unposted note before the storm


Sitio Riroan, Bulusan, Sorsogon


Typical native hut along the coastal villages of Bulusan.


A native outrigger locally known as sibid.


Hard-earned nylon nets and a banca are essential assets for Vicente, a local fisherman.

“From Barack Obama and Xi Jinping to the heads of tiny Pacific island states, they took to the stage in Paris today to tell the world they would act. The rhetoric was lofty, planetary, grave.”

So says the emailed report re COP21 in my email box today, December 1, 2015 —  information given to readers of an environmental news publication that I subscribed to.

But for me the rhetoric whatever the tone is real. No need for me to look further. All I have to do is take a little walk along the sea shores of my hometown (photos).

All I have to do is listen to this fisherman’s unwavering faith in the sea. “ My catch is more than enough for me and my family. We sell those we can’t consume for our other needs. I have no problems with the days not good for fishing…these days happen only in less than a month for the duration of one year.”  How about during storms? Pause. “Ah.. the waters can reach up to there” (pointing to the shore less than five meters from where we were sitting). His hut is open to the elements. And one can imagine where this hut would end up if ever a category 5 typhoon will hit the area. God forbid!

For now, this thought I kept only to myself as I listen to the young fisherman sharing enthusiastically stories about the variety of his bountiful catch, enumerating the several names of local fish species abundant in our shores : turos, bungdo, angol, mamsa, marara etc. The local seabirds he named easily ( I was not able to catch the vernacular name) completely agreed  with their noise dominating the ocean sound while they feast on their catch. Vicente’s modest hut has this uninterrupted view of the Pacific Ocean standing at around 10 meters from the shore line.

I chimed in with the optimism but deep in me the conversation running in my mind were streaming in a different light. Anxiety. Fear. Prayers of protection. May the Great Spirit of the Seas preserve and protect his family and the rest of the families living in the long stretch of the coast of my hometown, Bulusan.

As I leave, I noticed and captured the look of the young fisherman wistfully looking far off to the sea. The look was a mixture of gratitude and hint of uncertainty.

Moments like these my mind reflects on Pope Francis’s  encyclical on climate change, the Laudato si’.

For me, Laudato si’ is a prayer. A prayer to action. A sacred call.

Laudato si’ is a call to protect the vulnerable that includes the fishermen living in places where their livelihood depends on.

For the ‘parapadagat’, the sea is their life.

May we be enlightened by these words lifted from the text of Laudato si’:

  1. Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day. Its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades. Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry. They have no other financial activities or resources which can enable them to adapt to climate change or to face natural disasters, and their access to social services and protection is very limited. For example, changes in climate, to which animals and plants cannot adapt, lead them to migrate; this in turn affects the livelihood of the poor, who are then forced to leave their homes, with great uncertainty for their future and that of their children. There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation. They are not recognized by international conventions as refugees; they bear the loss of the lives they have left behind, without enjoying any legal protection whatsoever. Sadly, there is widespread indifference to such suffering, which is even now taking place throughout our world. Our lack of response to these tragedies involving our brothers and sisters points to the loss of that sense of responsibility for our fellowmen and women upon which all civil society is founded.

More about Laudato si’:


Photos: Alma P. Gamil

Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines



Rise and shine

Sunrise, Bulusan, January 8, 2016, 6:12 AM

Sunrise, Bulusan, January 8, 2016, 6:12 AM

Sunrise, Bulusan, January 8, 2016, 6:25 AM

Sunrise, Bulusan, January 8, 2016, 6:25 AM

Every morning there is a show. Tickets not included. All I have to do is to wake up early and head to the nearest shore.  Each show is distinct for each day. No performances are repeated with the best part reserved for the early risers.

And this morning the show is just as spectacular. Only the battered coconut trees show signs of the fury of typhoon Nona (international name Melor) that hit Bulusan three weeks ago.

Good morning, 2016!

Photographs by Alma P. Gamil
Bulusan, Sorsogon


Payág (Bulusan, 2015)

Payág (Bulusan, 2015)

still strong at 96 to go to the poblacion.

still strong at 96 to go to the poblacion.

The farmer's sons stay with their lola (grandmother).

