will break down into ammonia ... then after some time, ammonia is broken down into nitrites. Subsequently, with the passage of a little more time, the nitrites further break down and become nitrates. It's the latter compound that supports the growth of beneficial bacteria. The production and establishment of good bacteria colonies in the aquarium and filter will then create a healthy environment for the fish. Having achieved this, one can then begin to add in a few more fish at a time.

Angel gave a caveat about the toxic nature of ammonia and nitrites for the fish. For the start- up stage, or for a period of three weeks, more or less, he recommended changing about twenty percent of the water once every week, carefully retaining the rest of the water in the tank for the cycle to follow its course. Additionally he advised that when cleaning the aquarium or any decor, it should be the same water from the tank that must be used, as tap water will kill the good bacteria. When the good bacteria die, the new tank syndrome must have to begin all over again, with all the painstaking thoughfulness and patience crucial to the endeavor.

Angel's Aquariums; Fish Collection

Angel owns 200 aquariums. He and his friends produced video clips showing the following:

the Fishyguy hand-feeding a fresh water stingray (potamotrygon) at this site -- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Npm6rEcLEVQ;
doctor fish or garra rufa nibbling on his leg at --
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l9Kac3CSl_M; and
a wolf fish (hoplias malabaricus) eating goldfish at --

Watching him hand-feeding the stingray reminds one of world-famous Steve Irwin who died in 2006 of a shocking accident with a stingray. Angel reminded us that according to experts, stingrays are docile creatures; they do not attack except in self-defense. Their attack mechanism is located near the base of the tail. Angel underscored how critical it was to know fishes and their respective behavior, noting that Irwin was known for his wide expertise on crocodiles but not on stingrays.

Cichlid or hoplarchus psittacus is a species of fish endemic to the blackwater rivers in Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela. Angel in fact has a video recording of a cichlid couple laying eggs, another clip showing the couple incubating eggs, and still another showing them watching by while the fry swim happily around them. That made me wonder in amazement, that a huge fish -- with a mouth much, much bigger than the teeny-weeny fry in its midst -- does not gobble them up, given its natural tendency to eat anything smaller than its mouth. Mother instinct, perhaps?

The garra rufa is a fish species that nibbles on dead skin, the kind that is employed in spas for pedicure and exfoliating. It brings to mind a certain resort in Laguna where, in naturally flowing warm spring water, hundreds of fish romp, play and co-exist with people, who go there for the swim, or the experience of fish nibbling on their legs and feet, believing in its therapeutic value.

Other moving pictures show Angel hand-feeding an eel and another showing him releasing a five-foot electric eel. Some others show lou hans (or flower horns), arowanas, even the popular clownfish we know better as Nemo. The following link shows pictures of fishes in his collection: http://s46.photobucket.com/home/AngelAmpil/index.

Asked whether fish exhibit any kind of personality, Angel said: “Some do, like the gold fish, the oscar, and flower horn – they display some kind of 'pet attitude.' They tend to perform and seek the attention of their owner. They bond well with their owners.” Some fish actually show signs of recognition, he added.

Robbie William's cover of "La Mer" or "Beyond the Sea" playing in the background was all that was needed to conjure a world of wonderful visuals. And that was exactly what Kwentuhang Pets Atbp interns Jen Ocampo and Ron Rollorata did after one break during the program. Khrysta, it turns out, had asked them to play this theme song from "Finding Nemo.”

Even Beyond Passion … Fish is his Life

Angel considers himself pretty much an active part of a fish-keeping circle he fondly refers to as family, saying, “I have always shared my thoughts and passion to anyone willing to learn more about fish-keeping.”

His passion for fish-keeping, he said, is expressed in many ways. “Breeding a rare fish, for example, brings me a certain sense of accomplishment. Keeping a rare, never before-kept fish gives me a lot of pride.”

To those eyeing to take up the hobby, he has this to say: “Never enter it half-hearted … You must like the hobby a lot, for after all, your aquarium should last you at least ten years … Do your research via books, magazines, the internet … Ask friends, fish clubs … Attend fish forums, etc.” As regards concerns that fish-keeping might be a “high-maintenance” project, he says, “I always tell people to keep fish within their means. There are so many kinds (to choose from), there surely is one you can afford and keep.”

