The Florida Aquarium Photos

Here are some of the wildlife we saw in the Florida Aquarium in Tampa Bay. For a small fee, we were able to visit their impressive collection displayed in specific habitat type. Aside from the place being educational (e.g. ideal for kids), the aquarium is also involved in marine conservation and research around the Tampa Bay estuary and in the Caribbean.




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The Real cost of the Balili Property

Today’s post will feature a guest blog by Vince Cinches, anti-coal campaigner and executive director of the Central Visayas Fisherfolk Development Center, Inc. (FiDeC). Vince outlines the environmental and human costs of the plan of the Cebu provincial government for a coal ash disposal facility in a timberland area (Balili property).


Vince Cinches
Executive Director
Central Visayas Fisherfolk Development Center Inc.

The reason why we in FIDEC, an institution created by and for the fisherfolks in Central Visayas, is opposed to the use of the Balili Property as a disposal facility for coal combustion waste is because coal ashes will poison and degrade the integrity of not just of the immediate marine ecosystem but the waters surrounding our island. This will therefore affect fish habitats, and fish population, on which most of the residents in the area are dependent for food and livelihood.

This negative environmental impact will not just limit itself to Naga, since fish catch in the municipality also supplies the needs of other towns. According to BFAR, 51% of our daily animal protein requirements come from fish, and that fishing is next to farming when it comes to the number of people being directly and indirectly employed.

Additionally, scientific data shows that coal combustion wastes or coal ashes, have high concentrations of 17 heavy metals including arsenic, selenium, mercury, cadmium, chromium, lead, antimony, thallium, molybdenum, vanadium, nickel, and cobalt as well as boron, sulfates, chlorides and other salts.

Last December 2009, together with our country’s leading toxicologist, we sent to the Philippine Institute for Pure and Applied Chemistry (PIPAC) coal ash samples from the areas where it was dumped indiscriminately, which is beside water sources, residential areas, rivers, farm areas, schools, and even beside health facilities. The results revealed the presence of four heavy metals that include lead, cadmium, arsenic, and mercury. These heavy metals are known carcinogens, causing permanent damage to the central nervous system, lung cancer, and mental retardation among others.

Compared to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, exposure to coal combustion wastes is more dangerous a hundred times over.

As a logical consequence, the operation of coal-fired power plant in the area will not just impact our climate and health, it will also dump toxic wastes that will compromise the integrity and security of food resources. Among the animal species, fishes are the inhabitants that cannot escape from the detrimental effects of these pollutants (Olaifa et al., 2004; Clarkson, 1998; Dickman and Leung, 1998).

Last 2005, together with marine scientists and scuba divers, we conducted a Habitat Assessment with the objective of “inspecting marine flora or fauna within Naga waters fronting the plant and use the assessment to provide baseline information of the underlying coastal situation for other proposed power plants providing that they have the same preconditions as the present Naga power.”

The area surveyed measured at an estimate of 400m parallel to the shore and at about 200m across. Point transect was done in two sections, one at 30 feet (10m) and one at 20 feet (7m) where a 50m transect line was laid and read at every 0.25m. Temperature was also monitored from the surface level and at every 10m.

According to that data output, “the result obtained was homogenous all throughout the surveyed area. Sediment consisted entirely of silt that measured at an average of 10cm in depth. Marine flora is monospecific to the seagrass Halophila sp. Marine fauna was also limited to mud dwelling or burrowing invertebrates such as crustaceans and gobies. A lone Holothurian (sea cucumber) was also recorded at a depth of 20ft.” Visibility as observed was at 2ft or approximately an arms length at a depth of 10ft presumably due to heavy siltation. In terms of physico-chemical assessment, temperature did not vary as much.

