Tungtong River Conservation Project

an environmental advocacy of the Holistic Education and Development Center

Category: Write Ups (Page 1 of 2)

I went to the river by Patricia Calderon

The TRCP has always believed in the central role of the youth in conservation efforts.  The following poem from Patricia Calderon (HEDCen HS Batch 2015-2016) is a prime example.  Amidst the distractions of summer break and while preparing for college, Patricia’s mind (and heart) took a moment to fly to the river that she loves.  No, Pat will not take up Environmental Science in college but she will definitely remain an environmentalist where it matters.

The same goes for Rye Delfin (HEDCen HS Batch 2010-2011) whose pictures do more than just embellish Pat’s words.  He took these and more for his college project in advertising.  Rye, who is now training to be a full-pledged commercial airline pilot, will truly keep his love for our Mother Earth burning in his heart.


Cheers to Pat and Rye!  Two reasons to keep doing what we’re doing!


Roses are red, violets are blue and ipil flowers say “We love you!” (Water color by Teacher Emma,

Teacher Emm13461344_10206562277603221_397878716_oa Gutierrez, foundress of TRCP’s host school (HEDCen-TLFH), is a masterful water color artist and her recent work shown at left attests to this.  She painted blooms of young Ipil (Intsia bijuga) trees planted by baristas of a well-known coffee shop last 2011.  The Ipil trees have been flowering for the past two years but this has been the first artistic rendition of them.  She has graciously allowed use of this painting as part of the promotional materials distributed during the Makati Block Party last July 3.

I am pretty sure that if they were to speak, these flowers would definitely say “We love you!” to the people who have been working so hard at their conservation.  Cheers to the 60 baristas who helped us to establish TRCP’s Tree Conservatory!

I'm sure Mother Nature would "Like" this

I don’t consider myself a painter though I dabble in the art when the mood hits me.  Even so, I have strong opinions on art.  For me, good art should move people and the best artworks are those that move people in their innermost senses.  Art should ignite people’s passions and makes them yearn to achieve their desires- whether it is transforming the world or simply attaining a calm reminiscent of a pool of spring water reflecting the sun and the clouds while belying its depth with crystal clear images of rocks and pebbles.

Such, for me is art.

And I would like to take the time to share in this blog of the Tungtong River one such art work by a good friend and co-teacher of mine: Ms. Tessa Diamse.

Tessa art

This artwork (and the fact that it was done on-the-spot) makes me want to do so much more for this river that I love.

Teacher Tessa starting her artwork

Teacher Tessa starting her artwork

To see more of Ms. Tessa’s work, visit her Facebook account:


Post by Henry G. Calilung (TRCP Coordinator)

The Spotted Wood Kingfisher spotted at last!

Spotted Wood Kingfisher

March 6, 2013, 12nn.  We were having our 3rd trim conduct deliberations for the Grade 6 batch in the Grade 4 classroom.  During one of the more quiet minutes, I decompressed my lower back by walking to the window to look out on the neighboring vacant property which was heavily wooded (2nd growth).  We were in a second-floor classroom so I was actually looking down when I spotted (at last!) perched on the cyclone fence, a Spotted Wood Kingfisher (Actenoides lindsayi).  The fence was bordering our school’s Sampaloc Garden and, for the past 2 years, 4 anecdotal sightings of the bird have been reported to me by faculty members and by maintenance staff.  Since none of them were birders, I did my best to arrive at a best guess by showing them pictures both from the web and from Kennedy.  I myself had a quick glimpse around March of 2012 but twilight was fast approaching then, the light was tricky, and (Murphy often makes sure of this) I didn’t have any bins on me since I was on a quick errand to the Science Lab to check on some experimental set-ups.  So I reported the Spotted Wood as a tentative in our TRCP bird species list until now.

The past two years of habitually scanning the trees of the Sampaloc Garden (and I did it as often as my academic obligations permitted) was finally rewarded by at least 8 minutes of glorious birdwatching time.  The bird perched on the fence (it was itself looking down on the woodland property) oblivious to mine pair of eager eyes watching it (devouring it would be more apt) from the second-floor window.  Needless to say, I interrupted the conduct deliberations as I hailed Teacher Emma and Teacher Rubby who were themselves bird enthusiasts (and I knew they would never forgive me for not calling them on a moment such as this).  Teacher Emma, our Center Director, immediately  took pictures with her i-phone while Teacher Rubby dashed to get our school library’s most decent point-and-shoot (dang the fact that I didn’t have money enough yet for a real SLR with a decent birding lens!).

