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The silence of the clams

From the movie “The Silence of the Lambs,” one learns the meaning of the title as the slaughter of the innocents. But lambs aren’t really all that silent; they bleat when frightened or when they sense danger.

Not so with clams. Unable to raise a howl, clams simply clam up. As when Chinese poachers steal them from Philippine waters, where Filipino marine scientists and other protectors of marine life had so painstakingly placed them to make them grow into giant sea creatures.

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When news broke that Chinese poachers have harvested Filipino-reared giant clams (so like Chinese predators swooping down on Philippine-owned territories) and there were cries for the government to file a protest, Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. so crassly shrugged off the clams issue as “fucking food” and that he wouldn’t want to be known as a defender of clams. He also didn’t know there were giant clams (known in Filipino as taklobo) being raised there.

I conjured images of sea gods and goddesses of mythology armed with their pitchforks rising angrily from the deep blue undersea. Aquaman among them.

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Locsin has since changed his stance, but his “I am not going down in history as a clam defender” protestation still rankles.

On Monday, a team of scientists and graduate students from the University of the Philippines’ Marine Science Institute (UP-MSI) and experts from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources went on a research expedition in the West Philippine Sea in the area of the Kalayaan Group of Islands.

The Kalayaan Group of Islands includes Pag-asa, the biggest island in the group, claimed by the Philippines as it does the rest in the group. I had been there when only soldiers and a lone weatherman inhabited and guarded the island and its surroundings. That was in 1991.

According to a report by Chito Gaston of GMA News TV, the team sailed on board government research vessels to study marine biodiversity in the area and collect genetic samples. And, of course, to study the adverse effects on the marine ecosystem of China’s questionable reclamation activities in the area.

On the “fucking food” aspect: Well, Filipino fishermen have already noticed negative impacts on their sea catch, not including the giant clams being nurtured as those are not for harvesting, selling and eating, but of fish that means food and livelihood for them.

I was able to visit the UP-MSI’s Marine Laboratory in Bolinao, Pangasinan, years ago when the Bolinao townsfolk were protesting the entry of a Taiwanese corporation that would excavate and exploit the town’s limestone deposits and build a cement factory. I was doing a series on the issue then. To make a long story short, the Taiwanese firm and their Filipino would-be coinvestors backed off, but only after the locals put up a really, really good fight. I was glad to be of help.

While there, I was able to join UP’s marine scientists when they sailed out to sea to visit and examine the growing giant clams they had placed on the seabed. I also got to see the nursery where the baby clams were being nurtured. Credits go to UP-MSI founder and former director Dr. Edgardo Gomez who launched the giant clam project.

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Cape Bolinao is like any other besides its being a beach destination. I am no marine archaeologist, but I surmise the place must have been part of the sea eons ago because of the limestone and corals found even on high ground and, of course, the fossilized shells of giant clams that have been excavated from the earth. I saw lots of them lying around, and how I wished I could take one home.

Well, one day, someone knocked on my gate with two of those, one rather fossilized, the other one less so, but good enough to serve as a baptismal font. They were dug out from the ground, I was assured. They have beautified my garden.

The foreign secretary might want to read Inquirer Northern Luzon correspondent Gabriel Cardinoza’s feature story on the would-be giant clams’ journey from the UP-MSI nursery to the open sea (https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/playground-of-giant-clams).

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TAGS: Human Face, Ma. Ceres P. Doyo, Maritime Dispute, poaching of clams, Scarborough Shoal
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