The farmer’s sons stay with their lola (grandmother).

Payag is the classic native hut in Bulusan. It is a simple yet brilliant vernacular organic architecture by marrying form and function with the local materials available on site.

I was lucky to chance upon an almost finished payag along the road of Kabugawan in the village of San Bernardo. The pantaw, sirong and dapog can be seen from the road and the natural colors of the anahaw roofing and bamboo walls blend well with the surrounding greens of mostly coconut and pili trees.

The tukod of the window was being prepared by the time we passed by the area. The lone window is an awning type with the tukod as the device for opening and closing the single panel window.

“This is for my mother-in-law,” said the farmer cum hut builder pointing to the direction of an elderly woman sitting near a tree in the front yard. “She is 96 years old but still goes to the market in the poblacion” he added.  I stayed for a while sitting near the yard with two kids looking at me with innocent smiles.

When I told the local farmer how neat and cool is the workmanship of the hut… he replied that some passing tourists also said the same thing about the hut several days ago.  He said this with a smile and obviously amused that his hut was being noticed by visitors to their village. Although I stay in the poblacion, I am familiar with the village rural ways. I understood that for this farmer/carpenter, the form was just a consequence of the function.

Photographs by  Alma P. Gamil

Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines

Benign and Beautiful

Business as usual for this local rice farmer on his way to work in sitio Baluarte, Bulusan on June 17, 2015.

Business as usual for this local rice farmer on his way to work in sitio Baluarte, Bulusan on June 17, 2015.

Minutes after the steam-driven Bulusan Volcano eruption of June 19, 2015, I headed to Baluarte in the outskirt of the poblacion where the view of the volcano is unblocked by residential houses. I spotted several farmers attending to their rice paddies as if nothing unusual happened. It was the onset of the rice planting season and the field is flooded with irrigation waters as preparation for rice planting. One farmer told me that had I arrived earlier the volcanic ash-cloud was still beautifully formed compared to what I was looking at that moment I arrived in the area. The wind easily dissipated the volcanic plumes.

I stayed awhile just in case a sudden eruption will follow. I waited. The volcano was silent.

As I waited, I busied myself taking some photos of the surrounding rice fields where farmers were doing their regular morning field chores. No eruption followed. I was about to get back home, when suddenly the quiet farmer from the nearest rice paddy next to the roadside where I was standing turned to me and requested in a serious tone : “Retratoha man ako (please take a photo of me, too),” spontaneously posing with his hoe in hand and beaming with a toothless grin.

Of course, I obliged happily. This for me was unexpected. For a moment I have forgotten my original intent which was to photograph the volcano in action. I grinned back and quickly pressed the shutter. How could I possibly presumed that a busy farmer would not want his photo taken by a shutterbug? I went home smiling with this thought.

“Please take a photo of me, too.” (Bulusan, June 19, 2015)

As of today, August 15, alert level 1 remains in effect for Bulusan Volcano.

Alert level 1 for Bulusan Volcano is described by Phivolcs (Philippine Institute of Volcanology) as a kind of low-level volcanic unrest. Entry to the 4 kilometer permanent danger zone is strictly prohibited.

Luckily for Bulusan town, the volcano’s continuing low-level activity is mostly confined to the western side of the volcano that faces the towns of Irosin, Juban and Casiguran. Bulusan town is located in the eastern hemisphere of the volcano’s lower slopes. This is no reason though to be complacent especially for my townmates residing in mountain villages near the PDZ (permanent danger zone) where the smell of azupre (sulfur) pervades the surrounding mountain air in times like this — a reminder that we, Bulusanons live in the embrace of a living and beautiful volcano.

Bulusan Volcano at dusk viewed from the roadside of Baluarte still showing slight steam/ash emission on June 18, 2015.

Bulusan Volcano at dusk viewed from the roadside of Baluarte still showing slight steam/ash emission on June 18, 2015.

Photographs by Alma P. Gamil
Bulusan, Sorsogon

The dark side of the coast

Low tide reveals mangrove remnants from a previous mangrove stand.

Low tide reveals mangrove remnants from a previous mangrove stand.


More mangrove trees are needed in this vast seascape.