To cut a long caper short, the two teachers even had time to go down to the garden and take shots from a distance of about 10 meters.  The bird must have had something interesting to occupy its attention for it obliged us by not flying away until we’ve had our fill (well, nearly).  The three shots posted here are the best we have but they can never approximate the thrill I felt upon seeing for the first time a bird as magnificent as the Spotted Wood Kingfisher.  This is certainly a lifer for me (for non-birders, a lifer is a bird sighting that stands out in a list of numerous sightings).

PS  The Spotted Wood Kingfisher (Actenoides lindsayi) is a lowland forest bird which perches in dark understory recesses singly or in pairs.  The adult measures 10″ from beak to tail (about one ruler’s length).  The species is found only in Luzon, Marinduque, Panay and Negros.  To learn more, kindly visit the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.  (After consulting Kennedy’s Guide, my best guess is that the pictures above show an adult female).

Los martines pescadores by Peter Ting

The kingfishers by Peter Ting.

Forgive the Spanish title but the Spanish word for fishermen (pescadores) holds a special place in my heart and is, in my opinion, more than apt for the season.  He entrusted His apostles to become Fishers of Men.  It is also my prayer that more and more people heed the Eco-gospel so that we can form a critical mass that will turn us from the path of self-destruction we have chosen to trod in our pursuit of so-called progress.  We have chosen malls over forests, gadgets over birds and are very much on our way to “killing our Eywa- our Mother” (from the movie Avatar by James Cameron) without realizing that to kill Her is to kill ourselves.  By destroying our environment, we have placed ourselves on the endangered list (from the documentary The Sacred Planet by Jon Long).

Let these images taken by Peter Ting in the Tungtong River watershed remind us of our sacred duty as stewards of this planet.  May we also remember, as we visit churches and recall our religious obligations, that we are but tenants on this Earth- that we, human beings, share this world with other beings.

PS Peter Ting is a member of the Wild Bird Photographers of the Philippines.  The gallery also features birds that are not kingfishers, namely, Pied bushchats, Grey-streaked flycatchers and Philippine pygmy woodpeckers.

Daytoy Karayán ti Biág

The title is the literal Ilokano translation of “This River of Life.”  It refers to the Tungtong River in its two fold role: (1) that of providing us with fresh water and fresh air- those two substances without which life would not be worth living; and (2) of serving as a last bastion, a fortress if you will, where various wondrous creatures claim sanctuary in this world of man and his machines.

I have often wished that I was born during pre-Hispanic times and so would have seen and enjoyed the wonders of our archipelago which, at 98% forest cover, is said to be the most forested group of islands at that time.  Sparkling sands bordered by azure waters would be my dwelling place.  Dark green primeval forests would be my hunting grounds.  And glades of moss punctuated by glittering cascades would be my secret garden, my refuge.  Alas, such visions are but flights of fancy which, though we may re-enact, will forever be lost to us in these modern times.

Allow me, therefor, to take you up on one such fanciful flight as we witness the recreation of a lost world by the San Juan High School Cultural Dance Group.  These elegant young dreamers visited the Tungtong River last March 12, 2011 and held an extraordinary fashion show hosted by Mr. Ken Roberts, a resident of the Maharlika Hills Subdivision, Taytay, Rizal whose heart has long since been enamored of the river.  They were kind enough to give me permission to post these pictures in which we may glimpse, with just a bit of imaginative work, what “Karayán ti Biág” really means.

The slideshow that follows contains 37 pictures.  I beg your indulgence as it loads.

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PS  I have yet to receive the group’s contact information.  I will update this post as soon as I get it.

Look through the shady trees of summer

Look through the shady trees of summer

Hear the song of the birds

Run with the waters of the river

You’ll never realize

How much will be wasted

If this was never seen

Hidden, as people may find it

Wrecked, as the creatures see it

Happiness it’s filled with

Tears of the rain it’s submerged in

Leaves fall down from the branches

Down they go with laughter and sadness

They go on a long way

And then,

They stop.

I climb down the rocks

To hear the sound of the rush

The crystals hidden in the water

Stay hidden

And could never be found

The footprints of children stay in there

For it cannot forget the happiness it had

When it had people that see its beauty

No ordinary person could see

Shout at the rocks

Hear no reply

Peacefully it sits near the waters

It doesn’t want anything

But silence

And the melody of the falls

Slowly the grass dances

With the wind

Gracefully it sways

To the leaps of the insects

If this was never found,

What would it be now?

