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The Haribon

(How the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila found its mascot)
by Kelly B. Vergel de Dios

A dove… a seagull (drawing inspiration from Richard Bach's fable-novel Jonathan Livingston Seagull about life and flight, and a homily about self-perfection)… the owl of wisdom (or owl of Athena as a symbol of knowledge, wisdom)… were just some of the ideas tossed around the table at regular management team meetings at the Office of the President of PLM.

But the question, which we would sneak into the agenda every chance we got, often left us six Vice Presidents, the EVP and the President herself stumped until one bright January afternoon when Mme. President made the earth-shaking announcement: "I have the perfect idea for a mascot -- the Haribon!" Dead silence while we let that idea sink in then a lot of vigorous head nodding as we warmed up to it.

Mme President proceeded to state her case for the Philippine eagle or, in the vernacular, "Haring Ibon" (king bird):

-American aviator Charles Lindbergh, himself nicknamed The Lone Eagle as he flew the Spirit of St, Louis non-stop to Paris in 1927 with the vast ocean and sky as backdrop, once described the Philippine eagle as "the world's noblest flier." Lindbergh also happens to be an environmental activist and from 1969 to 1972, he led a drive to save the bird.

-It is a giant forest raptor that can only be found in the Philippines and is considered the largest bird of prey in the world (next to the now extinct Haast's eagle).

-It was officially declared the national bird on July 4, 1995 by President Fidel Ramos under Proclamation No. 615.

We did not need much convincing, we were already sold on the idea and by January 24 – upon the instruction of the PLM President, the University's College of Architecture had made the first studies of the PLM emblem.

VP for Academic Affairs Gil Evasco, who led the design team and who is himself an architect by discipline, found parallels between the Haribon and the PLM: "The Philippine Eagle truly represents the PLM's belief in the human spirit. A PLMayer -- even when challenged by life in countless ways -- can remain resilient and steadfast. Imbued by the very spirit of nurtured knowledge as the backbone of man's progress and greatness."

So well put because it is said that when a storm is coming and all other birds seek shelter, the Haribon alone avoids the storm by flying above it. As one should through the storms of life.

And such a magnificent bird is the Haribon – with its heads crowned by a royal head crest like a lion's mane, its beak and eyes of grayish blue (that can see eight times the distance that humans can) and its powerful wings supporting it like a cape when it soars solitarily.

It also has a lot of admirable qualities in that when it pairs – it is monogamous – and when it breeds between the months of July and February of the following year – it lays a single egg, takes turns incubating it (females take the morning shift, males the evening) for about 58-60 days, and once the egg hatches – the male takes over the hunting for the female and its offspring and keeps watch over the territory around its nest during the first 40 days of the eaglet's life after which the female shares hunting duties while the eaglet learns to fly in the safety of the aerie. Only after the eaglet is ready to make it on it's own (after about two years) will its parents produce another offspring.

But the king of birds is slowly dying out: when it needs to breed – it has to make its nest so far up in old growth forests that are quickly diminishing due to the high rate of deforestation caused by illegal logging and kaingin farming.

Not only does the eagle depend on the forests for shelter and food to nourish itself and its young (it used to be called the monkey-eating eagle because people thought all it ate was lemurs and macaques but they have since discovered that its diet depends on the region where it makes its home: owls, hornbills and bats, civets, flying squirrels and foxes, cloud rats, snakes, lizards, and tree sloths) it is an ecosystem by itself in that eagles keep its territory in balance by protecting other life forms in it.

What's more, the Haribon is embedded in the oral histories and cultural artifacts of many indigenous groups so to lose the specie is to lose our nation's biological and (part of our) cultural heritage.

The bird is also a source of livelihood (eco-tourism/birdwatching) for areas that are still home to its last remaining numbers – the islands of Luzon, Samar, Leyte and Mindanao which hosts its largest population.

But even in national parks of the Northern Sierra Madres, Mt. Apo, Mt. Malindang ang Mt. Kitanglad – there are those who would hunt the Haribon for sport or capture it for sale to collectors. Philippine eagle Pamana was found shot dead in a UNESCO World Heritage site in Davao Oriental just a kilometer away from where she was released on June 1, 2015.

So it isn't any wonder that Haribons live up to forty or more years in captivity but less in the wild. Captive breeding only started in 1992 at the Philippine Eagle Foundation in Davao City with the birth of Pag-asa after the PEF staff waived their salaries for a year to save it from vanishing in our part of the world.

Up until 1988, about 50 of the eagles were kept in zoos in Europe, the United States and Japan but the last one died in Antwerp, Belgium thirty years ago. Now at least 33 – some captured, brought there or bred in captivity – have found sanctuary at the Philippine Eagle Center and around 400 pairs (although the specie is still considered critically endangered) remain in the wild.

The Haribon is among the animals protected by RA 9147 otherwise known as the wildlife resources conservation and protection act and under President Ramos' proclamation 615 – killing one of the eagles is punishable under Philippine law by 12 years in prison and heavy fines. Why anyone would want to kill such a regal and noble bird for sport boggles the mind.

We at PLM are not its only admirer: the Philippine Eagle was used as the mascot of the 2005 Southeast Asian Games in Manila and "Gilas" is also on the team crest of the Philippine Men's National Basketball Team. It has also been featured on at least twelve of our stamps from 1967 to 2007 and is depicted on the 50-centavo coin between 1981 and 1994.

In March, the Haribon will go on the University's emblem as well and one hopes that its students will take to heart the words "to soar with the eagles, all you need to do is believe that you can fly."

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