I wrote this piece back in 2005. I’m reposting it because I saw a review on ‘March of the Penguins’ today in the Manila Times. Apparently, the original documentary (meaning not the one dubbed in Filipino) will be shown this weekend in one of the major theatres.
I loved that documentary; and one of my dreams is to be able to walk with the Emperors as they waddle through their natural habitat. They’re also great fathers, and I think they should be made symbols for Fathers’ Day.
I’ve always been fascinated by penguins-those tuxedo-wearing,flightless birds who live in the coldest places on earth. My favorite penguin is named Opus – he’s the neurotic but good-natured, naive and paranoid Emperor penguin who has been immortalized in Berke Breathed’s comic strip “Bloom County.”
Opus has at least twice ran for president, and considering who has had to run against (the likes of George Bush Sr), it’s a shock that he always lost. Opus’ platform included planting daffodils in deactivated minefields, a ban on animal poaching, murdering the government’s foreign policy on territorial defense and military operations, and free herring for all.
Penguins. Aren’t they the coolest (forgive the pun) animals?
I’ve already seen the latest penguin documentary by the people of National Geographic –”The March of the Penguins.” Its narration is plainly written, straightforward but beautifully compelling as told by Morgan Freeman.
The narrative thread is wound around the mating and breeding habits of Emperors, and how the specie survives through the harshest of environmental conditions. Penguins mate, give birth, and raise their young in 9-month cycles.Can you imagine living in minus 40 degree-weather? And trying to build a family right then and there? The mother and the father take turns taking care of the egg, and after it hatches, the chick.
It’s nothing short of a miracle how they do this. They do a sort of synchronized dance to make sure that the egg is passed from between the stubby legs and from under the thickly-feathered belly of the mother to those of the father’s.
Two seconds that the egg is exposed to the brutal cold and it freezes solid, and there’s no hope for the embryo inside. There are only two colors in the antarctic , and they’re even considered non-colors: black and white. The seemingly endless blank expanse is broken by the black and white of the penguins, and the deliberate and calculated movements they make to keep warm,but at the same time make sure that the eggs are never dislodged.
The father foregoes eating for four months months as he protects the egg, and the mother leaves to feed and fill herself with fish and krill. It’s at least a seven days’ walk to where the ice breaks and the ocean is exposed from where the penguins nest, and there is only cold, darkness and silence.The walk back, in the meantime, is often longer as the topography changes and shifts (glaciers form, cracks in the ice, small avalanches that put barriers in the path).
I’ve always thought that animals and their rights should be respected and protected. This world is as much theirs as it is ours; but humanity continues to ravage and plunder the planet, destroying even the very habitat and source of food for thousands of species.(Of course when I say ‘humanity’ I am mostly referring to the actually inhuman and inhumane multinational and transnational companies and their operations: waste-dumping, mining, logging,chemical testing,etc).
Watching the documentary, I was filled with such awe and respect for animals in general and penguins in particular. Call me cuckoo, but I believe there is genuine emotion, genuine love between animals and their families. In March of the Penguins, the birds would stand close to each other and appear like their hugging and kissing.
Penguins are such…sentient creatures.One sees and feels their grief when an egg freezes, or when a chick is similarly lost to the biting cold. The anguish is palpable, unmistakable in the body language, the gentle movement of the father prodding the chick’s lifeless body.
Happiness and relief –heaven in such a godforsaken place! – resound when the mother, father and chick reunite. The chirping and calling noises are such heartfelt sounds, the communication between parent and offspring. The mother gently teaches and prods the chick to take its first steps, to play and to mingle with other chicks. It’s a scene that pinches the heart, tweaks it something joyfully painful.
All this has, as usual, gotten me to thinking about my own specie, my own tribe.
Majority of the Filipino people build their families, raise their children under economic and political circumstances that are every bit as harsh as those environmental factors penguins have to contend with.
Instead of the killing cold, there are the killer prices of basic commodities and medicine; the high electricity and housing rates. In the far-flung regions, the provinces and way up in the mountain areas, farmers and their families are always under threat from the military and their massacre operations. If penguins struggle to keep their chicks warm, the Filipino masses fight to keep their families alive and together despite hunger, disease and high levels of criminality which is the inevitable moster-child of a depraved, decadent ruling culture and a profit-oriented society.
The biggest enemy of penguins and their families (aside from lion seals and killer whales which are their natural predators) is the cold; and they flock closely together to generate collective heat. The Filipino poor also should huddle together and unite to build the strongest front against their collective enemies- the destroyer of families, killer of dreams, the blood-sucking System and the government it currently represents in the Philippines.
If animals like penguins can survive the brutality of endless winter (even in the summer, the South Pole is a landscape carved and painted in ice), mate and raise their chicks and defend themselves from predators, then shouldn’t people — the exploited and oppressed — be able to defend themselves as well and fight back?
Penguins only have their fur-like feathers, their sharp beaks. They waddle through the Antartic or they belly-flop through it (their tummies are like tobaggons, and they heave and push themselves along when their legs get tired). Sure they swim very well, but sometimes not fast enough for the ocassional sea lion.
People — the Filipino masses and the Kilusan that represents them- what do we have?
We have everything the ruling classes have except for the stolen wealth, the insatiable greed, the dead conscience, and the ruthless desire for more endless control and power over the nation’s resources.
Their only superiority lies in the physical weapons they have. Outside of that, patas na ang labanan (in fact we’re even superior. Who runs the factories and cultivates the land? Even without the ruling elite, the working classes can run this country. Of course, this with the help of patriotic economists, scientists, teachers, doctors, artists, engineers, writers, chemists etc etc. Professionals and creative souls whose loyalties lie with the poor majority and the country and are not enslaved by love for personal gain and individual achievement).
There is always strength in numbers. This is something we should always remember. This is something the exploited should take advantage of, and wield both as shield and spear. This is why the exploiters always try to divide the people — make them think that there are other ways by which they can achieve their goals and overcome the viciousness of poverty, want, inequality.
Other ways than through collective struggle, through the righteous dictatorship of the working classes and the Kilusan that represents them.
Penguins protect each other and their chicks against the cutting wind and the storms by forming one huge mass of bodies, and they put the weaker ones in the middle. There is always a sense of collective unity — the instinct that they can only survive if they help each other. This lessens the casualty rate, and increases the chances that the majority will survive and a next generation of stronger, hardier penguins will follow.
Let us shield ourselves from the relentless storm and fight for the next generation of Filipinos. The predators cannot maim or kill all of us — even with their ripping claws and poisonous fangs, they cannot destroy an entire people determined not only to survive, but to overcome.
If penguins can do it, so can we.#