He admits chores like tank cleaning can be very tiring, yet, “Most times, I find it relaxing, de-stressing even.” And surely, that is not a duty we can imagine him shirking from now, is it?

Actually, what Angel said is simply consistent with what we notice KPA guests declare in the program time and again – i.e., that having pets, animal companions or “wards” is not like a walk in the park … but a serious responsibility one cannot just drop when the going gets tough or which one can afford to ignore just because it “ain't no fun no more.” Animal companions are much like children ... they totally depend on their compassionate, loving, informed and constant caregiver for their existence, survival … and, decidedly, their blossoming even.

But as Angel says, caring for them can be relaxing, de-stressing … and oh, the joy they bring … now, that is truly immeasureable.

Saturday, May 7, 2011


By Khrysta Imperial Rara

We had Luis Buenaflor of Animal Kingdom Foundation as guest on Kwentuhang Pets Atbp last April 28. The discussion centered on what Luis called "the tambucho murders" or the killing of unclaimed stray dogs in pounds through carbon monoxide poisoning using exhaust fumes of vehicles. This was already a big issue last year when a video of dogs being gassed somewhere in southern Philippines circulated in the Net. After the animal welfare groups campaigned to end it, the Committee on Animal Welfare voted to put a stop to tambucho gassing. Last month, most committee members voted to bring it back. It is important to note that most CAW members are veterinarians who are expected to look out for the animals.

Some of the highlights of that discussion:

- The Animal Welfare Act (RA 8485) of 1998 has no implementing rules and regulations (IRR) yet. This is truly ridiculous. How can a law be effective without IRR? No wonder this law is not functioning! This, I think, is the height of incompetence. The IRR should be done within a year after a law is passed. Luis brought up the issue of legality of the CAW which has been in existence for more than 10 years now. To come up with the IRR, Government is supposed to
consult with the different stakeholders, work out issues and find solutions. In this particular issue, animal groups want the clause allowing tambucho gassing taken out due to the inhumane nature of the act.

Before the program, I spoke to CAW member Dr, Karlo Gicana of the UP Veterinary Hospital. He said tambucho gassing will be temporary and will be taken out eventually. He said they just want to give the local government units (lgu) time to work out a program and find a budget for the alternatives to the local way of using carbon monoxide fumes to kill dogs. Problem is, just how much time is needed to do this? The IRR, which should have been done in one year, is still unfinished after more than 12 years! What if the lgu's can't get their act together and continue gassing the dogs since it's allowed anyway?

- Most members of the CAW are government agencies. They outnumber the animal welfare groups - only PAWS and PSPCA are members. Where's the democracy in that? Times are changing and so are people's attitudes toward animals. Changes in the composition of the CAW have to be made to allow more animal groups like AKF and CARA (Care and Responsibility for Animals) to speak up for the public. In fact, there should be more members from the public at large rather than from the government. There should only be one or two government agencies to take care of regulatory mechanisms.

- A listener texted that government should give more support to the animal groups and find humane ways to deal with the animals in whatever issue. I agree. Killing animals SHOULD be the LAST RESORT to be done only when there are absolutely no other alternatives. Killing another being, whether human or other, hardens the heart and is plain cruel.

- Luis said the long-term solution to the stray dog problem is ADOPTION, SPAY AND NEUTER and RESPONSIBLE PET OWNERSHIP. To this I would add HUMANE EDUCATION which should be incorporated in the curricula of all public and private schools in the primary and secondary school levels.

- Lastly, I think it's about time that universities offering veterinary programs review their curricula and include courses on animal rights and welfare as well as alternative medicine for the animals. (UP offers a course on acupuncture for animals.) They should study the trends in many universities abroad which NO LONGER practice dissection and vivisection in their laboratories. Alternatives exist now, they should be studied and eventually implemented.

I wrote about the tambucho gassing issue in September last year. Sad to say, an issue which I thought had already been resolved has resurfaced. But it's not too late and the animals need your support. SAY NO TO TAMBUCHO GASSING!


By Crysta Imperial Rara

When I told a colleague that the government was gassing stray dogs, she exclaimed: “Gassing…you mean, like the Nazis used to do?”