While taking photographs of the breathtaking seascape of sitio Taisan (San Vicente, Bulusan), I noticed some tree stumps on the shoreline bed. There is no doubt what these stumps are. These are mangrove stumps  maybe several decades old. It points to one thing that this area was once a lush mangrove forest. No wonder there is a mud-like quality to the sea bed.

These photos (above) are images of  a deforested mangrove swamp. A desolate landscape crying for help.

To reclaim the mangrove forest that once upon a time existed in this coast will entail a gigantic and heroic effort.

If not planted with more mangroves, the shoreline will continue to recede. And most importantly during typhoons there will be no vegetation to block the raging surge from the sea. It is already an established fact that mangroves are effective barrier and protection in the coastline that save communities.

With the mangroves back, the kinis (mudcrab) will flourish abundantly more than the local paraagahid (pole net fishermen) can catch for their livelihood. Mangroves are natural habitats of mudcrabs.

I hope these images will convey an SOS to coastal environmentalists including those based in Bulusan. The few surviving juvenile mangroves from the initial replanting activity (photo) are reminders that there’s hope that the mangroves of Taisan could be reclaimed.

Let us bring back the mangroves of Taisan.

It is to the credit of Tribu Bulusanon (http://tribubulusan.orgfree.com/#), a local environmental group, that the first  mangrove reforestation project in this coast took off.

But it was just a beginning. More actions are needed.

Surviving mangroves of Taisan

Surviving mangroves of Taisan from the initial mangrove replanting project.

Bare mangroves means dwindling catch for the paraagahid fishermen.

Bare mangroves means dwindling catch for the paraagahid fishermen.

Photos: Alma P. Gamil

Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines

The extraordinary ordinary Malubago tree

The beach as playground for these coastal community children in Dancalan, Bulusan

Children in Dancalan, Bulusan playing under the shade of Malubago trees lining the beach area of their coastal village.

Seascape viewed from a Malubago hedge.

Seascape viewed from a Malubago hedge. Notice the exposed roots of the Malubago trees that serve as a natural barrier from the tidal flow.

Malubago trees as viewed from the ocean’s edge of a coastal village in Dancalan, Bulusan.

One does not have to be an expert in shoreline conservation and preservation to see the effect of growing Malubago trees along the sea shores. I did see it myself in my recent beach walk along the shore of a coastal community half kilometer away from the frequently visited Dancalan Beach Resort.

This coastal area however is not frequented by visitors since easy access here entails passing by some coastal rural homes lining the major road. Although the beach sand is still in the range of a light-colored sand, this beach area is not a ‘resort’ area. It is a rural coastal community populated by mostly fisher folks. Women were busy weaving karagumoy hats when I passed by and they kindly showed me the way to reach the beach just a few meters from their residence.

Children were playing under the Malubago trees, running around with crescendos of shrieks and cries oblivious of my presence as I walk and take photos in a leisurely pace along the shore. The sea view from a new location was just the thing I needed to compose some new images in departure from my usual beach photographs. But what really caught my attention are the Malubago trees along the shoreline of the coastal village.

The Malubago trees although unassuming and modest in appearance  did not escape my observation because these trees dominate the landscape in this long stretch of almost white beach. The beach vegetation as far as my eyes can see are mostly coconut and Malubago trees. The Malubago stands where other vegetation failed to grow. Some of its roots are exposed to the sand but still very much standing exhibiting its resiliency to the elements. It does not encroach the sea but only occupies the demarcation of the shoreline and the residential houses. Obviously the trees serve as the first line of defense in times of typhoons and sea storm surges yet it flourish with its shy flowers peeking out of the almost heart-shaped leaves.

The flowers are described as bell-shaped by some botanists. For me, the Malubago flower appears as a half-open yellow hibiscus — shy and seems to decide not to fully open to evade attention from flower pickers. Maybe this strategy pays off because there are fruits in almost all of the branches securing the next generation of Malubago trees.

I learned however from googling that Malubago can also be propagated by means of stem and branch cuttings. Making a fence out of the branch cuttings is an easy way to propagate the Malubago. With a firm grip on the ground, the cut branch will grow to a brand new Malubago tree even if left to its own devices.