Words by Eunice Aaron (HEDCen HS IV Batch 2011-2012)

Photo by Rye Delfin (HEDCen HS Graduate Batch 2010-2011)

PS from H: Kindly take the time to “like” this post.  I am truly proud to showcase such works of my students.

The first fruits of Science Expo 2011-2012

The Tungtong River Conservation Project has played host to numerous student groups who wish to conduct an environment-related Expo project.  The Science Expo is a year-long “thesis” conducted by Grade 1 to 3rd yr HS students of the Holistic Education and Development Center (HEDCen).  It culminates in a panel defense which is worth 30% of their 3rd trimester final grade.

I am currently handling 10 groups (1 from Grade 6, 1 from HSI, 1 from HSII, and 7  from HSIII).  I would like to share the first set of photos taken as valid data by the group of 3rd year students making a digital library of the watershed’s butterfly species.  They are Anton Solatorio, Chelsea Caba and Denzi Moraleta.  I am very impressed with your work so far, may you carry on with the same level of enthusiasm right up to the defense on February, 2012.  Good luck and the river is lucky to have young environmentalists such as your selves! (The following are from the very promising student-photographer Denzi Moraleta.)

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War and peace


 What is War? What is Peace?

By: Dafrose Bajaro, 4th yr HS, Holistic Education and Development Center

Last September 1, 2011, as presidentiables for the Student Council, Joshua Pacunayen and I were invited to go to a seminar about peace and conflict at Starbucks, Fort Bonifacio together with Sir Henry, Teacher Jali, Sir Franco, Teacher Cecille and Teacher Mavit. The speakers were Mr. Dominic Hannigan, a member of the Irish parliament, and Mr. Francisco Lara Jr., Country Director of International Alert. While Mr. Hannigan mostly spoke of the history and current status of the conflict between Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland, Mr. Lara on the other hand, answered frequently asked questions about the local problem in Mindanao between the MILF and the government.  

I would like to share with you three major lessons I personally learned from the 1 ½-hour talk.

 First, as people born and living in Metro Manila, why do we need to know or care about the chaos happening in Mindanao?

Albeit, the situation seems so far away, the effect is much closer than we think.   Aside from the number of deaths caused by the rampant killings, many people from Mindanao, yearning for peaceful lives, relocate themselves in search of secure shelters and financially stable futures.  Most end up here in Metro Manila.  I am not saying that we don’t want our fellow brothers and sisters here, but it is an unavoidable fact that Manila is already overpopulated and thus, most of the refugees end up becoming illegal settlers.   Of course, we don’t want anyone living in such conditions.  As much as possible, each and everyone of our brothers and sisters in and from Mindanao should have equal opportunities starting with the basic rights all human beings are entitled to: food, shelter and education.

Second, I learned that we always have to filter what the media says.

Sometimes, just because of how reporters say something on the newspaper, the TV, the radio and the internet, we are “forced” to believe that what they actually say is true.  Just like how I was always led to believe of the conflicts in Mindanao- that the bottom line is that of religion.  The speakers, however, mentioned that the real cause of the conflict is often very far from religion.  I therefore concluded that we have to filter whatever comes out of the media’s pen or mouth.  We have to process and see whether they are really talking about things objectively or whether they have a hidden bias.  Mr. Hannigan said that as the receiver of the information from the media, it is sometimes hard to detect to whether what they say is true or not.  Further, if you are the person the media is talking about or you were witness to the event itself, it is sometimes hard to believe how the media distorts reality in their reports.

 Third, the talk made me reassess my views about the conflict in Mindanao.

Of course, because of what the media always says, we have always believed that the conflict in Mindanao was about religion, the long-term fight between Christians and Muslims.  However, according to Mr. Lara, the conflict is actually a fight for huge land areas and/or scarce resources.  This was the thing that he said that made me think whether I had the right perspective towards the conflict.  If resources were really the root problem of the chaos there, why is it that the media blames it on religion and the differences between the faith of the Christians and the Muslims?  Sir H asked whether there are actions done in terms of managing the negative impact the violence has on Mindanao’s environment, in general, and on the plight of the Philippine Eagle in particular.  (Sir H mentioned that Mindanao’s forests more than half of the estimated 400 breeding pairs in the wild of this majestic animal).  The answer was no.  I really felt disappointed and sad upon hearing this.  I think that if we really want to make a resolution to the chaos in Mindanao, or to any other conflict for that matter, we must first identify and address the root problem.  The sad part is that, like me who, at first, thought that religion was the primary cause of the conflict in Mindanao (thanks to the lies and half-truths of the media), many people (maybe even including government officials) still don’t know the roots of this conflict.  As such, how can we hope to even begin looking for effective resolutions to the conflict?

