POSTSCRIPT / January 30, 2005 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Watch migratory birds in the Candaba swamp

NATURE TRIPPING: Want to go on a weekend nature trip today but have run out of destinations close enough to Manila? Try bird watching in the marshes of Candaba and renew your love affair with Nature.

You’ve never tried bird watching? No problem. Just go — bring binoculars and a telephoto lens for your camera — and enjoy whatever awaits you in the wind-swept swamp of Candaba. (The fresh country air alone — to blow away the soot in your city lungs — will be enough reason to come over.)

Migratory birds flying in perfect formation from as far as China have chosen for their winter haven the wetlands, particularly a 74-hectare tract in sitio Simang, opened to nature-lovers by Candaba Mayor Jerry Pelayo.

The best time to watch the pass-by, the hovering and the landing of the birds is at sunrise and sunset. But since you probably will read this after sunrise, your next option is to be there before 5 p.m. today.

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HUNTING BANNED: Or if you have time, camp out through the night and rise with sun break in time for the early morning flyby of the birds. The press photographers who did this recently came back with magnificent shots of the coveys circling and landing in the marsh.

What you witness late in the afternoon are mostly feathered flocks already in the area that flex their wings and fly around to pick which clump of trees to roost on for the night.

The trees, by the way, were planted by Mayor Pelayo as part of a conservation program that now includes an ordinance passed by the local council banning the hurting or hunting of the winged visitors and their native counterparts.

The mayor has made the wetlands more hospitable to migratory birds. Before he came around with his conservation gospel, hunters armed with nets and shotguns would appear this time of the year and haul down the birds indiscriminately. 

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NEAREST EXITS: Taking the new North Luzon Expressway — another breezy experience for the city dweller — the would-be bird-watcher can exit either at the Sta. Rita, San Simon or the San Fernando toll gate.

I listed the exits in the order of their nearness to Manila. But if you are coming from Angeles and other points north, reverse the order, with San Fernando as the nearest exit on your way to Candaba.

My recommendation for those coming from Manila is take the Sta. Rita exit, to save time and avoid that stretch of dirt road from the Candaba town proper to the Pelayo reserve in sitio Simang, which is the most convenient watching point.

From the Sta. Rita exit, you hit Pulilan town, then Baliuag (both in Bulacan). Do not go up the overpass leading to Baliuag town proper, but go to the service road to its right and turn left under it toward Candaba. Keep driving to barangay Bahay Pare, where you turn right after a small bridge toward the rice fields. You may want to stop now and then to ask for direction just to be sure.

At the first side road about a kilometer away, turn left. After another kilometer, you will find yourself driving atop an irrigation embankment (called “paligi” in Capampangan). It might be better to use a van smaller than such SUVs as the Expedition and the Suburban.

Once you are on the “paligi,” you can lower your window and start flushing your lungs and your vehicle with fresh air. And with the fields bathed in the mellow afternoon sunlight stretched before you, you may want to start taking pictures.

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FAUNA CENSUS: In the Asian Waterbird Census 2005 last January, Candaba swamp was confirmed to be the chosen haven of 35 species of waterbirds with a total population of around 10,200 within a 200-hectare census area.

With this feathered population is a large number of Philippine ducks sighted with three more species of wild ducks: garganey, northern shoveler and northern pintail. The wild ducks alone totaled more than 3,000 in the census area.

Those long-legged white birds posting themselves in the rice paddies on both sides of the North expressway in Bulacan and Pampanga are egrets, more of which you will see in Candaba. I think the local name is “tagak.”

On your way to the Pelayo resthouse, where you can park and mount your long lenses, you will notice some small farms with ducks huddled in ponds. You can take pictures, but those waterfowl are not what you are being asked to watch. 

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HERE’S A LIST: During the January census, Candaba hosted representatives of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau of the DENR, Wild Bird Club of the Philippines, Haribon Foundation, Conserve Candaba Swamp Foundation, Candaba Swamp Migratory Birds and Wildlife Foundation Inc., Kaakbay sa Kalikasan and other enthusiasts.

Tim Fisher, an authority on Philippine birds, identified during the census the purple gallinule — a species of waterbird that has not been seen in Candaba for the last 10 years because of the hunting (now banned) and the previous deterioration of the habitat.

Among the species officially sighted in the last three years by the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines and other enthusiasts were: Philippine Duck, Asian Golden Plover, Bittern, Black Bittern, Black Crowned Night Heron, Black Winged Stilt, Blue Tailed Bee Eater, Bright-capped Cisticola, Brown Shrike, Buff-banded Rail, Chestnut-breasted Munia, Cinnamon Bittern, Clamorous Reed Wabler, Common Green Shank, Common Kingfisher, Common Moorhen, Common Red Shank, Common Sandpiper, Common Snipe, Eastern Marsh Harrier, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Garganey, Grassbird Striated, Grassowl, Great Egret, Greater-painted Snipe, Grey Heron, Intermediate Egret, Island-collared Dove, Kentish Plover, Lesser Coucal, Little-ringed Plover, Little Egret, Little Grebe, Long-toed Stint, Marsh Sandpiper, Middendorf’s Grasshopper Warbler, Olive-backed Sunbird, Oriental Pratincole, Oriental Skylark, Pacific Swallow, Peregrine Falcon, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Pied Bushchat, Pied Fantail, Purple Heron, Richards Pipit, Spotted Dove, Scalt-breasted Munia, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Tawny Grassbird, Watercock, Whiskered Tern, White-breasted Waterhen, White-browed Crake, White-winged Blacktern, White-winged Blacktern, Wood Sandpiper, Yellow Bittern, Yellow-vented Bulbul, Yellow-vented Bulbul, Yellow Wagtail, Zebradove, Zitting Cisticola, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Oriental Reed Warbler, Tufted Duck, White-collared Kingfisher, Cattle Egret, Chinese Pond Heron, Coot and Purple Gallinule.

With his conservation measures apparently paying off — as evidenced by the regular winter arrival of migratory birds — Pelayo is trying to consolidate with the help of concerned groups at least 500 hectares in the 32,000-hectare swamp to widen the protected habitat.

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V.A.T. DEBATE: In the Senate, meanwhile, solon-watchers from both sides of the taxation fence are girding for a showdown on the bill seeking to raise the value-added tax from the present 10 percent to 12 percent. 

The difference of opinion is illustrated by the contrasting positions taken by Senate President Franklin Drilon and Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan. 

Drilon is announcing even before the start of deliberations (the bill is being awaited from the House, where it originated since it is a money measure) that the VAT increase would be approved by the chamber in record time.

Drilon apparently has aligned himself with Malacanang, which is bent on passing the revenue measure mainly because of pressure by foreign money lenders and credit raters.

Voting 126-11, with no abstention, the House passed the VAT bill (HB 3555) last Thursday. But opposition congressmen who voted for it as a tactical move said they would seek another vote. 

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PLUG HOLES FIRST: But Pangilinan said that the losses in value-added tax collections should first be addressed before Congress considers raising the rate by 2 percent. The Senate is scheduled to tackle the tax measure next week.

“VAT was imposed in 1988 to generate more revenues and enhance tax collection efficiency,” he recalled. “However, the National Tax Research Center estimated that the VAT tax leakage from 1998 to 2002 amounted to P208.1 billion.”

The major leaks were traced to under-declaration of sales, fraudulent claims of input tax credits, and non-issuance of official receipts.

Pangilinan said: “Enacting additional tax measures would not squarely address our country’s deficit problem if the inefficiency of tax administration is not addressed.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 30, 2005)

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