I fell silent. That thought had never occurred to me. The tambucho gassing of stray dogs has been in the news for some time now. The animal protection groups have launched a campaign to pressure officials to put a stop to it.

The issue has even reached the international scene – more than two thousand five hundred people, including citizens of other countries, have signed a petition addressed to the Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala asking him to rescind Administrative Order 21 (AO21).

AO 21 states that officials should consider “the freedom of animals from physical discomfort and pain and their freedom from fear and distress during the conduct of euthanasia.”

Yet in a subsequent paragraph, AO 21 allows euthanasia in the form of shooting by firearm for dogs, cats, horses, pigs, lizards, snakes, ruminants, non-human primates and marine mammals. Decapitation will be done to euthanize rabbits while birds will be subjected to cervical dislocation.

Another accepted form of euthanasia for stray animals is asphyxiation via carbon monoxide from motor vehicles.

In the petition authored by Ted Teodoro, an animal rights advocate based in New Jersey, a description of the agony experienced by the animals being gassed leaves no doubt about the brutality of the act: “What follows is the frantic clawing of the animal, its plaintive cries for help, its desperate search for a safe corner. The animal rolls and twitches. At some point, the body no longer responds to the animal's natural instincts but some level of consciousness lingers on. This process can take as long as fifteen minutes.”

I watched the video shot by a concerned citizen from Kidapawan in Cotobato Province. The scenes still haunt me – the dogs were struggling to escape from the holding pen, crying out in fear and panic just before they were mercilessly killed. Once the gas was turned on, I couldn’t help but feel furious and helpless as they wailed and clawed to get out of the metal box.

It definitely was no humane death. I wonder if the officials in the Committee on Animal Welfare (CAW), most of whom are veterinarians, really know what the words euthanasia, humane or merciful mean.

They say these methods will help reduce the cost of euthanasia by injection. Putting a dog to sleep by injecting Euthal or sodium pentobarbital costs about two hundred pesos per dosage for medium-sized dogs. But the drug can be acquired at a lower cost if bought by the bulk.

It’s a better way to put down a dog because the drug relaxes him first. So there is no panic and struggle on the part of the animal.

The Philippine Animal Welfare (PAWS) and the Philippine Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PSPCA) voted against AO21 but they were outnumbered.

Perhaps we should take a look at the curriculum in our veterinary schools. Are the graduates taught ethics and kindness toward animals? I’ve had my share of experiences with vets who no doubt love their work and the animals. I’ve run into many who misdiagnose diseases, give the wrong medicines or don’t care about the animal’s comfort or welfare.

But vets who recommend gassing, shooting, decapitation and cervical dislocation are another breed. There’s too much pain in gassing; shooting may be off the mark so the animal will suffer; decapitation is inhumane and cervical dislocation, which means breaking the neck or snapping the spine – is too medieval.

Besides, where’s the humanity in all this? Are we producing vets who know the techniques but have no heart?

The Nazis gassed the Jews. The world condemned it. Our government is gassing and killing the animals inhumanely. We should also all condemn it. Sign the petition and help end the brutal killing of our animals.


Published in my column, AnimalSpeak, in ANIMAL SCENE magazine Sept 2010


Thursday, May 5, 2011

On the Tambucho Murders: Fear of Folly is Folly

By: Malotz Q.

April 28, 2011 Episode 29

Guest: Luis Buenaflor, Jr of The Animal Kingdom Foundation

Topic: Tambucho Killings

Just recently, tambucho gassing was reinstated as a means of putting down unclaimed dogs in pounds through Administrative Order No. 13, which was issued last April 12, 2011 by Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala upon the recommendation of the Committee on Animal Welfare (or CAW). AO No. 13 officially seeks to implement the Animal Welfare law (RA 8485 of 1998), but has caused quite a stir within the animal welfare and animal rights community. It appears that of all the government representatives in the Committee, the only member who voted against the reinstatement of tambucho gassing was the one from the National Meat Inspection.

Last Thursday, this howl of protest was personified in Louie Buenaflor, our studio guest at dzUP. Louie, an anti-animal cruelty advocate from the Animal Kingdom Foundation, came prepared to be effusively outspoken.