Low marine diversity in the area may have been caused by excessive siltation as expressed by the locals. It is but natural however, that extreme thermal conditions cause more damage if not total destruction to the marine ecosystem. This is true to all areas affected by thermal pollution such that at normal conditions, water temperature only varies between 80 degrees to 87 degrees F. This is very alarming since the change in degree of temperature that occurred during the El Nino does not even compare to the water temperature discharged from the Naga power plant. During these episodes, any normal observer can literally see “smoke on the water” (2005 Habitat Assessment, September 4, 2005, Cebu Alliance of Renewable Energy (C.A.R.E.) Additionally, fish are widely used to evaluate the health of aquatic ecosystems because pollutants build up in the food chain and are responsible for adverse effects and death in the aquatic systems (Farkas et al., 2002; Yousuf and El-Shahawi, 1999). The studies carried out on various fishes have shown that heavy metals may alter thephysiological activities and biochemical parameters both in tissues and in blood (Basa and Rani, 2003; Canli, 1995; Tort and Torres, 1988).

If the Balili Property will be utilized as a dump site for coal combustion wastes, toxics and heavy metals from this property will not only jeopardize the mangroves but will also bio-accumulate in marine organisms such as fish, crustaceans, sea cucumbers, among others and will go up higher in the food chain, until it reaches us. . The toxic effects of heavy metals have been reviewed, including bioaccumulation (Waqar 2006; Adami et al., 2002; Rasmussen and Anderson, 2000; Rani, 2000; Aucoin et al., 1999).

Now it seems that mercury and other poisonous elements will be dumped directly into our waters, courtesy of the provincial government’s ridiculous intention to turn the Balili property into a coal-combustion waste facility. As we know, heavy metal contamination may have devastating effects on the ecological balance of the recipient environment and a diversity of aquatic organisms (Farombi, et al., 2007; Vosyliene and Jankaite, 2006; Ashraj, 2005).

The natural aquatic systems may extensively be contaminated with heavy metals released form domestic, industrial andother man-made activities (Velez and Montoro, 1998; Conacher, et al., 1993).

The fate of the Balili property is not just up to the court. It is also up to the people who at the end will suffer the effects of climate change such rising sea level and extreme weathers, as well as food insecurity, and unsustainable future, ridden with diseases, sickness, and death.

Quo vadis?

On El Yunque

El Yunque towers at the northeastern edge of Puerto Rico. The summit rises at 3,494 feet and gradually reclines to the sandy coasts that embrace the whole island. From afar, the Luquillo mountain range, of which El Yunque is a part of, is a hazy blue, a crest of a Caribbean terrestrial wave shaped by time. Patches of green fill the ridges that scar the sides of the mountain. When the rain comes, white rivulets form on these small valleys, nourishing an oasis of endemic plants that include Crescentia cujete or the calabash plant.

Sands from the Sahara sometimes blanket the cordilleras. These windblown desert dusts from Africa roll toward the Atlantic covering most of the island in a fog of whiteness. When this happens, everything is opaque: even the sun loses its luster, a gigantic egg hanging in the skies, beautiful like opal, resting above the silhouette of El Yunque.

Kathryn Robinson, author of where dwarfs reign: a tropical rainforest in Puerto Rico, explains that the Luquillo range is a remnant of an ancient supervolcano, Hato Puerco. This volcano was “one of the region’s largest and most active volcanic centers during the Cretaceous period.” Paraphrasing a pioneering geologist, Robinson explains:

The early volcanic activity, followed by a period of colossal bending, produced the mountains. Their stubborn resistance to erosion, “giving silent testimony to the ancient majesty of the ranges from which they had been carved,” enabled them to endure. To Myerhoff, Luquillo is a true monadnock, an isolated mountain remaining from ancient topography that rises above the more level, eroded land around it.

What once was smoldering lava has been transformed into a verdant spot in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. Eons of weathering and the corresponding dispersal of soil macronutrients have left El Yunque very fertile. This area is home to 150 native fern species, 240 tree species, an assortment of endemic animals, including the critically-endangered Puerto Rican parrot. The rich biodiversity of the area prompted locals to call this range as “el pulmon de Puerto Rico” or the lung of Puerto Rico. The Tainos, pre-Columban inhabitants of the island, also believed that El Yunque is the home of the god, Yakiyuyu.