The Species Profile for Pacific Island Agroforestry (www.traditionaltree.org) states that Hibiscus tiliaceus (Malubago’s botanical name) main agroforestry uses are soil stabilization and coastal protection. It can grow in extreme environment and is also drought tolerant. Fast to grow and forms walls of thicket if not pruned which makes it ideal as windbreakers along the shores. And this is the reason why it is used for coastal protection : “The long spreading branches root where they touch the ground enhancing the tree’s ability to stabilize soil on slopes, along river banks, swampy areas and shores exposed to moderate  coastal tides.”

But just like anything that is familiar and common, we tend to take the Malubago tree for granted.

Malubago Flower

Malubago flower is cousin to the showy ornamental hibiscus.

Sea view from under the Malubago canopy in Dancalan, Bulusan

Sea view from under the Malubago canopy in Dancalan, Bulusan

More of Malubago tree here:


Photos: Alma P. Gamil

Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines

Waiting for the full moon

Waiting for the full moon

A local boy calls the other side of the seawall as home.

Sea breeze gives a steady  flight to this boy's 'buradol' (kite).

Sea breeze gives a steady flight to this boy’s ‘buradol’ (kite).

Kites are in the minds of these young boys still too young to fly the real ones.

“Clouds come from time to time – and bring to men a chance to rest from looking at the moon.” – Matsuo Basho

The moon stood me up last full moon. Not a glimpse of what I was anticipating—an orange pregnant moon reflected in the waters facing the seawall of Dapdap adjacent to the mouth of the river. The clouds covering the sea horizon were bent to obscure the view of the moon rise.
The calendar was clear about the time and the date of the moon rise of the full moon this month: 6:06 PM, March 17, 2014. So I thought the moon was up to something. Maybe the moon was telling me to shift my gaze to some more important terrestrial views. So that was exactly what I did instead of staring at the grayish horizon.

"Follow me."

“Follow me.”

I walked the seemingly endless seawall pathway guided by a local boy going home to a thriving seawall community. Following his tracks led me to a group of children playing on the other side of the wall. But before that there were these two boys flying a kite – a real one, and two boys drawing the kite on the sand (photos). Then further at the end I can see young boys at the tail end of an afternoon late swim with cluster of younger children playing beside and on top of the seawall and some of the bigger ones going to the other side near the water edge. All were playing happily in the light afternoon sea breeze. The playful sea waves as backdrop completes the scene. It is obvious, that the seawall is their playground and they live just a step away from the seawall.

Living on the edge.

Seawall community

Not informal settlers. Fairly neat and modest homes for this coastal community living just a step away from the seawall is the norm.

Dapdap seawall has protected the thriving community for almost a decade. Climate change however is changing the equation.

Seawall community

Seawall community as viewed from the top of the seawall.

The seawall is a long playground for the children of this coastal community.

The seawall is a long playground for the children of this coastal community.

Bulusan seawall

Children at the Dapdap seawall

The innocence and playfulness of the children captured in these photos however don’t hide the fact that these seawall communities are the most vulnerable areas in our town whenever tropical typhoons visit our region. Thoughts about a devastating typhoon that wrecked a neighboring province entered my mind as I gamely shoot several spontaneous poses from the kids.

Thoughts that reverberate as I walked back home.

Photos: Alma P. Gamil
Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines

Resolute Stand

Mayor Domingo S. Halum’s unwavering stand for a NO Geothermal in Bulusan is clearly stated in this tarp streamer. Bulusan, February 2014.

Resolute adjective \ˈre-zə-ˌlüt, -lət\

: very determined : having or showing a lot of determination (Source: Merriam-Webster dictionary).

This is exactly what the town of Bulusan needs in voicing out their opposition on the planned establishment of a geothermal power plant in Mt. Bulusan/Bulusan Volcano — a resolute stand on the issue.

The geo project is a dream for some but a nightmare for us living in the periphery and slopes of our beloved mountain – Bulusan Volcano. All the 24 barangays or villages of Bulusan are within the 15 km radius of the Volcano. The Poblacion (my residence) for instance is just a mere 8 km from the center.