Tambucho gassing is the “technique” of exposing dogs to the exhaust fumes of a vehicle until they die of suffocation and poisoning. It had been successfully deleted last year, specifically on August 24, 2010, from a listing of acceptable methods of euthanasia for animals, after animal welfare groups vigorously fought against its inclusion.

In fact Khrysta and I dwelt on the topic on Kwentuhang Pets, Atbp last year, with Anna Cabrera of PAWS as guest via telephone interview. Anna had ventured to say then that the deletion of tambucho gassing (from the listing in the AO) would be “permanent, hopefully.” And we came away from that discussion optimistic.

Alas, fast forward to April 12 this year (or just eight months after the good news), and Louie now finds, totally incredibly, that CAW has overturned itself, for some “mysterious reason”. He went so far as to say that by countenancing “tambucho murders,” veterinarians in the CAW have betrayed their sworn duty “to protect animals.”

Guess we were quite floored but Louie couldn't help taking potshots at these veterinarians during the program. He angrily blames and holds them responsible for the unconscionable and “idiotic” resurrection of tambucho killing, pointing out that this detestable method is the exact opposite of merciful and painless killing that is the essence of euthanasia..

Louie described for us what he had personally witnessed during two occasions of gassing... On both occasions, some thirty dogs were dragged and dumped into a steel box that should comfortably fit only ten or twenty. The box had a small hole through which one end of a tube was inserted, with the other end attached to the exhaust pipe of a government-owned vehicle. Once the box was closed, the vehicle's ignition was turned on, and the gas pedal was revved up to produce fumes. The dogs expectedly went on a raucous crying rampage, helplessly scratching the steel walls for a good long time before they died. The process, according to him, took thirty minutes, the animals obviously suffering a lot before succumbing to fatal relief.

Worse, on yet another occasion, he witnessed this same procedure, except that owing to some glitch – the dogs remained alive despite the protracted exposure to the exhaust fumes. What he saw next was hair-raising: the handlers then dragged these dogs one by one from out of the box, and then dumped them into a water-container to drown.

Before the program went on air last Thursday, Khrys had invited CAW representatives to guest for the episode and had continually followed up the invite to ensure their attendance.. Unfortunately, no one came. And those who promised to call back, never did.

Incidentally, before going on air that day, Khrys was able to talk by phone with Dr. Karlo Gicana, Director of the UP Veterinary Hospital (who was our studio guest last April 7). He said the following:

“We should all be united in forwarding animal welfare in the country. But we need to strike a balance... we need some time to allow LGUs to comply and to come up with the guidelines... we need practicality in our laws. In Asia, nakakahiya na wala tayong implementing guidelines for the Animal Welfare Act. We need updated, relevant guidelines to AWL...hinaharang ng groups.”

When asked for his reaction, Louie went ballistic and said he's really not surprised there are no IRRs to date because, “CAW will cease to exist once the IRR is drawn and implemented.” Khrys asked whether or not that should make anyone susceptible to a case before the Ombudsman. Louie said his group is looking at possible steps but did not elaborate.

Considering the absence of representatives from CAW quite made the discussion that day much too one-sided, I decided to say on air (addressing parties who should have been but were not represented in the debate because they did not come to the show) thus so:

“Alam nyo po, pare-pareho tayong nasa serbisyo ng gobyerno kaya maganda sanang nakikipagtulungan tayo sa mga bagay na tulad nito... isang paraan ay ang pakikipag-dayalogo sa mga grupong may nais na maiparating... iyan po ang paraan ng demokrasya. Huwag po sana nating sayangin uli ang mga pagkakataong ganito.”

Louie, then and there, agreed.

Which brings us to ask –

if people, in their heart of hearts

truly believe they're right

then why ever not, before the world

so proclaim?

after all, fear of folly is folly

for folly, like truth, exists not

till known.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Ang Mundo ng Kweba


By Khrysta Imperial Rara


What an interesting day for Kwentuhang Pets atbp! We began the program with a phone patch with Trixie Concepcion of Earth Island Institute Phils. She updated us on the anti-dolphin captivity campaign and said Manila Ocean Park has issued a statement that it will not bring in dolphins for a dolphin show. They must have backed off from their original plan after an aggressive Facebook Campaign led by Earth Island to appeal for the non-inclusion of dolphins in the park. Trixie explained that schools like Miriam and De La Salle have pledged that their students will boycott any dolphin and whale show in the Philippines.