Though I thought that the subject of the talk would not suit my interests at first, I am very happy and very thankful for the opportunity to attend such a seminar.  The talk made me re-examine my thoughts about the conflict happening in Mindanao, and society in general.  In short, I have learned a quite a lot through the peace talk and I hope I might be able keep in mind the lessons I have learned.  Indeed, the world is not just about me or the people I talk to everyday.  There is a lot more happening outside of my familiar circle and I, more so because of my aspiration to be a leader of my fellow students, need to be aware of it.

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 Who suffers the most?

By: Henry Calilung

Guns and bullets.  Soldiers and rebels.  Goons and gold.  I have always looked at the conflict in Mindanao as something too complicated for a simple teacher of environmental science.  My mind cannot (or perhaps I do not let it) even begin to grasp the dimensions of the problem, much less look for its solution.  But I have always found comfort in the knowledge that brighter minds than mine are working day in and day out to forge a lasting peace in this war torn land. 

 Until last September 1, 2011. 

The revelation that the fate of Mindanao’s forests (and the very survival of the wildlife treasures it and it alone contains) has no place in the peace talks left me reeling.  Why is it that we humans are so quick to act as if we are the sole residents of this planet?  Why is it that we look on our surroundings as mere things- objects that have no other purpose but to serve our every whim?  When will we realize that we are not the center of this Earth?  The violence in Mindanao is a glaring testament to man’s selfishness.  What matters is what we want, what we can get, and what we cannot live without.  Has anyone even thought about the needs of the other beings on Earth?  The humble Mindanao Pygmy Fruit Bat, the wide-eyed Tarsier, the imperial Waling-Waling, Queen of Philippine Orchids, and the majestic Philippine Eagle.  These are but a few of the wildlife treasures found only in the Philippines that face extinction if the war in Mindanao (and the general insurgency problem in the country) is not soon resolved. 

The fate of the late Dr. Leonardo Co underlines the severity of the situation.  Dr. Co was purportedly killed in a cross-fire between the NPA and the military in the mountains of Kananga, Leyte last November 15, 2010.  What was he doing?  He was making an inventory of the area’s flora.  He was killed even as he worked towards saving the country’s remaining 3% primary forest cover.  His encyclopaedic knowledge of Philippine plants, respected by botanists world-wide, is now irrevocably lost.

Who suffers the most?

A Philippine Eagle was shot dead and eaten by a farmer in Bukidnon last July 2008.  His family was hungry, the
bird was meat- nothing more.  Would he have done so if he had sufficient food on the table?  Would he have been hungry if the laws of food supply and demand in his part of the world were uncomplicated by civil unrest?

Who suffers the most?

Brighter minds than mine will work this problem out- of this I can do nothing but hope.  But what I can do is to make my students realize that we are but tenants in this land.  That we own nothing.  That we have about as much right on this planet as the lowliest of earthworms who toil day in and day out to make the land fertile- land that we farm, land that we covet, land that we are willing to kill for.  Why can’t we see this?  Why do we refuse to see this? 

In the river there is peace

Someone once told me that the best way to teach a child about peace is to make him hold a live butterfly in the palm of his hand. Something so fragile at the mercy of someone so powerful.

Isn’t that how many conflicts arise–persons using their power to take advantage over others? Humans crushing butterflies. We see it everyday in the form of bullies, negative peer pressure, power tripping, disregard for the poor, and armed conflict where women and children are most vulnerable.

Through the Tungtong River Conservation Project, we continually hold life in the palms of our hands. Butterflies, frogs, bats, birds, flowers, and even the water that flows through the Tungtong River. These are fragile life forms that can either die or thrive in our hands.

I have witnessed many promising things in my visits to Tungtong–children treating tiny creatures with respect, children picking up trash along the riverbank, children treading carefully through the river as not to disturb the life beneath the water surface. I hope that when these children grow up, they treat other human beings with respect. I hope they learn to be responsible for the waste they create. I hope they continue treading through life making a positive difference.

When our children realize that an open palm is much more powerful than a clenched, fighting fist, they have learned a very valuable lesson. We have seen too many fists against fists. We need more open palms that choose peace and allow life to flourish.


Words are from Teacher Jali (Ms. Majalya Fernando)

Photo by Coach Juaqui (Mr. Juan Carlos Gutierrez) of the Common Egg-fly butterfly (Hypolimnas bolina)

River cascade, river clean-up and leaf dew drops photos by Rye (Mr. Rye Delfin, HEDCen HS batch 2009-2010)

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