Phivolcs (Philippine Institute of Volcanology) is clear about the physical features of the volcano as published in their Bulusan Volcano Profile. It says that the volcano base is 400 square kilometers. This covers almost all the 5 municipalities of Bulusan, Barcelona, Irosin, Juban and Casiguran. It is ONE volcano contrary to the opinion of some that exploring the other minor mountains inside the composite Bulusan Volcano is already reason enough to stop the opposition.

It is my hope that the other Municipal mayors of the concerned municipalities will follow suit.

No to Geothermal exploration in the mountains of Bulusan Volcano!

Note: Bulusan Volcano is a composite volcano numbering more than 8 edifices. It has a base of 400 sq. kilometers equivalent to more than 40,000 hectares. (Source: Phivolc’s Bulusan Volcano Profile)

Bulusan Volcano on a clear day showing some of its edifices/mountains.

Bulusan Volcano on a sunny day showing some of its edifices/mountains.

Related posts :



Photos: Alma P. Gamil
Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines

Visiting a tree after Yolanda

My flora visits after Yolanda


Tree growing near the cliff along Porog road in Bulusan. (Photo taken a day after the super storm Yolanda struck the nearby provinces of Leyte and Samar).

The first thing I did a day after that super storm that hit the neighboring provinces of Samar and Leyte was to check the tree, which I mentally noted some  months ago, for a photo shoot. As always these photo trips were always relegated for some mundane household tasks at hand. But after the super storm (Yolanda) I felt an urgency to visit the site and I did not postpone the trip this time. I immediately hired a tricycle and we proceeded to the marked spot of the tree with sitaw (string beans)-like fruits growing  in the village of Porog. I was a little apprehensive though during the 30 minute ride to the village on whether the tree still has its intact leaves or fruits to help the identification.

Luckily, the tree still stands magnificently near the roadside cliff with its leaves and fruits still attractive for a photo shoot that day. Typhoon Yolanda spared us this time, I mumbled to myself.

The sitaw-like fruits were still hanging from the branches like dried up elongated brown strips of brown cardboard swaying stiffly with the wind. Only the pericarp remained with no seeds in sight. I could only wonder where the seeds went.

A lesson learned again in plant photography – not to postpone shoots whenever there is a blooming or fruiting tree around. Well, I guess I have to wait for another fruiting season… this hoping no Yolanda-like monster will come around.

Photos: Alma P. Gamil
Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines, 2013

No to Bulusan Volcano Fragmentation

No to Bulusan Volcano Fragmentation

Bulusan Volcano as viewed from Bulusan town.

This is a wake-up call. Bulusan Volcano is being fragmented right in front and under the noses of anti Geothermal advocates of Bulusan. Complacency is as baneful as indifference  when it comes to issues such as the Bulusan Volcano Geothermal Question. Be very very cautious is in my opinion the best course of action  for some anti Bulusan Geothermal advocates in Bulusan for them not to be misled and be convinced that exploiting geothermal energy on one side (Juban town side to be specific) of the volcano is benign and will be safer than exploiting the Bulusan town side of it.  For me, it is akin to a head where the frontal part has complete anatomical features while the back side is full of pock marks. Totally illogical.

I am totally against this kind of fragmentation that will  inevitably surface albeit done stealthily by some quarters with their own agenda far from the agenda being espoused by the anti Bulusan Geothermal advocates. I am against it because in the final analysis converting one side of the volcano into an industrial complex for exploiting geothermal energy is tantamount to giving up the whole.  Bulusan Volcano after all is ONE volcano.

I have already argued endlessly on why Mt Bulusan/Bulusan Volcano is an unwise choice of location for  Geothermal exploration in several posts  to the point of repetition but I will not stop doing so.

For instance this note from my previous blog post:

Mt. Bulusan is an active volcano, one of the five intensely active volcanoes  in the Philippines (Taal, Mayon, Bulusan, Kanlaon and Hibok-hibok) whose location is close enough to large communities to be of major concern.The Philippines has a total of 405 volcanoes of which  23 are active,  27 potentially active and 355 inactive according to the released information from Phivolcs.

Given this fact, why pick on Bulusan when there are so many other volcanoes in the Philippines?

A refresher: https://bulusanruralvagabond.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/watershed-101/

Photo by Alma P. Gamil