An on-air discussion of caves and the need to protect and manage them and the flora and species inside and around them proved to be an eye-opener. I must admit I was never really drawn to caving because I found these places to be too dark and uninteresting. I’ve visited only about 4 caves – in Bicol, Bohol, Bulacan and in Italy. I don’t remember much about them except that in Bicol, I had to rush out of the underground cave because I felt suffocated. I recall seeing the bats hanging upside down in a cave in Bulacan, their droppings or guano forming a huge pile on the cave floor. In Italy, I visited an underwater cave when it was low tide and I was too uncomfortable in the dark.

But our episode last April 14 changed all that. I learned from our guests Anson Tagtag and Ofel Espayos of the DENR Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) that the cave is a world in itself, with a unique ecosystem.

Blind fish, blind shrimps, blind bats, stalagmites and stalactites form part of this world that the DENR would like to protect from hunters. Hunting is illegal in the Philippines, except for the tribes or katutubo. As an animal protection advocate, I don’t like the idea of hunting particularly if it’s for sport.

Guests Anson and Ofel believe that ecotourism could put a stop to the practices that destroy our caves since it will offer an alternative source of income to the local communities. But it must be well managed to ensure that the visitors do not go over the cave’s carrying capacity, or the maximum population of a particular species (in this case, human) that the habitat can support.

The next time I get to visit a cave, it will be from a different perspective. Perhaps this time curiosity and wonder will win over my mild claustrophobia.

bat cave

Life in the Cave Ecosystem

Topic: Cave Ecosystems

April 14, 2011 Episode 28

Guests: Anson Tagtag, Ecosystems Management Specialist (Wildlife Conservation)
             Ofelia Espayos, Ecosystems Management Specialist (Cave Management Conservation)
 Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) of the Dept of Environment and Natural Resources

In preparation for our April 14 episode on caves, I asked my friend Ichie  – who's been to at least three caves in the Philippines – how she felt about these adventurous journeys. “Being in the Sumaguing cave (in Sagada),” she said, “gives you the feeling you’re in another world.  There were layers upon layers of very clean pools of water 1,500 meters below ground and the calcium formations, and the stalagmites and stalactites were just awesome...I felt this conscious acknowledgment that I was just passing through a wondrous habitat that rightfully belonged to hundreds of bats that I saw hanging upside down.  I knew I had no reason to complain about chancing upon some heaps of bat dung along the way.” 

At the Callao cave (in Cagayan), Ichie recognized being a part of an ancient civilization.  And then, there's the magnificence of the St. Paul's subterranean river cruise (in Palawan) which, according to her, made her see that protecting this national heritage is an absolute imperative.  In all these experiences, she said, she knew she was in the midst of the incalculable  wealth that God has given to the Filipino.

The images conjured by this sharing came alive on radio when Khrysta and I discussed caves with DENR-Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau officials Anson and Ofel who kindly came to the dzUP studio for this episode.  They confirmed the immense biodiversity found in more than 1,500 known caves in our country, “and counting,” they said. 

The Role of Government

Their agency plays a key role in the implementation of RA 9062 -- the 2001 law that seeks to conserve, protect and manage caves and cave resources as part of our country's wealth.  It was along this line that DENR-PAWB recently sponsored a week-long conference in Nueva Vizcaya  for a group consisting of reps from the Tourism Department, the National Historical Institute, the National Museum, and select LGUs -- to finetune together their over-all mission, plans and their respective roles as implementors of the cave law.

Our guests confirmed that caves form part of the natural resources that must  be protected and managed well, because apart from the sheer beauty of their natural water and mineral formations  they are loaded with  irreplaceable archeological and ecological value such asfossils and other paleontological and  geological deposits, artifacts that have historical, cultural and sociological import to us  Filipinos, and overwhelmingly bio-diverse naturally occurring live plants and animals.

