Requiem for ‘Pamana’
AUSTIN, TEXAS—We christened you “inheritance,” but upon your demise, we are left to weep at the bitter irony.
Charles Lindbergh, the famous aviator, once called you the “world’s noblest flyer.” Little did he know that he was merely echoing our ancestors. They called you “haribon,” king of the birds, the largest and most majestic among the eagles. Inspired by your majesty, they told countless tales and named many mountains after your kind, bearing testament to the extent of your mighty realm. The mountains await your return, but now that you are gone, they, too, are left to mourn your absence, your death a grim portent of their own fate .
Scientists say that among your noble kind, a male and a female must reach several years of age before they could pair, build a nest, and have offspring. It takes two months to incubate an egg, and 20 months to raise a child until he or she is old enough to be independent. For the first seven weeks the mother and father take turns, watching over the child (there is usually just one egg), shielding him or her from the heat and the rain.
Do you have memories of your parents who, like other Philippine eagles, remain together for the rest of their lives until one of them dies? Do you remember them watching as you learned how to fly? For us who bear the collective guilt of your death, there is comfort in imagining that you at least had a happy childhood.
But, alas, such was not the case. You were barely a year old when you were severely injured by gunshot wounds and found listless on a mountain in Iligan. Thankfully, a farmer found you and brought you to the authorities, who promptly treated your wounds and gave you life-saving medicines.
To be mercilessly shot at such a tender age was a riveting tragedy, but it turned to hope when you recovered, regained your strength, and began to fly again. Not in the forests where you belonged, but at least in a place where you were safe.
After two years in captivity, they saw that you were ready to be released back to the wild. Surely, the people who took care of you knew what might happen; surely, many of them wished that you would not leave. But an eagle’s place is in the wild, and you were needed by your kindred for the survival of your species.
They released you on the day we celebrated our nation’s freedom, to symbolize that this freedom is not ours alone, but one that we must share with other inhabitants of our planet. Upon your release, we held to the hope that you may yet live up to your name: an inheritance for the next generation of both men and beasts.
Alas, after two fleeting months of freedom, those hopes, and your life, were extinguished by another bullet.
* * *
When you are called to bear witness to humanity, I will not blame you for calling us murderers, because we have brought death to the environment and extinction to countless species of wildlife. We have felled millions of trees, hunted innumerable animals, and plundered the earth. And to you we have been especially cruel, unmoved by your precarity, and the many years it takes to raise a single one of your kind.
Perhaps, however, you will remember the good people who loved and nurtured you: the farmer in Iligan who rescued you, the researchers and advocates in Davao who took care of you, the people who cheered you on as you took flight in your new home. Theirs are brave and dedicated hearts and they will keep fighting for the survival of your kind.
As for the rest of us, we have been shrill in our outrage, but wanting in action. Our memory has been short, too short to sustain the response that your predicament cries for. Kagsabua in 2008, Hagpa in 2011, and Minalwang in 2013: They, too, died in the hands of hunters and captors months after being released from captivity. And we, too, were outraged back then, but after a few days, our emotions faded away.
We have made laws to protect you, but they were powerless to prevent bullets. We have made you a national symbol, but our failure to protect you has become our national shame.
Even so, your death may yet change things.
For my part, I promise to transform my sorrow into action: to support the Philippine Eagle Foundation, and to lend my voice to the people who have dedicated their lives to the survival of your kind. May they be able to educate more people about the evil of hunting wild birds and other animals. May they also be able to communicate that you are not just a national treasure, but also part of a priceless global heritage.
To demand, alongside my Filipino brothers and sisters, swift justice, not only upon the hunter that killed you, but also upon those who hunt other endangered animals, and those who destroy your habitat in the name of progress.
To clamor for our leaders to take stronger action by strengthening our protected areas and boosting funds and resources for endangered wildlife research.
I pray that the few hundreds that comprise the last of your species will be spared from suffering your fate.
But much as I want to see your majestic wings in flight, I shall not ask for your resurrection, not into this world of greed and ignorance, of bullets that kill, and chainsaws that destroy. For you were created to fly in grace, not to flee in terror. You were created to live in peace for as long as we ourselves hope to live; to soar above our islands; to reign in our mountains; to see your own eaglets fly.
You were created for a world that no longer exists, and I know that I cannot wish for your return—unless we bring that world back.
Gideon Lasco is a physician and medical anthropologist. Visit his website on health, culture and society at www.gideonlasco.com.
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