El Yunque’s biodiversity however is under threat. Using endemic frogs as biodiversity indicators, researchers have noticed a steady decline of Puerto Rican frogs in the area. In 1993, S. Blair Hedges (1993) said that two of the native Eleutherodactylus have not been seen in recent years. S. Blair remarked:

In the case of E. karlschmidti, known localities where the species occurred abundantly in the 1960s and 1970s have been searched repeatedly during the last decade by myself and other herpetologists and no evidence of this species has been found. The disappearance of E. karlschmidti has no obvious explanation. Some of the localities are in protected and unaltered forest (Caribbean National Forest) on El Yunque. However, rats and mongooses, which were introduced, are abundant in Puerto Rico and occur in undisturbed forest. Black Rats (Rattus rattus) especially are a problem in Caribbean National Forest where they are very common, even in the dwarf forest on El Yunque Peak. It is possible that these arboreal nocturnal omnivores prey on Eleutherodactylus eggs or the frogs themselves. The mongoose (Herpestes auropunctatus), although primarily diurnal, is known to prey on frogs (Walker, 1975; Nellis and Everard, 1983) and this particular species of frog would be especially vulnerable because it characteristically sits on exposed rocks in and around streams.

A follow-up study by Burrows et al (2003) supported the earlier research. They recorded that three Eleutherodactylus frog species are already presumed extinct and eight populations of six different species of these endemic frogs are significantly declining at elevations above 400 m. While Burrows et al are not discounting the impact of invasive species on frog populations, they maintain that climate change and the spread of a chytrid fungi may have been responsible for the steady decline. They said that “possible synergistic interaction between drought and the pathological effect of the chytrid fungus on amphibian populations” could explain the population decreases.

Visits to nature parks always elicit a certain ambivalence in me: that the urge to discover might also be intrusive. The short treks on muddy paths to reach a peak or visit a waterfall are voyages of discovery and understanding. This is our way of seeking connections to the primal and the natural in these times when modernity drives a wedge between our lifestyle and the natural world. But do we in the process change the very environment that we wish to visit, know, and conserve? Is mere human presence enough to have a ramifying impact on other species’ habitats?

There is indeed a need to critically reflect our relationship with the natural world. After all, inscribed in the oral traditions of many cultures indicate that mountains are ancient sources of wisdom. In the Philippines for example, healers (tambalan) go for long treks and settle in caves in search of spirit guides. They would stay long and converse with the spirits and sometimes come out with greying beards and hair. Now endowed with the wisdom of the forest, they would embark in a journey of healing and divination, moving from one barrio to the next to impart the knowledges they learned. For these healers, the forests are not just a collection of plants and animals but are sites of wisdom and contemplation.

Perhaps this renewed sense of awe (coupled with an intimate ecological understanding) at mountains and its environs will be helpful in preserving and conserving El Yunque’s biodiversity.


EL Yunque pictures

Quick Links: Updates on the Murder of Botanist Leonardo Co

The links here will be constantly updated.

News articles:

Summary of Findings of the Fact Finding Mission</a>

Justice For Leonard Co website

Justice for Leonard Co and His Companions!

Instructions to Contributors to the Leonardo L. Co Justice Fund

UP botanist not killed in crossfire: probe

Scientists: Army’s bullets killed top Filipino botanist Leonard Co

Leonard’s passion

Statement of the University Council of U.P. Diliman.

Miriam Defensor Santiago files resolution for a Senate investigation

Army says it was encounter, Left says it was a massacre

Icot says Kananga ambush incident an ‘isolated case’

A very bad week for Philippine science

They killed him like cowards

Slain botanist also worked in Cordillera

Deputy commander of 8th ID says sanctions would be meted to soldiers if found responsible on death of 3 civilians

Leyte sets up ‘safety protocol’

Statement: Philippine Native Plants Conservation Society, Inc. calls for Justice for their late President Leonard Co