As cave protectors and cave law implementors, it is the above-mentioned agencies that bear the burden and pride of enforcement, of ensuring that visitors and sightseers behave in ways that will preserve cave resources.  And that is why Anson and Ofel point out, there are caves that today are still not open to the public.,.  More specifically, it is the job of local governments to adopt whatever measures and preparatory steps are necessary in order that caves located within their jurisdiction will be visitor-ready. This requisite state of preparedness includes the capability to arrest and seriously prosecute cave violators, such as vandals.

But vandalism by uncaring tourists is not even the worst affront to our caves, we found out.  As we all know, the awe-inspiring stalagmites and stalactites found inside caves take hundreds of years to form.  Yet, our guests Anson and Ofel told us, there have been several horror stories of “enterprising” people – criminals, actually -- who felt entitled to make money out of these precious cave resources by actually cutting off stalagmites and stalactites for export.  “For use as what?” we asked.  Anson and Ofel said these precious natural resources eventually find their way overseas as aquarium and manicured garden decorations!

The Beat of Life in Caves
Anson and Ofel then went on to give us a sneak peek at the life that beats inside these caves.  They spoke of fishes, reptiles, mollusks and other smaller invertebrates - and of course the bats.   Philippine bats feed on insects or fruits, they assure us; the bloodsucking kind, or vampire bats, thrive mostly in the Southern and I certain parts of the North American continents only not hereabouts (thankfully). 

The Philippines is said to have at least 56 species of bats, the smallest and the largest of bats in the planet among them. The natural function of bats is to disperse seeds, to guarantee the constant pollination of fruit-bearing trees and plants.  As well, they feed on insects, then produce droppings, called guaño, that constitutes one of the best natural fertilizers available to man.

Ofel and Anson also informed that there is no such thing as overpopulation of bats.  They warn, in fact, that the killing of bats is an offense that is punishable by imprisonment and payment of a huge fine.  Woe to those who hunt bats and eat them as a delicacy.  That apart, there is need for a little more education to dispel lingering myths and superstitions about our bats. They will continue to be misunderstood and endangered unless we make them familiar.

The health of our caves also impact greatly on ecology, and vice versa.   Each cave comprises the unique and special habitat of and for the plants and animals that depend on it.  On the other hand, the vegetation over and around  a cave provides it the hydration that makes its life and the lives in it possible.  Therefore there is nothing worse than cutting trees around a cave, because that will certainly dry it up and spell its death as a habitat.

As I waited for my friend to pick me up after the program, I got to talking with the guard assigned at the ground floor of the Media Center where dzUP is housed.  Mr. Maumen Kuli, who was listening to our program, told me of the way he and his folks back home in Maguindanao know of the wonders that are their beautiful caves.  He also shared his belief that their caves are “enchanted” in that they, who revere and protect their caves, have in turn been protected by the caves from “enemies.”  He was, he said, a part of a rebel group when he was a lad.  Their “enemies” who, according to him, had no respect for the caves, either died or got lost inside these caves.


                                                By Crysta Imperial Rara


There’s a new radio show in town. I conceptualized it in 2009 and finally, last October, it had its premier broadcast. The one-hour program titled “Kwentuhang Pets at Iba Pa”, goes on air every Thursday from 1-2 pm at DZUP 1602 kHz (AM).  It aims to make people aware that attitudes toward animals are changing and our fellow creatures are now viewed more as friends or part of the family and not just mere property. It seeks to enlighten listeners about new trends around the world which revolve around putting a stop to cruelty against animals.

The program is different because it’s the first of its kind in the country. No other radio program tackles animal issues. Another unique feature is that since it’s in DZUP, there are no commercials and students get an opportunity to do radio work hands-on, like writing and reading animal news. We’ve also got live audio streaming on the web which allows animal protection advocates to listen in from all over the world.

The success of radio programs on the environment and alternative health care indicates that the people’s awareness of non-traditional issues is expanding and they are ready to welcome new ideas into their lives. The growing existence of animal rights and welfare groups in the country and the expanding coverage of stories on animals (the campaign to stop travelling dolphin shows, features on rescued eagles and other wild birds, the training of local dogs to make them into security K-9, rescues of stray cats and dogs etc…) is additional proof that Filipinos are changing their attitudes toward the animals.
                One hour is never enough to talk about animal issues but at least it can raise interest and curiosity that may inspire the listener to act in favour of the animals. The program starts with a five-minute discussion of a Thought for the Day that aims to trigger insights and realizations about the different roles that animals play in our lives. Some of the quotations we have discussed are:

1.     Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals(Winston Churchill)
        The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. (Mahatma Gandhi)

3.    An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language. (Martin Buber)

4.    Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole. (Roger Caras)

5.  Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened. (Anatole France)

The second segment features Animals In The News here and abroad. It includes scientific discoveries of new species, rescues of animals, protests against animal cruelty, etc.

