By Mike Baños
The Philippine Eagle became the Philippine’s National Bird when then Pres. Fidel Ramos issued Proclamation No. 615 on July 4, 1995. We set aside the Maya (Monchura malacca jagori) as our national bird.
One of the 24 critically endangered species in the country, the Philippine Eagle is the second largest in the world, averaging about a meter in length with a wingspan of two meters. As such, it is protected under Republic Act 9147 or the Wildlife Resources and Protection Act of 2001 such that the harming, killing or mere possession of one is punishable by 6-10 years imprisonment or a fine of P100, 000-P1 million.
But since the law was enacted, no one has been punished for harming or killing a Philippine Eagle, although awareness has helped bail out those who fell into trouble, like the Eaglet recently caught in Cagayan de Oro suffering from some pellet shot wounds.
Due to the dwindling forests in Southern Mindanao, the raptors have been migrating to greener forests. One eagle requires 60-80 square kilometers territory to sustain itself, so the estimated 180 surviving eagles would need 10,800 to 14,400 square kilometers territory, or 13-17% of Central Mindanao’s remaining virgin forests.
So by the simple arithmetic of attrition, we’ll very soon have the dubious distinction of having a dinosaur as our national bird, ergo the Philippine Eagle is a dead duck. Let’s look further at the math of maintaining a single raptor: 60-80 square kilometers? How many barangays, towns or cities have that large an area?
Or consider how much former Vice President Noli de Castro spent to nurture Kabayan, only to have it electrocuted at an electric post in Mount Apo National Park. Let’s hope that’s not an omen because most everyone in the media industry from which VP Kabayan comes from knows what ‘nakuryente’ means.
Now, unless we want to have a dead duck, er dead bird as a national symbol, maybe the sitting Boss Tsip can consider bringing back the ubiquitous Maya as our national bird.
The very reasons why Fidel Ramos chose to replace the Maya as the Philippine Eagle smacks of the Pinoy’s unfortunate penchant to ape things Western, or American for that matter. Tabako thought the Haribon the better of the Bald Eagle of the U.S. of A, but failed to see the virtues of the lowly maya which are more reflective of the Pinoy’s virtues and strengths as a people.
Without necessarily drawing a parallel between their relative sizes, hopefully it would be easy for the sitting president to recognize how between Maya and Eagle, the former is easily the winner of the two, and hence worthy of all the extra column inches and airing minutes media can spare to trumpet its winning attributes worthy of emulation by all Pinoys during these troubled times:
The puny rice bird is a survivor, able to weather man’s depredations on its environment far better than the vanishing Philippine Eagle which needs an inordinately wide forest stand to sustain a small population.
Certainly, the latter’s lifestyle has no place in a world reeling from global warming as a result of the wanton consumerism espoused by the glutton economies of the so-called G-7 which account for a mere fraction of the world’s populace, yet consume over ninety percent of its resources.
Though small, the Maya is hardy yet ever merry in the company of his kind; surviving in the forest, mines, cities and highways of men where the solitary Eagles and Falcons find certain destruction.
I have no quarrel with the fight to save the Philippine Eagle from extinction. Friends tell me it perches on top of a food chain which may snap here and there if and when it vanishes. But national symbol for Pinoys it definitely is not.
That distinction belongs to the Maya because it is a national symbol that truly befits the Filipino and is a faithful reflection of his creed and ideals, and not a pathetic copycat of a former colonial master.