Candor hides grief over loss of admired botanist

Investigators set out to probe botanist’s death

Wife of slain forest guard seeks justice

But they still don’t know whose bullet killed botanist

Co probe mission off to Leyte

Citizen-based fact-finding mission off to probe botanist’s death

Cordillera NGOs mourn Co, salute him as ‘scientist of the people’

The irreplaceable ‘Sayang-tist’

Solons doubt botanist killed in crossfire, seek probe

9 firearms used in Kananga shooting turned over

UP forensic experts to autopsy slain botanist’s companions

De Lima orders probe of botanist’s death

Police probers point to ‘NPA presence’ in botanist’s death

No crossfire

Cordillera NGOs mourn Co, salute him as ‘scientist of the people’

Botanist’s case not isolated, says health group

No apologies offered for death of civilians

Leonard Co, son of UP, is home

Lopez group mourns slay of top botanist, 2 others

“Killing of the Philippines’ top botanist, Leonardo L. Co: another case of shoot first, ask questions later?” — KARAPATAN

Groups Say Impunity in Human Rights Violations Resulted in the Killing of Renowned Botanist

Kin of farmers killed with botanist demand impartial probe

Leonardo Co

Military knew Leonard Co was in the area – EDC

‘Slain UP botanist a rare species’

Agham calls for independent probe into Co’s killing

Who really killed leading botanist?

Slain botanist heard begging for mercy

‘Gunfire came from one direction’

Family doubts botanist killed in crossfire

Leyte ‘crossfire’ survivor: I did not hear exchange of gunfire

Rebels, military in blame game over killing of top botanist

‘Bullets did not come from soldiers,’ says AFP commander on crossfire casualties

NDF-EV condemns yet another 19th IB massacre claiming the lives of a distinguished scientist and his two assistants

Cayetano seeks independent probe into botanist’s death



Tribute to the slain botanist, Leonardo Co:

Tragic loss amid climate of impunity

A revolutionary tribute to a true people’s scientist-CPDF (NDF)

Biodiversity Heroes

Leonard, the ‘plant philanderer,’ lies among his treasures

The death of a scientist

In praise of good men

Thanks, Professor Co

Leonard Co (1953-2010), Filipino botanist

Work of Leonard Co on medicinal plants

In Memoriam: Leonardo L. Co (1953-2010),  by Jerry Gracio on Wednesday, November 17, 2010 at 1:36am

Leonard Co (1953-2010), Filipino botanist

Remembering Leonard Co

Leonard Co: Naming the plants, planting the seeds

Ang kahalagahan ng ginagawa ni Professor Leonardo Co

Leonard Co: Scientist for the People

UP’s plant-man extraordinaire

In memory of Dr. Daniel Lagunzad and Leonard Co

In Memoriam: Leonard Co (1953-2010)

A botanists’ legacy

Leonardo Co

Facebook Page: Leonardo L. Co: In Memoriam

Tarsiers For Sale and then some!

The selling of tarsiers is still happening in the Philippines despite the numerous laws and administrative orders banning this practice. I chanced on a seller over at, a popular online market site, advertising the sale of a pair of tarsiers for PhP9,000.00/USD 205.20. Apparently, the seller has already sold three pairs of tarsiers as per his comment on the online ad he posted: “Sold 1 pair to LEI of Antipolo. Sold 2 Pairs to Keen of Forbes park. These people can afford to take care of these lovely pets. They showed me the place where they will keep and nest them.”

In the Philippines, Tarsius syrichta is considered as a “specially protected faunal species” through Proclamation 1030 released by the President Ramos administration in 1997. The proclamation prohibits the hunting, killing, wounding, taking away, or possession of tarsiers and the destruction of its habitat. It also encouraged the establishment of sanctuaries “to preserve and protect the species.” In 2001, the Republic Act No. 9147 or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act was passed to conserve the country’s remaining wildlife resources and their habitats, including the tarsiers. Several other ordinances were enacted at the provincial and town levels to stem the capture and live trade of tarsiers.