            Following this segment is a lengthy discussion on the topic for the day. My co-host Malotz Quodala and I explore interesting topics and ask in-depth questions. For a clearer picture of what we’ve tackled so far, here’s a list of the guests and topics we’ve done since the show began to air three months ago:

Oct. 7 –  Topic: Marine Mammals

            The guest, Earth Island Institute Regional Director Trixie Concepcion, discussed the cruelty behind travelling dolphin shows as well as dolphin and whale shows in oceanariums here and abroad. She explained that marine mammals like the dolphins, whales and sea lions are used to swimming free in the oceans and not in steel tanks that limit their movements and stress them out. We discussed former Flipper series trainer Ric O’Barry’s brilliant documentary, The Cove, which documented the yearly mass slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan. (Everyone should watch it- it’s like a James Bond movie complete with secret weapons and breathtaking suspense.)

Oct. 14 – Topic: Animal Welfare and the group Care and Responsibility for Animals (CARA)

            Vimla Mansukhani, who heads CARA’s Educational Outreach Program, believes that if you hurt an animal, you will suffer the same fate at the hands of another. Vimla talked about CARA’s main thrust which is the humane control of the dog and cat population through neutering and spaying. She stressed the need for compassion toward the animals as well as responsible pet ownership which includes making sure that the companion animal has access to basic needs like food, water, and exercise.

Oct. 21 - Topic: The Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS)

            Guest Anna Hashim Cabrera recounted how she gave up a lucrative post in a private bank to follow her heart and help the animals. As head of the PAWS shelter for rescued dogs and cats, Anna knows just how depressing it is for a dog to remain in a shelter for years and not be adopted into a loving home. She talked about how to respond to dog behaviour problems. PAWS rehabilitates rescued dogs so they can be “re-homed”. But it’s much more difficult to get the cats adopted, she says. PAWS also has a Dr. Dog program that allows terminally-ill children to interact and have fun with well-trained and compassionate dogs.

Oct. 28 -   Topic: Animal Rights and the People’s Ethical Treatment for Animals (PETA)

Lumped together under the umbrella of the animal protection movement,
animal rights and welfare groups work together to help animals in need and educate people about changing attitudes. PETA Campaigner Rochelle Regodon discussed the group’s campaigns and strategies, like the campaign to encourage people to switch to a vegetarian or vegan diet. For this, PETA invites celebrities like Joaquin Phoenix, Pamela Anderson, Alyssa Milano as well as Chinchin Gutierrez in the Philippines to champion their cause. And their campaign is definitely working – more and more young people the world over are turning vegetarian.

Nov. 4 - Topic: Rescuing Dogs from the Illegal Dog-Meat Trade

            The Animal Kingdom Foundation (AKF) has been in the news quite often because it actively pursues dog meat traders with the help of the Philippine National Police. Luis Buenaflor of the AKF believes that the dog meat trade is more of a business than a tradition. Several cases have already been filed against traders caught in the act of transporting dogs that have already been slaughtered or are about to be killed in violation of the Animal Welfare Law and the Anti-Rabies law. Luis said dog meat is not regular table fare for the Igorots – they eat a dog only when settling a blood feud. The dog is a peace offering because it is considered a member of the family. In nearby Baguio, however, the price for a dog can go all the way up to one thousand five hundred pesos. Luis also talked about the AKF shelter in Tarlac where some 500 dogs rescued from the dog meat trade are living their lives out in peace and comfort. It’s a no-kill shelter and there are no cages. The dogs live in pens where they can run around and socialize. His message for the listeners was a strong reminder – DON’T EAT DOGS.

