With reactions to the Stories of Old Busuanga
Photo credits to Yahoo collections, Mr. Marche's illustrator and Gunther Dreichman
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One of the most exquisite gifts life enriched me with is the profound friendship with the family of Vicente and Carmen Reyes and his children. A large family with residence in Quezon City, they always made sure I joined them in their joyful family affairs and made me feel like one of them. They had a large property in the remote plain of Malbato by the northern shore of Malbato Bay, some 15 kilometers from the town of Coron, Busuanga, Palawan where the family spend most of their summer vacations. Four times in the last sixties and early seventies the family invited me to spend summer with them, showereng me with their generous and gracious hospitality.
   After I published the page on Calamianes in this homepage, I sent the link to three of my old vacation mates in Malbato, Manny Reyes, the youngest of the Reyes brood, her slightly elder sister Menchu Reyes and their cousin Tony Valera. The three of them replied with very kind feedbacks that I'd like to reproduce here.

Tony Valera's:
Excellent reading Perdi! It's amazing that aside from the crocodiles, Malbato, Busuanga and Coron Island in the 1800s and was the same as what we experienced in the 1970s. I stayed in the North Shore of Busuanga (Japy's daughter's beach resort) about four years ago and had a day tour of Cayangan, Coron Town and Malbato. It was so sad that I could hardly recognize the places where we visited.Tourism, commercialization and progress has changed the place for the worse.
   I don't know if you were with us (I think it was in 1967 with Fr. Castanon) when we visited a Tagbanua burial beach where we found skeletal remains Japy told us that the bodies were hung on branches of trees just like what was narrated in your translated article.
   Best regards!

JRP note:
   I wasn't. Jappy Reyes was the eldest of the Reyes children, around my age. He passed away in the 70s leaving very fond memories in all of us.

Menchu Reyes':
Perdi,  what a joy walking along the past. Thanks for sharing. Your memory is incredible and unfading. What is your secret?

JRP's reply:

   You don't forget easiliy moments of intense enjoyment, even from decades past, in a replica of paradise

   Summer vacations in Malbato were almost multitudinous affairs with all of the Reyes siblings, their cousins and friends. Trekking through the forests, walking up shady creeks amidst the shrill chatter of monkeys and squirrels, climbing the steep hills around the Bay, sailing by bangka to explore the island of Coron, its fabulous Cayanan Lake and the myriad lagoons and coves of its northern coast, and diving in the unspoiled coral reefs all around left hardly any time to be bored. The place was pristine, unspoiled by careless visitors, and our perambulations were untrammelled by any rule or regulation except prudence and respect for the environment, something instilled very keenly by Don Vicente. No permits, no fees. A feast for the eyes and for the spirit.

Manny Reyes':
This is very nice. Wow a lot of Calamian deer then and crocodiles and boa constrictors. Sadly the Calamian deer and crocodiles are extinct in Busuanga Island. Boa constrictors 7 meters are likely not to be found. The cattle riddled by maggots was a problem I encountered when I took good care of close to 300 goats. 60 cattle and 55 wild carabaos before the land got land-reformed in the early 80's.
   I think it (the Coron Island lake mentioned by Mr. Marche) was the bigger lake, that no tourist can get into (not allowed) and not Kayanan. You may want to add that in most of the plains of Malbato the land was land-reformed. Hence this provided in-roads for people to get into the forest and further destroy habitat for wild-life. The once abundant Emerald Green Pigeon is very little now and sadly the sea turtle as well. But this history inspires us to conserve and rejuvenate what is left. A lot of the biodiversity is there but we must act fast so we will not completely lose a lot of them. The Calamian deer no more than 300 is left in Calaluit, the crocodile unseen in the place (obviously dangerous to humans), but I am convinced we can reintroduce these species together with our beloved Philippine parrot extinct in the island but still some are spotted in Coron island. The land in Coron Island inhabited by people maybe the barangay which I have not yet visited.
   Thanks for sharing Perdi. I hope you continue this research; it will be very useful as we strive to develop Kingfisher Park. It is a very very difficult climb we need to do for KP's continuity because of difficult squatter problems abounding in the island. However, I believe it is doable.
   THANKS this is a wonderful start of my Saturday morning.

   The Malbato plains in the 1970s still looked very much like the plains recounted by Mr. Marche in the XIX Century, minus the wild carabao herds, the crocodiles and the huge pythons.
  Wild hogs and the calamian deer were abundant and so were birds as exotic as the patoltol, a kind of owl whose scandalous cries could be heard at night for miles around; the Philippine parrot, flocks of which could be seen flying in summer afternoons against the backdrop of the mountains to the Northeast; or the elusive kilit, a beautiful tiny parrot that lives only in Busuanga. Taller mountains were forested as well as the creek ravines in between, and the coast was lined deep with thick bakawan, full of large succulent alimango.
   The few people living in the area lived in their bahay kubo, separated by kilometers, and in the southern side of the plain, a few hundred meters from Malbato Bay's North-western shore, was the compound of the Reyes family, a large bahay kubo, not much different from that of Mr. Marche's hosts and also built on halige posts, that had sawali walls and buho partitions with a terrace to the north that functioned partly as dining and partly as dormitory. In addition there were also a few other buildings made of similar materials housing tools and some rusty agricultural machinery. In the center of it all, on a concrete platform, there was an artesian well with a hand-operated pump. A small diesel-powered generator would provide electricity a couple of hours a night, for other illumination there were several trusty Petromax kerosene lamps.
   Cell phones had not yet been invented, there was no telephone and we were nowhere near any place to tune in to any radio station. The only entertainment consisted on an old LP record player where we would listen every night to a single record or the Mabuhay Singers interpreting traditional kundimans to the chagrin of the younger set that preferred something livelier. I remember the concert began with a folksy rendition of  Lawiswis kawayan, which I, being older and somewhat more sentimental, enjoyed, more so if a soft breeze from the surf would ruffle through the leaves of a huge bamboo stand near the house.

   The implementation of land reform in the 80s in the Malbato plains and the massification of tourism attracted by the beauty of the place and the mushrooming of lodging and resort facilities have brought a multitude of new stakeholders with whom the resources must be shared. It is not possible anymore to enjoy the place in the care-free style described by Mr. Marche in the XIX Century, which with very few changes was possible until the late 70s. Today's stakeholders must be made aware of the fragility of the environment and the need to keep it pristine maintaining the natural habitat while enjoying it sustainably, be they farmers, fishermen or tourists, so it may be bequeathed to next generations to enjoy. A new attitude of respect informed by the awe and wonder of Malbato's beauty has to be part of the culture of both tourists and locals to preserve existing flora and fauna resources, augment those in danger and if possible bring back from oblivion those that are already extinct. This is the dream behind Manny Reyes' passion for the development of Kingfisher Park in Malbato.
   Below, a sampling of species native to Malbato and Busuanga that are in danger due to the dwindling of their natural habitat, reason enough to respect and love  Busuanga.


Palawan kalaw

Emerald green pigeon
Camamian deer in captivity, Calawit reserve, Busuanga
photo credit to Gunther Dreichman

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