The apparent disconnect between state policies and the actual practice points at the need to rethink the conservation strategies for this primate. As I understand, the dominant conservation framework remains to be ecotourism, which is aimed at increasing revenues for the ‘community’ and, at the same time, conserving ‘nature.’ But with reports still coming about the sale of tarsiers, it would be worthwhile to investigate whether this framework has instead led to more species endangerment. Elsewhere, ecotourism has “accelerated the endangering of the survival of fragile and endemic species” (Honey, 2008)–most likely true also in the Philippines.

Alternatively, it would be interesting to investigate how ‘ecotourism’ is interpreted locally. A cursory visit to various tourist sites in the Philippines will show that ‘wildlife’ tourism is one of the country’s main tourist draw. In fact, some viewing stations display “wildlife” (with DENR permits) to encourage tourists to visit their place for a fee. In Albur, Bohol, for example, one of the tourist stops is a “mini-zoo” of various endemic and migratory animals. Thus, if the cages for birds, flying lemurs, grass owls, and macaques of this town are indications of what ecotourism is at the local level, then there is indeed an urgent need to understand more the dynamics of tourism, conservation, local community, and the environment.

Here are some photos from the viewing station in Albur, Bohol (photos courtesy of Lori Fields)

Juvenile long-tailed macaque (photo courtesy of Lori Fields)
Flying Lemur (photo courtesy of Lori Fields)


Let me also share this section of our paper (with Carla Escabi–Time Travelling’s other “us“) on the early days of hunting for tarsiers in Corella, Bohol:

The 1980’s saw some changes in the hunting techniques of the Corellanos. Hunters developed a new set of hunting techniques for tarsiers. Dogs (ayam) were trained to hunt (pangayam) for tarsiers. The dogs pick up the scent of a tarsier and chase it. As a response, the tarsier climbs to the highest reaches of the branches. The hunter then follows the dogs’ barks and captures the tarsier with a net or with a piece of cloth, usually a shirt. Often the tarsier dies, especially if the plant that it is clinging to is within the reach of a dog. Yet the use of dogs for hunting tarsiers is not widespread in Corella. Neither have specialized traps been developed for tarsiers. Corellanos saw tarsier traps only when scientists came and used mesh nets to capture them. Interestingly, Dagosto et al. (2003: 249) solicited the help of “trained guides with hunting dogs” in their study of tarsiers in Mount Pangasugan on the island of Leyte.

Corella hunters pursue tarsiers using their “knowledge of the forest.” They notice that a tarsier is “near” through its smell and calls. One informant describes the tarsier’s smell as having a stench akin to that of a bat. Recounting his experience in catching tarsier, he relates:

One needs to approach a tarsier in a certain manner. I silently get closer to it, one step at a time. When the tarsier is not looking in my direction, I make one little step. Watching the tarsier from the sides of my eyes and keeping my head down helps, because the tarsier will not feel intimidated by this body position. Once I am near to where the tarsier is grasping, I try to read its movements. Knowing these is important, and especially how its body is positioned, because these will indicate to you the prospective twig or branch that it might jump to. You can grab the tarsier then and there or, if not, you can force it to jump to the prospective twig and then sway the twig so that the tarsier cannot reach it. Once it falls to the ground, it can easily be captured.

Another informant says:

If I find a tarsier infant, all I do is wait for the mother to come. The mother usually tries to make you follow her so that you will get her instead of the infant. And when you do follow her, you will lose sight of her as she heads for the bushes. I discovered that the mother usually comes back once the threat is gone. So one time I grabbed the infant and put it under my shirt to make it relax. It is the beating of the heart that calms it. Suddenly the mother jumped onto my back, searching for her baby. I took pity on them and just left them in the wild.

Tarsier hunting in Corella in the 1980’s came about as a response to three factors: a) external demand for live tarsiers, b) external demand for tarsiers for taxidermy (embalsamu), and c) the practice of keeping tarsiers to show to or lure tourists. Tarsiers have become visible in the money market as a commodity. Spielmann and Eder (1994: 318), writing about the hunter-gatherers, made sense when they said:

…if hunter-gatherers are intensifying hunting to participate in an exchange system, the organization of the hunt and/or species targeted for the hunt will probably change from the pre-trade situation. The ethnographic record contains numerous references to differences in hunter-gatherer hunting techniques and technology that are attributed to the demands of exchange [emphases ours].