Nov. 11 - Topic: The Joys of Birdwatching

            Happiness lies not in watching birds in cages but in seeing them fly free and go about their daily business. Wild Bird Club President Mike Lu shared his experiences from several years of birding or birdwatching and talked about how indiscriminate construction of malls and villages in bird habitats like forests and mangroves are destroying migration patterns and driving the birds away. The Philippines now attracts more birdwatchers from Japan and Europe who come here to see indigenous and migratory species.

Nov. 18 – Topic: Marine Wildlife

            Scuba diver, veterinarian and environmentalist AA Yaptinchay talked about the role of marine wildlife in the ecosystem and the need for a more sustainable use of marine resources. He cited pollution, unregulated tourism, incidental and non-targeted extraction of marine resources as well as the capture of marine mammals for use in the entertainment industry (oceanariums, shows, ocean parks, movies, etc) as the greatest threats to marine species. AA now operates an environment-friendly travel agency that promotes diving tours in the Philippines. He also set up the Marine Wildlife Watch, a website that disseminates information on marine mammal issues. He is actively helping in the campaign to stop the importation of two dolphins in Indonesia for a Christmas travelling dolphin show in the Araneta parking lot in Cubao.

            Nov. 24         - Topic: The Basics of Animal Care

            Companion animals like dogs and cats have to be cared for too, and Dr. Veronica Matawaran who heads the Veterinary Clinic at the University of the Philippines in Diliman explained how to groom animals and keep them healthy. She also talked about the various services offered by the UP Vet Clinic. Dr. Matawaran and some colleagues are now developing herbal products for animals to complement the gamut of pharmaceutical products now available in the market.

Dec. 2 - Topic: Alternative Remedies for Animals

            In line with the expanding consciousness of the times, more and more people are now seeking out alternative therapies or remedies for their animals. We had two guests who shared their experiences in this field. Dr. Jezie Acorda of UP Los Banos explained how he does acupuncture on horses, pigs, dogs and cats and how these animals respond to the treatment. Dr. Acorda said the UP Vet Clinic will soon be offering acupuncture treatments to its animal clients.

Reiki healer Leng Velasco, on the other hand, uses only her hands to pass on energy to the animal. Reiki is a Japanese form of healing wherein a person is attuned to universal energy by a reiki master. Leng pointed out that there are no tools needed to do this kind of healing. She recounted how she healed her dog Duke who was dying of thyroid cancer two years ago. Duke, now 10 years old, is still very much alive today.

Before the year 2010 ends, we will be tackling the following topics: how to spend Christmas with your animal companions, adopting a vegetarian diet for the holidays, and protecting your animals from the stress of New Year fireworks. Listen to the program on your radio or follow it online. If you have questions, suggestions or reactions, email me at crystarara@gmail.com or send your text messages to 0921.416.5538.

            HAPPY NEW YEAR or as the French say, Bonne Année!

Author with Exec. Producer Mel Estonilo

Published in my column AnimalSpeak in the ANIMAL SCENE magazine, Jan. 2011 

Kwentuhang Pets Atbp DZUP 1602

This is the first radio program in the country that focuses on animals. Host Khrysta Imperial Rara is a print, broadcast and online journalist, animal protection advocate and faculty member of the Dept. of Journalism in the University of the Philippines, Diliman. 

Co-host Malotz Quodala is a legal researcher, researcher of History as well as a media and image consultant.

Executive Producer Mel Estonilo is a veteran radio journalist. DZUP is managed by the Dept of Broadcast Communication at the College of Mass Communication in the University of the Philippines, Diliman. It is a member of the KBP .

The program, which airs every Thursday at 1-2pm, can be accessed through live streaming at www.dzup.org.

Kwentuhang Pets Atbp is the first animal rights and welfare program in the Philippines. Its maiden broadcast was on Oct. 7, 2010. The program seeks to make people, specially Filipinos, aware that attitudes toward animals are changing all over the world. Animals are viewed more now as friends or part of the family and not just mere property or possessions. The program aims to enlighten people on changing trends around the world in order to stop cruelty toward animals. It also explores the world of companion animals, farm animals, laboratory animals and those exploited in the entertainment industry as well as wildlife from the point of view of experts and advocates.

Host Khrysta Imperial Rara (right) and co-host Malotz Quodala (left)
 with guest Dr. Mundita Lim, Director of DENR's Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau