Thursday, March 31, 2005


The Pinatubo Ayta who inhabited the slopes fo the mountain before the 1991 eruption were forced to relocate because of threats from lahar flows. Formerly they lived much like their ancestors had for thousands of years.

The forests around Pinatubo were noted for their natural honey and the Ayta performed a sacred bee dance before and after any honey hunting excursion. The bees that pollinate these and other nearby forests also provided an important trade item in local Nusantao history -- beeswax. This product is mentioned repeatedly in historical trade lists. Appropriately, the country has been a leader in bee-keeping technology led by the late Dr. Roberto Bongabong who encouraged the use of the local Apis cerana species.

Volcanic mud still fills the waterways around Pinatubo. The Sacabia River, for example, which flows near Clark Field is partially filled with mud in some spots.

Sacabia River near the Clark Field perimeter filled with volcanic mud

Ash piles at the Pinatubo crater lake

The "Elephant Cage" just south of the Sacabia River, a former Clark AB communications complex turned museum and expo, on the right is the hospital complex

One advantage of the deposits is that the rich glass content of the volcanic sand makes it of superior quality for construction purposes. Quarries have provided Pampanga and other adjacent provinces with much of their revenues from taxes collected on volcanic sand exports.

The soil is also recognized as more fertile than before due to the eruption but the sand deposits have rendered many former agricultural fields useless for that purpose now. Instead, most have been converted to fish ponds. The delta area of Pampanga even before the eruption had one of the country's oldest and most extensive fish pond systems, possibly an adaptation from previous eruptions.

The strip of land between Pinatubo and the sea was formely covered with dense forest, and to the north of these forests lived the Sambal peoples. The hardwoods that played a prominent part in the trade of Sanfotsi/Zabag are found here and include the highly-valued Philippine Mahogany and Narra. At one time, the forests at the northwestern edge of Clark were used for "jungle survival" training. The combination of inpenetrable overgrowth and marshy waterways made the eastern approach to Pinatubo very difficult in previous periods.

To the southwest of the mountain near the Manila Bay are the Candaba wetlands, one of three major gathering spots for migratory birds in the Philippines. The adjacent delta communities once served as trading ports that spanned Southeast Asia, and at one time, far beyond in my view.

The area is ideally located between the spice islands to the southeast with their unique products like nutmeg, cloves, mace and a high grade cinnamon, and the precious aloeswood and cassia produced in Indochina and South China. Although located on the far eastern corner of the "Old World," the region is right on the edge of that region with the "New World."

In colonial times, the port of Manila not far to the south was the major link between various points in the two worlds during the Manila galleon trade. And in modern times, the geostrategic importance of this area has come into play.

When the Japanese attacked these islands during World War II, they first struck Clark airfield, and the defense of the Philippines was concentrated in the jungles of Bataan, the northern edge of which reaches the southern foothills of Pinatubo.

Today, some of the most important sea and air lanes of the world intersect this general region. From the days, that the star Spica stood at Pinatubo's zenith, the region has never completely fell out of the world's view.

Paul Kekai Manansala