The live tarsier trade for export in the Philippines started on October 17, 1850 with Amsterdam as the receiving destination. Fitch-Snyder (2003: 278-282) recorded that a total of 130 tarsiers from 1850 to 1986 were exported from the Philippines (see her table on p. 279) with the United States, Europe, and Japan as top importers. Thirty-nine percent were exported from August 1981 to November 21, 1986. Most of these tarsiers ended up in universities, zoos, and museums. Although the number of tarsiers that reached a target destination was relatively low, this may not represent the actual quantity of tarsiers exported. According to Cowlishaw and Dunbar (2000: 263-264), “There is a substantial additional loss associated with mortality during capture, storage, and transport, and this may ultimately be the greatest source of population loss.”

Our fieldwork in Corella supports Fitch-Snyder’s data that there was an increase in captured tarsiers in the 1980’s. In this period, Corella hunters specialized in tarsiers because of the orders of buyers from Tagbilaran, the provincial capital of Bohol, who in turn were commissioned by middlemen from outside the province. Petshop owners as far away as Manila bought Bohol tarsiers. Hunters were informed that some tarsiers were going to Cebu. Nong Lito participated in the capture of 15 live tarsiers for a certain Louis Weaver, travelling on the inaugural flight of an airline company bound for Chicago (around 1985). They were intended, he was told, for Chicago zoos and universities elsewhere in the United States. Patricia Wright, a primatologist, also “obtained and imported…tarsiers for breeding and for research purposes after surveying the Philippine Island of Bohol in 1985” (Fitch-Snyder 2003: 281).

A hunter recalled that hunting of tarsiers was profitable at that time for a single tarsier could fetch P50-P200 and orders sometimes reached more than 50 tarsiers. One of my informants remarked that the tarsier trade was so lucrative in contrast to farming that many hunters ceased to farm their lands and devoted their time instead to hunting tarsiers. “With farming, you have to wait for four months (referring to the harvest) before you can get your money. With tarsier hunting, you get your monetary rewards immediately,” he said. Thus for some Corellanos, the 1980’s heralded a shift to the commercial hunting of tarsiers.

But hunting Tarsius syrichta for the market also happened prior to the 1980’s. The earliest record of supplying tarsiers for buyers outside of Bohol is in 1930 when Professor Hegner from Johns Hopkins University obtained an anatomical specimen from the province (Fulton 1939). Back then, early tarsier researchers were confronted with the difficulty of locating tarsiers. Recording his exasperation, Fulton (1939: 566-567) remarked:

…nearly a week was wasted on trips through the inland jungles in search of a specimen…Nearly every native of whom we inquired had either seen a ‘maomag’ a few days earlier or knew of someone who had seen one. One day the trail seemed hot and a report came through that a native in a neighboring town was keeping one as a pet, but when we arrived we found only a dead and partly ant-eaten specimen…Others were reported at distant ends of the island, but we seemed always to arrive just after the animal had escaped, or after the neighbor’s dog had eaten it; and after many a frantic chase through the jungle of this incredibly hot and humid island, I was obliged eventually to fly back to Manila without having seen a living Tarsius.

Fulton eventually was able to procure some 30 tarsiers through a local hunter, Jorge Lumantao of Tagbilaran. In Corella, Cañete (2003: 187) records that “the collection of live tarsiers originated when Japanese sailors on vessels making stopovers at Bohol…began exchanging transistor radios for live tarsiers with the locals.”

Taking tarsiers from the wild also occurred on neighboring islands. In Samar, for example, Cabrera (1923:91) noted that “natives sometimes carried tarsiers for sale.” Cook, a retired U.S. army captain, found it easy to procure tarsiers in Davao. He bought 15 tarsiers for $1.20 each from the locals. He said that the tarsiers were “captured in daytime, but only one was caught in a tree. This was a half grown specimen, seen in a small tree just after dawn, and secured by cutting down the tree. One was seen on the tip of a stalk of tibgao, a tall and strong grass, and caught while making a flying leap. Others were captured in vines, hemp plantings, and in underbrush…” (Cook 1939:173).

La Perla Street Art

La Perla is a community right by the historic structures of Viejo San Juan. The houses sit in a slope sandwiched between the raging Atlantic Ocean and the centuries-old cobblestone road leading to El Morro, a Spanish-era fortress. Together with a friend, we coursed through the narrow streets and took pictures of the graffiti and mural painted on the walls. I took the liberty to take pictures for posterity’s sake, before these street scenes get painted over.

La Perla

What remains of Casa de los Peluches, a building across La Perla

Surfboards Somewhere in Old San Juan

Siempre Maria Bike in Old San Juan

Street artists painted murals and graffiti on the walls and houses. Here below are some of their obras:












At the end of the road is the Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery. In this cemetery, Reba Stewart’s tomb has become a pilgrimage site of sorts for tourists, artists, and pagans because of its unusual design. Some Puerto Ricans call her tomb, La Tumba de la Bruja or the Tomb of the Witch. Reba Stewart was an American-born artist who had spent time studying Taino art and symbols. The fortress at the back is El Morro, one of the oldest Spanish fortresses in the world. For  more info about Reba Stewart and the popular belief surrounding her, please click here and here.

Reba Stewart’s Tomb

Local kids posing with the tomb

Raising Gabi: Bilingualism in Puerto Rico

Enseñame,” I said to Gabi, my almost 3-year old daughter, after she tried to say something in Spanish but, for the life of me, I failed to understand. She grabbed the edge of my shirt, pulled me next to the cabinet, and pointed at the row of baby dresses. “Traaaa-jeee… Traaaaa-jeeee,” she let the syllables slide slow and deliberate, obviously wondering why I cannot connect traje with clothes that princesses wear.

You see, Gabi has been around many places. In almost three years of her existence on earth, she has travelled the span of the Pacific and Atlantic, going wherever the fate of her parents went. For every mileage she took, she crossed boundaries. She was born in Cebu, a central island in the Philippines, and for the most part grew up with Cebuano speakers. At about a year old, she left for the continental US with Carla, her mother, and thus was exposed to English speakers. Several months after that, she moved to Puerto Rico, immersing herself in the Boricuan traditions of her mother’s side; eventually, she gained a modicum of proficiency in Spanish, some English gibberish, and no Cebuano. Later on, I joined them in Puerto Rico, bringing with me a spoonful of Castilian nouns, a legacy of a 12-unit academic credit and three centuries of Spanish colonization.

Unlike Puerto Rico where Spanish is the lingua franca, the Spanish conquistadores were uninterested in spreading their language in the Philippines. According to Gonzalez (1998:495),

In the Philippines during the evangelisation period under the Spanish religious orders beginning with the arrival of Legazpi in l565, the strategy of the Spanish religious orders was not for the locals to learn Spanish but for the Spanish-speaking missionaries to learn the local languages, which they did with impressive success…In spite of repeated instructions from the Crown on teaching the natives the Spanish language, there was only a little compliance. Instead the friars using common sense, kept employing the local languages, so much so that in the period of intense nationalism in the nineteenth century, the failure of the Spanish friars to teach Spanish was used by some of the ilustrados (Filipinos educated in Spain) as a reason to accuse the friars of deliberately keeping Spanish away from the natives so as to prevent them from advancing themselves.

As a result of our colonial encounters, what we have is a hodgepodge of Spanish words with a dash of Cebuano and English, all structured within a Cebuano grammatical base. For example, Como estas tu? (How are you?) is kumusta ka in Cebuano. In many cases, words from three different languages often coexist in a sentence, like in the case of Wa na koy amor sa akong boyfriend! (I don’t love my boyfriend anymore!); amor being Spanish and the rest is in Cebuano (except for boyfriend, which is, of course, English). Some words are Spanish in origin but the meaning is reconfigured into the local experience. Salida in Spanish means “exit” but for Cebuanos, salida translates as movie. When driving, Cebuanos say de silla (literal Spanish: “of the chair”) to denote left and de mano (literal Spanish: “of the hand”) for right.

What further complicates the language divide between me and my daughter is the kind of Spanish spoken in Puerto Rico. This Spanish is fast-paced, as rapid as the staccato of bullets and as frenetic as salsa. Phrases and words are shortened; letters are switched or unpronounced. Puerto Ricans substitute /r/ for /l/, so jugar (to play) is pronounced jugal. They also do not say /n/ much and use /ng/ instead. So, my partner’s relatives call me Bong instead of Bonn. Also, if the /s/ is at the end of the word, they omit it and replace /s/ with a guttural /h/. Like many countries of Latin America and parts of Spain, /ll/ and /y/ is pronounced here as /j/, so relleno (stuffed) is re/j/eno and yautia (a kind of yam) is /j/autia. They also have words that are English in origin, like zafacon, shortened version for safety container (trash bin). At home, one can hear words in Cebuano, English, and Spanish. Oftentimes, I speak to Gabi in English with a few Spanish phrases and gestures to drive home a point. When all else fails, I ask her mom to translate for me.

What I fear about Gabi growing up bilingual is the warning posed by some researchers that bilingual children need “at least five to six years of school attendance…to reach the level of his monolingual schoolmates” (Cummins 1984 cited in Tzivinikou 2004: 468). An early author on bilingualism, Adler (1977:4 quoted in Baker 2001:17) even went further by suggesting that the bilingual child has “his standards split, he becomes more inarticulate than one would expect of one who can express himself in two languages, his emotions are more instinctive, in short, bilingualism can lead to a split personality and, at worst, to schizophrenia.”

The Language Enhancing the Achievement of Pasifika (LEAP) of the New Zealand Ministry of Education (NZME) however dismisses these conclusions. LEAP maintains that early studies on bilingualism are hindered by methodological issues. According to the LEAP (see retrieved: 2010), the

“context was never properly taken into account. (M)any of the bilingual students sampled were in subtractive bilingual environments and this, not their bilingualism, may have placed them at a disadvantage. Furthermore, there was no proper matching. To compare the cognitive ability of a group of bilingual children with monolingual students requires that the two groups be equal in all other respects (for example, socioeconomic status, gender, age, type of school attended, and urban/rural contexts). This did not occur, and these other factors ‘confounded’ the results.”

Using Jim Cummins’ common underlying proficiency (CUP) model, LEAP posits that “bilingualism and multilingualism are possible because people have the capacity to easily store two or more languages. People can also function in two or more languages with relative ease.” And it is not only LEAP that extols the merits of bilingualism. No less than the Linguistic Society of America argues that “bilingualism isn’t a danger either to the English language or to the bilingual speakers themselves. On the contrary, there are many advantages to bilingualism, both for the individual and for the society as a whole” (Birner, retrieved: 2010).

Going back to Gabi, we know she has been absorbing a lot of words. In the near future, she will be adept in the nuances of English, Spanish, and Cebuano. Who knows she might even decide to learn a few more languages on her own as she gets older. But right now, in this cacophony of linguistic traditions at home, sometimes that tiny palm gripping my finger says it all.


Baker, Colin. Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 3rd ed. Multilingual Matters, Clevedon. 2001

Birner, Betty. Bilingualism. Retrieved: January 8, 2010

Gonzalez, Andrew “The Language Planning Situation in the Philippines” (PDF). Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 1998: 19 (5, 6).

Tzivinikou, Soteria. Development of Speech Problems and Bilingualism: The Difficulties of Identification in International Education Journal 2004: Vol 5, No 4.

Gonzalez, A. (1998). The Language Planning Situation in the Philippines Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 19 (5), 487-525 DOI: 10.1080/01434639808666365

Language Enhancing the Achievements of Pasifika. 8 January 2010.